« PreviousContinue »
maid! chambermaid ! yelling out, as some of these would-be fine ladies do, who come on board. She's a lady, that's certain.'
• Is there any thing else I can do for you, Mrs. Hartwell ?' said Mrs. Tompkins, in her most obliging manner, as she turned to leave the state-room.
No, Mrs. Hartwell had no orders to give. She was so fortunate as to need very little assistance from those about her. The next morning, when the passengers and visitors flocked on board, she was seated in the ladies' cabin, with quite a domestic air about her; her needle-work on the table, an open book in her hand, and a little girl of six years old beside her, dressing and undressing a large wax doll. There was nothing peculiar in this lady's appearance, to attract observation; and yet she could not but perceive that her fellow passengers took the liberty of staring at her most unmercifully. She was pretty, to be sure, very pretty, and remarkably well dressed; had a fair hand and small foot; but there was nothing in her tout ensemble to excite attention. Perhaps they were examining how her hair was arranged, or the make of her fashionable morning dress. Presently she stepped into her state-room, and then the whisper went round:
*I say, chambermaid - Betsey, Betsey — who is that lady, who makes herself so much at home on board ?'
Why, did n't you know, ladies ?' said Mrs. Tompkins ; 'why that is the captain's wife, and this is her first trip.?
Captain Hartwell married !' cried a number of voices ; 'well, he has been sly about it! And that is her step-daughter, I suppose; poor
little dear!' And then all eyes were turned upon the child and her doll.
These remarks went round in a circle of acquaintance gathered in the after cabin ; some friends who were going down together, and others they met on board unexpectedly, bound for the same port, and a party of Louisville ladies, who were admiring the boat, and taking leave of their friends. But now the town's-people received warning to go on shore ; and sighs, and kisses, and good-byes, and good wishes, were mingled in haste. And soon the regular, loud puffs of the high pressure engine were heard, as the vessel moved off into the stream, gave a proud sweep in front of the town, and shaped her course for the mouth of the canal. But some difficulty occurred on entering it. It matters not here who was to blame. I can only aver, that the boat swerved in the powerful current, which there sweeps over the Falls of the Ohio, and which threatened to suck her on to a bed of rocks, from which she could not have been got off under a long delay. As it was, she grazed the bottom with a hollow, grating sound, and gave a lurch, slight certainly, but enough to give fear to the faint-hearted. In a few moments, however, she was brought to her course, and went bravely into the canal, while fifty tongues were ringing changes on the adventure. The chambermaid in particular was heard to describe the scene in twelve different ways, to those who had seen it with their own eyes, before they were fairly through the canal, ending every time by declaring, with a shudder, that a little more, and the boat would have been floating bottom up down the falls !' When the colored steward heard this, he looked at the black waiter with a wink and a grin, and muttered 'Fiddle-faddle!'
Well, I declare !' cried the chambermaid, with a strong expression of nausea in her countenance, 'if I ain't so sick of them nasty black apes, that I do n't know what to do! And turning away scornfully, she pursued her walk on the guards with a young woman who came on board as nurse to one of the lady passengers, and was now quieting a fine infant in her arms. The chambermaid went on to descant upon the dangers of such accidents as they had just escaped, and of the awful catastrophes befalling steam-boats in general; ‘and I have always heerd say,' continued she, “that it's a bad homen to get such a scare, just at the first start; there an't never no good luck comes after.'
• A bad beginning makes a good ending, and all's well that ends well,' said a low, hoarse voice, coming from some invisible quarter, as the chambermaid felt her dress twitched slightly, as by some invisible hand.
Looking round, she found that the voice and the hand came from the window of the captain's state-room, and belonged to the singular looking person of a large mulatto, who now addressed the chambermaid in a hoarse whisper, as he protruded his great woolly head and short thick neck through the window.
• Who was that a-talking about bad homens ? -'cause it's the wust thing any body can do. Talk of bad luck, and it ’ll bring it right down upon you, as sure as the d-1. 'Sides, it discorriges the people, and makes the passengers so plaguy fidgety. Wust thing you can do. Best talk about something else.'
*I hear you, Steven,' said the chambermaid ; let alone my dress, will you, before you drag the gathers out; and do say what you are doing in there : I've sot all to rights.'
Yes, yes, Mrs. Tompkins; every thing is as nice and as neat as your pretty hands can make it; but you know I lets nobody touch these 'ere but myself,' and he held up a pair of shining boots, 'nor brush the captain's clothes, nor nothing ; and see what I've found,' continued he, drawing back, and placing a delicate pair of lady's shoes in contrast beside the boots he had been polishing; 'I found 'em strapped on the captain's trunk, under his big coat.'
'Oh! what dear little shoes ! exclaimed the n'ırse, in a soft voice, borrowed from her fair employer ; 'whose are they?'
• They must be Mrs. Hartwell's, to be sure,' said Mrs. Tompkins ; and of all the little feet, she must have a little the littlest.'
* The captain's picked out a raal beauty, has n't he ? said Stevens. • I wonder if she's as pleasant as she looks.'
'I reckon you'd know in a minute, if you was only just to speak to her,' answered the chambermaid : she has the sweetest, politest way with her; though I never seen her till yesterday, I am sure nobody can't help liking her.' Saying which, Mrs. Tompkins left the window, and the mulatto muttered to himself:
Yes, ma'am ; I reckon it will be best for every one on us to like the captain's lady;' while Mrs. Tompkins addressed her companion :
• Now that yellow man,' said she, is engaged as cook, and he has no more occasion to black them boots, nor to touch them things, than I have; but there are such fools in the world, you know, and he is one of em.” The subject of this remark now came out of the cabin, stooping
as he passed through the door, to accommodate his height, and adroitly edging himself aside, to avoid encountering the passengers with his burly proportions; and then the nurse was heard to utter an exclamation : La me! Mrs. Tompkins ! — why the man bas only got one hand, and that his left hand! I declare, I do n't see how he contrives to get through his work at all. If my right hand was gone, I should give up.'
• Lord bless you !' cried the chambermaid, “big Steven can do more with that left hand of his, than half these lazy blacks can do with both of theirs; and of all the men to fight, when once he gets provoked! He'll grab hold of a fellow with that one hand, and hold on like a vice, while he pummels him with his stump of a right arm.'
• Well, if that does not beat all!' said the other: 'why I never heard the like!'
This interesting colloquy was interrupted by a call on the nurse, from the mother of her young charge; and Mrs. Tompkins, too, hastened to the ladies'cabin to attend to the multifarious wants and orders of her employer, which, like that of most chambermaids in public places, is truly a many-headed monster.
• The · Lord of the Isles' had cleared the caval; her commander had transacted the business which detained her a short time at Shippingport; and now fairly started on her voyage, was industriously paddling her way through the clear waters of the Ohio, toward that broad and muddy stream, which, with its thousand tributaries, swells onward on its mazy course, to disgorge itself, by many a sluggish outlet, into the stormy gulf of Mexico.
Among the numerous passengers, some few, some very few, were gazing with interest from the burricane-deck on the beautiful banks that adorn one of the finest rivers in the world. The “Knobs of Indiana were still visible, but as these receded from the view, bluffs, and inlets, and waving woods, were passed in rapid succession. But few gave thought to these. Some paced the deck with hurried strides and contracted brows, as though the velocity of steam navigation was all too slow for their impatience to reach their journey's bourne. Others were gathered in knots, discussing the state of the times, or laughing at the broad jests of some noisy Kentuckian. Here and there some idler might be seen, resting his long limbs in the shade, with his chair thrown back, in the uncooth position described by more than one English traveller, while with the aid of his penknife he was lazily ridding his teeth of the remains of his dinner, or perchance paring his nails, as the case might require. Within, books and cards divided the attention of gentlenien on the one hand, and black-legs on the other; all mingled, a heterogeneous throng, in the close companionship of a steam-boat.
The ladies, with few exceptions, were invisible, and stranger still, inaudible. A warm sun and a good dinner, with the addition of fashionable novels, had made them sleepy, and the ladies' cabin presented a drowsy scene of listless languor. With dresses loosened, shoes cast off, and hair dishevelled, there were several who seemed
to breathe only to yawn, or to gasp out complaints against the heat of the weather, and the closeness of the cabin.
• Shall I open another window, ladies ? asked the chambermaid. * Ah, do!' said one, faintly.
No, pray!' whispered another; 'my child is asleep here, and it might be the death of him.'
The eyes of the opponents met, but they were too sleepy to look displeased.
Mrs. Hartwell now appeared from the state-room, where she had been reading beside her little step-daughter, who was asleep, and looking round with a fresh, bright countenance on the listless throng, she seated herself, and went on with her book. But yawning is in. fectious, and drowsiness is catching; and she presently found herself stretching, and rubbing her eyes; so she walked out into the open air, to shake off the lethargy that was creeping upon her. handkerchief tied over her head to keep her curls quiet, and a parasol raised against the sun to keep her fair face from tanning, she stood on the guards, looking intently at the dark forests on the Kentucky shore, close under which they were sailing. Perhaps she was thinking of her distant home, or of what had been the home of her childhood, and comparing its' tenants of the grove' with those giant trees, that, raising their huge trunks in upright and lofty independence, like the young republic to which they belong, might seem to defy even the steady enmity of time, if low at their feet you did not descry the mouldering remains of their orude forefathers,' over which sad Nature, pining over her fallen works, spreads a fantastic pall of velvetlike moss, and gay-colored lichens, to hide their grim decay.
• What think you of the woods of old Kentuck? said a kind voice at her side, as a kind hand drew hers within his arm, and led lier to a seat in the shade.
I have scarcely spoken two words to you since you came on board,' said Captain Hartwell, but I have thought of you; especially when the boat had like to have got into difficulty in the current, above the falls.'
• Oh! when you were so full of business? You should not have thought of me then.'
* Don't you know, Cecilia, that it always does me good to think of you? If I am in danger, it gives me courage ; if I am in difficulty, it gives me sense to get out of it. And now, tell me truly, were you much frightened ?
• To say the truth, then,' replied Cecilia, 'I do not feel as if any thing could frighten me, as long as I am near you; but in that case, I did not see any positive danger to apprehend.'
• There was none,' said the captain ; that is, nothing of personal danger. All I feared, was loss to the owners from the delay, and some injury the boat might have sustained. I am glad to find, he continued, after a pause, that you are not one of those screaming fair ones, who take fright at a shadow, and make 'confusion thrice confounded,' in case of real peril.'
• Do n't be too sure,' said Cecilia, laughing; 'you have not seen me tried yet. If there were any serious cause of alarm, you cannot tell how I might behaye.'
• My dear girl,' said her husband, seriously, 'I hope to heaven I never shall see you tried; but you know, for I have told you, the many dangers of navigating these rivers ; the dire mischances to which the commanders of steam-boats are exposed, and of wbich you must share the risk, when you are with me; and you know my idea of what a captain's wife ought to be, and how, especially in case of trouble, of whatever kind, her conduct may reflect credit, or the contrary, on her husband.'
• I believe I understand you,' said Cecilia ; and I think you may rely on my behaving pretty well on common occasions; but as to any remarkable display of heroism, I am too - too — too much of a simpleton.'
• Too young, and too delicately brought up,' added her husband.
"Oh! can that soft and gentle mien
Extremes of hardship learn to bear,
Where thou wert fairest of the fair ?
You see I have not forgotten our pretty song ; but I hope never to see your heroism brought into requisition, nor your powers of endurance, to such a degree as to make you regret the scenes which you have left for me: but in my own experience, which has not been small, I have observed women of refinement and cultivated understandings rise superior to trials under which others of vulgar habits and inferior minds have displayed the impatience and petulance of spoiled children.'
*I have heard my father say the same,' observed Cecilia ; "and that women need, fully as much as men do, strong good sense to guide them through their difficulties; and therefore he marvels at the slender opportunities usually afforded us for the improvement of our reasoning faculties.'
* All men would think the same,' resumed Captain Hartwell, if they knew their own interest. While, from mistaken ideas of false delicacy and false refinement, they encourage imbecility and affectation in the younger and fairer portions of your sex, they forget that these lovely play-things are born to exercise a powerful influence over the character of man, through all the most critical part of his existence; from the cradle up through the glowing years of way. ward and passionate youth, till middle age finds him coolly deprecating the folly and the weakness of the unfortunate sex he has done his part to spoil and to degrade, and without scruple consigning their old age to scorn and neglect; and thus a kind of counteraction is established, by which the sexes mutually injure each other, and impede the progress of moral improvement."
Mrs. Hartwell thought there was some hope while so many individuals remained willing to make a fair estimate of women's standing in society. The misfortune was, she said, that too many of their champions stepped on dangerous ground, touching the political equality and moral independence of those to whom Nature herself has denied the power of competing with man on the great arena of life; while the same benign mother has placed in her heart far worthier sources of delight, in his love and confidence.