Once a Week (magazine)/Series 1/Volume 9/The fisherman of Lake Sunapee
THE FISHERMAN OF LAKE SUNAPEE.
Some years ago I had occasion to leave Cincinnati, which had been my temporary residence during some months, in order to meet a friend at Steubenville, a busy thriving town on the eastern side of the State of Ohio, and standing on the river from which the State takes its name. Apparently the distance between these two places would not be much more than two hundred miles, but the tortuous course of the river makes it at least three hundred, when the journey is performed by water, as indeed it of necessity must be.
I had no business whatever of my own at Steubenville, but in compliance with my friend’s request that I should accompany him in a visit to some of the salt-works in the neighbourhood, in which he was largely concerned, I had agreed to meet him on a certain day, at a certain hotel in this town.
I reached Steubenville about noon, and proceeded at once to the hotel where I expected to find my friend. He was not there, but, in his stead, I found a letter from him, in which he told me that he had met with an accident which would render his leaving home impossible for another week. This was rather annoying. I deliberated for a few minutes, uncertain whether to take the next Cincinnati boat and return immediately, or to wait patiently a whole week in a place in which I had no acquaintances and no occupation. I wanted recreation, the hotel seemed comfortable, and I soon decided to make it my head-quarters till my friend’s arrival, and to spend my leisure time in rambling about the neighbouring country.
Whoever has travelled in Ohio has seen one of the most exuberantly fertile regions of the great American continent; there indeed does the earth bring forth abundantly, not only corn and fruits, but it is rich in some of the most useful minerals, iron and coal.
There are no mountains in Ohio, but much high table land, rising to about a thousand feet above the level of the sea, and even these hills are covered with a fertile soil to their summits. The whole country is watered by navigable rivers of great beauty, which bear on their gentle currents the products of this highly-cultivated region.
But I am not about to give either a geographical or a statistical account of this State, though much might be told of it that is marvellous, when we consider that it was no longer ago than in 1788 that its first white settlers were a little party of emigrants from New England, and that, forty years after their arrival, towns and villages had sprung up amongst the smiling valleys and rich plains, while the growth of the population, now considerably more than a million and a-half, is such as has never been paralleled.
I was always fond of fishing, and after having spent two or three days on horseback, leaving the choice of road very much to my horse’s discretion, as the country was all new to me, and apparently equally beautiful whichever way I roamed, I borrowed a rod and line from my host, and set out towards a little stream, from which I had observed a man catching fish at a great rate the day before. My way lay through the edge of a forest—one of those magnificent forests of gigantic trees that stretch back from the river for miles, and which are now and then broken by a fertile prairie, or, as we should call it, a natural meadow.
I soon found the place I was in quest of—a narrow opening in the forest, through which ran a clear, rippling stream, not more than thirty or forty feet in breadth. Almost at the same spot in which I had seen him the preceding day, stood the same figure, with his rod in hand, and the rest of his tackle lying by his side on the short smooth turf. I also noticed that a book, which from its appearance I felt almost sure was the Bible, lay on a blue cotton handkerchief by the side of his fishing-basket. He looked up, and took a scrutinising survey of me from head to foot, as I approached, and was making my mental observations on him; his countenance was grave and even melancholy, but not forbidding, or in any degree unpleasant, so I ventured to address him, and, English fashion, made some common-place remark upon the state of the weather.
“You are from the old country, I guess,” said my new acquaintance.
“You guess right. But what makes you think so?”
“Because you told me it was a fine day. We Americans are so used to fine weather that we don’t think much of it. I guess you don’t get much of it in your country.”
Of course I defended our country from such an injurious imputation, while I generously admitted that we had not, either in summer or winter, anything like the bright clear atmosphere of America.
I had seen enough of New England and the New Englanders to enable me to recognise a Yankee as soon as I heard him speak, and I was well aware that this man was from one of the Eastern States; probably, thought I, he is a settler, who has migrated from some bleak rocky district, in hopes of bettering his fortunes in this land flowing with milk and honey.
There is nothing like a community of tastes for furnishing subjects of conversation, even between strangers; so, in five minutes from the time of our first meeting, we were deep in the mysteries of fly-fishing. My companion, who was evidently an experienced angler, caught at least two fish to my one, for he had greatly the advantage over me, inasmuch as he was thoroughly acquainted with the peculiarities of fish, of which I did not even know the names—for they, like the birds, the plants, and many other things pertaining to natural history, are different from those of England.
Though very grave, I did not find my companion either taciturn or reserved; on the contrary, he seemed ready to converse on any subject that was started. Once or twice, indeed, he answered me in a strange, abrupt manner, and instantly turned the conversation, as if what I said had offended him, or in some way given him pain, though I could not imagine how that could be.
After enjoying several hours’ good sport, I thought it time to return to my inn, but my companion would not hear of it.
“You must not go back to-night,” said he. “You must come home with me; the old woman will find you a bed, and I will show you my little farm, out in the bush, yonder. I guess you could not match it for beauty in your country.”
I felt no inclination to throw doubts on this point. Why should I? I like to see a man prefer his own country, as he would his own wife and his own children, to any other in the world; so I thanked him, and after making some apologies for the trouble an unexpected guest might give his wife, I accepted his friendly invitation. I had been in America long enough to understand what was meant by “the old woman,” having as frequently heard the epithet applied to young wives as to those who were really aged.
We packed up our traps, and I saw the Bible carefully wrapped in the blue handkerchief, and deposited in one of my friend’s capacious pockets. He then conducted me through a little opening on the outskirt of the forest—bush he always called it, which led to his humble dwelling. It was a log house of the best description, built entirely by himself, he told me, and certainly not without considerable regard to taste, both as to situation, and as to external appearance. It stood in the midst, not of a clearance, but of a natural opening of about fifty acres in extent, which was surrounded by the most beautiful shrubs and forest trees. Kalmias and Rhododendrons, of dimensions such as are never seen in England, grew amongst the clean straight stems of the oaks, hickory, sugar-maples, and I know not what besides, whilst in many places the wild grape-vines hung in graceful festoons from the branches of the forest trees which formed their support.
On two sides of the house ran, what in England would be called a verandah, but what in New England, as well as in New York State, in which they were doubtless first introduced by the Dutch settlers, are known by no other name than the Stoup. In these pleasant wide stoups, the floors of which are generally very nicely boarded and painted, the women of the family sit to sew or knit in warm weather, the children play in them when the sun is too hot, or the weather too wet for them to go out of doors; and the men not unfrequently solace themselves with a pipe. At the back of the house, the stoup serves for larder, store-room, laundry, garden-house, and a vast many other purposes. I have seen joints of frozen meat hanging in the “back stoup” for weeks together, along with frozen fowls, dry salt-fish, and venison. At other seasons, strings of apple chips, or peach chips, are hanging to dry, or the household linen, which would be injured by the great heat of the sun in summer, or covered with snow in the winter, if exposed without shelter. In short, the stoup is the most ornamental, agreeable, and useful addition to a country house.
We went through the stoup into a good-sized comfortable looking room: no one was in it, but the “women’s litters,” as my companion called the various signs of industry that lay about, showed that it had been occupied very recently.
“I guess my wife is busy at the back,” said the master, as he stepped out again, and shouted Esther! Esther! in a voice that might have been heard half a mile off.
I took the opportunity which his absence gave me of looking round the room. The furniture was such as I had seen in numbers of New England farmhouses; the same flaringly painted time-piece; the same light bass-wood chairs, so different to the heavy oaken ones of an English farmhouse; and the same thrifty, home-made rag carpet. A gaudy tea-tray, and some common looking china graced a set of corner shelves, and the inevitable rocking-chair stood by the side of the stove. A few old-fashioned looking books, ranged on a single shelf between the windows, attracted my attention, as I have often observed, that from the character of the books we see in a house, we may form some idea of the tastes, if not of the character, of its inhabitants. The collection was small but rather curious.
“New England’s Memorial, a brief relation of the providence of God manifested to planters, 1669.” “The Day-breaking of the Gospel in New England.” “Good news from England, . . . concerning the painful labourers in that vineyard of the Lord, and who be the preachers to them, 1647.” All very edifying works no doubt,—added to these were Bunyan’s “Pilgrim’s Progress”, his “Holy War,” and some other books of which I do not recollect the names.
Two coloured engravings adorned the wall opposite the windows, both were from Scripture subjects, one representing “The raising of Jairus’ Daughter,” the other, “Our Saviour stilling the Tempest.” One glance at these works of art was sufficient, but my eye rested with much curiosity upon the object which hung between them.
Under a glass, smoothed out, and tacked at the corners with four or five very small, neatly cut wooden pegs, to a cedar shingle of about eight inches wide, and six deep, was a torn, irregularly-shaped piece of common-looking calico print and around this picture, as I must call it, for want of a more appropriate name, was a deep frame, made of some kind of pine cones, sawn in halves, and arranged in a manner that showed considerable taste as well as ingenuity. The inscription under the piece of print nowise assisted me in forming any conjecture as to what this strange looking affair could be, for it was only the word
printed in capital letters, and apparently by some unpractised hand.
The sound of footsteps reminded me that I had not yet been introduced to the mistress of the house, who now entered the room with her husband. She was a tall, spare, but very good-looking woman, of about forty-five years of age,—not so much, perhaps, for American women look quite as old at thirty, as English women do at forty. The mode of introduction was more practical than ceremonious. This was it:—“Here, Esther, here’s the gentleman from the old country that I’ve been telling you about,—I don’t know his name.”
“My name is George Laurence,” said I, bowing to the lady.
“And my name is Reuben Baldwin, from New Hampshire. Do you know New Hampshire, sir?”
“I have travelled through some parts of it; I have been through the Notch in the White Mountains; we have nothing like that in England,” said I, thinking to propitiate Mr. Baldwin by the generous admission, for I had again seen the strange gloomy look which I had noticed while we were fishing in the morning.
“No, sir, you’ve nothing like it in England, and I’ve read that there’s nothing like it in the whole world.”
“It is very grand—very wonderful,” said I: “noble scenery amongst the White Mountains, and capital fishing in your New England lakes, as no doubt you know.”
If I had doubled my fist and given Reuben Baldwin a knock-down blow with it, he could hardly have looked more amazed than when I uttered these apparently inoffensive words.
“Lake!” he exclaimed, in an excited tone, “what lake? you don’t mean to say that you have been fishing . . . in that lake . . . .”
“I never fished in any lake, or in any stream in New England,” replied I. “I was frequently told that fish were very plentiful in those beautiful lakes, that’s all I know about the matter.”
Whilst this short dialogue had been going on, Esther had cleared away the “litters,” put everything in its place, and was now setting the table in that quick, silent manner I have so often remarked amongst her countrywomen. Without appearing to notice our conversation, she now turned towards her husband, and in a low voice asked him if he could find a few hen’s eggs for her, as she had none in the house.
“Yes, yes; there’s some in the wood-house, I saw them there this morning. I’ll bring them to you in a minute; and now, Esther, fly round and get us something to eat as quick as you can.”
As soon as her husband left the room, Mrs. Baldwin came towards me, and in a grave, earnest manner, said, “’Twas not that I so much wanted the eggs, but—don’t say anything about fishing in them New Hampshire lakes to my husband, it sets him off so; and, for the land’s sake! don’t ask nothing about that kind o’ picture,” continued she, indicating the mysterious-looking, cone-framed print rag, which I have already described, by a slight nod; “it would send him wild—and yet—perhaps he’ll tell you all about it himself, if you don’t notice it, for he seems to have taken a fancy to you.”
There is a cool imperturbability about a genuine Yankee woman which makes me believe that she could never be taken by surprise, never be thrown off her guard; her complete self-possession and command of countenance, under all circumstances, are admirable; and yet, perhaps, there are cases in which an English woman’s embarrassment would be more interesting; but, however, this was not one of them.
Mrs. Baldwin had hardly finished speaking when her husband returned with the eggs, which he handed to her in his hat. She looked up at the clock.
“The steak and fish are quite done by this time, Reuben, and by the time you’ve eaten them the pancakes will be ready.”
She left us for a few minutes, and then returned with a tray laden with a dish of stewed fish that was fit to set before a London alderman, a beef-steak, to which I cannot give such unqualified praise, a dish of potatoes, and another of boiled Indian corn. Setting these things on the table, she slipped out of the room again, and brought in a second relay, consisting of pumpkin pies—which are very much like our cheese-cakes—cranberry jelly, cheese, butter, cakes, and tea; to these, as a matter of course, were added hot rolls of beautiful light bread. How it is managed I cannot conceive, but I will here mention incidentally that I never sat down to tea or breakfast in an American farm-house without seeing hot rolls that looked as if they had that minute come out of the oven!
Though nothing could exceed the hospitality of my entertainer, I did not feel altogether at my ease. The injunction given me by his wife, in such a mysterious manner, had raised a doubt in my mind as to whether he was perfectly sane, and the apprehension I was under lest I should unwittingly say something that would “set him off,” or “send him wild,” was a constant restraint upon the freedom of my conversation.
“I am not to say anything about the lakes of New England, and I am to take no notice of that queer picture,” said I to myself. “Well, there are plenty of other subjects open to me, for Mr. Baldwin is a sensible, intelligent man.” But then the unpleasant suspicion of his being deranged again presented itself, and I began to speculate upon what kind of lunacy it might be that he was afflicted with—whether he was violent, for instance? His wife had no appearance of being afraid of him; but then, as I said before, these Yankee women are so wonderfully calm and self-possessed, that that’s no rule! At all events, here I must stay for the night, for to make any excuse for going back to Steubenville, after having so far received his hospitality, would be most ungracious—besides, “Reuben has taken a fancy to me.”
Our plentiful meal—which was dinner, tea, and supper all in one—was over, and all things cleared away by a little after eight o’clock. Knowing the primitive hours that are kept by the country people in most parts of America, and being unwilling to cause any inconvenience in the family, I offered to retire, if this were their hour for going to bed.
“Well, sir, as soon as you please; but you’ll excuse me if I read a chapter or two first, ’tis my custom, sir, and I believe I should not sleep good if I neglected it; we New Englanders are mostly brought up to read the Bible, but some of us are apt to forget it, and to think of nothing but how to get money, and then the Lord sends us something to waken us up, and show us his power.”
As Reuben spoke, he walked up to the strange looking picture, and stood with his eyes fixed on it. I was afraid that he now was really “going off,” and thought it most prudent to make no reply to his observations, as it might tend to make matters worse. His wife, however, seemed to know how to manage him; for taking his Bible down from the shelf, she handed it to him, saying, “Here, Reuben, it is getting late.”
He took it from her mechanically, with his eyes still fixed on the picture, and then in a low voice, as if he were talking to himself, said, “Faithful—yes; that’s what I forgot to be, and the Lord visited me in his wrath.”
“You won’t talk now, please, Reuben; I ain’t so good a scholar as you, and I never can read when anybody is talking,” said Mrs. Baldwin, as she laid an old, well-worn Bible in large print on the table before her. Reuben also sat down to read, and for the time, I hoped, the danger was over.
I took up “Good News from England,” which I found to be a curious journal of the doings and sufferings of the first settlers who went from England in the May Flower, written by one of them, Mr. Winslowe, whose name is still held in reverence in New England. It was he, I read, that imported into that country the first neat cattle that were ever seen there. After reading with great attention for about half an hour, Reuben closed his book, and asked if I were inclined to go to bed. I was quite willing to do so, for, besides that I had been upon my feet for a great many hours, and began to feel the want of rest, I knew that it would be expected that I should be ready for breakfast by four, or, at latest, by five o’clock the next morning. I had not far to go to my sleeping-room, which was separated merely by boards from the room in which we had been sitting, and was just half its width; the other half formed the bedroom of my host and hostess. As we were about to leave the room, I noticed that there was neither lock nor bolt on the outer door, a deficiency that I had frequently observed in the country parts of America.
“I guess you can’t very well do without them things in your country,” said Mr. Baldwin, with a sly smile of superiority.
“Not in the part that I come from, certainly,” replied I,—an answer not quite free from prevarication; but I confess that I felt then, as I had often done before, somewhat ashamed of the want of common honesty in my own country, which makes it so absolutely necessary for us to look carefully to the fastenings of our doors and windows every night.
I have often slept in rooms in which there was a most troublesome superabundance of furniture, where conveniences were multiplied till they became inconveniences, and where every “coign of vantage” was occupied by a useless knicknack. A bed, a small table and basin, one chair, and a few wooden pegs to hang my clothes on, were all that graced Reuben Baldwin’s spare room—and it was sufficient: everything was clean and comfortable, and I never slept better in my life.
At five next morning we sat down to a breakfast of the same profuse description as our supper of the preceding night. Fried bacon, omelets, Johnny-cake, two or three kinds of preserved fruits, and excellent coffee were on the table, all prepared by the indefatigable Esther: her husband milked the cow and sawed the wood for the stove, and probably helped her with the heaviest work, but she kept no servant of any kind to assist her. It has often been a mystery to me to imagine how these American women get through all the multifarious business that falls to their share with so little apparent effort or fatigue. In one or two instances in which I felt myself upon sufficiently familiar terms to allow of my asking the question, the answer has been, “Well, I guess it is just what we’ve been used to.” What would our English farmers’ daughters think of such work? I think I may venture to answer for them, “’Tis what we have never been used to!”
After breakfast, I went with Mr. Baldwin to look at his farm, of which he was not a little proud. He told me that he had had it only two years, and that his were the first crops that were ever grown on the land. Though so small in extent, he and his wife could get a good living out of the farm, the soil of which was rich and deep, and very easily worked, and when there was nothing particular to be done on the land, he caught fish in some of the neighbouring streams, which he could always find a ready sale for at Steubenville.
The prohibitions which I had received from Mrs. Baldwin, or I should rather say, the hasty conclusion that I had drawn from them, had prevented my asking Reuben many questions which occurred to me respecting New England and its farming, and the comparative advantages and disadvantages to be found in Ohio; the former, if I might at all trust my own judgment, greatly preponderating. Yet the man seemed to be communicative, and much more open in his manner than the generality of his countrymen whom I had conversed with; and in whom, indeed, the want of openness is so common, as fairly to be called a national characteristic. This morning, too, he seemed to be in good spirits, and I had not once observed the gloomy, or unhappy expression of countenance which I saw the day before.
I had seen enough of New England in merely travelling through it, to be aware of the general inferiority of its soil; for, with some notable exceptions, the land is absolutely encumbered with rocks, which can be got rid of by the farmer only at a vast expense of capital and labour; the climate, too, is severe, and the winter long and cold. I knew also that there had been for many years past, a tide of emigration from the New England States into Ohio, and even to the far west; therefore it did not appear strange to me that Reuben Baldwin should leave the sterile soil and bleak climate of New Hampshire, for the fertile land he had chosen, and I said something to that effect.
I saw his countenance change immediately, and he walked on for a minute or two before he made any reply to my observation.
“What you say about our rough climate and stony farms in New England is quite true, but as I was raised there I did not think much of them things—we don’t when we have been used to them all our life, any more than you think of all the fogs and dull dark days you get in England. No, sir, I should have lived there happy enough, and died there, if it had not pleased God to recall the greatest blessing he had bestowed upon us, and in such an awful way! It well nigh took away my senses, but thanks be to the Lord who comforteth those that are cast down. For our affliction which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.”
Here Reuben again made a long pause, which I did not think fit to interrupt, as I still felt uncertain whether he was suffering from any great calamity, or whether he laboured under some kind of religious insanity, a malady which is said to be very prevalent in the Eastern States.
We entered the log-house in silence. Mrs. Baldwin was sitting in the rocking-chair, busily employed in knitting a man’s worsted stocking. She raised her eyes for an instant, and gave the slightest possible nod to her husband, as much as to say: “I see you,” or, “here am I,” her knitting and her rocking going on vigorously all the while in perfect silence. And yet, under this cold and undemonstrative exterior, how much kindness was latent!
After sincerely thanking the worthy couple for their hospitality, I offered to take my leave, but Reuben would not consent to my going away so soon.
“Not yet, sir; not yet: ’tis not often that we see any one here, for we live very retired, and have no neighbours out here in the bush; but though I don’t care much about society, I do like to have somebody like yourself to talk with sometimes—it cheers me up, and does me good, so you will not leave us just yet, I hope.”
I could not urge the necessity of my presence at Steubenville, as I had already said that I had nothing to do there, but to wait for my friend’s arrival from New York. I therefore accepted the invitation as frankly as it was offered, and sat down by the open window, looking with admiration at the rich tints of the varied foliage, and the beautiful glimpses of forest scenery that were before me.
“You see, sir,” said Reuben, “what a nice place I’ve got here—everything to make a man happy, you must think; and I am happier than I ever thought to be again, when I first settled here, little more than two years ago. Esther, my dear, I shall tell the gentleman why it was that we couldn’t live no longer in the old place: I feel better for talking of it sometimes—at first I could not; but that’s over now.”
“I should be sorry, indeed,” said I, “if I have asked any question, or made any remark that has given you pain, by reminding you of past misfortunes.”
“I know it, sir. I’m sure you would not say anything to hurt my feelings; and as to reminding me of what’s past, that can’t be avoided. Why, sir, this morning, as we were walking through the bush, and talking about the different crops grown in your country, we came to where a lot of pine cones lay under the trees. I don’t suppose you noticed them, but I did; and for a minute or two I did not hear what you were saying, no more than if I’d been in New Hampshire, for my mind was wandering back to the time when the poor child used to pick them up, and make believe shooting me with them;—but I have not told you about her yet. My mind seems to run off the rails like, sometimes, and I forget what I am talking about.”
Mr. Baldwin was walking up and down the room in an excited manner, as he spoke; presently he stopped opposite the strange-looking picture, and began dusting the frame with his handkerchief.
“You have not offered Mr. Laurence any of our cider, Reuben, perhaps he would like some after walking so long in the heat.”
“I’m glad you thought of it, Esther.—My wife thinks of everything, sir,” continued he, as soon as Mrs. Baldwin left the room to fetch the cider; “if it had not been for her I should have lost my senses under that great trial, for I almost lost faith and trust in God, so great was my affliction. But, after the first, she bore up so like a true Christian, that I took comfort from her example, and though at times my mind is sore troubled, I know that all things work together for good to them that love God.”
When Mrs. Baldwin returned with a jug of cider, there was another pause; but this time her little ruse had not succeeded in turning her husband’s thoughts from what I suppose she considered a dangerous subject, for after filling our glasses he resumed the conversation.
“You have been in New Hampshire, sir, so I need not tell you what a different country that is to what you now see; and you have been through the Notch in the White Mountains; that is quite in the north of the range. I lived to the south, near the foot of the Sunapee Mountain, for all them hills have names, though strangers call them the ‘White Mountains,’ as if they were all one thing. They get their name from their tops being covered with snow for ten months in the year; nothing won’t grow there but black moss. Lower down there is a growth of dwarfed ugly pines, and ’tis only quite at the foot of the hills, and on the plains, that trees grow to a large size. Except that there are some fertile valleys, the country all round about for miles is the roughest I know anywhere; in some parts great blocks of granite, of many tons weight, lie all over the land, so that it is impossible to plough amongst them, and even on the best land the stones are a great hindrance to the farmer. Well, sir, I lived in one of them pleasant valleys I told you of; we were nicely sheltered from the cold winds by the rising ground and the pine woods at the back, and right in front, not more than a furlong from my door, was Lake Sunapee. I have heard that there are lakes in your country so handsome that people go from all parts to look at them; well, I guess there ain’t none handsomer than Lake Sunapee. The water is as blue as the heavens, and so clear and smooth, that the mountain and dark pine woods are reflected in it just as if it was a looking-glass. Perhaps you would think it a lonely place, for our nearest neighbours were on the other side of the lake, but we New England farmers never think ourselves lonely if we live within sight of a neighbour’s house, and I could see three or four.
“Well, sir, my wife and I had been married a good many years, but we had no children till about four years ago, when it pleased God to give us a little daughter, and I can’t tell you how much I loved that child. My wife named it Faithful—that was her own mother’s given name—and the child grew and ran about quite strong, and began to talk in her own pretty way, and Esther and I used to say to one another, what a blessing she was, and what a comfort she would be to us in our old age. In the evening after my work was done, I often used to carry her down to the lake, where I spent much of my time fishing, and she would run about on the hard white sand that lies along the shore, as happy as an angel, while her mother and I sat under the shade of the pines near by, watching her.
“The last time she was ever to play there was on one Sabbath evening; the day had been rather hot and close for September, and we noticed that we could not see a leaf stir, the air was so still when we got down to the Sunapee shore, where there was always a fresh breeze off the water even in the hottest days of summer. The poor child had picked up an apronful of pine cones, and put them into my coat pocket to carry home for her, and then we all sat down, for she seemed tired and sleepy, and before many minutes she fell asleep on her mother’s lap. This was about an hour before sunset, but almost on a sudden it grew so dark that we thought there must be a heavy thunder-storm coming, and we rose up to go home as quick as possible, thinking that the child would get wet. I took little Faithful from Esther, who went on as fast as she could before me. There was not a breath of air stirring, nor any thunder, but as it grew darker every minute, the lightning seemed to flash over the waters of the lake and light them up for an instant, and then again they looked as black as ink. As fast as I could I followed my wife along the path that led to our house, hoping that the child would be safe if we got there before the storm broke over our heads, for at that time I did not think of its being more than a very severe storm, though I never had seen one come on so sudden as this. Just as we got to the place where the path makes a turn, my wife stopped suddenly, and throwing up her hands, cried out:
“‘O Lord have mercy on us, for surely the end of the world is at hand.’
“I never shall forget the awful sight I saw when I looked up! An immense black pillar that whirled round and round furiously, and sent out flashes of red light in every direction, seemed to be coming rapidly towards us; we were now but a short distance from our own door, and by hurrying forward with all our strength, in another minute were in the house. My wife took the child out of my arms, while at the same instant we both exclaimed, ‘Thank the Lord she is safe,’ and Esther, who was ready to fall from terror and exhaustion, laid our little sleeping angel on the bed.
“Up to that time we had not heard a sound, and the air was as still and oppressive as it had been all day, but just as my wife stooped down to kiss her little Faithful, a great crash and rushing wind shook the house, and at the same moment I felt myself carried up into the air and whirled along in complete darkness. What more happened to me I don’t know anything about, for I lost all sense, until I found myself some hours afterwards lying on the earth amongst uprooted trees, torn branches, and broken pieces of buildings. Meantime my wife was carried in another direction, right over two or three stone fences, over a stream of water, and across several fields; but neither she nor I can give any account of what happened to us after we heard that dreadful crash, just as we were lifted up into the air, though neither of us was hurt any more than being a little bruised and stunned like; but the most terrible part of the story I have not yet told, though ’tis most likely you have guessed it already—we never saw our child again!
“For many days we searched amongst the ruined farms, and through the shattered and torn-up trees, and wherever the whirlwind could be traced by its work of destruction; but all in vain. The bedstead on which my wife had laid the dear child was found in the pine wood at the foot of the mountain, one of our chairs, along with some of the rafters of the house, were carried right across the lake into another man’s farm, but she was never found. A neighbour brought us a small piece of the frock she had on, which he picked up amongst the broken stumps of the trees that had had all their tops clean carried away, and this—this is all,” said the poor fellow, pointing to the piece of print under the glass, “that we now have that ever belonged to our dear child.”
“Everything we had was destroyed,” said Mrs. Baldwin, who, with the same tact that I had observed on another occasion, now addressed me in order to give her husband time to recover himself.
“Everything we had was destroyed; but we felt only one loss—that of our child. At first I thought if we had lost our child, as other parents lose theirs, I could have borne it; but to have her carried away in a raging whirlwind, and never see her again—oh! it was a hard, hard trial. But we cannot choose—it was the Lord’s doing, and it is our duty to submit.”
Mrs. Baldwin covered her face with her hands for a minute, but soon mastering her emotion, she rose, and taking down the picture from the nail on which it hung, she put it into my hands.
“There, sir, those are the cones that our little Faithful picked up and put into her father’s pocket only an hour before she was taken from us. As soon as he could fix his mind to any kind of work, he set himself to make this frame with them, for the storm had spared them to us for that purpose, he said.”
I assured Mrs. Baldwin that I had already admired the beauty of the workmanship, though I did not then know the sad history which gave it so much interest.
“If you should ever visit that part of the country,” resumed Mr. Baldwin, again addressing me, “you will see the traces of that storm for miles; where it began, or where it ended, I can’t say, but the greatest mischief was done just by our lake. It seemed to burst right over my house, and then gather up and carry everything away, sweeping furiously across the lake, and even driving the waters several hundred feet on to the land on the opposite shore, as was plainly seen by the mud that was left there. From the first I believed that our child slept her death-sleep beneath those waters on which I had so often taken her in my little fishing-boat—and when she could nowhere be found amongst the ruins that the storm had made, I felt certain of it. I did not care to rebuild my house where everything would remind us of our misfortune—and as to fishing in that lake again, or even rowing on those waters, I could not bear to think of it. So I sold my land for what little I could get, and soon fixed myself here where you see me. Thank God, I have done very well, and in the course of time perhaps—but we can’t forget our lost child.”
This was the strange history I heard from Reuben Baldwin—an unpolished man, but a man of excellent sense and generous warm feelings. With such a gem of a farm as he is now in, with such an admirable partner in his joys and sorrows, and, above all, with the blessings of Providence, Reuben Baldwin may yet live to be a happy, if not a rich man.
I took leave of the worthy couple with the painful feeling that I was not likely ever to see them again, or even to make them any return for the kindness and hospitality they had bestowed on me.
It is not my intention to describe my meeting with my New York friend, or the business which brought us together, for there was nothing in it that could afford interest to any third person.
Two days after I left Reuben Baldwin’s log-house in the bush, I was again in Cincinnati, where I made it my first business to procure a handsome copy of “Izaak Walton’s Complete Angler,” which I sent with my grateful remembrance to the Fisherman of Lake Sunapee.