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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Monikins - Chapter 1. The Author's Pedigree,--Also That Of His Father
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The Monikins - Chapter 1. The Author's Pedigree,--Also That Of His Father Post by :deano Category :Long Stories Author :James Fenimore Cooper Date :May 2012 Read :2202

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The Monikins - Chapter 1. The Author's Pedigree,--Also That Of His Father

CHAPTER I. THE AUTHOR'S PEDIGREE,--ALSO THAT OF HIS FATHER


The philosopher who broaches a new theory is bound to furnish, at least, some elementary proofs of the reasonableness of his positions, and the historian who ventures to record marvels that have hitherto been hid from human knowledge, owes it to a decent regard to the opinions of others, to produce some credible testimony in favor of his veracity. I am peculiarly placed in regard to these two great essentials having little more than its plausibility to offer in favor of my philosophy, and no other witness than myself to establish the important facts that are now about to be laid before the reading world for the first time. In this dilemma, I fully feel the weight of responsibility under which I stand; for there are truths of so little apparent probability as to appear fictitious, and fictions so like the truth that the ordinary observer is very apt to affirm that he was an eye-witness to their existence: two facts that all our historians would do well to bear in mind, since a knowledge of the circumstances might spare them the mortification of having testimony that cost a deal of trouble, discredited in the one case, and save a vast deal of painful and unnecessary labor, in the other. Thrown upon myself, therefore, for what the French call les pieces justificatives of my theories, as well as of my facts, I see no better way to prepare the reader to believe me, than by giving an unvarnished the result of the orange-woman's application; for had my worthy ancestor been subjected to the happy accidents and generous caprices of voluntary charity, it is more than probable I should be driven to throw a veil over those important years of his life that were notoriously passed in the work-house, but which, in consequence of that occurrence, are now easily authenticated by valid minutes and documentary evidence. Thus it is that there exists no void in the annals of our family, even that period which is usually remembered through gossiping and idle tales in the lives of most men, being matter of legal record in that of my progenitor, and so continued to be down to the day of his presumed majority, since he was indebted to a careful master the moment the parish could with any legality, putting decency quite out of the question, get rid of him. I ought to have said, that the orange-woman, taking a hint from the sign of a butcher opposite to whose door my ancestor was found, had very cleverly given him the name of Thomas Goldencalf.

This second important transition in the affairs of my father, might be deemed a presage of his future fortunes. He was bound apprentice to a trader in fancy articles, or a shopkeeper who dealt in such objects as are usually purchased by those who do not well know what to do with their money. This trade was of immense advantage to the future prosperity of the young adventurer; for, in addition to the known fact that they who amuse are much better paid than they who instruct their fellow-creatures, his situation enabled him to study those caprices of men, which, properly improved, are of themselves a mine of wealth, as well as to gain a knowledge of the important truth that the greatest events of this life are much oftener the result of impulse than of calculation.

I have it by a direct tradition, orally conveyed from the lips of my ancestor, that no one could be more lucky than himself in the character of his master. This personage, who came, in time, to be my maternal grandfather, was one of those wary traders who encourage others in their follies, with a view to his own advantage, and the experience of fifty years had rendered him so expert in the practices of his calling, that it was seldom he struck out a new vein in his mine, without finding himself rewarded for the enterprise, by a success that was fully equal to his expectations,

"Tom," he said one day to his apprentice, when time had produced confidence and awakened sympathies between them, "thou art a lucky youth, or the parish officer would never have brought thee to my door. Thou little knowest the wealth that is in store for thee, or the treasures that are at thy command, if thou provest diligent, and in particular faithful to my interests." My provident grandfather never missed an occasion to throw in a useful moral, notwithstanding the general character of veracity that distinguished his commerce. "Now, what dost think, lad, may be the amount of my capital?"

My ancestor in the male line hesitated to reply, for, hitherto, his ideas had been confined to the profits; never having dared to lift his thoughts as high as that source from which he could not but see they flowed in a very ample stream; but thrown upon himself by so unexpected a question, and being quick at figures, after adding ten per cent. to the sum which he knew the last year had given as the net avail of their joint ingenuity, he named the amount, in answered to the interrogatory.

My maternal grandfather laughed in the face of my direct lineal ancestor.

"Thou judgest, Tom," he said, when his mirth was a little abated, "by what thou thinkest is the cost of the actual stock before thine eyes, when thou shouldst take into the account that which I term our floating capital."

Tom pondered a moment, for while he knew that his master had money in the funds, he did not account that as any portion of the available means connected with his ordinary business; and as for a floating capital, he did not well see how it could be of much account, since the disproportion between the cost and the selling prices of the different articles in which they dealt was so great, that there was no particular use in such an investment. As his master, however, rarely paid for anything until he was in possession of returns from it that exceeded the debt some seven-fold, he began to think the old man was alluding to the advantages he obtained in the way of credit, and after a little more cogitation, he ventured to say as much.

Again my maternal grandfather indulged in a hearty fit of laughter.

"Thou art clever in thy way, Tom," he said, "and I like the minuteness of thy calculations, for they show an aptitude for trade; but there is genius in our calling as well as cleverness. Come hither, boy," he added, drawing Tom to a window whence they could see the neighbors on their way to church, for it was on a Sunday that my two provident progenitors indulged in this moral view of humanity, as best fitted the day, "come hither, boy, and thou shalt see some small portion of that capital which thou seemest to think hid, stalking abroad by daylight, and in the open streets. Here, thou seest the wife of our neighbor, the pastry-cook; with what an air she tosses her head and displays the bauble thou sold'st her yesterday: well, even that slattern, idle and vain, and little worthy of trust as she is, carries about with her a portion of my capital!"

My worthy ancestor stared, for he never knew the other to be guilty of so great an indiscretion as to trust a woman whom they both knew bought more than her husband was willing to pay for.

"She gave me a guinea, master, for that which did not cost a seven- shilling piece!"

"She did, indeed, Tom, and it was her vanity that urged her to it. I trade upon her folly, younker, and upon that of all mankind; now dost thou see with what a capital I carry on affairs? There--there is the maid, carrying the idle hussy's patterns in the rear; I drew upon my stock in that wench's possession, no later than the last week, for half-a-crown!"

Tom reflected a long time on these allusions of his provident master, and although he understood them about as well as they will be understood by the owners of half the soft humid eyes and sprouting whiskers among my readers, by dint of cogitation he came at last to a practical understanding of the subject, which before he was thirty he had, to use a French term, pretty well exploite.

I learn by unquestionable tradition, received also from the mouths of his contemporaries, that the opinions of my ancestor underwent some material changes between the ages of ten and forty, a circumstance that has often led me to reflect that people might do well not to be too confident of the principles, during the pliable period of life, when the mind, like the tender shoot, is easily bent aside and subjected to the action of surrounding causes.

During the earlier years of the plastic age, my ancestor was observed to betray strong feelings of compassion at the sight of charity-children, nor was he ever known to pass a child, especially a boy that was still in petticoats, who was crying with hunger in the streets, without sharing his own crust with him. Indeed, his practice on this head was said to be steady and uniform, whenever the rencontre took place after my worthy father had had his own sympathies quickened by a good dinner; a fact that maybe imputed to a keener sense of the pleasure he was about to confer.

After sixteen, he was known to converse occasionally on the subject of politics, a topic on which he came to be both expert and eloquent before twenty. His usual theme was justice and the sacred rights of man, concerning which he sometimes uttered very pretty sentiments, and such as were altogether becoming in one who was at the bottom of the great social pot that was then, as now, actively boiling, and where he was made to feel most, the heat that kept it in ebullition. I am assured that on the subject of taxation, and on that of the wrongs of America and Ireland, there were few youths in the parish who could discourse with more zeal and unction. About this time, too, he was heard shouting "Wilkes and liberty!" in the public streets.

But, as is the case with all men of rare capacities, there was a concentration of powers in the mind of my ancestor, which soon brought all his errant sympathies, the mere exuberance of acute and overflowing feelings, into a proper and useful subjection, centring all in the one absorbing and capacious receptacle of self. I do not claim for my father any peculiar quality in this respect, for I have often observed that many of those who (like giddy-headed horsemen that raise a great dust, and scamper as if the highway were too narrow for their eccentric courses, before they are fairly seated in the saddle, but who afterward drive as directly at their goals as the arrow parting from the bow), most indulge their sympathies at the commencement of their careers, are the most apt toward the close to get a proper command of their feelings, and to reduce them within the bounds of common sense and prudence. Before five-and-twenty, my father was as exemplary and as constant a devotee of Plutus as was then to be found between Ratcliffe Highway and Bridge Street:--I name these places in particular, as all the rest of the great capital in which he was born is known to be more indifferent to the subject of money.

My ancestor was just thirty, when his master, who like himself was a bachelor, very unexpectedly, and a good deal to the scandal of the neighborhood, introduced a new inmate into his frugal abode, in the person of an infant female child. It would seem that some one had been speculating on his stock of weakness too, for this poor, little, defenceless, and dependent being was thrown upon his care, like Tom himself, through the vigilance of the parish officers. There were many good-natured jokes practised on the prosperous fancy-dealer, by the more witty of his neighbors, at this sudden turn of good fortune, and not a few ill-natured sneers were given behind his back; most of the knowing ones of the vicinity finding a stronger likeness between the little girl and all the other unmarried men of the eight or ten adjoining streets, than to the worthy housekeeper who had been selected to pay for her support. I have been much disposed to admit the opinions of these amiable observers as authority in my own pedigree, since it would be reaching the obscurity in which all ancient lines take root, a generation earlier, than by allowing the presumption that little Betsey was my direct male ancestor's master's daughter; but, on reflection, I have determined to adhere to the less popular but more simple version of the affair, because it is connected with the transmission of no small part of our estate, a circumstance of itself that at once gives dignity and importance to a genealogy.

Whatever may have been the real opinion of the reputed father touching his rights to the honors of that respectable title, he soon became as strongly attached to the child, as if it really owed its existence to himself. The little girl was carefully nursed, abundantly fed, and throve accordingly. She had reached her third year, when the fancy-dealer took the smallpox from his little pet, who was just recovering from the same disease, and died at the expiration of the tenth day.

This was an unlooked-for and stunning blow to my ancestor, who was then in his thirty-fifth year and the head shopman of the establishment, which had continued to grow with the growing follies and vanities of the age. On examining his master's will, it was found that my father, who had certainly aided materially of late in the acquisition of the money, was left the good-will of the shop, the command of all the stock at cost, and the sole executorship of the estate. He was also intrusted with the exclusive guardianship of little Betsey, to whom his master had affectionately devised every farthing of his property. An ordinary reader may be surprised that a man who had so long practised on the foibles of his species, should have so much confidence in a mere shopman, as to leave his whole estate so completely in his power; but, it must be remembered, that human ingenuity has not yet devised any means by which we can carry our personal effects into the other world; that "what cannot be cured must be endured"; that he must of necessity have confided this important trust to some fellow-creature, and that it was better to commit the keeping of his money to one who, knowing the secret by which it had been accumulated, had less inducement to be dishonest, than one who was exposed to the temptation of covetousness, without having a knowledge of any direct and legal means of gratifying his longings. It has been conjectured, therefore, that the testator thought, by giving up his trade to a man who was as keenly alive as my ancestor to all its perfections, moral and pecuniary, he provided a sufficient protection against his falling into the sin of peculation, by so amply supplying him with simpler means of enriching himself. Besides, it is fair to presume that the long acquaintance had begotten sufficient confidence to weaken the effect of that saying which some wit has put into the mouth of a wag, "Make me your executor, father; I care not to whom you leave the estate." Let all this be as it might, nothing can be more certain than that my worthy ancestor executed his trust with the scrupulous fidelity of a man whose integrity had been severely schooled in the ethics of trade. Little Betsey was properly educated for one in her condition of life; her health was as carefully watched over as if she had been the only daughter of the sovereign instead of the only daughter of a fancy-dealer; her morals were superintended by a superannuated old maid; her mind left to its original purity; her person jealously protected against the designs of greedy fortune-hunters; and, to complete the catalogue of his paternal attentions and solicitudes, my vigilant and faithful ancestor, to prevent accidents, and to counteract the chances of life, so far as it might be done by human foresight, saw that she was legally married, the day she reached her nineteenth year, to the person whom, there is every reason to think, he believed to be the most unexceptionable man of his acquaintance-- in other words, to himself. Settlements were unnecessary between parties who had so long been known to each other, and, thanks to the liberality of his late master's will in more ways than one, a long minority, and the industry of the ci-devant head shopman, the nuptial benediction was no sooner pronounced, than our family stepped into the undisputed possession of four hundred thousand pounds. One less scrupulous on the subject of religion and the law, might not have thought it necessary to give the orphan heiress a settlement so satisfactory, at the termination of her wardship.

I was the fifth of the children who were the fruits of this union, and the only one of them all that passed the first year of its life. My poor mother did not survive my birth, and I can only record her qualities through the medium of that great agent in the archives of the family, tradition. By all that I have heard, she must have been a meek, quiet, domestic woman; who, by temperament and attainments, was admirably qualified to second the prudent plans of my father for her welfare. If she had causes of complaint, (and that she had, there is too much reason to think, for who has ever escaped them?) they were concealed, with female fidelity, in the sacred repository of her own heart; and if truant imagination sometimes dimly drew an outline of married happiness different from the fact that stood in dull reality before her eyes, the picture was merely commented on by a sigh, and consigned to a cabinet whose key none ever touched but herself, and she seldom.

Of this subdued and unobtrusive sorrow, for I fear it sometimes reached that intensity of feeling, my excellent and indefatigable ancestor appeared to have no suspicion. He pursued his ordinary occupations with his ordinary single-minded devotion, and the last thing that would have crossed his brain was the suspicion that he had not punctiliously done his duty by his ward. Had he acted otherwise, none surely would have suffered more by his delinquency than her husband, and none would have a better right to complain. Now, as her husband never dreamt of making such an accusation, it is not at all surprising that my ancestor remained in ignorance of his wife's feelings at the hour of his death.

It has been said that the opinions of the successor of the fancy- dealer underwent some essential changes between the ages of ten and forty. After he had reached his twenty-second year, or, in other words, the moment he began to earn money for himself, as well as for his master, he ceased to cry "Wilkes and liberty!" He was not heard to breathe a syllable concerning the obligations of society toward the weak and unfortunate, for the five years that succeeded his majority; he touched lightly on Christian duties in general, after he got to be worth fifty pounds of his own; and as for railing at human follies, it would have been rank ingratitude in one who so very unequivocally got his bread by them. About this time, his remarks on the subject of taxation, however, were singularly caustic, and well applied. He railed at the public debt, as a public curse, and ominously predicted the dissolution of society, in consequence of the burdens and incumbrances it was hourly accumulating on the already overloaded shoulders of the trader.

The period of his marriage and his succession to the hoardings of his former master, may be dated as the second epocha in the opinions of my ancestor. From this moment his ambition expanded, his views enlarged in proportion to his means, and his contemplations on the subject of his great floating capital became more profound and philosophical. A man of my ancestor's native sagacity, whose whole soul was absorbed in the pursuit of gain, who had so long been forming his mind, by dealing as it were with the elements of human weaknesses, and who already possessed four hundred thousand pounds, was very likely to strike out for himself some higher road to eminence, than that in which he had been laboriously journeying, during the years of painful probation. The property of my mother had been chiefly invested in good bonds and mortgages; her protector, patron, benefactor, and legalized father, having an unconquerable repugnance to confiding in that soulless, conventional, nondescript body corporate, the public. The first indication that was given by my ancestor of a change of purpose in the direction of his energies, was by calling in the whole of his outstanding debts, and adopting the Napoleon plan of operations, by concentrating his forces on a particular point, in order that he might operate in masses. About this time, too, he suddenly ceased railing at taxation. This change may be likened to that which occurs in the language of the ministerial journals, when they cease abusing any foreign state with whom the nation has been carrying on a war, that it is, at length, believed politic to terminate; and for much the same reason, as it was the intention of my thrifty ancestor to make an ally of a power that he had hitherto always treated as an enemy. The whole of the four hundred thousand pounds were liberally intrusted to the country, the former fancy-dealer's apprentice entering the arena of virtuous and patriotic speculation, as a bull; and, if with more caution, with at least some portion of the energy and obstinacy of the desperate animal that gives title to this class of adventurers. Success crowned his laudable efforts; gold rolled in upon him like water on a flood, buoying him up, soul and body, to that enviable height, where, as it would seem, just views can alone be taken of society in its innumerable phases. All his former views of life, which, in common with others of a similar origin and similar political sentiments, he had imbibed in early years, and which might with propriety be called near views, were now completely obscured by the sublimer and broader prospect that was spread before him.

I am afraid the truth will compel me to admit, that my ancestor was never charitable in the vulgar acceptation of the term; but then, he always maintained that his interest in his fellow-creatures was of a more elevated cast, taking a comprehensive glance at all the bearings of good and evil--being of the sort of love which induces the parent to correct the child, that the lesson of present suffering may produce the blessings of future respectability and usefulness. Acting on these principles, he gradually grew more estranged from his species in appearance, a sacrifice that was probably exacted by the severity of his practical reproofs for their growing wickedness, and the austere policy that was necessary to enforce them. By this time, my ancestor was also thoroughly impressed with what is called the value of money; a sentiment which, I believe, gives its possessor a livelier perception than common of the dangers of the precious metals, as well as of their privileges and uses. He expatiated occasionally on the guaranties that it was necessary to give to society, for its own security; never even voted for a parish officer unless he were a warm substantial citizen; and began to be a subscriber to the patriotic fund, and to the other similar little moral and pecuniary buttresses of the government, whose common and commendable object was, to protect our country, our altars, and our firesides.

The death-bed of my mother has been described to me as a touching and melancholy scene. It appears that as this meek and retired woman was extricated from the coil of mortality, her intellect grew brighter, her powers of discernment stronger, and her character in every respect more elevated and commanding. Although she had said much less about our firesides and altars than her husband, I see no reason to doubt that she had ever been quite as faithful as he could be to the one, and as much devoted to the other. I shall describe the important event of her passage from this to a better world, as I have often had it repeated from the lips of one who was present, and who has had an important agency in since making me the man I am. This person was the clergyman of the parish, a pious divine, a learned man, and a gentleman in feeling as well as by extraction.

My mother, though long conscious that she was drawing near to her last great account, had steadily refused to draw her husband from his absorbing pursuits, by permitting him to be made acquainted with her situation. He knew that she was ill; very ill, as he had reason to think; but, as he not only allowed her, but even volunteered to order her all the advice and relief that money could command (my ancestor was not a miser in the vulgar meaning of the word), he thought that he had done all that man could do, in a case of life and death--interests over which he professed to have no control. He saw Dr. Etherington, the rector, come and go daily, for a month, without uneasiness or apprehension, for he thought his discourse had a tendency to tranquillize my mother, and he had a strong affection for all that left him undisturbed, to the enjoyment of the occupation in which his whole energies were now completely centred. The physician got his guinea at each visit, with scrupulous punctuality; the nurses were well received and were well satisfied, for no one interfered with their acts but the doctor; and every ordinary duty of commission was as regularly discharged by my ancestor, as if the sinking and resigned creature from whom he was about to be forever separated had been the spontaneous choice of his young and fresh affections.

When, therefore, a servant entered to say that Dr. Etherington desired a private interview, my worthy ancestor, who had no consciousness of having neglected any obligation that became a friend of church and state, was in no small measure surprised.

"I come, Mr. Goldencalf, on a melancholy duty," said the pious rector, entering the private cabinet to which his application had for the first time obtained his admission; "the fatal secret can no longer be concealed from you, and your wife at length consents that I shall be the instrument of revealing it."

The Doctor paused; for on such occasions it is perhaps as well to let the party that is about to be shocked receive a little of the blow through his own imagination; and busily enough was that of my poor father said to be exercised on this painful occasion. He grew pale, opened his eyes until they again filled the sockets into which they had gradually been sinking for twenty years, and looked a hundred questions that his tongue refused to put.

"It cannot be, Doctor," he at length querulously said, "that a woman like Betsey has got an inkling into any of the events connected with the last great secret expedition, and which have escaped my jealousy and experience?"

"I am afraid, dear sir, that Mrs. Goldencalf has obtained glimpses of the last great and secret expedition on which we must all, sooner or later, embark, that have entirely escaped your vigilance. But of this I will speak some other time. At present it is my painful duty to inform you it is the opinion of the physician that your excellent wife cannot outlive the day, if, indeed, she do the hour."

My father was struck with this intelligence, and for more than a minute he remained silent and without motion. Casting his eyes toward the papers on which he had lately been employed, and which contained some very important calculations connected with the next settling day, he at length resumed:

"If this be really so, Doctor, it may be well for me to go to her, since one in the situation of the poor woman may indeed have something of importance to communicate."

"It is with this object that I have now come to tell you the truth," quietly answered the divine, who knew that nothing was to be gained by contending with the besetting weakness of such a man, at such a moment.

My father bent his head in assent, and, first carefully enclosing the open papers in a secretary, he followed his companion to the bedside of his dying wife.

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