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“Here are old trees, tall oaks, and gnarled pines,
If you have been a peruser of the fashionable novels of the day-have felt the magic power of the poetic and luxurious Bulwer, and have had your minds enchained by splendid descriptions of gay and magnificent apartments in old baronial castles, brilliantly lighted, decorated with armour and banners, and glad with the love, laughter, and gaiety, of brave knights and fair ladies-or if you have been, by some modern French or English novelist, transported to the brilliant streets of that Frenchman's heaven, Paris, or that Englishman's pride, London; and have there bought bouquets from black-eyed grisettes, or wandered through the Louvre, or peeped into splendid and grand old palaces, or (which is now the path most generally travelled by modern writers) grovelled and picked your way through the filth, dirt, and obscenity of the most obscure and wretched portions of these famous cities; then we beg of you, gentle reader, as earnestly as a lover begs his sweetheart, to forget, for awhile, such scenes, become ignorant of palaces, hacks, carriages, and pavements, and travel far away with us to a new land—a land still covered by the primeval forest—and where the oak, the beech, and hickory, still throw forth their knotty and giant arms in wild luxuriance, even as they have done for centuries and centuries gone, and with their bark as yet unscarred by the axe of the restless VOL. I.
Saxon, and yet grand and beautiful in their pristine glory. Away, then, from the busy haunts of commerce, and from the brick, mortar, and marble of a city, will we now carry you; for our first chapter must open in a county but thinly and sparsely settled, in the southern, or what is more generally called, especially by the politicians when they wish to demagogue, the Green River portion of Kentucky, and at an hour, too, when not only fashionable authors, but fashionable readers, and the most of men are enjoying their sweetest morning's nap. The farm, or “Forest Home,” as it was called by the proprietor, and to which we would now draw your attention, was situated in the county of Christian, some four miles from where this and the counties of Hopkins and Muhlenberg corner on a little stream, called, from the sluggish flow of its waters, Pond River; and about equidistant from the court-houses of these three counties, say about twenty miles, if you are riding a good horse, and are in good spirits, and have good weather,—but on an indifferent “hack” at least (counting the hills and hollows) thirty or more! It was a bright, clear morning late in the month of April (I know it was in April, for the woods were dotted with the white bloom of the dogwood, and fishing time had come again), in the year 18—-;--but we need not be particular about the precise year, as that has very little to do with our story, and if it did, we could not tell it, for would not recollect even the year of our marriage, unless it was written down in the family Bible ;-well, as we have said, it was in the month of April, and “Forest Home," as it was called by the owner, and known in the neighbourhood, presented as beautiful and inviting a scene as the most impassioned lover of nature could well desire. The farm, consisting of about two hundred acres of cleared land, in legal parlance more or less, lay imbedded in a deep, dark, and seemingly impenetrable forest; and early in the morning on which our chapter opens, with the sun yet dancing on the extreme tops of the lofty trees, with a slight haze; or, in other words, to drop the poetical, fog, settling over the premises, looked more like a sweet little lake buried away in the silent hills, than the residence of man. But as the sun arose above the tops of the forest, careering along in his old path up in the heavens, and dispelling with his warmth and brilliancy the damps and dews of the
night,-the thin white mist which had gathered over the farm, shrouding, like the snowy veil of the blushing bride, its beauty, gave way to a bright clear atmosphere, and “Forest Home,' nestled away in the silence and solitude of the old woods, was revealed in all its rural simplicity and loveliness. Perched upon slight eminence, some three hundred yards from the line of the surrounding forest, stood the homestead or farmhouse, neatly environed by what is termed in this country a post-and-rail fence, enclosing in front of the mansion some three-acres of land, upon which the native growth of poplar, oak, and beech with good taste had been allowed to remain, the undergrowth and unsightly timber alone having been removed. Brilliant with whitewash (which, by the by, is a great invention), and glittering in the morning sun, the house—which was neither a castle nor a cottage, but nothing more or less than two twenty feet square pens, with an open passage of the same dimension between, all under one roof, and composed of huge logs neatly squared and hewn, with the interstices chinked and daubed, in the then approved style, with mud, but rather more smoothly executed than is common with such buildings—presented, as it peeped through the trees, a very respectable and, indeed, for the backwoods, quite an imposing appearance. The house was a two-story building, presenting a front of eight windows, besides the main entrance or passage, which was high enough and broad enough to suit even the capacious desires of any one-eyed giant that ever flourished in the fabled days of antiquity, and from which Ulysses and his companions might have escaped without putting themselves to the trouble of wool-gathering. Immediately in the rear of this immense passage, removed some twenty feet from the main building, but connected by an open shed roof, stood (as was then, and is now usual with the most of our country residences) the kitchen. Maybe you may think, gentle reader, that the kitchen has very little to do with a romance about love, murder, &c., and are now, perhaps, turning up your nose in disgust at the very idea; but we, on the contrary, being slightly touched with epicureanism, have always considered this receptacle of pots, beef, and venison, as a very considerable item in the affairs, or at least the comforts, of men,-and will, in spite of all your sneers, make honourable mention of its location and whereabouts; merely insinuating, as we pass along, that the close attention of wives to the culinary department of this necessary appendage of all homes, whether castles or cottages, will add much to the felicity and enjoyment of married life. A door on either side of this main passage or entrance opened into what was termed the family room and the parlour; while a flight of steps, rough and not very sightly, led to the sleeping apartments in the upper story. To have stumbled upon this residence, buried out in the wild woods of this comparatively recently settled portion of Kentucky, and without knowing anything of the history of the occupants, you would have been greatly astonished at the interior of the house, ornamented as it was with many expensive articles of luxury, and rich and elegant with old-fashioned, but costly and rare furniture. But you must recollect, that this is a country where we rise and fall with equal rapidity, and then you will no longer be surprised, when stepping into a little cabin in the woods, to meet with articles of luxury and pleasure common only to the higher and more wealthy walks of life. “Forest Home,” finished neatly and comfortably, and whitewashed, as it now was, both without and within, wore, at this particular time, a very pleasant, cosy, and happy air, something like a quiet-tempered, smoothly-shaven, clean-shirted, joyous old bachelor in the blooming month of May. A wild rose trained against the wall on either side of the broad passage, almost covering, with their creeping tendrils, the entire space between the windows, and around over the main entrance, along with some neat little green boxes of exotics placed upon the deep window-sills of the parlour, told the observer of female care and taste, and would, perhaps, remind him of a happy home, and sweet sister; or at least so it did myself the first time I gazed upon the quiet, unpretending beauty of that home in the forest, many years after the commencement of this story. In the rear of the dwelling there was still another enclosure, embracing about the same quantity of ground as the one already described in front, devoid, however, of forest trees, but well planted in every species of fruit, having a garden of about one acre picketed off, and running from the extreme back side,
directly up, through the centre, until it reached a point, say one hundred yards from the house,-leaving there a broad space stretching entirely across the area, with long narrow strips, like immense wings, running down on either side. The space unoccupied by the garden was neatly set in blue grass, and dotted here and there with innumerable little structures, such as dog-kennels, hen-houses, and other necessary dwellings for fowls and beasts. One entire side of this back yard, as it might be called, was walled in by a long row of negro cabins, one story high, with a rustic porch, or rather porches, extending along the front. Hanging up under these porches you might see long strings of red pepper, onions, and dried pumpkins, and all the usual et ceteras of negro comforts, diversified now and then with a coon skin (the badge of negro sports in the backwoods, and of many hardfought battles unknown in the history of the country) stretched over three sticks, drying, for the first wandering pedler that should make his wel. come appearance at the farm-house. But we must not forget the high poles erected along before these cabins, hung thick with countless gourds, with a round hole scientifically cut in each-for these were the summer-houses of the bluebird and martin; and, on the morning when our story commences, their merry chattering enlivened and gave a joyous air of life and animation to the otherwise silent and slumbering homestead. These swinging homes for the martin were built and protected by the negroes, not altogether on account of their songs, or in admiration of the bird, but mostly (for it is the truth, and we will have to confess it) on account of their enmity to the hawk, protection to the young chickens, and for the amusement of the little “darkies,” who, rolling about in the sunshine and dirt, listened to their lively chattering, thinking them no doubt, little niggers not quite so well grown as themselves : and maybe (for who knows, if the transmigration or Pythagorean theory be true) they were not so far wrong after all; for to me they look devilish like a troop of teeth-showing, woolly-headed, merry negroes during the holidays. On the other side of this rear enclosure, opposite and fronting the negro quarters, was another long row of neatly finished, whitened houses; and so sweet and tidy did they appear, so much like the