Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

the same pursuits. These were sufficiently indicated by the appearance of the premises. Seines and nets were extended over the fences; here sat a bevy of decoy-ducks, and there lay oars, harpoons, eel-spears, and all the implements of fishery. Living on a small farm, he made some attempts at husbandry; but the characteristic of the soil, on the south side,' is sand; and although the plough-share had done its duty, and mossbonkers and horse-feet had been strewn over it, to enrich it, it yielded, in the best seasons, only a miserable crop; so that Mr. Fink seldom experienced the exuberant complacency of the worldling, who invited his soul to take its ease for many years, and to be merry, for his wine-presses were running over, his barns and his store-houses filled with plenteousness. He was an amphibious being; and when provisions were scarce, and the meal waxed low in the barrel, it would have gone hard with him if he could not have taken to the water.

He straitway seized his spear, and began to stab eels in the neighboring creek. Now as many persons have never learned to discriminate rightly between an eel and a snake, I do assure them, on the faith of an islander, that when the skin is stripped off, from the head to the tail, and they are skilfully fried, they are a sufficiently dainty dish to set before the king. Mr. Fink said he should never starve, as long as there were any eels to stab. But he often went into the bay to catch clams, which he accomplished by jumping into the water, and scooping them out of the sand with his toes. When he had obtained more than he wanted for his own use, or could find a market for, in his own neighborhood, he put them into barrels, and getting out his disconsolate horse, and rope harness, set out on a slow walk for the New-York market. By a long course of persevering industry, his circumstances were rendered a little easier, and he became the owner of the fourth part of a schooner, which went to the metropolis for ashes, and which was called the "Sally-Ann. Up to the time of his nomination for the assembly, ambition was a passion which had never entered his soul; unless, indeed, you dignify by that title the eagerness which he sometimes manifested, when he went into the bay, that he might

L'have good luck that day,
And catch a load of clams.'

The way that he came to be nominated for assembly, was this : the inhabitants of Rockaway had enough to employ them in summer; but when the season had passed away which rendered it a place of fashionable resort, and winter had frozen up the resources of industry, and turned its grandeur into dreariness, they met at evening in the taproom of a small tavern, to dissipate their time in cups, and to discuss the politics of the day. It was surprising to remark the warmth and violence of these Rockaway politicians, which sometimes waxed so great as to rise above the roar of the sea. They hauled public characters over the coals without remorse, and freely called in question their public acts; while shark stories came in, by way of episode, and the tales of a marine people.

Mr. Fink often formed one in the midst of these social circles ; and here he acquired that relish for public affairs, which will probably VOL. XHI

65

never forsake him. Being of a phlegmatic temper, he said little ; and as he never took an extra cup, was never betrayed into an angry tone. When he found himself getting beyond his depth in an argument, he drew back his feet with care, always remembering what happened when the 'Sally-Ann' from being too venturesome, got carried out into the Gulf Stream, having the dominie of Jemaico on board, and a large party, who were going out to the Fishing Banks. Mr. Fink's connection with the farmers of the south side was extensive. A number of these worthies, being together one evening, and discussing the prospects of the next election, thought it no more than fair that a candidate for assembly should be chosen from their section of the county. Some one suggested the name of Mr. Sandy Fink. This called forth a hearty response from all present. Very soon a rumor got abroad, and passed from mouth to mouth, that he was the proper man; and at last the wishes of the party seemed to have settled down definitively on him. For his own part, he at first gave no credit to these reports; but presently they reached him in an undeniable form. Then he began honestly to confess to himself that he was not qualified for so high a station ; that the people honored him far beyond his expectations or deserts ; that he did not aspire to be a law-giver. In fine, he did not cherish the slightest idea of accepting the honor. That he might leave his business in the winter, without detriment, was very true ; but 'there are better men,' said he ; ‘so where's the use

e ?' But his neighbors soon talked him out of this firm resistance, and a visit from Mr. Bang resulted in his entire acquiescence. This Mr. Bang was a thin-faced man, with black whiskers, a hard worker in the field of politics, and the oracle of his party, who drove about the county continually, in a light sulky,' on grass-hopper springs, to distribute speeches, and to open the eyelids of the people. He told Mr. Fink plainly, and without mincing the matter, that he must consent to run ; that they could not get any one else; and that their entire hopes were placed on him. Mr. Fink replied that . if he must, he must.'

In the middle of the Big Plains, and standing entirely alone, unshaded by any tree or green thing, there is an odd building, which serves at once the purposes of a county court-house, a tavern, and a jail. Here a convention was appointed, on a certain day. On approaching the place, Mr. Fink's heart throbbed within him at beholding the vast concourse of men. Vehicles of every description were arranged without, and a goodly number of saddled horses denoted the presence of cavaliers. The meeting was called to order, by inviting Justice Van Lew to the chair. A committee soon retired to nominate candidates; and when, on their return, they offered Mr. Fink, and the approval of the meeting was heartily testified, he rose up amid the most tremendous cheering, and with a faltering tongue, declared his readiness to serve the 'great and glorious cause of the people.' Another expression of enthusiastic feeling followed this avowal, so violent that the old building was shaken to its foundations, the glasses rattled in the bar, the prisoners looked out of their grated windows, and a flock of sheep scampered over the plains like mad. Alas! alas ! Mr. Fink little knew what a burden he had then consented should be imposed on his shoulders ! He who leaves the quiet

walks of private life, ambitious of the pomp or spoils of office, has bid adieu to “thrice sweet liberty, and has become the public slave. All who have united to place him where he is, elevate themselves into the rank of patrons, and with insolent supervision, pry into bis acts, while his name is bandied upon profane lips, like any common word. He runs the gauntlet of the sovereign people. Every man bestows on him a kick, if he wills; and happy is he who comes out unhurt from such a dreadful ordeal. Farewell, then, to his days of pleasantness and to his nights of ease! His weary labors cannot procure forgetfulness, and the softest pillow cannot confer repose. Though the popular breath be soft and vernal, he trembles lest it veer into an adverse tempest; and though the sun shine never so brightly, he imagines the thunder growling in the distance, and his heavy heart presages

the storm. Mr. Fink found himself impaled on both horns of a dilemma. His friends, of whom he had many, extolled him in such extravagant terms, and endowed him with so many new attributes, that his cheeks tingled for very shame at their falsity, and it cost him a great many struggles, before he was actually and solemnly brought to believe all that they told him. They said that an honest man was the noblest work of God, and that Mr. Fink was just such a noble work; that he possessed every admirable quality of mind, and that he was one of nature's noblemen.' Truly he had reason to pray to be deliv. ered from his friends. But on the other hand, his enemies, (and now, for the first time, he learned that he had enemies ; men who had suddenly been transformed into foes, and in whose way he was certain he had never laid the weight of a feather or a straw,) preferred against him the most vindictive charges. They had fallen upon some chemical process, by which they brought back old spots which had been clean wiped out of his reputation, by age and good conduct. Some accusations there were, which were so utterly without form and void,' that he could not but marvel at their authors. Thus, in the course of a single day's ride, he heard himself severally accused, at the Little Plains, of bribery, at the Big Plains, of picking and stealing,' at the Bog Lots, of false measure, and somewhere else, of adultery. He had not yet learned that the public servant must be cased in triple brass against such slanders ; and he clenched his fist, in mighty despair, and swore that they were ‘heinous lies, and he could take his solid oath of it.'

As the time of Mr. Fink's departure drew near, he felt an increasing reluctance, and regretted the more deeply that he had been prevailed on to yield his name. When he did so, however, he had made an inward reservation, that he would not go, unless he could clear all his expenses, and save his dollar a day. He now exaggerated the cost and trouble of making a journey to Albany. Then he pictured to himself the angust nature of the assembly, and was seized with a mortal dread. He was told that he must make a speech when he took the oath, and revolved in his mind what he should say, and how he should say it. At last, he gave that up in despair, and said that if he took the oath, it would be about as much as he could do.' Fi. nally, on the very day when he should have started, he was seized with sundry aches and ailments, and had the rheumatism so smartly,

that he could scarcely move from his chair. In this situation he continued many days, until it began to be rumored abroad that the member for Queens was not going at all. His friends protested that he was providentially hindered, but his opponents raised a great-hue-andcry, and declared that his sickness was only a sham. Had they seen him in his easy chair, his whole countenance distorted with fierce pangs, they might have stretched their charity a little. There was a sittle spit-tire newspaper, printed in the neighboring village, which espoused a different side in politics. In it he found an enemy more bitter than gall, and articles were frequently seen in it to this effect :

THE MEMBER FOR QUEENS. We wish to be informed what has become of this genileman, who, up to this time, as we are credibly told, has not taken his seat in the Assembly. It cannot be suspected that we derive any peculiar pleasure from seeing this section of country misrepresented; but inasmuch as his party left no means untried, eiiber of bribery or corruption, to elect Mr. Fink, we cannot but condole with them that they should have spent their strength for nought. We have heard it rumored that some aches or ailments are the cause of this tardiness. How this may be, we cannot say; but we do say, and we have it on good authority, that Mr. Fink was seen, a day or two ago, riding about his farm, on a load of mossbonkers, apparently in robust health. Who can infurm us whether this county is to be unrepresented or misrepresented the present session? We pause for a reply.'

Now all this was very provoking ; and every week this little insolent print made the delay of Mr. Fink the theme of its leading editorials, which were sent post-haste to him, at Rockaway, although he did not take the papers.' When he had spelled them out, they wounded him very deeply. But what prevailed on him most, was a visit from the man in the sulky, with grass-hopper springs. He remonst

ted sternly with him ; represented the injurious conversation to which bis tardiness gave rise, and the necessity of his presence

in the Assembly; and obtained from him a promise, that he would start as soon as his health became a little better. Mr. Fink thought it most prudent to fulfil this promise ; and finding it impossible to keep clear of breakers at Rockaway, resolved to take refuge in more quiet waters.

He accordingly began to make the requisite preparations. He procured a bran-new suit of pepper-and-salt clothes, laid aside his seven-leagued boots, with which he went into the bay, for a pair of neat cow-hides, with substantial soles, and bought a new pinch-beck watch, that he might give the time of day to members of the assembly. Having got into such respectable trim, and being now utterly · without excuse,' he appointed a time for his departure, and would certainly have got off, if a violent tempest had not arisen, on the eve of that very day, which threw upon the sea shore an unheard of quantity of — clams! The gale had been universal. Every where the waters rose to an unprecedented height, tearing away the ancient land-marks, and sweeping up marive productions on the land. But it was not that the waters of the North River were so swollen, that it was dangerous to attempt them, on the next day, that Mr. Fink staid behind. For the noble ships which make the Hudson their home, regard not the boisterous winds or waves, which deterred the old mariners of that storied river. And whether its surface is agitated by storms, or reflects, as in a mirror, a thousand romantic scenes,

magnificently graceful, they float onward to their haven, as a wellpoised bird cuts through its native air.

The next morning, Mr. Fink walked along the sea-shore. He bebeld the ocean still raging with great violence, some ships in the offing, and many pieces of wreck-wood cast upon the strand. But what engaged his attention most, and made his heart beat highest, was, as far as the eye could reach, the whole sea shore covered with clams, and cockles, opening and shutting, and gasping in the agonies of death. Then he reflected, that soon the noon-tide would beat upon them, and they would be dead; and what a glorious thing it would be, if he could gather them all up; for neither mossbonkers nor horsefeet would enrich his soil so much. As long as he had lived at Rockaway, such a phenomenon he had never beheld before. Here were more clams voluntarily given up, and thrown high and dry by the mere force of wind and tide, than he could scoop out of the sands with his toes in a century! What advantage would it be, if they were left to decay on the sterile beach, or if their dead carcasses were sucked back into the sea? Why, the very lime of their shells would be an invaluable treasure. After much reflection, he made up his mind that, come what might, he would remain at Rockaway that day, and gather in this harvest of clams. And he did so. He procured a pair of stout oxen and a wagon, and ploughing down to the water's edge, toiled diligently until evening, and collected an enormous heap. The next day he was similarly employed. On the third, he bestirred himself in earnest, for the session was now half over at Albany, and his constituents were very clamorous. His affairs being all wound up, and his will signed, he kissed his wife, shook hands with his friends, enveloped himself in his great coat, of seven capes, and getting on the box of the Rockaway coach, went off with a hurrah.

He travelled very comfortably over the salt meadows, until he came to Goose Creek. There he found, that the bridge which spanned that renowned stream with a single arch, under which sedgeboats could pass with their sails set, and which is thence called the • Big Bridge,' had been swept away by the freshet. Not a beam or splinter of it remained. This not only excited his deep astonishment, but threw him into a train of reflections, as to what would become of the dividends of the bridge company for the ensuing year; and finally, by compelling him to go a roundabout way on his journey, awakened his fears lest he should reach the city too late for the evening boat. On intimating this, the driver whipped up his horses to get the member of assembly down in time. But steam waits for nobody, and steamboats are very apt to give one the slip. Now when the traveller has entirely missed his reckoning, and arrives only to see a long line of smoke vanishing in the distance, he is apt to turn on his heel with a stoic's indifference, remarking that it cannot be helped, and what cannot be helped, becomes more tolerable by endurance. But it is a very aggravating circumstance, to find the boat only a half a dozen revolutions of the wheel from the wharf, and the whole deck crowded with human faces, grinning at you. The disappointed man is smitten with remorse, and begins to reason, that if he had left his home a half a minutę sooner, or if he had not stopped to drink a glass of water,

« AnteriorContinuar »