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IN my last chapter I made mention of my determination to cut and quit the States until such time as honest and independent men should again work their way to the head of the heap; and as I should probably have some idle time on hand before that state of affairs shall be brought about, I promised to give the Texians a helping hand, on the high road to freedom. Well, I was always fond of having my spoon in a mess of that kind, for if there is any thing in this world particularly worth living for, it is freedom; any thing that would render death to a brave man particularly pleasant, it is freedom.
I am now on my journey, and have already tortled along as far as Little Rock on the Arkansas, about one hundred and twenty-five miles from the mouth. I had promised to write another book, expecting, when I made that promise, to write about politics, and use up "the Government," his successor, the removal of the. deposites, and so on, matters and things that come as natural to me as bear hunting; but being rascalled out of my election, I am taken all aback, and I must now strike into a new path altogether. Still I will redeem my promise, and make a book, and it shall be about my adventures in Texas, hoping that my friends, Messrs. Webster and Clay and Biddle, will keep a sharp look-out upon "the Government" during my absence. I am told that every author of distinction writes a book of travels now-a-days.
My thermometer stood somewhat below the freezing point as I left my wife and children; still there was some thawing about the eyelids, a thing that had not taken place since I first ran away from my father's house when a thoughtless vagabond boy. I dressed myself in a clean hunting shirt, put on a new fox skin cap with the tail hanging behind, took hold of my rifle Betsey, which all the world knows was presented to me by the patriotic citizens of Philadelphia, as a compliment for my unflinching opposition to the tyrannic measures of "the Government," and thus equipped I started off, with a heavy heart, for Mill's Point, to take steamboat down the Mississippi, and go ahead in a new world.
While walking along, and thinking whether it was altogether the right grit to leave my poor country at a time she most needed my services, I came to a clearing, and I was slowly rising a slope, when I was startled by loud, profane, and boisterous voices, (as loud and profane as have been heard in the White House of late years,) which seemed to proceed from a thick covert of undergrowth, about two hundred yards in advance of me, and about one hundred to the right of my road.
"You kin, kin you?"
"Yes, I kin, and am able to do it! Boooooo! O! wake snakes, and walk your chalks! Brimstone and fire! Don't hold me, Nick Stoval! The fight's made up, and let's go at it. my soul if I don't jump down his throat and gallop every chitterling out of him, before you can say 'quit!' "
"Now, Nick, don't hold him! Jist let the wild cat come, and I'll tame him. Ned'll see me a fair fight won't you, Ned?"
"O! yes, I'll see you a fair fight; blast my old shoes if I don't."
"That's sufficient, as Tom Haynes said, when he saw the elephant. Now let him come."
Thus they went on, with countless oaths interspersed, which I dare not even hint at, and with much that I could not distinctly hear.
In mercy's name! thought I, what a band of ruffians is at work here. I quickened my gait, and had come nearly opposite to the thick grove whence the noise proceeded, when my eye caught indistinctly, through the foliage of the dwarf oaks and hickories that intervened, glimpses of a man or men, who seemed to be in a violent struggle; and I could occasionally catch those deep drawn emphatic oaths, which men in conflict utter, when they deal blows. I hurried to the spot, but before I reached it, I saw the combatants come to the ground, and after a short struggle, I saw the uppermost one (for I could not see the other) make a heavy plunge with both his thumbs, and at the same instant I heard a cry in the accent of keenest torture, "Enough! my eye is out!"
I stood completely horror-struck for a moment. The accomplices in the brutal deed had all fled at my approach, at least I supposed so, for they were not to be seen.
"Now blast your corn-shucking soul," said the victor, a lad about eighteen, as he rose from the ground, "come cutt'n your shines 'bout me agin, next time I come to the Court House, will you! Get your owl-eye in agin if you can."
At this moment he saw me for the first time. He looked as though he couldn't help it, and was for making himself particularly scarce, when I called to him, "Come hack, you brute, and assist me in relieving the poor critur you have ruined for ever."
Upon this rough salutation, he sort of collected himself, and with a taunting curl of the nose he replied, "You needn't kick before you're spurr'd. There an't nobody there, nor han't been nother. I was jist seein' how I could a' font." So saying he bounded to his plough, which stood in the corner of the fence about fifty yards from the battle ground.
Now would any man in his senses believe that a rational being could make such a darned fool of himself? but I wish I may be shot, if his report was not as true as the last Post office report, every word, and a little more satisfactory. All that I had heard and seen was nothing more nor less than what is called a rehearsal of a knock-down and drag-out fight, in which the young man had played all the parts for his own amusement, and by way of keeping his hand in. I went to the ground from which he had risen, and there was the prints of his two thumbs, plunged up to the balls in the mellow earth, about the distance of a man's eyes apart, and the ground around was broken up, as if two stags had been engaged upon it.
As I resumed my journey I laughed outright at this adventure, for it reminded me of Andrew Jackson's attack upon the United States Bank. He had magnified it into a monster, and then begun to rip and tear and swear and gouge, until he thought he had the monster on its back; and when the fight was over, and he got up to look about for his enemy, he could find none for the soul of him, for his enemy was altogether in his heated imagination. These fighting characters are never at peace, unless they have something to quarrel with, and rather than have no fight at all they will trample on their own shadows.
The day. I arrived at Little Rock, I no sooner quit the steamer than I streaked it straight ahead for the principal tavern, which is nothing to boast of, nohow, unless a man happens to be like the member of Congress from the south, who was converted to Jacksonism, and then made a speech as long as the longitude about his political honesty. Some, men it seems, take a pride in saying a great deal about nothing like windmills, their tongues must be going whether they have any grist to grind or not. This is all very well in Congress, where every member is expected to make a speech to let his constituents know that some things can be done as well as others; but I set it down as being rather an imposition upon good nature to be compelled to listen, without receiving the consideration of eight dollars per clay, besides mileage, as we do in Congress. Many members will do nothing else for their pay but listen, day in and day out, and I wish I may be shot, if they do not earn every penny of it, provided they don't sleep, and Benton or little Isaac Hill will spin their yarns but once in a week. No man who has not tried it can imagine what dreadful hard work it is to listen. Splitting gum logs in the dog days is child's play to it. I've tried both, and give the preference to the gum logs.
Well, as I said, I made straight for the tavern, and as I drew nigh, I saw a considerable crowd assembled before the door. So, thought I, they have heard that Colonel Crockett intended to pay a visit to their settlement, and they have already got together to receive him in due form. I confess I felt a little elated at the idea, and commenced ransacking the lumber room of my brain, to find some one of my speeches that I might furbish up for the occasion; and then I shouldered my Betsey, straightened myself, and walked up to the door, charged to the muzzle, and ready to let fly.
But strange as it may seem, no one took any more notice of me, than if I had been Martin Van Buren, or Dick Johnson, the celebrated wool grower. This took me somewhat aback, and I inquired what was the meaning of the gathering; and I learnt that a gravelling showman had just arrived, and was about to exhibit for the first time the wonderful feats of Harlequin, and Punch and Judy, to the impatient natives. It was drawing towards nightfall, and expectation was on tiptoe; the children were clinging to their mother's aprons, with their chubby faces dimpled with delight, and asking "What is it like? when will it begin?" and similar questions, while the women, as all good wives are in duty bound to do, appealed to their husbands for information; but the call for information was not responded to in this instance, as is sometimes the case in Congress; their husbands understood the matter about as well as "the Government" did the Post office accounts.
The showman at length made his appearance, with a countenance as wo-begone as that of "the Government" when he found his batch of dirty nominations rejected by the Senate, and mentioned the impossibility that any performance should take place that evening, as the lame fiddler had overcharged his head, and having but one leg at best, it did not require much to destroy his equilibrium. And as all the world knows, a puppet show without a fiddle is like roast pork and no apple sauce. This piece of intelligence was received with a general murmur of dissatisfaction; and such was the indignation of his majesty, the sovereign people, at being thwarted in his rational amusements, that, according to the established custom in such cases made and provided, there were some symptoms of a disposition to kick up a row, break the show, and finish the amusements of the day by putting Lynch's law in practice upon the poor showman. There is nothing like upholding the dignity of the people, and so Lieut. Randolph thought, when with his cowardly and sacrilegious hand he dared to profane the anointed nose of "the Government," and bring the whole nation into contempt. If I had been present, may disgrace follow my career in Texas, if I wouldn't have become a whole hog Jackson man upon the spot, for the time being, for the nose of "the Government" should be held more sacred than any other member, that it may be kept in good order to smell out all the corruption that is going forward not a very pleasant office, and by no means a sinecure.
The indignant people, as I have already said, were about to exercise their reserved rights upon the unlucky showman, and Punch and Judy too, when, as good fortune would have it, an old gentleman drove up to the tavern door in a sulky, with a box of books and pamphlets of his own composition (for he was an author like myself) thus being able to vouch for the moral tendency of every page he disposed of. Very few booksellers can do the same, I take it. His linen and flannels, which he had washed in the brooks by the wayside, were hanging over the back of the crazy vehicle to dry, while his own snuffy countenance had long bid defiance to sun, wind, and water to bleach it.
His jaded beast stopped instinctively upon seeing a crowd, while the old man remained seated for some moments before he could recall his thoughts from the world of imagination, where they were gleaning for the benefit of mankind. He looked, it must be confessed, more like a lunatic than a moral lecturer; but being conscious of his own rectitude, he could not conceive how his outward Adam could make him ridiculous in the eyes of another; but a fair outside is every thing to the world. The tulip flower is highly prized, although indebted for its beauty to the corruption engendered at the root: and so it is with man.
We occasionally meet with one possessing sufficient philosophy to look upon life as a pilgrimage, and not as a mere round of pleasure: who, treating this world as a place of probation, is ready to encounter suffering, and not expecting the sunshine of prosperity, escapes being overclouded by disappointment. Such is the character of the old preacher, whose ridiculous appearance in the eyes of the thoughtless and ignorant is only exceeded by the respect and veneration of those who are capable of estimating his real worth. I learnt that he was educated for the church, but not being able to obtain a living, he looked upon the whole earth as his altar, and all mankind as his flock. He was penniless, and therefore had no predilection for this or that section of the globe, for wherever he might be, his journey of probation still continued, and in every spot he found that human nature was the same. His life was literally that of a pilgrim. He was an isolated being, though his heart overflowed with the milk of human kindness; for being indiscriminate in his affection, very few valued it. He who commences the world with a general love for mankind, and suffers his feelings to dictate to his reason runs a great hazard of reaping a plentiful harvest of ingratitude, and of closing a tedious existence in misanthropy. But it was not so with the aged preacher.
Being unable to earn his bread as an itinerant lecturer, for in those cases it is mostly poor preach and worse pay he turned author, and wrote histories which contained but little information, and sermons which, like many others, had nothing to boast of, beyond being strictly orthodox. He succeeded in obtaining a sulky, and a horse to drag it, by a plea of mercy, which deprived the hounds of their food, and with these he travelled over the western states, to dispose of the product of his brain; and when poverty was deprived of the benefit of his labour, in the benevolence of his heart he would deliver a moral lecture, which had the usual weight of homilies on this subject. A lecture is the cheapest thing that a man can bestow in charity, and many of our universal philanthropists have made the discovery.
The landlord now made his appearance, and gave a hearty welcome to the reverend traveller, and shaking him by the hand, added, that he never came more opportunely in all his life.
"Opportunely!" exclaimed the philosopher.
"Yes," rejoined the other; "you have a heart and head that labour for the benefit of us poor mortals."
"O! true, an excellent market for my pamphlets," replied the other, at the same time beginning to open the trunk that lay before him.
"You misunderstand me," added the landlord. "A poor showman, with a sick wife and five children, has arrived from New Orleans "
"I will sell my pamphlets to relieve their wants, and endeavour to teach them resignation."
"He exhibits to-night in my large room: you know the room, sir I let him have it gratis."
"You are an honest fellow. I will witness his show, and add my mite to his assistance."
"But," replied the innkeeper, "the lame fiddler is fond of the bottle, and is now snoring in the hayloft."
"Degrading vice!" exclaimed the old man, and taking "God's Revenge against Drunkenness" from the trunk, and standing erect in the sulky, commenced reading to his astonished audience. The innkeeper interrupted him by observing that the homily would not fill the empty purse of the poor showman, and unless a fiddler could be obtained, he must depend on charity, or go supperless to bed. And moreover, the people, irritated at their disappointment, had threatened to tear the show to pieces.
"But what's to be done?" demanded the parson.
"Your reverence shakes an excellent bow," added the innkeeper, in an insinuating tone.
"I!" exclaimed the parson; "I fiddle for a puppet show!"
"Not for the puppet show, but for the sick wife and five hungry children."
A tear started into the eyes of the old man, as he added in an undertone, "If I could be concealed from the audience "
"Nothing easier," cried the other; "we will place you behind the scenes, and no one will ever dream that you fiddled at a puppet show."
The matter being thus settled, they entered the house, and shortly afterward the sound of a fiddle squeaking like a giggling girl, tickled into ecstacies, restored mirth and good humour to the disappointed assemblage, who rushed in, helter-skelter, to enjoy the exhibition.
All being seated, and silence restored, they waited in breathless expectation for the rising of the curtain. At length Harlequin made his appearance, and performed astonishing feats of activity on the slack rope; turning somersets backward and forward, first on this side, and then on that, with as much ease as if he had been a politician all his life, the parson sawing vigorously on his fiddle all the time. Punch followed, and set the audience in a roar with his antic tricks and jests; but when Judy entered with her broomstick, the burst of applause was as great as ever I heard bestowed upon one of Benton's slang-whang speeches in Congress, .and I rather think quite as well merited.
As the plot thickened, the music of the parson became more animated; but unluckily in the warmth of his zeal to do justice to his station, his elbow touched the side scene, which fell to the floor, and exposed him, working away in all the ecstacies of little Isaac Hill, while reading one of his long orations about things in general to empty benches. No ways disconcerted by the accident, the parson seized upon it as a fine opportunity of conveying a lesson to those around him, at the same time that he might benefit a fellow mortal. He immediately mounted the chair upon which he was seated, and. addressed the audience to the following effect:
"Many of you have come here for amusement, and others no doubt to assist the poor man, who is thus struggling to obtain a subsistence for his sick wife and children. Lo! the moral of a puppet show! But is this all; has he not rendered unto you your money's worth? This is not charity. If you are charitably inclined, here is an object fully deserving of it." He preached upon this text for full half an hour, and concluded with taking his hat to collect assistance from his hearers for the friendless showman and his family.
The next morning, when his sulky was brought to the door, the showman and his wife came out to thank their benefactor. The old man placed his trunk of pamphlets before him, and proceeded on his pilgrimage, the little children following him through the village with bursts of gratitude.