SEPTEMBER 11, 1855.
DEAR MOTHER-We are outside of Boston, feeling something like unweaned chickens, whose heads, if not wrung off, are at the best, worse for a blow. I notice the last guide-board says "Ashland." Now surely the smell is no longer the villainous odor of the Depot neighborhood; or the noise, the rattling over Boston pavements. We are among the green fields, making a great steam and noise on our own account, and borne along-as it is sometimes good to be, by the submissiveness of our own will-by the fretting power of an engine. Our speed is not extreme however, and there is a murmur through the cars, that we are behind the time. Men grumble and consult their watches often; they wish to take a night train. We who stop at Albany do not care so much. The heat is very oppressive and the dust covers us. Thanks to sister Eliza for the napkins in our basket. In the car is a water-tank; we wet the napkins and wipe our faces, hands, and necks. How it cools and refreshes us! The napkins give proof what color we are, by their own dingy aspect. We rinse them, and dry them on the window-sill.
The sun has been staring us in the face for a long time, as though he would look us out of countenance for running away from home. What a flood of glory about him! I feel a little rebuked at his unwinking stare. I muster up from my memory all the reasons wherewith I nerved myself to leave dear New England; but they do not stand out so clearly as when first enrolled in my cause. Like me, they seem wilted by the heat and marred by the noise.
But now the sun has gone down, and we are in Springfield--that is to say, in Springfield Depot. I hope no one ever gave out word that he had seen a city or a town after whisking through the back side of it in the cars. We stop here for another train to pass, and to take in fuel. The lights are set burning, people gather back again into their seats and make themselves comfortable after their own fashion. Men have suddenly grown shorter. There is nothing of them in fact. Coat collars have gone up in a most ambitious manner; hats have settled down humbly; there is nothing of them but the crowns. Here and there, also, the smallest apology for a knee braced against the seat, or palpable evidence of boots hanging midway over the seat's end, make it rather a hazardous excursion through the alley-way.
Our party numbers twenty-five, ten of them children, and five women, who are going to homes prepared for them and now occupied by their husbands and fathers. The babies are now quiet with the exception of one, a stout, healthful child of two years, such as Barnum would rejoice in as an article of speculation. The mother is a gentle, attractive woman, occupying a seat next to ours. How she is to get through this journey with the care of a child so heavy, is yet to be seen. Every time the cars stop, little Ella sets up a cry of indignation and injured innocence. It is electrical: there is a spasmodic motion between the hat-crowns and boots, accompanied with a smothered grumbling sound, lost in the onward progress of the cars. Little Ella is satisfied; flings up her arms, throws out her plump feet in a most jaunty manner, and passes into the land of dreams, unmindful of the weary, aching pain in her mother's arms. Was there ever anything so ludicrous as a car of sleeping passengers by lamplight, tossed hither and yon by the incessant motion? Beautiful little Ella, you are the brightest of us all under the circumstances.
The nodding spirit is upon me; and, so my dear mother, good night.
Sept. 12th.--The hope of a good night's rest at Albany, kept us up till eleven o'clock. We were stiff and tired, and the children cross, as they had a right to be, waked up at that time of night. We went from the cars to the boat; from the boat into the dark night, through a silent street, entering, at last, doors which seemed to open in walls, and to lead nowhere, until steps were mounted, which seemed endless and hard to be got over. But they were at length finished, and we found ourselves in a dimly-lighted parlor, long, narrow, and low, with a parlor carpet of otter color and muddy green, woven into frightful contortions of diamonds and squares:-- a midnight-looking apartment, where company was not expected nor prepared for.
Chairs were brought, enough for all; the gas was turned up more brilliantly; a pitcher of water and one tumbler were procured; the hands of the timepiece pointed to twelve. O, how tired we were! would the clerk never show us our beds? He came in very pleasantly, and remarked, with as much composure as though he was; speaking of the weather: "Every bed in the house is full,-you must make yourselves comfortable till breakfast time ! "
Twenty-five of us in one room, after riding from Boston! My first twinge of homesickness was at Springfield when the sun went down. I now felt another spasm. The children were cross, the mothers in despair, the little woman with the big baby looked as though she would faint.
My first thought was of personal injustice; the second was more practical. I took up the bundle of shawls, which had been such a trouble to us when we changed cars, feeling amply paid, in the wealth of help they now gave to make others comfortable. One was speedily folded into a mattress, and as the chairs were stuffed haircloth, by thrusting my hand under one, it readily slipped out from the frame. It was speedily transferred to a corner of the room, the shawl covered over it, and the pale little woman laid away upon it for the remaining night-time, while the big baby, Ella, was spread in my lap, to be hushed off to sleep by the scraps of baby lullabies still lingering in my memory, as sung by you when I was young. What a splendid great child ! How did that mother live through so long a ride and this child in her arms?
The room was long, fortunately. The male portion of the party soon settled off into one end of it, with chair-bottoms for pillows; and the women gradually spread themselves among the children, prophesying that they could not sleep, but yet yielding at last to "tired nature's sweet restorer;" and the children, too, did not, I presume, know the difference between his night and any other of their lives, ten minutes after they lay about the floor. They never sentimentalize.
When the time pointed to two o'clock, baby Ella was laid beside her mother; the rocking chair back laid upon the floor; my cloak spread in it, and with little Alice, kitten-like rolled up by my side, I took my first lesson in Kansas camping. It was not half as bad as I expected. A night, even on the floor, will come to an end; ours did not commence till midnight, and morning light came in at the usual time. Our women looked quite tired out, and not a little ill-used; but a good breakfast brightened us all up, and at halfpast seven we took to the cars again.
Consider us going back through those doors in curious places, the mystery attendant upon them all dispersed by daylight; ten small children, one more than the martyr Rogers had. Surely we were martyrs, what with the carpet-bags, the shawls, basket of provision, a child of our own, or of some other mother, tugging at our skirts, with incessant injunctions "not to let go," "not to walk so slow," the clamorous outcries of every other body, or party, in which of course we had no especial interest, and to whom we were quite unwilling to waive any rights or privileges. The sudden determination to mount the car-steps, (were there ever any so high from the ground before?) two children and one mother abreast, carpet-bag and basket included, pocket, too, filled with apples, et cetera-of course was a failure, and of course you took up the time of the next body behind; and yet, you find yourself thrown, as it were, up those awful steps, into the cars, by the terror of the oath in the rear, at your delay. Blessed be the proprieties of cars on such occasions; the refuge of the seats; the breeze stirred by their outward-bound motion. I take a long breath at the safety of us all. I turn round to congratulate the little woman upon our triumph over difficulties, and she is not there. My heart is in my mouth. If she is not here, she cannot be in safety; who can take thought for her but me, with so much of their own to look after? I look over all my matters, as if to make sure that I have not appropriated her with the baby, as a portion of my luggage. There sits Alice in the safe corner, but she could hardly hover even a little woman. As for Ella, she is not of the sort to be hovered, now or at any future time. I conjure up the picture of her, left behind in that bedlam of a Depot. What is to be done? ah, there comes the knight-errant of our party. I will report. He makes a rapid tramp through the whole train, and returns; she is safe ! My heart settles down in its place, making the resolve, to look better after her in future.
Now then for a peep at the country--Central New York, with its fine farms, its hills, reminding one so much of the best cultivated portions of Maine; its canals, bearing along little arks, such as the old primer gave to us in a wood-cut of quaint device, as the especial model of Noah's; its immense fields of broomcorn, hanging its richly-tasselled heads in most wondrous profusion ! Ah, it was all very beautiful, and to me new; but the dearest memento I treasure in my memory of our ride through central New York, is the mullen-stalk, by the wayside. A rough and hairy leaf it has, a tall and coarse blossom and seed-vessel, but down in the old pasture-lane we used to gather them at your command, my mother, to be hung in the garret, as a panacea when winter brought us sore throats. I take my last peep at the mullen-stalk in New York. I'm brave enough to say, it has stirred more emotion, more lasting thought within me, than anything I shall trace again to day.
Evening picks us up at _____; we are to travel all night. It rains, and the air is very close. We get tea, and beg the privilege of getting into the cars, though they do not start for two hours. This time, we are fortunate enough to get seats together. I have tucked away the luggage for the night. Two young men of our party sit in front of us, and relieve me of the valise and carpet-bag. What a nice bed we have made. Alice is asleep. Little Ella, too, has dispensed with the motion of the cars for once, and lies opposite, at full length. The company have all settled off into a quiet sleep. I hear a smothered sound, a gasp like Susie's when she fell down in the night by my bedside in a fainting fit. So much asleep am I, that it is difficult to convince myself I am not going over another edition of that scene in a dream.
O dear ! the little woman has fainted ! She is in my arms. What a wake up there is! Even boots find their level on the floor; windows that no one had strength to open, are thrown up without discussion; private little brandy-bottles suddenly appear from the most innocent-looking carpet-bags, and from the most staid-looking women. What a world of kind feeling a faint, even, will bring to the surface of the most indifferent group, when it is needed. I decide to keep to this woman till she has a little sleep. Every body goes off again; the danger is over; she sleeps quietly in my arms; while, with my feet, I keep romping Miss Ella, from rolling on to the floor. Thursday morning, long before you are up, the cars make a ten-minutes stop in Her Majesty's dominions; and you can fancy me stepping out to an eating house, with my miniature tea-pot in hand, to get it filled with hot tea. I go at a venture, for they sell it only to breakfast-eaters; but it was a kindly-looking woman whom I addressed, and she gave orders to the servant to 'fill it to the full, with as much milk and sugar as the lady liked." Heaven bless her! I shall probably never see her again; and should I, I could not recognize her, but by her voice. She gave me more than a "cup of cold water"--a warm and inspiring cup of tea, after a sleepless night ending in a lonesome, cloudy morning; and she shall have her " reward."
Our ride in Canada was through a beautiful tall wood, and upon high table-land, level as possible. As we neared the lake, the country was level to painfulness. Water and shore a continuous plain, and water the color of dirty soapsuds. If all the lake-shore scenery is like this, I have seen all I care to see.
Now we whirl along opposite Detroit. It is a pleasant break upon the monotony, as we near the ferry-boat. A few moments bring us to the (to me, awful) depot proximity. All sorts of unearthly sounds are about us; and people of every nation seem to be hurrying west.
It seems as though one train of cars could never swallow up all these people. Six of our party are seated. The baggage is not all on board. Our conductor is resolute, and will not leave it, and calls for us to get out. I have only time to put Alice out, my foot is on the step, there is a bedlam noise, when the cars start off as though they were mad, with me standing in a bewildered maze, with my hand on the door, my eyes gazing deep into that now superlatively awful depot, where little Alice, basket in hand, mother's cloak safe on her arm, stands demurely, with her own expression of sweet content quite unruffled. One of the young knight-errants of the party leads me back to my seat; and says, "They will be on in the next train." My seat looks too lonely for any long ride. I look round for some one acquainted with the road. There is a face close by; it is very intent upon a newspaper, but it looks up kindly to the question, "When will the next train leave Detroit for Joliet? " and he was sorry to tell me, I should not see little Alice till the next day! Now the blood leaps quickly, and thought is all astir. Wait till to morrow? No! Getchel is the prince of lads. We get out at the first station, we wait an hour, we take the next train back, and find all taking a comfortable dinner at a hotel. She said all the while, "Mother will come back," and at the sound of the car-whistle, came down to meet me.
At five o'clock we took seats for Illinois; rode all night at a furious rate; got out at Lake Station before daylight, and were huddled into a dirty room, to wait till seven. I have seen nothing clean to eat, drink, or sit or stand upon, for some time. If there was only a rock somewhere, that would, in the very nature of it, refuse to become impregnated with this universal nastiness; or, one of those glorious old walls, built by our grandfathers, running in curious crooks and turns up and down their domains, to which the dearest little mossy forests cling, and upon which many a weary wayfarer makes a seat, in the dust of travel, or to get ease from pain, when daylight deepens into darkness !
Fields of corn there are, rich in promise, and in extent immense. Now, too, the grand beauty of prairie scenery dawns upon us. It is quite impossible to give you any idea of its wonderful expanse,--the innumerable herds of cattle, sheep, and horses, whose distance from us can only be measured by their diminished size; and the flowers--O, how beautiful and numberless!--such as we grow in gardens, are here sown broadcast, by luxurious nature's hand, in a most happy combination of colors, yellow, white, and purple. This is payment indeed, for the previous fatigue. I am only homesick, today, when we come to some of the most miserable apologies for towns ever set forth in station-books.
On the open prairie, one has nature, in the open space of fields unfenced, in the wide over-hanging sky, all to one's self. There is no need for talk; words jar upon the ear when the eye leads the emotions of beauty captive. The farm-houses, and hay-ricks, speck the distance, as ships the sea. They do not interrupt the harmony; they are a part of the beautiful picture. But I could feel no more at home on a prairie, than on the sea; there is nothing individual about either.
When we arrived at Alton, darkness had settled down about us for the night; so that we saw nothing by which to remember the flourishing town, always associated in my mind with the murder of Lovejoy, twenty years since.
From the cars, we were transferred to a steamer, plying between Alton and St. Louis, twenty miles distant; thence to a carriage waiting on a muddy levee for us, under a driving rain; thence to a hotel. We were all very much in the condition of David Copperfield, when Mr. Dick suggested a "bath." And after securing a chamber, the next request was for the use of a bathing-room, which the house unfortunately did not possess. Water, however, was brought in abundance. Already the anticipated treat was prepared for, when, imagine the astonishment with which we witnessed the dropping into the basin a liquid precisely the color of dirty soap-suds ! What was to be done? I, sat down to decide which was the dirtiest, we three-days travellers in the heat and dust, or this forlorn dip from the Mississippi. As if to help me to a right decision, I went to the bowl and took a new survey. The liquid had certainly settled; the mud was not more than a finger deep at the bottom, and the basin was large. Now, then, I poured it off as carefully as you would cream from a pan of milk, until the stir of the mud bade me stop. You should have seen me, mother of mine, squatted on the floor at midnight, comparing those two bowls. I could have cried at the remembrance of all the pebbly-bottomed, clear streams I had left in dear New England. Now, one bowl looked like the mud-cakes we children used to stir with a stick, in broken china, and spread in fancy forms of cakes, pies, and turn-overs, on the cellar window frame facing the sunny bank of the old house. What had been poured off was a poor edition of the rinsing water which old Rachel used to be so choice of in the tubs standing under the well-sweep.
But the escape from the first condition seemed so great, by comparison, that actual refreshment and rest followed an ablution in the second. To be sure I did dream of wading in dirty water, and working hard to dig a well in a sand-bar; but the morning found me laughing at my unsuccessful labors, and also busy with the preparation to go on board the steamer "Golden State, Capt. John Gonsullis," bound up the Missouri to Kansas City, and other landings. The rain poured in torrents. St. Louis looked like a dirty slattern, as we drove to the boat; and the temperature was that of a close August day at home.
Everything seemed new. "Old things," had indeed passed away. Half the faces we saw were black. The horses seemed to have run quite entirely to ears and tails; and such queer looking carriages! The boat was another kind of thing, too, from ours at home. It looked all out of the water, and on that account awkward. The saloon is one hundred and thirty feet long, with nice little state-rooms on each side, opening not only into the saloon, but also on to the deck, with a blind to that door through which you can get whatever of air there may be astir, with the strictest privacy to your apartment at the same time.
The weather is intolerably hot. I never felt anything like it. We have three dozen children on board. This saloon is the sitting-room and eating-room combined. The children have no resort, not even at meal-time; and as the passengers are mostly families of emigrants, who are supposed not to be very rich, the children, have not, of course, any nurses but their tired-looking mothers. There are passengers, too, from Kentucky, Indiana, Illinois and Alabama; well-bred, and ill-bred, gentle and simple. There is a large family of newly bought slaves-children, with their parents. I do not know where they pass their time days. My first view of them, or knowledge of their existence, was on going into the saloon quite late. The floor was quite covered with dark faces, sound asleep, of every age and size, down to plump and happy sleeping infancy. We have colored waiters, twenty or more, as well drilled as soldiers. The table is spread with great variety and abundance at every meal; and the motion of a boat over "six feet scant" of water, is not sufficient to destroy the appetite.
Sept. 14th.--The Sabbath has been very quiet on board. Prayer books are in the hands of many of the passengers and boatmen. I have watched with some curiosity the different elements that settle off in eddies. I hear some snapping of small-arms between the slavery and anti-slavery commons. There is not a good spirit shown on either side. The subject is very great, but the combatants are puny; they cannot look over it fairly, because they are not tall enough; or at each other justly, because they are prejudiced. A David, with a sling and trifling stone, could aim with effect where these fail with loud and angry words.
O dear, I wish they would not talk. I believe I hate petty argument. It leaves each stronger in his own view. But perhaps it is because I am a woman, and, woman-like, jump to a conclusion without the drudgery of measuring the intermediate steps.
Now, the aspect of things at the upper end of the saloon changes for the better. There is the voice of a woman surely; others are calmed by it. The voice is very sweet, and the face a goodly one; the dialect purely New England. I have noticed this woman often: her face is remarkably fine; her person large, and well proportioned; she has two fine boys with her, to make Kansas men of; and she goes to meet her husband. Happy woman! Her manner is simple; her words without extravagance. Like oil, they smooth the rumpled feathers of antagonism. She explains how, without being paupers, we emigrate in companies, for better security against homesickness, and for the continuance of New England institutions. Mother, she is just such a woman as you would like. Such as, sitting in the shade of her home, even though it be but a rude cabin or a tent, will, through her children, tell upon the character of the next generation with a force greater than that of half a dozen "women of strong minds."
There are sitting near me, two gentlemen and three ladies from Kentucky, and slave-owners. I like them, to look at. The young ladies have been drawn to the upper end of the saloon. There is an honest interest in their faces, aside from the good breeding, which makes them attentive listeners. The young man of the party, a fine specimen of a man, has also drawn his chair within hearing distance. The discussion has changed its character. Supper has come in season to dissolve the gathering, before bitterness again springs up.
The old gentleman from the South introduces himself to me after tea. He wishes to ask me questions about the north. He feels her superiority, he says; but he wishes we better understood the difficulty of their position, who are born to the inheritance of slaves. He is one who voted for gradual emancipation; but the bill was lost. These are people of the old school of good breeding; and my talk with them is one of the pleasantest rays on the sand-bars of the Missouri.
A very faint idea of this fickle, deceitful Miss of the west can you form, without floating within her shores for a few days. There is no such thing as hurry, upon her waters. Put on steam, and set forth to drive a "fast team," and the circumstance which will make you white in the face, and faint at heart, will be the fangs of a "snag" driven into the keel; or the drifts of an unseen sand-bar on either side.
At table, I sit at the right hand of the Captain. The bell is rung the moment he appears at the farther end of the saloon, and every waiter watches the slightest motion of his hand, or eye. In his personal appearance, there is both dignity and authority; and at table, the wants of every person are noticed by him, at a glance. He has passed the most of his life upon this river; and makes one at the wheel of his boat, passing most of his time there. He invites us up to pass an hour with him, after the sun is down. The view is really beautiful at times. The shores are thickly wooded, with the general appearance of an uninhabited country. Occasionally, there are grand columns of sand-stone, giving a good idea of ivy covered towers in the old world. The channel of the river is never in the same place twice; and as the water is muddy, it is a continued wonder how a way is ciphered out by the Captain, at the wheel.
It is just a week since we left home, and we are three hundred and fifty miles up this river. It seems endless, and the immensity just begins to dawn upon me, as well as the distance from home. No place have I seen yet where I could make a home. Everything seems a world too wide for the home emotion to root in. Crack goes the boat, with a prolonged grate beneath her, as though she was scraped in pieces! Mother, we are on a sandbar, and perhaps may pass a week here.
Five hours! The moon is up brightly. The boat's crew, after most exhausting efforts, have pushed her off into four feet of water. She moves heavily, and as though contending with a power by which she has once been vanquished. Everybody is standing near the railing looking over anxiously. The mate is the most villainous rascal I ever saw. How he does treat those tired sailors. Every second word is an oath, uttered in the voice of a fiend, and accompanied often with the weight of his hand or foot.
Now, two men are standing one on either side of the lower deck, sounding. Their voices go up cheerfully, or sadly, as the lead sinks more or less. Their report is taken up by another man, leaning over the third deck, and thus reaches the captain, at the wheel, up still another story, mid-ships. When the report sends forth the sound, "four feet large," then everybody says, we shall get on, our notions of water being at ebb tide just now.
The river here is very broad, with prominent sand-bars here and there, of an acre or more in extent. Nearer the opposite shore is another steamer, fast in the mud. Her passengers, are troops for Fort Riley. She is a mile from us, but a common curse makes us friends. We steer towards her, still sounding as before. We pass her. Her crew forget their own dilemma in our release, and cheer us.
We are now over the worst bars of the river. At twelve in the night we reach Lexington, and part company with our Southern friends, not without regret. To-morrow we have the promise of being in Kansas city. --To-morrow has come. We gather up the scattered fragments of our wardrobe in our berths. The little woman leans over the rail at my open door; she looks pale; we quarrel about the expediency of her taking rest, in anticipation of the fatigue of to-morrow. I go my way, she takes hers. In less than half an hour, I am sent for, verily she has fainted entirely! I send to the bar for iced wine. There is not a breath of air cooler than that which blows from a furnace. There is no motion about her heart; but she looks earnestly at me, while I feed her with the wine. A gentleman passenger from Connecticut, with rare chivalry, takes entire care of the big baby. Why does she have these turns? Is it fatigue, or excitement at leaving dear New England? Toward sun-down she seems quite recovered. We hail Kansas City in the distance, looking really more pleasant than one could anticipate; and glad we all are to anticipate a release from the river, or at any rate a change. Kansas City stands upon a clay bluff, very steep, with one dirty street along near the landing, the hill towering roughly above it.
We passed the night comfortably; and as early as teams could be procured, started towards Kansas Territory. Our carriage was a cart, covered with sail-cloth, not quite high enough to allow us to sit with our heads up. There were nine of us to two mules, beside the driver. We rode up round the hill at the peril of our necks, expressed by the female portion of the party in sudden starts and broken screams. The sun came out intensely hot; then we began to make love to the ugly sail-cloth and draw it closely down about us.
We came into the Indian country after riding about seven miles from Kansas City. The road, with the exception of occasional ravines, with slight runs of water through their bottoms, is remarkably fine -- winding in most picturesque curves through open, unfenced prairie and grand old oak groves, as free from underbrush as a gentleman's well-kept grounds, with trees such as make the Saxon blood quicken at their height and antiquity.
There is one point here which I can never forget, midway between Kansas City and the extreme border of the Shawnee Reserve. After walking down a steep ravine, crossing the creek on stones, climbing the opposite bank, tired, and out of breath, we packed away again in the cart, and the faithful mules started off briskly, up, up, a long way. We then came into a broad mowing field of a thousand acres -- smooth as a lawn, but by no means a dead level; not a fence to be seen, nor a habitation. The sun lay at our right, nearly down; but he did not cheat us, as he often does at home, by the device of a hill close at hand, behind which he seems to look over to say, with the familiarity of near neighbor, "Good night." No indeed, there was nothing so cozy about this scene. Grand, beyond all conception it was, but stern and distant, like the life of the understanding without affection. In the midst of the awe with which it inspired us there opened before us another view of the same picture -- at some distance appeared a gentle rise, continuous for a mile or more, and stretching far to the right and left, a perfect lawn, studded everywhere with groups and belts of those tall oaks, graceful in arrangement, perfect in growth. We jumped up -- we shouted, with the newly awakened delight of tired and homesick children. But there was no response from human voice. Our ardor exhausted itself; the road wound gently down, leaving this part of the wilderness on our left, and the grand spread mowing field, with the golden sun light, on our right. Our way now ran along the dull prose of a country road, settling us back into the full consciousness of the cart -- its sail-cloth covering knocking against our bonnets at every jolt; its plank seats without backs; its cramped, uncomfortable crowdedness of people, of children, of baskets, of carpet-bags, of cloaks and shawls; its sickening odor of crumbled gingerbread, of bread and butter, of cheese and dried beef. And now, the deepening twilight makes every soul turn with struggling yearning to the thought of home.
Ah me, Mother of mine! "What went we out into the wilderness for to see? A reed shaken with the wind?" Every heart in these emigrant wagons has its history, and is treading its wine press alone. How, to the outward observer, we seem lifted, whether we will or not, by the hard and rough winds of circumstances, and borne along the high road of human life; drifting, it may be, into some quiet, sheltered, cosy corner; or, out where we should least expect to find ourselves -- amidst immeasurable difficulties of position.
Silence has fallen upon our party. It looks like a company of nuns, in whom all emotion was smothered long ago, till it had died. But not so really. Old Memory has taken us by the shoulders and turned us round. We are all scattered to our own homes that were. And where is mine, my dear Mother, if not with you? So I am in your room, to greet you as you come in after tea. You hold the little hand-lamp in one hand, and you are very careful to secure the latch of the door with the other; how you place the unlighted lamp on the right hand corner of the mantleshelf, and with a care-taking glance over the room, to see that all is in order, sink into the easy chair under it. I am sitting opposite you, looking up into your earnest eyes; you look pale and slightly sad; you gaze into the cheerful wood fire; your elbow rests upon your knee, and you make an easy chair of the hand and wrist, into which, by the right of former possession, your chin settles down comfortably. Now you slily adjust the spinal weakness of the immense brass andiron nearest you, (by the way, I always felt that you considered yourself responsible for the good appearance of that unfortunate member of the family,) and with the hearth-brush you make an attempt at fighting up some stray ashes or coals; as though they had not learned long ago better than to touch so nice a hearth-stone. Those bright old andirons, how they belong to home! and the shovel and tongs that never knock their heads into the jams, nor irreverently roll over with a clattering sound; the two quaint candlesticks of the same metal, standing so as to measure the length of the snuffer tray, which always occupies the centre of the mantel. Now you light a taper, and the candle which is longest is set burning. The knitting suddenly appears and you are busy. The shadows flicker over the room, for your one wax is not brilliant. I lift the veil from the living picture of our dear old father; pass my hand also to the fancy piece from the hand of a dear sister, who thus prepared a tablet for her own name; I smooth my hand along the household stuff of a past century, which, in the old ballad words, "the more it is used the brighter it shines;" I take a gaze again at the venerable face, the erect form, which has borne the care of four score years without growing old and childish. The whole atmosphere of your presence has rested me, and now I say, "Good night, mother," for it seems as though you were at my elbow. "Good bye, dear New England! Was there no hearth vacant and sad by my absence? Was there no cabin within your precincts into which I could enter by a fee simple?"
'There!' shouts the driver,"don't you see there!" We jump up with a shiver, and, as if duty bound, look and see, far in the distance, what appears like a respectable-sized farm, forming a step between the frightfully wide country and the clear glowing horizon. We ask, "What is it?"
"Well now," says he of the whip, "It 'pears like you don't know nothing of these parts. Why, that's Paschal Fish's, where we puts up."
"How far is it from this?"
"O, a mile and a bit or so."
We never knew how long the "mile" measured; but the "bit" was a dangerous extension of time, prostration of our tired nerves, and a stripping to shreds of our pretty-well-worn patience.
The driver tried to beguile the way by telling us about Paschal Fish, an Indian of the Shawnee tribe, and of power among them. A very honest man, don't drink a drop of whiskey, has a corn-field of a hundred acres, and thirty acres of oats; keeps a little store, and employs New England men to make the sales; turns his house into a sort of a tavern, and employs a Yankee to cook for his company.
Paschal sits with his hat on, in a ruminating mood, the most of the time -- welcomes New England people -- says, "We saw the cloud in the east, one, two, three summers ago, and now it is beginning to come upon us." Here ends the driver's prattle. We are at the door of this new hotel.
We dismount, and enter at the only door into the first story of a large building, simply boarded and loosely floored. It is dimly lighted with poor tallow candles in Japan candlesticks, which bear evidence of having been the support of candles before. There is a long table in the floor, and men, in whose faces there is absolutely no mouth to be seen, and only a gleam for eyes,-- an entire party of heads, covered with dirty, uncombed, unwashed hair. There were no more chairs. Our baggage was brought in, and we made seats of it. The men ate as though the intricacies from their plates to their mouths had become a perfect slight of hand with them. As they passed out of the room, the dishes were wiped out for us!
Soon we passed up a staircase, in one end of the room, creaking and bending beneath our weight, as though we were not safe. The floor above was of the same stamp as that below, -- one thin board of cotton-wood, which is somewhat like willow. In the loft there was a cotton-cloth partition. I was fortunate enough to secure a place for Alice in a good bed, with the wife of a physician, and drew close before the tented door a narrow, crossbedstead having no bed upon it, and only a blanket for clothing. I made a pillow of my travelling-bag, and laid myself away for the night. It was the best bed I had seen, for there were no occupants but myself.
Now, men, in single file, marched up and spread themselves over most of the outer floor. Sleep fell down upon these waifs of humanity. The house was quiet; and the new day greeted us all with the blessing of a clear sky before our sleep was over.
Before we were well awake, the male department was vacated. Now came the always recurring desire for water, and the hopelessly small portion to be obtained. One tin basin was most respectfully waited for, and the square of looking-glass patiently held by each one in turn, till our eyes were washed and our hair set a little smooth. As for teeth, we could not raise anything to rinse them with, till I thought of my little mug in the basket. With a sort of smoothed-down travelling aspect, we went down over the stairs. There sat Paschal Fish, hat over his eyes, legs crossed, looking as though he had not moved all night.
The room looked pleasanter. Most of the travellers had gone. A bright and cheerful face, grown quite familiar from having been one among our party, was assuming some of the cares which belonged to the cook, who, it appeared, was her husband. She gave us clean and shining cups, saucers, and plates. She brought us hot biscuit from the oven -- just the smell of which made us hungry -- and coffee, such as I never found at any hotel before. Her husband served three years at Myers', and the coffee was a credit to his teachers.
After such a breakfast, we were quite in good humor, and mounted into the old cart, almost as good as new. Nine miles more we were to ride before we pitched our tents.
The country did not seem as truly beautiful coming towards Lawrence city. The Wakarusa was nearly dry, and we rode down into its bed and up the opposite bank, which was frightfully steep. Then we came to a little settlement, called Franklin, entirely bare of trees and shrubs. This open, unbroken waste of nothing but grass, with a sprinkling of little cabins, is inharmonious to my mind. We notice plenty of cows feeding along the way, among this wealth of grass, and, beside most of the cabins, ricks of hay, stacked for the winter's feed. Meanwhile, our eyes look earnestly forward for the first indication of the town of Lawrence. At our left, far off, the hills rise grandly, terrace-like, one back of the other, -- and so green and smooth! Our driver calls the most prominent one, "Blue Mound," where the prophets of these tribes see fine college buildings looming in the years of Kansas' glory and prosperity.
Soon this little wisp of a man tells us to "Come down from the mountains," and look at the city at our feet. One could hardly conceive of a picture so really beautiful, of a town one year old. As we enter, the river -- which we do not see -- forms the background with its thickly-wooded bank. A few nice-looking houses appear, and cabins quite numberless. We ride to the door of the Cincinnati House. And now, my dear mother, my journey is over. I tie my knot, and, with a nervous, trembling hand, say, good-bye. Keep the corner for me warm, because I shall prove, like the dove of old, a returner to the old ark.