December 1990

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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 37

The Elegant Margolds

"HILLOA THERE! hilloa! where under the canopy is all the folks? be a joggin', can't ye" shouted one of the newly arrived.

Mr. Gaston hurried as fast as his poor blind eyes would allow, and his wife threw fresh wood upon the fire, and swept the rough hearth anew, as well as she could with the remnant of a broom.

This was scarcely done when we heard voices approaching—at first mingled into a humming unison with the storm, then growing more distinguishable. A very shrill treble overtopped all the rest, giving utterance to all the approved forms of female exclamation.

"O dear!" "O mercy!" "O bless me!" "O Papa!" "O! I shall be drowned—smothered!" "O dear!" but we must not pretend to give more than a specimen.

A portly old gentleman now made his appearance, bearing, flung over his shoulder, what seemed at first view a bolster cased in silk, so limp and helpless was his burden. Behind him came as best she might, a tall and slender lady, who seemed his wife; and after scant salutation to the mistress of the cottage, the two old people were at once anxiously occupied in unrolling the said bolster, which proved, after the Champollion process was completed, to be a very delicate and rather pretty young lady, their daughter.

After, or rather with, this group entered a bluff, ruddy, well-made young man, who seemed to have been charioteer, and to whom it was not unreasonable to ascribe the adjuration mentioned at the head of our chapter. He brought in some cushions and a great-coat which he threw into a corner, establishing himself thereafter with his back to the fire, from which advantageous position he surveyed the company at his leisure.

"The luggage must be brought in," said the elderly gentleman.

"Yes! I should think it oughter," observed the young man in reply; "I should bring it in, if it was mine, anyhow!"

"Why don't you bring it in then?" asked the gentleman with rather an ominous frown.

"I! well, I don't know but what I could, upon a pinch. But look here, uncle! I want you to take notice of one thing—I didn't engage to wait upon ye. I a'n't nobody's nigger, mind that! I'll be up to my bargain. I came on for a teamster. If you took me for a servant, you've mistaken in the child, sir!"

"However," he continued, as if natural kindness was getting the better of cherished pride,—"I can always help a gentleman, if so be that he asks me like a gentleman; and, upon the hull, I guess I'm rather stubbeder than you be, so I'll go ahead."

And with this magnanimous resoluton the youth departed, and with some help from our host soon filled up every spare corner, and some that could be ill spared with a multifarious collection of conveniences very inconvenient under present circumstances. Three prodigious travelling trunks of white leather formed the main body, but there were bags and cases without end, and to crown all, a Spanish guitar.

"That is all, I believe," said the old gentleman, addressing the ladies, as a load was set down.

"All!" exclaimed the teamster; "I should hope it was! and what anybody on earth can want with sich lots o' fixins, I'm sure's dark to me. If I was startin' for Texas I shouldn't want no more baggage that I couldn't tie up in a handkercher. But what's curious to me is, where we're all a-goin to sleep tonight. This here rain don't talk o' stoppin'.and here we've got to stay if we have to sleep, like pins in a pin-cushion, all up on end. It's my vote that we turn these contraptions, the whole bilin' on 'em, right out into the shed, and jist make up a good big shake-down, with the buffaloes and cushions."

The young lady, upon this, looked ineffable things at her mamma, and indeed disgust was very legible upon the countenances of all those unwilling guests. The house and its inhabitants, including our inoffensive and accidental selves, underwent an unmeasured stare, which resulted in no very respectful estimate of the whole and its particulars. Nor was this to be wondered at, for as to the house, it was, as we have said, one of the poorest and not one of the best of log-houses—there is a good deal of difference—and the people were much poorer than the average of our settlers.

The young lady at least, and probably her parents, had never seen the interior of these cabins before; indeed, the damsel, on her first unrolling, had said very naturally ,"Why, Papa, is this a house?"

Then as to the appearance of our little party, it was of a truly Western plainness, rendered doubly plain, even in our own eyes, by contrast with the city array of the later comers. Theirs was in all the newest gloss of fashion, bedimmed a little, it is true, by the uncourtly rain; but still handsome; and the young lady's travelling-dress displayed the taste so often exhibited by our young counrtry-women on such occasions—it was a costume fit for a round of morning visits.

A rich green silk, now well draggled; a fine Tuscan-bonnet, a good deal trimmed within and without, and stained ruinously by its soaked veil; the thinnest kid shoes, and white silk stockings figured with mud, were the remains of the dress in which Miss Angelica Margold had chosen to travel through the woods. Her long ringlets hung far below her chin with scarce a remnant of curl, and her little pale face wore an air of vexation which her father and mother did their best most duteously to talk away.

'This is dreadful!" she exclaimed in no inaudible whisper, drawing her long damp locks through her jeweled fingers, with a most disconsolate air; "It is really dreadful! We can never pass the night here."

"But what else can we do, my love?" rejoined the mamma. "It would kill you to ride in the rain— and you shall have a comfortable bed at any rate."

This seemed somewhat consoling. And while Mrs. Margold and her daughter continued discussing these matters in an under tone, Mr. Margold set about discovering what the temporary retreat could be made to offer besides shelter.

'This wet makes one chilly," he said. "Haven't you a pair of bellows to help the fire a little?"

The good woman of the house tried her apron, and then the good man tried his straw hat—but the wood had been wet, and seemed not inclined to blaze.

"Bellowses!" exclaimed the young man (whose name we found to be Butts), "we can do our own blowin' in the woods. Here! let me try;" and with the old broom-stump he flirted up a fire in a minute, only scattering smoke and ashes on all sides.

The ladies retreated in dismay, a movement which seemed greatly to amuse Mr. Butts.

"Don't be scart!" he said; "ashes never pison'd anybody yet."

Mr. Margold was questioning Mrs. Gaston as to what could be had for tea,—forgetting, perhaps, that a farmer's house is not an inn, where chance comers may call for what they choose without offense.

"But I suppose you have tea— and bread and butter—and—"

"Dear!" exclaimed the poor woman, "I haven't seen any but sage tea these three months;—and as for bread, I could make you some johnny-cake if you like that; but we have had no wheat flour this summer, for my old man was so crowded to pay doctor bills and sich, that he had to sell his wheat. We've butter, and I believe I may say it's pretty good.'

"Bless my soul! no bread!" said the old gentleman.

"No tea!" exclaimed his wife

"O dear! what an awful place!" sighed Miss Angelica piteously.

"Well! I vote we have a johnny-cake," said the driver; "you make us a johnny-cake, aunty, and them that can't make a good supper off of johnny-cake and butter, deserves to go hungry, that's a fact!"

Mrs. Gaston, though evidently hurt by the rude manner of her guests, set herself silently at work in obedience to the hint of Mr. Butts, while that gentleman made himself completely at home, took the little girl in his lap with the loving title of "Sis," and cordially invited Mr. Margold to sit down on a board which he had placed on two blocks, to eke out the scanty number of seats.

"Come, uncle," said the facetious Mr. Butts, "jes' take it easy, and you'll live longer. Come and set by me, and leave more room for the women-folks, and we'll do fust-rate for supper."

Mr. Butts had evidently discovered the true philosophy, but his way of inculcating it was so little attractive, that the Margolds seemed to regard him only with an accumulating horror.

Hitherto we had scarcely spoken, but, rather enjoying the scene, had bestowed ourselves and our possessions within as small a compass as possible, and waited the issue. But these people looked so thoroughly uncomfortable, so hopelessly out of their element, and seemed moreover, by decree of the ceaseless skies, so likely to be our companions for the night, that we could not help taking pity on them, and offering such aid as our more mature experience of forest life had provided. Our champagne basket was produced, and the various articles it contained gave promise of a considerable amendment of Mrs. Gaston's tea-table. A small canister of black tea and some sparkling sugar gave the crowning grace to the whole, and as these things successively made their appearance, it was marvellous to observe how the facial muscles of the fashionable gradually relaxed into the habitually bland expression of politer atmospheres. Mrs. Margold, who looked ten years younger when she smoothed the peevish wrinkles from her brow, now thought it worth while to bestow a quite gracious glance at our corner, and her husband actually turned his chair, which had for some time presented its back full to my face.

We got on wondrously after this. Mrs. Gaston, who was patience and civility personified, very soon prepared a table which was nearly large enough to serve all the grown people, and as she announced that all was ready, Mr. Butts, who had been for some time balancing a chair very critically on its hinder feet, wheeled round at once to the table, and politelry invited the company to sit down. As there was no choice, the strangers took their seats, with prim faces enough, and Mrs. Gaston waited to be invited to make tea, while her poor half-blind husband quietly took his place with the children to await the second table.

Mr. Butts was now in his element. He took particular pains to press everybody to eat of everything, and observing that Miss Angelica persisted in her refusal of whatever he offered her, he cut with his own knife a bountiful piece of butter, and placed it on her plate with an air of friendly solicitude.

The damsel's stare would have infallibly frozen any young man of ordinary sensibility, but Mr. Butts, strong in his conscious virtue, saw and felt nothing but his own importance, and moreover seemed to think gallantry required him to be specially attentive to the only young lady of the party. "Why, you don't eat nothing!" he exclaimed; "ridin' don't agree with you, I guess! now for my part it makes me as savage as a meat-axe! If you travel much after this fashion, you'll grow littler and littler; and you're little enough already, I should judge."

It was hardly in human nature to stand this, and Mr. Margold, provoked beyond the patience which he had evidently prescribed to himself, at last broke out very warmly upon Mr. Butts, telling him to mind his own business, and sundry other things not particularly pleasant to relate in detail.

"Oh! you're wrathy a'nt ye? Why, I didn't mean nothing but what was civil! We're plain-spoken folks in this new country."

Mr. Margold seemed a little ashamed of his sudden blaze when he found how meekly it was met, and he took no further notice of his republican friend, who on his part, though he managed to finish his supper with commendable sang froid, was evidently shorn of his beams for the time.

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