Driftwood from the Thames Battlefield

While Constance and I stood with clasped hands gazing at the wolf’s head, Mr. Seymour entered the room, followed by Uncle Job. At sight of the latter my heart went out to him with tender emotion, and I ran and embraced him as I would a dear friend.
“I hope you find yourself in good spirits, and none the worse for what has happened?” he inquired, affectionately, taking my hands in his and kissing me.
“Gilbert’s in fine spirits,” Constance spoke up, looking at me as a mother might on a petted child.
“Yes, and I can’t thank you enough for what you’ve done, uncle,” I answered.
“Don’t talk that way, child, for you owe me nothing,” he replied. “I was sorry to leave you in doubt so long, but there was no other way.”
“It didn’t matter; but I’m afraid I’ll be a great burden to you,” I answered, remembering what I had thought in regard to this.
“Nonsense! Only I’m not sure but you would be better with your Aunt Jane than with me; but your mother would approve what I am doing if she were alive, and that is what governs me,” he answered.
“I’m sure she would,” I replied, feeling that he spoke the truth.
“Then you are pleased?” he asked, smiling, as if comforted by my answer.
“Yes, but I fear Aunt Jane will be very unhappy when she finds I have gone without money or clothing. Wouldn’t it be right to send her word that no harm will come to me?” I asked, a feeling of remorse coming over me that I had shown her so little respect.
“She will not fret nor lose an hour’s sleep over you, my boy,” Uncle Job replied. “Her heart will close up like an oyster when she finds you are gone; but when we are well out of the country we will let her know. She will never forgive you, but it doesn’t matter, for she was never friendly to our family, anyway.”
“Mother used to say we didn’t understand her,” I answered, remembering her words.
“Your mother found excuses for every one, so tender was her heart; and your Aunt Jane is not to be blamed if she is ice instead of flesh and blood,” he replied.
“Please, Job, leave Aunt Jane in the quietude of her farm for a while. The die is cast, and nothing can change it now,” Mr. Seymour broke in, good-naturedly. “Come, Constance, let us have dinner served here, where we can have the evening to ourselves—and make haste, for we are starving,” he added, putting his arm about her as she turned to leave the room.
At the dinner which followed, it was my great good fortune to make a new acquaintance, and one I had occasion to prize more and more as the years went by. This in the person of Constance’s companion and teacher, Setti, a young person who had lately come to make one of Mr. Seymour’s family; and strangely enough for such companionship, and improbable you will say, she was of pure Indian blood. No one, however, would have known this, for except that her hair and eyes were black and her complexion olive rather than dark, she was in no wise different from those about her. She was above medium height, with graceful figure, and soft, shy manners that were truly captivating, and in regard to this last there was no difference of opinion. Her history, while it would be strange now and romantic in the extreme, was not thought peculiar at the time of which I speak. For you must know she was found when a child, playing beside the body of her dead mother on the Thames battlefield, where Tecumseh fell, a little way across the Canadian border. The officer who thus discovered her took her to his home and educated her, treating her in all things as his child. This until some months back, when, his family being broken up by one of the dreadful scourges of sickness common in the new country, Mr. Seymour had asked her to become the companion and instructor of Constance.
While nothing was known of Setti’s parentage, it was thought she was the daughter of some great chief, from the ornaments clasped about her neck, and which she still wore. Of these, one was a cross of mixed gold and silver, sunk in an oval frame of copper and lead, the handiwork of some Indian craftsman, who, it was apparent, had only rude tools and molten metals with which to work. Another ornament, and one that struck you strangely, was a serpent, hammered out of pure iron and inlaid with silver; but of its significance nothing was known. Afterward, when I came to know this sweet creature as one does a sister or cherished friend, I could never discover anything to indicate her savage ancestry, save, perhaps, a reticence of speech unusual in attractive women—if I except, perhaps, a startled look she sometimes wore when coming suddenly upon any new or remarkable experience in life. This peculiarity, however, we see in people of our own blood, and so it should not have been thought strange in her. In all other respects there was nothing about her to mark the abrupt step from savagery to civilized life, for her intelligence was in all things of the order and delicacy that characterizes refined women. Her beauty and sweetness of disposition, too, were such as to confirm the romantic notions I have ever held respecting the Indian character; and it was no doubt due to her and other kindly influences that I was first led to believe our treatment of the Indian tribes had been somewhat lacking in wisdom and humanity. Mr. Seymour was also of this opinion, and never lost an opportunity to express his views on the subject, and with considerable abruptness.
“Setti’s affectionate nature and sweetness of temper,” he was in the habit of saying to his friends when the subject was brought up, “are natural to her—God’s gifts; and had a wiser and more tolerant course been followed by our government, all the Indian tribes of America would have been led to accept civilization, as she has been—not grudgingly, but with their whole heart and soul. Either that, or they should have been left apart to follow the processes every race has passed through in its progress from savagery. Instead, we have the sad sight of great Indian nations debauched and hunted down and destroyed, as if they were a plague upon the earth. Surely they were worthy of something better, and should have been preserved to mark for all time the magnificent men and women who made up our native Indian population. To do this we would have had to recognize their right to live and multiply unmolested, as we do others more fortunate in color and birth; or failing in that, have subjected them to gentle treatment and wise laws. Surely they were worthy such care and consideration. Homer’s Greeks, to make a point of it, were no better, nor scarcely more civilized, than the Sacs and Foxes we have but just driven like wolves beyond the confines of civilization after robbing them of their lands and villages.”
Mr. Seymour’s views, and others like them, however noble and humane, were not regarded by the community as meriting attention except in a sentimental way, one and all being animated by a desire to dispossess the Indians of their lands as quickly as possible, and without reference to their rights or any feeling of humanity whatever. However, he was not the less strenuous in giving them utterance, even to the extent of offending his friends and patrons.
“Bad faith and cruel harassment of the Indian tribes on their lonely reservations,” he would say, “have characterized our government’s policy from the first, and forms, indeed, so gross a crime that coming ages will reprobate it wherever men love justice and hate swinish greed. It will not in any way excuse us that we are hungry for the property of our neighbors, and because of this agree to treat the Indian as an inferior being. He is nothing of the kind, for God never made more perfect men physically, and the mind conforms in all things to the body. It is nature’s law. Nor does it excuse our acts, however much our passions may be aroused, that the Indian in his savage state kills and mutilates his enemy. Achilles, the ideal Greek, circling the walls of ancient Troy with Hector’s body chained to his chariot, has never been surpassed in cruelty and ignoble pride in Indian annals. The comparison is still more odious when we think of the hecatombs of harmless men the Homeric Greeks sacrificed to the manes of their honored dead. The Indian’s heaven is lighted by no such baleful fires. Nor have we any reason to suppose the red man more backward than the Greek, for he is greater in courage and much superior to him in physical strength and patient endurance.”
“If Achilles lived in our day,” Uncle Job once answered, “we would not lose an hour in appropriating his incomparable horses and sending him to the wilds of Iowa to join that other savage, Black Hawk, saying to ourselves the while that we were well rid of a nuisance and disturber of the peace. Too much can’t be expected, though, of our young country, Henry. It is too full of the bumptious exuberance of animal life. Children in experience make very poor governors; they are too headstrong and intolerant; but we will do better later on. Only mature nations, like mature men, know how to govern well. It’s a pity, but so it is, and will be always, and the weak and dependent must suffer whenever contrary conditions exist.”
Thus tender-hearted men declaimed in the years that are gone, but fruitlessly. These thoughts, however out of place, recur to me now and struggle for utterance when my mind reverts to the gentle being who came into my life that evening, and who afterward, and so long as she lived, did so much to add to the happiness and well-being of those with whom she was brought in contact.
When at last we were seated about the table, Mr. Seymour asked grace, and this with such show of reverence that I was awed by it as something new and strange. For such a thing was not usual, you must know, in the new country. Not that men were lacking in respect for religious observances; on the contrary, but time pressed, and, moreover, it was thought that such delicate matters should be left to those trained, so to speak, in things of that nature. On occasion, to be sure, the more venturesome would, if asked, raise their voices openly; but such practices were cause rather of wonder at the courage they evinced than desire to emulate them on the part of the more timid of the community. Mr. Seymour’s custom, however, seemed to me to be so good and reverent that I determined if I ever grew to man’s estate to do the same; but such resolves, however commendable, are rarely followed, for when I came to have a home of my own, and children sat about the table, I put it off, as weak men ever do in cases of this nature. For a long time the dinner promised to be without speech, all seeming to be oppressed at the step that had been taken—a step that would, for good or bad, color forever the life of at least one of their number. At last Mr. Seymour, looking across to where I sat, said, with an encouraging smile:
“I hope, Gilbert, you don’t feel any regret at what has been done?”
“No, sir,” I answered; “why should I?”
“Nor have any disposition to turn back?”
“It would be too late for that, I’m afraid, even if I wanted to,” I answered. “Aunt Jane would never forgive me so great an offense.”
“No, not too late, if you regret the step. The blame for what has been done is all ours, and no part of it would rest on your head,” he answered, kindly.
“I don’t regret it, but I’m sorry for Aunt Jane,” I answered; for, however loth I was to live with her, she was entitled to my respect, if not my love. So much, I thought, I owed my father’s memory.
“Well, you may be sorry,” Mr. Seymour answered. “We all admire your aunt, and if she would unbend a little and let her face relax into a smile on occasion, she would be a most attractive and lovable woman; but immersed in her thoughts, and formal of manner because of it, she is like the icebergs one sometimes meets in midocean, she is so cold and inaccessible.”
“It’s her way, and doesn’t mean anything, mother always said,” I answered.
“Perhaps so; but age does not change or soften her way, as it does most people. Your Uncle Job may not prove as watchful a guardian as she would have been, Gilbert, but your heart will be the warmer and your figure the more supple for the freedom,” Mr. Seymour went on.
“I’m sure I shall be content,” I answered, looking at Constance, not finding it in my heart to say I could be happy with any one away from her.
“He will never have any other company save yours, nor desire for any. So you are likely to see a good deal of him, and always to your betterment, I am sure,” Mr. Seymour answered.
11“Why do you say that, Henry?” Uncle Job asked, looking up in surprise.
“Because you are destined to be an old bachelor, Job,” Mr. Seymour answered, “and of this I am sure. Charles, Gilbert’s father, used to say the same. You lack time and inclination to find a mate, and more’s the pity. In such company, Gilbert,” he went on, “your craft must hug the shore or sail into the open, as fate decides; but wherever wind and tide may take you, here is hoping you may have a prosperous voyage,” and Mr. Seymour raised a glass of wine to his lips, and much to my astonishment, bowed to me as if I were a man grown. He was, however, always surprising those about him in some such pleasant way. Indeed, I thought his bearing so fine that for him to single out any one for notice was a distinction to be remembered and be proud of ever afterward. Thus strongly does kindliness and courtesy of speech ever impress the young or inexperienced in life.
“We all want to join in that toast, Henry,” Uncle Job broke in, reaching for a goblet of water that stood beside his plate.
“Won’t you join me in a glass of wine, Job?” Mr. Seymour went on, observing his action. “You will sleep the better for it. No? Well, I won’t urge you; but you will excuse me, I know, if I say it has always seemed strange to me that in this new country, where all save the pious tipple, and even they indulge sometimes behind the door, you should so rigidly abstain.”
“It looks odd, I suppose,” Uncle Job answered, “but you know it doesn’t grow out of any assumption on my part. I simply don’t care for liquor, and can’t cultivate it, for the same reason you give for my not marrying; I haven’t the time.”
“Well, that is a clever way to put it,” Mr. Seymour responded. “You are all the better, though, for being free. I have been used to the custom since a boy, and so it would seem odd to dine without wine of some kind. It is all a matter of habit, however, and in this new country, where any kind of good liquor is hard to get, it is better to eschew it altogether, as you do, if one can. Many reprobate the use of wine, I know, but that is an extreme way to look at it, for it is as old as man, and so not to be criticised as if the fashion were new.”
“Custom never makes a bad practice the better, though it may excuse it,” Uncle Job answered, good-naturedly.
“No, but it is the excesses of those who use liquor that should be condemned; but there doesn’t seem to be any middle course in most cases.”
“That is not the only thing that is carried to excess in our new country,” Uncle Job answered. “The habit of chewing tobacco is quite as harmful, and one that ought to be frowned upon by all men with the beating of drums and tom-toms. This for sanitary reasons, if for no other.”
“That is as men think,” Mr. Seymour, who was sometimes disposed to be very democratic, replied. “The custom is not nice, but it will die out when men live nearer each other and have leisure to observe the habits of their neighbors. Our people are not more peculiar in this than in giving up the pipe for the cigar.”
“That was bad taste, for a pipe is every way superior to a cigar. It is more cleanly and costs less and is not so harmful,” Uncle Job replied, with animation; for however abstemious he might be in regard to the use of liquor, he was seldom without a pipe or cigar in his mouth.
“The pipe will come into fashion again when men have more leisure,” Mr. Seymour answered. “Now they have scarce time to bite off the end of a cigar or say ‘Lord forgive me!’ ere they die, so busy are they in bringing the new world into subjection. However, to talk about something of more interest to these children, what are you going to do next? What are your plans, Job, if I may ask?”
This reference to the future caused both Constance and me to stop our chatter and lean forward not to lose a word of what was said, but little comfort did we derive from Uncle Job’s reply.
“I have a plan, and it is to leave for home to-morrow morning,” he answered, abruptly, looking across the table to where I sat, as if to see how I took it.
“Why so much haste?” Mr. Seymour expostulated.
“Well, the more promptly we act, the less trouble we are likely to have. No one ever caught Miss Holmes napping before, and while we may have misled her up to this time, it is not possible to do so long. The safest way for us, then, is to hurry away.”
“Surely, Uncle Job, there’s no such hurry,” I broke in, my heart ceasing to beat at the thought of going so soon.
“I would like to stay longer, but why take the risk of delay, my son? There is nothing to detain us, and the sooner we are off the less likely we are to be interfered with. So let us start in the morning—and that reminds me, I ought to go and procure the things you need for the journey, Gilbert, if you will excuse me, Henry,” he asked, turning to Mr. Seymour.
“A day or two wouldn’t make any difference, I should think, Mr. Throckmorton,” Constance interposed. “No one will look for Gilbert in this room, and he has not thought of going so soon.” NORFLOXACIN HCL
“Keep still, you little puss, and don’t meddle in such serious business,” Mr. Seymour interposed, half seriously, half in mirth at her earnestness.
“Well, I don’t see any reason for such haste,” Constance answered, as if that ought to settle it.
“Nor I,” I added, shutting my jaws tight, so greatly was I wrought up over the prospect.
“There is no other safe way. Miss Holmes would be down on us like a hawk before noon to-morrow if she doesn’t put in an appearance to-night. Indeed, it would not surprise me to see her enter this room any minute,” Uncle Job answered, in a decided way, at which we all turned and glanced toward the door, as if expecting to see her enter, as he said.
This disposition of the matter I thought worse than going to Aunt Jane’s, and when Uncle Job and Mr. Seymour presently left us to get things in readiness for the morrow, I turned and clasped Constance in my arms in an agony of grief at the thought of parting from her so soon. Thus for a long time we mingled our tears, our hearts too full for speech; but after a while, regaining our composure, we fell to talking of the future, and what we would do, and how we would meet, and this with so much earnestness that we quite forgot our present troubles in the contemplation of what was to come. Thus it is ever with the young; the illusions of life dry their tears and cheer them on when older people sink down in despair and die.