SEPTEMBER 20TH, 1855.
MY DEAR MOTHER:-- I closed my last letter, and bade you good-bye, quite in a hurry. But as soon as I had entered the "Cincinnati House," I cast around to discover, if possible, some nice, quiet little corner, where I could tuck myself away, and, with a pencil, take notes for you. The "young lad" who drew us out here had gone out to a claim early in the morning, and would not return till late.
The house into which we entered appeared outside, and perhaps within, very much like the way-station depots at home,-- made of boards, jointed and painted dark brown, containing two square rooms, with an attache at the back end, of a ten-footer, looking like a wen on the side of a man's neck, but really a cooking-room. The two rooms are plastered, one making a nice parlor and the other a dining-room. There are two chambers over them; and, above all, a perfectly flat roof.
On the same lot, directly in the rear, is a barn-looking building, with four small rooms below, each having a door opening outside; a flight of stairs running up at the end, into four little attics. Each of these rooms has slatted walls, floors, and bedsteads, and is designed to receive (I will not say accommodate) three persons. I am thus particular in my description because I have had a great deal to do with these rooms, and I wish all your sympathy with everything I experience. The parlor is furnished with one table, small, oval-shaped, hewn out from the beautiful black walnut of the country; one rocking-chair, and three lounges, made of round sticks of unpealed wood, over which is stretched cotton cloth, of rather uncertain firmness of fabric, giving one the idea of breaking through. They are stuffed with prairie grass, and nicely covered with patch.
This house is kept by two clever women from Lowell; one of whom kept a boarding-house there, and the other, as an operative, commended herself to some literary celebrity as Editress of the "Lowell Offering." The last mentioned person lay upon one of these lounges, sick with Typhoid fever. The other bore the marks of recent sickness, from which she considered herself recovering.
The "party" starting with us from Boston had spread away in every direction, except the fine woman with the two boys. Her destination was Topeka, and she had to wait till her husband sent for her. The sun had come out hot -- hot as it could be. There was no water that we could relish, even to wash us in; and we were stinted, necessarily, to the smallest possible quantity. I never saw a woman so homesick as this mother of the boys. Her strength was entirely exhausted and she could not rest at all, but broke forth in the most clamorous complaints.
In the kitchen there was a pretty girl from New England, called Phebe, and a stout, good humored 'Susie,' from Illinois. One acted as waiter; the latter as cook -- her business, I think she understood about as well as a freshly caught Laplander would have done. Then, there was Henry, and John, and David, who, each and all, served when there was a "rush" of company, or the water cask was dry.
I believe that the first thing which impressed me, as people passed in and out, was the sickly look of everybody. All elasticity seemed to have been drawn away from them. Not being able to make myself or Alice particularly comfortable, I turned to Typhoid fever; straightened out the hair a little, washed the face and hands, worked the folds from its clothing, and Typhoid smiled gratefully upon me. I never could remember how, after dinner, I fell into a deep sleep, upon one of those lounges. At any rate, as the sun was going down, a hand pressed my head, and a voice said, "Wake up, sick one." The eyes opened as if by magic. Kneeling on the floor beside me was Ned, dressed in a clean pink and white shirt, thrown open loosely at the neck, sleeves rolled up above the elbow, boots drawn up over his pantaloons; face, neck, and arms brown, or rather, yellow as his hair. Typhoid turned her face to the wall, and wiped her eyes with the corner of her shawl. Phebe was in the door under her sun-bonnet, with flushed cheek. She looked astonished to find the "ice man" of sufficient consequence to bring us all the way from dear New England. How beautiful her face is!
Now we started out to see the cabin, which he said was but forty rods distant. The location is particularly pretty, on a rising mound, and looking down the river quite a distance. The cabin is fifteen feet square, and eleven feet high, giving room for quite a loft. The windows were cotton cloth; and the door was made of a frame, with a cross-piece, covered with the same material, having quite an extensive wooden latch fastened to the cross-piece with a wooden pin, and lifted from the outside by a twisted string. The cabin is made by driving joists into the ground four feet apart, and nailing "oak shakes" outside, after the manner of clapboards at home. These shakes are split out with an axe, after the blocks are sawed the proper length. This oak is a hard and crooked wood; and the shakes, as a matter of necessity, refrain from a very close embrace, leaving little scollops and curious bends, through which, in the night time, the stars can take a peep at us and we at them as well. There were six boards stretched across the middle of the room; and on one side a plank was fastened for a work bench. Overhead, as many more crooked, miserable-looking boards were drawn along, on which, with a buffalo skin and blanket apiece, Ned and a young friend laid themselves away at night to sleep. Half a dozen of Sharpe's rifles, with plenty of ammunition, and a drum to sound an alarm, made up the chamber furniture. A rude ladder stood against the wall, to afford access to the upper story.
This was all the work of Ned's hands; and at an outlay of sixty dollars, beside his labor! Shakes are two dollars a hundred; good boards thirty-five dollars a thousand. The want of comfortable shelter is the great drawback to new comers, and causes fearful sickness.
I went back to the hotel, feeling as though I could not sleep in a room where half of it was the open ground. My terror of snakes, mice, and vermin generally, sprang into the most intense life; and would not be put down or reasoned with. The house was very full, and the barn too. Susie and Phebe slept upon the floor, in the room with four of us. Wearily we laid ourselves away, failing to find a chair, trunk, or even a nail, to spread our clothes upon. But the bed felt soft to us, and we had faith still left in the power of sleep, even under difficulties.
It is written, "Ye know not what shall be on the morrow." Verily, no fertile imaginings of your daughter could have conjured up the torture to be applied to her on this initiatory night in the new territory. Mother, in the first place, did you ever see a FLEA? Don't consider the question impertinent; or as throwing reproach upon your most respectable housekeeping. I ask for information; because I have. And on this night, when I imagined no enemy was near, they took sole possession of us all! I think I always had some respect for mosquitoes; they give warning always of their approach, and their note is unmistakably bloody; and a cheap bar over the bed secures you from everything but the cry for "blood." Quite another sort of villain is this black, shambling, hydra-legged "varmint;" using his legs only to leap with; never walking off, as though he had rights, but sneaking up from the floor just as one hopes to take possession of a bed, paid for, whisking in between the sheets in columns. Yet, put your finger on one of them if you can! Settle down and close your eyes, for you are so tired. Hark! now they play "hop scotch" along the extremities. You give a sudden brush with your hand; but you hit nothing. Now they commence a tramp up, up, up! it is no longer endurable. Out of bed, off comes the nightdress, turned wrong-side-out. In the greatest apparent rage at the harmless piece of cotton, you thrash it most vigorously against imaginary chairs, get into it again, lift up the sheets and go through the same pantomime against bed-posts and foot-boards, which exist only in your memory of things, in an entirely past epoch of your life's history. Now they are spread anew over the no longer unsuspected bed. The sleepy little Miss Alice is packed in after having received a thorough brushing, of which she takes cognizance only in broken dreams. You lay yourself away wearily --oh, so wearily -- after a whole week's travel, and no true interval of rest, hoping to get asleep before you are again taken possession of. What a futile hope. Here they come like a herd of homoeopathic buffaloes, as if by a pre-concerted signal, making head-quarters on the open prairie between the high bluffs of your shoulder-blades--nice, snug, table-land that--and "catch me if you can" seems to be the taunt with which they set up anew their night's banquet at your expense.
After all, it is not so much what these "varmints" take, as the manner in which they do it, that we rebel at. Commend me to a bold, pharisaical mosquito, who not only sounds his horn before him but, sipping once for all a sufficiency of blood, which the poorest of us can well enough spare, settles off upon a wall or curtain, content to rest and let others rest, till he feels the want of another meal: a sort of "Robin Hood" robber is this gentleman. While the Messrs. Flea and company are veritable "squatters" on hitherto unoccupied territory, ostensibly for the benefit of every race under heaven; but really and truly for self-aggrandizement and gain.
With the early morning, we laugh at the type of us emigrants, so plainly drawn in a pocket edition; while at the same time, falling back upon our rights, said to be somehow covered by the United States Constitution, we say, quite boldly, "Gentlemen, these 'claims' are already preempted; you will please move farther up the territory."
Our ablutions are of course of the most superficial kind. Good old Jacob has not yet arrived among the pilgrims; and the water for man and beast comes from dame Nature's kindness, in opening sundry little springs on the ravine slopes, in this city of a year. It will take years to dig wells. They are not the absolute necessity that houses are; and the wonder to me all the while is, what can they stone them with after they are dug? There is nothing here but lime-stone. And the water now is but lime-water; too hard for cleaning purposes.
The days are intensely hot; everybody looks wilted and dirty: how can it be otherwise? Ex-Governor Reeder arrived here today. He is a fine-looking man, rather stout, with grey hair, the mien and air of a gentleman, and of the Philadelphia stamp. The people here seem very enthusiastic about him, at which I am not at all surprised. He is a brave and noble-hearten man.
Every day brings fresh loads of emigrants, from almost every State in the Union. Many fine-looking men, and really handsome women, and often quite large families of children, too, arrive. They tarry at the hotel for a night or two, then spread away to homes commenced for them somewhere in this bewildering wide country. Meanwhile I go over to the cabin, to hasten the completion of the floor. The promise of a few boards is a mere myth. The mill has a spasmodic "fever and ague." Just when you most hope to receive boards from it in return for logs, a "chill" comes on. No work done to-day!
The "lad" and his mother walk up Massachusetts street, to select a stove. We take time to discuss the different varieties and different prices. We go over to the cabin, and, sitting upon the old blue chest, go into a "committee of the whole," on finances. The principal question is, How little can we sustain ourselves on? What must we have to use in the way of implements? First, then, we must have a stove. The price, thirty-three dollars! is quite frightful; but it will bring many conveniences with it; a thought of much moment in beginning at the foundation of civilized house-keeping two thousand miles from the active, ever-inventive Yankee spirit, where a want is hardly expressed before some ingenious mechanic, with more time than money, and a strong desire to make money, produces the article your necessities, whether real or artificial, demand.
We go out again; the stove is purchased. Across the street, at a little "shake" shop, we see tubs and pails; we pass over and purchase two cheaply-made tubs, a pail and a broom, all amounting in price to nearly double what you pay at home; but they are among the necessities; our consciences are at ease. Madam takes the broom, the lad one side of the tubs, which she makes a level by placing her left hand in the handle on the other side. This is our promenade to the cabin. Now we suspend operations, while poor Typhoid receives the remnant of the day in some trifling attentions to her bodily wants. Verily she is a pattern of quiet patience, going through the routine of a fever where people come and go in a common public room; making no complaint nor unreasonable demand.
It is quite amusing to hear travelers make excuse to leave the apartment, when in any way it comes out that it is "Typhoid," upon the lounge. Not everybody, but some, perhaps the largest proportion, are afraid. To-night there comes one to tarry for the night who carries in his mien the beauty of manly courage. How I wish for the power, my mother, of graphic delineation, so that this specimen might appear before you as he did to me. Somewhere in an old family bible, well worn with use and bearing a broken clasp upon one side, I have a distinct recollection of an engraving of one of the prophets. Often of a Sunday, in that old east room, where few people ever ventured (for it was the best room), I took the heavy bible from its place on the table between the windows into a chair, and with a child's curiosity, took a peep at those old pictures. No one ever explained them. They have all passed away from my memory with the exception of this grand old prophet. Even now I see the fine head, the majestic beard, the heavy masses of curling hair, the uplifted hand and upturned eyes, with the flowing robes! Once, a very few years since, and yet how long it seems! that picture came to me, up among the hills, whither, in summer, we all love to take flight. It was August, when nature works so effectually that she can afford to seem idle; when the stillness of every growing thing is equal to the great progress it is making towards its fullness; when the white rolling clouds skim over the deep blue sky in heavy, harmless profusion. From the tea-drinking of a farmhouse, with those who were dearly beloved, we entered a by-road for a twilight ramble. The sunset was most magnificent. We stood in silence till it sank below a fine wood in the distance. Clouds of the most gorgeous colors followed in the train: then a space of that clear, warm blue which often is to be seen before twilight, and, hanging above it, a heavy white drapery. We turned to look. A cry of one note-an instinctive clasping of every hand. We stood before the prophet again! clearly cut from that fleecy cloud, of size colossal, yet grandly proportioned. O, that it should ever fade away! The prophet of my childhood, came to me again! Not a word was spoken till the picture merged itself in the masses of cloud. And, even to this day, there is to us who saw it a sudden thrill whenever we speak about it, always ending with the remark, "If we could only see it again!" No actual could, of course, ever equal those two pictures in memory's gallery. But here comes a smaller edition of the same thing,-- not small, though; very large, measuring one man with another,--a great deal of clear white hair, and an answering white beard; forehead high and broad; eyes deep-set under shaggy brows, and of a piercing brightness; a figure more than six feet; a voice mellow as the softest bass. He sits by Typhoid and talks, without fear of any disease, as though he was her father and everybody's father. He tells her of the great sickness up in the territory,-- how whole families are on their beds, in some instances, with no one to bring them a drop of water; the doors of their cabins standing open. They are helpless to defend themselves, or provide for the most trifling want. When he arose to go I stood up, too; he gave every one his hand, and passed out to sleep in his wagon, under a buffalo, with a canopy of sail-cloth. The grasp of his hand was a benediction. Whoever he may be, whatever place he may fill among men, in person and majestic manner, I "ne'er shall look upon his like again."
Sept. 25th.-Your trio of descendants, my dear mother, take possession of the cabin today. The trunks, four in number, are moved over; the boards constituting the floor are drawn close together in the centre of the room, so as to accommodate the cooking stove, which we are hourly expecting. Alice and myself are sewing up some sacks of coarse, unbleached cotton, to be filled with prairie hay and used as mattresses to our lounges, which we have the promise of to-night. We sit a while upon one trunk, then try another, hoping it may be more comfortable; then we mount the old blue chest; but we cannot, in either position, cheat ourselves into the belief that we find rest to our backs. This leads us into another "committee of the whole" upon the question of indulging in the luxury of chairs. We price them, but can find nothing cheaper than two dollars seventy-five cents for a most frightfully-painted wooden rocking-chair, and one dollar each for ordinary kitchen chairs, not enough easier to sit in than the changes of baggage to justify the expense.
Meanwhile, sewing at the sacks, we take a peep at the chinks and corners of the cabin. The day is intensely hot; flies are having a home-like frolic, up midway in the room, and number more than ever I saw in one room before. They do not, however, seem inclined to interfere with us, their happiness being complete in the warmth of the day and the merry roominess of the space between us and the rafters. Soon I see coming down the beam near me a cricket-looking body, only large as a half-dozen home crickets. I move suddenly, but say, very quietly, "Ned, what lodger is this?" He is intimately acquainted with them, for he points to quite a small army of them in another direction, and says, "Only crickets. Everything grows large in this country. They won't hurt you. Why, they lived here by right before we came." Verily the boy is more of a philosopher than his mother. Will she ever get rid of her fear of bugs?
Now comes the man with two narrow frames for beds, into which I have cords laced, after the manner of a bedstead, believing they will be softer than the bars of wood laid across. We get them in readiness; hunt out the two blankets and one pillow, which we brought along in a trunk for any emergency. The "Bay State shawls" are fastened up and turned into tapestry against the walls, back of the lounges. Two quilts of stripped-up dresses, done by your hand, dear mother, are brought from the chest, and with them sheets, too, with the New England clean-odor still in their folds! What nice little beds they seem, if they are but prairie grass. Now, just as we light a candle, comes a dried, mottled little man, with the stove. He is equal to what he undertakes, and soon puts it in the right place, with the long funnel peering out above the roof. He kindles a fire to make sure his work is well done, and squats himself upon the floor to watch the result, and rest himself. I stand with the candle in a Japan candlestick of curious pattern, having a tube for matches, a dinner-plate-like bottom, from the centre of which rises a spy-glass set of tubes, which push the candle up or down as may be desired. The little man warms his begrimed hands by the open stove-doors. What a picture we make in the fantastic grouping of fire-light and candle-light; bright, clean little beds, heavily-corded trunks, a pleasant child's face, the dark, barn-looking roof, into which we can only trace objects dimly and fitfully as the fire burns up brightly or fades through want of fuel; and, standing in the background, the carroty-haired youth, with gray clothes, and felt hat drawn down over his eyes. The little man seems loth to go. We want our supper, and he wants sympathy, and asks it, creeping closer to the fire, for the nights are damp. He must tell me, in tedious detail, how sick he has been in his shop, with no one to care for him; and, child-like, goes back to his native home in Ohio, tells me all his little troubles, and how he always told his mother, in his letters home, that his health was very good, it would make her so unhappy to hear anything else. Out into the darkness went the little man, with a pleasant "Good night" from those who gladly made a light supper, and put themselves into a night position.
How much like sleeping out doors it seemed! the cabin so small and thin. Out on the main street there were all manner of discordant noises-loud and angry talking, with an occasional report of fire-arms; nearer, even close to the cotton door, were the tinkle of cowbells and the lowing of cattle. I call to Ned to explain their uneasiness. He says, an ox was shot close by, yesterday, and the skin hangs not far distant upon a fence, around which the cattle paw the ground, and moan, after the fashion of an Irish "wake."
This is too novel a position to be wasted in sleep. The moon comes in through the cotton windows. I watch the mice (not less than a dozen) play over the bridge of a floor, race over our baggage, climb up our nice shawl curtains; and, growing strong with the necessity for it, I drive them away only when they come too near the quilt. Morning comes, with no bread for breakfast, and no bread-store or baker to fall back upon in such an emergency.
There is some Graham flour, so we will have some griddle cakes. But what can we make them up in? Our utensils consist of a washbasin of tin, a tiny tea-pot, a mug, brought with the tea-pot in my basket, a very little tin pail, property of the boy house-keeper, but of quite questionable cleanness, and an iron spoon with part of the handle broken off. The pail and spoon are made clean. But there is no salt--nevertheless we manufacture the cakes without it in the little tin pail, with water, and a pinch of soda. Just here I gained a new idea. The water is very strongly impregnated with lime, making bread or cakes, without soda, quite light; some butter, which could be dipped with a spoon, was used for frying; and the lime-water cakes, made in a hopeless state of mind, were light and very palatable. Alice turned the tubs over, the smallest tub mounted upon the larger, and spread three plates upon it. She was in an amusing state of dismay when she discovered that there was no way of sitting round her new-fashioned table, without chairs. So we shook hands with the little teapot, having the mug for our tea cup, arranged upon the old blue chest, and made love to the cakes from plates settled carefully upon our laps. We now again went into the science of economy counting over our fast diminishing store of gold, and the many things we must have; while there opened to the eyes which had traveled the longest and saddest road, a picture of a long, new winter, which gladly, most gladly, she would have turned away from.
Oct. 1st.--Susie, who has been poorly for several clays, has now a serious fever upon her. I go every day to "smooth her up;" little Typhoid, still unable to go about, is taken up stairs into the same room with Susie. They manifest their distress, as well as their gratitude, in as different ways as possible. Typhoid is peace and patience itself; Susie keeps up loud demonstration of her pains and wants. But she is very pleasant, too. I believe she is really much the sickest person; and am afraid there will be more sickness in that house.
Coming home, I find the man of whom we get our milk, at the door. This man I must tell you about. Just opposite my door, twenty rods distant, stands a cabin made of turf. The man who lives in it keeps a few cows, and sells their milk. He is rather a good-looking specimen of a man, and quite gracious in his manner. Report says he is a clergyman from Pennsylvania. At any rate, his mission here seems to be, to make money. He trusts no one for milk, but sells you so many little tickets, each counting for a quart of milk, at five cents per quart. So far, so good. Daisy kept the tickets, and, what was more difficult, hunted up some sort of a vessel to put the milk in. But to-night there was something on his mind, and after I came in, he said he must raise the price of milk to eight cents a quart. It seemed to me quite a lift, from five cents to eight, but as I was not responsible for his plans, and did not wish to chaffer with him, I simply said, "We will reduce our quantity then."
Thinking it over afterwards, how important milk was to the children, I called a "council," to consider about the expediency of buying a cow. Edward accordingly looked around and priced cows. We could get a good cow, for this country, for twenty-five dollars; and with her a calf, which, we learn, is always used as a "decoy-duck to bring the cow home. We made up our minds that a cow was a matter of necessity, and of course a piece of economy, and that we would take up the remainder of the tickets and then set up on our own account in the milk line. Meanwhile, sickness multiplies everywhere, and the heat is very oppressive. I mounted the second story of the little barn I told you of, to see some men who, I was told, were sick there. In my hand was pitcher of gruel, with a cup over it, for the double purpose of a cover and to feed them from, and in my pocket a silver spoon. The first man had a very sore mouth from salivation; he could hardly speak, but his fever was entirely gone; indeed, he had been brought in from the country, and from some "claim" which he had taken up previous to his sickness. He was partly dressed, and I asked him to lay upon the other bed, while I made his more comfortable. He seemed very much surprised to see me at all, as well as at my request; but he obeyed. I "dressed," to use the Irish epithet, his bed as well as possible, went out and got a pitcher of fresh water, washed his face and hands, using a clean linen from my pocket for the purpose. "Now," I said, You must eat; it will clear out that dreadful mouth to swallow this gruel." He seemed to doubt his ability to get it down; but was quite assured by my confidence, and, taking my direction, which always is, when the mouth or throat is sore, to drink from a cup or tumbler large swallows, without stopping, till the vessel is empty--he drained the cup, and held it out for more, which I gave him. How glad he looked! Now he spoke with comparative ease; and I helped him into the newly-made bed, quite refreshed.
I knocked at the next door, from which came a faint Come. It was a sort of closet, opening from the other, hot as an oven, almost, and contained two narrow racks for beds; upon one of which a slight-built, young fellow lay, looking as though he was buried, so far as friends were concerned. He looked so young and slight, I could have cried over him, if it would have done anything towards making him bigger and more fit to fight out a destiny in Kansas. But I did not conclude it would; on the other hand, I had made up my mind previously, that water, as an application, could not injure any person or thing hereabouts. So, brushing up the young man's hair with my hands, I kneeled beside him and tried to rouse him. He did not notice me much, or indeed anything else, till I said, "You will feel refreshed if I bathe you." So, after this preliminary, I went through with his head, face, and arms; then took the spoon and fed him, as you would a child. He did not need much, and was too sick to take it if he had desired it. But after he was through, and I turned to go out, he threw his arms over his head, turned his face to the wall, and I heard him say: "I ain't been so happy this thirteen months; 'pears like my mother has come."
I crept out, down stairs, to the room below, where David was sick. He had his share of attention, and begged of me to come again--to which I replied, he should have his share of my spare time. I then went into the house to ask what provision had been made for the night. Phebe said John would lie down on a couch by David, and take care of him. David seemed almost too sick to be put off with anything less than a wide-awake watcher; but I did not like to interfere. Besides, John was sitting upon the sill of the "wen" door, close by me; the night was coming in damp, and it seemed to me that he did not look well. Phebe said, in answer to my question, that he was not; but John did not speak to me. I thought his manner very strange. I still thought of it after I came into my cabin, and could not feel easy about the night arrangement for the sick.
Without being at all "clever," according to the English definition of the word, I do not think any person ever had keener instincts than myself. I often account for it on the principle that no creature is made without some peculiar, personal power of safety, or monition of what course to pursue as a means to that end. Be that as it may, certain I am, my work was hastened in the morning so as to be ready early to go the rounds. Before they were completed, a messenger came for Edward to go out five miles, to a cabin where four men were "down" (to use the country expression) with chills and fever. It seemed a clear case of duty to let him go, for a few days at least,--provided he could secure Paine, his old chum, to guard us at night. This was readily promised by Paine; and Edward rolled up his buffalo, jumped into the wagon, and was off. My visit was thus retarded. But soon I was on hand, full of the foreshadowing of more sickness.
Poor Davie, and poor John, indeed. John laid himself down at Davie's feet, so, as he said, Davie might kick at him and wake him, if he slept too soundly. Davie's fever is very severe. John sank into a dead sleep, which often precedes sickness, not to be aroused by the pressure of Davie's foot, but to writhe in convulsions of which he had no cognizance. I can hardly think of poor, honest and patient Davie's night in that little barn-manger, without getting into a fit myself--it seems so dreadful-suffering as he is, receiving no help himself, and seeing this large, stout man rolling upon his narrow bed, until at last he springs over upon the floor, bruising his nose and face, causing the blood to flow as though he was butchered outright. Now, when the excitement is too much for Davie, and the peril to John quite serious, some one of all the hard sleepers in those rooms wakes, gets up, and takes the matter in hand.
My visit finds Davie purple almost with fever, three men holding John so that he may not harm himself, and the room in the greatest confusion. John, it seems, cannot possibly live. My anxiety is to get Davie out of the room. I remember the two beds, one only of which was occupied by Sore Mouth, up stairs, and in less time than I take to write it out to you, Davie was carried up there. I go up and sit down between Sore Mouth and Davie, and talk pleasantly for a while, making a very free use of cold water. They both talk to me of their mothers. Verily woman is majestic to her children, whatever she may be to any other person. These men, with coarse, brown features, unshaven faces, uncut hair, large and brawny arms, rough and horny hands,--how, in this interval of repose from hard labor, their thoughts go back to their childhood's home! and the mothers who bore them were the strong ties still holding them there. This is the fine gold in their hard natures, and almost the only charm, except that of relieving human suffering, which made their sick rooms pleasant. Here we were, all strangers to each other,--they confiding in me, and I striving to shut out some of the painful portions of their condition by making other portions more prominent,--which were indeed sources of great comfort.
There is in reality no romance in a sick room, especially if one has no personal interest in the parties. The romance of disease exists only in beautiful engravings, never coming out of the frame: like pictures of charming children, who never have dirty faces, torn clothes, or an evident necessity for pocket handkerchiefs, hair-brushes or fine-tooth combs;--so, in these places of pain, where, from the new and unfinished state of everything, comfort is not to be had, it is made pleasant to go and come only by remembering long sicknesses of my own--blessed gifts from heaven--wherein I learned how to suffer with those who suffer. Getting up to finish my round, and look in once more upon John, Sore Mouth says, sadly, "You have not been in this Territory long, if you had, you could not laugh so lightly." Poor fellow, he did not know that the laugh was designed to aid directly the operation of his medicine--thrown in as a part of his necessary medical attendance.
Again I went in to poor John. I tried to make him know me; but he was wholly unconscious, and so little like a human being I could not bear it, and, for the first time, this morning, I went into the ten-foot wen, sat down by the cooking-stove, and burst into tears. Phoebe came and stood by me, weeping. Then it dawned upon me that she loved John, and was probably engaged to him. Meanwhile Typhoid came for me, to say that Mr. C_____ had returned the night previous very sick, and that the first person he asked for was myself. While I stood talking with her about it, I noticed for the first time a gentleman, to whom she immediately introduced me as Mr.______, of Philadelphia. His name you will remember as one familiar to me--he having been recommended to me as a proper legal adviser, should I need one. But, now I have seen him, I am pleasantly reminded of your dear son-in-law, Mr. Andrews, to whom he bears a most striking resemblance. I have neither time nor heart now to talk with him; I tell him so--it is my way, you know--and then I go to see after Mr. C______.
He is in the chamber over the hotel parlor. I knock. He answers, "Come in." He is thrown upon a narrow bed, still dressed, just as he came in from his political travels through the Territory. In the room are two wide beds, occupied by Germans with their wives. The women have risen; the men are sick. From two more narrow beds the occupants are shaken out and gone. C_____ seems more worn out than sick, and quite distracted with the confusion of his room. I ask him if he will go home with me. He says, "Oh yes, most gladly!" I rush down stairs and out at the door, to see if any carriages are standing about. While looking round, one drives up. I attack the owner of it, like a highway robber, asking very earnestly, not for his purse, but for him and his carriage, to take a sick man a few rods to a cabin. He looked at me very curiously; but when I said Mr. C_____ must suffer much from any delay, as he was in want of immediate rest, the name seemed to electrify him; he drew his horse close to the hotel door, and I started for home to be in readiness for his arrival. I had, in fact, given the possibilities in the case no thought at all--my poor accommodations, want of bedding and every convenience. It was another of those instinctive acts, which are always pleasant afterwards for me to look at; not as being a part of myself, but because I attach to them what you, who are wise may consider as a fallacy, the conviction, always so pleasant, of not being alone; of having another me, beside this most disagreeable intractable me, who sometimes comes to my help, so that I may lay up some treasures, pleasant to overhaul when the mind is in repose and solitude.
The carriage arrived almost as soon as myself; and Mr._____ followed close upon it, to offer any assistance. The cabin, after all, did not look so very badly. It was swept up clean, and had a sort of cleaned-up aspect, notwithstanding the cotton-wood floor; which you must know is very much like the downy side of cotton-flannel, and when experimented on with Kansas soil, becomes quite a peculiar color to neat housekeepers, who have had but one idea hitherto of floors, viz: that they should be washed occasionally.
Mr. C______ is a slight built person, delicate complexion, sandy hair, fine forehead, gentle, manly manner, and about twenty-seven years of age. Is a native of Charleston, South Carolina, has a wife and three children, and a most devoted mother; all now living in Baltimore. I take the place of his mother at once. I help him off with his extra clothes and his belt with pistols; the latter are loaded, and he asks me to please place them under his bed within reach. This, mother, is neccessity of the country; and sick as he is, the habit makes him ask for the safe deposit of his means of personal defense. I feel so glad I have one pillow here for him, and two of those large, heavy blankets, because on this narrow couch one blanket can be doubled so as to answer for two. Poor fellow, he simply remarks, "How good the bed feels," and is fast asleep. I unlock the blue chest and dig up from its capacious depths the old piano cover, out of which I create a drapery around the front side of the little bed. Little Daisy and myself creep round as quietly as the mice; and the poor worn man, just home from a tramp through this great world of territory, sleeping in wagons or under them, speaking to assembled settlers in the open plain and under the stars, with the damp ground to stand upon, has a chance, I hope, to sleep away the indications of long sickness. But no; when he sleeps even, there is a burning heat fusing itself through his frame. I bring another sort of couch, made up for the occasion, close to the stove and lay myself away upon it. The night grows very cold, and the wind creeps in everywhere. I am in a perfect chill, and cannot get warm even by a large fire. Mr. C___ sleeps quite well, and the unnatural heat about him makes him insensible to the change of temperature. How I shiver, and remember all the poor who know no other way of passing their autumn nights or winter days, than in this forlorn chill. If my bedclothes were only here, how comfortable we all might be! Strange they all so delayed! P_____ sleeps soundly over-head, with a few old quilts of his. Can I ever learn to make so hard a bed the place of rest, forgetfulness, or dreams? Ah, mother of mine, I do like a nice bed, and am quite homesick without it all the while. Though P____ seems comfortable, I cannot reconcile it to myself not to place him more according to my ideas of ease and rest.
Morning is met with gladness--for the days are still warm. Morning brings the Doctor, and he confirms my fears of a fever for Mr. C____. Now the cotton door is thronged with calls, to see or learn of my poor patient. At first, I hardly dare refuse admittance. But, as the case becomes more serious, I close the door upon all. Now, surely, this mother's son and wife's and children's solace and support, must be closely cared for.
I leave Alice to watch, while I make a short call on other sick folks. Davie seems to need me most. He says, if he could have me all the time for two or three days, he should surely be well. John is certainly better; he takes some notice of those about him. It seems wonderful indeed!
Edward has returned, leaving his men all better, and is quite tired out himself. He has found a cow, and we are enjoying the nice milk very much. Mr. C____'s fever is unabated and he is very restless under it. He is, I find, quite an important person in the political circle of Kansas; and as there is a State convention called to meet in about two weeks, his progress towards recovery seems retarded by his anxiety to be able to take his seat.
I am beginning to get very tired; but I can not give up my post at all. Other sick people are getting on faster than Mr. C_____. I drop away from them, to hurry him along. Wise men of the nation come in shoals to the door, to say how important he is to them; and to express thanks for my taking him in charge. I had not the least idea that he was of more consequence than Davie, or any other person, when I took him home. But I see very plainly his temperament will make it hard work to get him up rapidly. I must devote myself to him. Here I sit, mother; the cooking stove is at my right hand, my poor invalid at my left; on the stove-hearth, stands the last of grand-father's coffee cups, which he fancied so much for their generous size, and standing in it the spoon, bearing your name at full length. I wonder how many times I read it every day, scan each letter, measure the whole word, knitting the while, often with my eyes closed, from a soreness gathering into them for the want of sleep. Now I see the lips of the sick man move. I lift the nice old spoon to moisten them, and return it again to the cup. Down before me is a tin wash-basin, full of ice-water, and a napkin old and soft. It seems to mesmerize the heated features, by its softness and coolness. The eyelids cease to quiver; quietness is in the cabin; my portfolio is at hand and takes the place of the knitting work; you are in my thought and close by me, with your womanly wisdom. The pencil, however, has no fears in limning for you, and through you, for others. You will smooth the defects, take in at a glance the divided thoughts between the sick and the well, the discomfort of writing without a table or an easy posture, day or night, without change of ideas or condition, from the fifteen-feet square of cabin, in which, look up or down, you fed as though every utensil and every article of apparel had been suddenly stricken with spasms, or gone irrecoverably out of its place.
Oct. 10th.-Our milkman called to say there was a very sick man in his cabin, he would like me to come in and see what I thought of him. I asked if his wife was well; whereupon he said he had no family but this man, who had been sick some time, though not dangerously; but now he seemed worse, and he thought if I would stop with broth or gruel when I went by, it would do him good to share it. Of course I went.
The cabin is simply a roof, with a fire-place and entrance at one end and a window at the other. I was surprised on entering, to see how very clean and comfortable it looked within. The walls were covered with cotton cloth; the ground with a cotton carpet; on each side of the window a bed was fitted in, and upon one of them lay the sick-man. He was alone, and I was almost afraid to go close to him at first. So I poured out some chicken broth, for he had no fever, and went to his bed with it in my hand, after having set the door wide open.--Mother, you need not tell anybody; but I am truly a very great coward when my mind is in repose.
Mr. H_____'s hair was very gray, and turned back from his forehead; his face pale and deathly, but dirty for want of washing. He had a buffalo skin over him, and when asked if he was warm, answered distinctly, "Yes;" though it appeared at a glance, that his mind was worn to shreds. I think his mouth is very handsome; but there is something about the atmosphere of his presence which kept me wanting to run home. I said to my self, "What a fool you are, why don't you feed him? nobody can be good when they are hungry."
How much we talk about the wickedness of the poor. But it's of no use trying to make them better; no use to talk to them about their souls, till we wash, and feed, and clothe their bodies. The wants of the body are an unforgotten fact, ever present. But the broth will get cold; so I'll feed this sad old man, and go. I ask him to take it, presenting the spoon, and holding the mug in the palm of my hand, with the fingers brought up over it. I am thus particular, because of his remark, over which Mr. C. has laughed heartily, and perhaps you may. The broth seemed to suit; but all the while he kept looking at the mug, as I supposed. Presently he smiled, and then he looked as though he would cry, but said, with the faintest voice, and with quite an interval between each word, "I should like to know who it is that feeds me." I told him I was I Edward's mother. But he did not understand, evidently. Indeed, everything I said seemed to break the chain of his own thoughts. Now he rallied again, and smiled; but his only remark while I stayed, was, "There is a great difference in hands." Once, before I put my hands to steep in lime-water, I should have considered it complimentary, now I was wholly at a loss how to take him. But I made up my mind that the milkman should wash him clean, and I would feed him; and I accomplished my purpose.
Now, Edward has to go for me, for I am very lame and tired. But I have received a blessing in the shape of a brother of Mr. C., Lieut. C. of Baltimore, an older man, and a most willing, as well as excellent nurse. He comes in fresh and strong; keeps the fire up all night; sleeps like a soldier, with one eye open, and upon the floor, ready at a moment. Mr.____ has been the most devoted of friends. I wish you knew him, Mother, he is so much like Mr. Andrews. The best rest I have had has been when he has taken my place.
Oct. 20th.-No news of my boxes yet, and the weather has become very cold. There never was such a wind as those rocky mountains send over the country. It rocks the cabin like a cradle; and we can hardly hear each other talk. I feel as though we must be blown into the river, or off over the prairie. I open my lips sometimes, to call out to the mountains to "shut up that door, and not to freeze us out entirely. Why, you are worse than the Missourians. They want to burn us out; and between you both, where shall we fetch up?" Cotton windows won't do this weather, so we put in glass ones. Mr.____ holds a candle in the evening, while Mr. P_____ puts one in; and I keep a great shawl up as a screen between the sick and the draught. Now for a wooden door! It is among the "must haves." Now I make paste, and secure every pair of hands I can, to help paste up newspapers over the walls of the cabin.
For several days, another invalid, a young clerk from Boston, has come in to be fed. There is quite a breaking up of eating places; perhaps because of sickness. I am too much of a stranger to know, and too little given to asking questions to learn. This young man I pity very much. He has chills and fever upon him alternately; and has no regular home. He sleeps in an office, where I called twice to see him. Now, he creeps out a little; but there never was any disease so fully up to and really capable of, taking the entire pith out of a man as this same chills and fever. I could not refuse the sad victim of such rough handling the blessing of a warm meal, at any hour of day or night. Now, if ever, it is hard upon me to do it heartily. I am so cold, COLD; it seems as though my blood was frozen. Neither day nor night have I been warm this week. But we must paper out the cold wind--colder than any known to the oldest inhabitant.
Little Daisy keeps in bed. She does not seem very sick. Perhaps 'tis the weather. My heart almost fails me; but it won't do; everybody will freeze if these papers are not put on, two or three thicknesses. One can have no idea how much good they do, till they live in a "shake" cabin. My paste is used up. Two bricks are on the top of the stove, heating, to place as sentinels at the feet of my patients, to keep the wind out. The Lieut. is on hand, cheerful, careful for us all. I am tired; and by the great fire which he has kindled, my aching limbs seem quite disposed to thaw. The day's work is over. He spreads his buffalo over the back of the great rocking chair, and bids me get well heated up before bed time. Daisy sleeps; so does the boy up over head. I think of my clerk only, just now, anxiously. He did not come in for his "toast and tea." My head lies easily against the warm buffalo. The poor clerk seems, to the almost dozing fancy, many, very many sick men--resting in uneasy, crazy-looking beds, and very many in a bed; in fact, each bed seems a nest of rough, uncombed heads, with burning cheeks and shaggy beards; while hands, hard and sunburnt, reach after me; lips move imploringly for me to moisten them. I am hunting hopelessly--the awful hopelessness of nightmare--for water, napkins, and gruel. Oh, they will all die, and I can't help them. I utter a cry, which startles even myself. My surprise is momentary, to find myself in bed, with people watching carefully over me. My mind slips out of the things they say and do, into the states in which it has been strained to the utmost for many days. Now, the hurry is, to keep a poor forlorn woman from freezing. My gray traveling dress is the first thing I put my hand to, and strip it into narrow ribbons, to tuck into the cracks about her bed. The excitement again gives vent to itself in muttering, and broken words, waking me again to a sense of pain and sickness. Now reason comes back to me; and close to it, for a moment, I hear the flapping of the wings of despair. The hub of the wheel is broken, what will they do without me?
It is daylight. Mr._____ has just closed the door softly after him, and gone home to get a nap, after his night's watching. In the rocking- chair sits the good Lieutenant, sipping a cup of tea. Again the door opens, and Edward comes in with the milk. I lift the corner of my curtain and look over to see how the sick man is. He, too, is sipping tea. I'm sure he must be better. It makes me better to think he is. The quick ears of the Lieutenant hear me; he bobs his curling hair up above the chair, turns his honest, cheerful face round to me. "Tell me how many children you have," I asked. I believe he thought me out of my senses. But he answered me truly--"Four." "Then you can have no objections to my calling you 'Uncle Jeff,' for I am in my second childhood?" "Call me anything you please, so you only get well," was his reply.
Now it dawns upon me more fully, that I am sick. I beg to get up. I beg, too, if I cannot get up, that they will not tell you. Indeed, I'm quite sure I can write you myself in a few days; and, like my sick people over the way, I am ready to speak falsely almost, rather than you shall hear how badly-off we are. I can form no idea of the time I have been laid aside. By the pain and weariness, and the dead level of thought, it seems as though time moved sluggishly, and would never end. How powerless we all lie here; full of the strange fancies of sick people; longing for something quite impossible to obtain; or if obtained, quite unsuitable for us to have.
But O! the water--the water, gushing, down the stony streams of dear New England!--never failing in the old mossy-stoned wells--how our lips parch for some of it! how our thoughts dwell upon its coolness, abundance, and sparkling clearness, until, in feverish dreams, we seem to reach and taste it! How we go back, always to pleasant home-looking chambers,--the glare of light subdued by green blinds without, and clean curtains within. How our outraged sense of harmony and good taste lingers over the conveniences, as well as decorations belonging to a past life from which, by a strange and new turning of the wheel of destiny, we seem to be entirely and forever banished.
The habits of years, how strong they become! The tones of a piano, even though it were but the simple practice of a new learner, how gratefully it would break upon our ears! The tones of a bell, telling the hour of days or night, calling to church, or tolling a funeral knell--the distant rumble, the nearer whirl, and still more near shrill whistle of the steam engine,--how, as never before, would they make us feel not quite banished from the earth!
Now "Uncle Jeff" comes to me with tea, and the promise of a place by the fire tomorrow should the weather moderate. He tells me, too, of a grand hunt which is to come off in a week, the game to be served up in the dining-room of the yet-unfinished hotel. He presents me an invitation to the supper, and is quite sure we shall all be well enough to attend. The week rolls round: the game hunt is very successful; birds, turkeys, ducks, squirrels, rabbits, and blackbirds, almost without number, are brought in to the committee of superintendence. The tables are well laid, and decorated with fancy cooking, got up under the skillful supervision of a lady from Worcester. A pie made entirely of blackbirds is an object of general interest. Whether there were the proper nursery number, of "four-and-twenty blackbirds baked in one pie," I am not able to learn. But the party was very successful, and most satisfactory to a larger number of people than ever before met for amusement in this territory-many of the guests coming thirty-five miles. The good "Uncle Jeff" does not forget those at the cabin, whose appetites have outgrown "toast and tea," but brings in a dish which, if not a portion of the blackbirds, is quite palatable enough to satisfy even more particular people than those he serves so kindly.
By way of experiment upon the returned strength of our nerves, we have had two shelves put up for the dishes, and a floor spread over the whole of the chamber. It was really quite a test of strength, and the nailing down of the floor was set aside. Now comes a heavy rain. How dull and dark everything seems, and how the rain beats against this cabin, as though it had some special spite to vent. By way of pastime, we open the great seal-skin trunk, where, in the folds of sheets, pillow-cases, and napkins, are smuggled away bits of choice China,--choice, not only for its intrinsic value, but from long association. I believe we are all startled to find how large a portion of it is crushed in pieces. As it settles down in my lap from the folds of the linen, so utterly ruined, I scatter it through the cracks of the floor, where the mice carry on their domestic arrangements. Now we reckon up that which remains perfect and find we shall have enough for our own use, and quite as much as the shelves will hold. Five of your beautiful cups and four saucers, three of Miss Sallie C____'s cups, only, and seven saucers, out of a dozen. What would the precise old lady say, could she look down into the mice-territory under this cabin, where glisten the fragments of what adorned her table so many years? Two tumblers we find whole, one saltcellar; and plenty of plates.
How rich we feel! and how we begin to look forward, as well as backward, to a condition of civilized housekeeping! And how, too, my dear mother, the olden-time housekeeping comes to me, as a Sabbath-rest time, which will by some process, come round to me again,--when you will preside, as of old, and this me keep house within the circle of your atmosphere. Till then, give your blessing to your daughter.