« PředchozíPokračovat »
concerned, it shall be maintained. But it is time to break your fasts; and if you will follow me, brother Cap, I will show you how we poor soldiers live here on a distant frontier."
Now my co-mates and partners in exile,
Hath not old custom made this life more sweet
Here feel we but the penalty of Adam.-As You LIKE IT.
SERGEANT DUNHAM made no empty vaunt when he gave the promise conveyed in the closing words of the last chapter. Notwithstanding the remote frontier position of the post, they who lived at it enjoyed a table that, in many respects, kings and princes might have envied. At the period of our tale, and, indeed, for half a century later, the whole of that vast region which has been called the West, or the new countries since the war of the revolution, lay a comparatively unpeopled desert, teeming with all the living productions of nature, that properly belonged to the climate, man and the domestic animals excepted. The few Indians that roamed its forests then could produce no visible effects on the abundance of the game; and the scattered garrisons, or occasional hunters, that here and there were to be met with on that vast surface, had no other influence than the bee on the buckwheat field, or the humming-bird on the flower."
The marvels that have descended to our own times, in the way of tradition, concerning the quantities of beasts, birds, and fishes, that were then to be met with, on the shores of the great lakes in particular, are known to be sustained by the experience of living men; else might we hesitate about relating them; but having been eye-witnesses of some of these prodigies, our office shall be discharged with the confidence that certainty can impart. Oswego was particularly well placed to keep the larder of an epicure amply supplied. Fish of various sorts abounded in its river, and the /sportsman had only to cast his line to haul in a bass or some other member of the finny tribe which then peopled the waters, as the air above the swamps of this fruitful latitude are known to be filled with insects. Among others was the salmon of the lakes, a variety of that well-known species, that is scarcely inferior to the delicious salmon of northern Europe. Of the different migratory birds that frequent forests and waters, there was the same affluence, hundreds of acres of geese and ducks being often seen at
a time, in the great bays that indent the shores of the lake. Deer, bears, rabbits, and squirrels, with divers other quadrupeds, among which was sometines included the elk, or moose, helped to complete the sum of the natural supplies on which all the posts depended, more or less, to relieve the unavoidable privations of their remote frontier positions.
In a place where viands that would elsewhere be deemed great luxuries were so abundant, no one was excluded from their enjoyment. The meanest individual at Oswego habitually feasted on game that would have formed the boast of a Parisian table; and it was no more than a healthful commentary on the caprices of taste, and of the waywardness of human desires, that the very diet which in other scenes would have been deemed the subject of envy and repinings, got to pall on the appetite. The coarse and regular food of the army, which it became necessary to husband on account of the difficulty of transportation, rose in the estimation of the common soldier; and, at any time, he would cheerfully desert his venison, and ducks, and pigeons, and salmon, to banquet on the sweets of pickled pork, stringy turnips, and half-cooked cabbage.
The table of Sergeant Dunham, as a matter of course, partook of the abundance and luxuries of the frontier, as well as of its privations. A delicious broiled salmon smoked on a homely platter, hot venison steaks sent up their appetizing odours, and several dishes of cold meats, all of which were composed of game, had been set before the guests, in honour of the newly arrived visiters, and in vindication of the old soldier's hospitality.
"You do not seem to be on short allowance, in this quarter of the world, Sergeant," said Cap, after he had got fairly initiated into the mysteries of the different dishes: "your salmon might satisfy a Scotsman."
"It fails to do it, notwithstanding, brother Cap; for among two or three hundred of the fellows that we have in this garrison, there are not half a dozen who will not swear that the fish is unfit to be eaten. Even some of the lads, who never tasted venison except as poachers at home, turn up their noses at the fattest haunches that we get here.'
'Ay, that is Christian natur'," put in Pathfinder; "and I must say, it is none to its credit. Now, a red-skin never repines, but is always thankful for the food he gets, whether it be fat or lean, venison or bear, wild turkey's breast or wild goose's wing. To. the shame of us white men be it said, that we look upon blessings without satisfaction, and consider trifling evils as matters of great account."
"It is so with the 55th, as I can answer, though I cannot say
as much for their Christianity," returned (the Sergeant. "Even the Major himself, old Duncan of Lundie, will sometimes swear an oatmeal cake is better fare than the Oswego bass, and sigh for a swallow of Highland water, when, if so minded, he has the whole of Ontario to quench his thirst in."
"Has Major Duncan a wife and children?" asked Mabel, whose thoughts naturally turned towards her own sex, in her new situation.
"Not he, girl; though they do say that he has a betrothed at home. The lady, it seems, is willing to wait, rather than suffer the hardships of service in this wild region; all of which, brother Cap, is not according to my notions of a woman's duties. Your sister thought differently, and, had it pleased God to spare her, would have been sitting at this moment on the very camp-stool that her daughter so well becomes."
"I hope, Sergeant, you do not think of Mabel for a soldier's wife," returned Cap, gravely. "Our family has done its share in that way already, and it's high time that the sea was again remembered."
"I do not think of finding a husband for the girl in the 55th, or any other regiment, I can promise you, brother; though I do think it getting to be time that the child were respectably married." "Father!"
""Tis not their gifts, Sergeant, to talk of these matters in so open a manner," said the guide; "for I've seen it verified by experience, that he who would follow the trail of a virgin's goodwill, must not go shouting out his thoughts behind her. So, if you please, we will talk of something else."
"Well, then, brother Cap, I hope that bit of a cold roasted pig is to your mind; you seem to fancy the food."
"Ay, ay; give me civilised grub, if I must eat," returned the pertinacious seaman. "Venison is well enough for your inland sailors, but we of the ocean like a little of that which we understand."
Here Pathfinder laid down his knife and fork, and indulged in a hearty laugh, though in his always silent manner : then he asked, with a little curiosity in his manner
"Don't you miss the skin, Master Cap? don't you miss the skin?" 66 'It would have been better for its jacket, I think myself, Pathfinder; but I suppose it is a fashion of the woods to serve up shoats in this style."
"Well, well, a man may go round the 'arth and not know everything. If you had had the skinning of that pig, Master Cap, it would have left you sore hands. The creatur' is a hedgehog!"
“Blast me, if I thought it wholesome natural pork, either," returned Cap. 66 'But then I believed even a pig might lose some of its good qualities, up hereaway in the woods. It seemed no more than reason that a fresh-water hog should not be altogether so good as a salt-water hog. I suppose, Sergeant, by this time, it is all the same to you?"
"If the skinning of it, brother, does not fall to my duty. Pathfinder, I hope you didn't find Mabel disobedient on the march?" "Not she, not she. If Mabel is only half as well satisfied with Jasper and the Pathfinder, as the Pathfinder and Jasper are satisfied with her, Sergeant, we shall be friends for the remainder of our days."
As the guide spoke, he turned his eyes towards the blushing girl, with a sort of innocent desire to know her opinion; and then, with an inborn delicacy, that proved he was far superior to the vulgar desire to invade the sanctity of feminine feeling, he looked at his plate, and seemed to regret his own boldness.
66 Well, well, we must remember that women are not men, my friend," resumed the Sergeant, "and make proper allowances for nature and education. A recruit is not a veteran. Any man knows that it takes longer to make a good soldier, than it takes to make anything else; and it ought to require unusual time to make a good soldier's daughter."
"This is new doctrine, Sergeant," said Cap, with some spirit. We old seamen are apt to think that six soldiers, ay, and capital soldiers too, might be made, while one sailor is getting his education."
"Ay, brother Cap, I've seen something of the opinions which seafaring-men have of themselves," returned the brother-in-law, with a smile as bland as comported with his saturnine features; "for I was many years one of the garrison in a seaport. You and I have conversed on the subject before, and I'm afraid we shall never agree. But if you wish to know what the difference is between a real soldier, and man in what I should call a state of nature, you have only to look at a battalion of the 55th, on parade this afternoon, and then, when you get back to York, examine one of the militia regiments making its greatest efforts."
"Well, to my eye, Sergeant, there is very little difference, not more than you'll find between a brig and a snow. To me they seem alike; all scarlet, and feathers, and powder, and pipe-clay."
"So much, sir, for the judgment of a sailor," returned the Sergeant with dignity; "but perhaps you are not aware that it requires a year to teach a true soldier how to eat?
"So much the worse for him. The militia know how to eat at starting; for I have often heard that, on their marches, they
commonly eat all before them, even if they do nothing else." They have their gifts, I suppose, like other men," observed Pathfinder, with a view to preserve the peace, which was evidently in some danger of being broken, by the obstinate predilection of each of the disputants in favour of his own calling; " and when a man has his gift from Providence, it is commonly idle to endeavour to bear up against it. The 55th, Sergeant, is a judicious regiment, in the way of eating, as I know from having been so long in its company, though I dare say militia corps could be found that would outdo them in feats of that natur', too."
"Uncle," said Mabel, "if you have breakfasted, I will thank you to go out upon the bastion with me, again. We have neither of us half seen the lake, and it would be hardly seemly for a young woman to be walking about the fort, the first day of her arrival, quite alone."
Cap understood the motive of Mabel; and having, at the bottom, a hearty friendship for his brother-in-law, he was willing enough to defer the argument until they had been longer together, for the idea of abandoning it altogether never crossed the mind of one so dogmatical and obstinate. He accordingly accompanied his niece, leaving Sergeant Dunham and his friend, the Pathfinder, alone together. As soon as his adversary had beat a retreat, the Sergeant, who did not quite so well understand the manœuvre of his daughter, turned to his companion, and with a smile that was not without triumph, he remarked ·
"The army, Pathfinder, has never yet done itself justice, in the way of asserting its rights; and, though modesty becomes a man, whether he is in a red coat or a black one, or, for that matter, in his shirt-sleeves, I don't like to let a good opportunity slip of saying a word in its behalf. Well, my friend," laying his own hand on one of the Pathfinder's, and giving it a hearty squeeze—“how do you like the girl?"
"You have reason to be proud of her, Sergeant; you have reason to be proud at finding yourself the father of so handsome and well-mannered a young woman. I have seen many of her sex, and some that were great and beautiful; but never before did I meet with one in whom I thought Providence had so well balanced the different gifts."
"And the good opinion, I can tell you, Pathfinder, is mutual. She told me, last night, all about your coolness, and spirit, and kindness, — particularly the last, for kindness counts for more than half with females, my friend,-and the first inspection seems to give satisfaction on both sides. Brush up the uniform, and pay a little more attention to the outside, Pathfinder, and you will have the girl, heart and hand."