Imagens das páginas
PDF
ePub

the sullen roar like muffled thunder,-it is then we realize that they are a continuing sublimity, and the thought springs up that the mighty cataract has been pouring thus from the dawn of creation, and that its roar mingled with the music of the spheres “ when the morning stars sang together and shouted for joy;" it is then we pause, wonder, and admire, and no expression can give utterance to the height and depth of our feelings. A gentleman was once escorting a lady by moonlight on the “Iris Island, of course each was wrought up to the pitch of enthusiasm. Casting her eye up the Rapids, the lady in a rhapsody exclaimed, “ It reminds me of Shakspeare's description of Cleopatra, ‘ Beautiful in endless variety.'” “It is rather more like Mark Antony's funeral oration over Cæsar,” cryly replied her companion,—“Oh, what a fall was here, ny countrymen!”

Prentiss lingered about the place seven or eight hours drinking in its sublimity, and then returned to Buffalo. From there, on the 18th of August, be shipped to Sandusky. From this place he took the stage and, as he expresses it,“ travelled over very bad roads” to Cincinnati, where he arrived on the 26th. Here he had the pleasure of meeting his old class-mate, S. S. Boyd, who was also a youthful emigrant to the West, in search of a place at which to settle.

At the proper time Prentiss delivered his Fessenden letter of introduction to Judge Nathaniel Wright, and thus paved the way to a life-long friendship. He cast about for a few days as to the expediency of taking a school to support himself, but the idea was abandoned, and on the 28th he entered Wright's office as a student of law. But under this arrangement there was no flow of income and an ever-ebbing of expenses. His funds gradually waned lower and lower, and his impatience waxed higher and higher. His thoughts turned to another exodus, and that was to be farther south.

A story is told of him that illustrates his idea of the place where a fortune could be made. He was sauntering to the office one day, when seeing an apple-boy, he tossed him a quarter of a dollar, took out a few apples, and walked on into the office. When he came out again he saw the little fellow still standing as though waiting for something.

[ocr errors][ocr errors]

“Well, my little fellow, not gone yet, eh?” said Prentiss.

“No, sir; I was waiting for you to tell me where to carry these apples you bought.”

Prentiss turned to Boyd, who was standing by, with a look of astonishment, and in a tone of comic drollery said,

“Boyd, I'm bound to go farther,—somewhere. This place is too cheap to thrive in. Phew! I can never make a living where apples are two bits a peck.”

The above incident gives a glimpse into his feelings, and shows he was not satisfied with the locality. He, however, applied himself diligently to his studies, and here, as elsewhere, endeared himself to the new-made acquaintances, but he felt a yearning to try another field.

Fully making up his mind upon the point to go as soon as he could, he consulted with Judge Wright, and proposed to teach school for a while, and thus raise means to bear his expenses to another place farther south. Here his noble friend, Judge Wright, stepped forward to assist him. He loaned him money enough to bear his expenses. It was an act of noble generosity, and set the example to him that he always followed in after-years; that was, to help young men in their early struggles in the beginning of life.

His relation, Hon. Bellamy Storer, a member of the Cincinnati bar, just at this crisis of his destiny introduced him to two of the wealthiest men of Mississippi, Alvarez Fisk and Stephen Duncan, who were at Cincinnati, then en route for their homes in and near Natchez. These gentlemen assured him that there would be no difficulty in getting a situation as teacher that would yield him a support.

About the 1st of October he bade adieu to his Cincinnati friends, and embarked for the land of the South. The first news that his family heard of "his new departure” was by a letter from Louisville explaining the motives.

The trip from Louisville down the river was very tedious on account of the low water in the Ohio River. Prentiss fully realized the sarcasm of John Randolph,—" It was no river at all, as it was frozen up one half of the year and dried up the other half.

What the feelings of Prentiss were when he emerged from the pure waters of the Beautiful River into the murky waters of the Mississippi we know not, as he has left no record of his emotions. Whether like Bilboa, when he looked from the mountain range into the newly-discovered Pacific Ocean, his mind was filled with vast conceptions of the future or not is sealed. We only know that the mighty river became, as it were, a part of him, and furnished to his imagination in a varied form some of his sublimest illustrations of power and beneficence.

In his letters home he tells how monotonous was the life on the steamboat on that three weeks' journey down the river. The boat on reaching the most difficult bars would lie up, lighten into barges, and send out pilots to sound the channel. The passengers on these occasions would scatter for exercise on land. Prentiss once took advantage of one of these stoppages in transitu to have a hunt, as he was passionately fond of that sport. He became so interested in the chase that he forgot himself and went too far, and to his consternation, when he got back, found the boat gone. What his thoughts were just then would be hard to describe,-a stranger in the woods on the banks of the great river, short of funds, and with no boat in prospect for weeks; even his strong courage for the moment, no doubt, qnailed at the gloomy situation in which he was placed, and that by his own heedlessness. Fortunately, the owner of a log cabin on the bank told him that if he would cut across the neck of the peninsula he might head the boat at the wood-yard below. It is probable that he footed it through the brambles of that peninsula a little faster than he had ever travelled on foot before. Great was his exultation on finding that he was not too late; he reached the boat while she was rounding to, and was welcomed by his companions as the lost that was found again.” He did not venture far after that, and in due time arrived safely at his journey's end.

On the 2d day of November, 1827, he landed at Natchez, and on his first entrée he gave a striking illustration of his remarkable self-reliance and kindliness of heart. He had taken leave of Messrs. Fisk and Duncan, who had gone to their respective homes. He went to the then famous hotel, “The Mansion House,” kept by John Bell; it has passed away, and the site is now occupied by a cotton-factory for the spinning of other yarns than those of the tongue. As he entered the office he saw a crowd of strangers, and as he cast his eyes around, he failed to detect a beam of kindness, much less a smile of recognition. He had but five dollars in his pocket,—the last of the loan from his friend Wright and others. He thought that as long as he had that in his possession he would feel dependent on it; so he determined to invest it at once in the, to him, most paying way. Having registered his name and secured a room, he stepped to the bar, laid down the last five dollars he had in the world, and ordered up a bottle of wine and a box of cigars to his room. He had been struck with the fine countenance of one of the waiters at the hotel, and he fancied that the boy looked kindly on him. So when he came into the room he offered him as a welcome a glass of wine and a cigar. Of course the humble menial was struck with astonishment at this act of condescension, for he had only been accustomed to the heel-taps” heretofore, but he was chatty, and readily entered into a talk with the young stranger, whom he, no doubt, thought was the very finest young man he had ever met with.

In after-years, when Prentiss was twitted and censured by his friends for his act of improvidence in thus spending his last stiver, he retorted on his censors, “You don't understand human nature; that five dollars established my credit, and I never had any trouble with my landlord afterwards; besides this, I thought to myself, “Well, now the last of my little pile is gone, and I feel for the first time that I am thrown upon my own resources. I can make my own way in the world, and I will.'”Thus we see explained that there “ was method in his madness.

For about twenty days he lingered in the town watching and waiting for a situation.

"No flower of his kindred,

No rosebud was nigh,
To reflect back his feelings

Or give sigh for sigh."

CHAPTER II.

Just twelve miles northeast of Natchez, on a little creek, called Fairchild's, the southwestern boundary of Jefferson County, there stands an unpretending country residence. They who settled the place had the good taste to leave the forestgrowth in the yard, and so it was shaded by the oak, the pine, the holly, the poplar, the linden, and the elm. The house stood on the crown of the hill, and was a rural pleasant home. The plantation was opened about the time that Walter Scott was delighting the literary world with his poems, and the owners named it after the poem issued on the last day of December, 1812,-"Rokeby."

The owner of “Rokeby," at the date of Prentiss's arrival in Natchez, by a singular coincidence, bore in some respects a similarity of condition to that of his mother in Maine. Like her, she was a widow with a large family; like her, she was a member of the same Christian communion; and like her, she was a refined and educated lady.

Associated as she had been, all her married life, with a husband of superior intellect, there had been gathered in the home quite a large miscellaneous library. Her husband had been a lawyer, and had successively filled the bench as a Territorial judge, and at the time of his death was judge of the District Court of the United States. In the course of a twenty years' practice he had gathered, as it were, by annual “ accretion," one of the best private law libraries in the State, and it was that library, in part at least, gave the turning point and moulded the destiny of S. S. Prentiss. It was the magnet which drew his attention to the situation, and for the time fixed his purpose.

On the 20th of November, hearing that Mrs. Shields wanted a private teacher for her children, he rode out to“Rokeby," and there for the first time met the family. Fortified with letters of

« AnteriorContinuar »