Page images
PDF
EPUB

‘On my return home, I sold my horse, and turned every thing to cash; and found, with the remains of the paternal purse, that I had nearly four hundred dollars; a little capital, which I resolved to manage with the strictest economy.

• It was hard parting with old Miller, who had been like a father to me : it cost me, ioo, something of a struggle to give up the free, independent wild-wood life I had hitherto led; but I had marked out my course, and have never been one to flinch or turn back.

*1 footed it sturdily to Bardstown; took possession of the quarters for which I had bargained, shut myself up, and set to work with might and main, to study. But what a task i had before me! I had every thing to learn ; not merely law, but all the elementary branches of knowledge. I read and read, for sixteen hours out of the fourand-twenty ; but the more I read, the more I became aware of my own ignorance, and shed bitter tears over my deficiency. It seemed as if the wilderness of knowledge expanded and grew more perplexed as I advanced. Every height gained, only revealed a wider region toʻbe traversed, and nearly filled me with despair. I grew moody, silent, and unsocial, but studied on doggedly and incessantly. The only person with whom I held any conversation, was the worthy man in whose house I was quartered. He was honest and wellmeaning, but perfectly ignoraut, and I believe would have liked me much better, if I had not been so much addicted to reading. He considered all books filled with lies and impositions, and seldom could look into one, without finding something to rouse his spleen. Nothing put him into a greater passion, than the assertion that the world turned on its own axis every four-and-twenty hours. He swore it was an outrage upon common sense. “Why, if it did,' said he, there would not be a drop of water in the well, by morning, and all the milk and cream in the dairy would be turned topsy turvy! And then to talk of the earth going round the sun! “How do they know it ?' I 've seen the sun rise every morning, and set every evening, for more than thirty years. They must not talk to me about the earth's going round the sun !'

• At another time he was in a perfect fret at being told the distance between the sun and moon. “How can anyone tell the distance ? cried he. “Who surveyed it! who carried the chain? By Jupiter ! they only talk this way before me to annoy me. But then there's some people of sense who give in to this cursed humbug! There 's Judge Broadnax, now, one of the best lawyers we have; is n't it surprising he should believe in such stuff? Why, Sir, the other day I heard him talk of the distance from a star he called Mars to the sun! He must have got it out of one or other of those confounded books he's so fond of reading ; a book some impudent fellow has written, who knew nobody could swear the distance was more or less.'

• For my own part, feeling my own deficiency in scientific lore, I never ventured to unsettle bis conviction that the sun made his daily circuit round the earth; and for aught I said to the contrary, he lived and died in that belief.

I had been about a year at Bardstown, living thus studiously and reclusely, when, as I was one day walking the street, I met two young girls, in one of whom I immediately recalled the little beauty whom

I had kissed so impudently. She blushed up to the eyes, and so did I; but we both passed on without farther sign of recognition. This second glimpse of her, however, caused an odd fluttering about my heart. I could not get her out of my thoughts for days.

She quite interfered with my studies. I tried to think of her as a mere child, but it would not do : she had improved in beauty, and was tending toward womanhood; and then I myself was but little better than a stripling. However, I did not attempt to seek after ber, or even to find out who she was, but returned doggedly to my books. By degrees she faded from my thoughts, or if she did cross them occasionally, it was only to increase my despondency; for I feared that with all

my exertions, I should never be able to fit myself for the bar, or enable myself to support a wife.

• One cold stormy evening I was seated, in dumpish mood, in the bar-room of the inn, looking into the fire, and turning over uncomfortable thoughts, when I was accosted by some one who had entered the room without my perceiving it. I looked up, and saw before me a tall and, as I thought, pompous-looking man, arrayed in small clothes and knee-buckles, with powdered head, and shoes nicely blacked and polished ; a style of dress unparalleled in those days, in that rough country. I took a pique against him from the very portliness of his appearance, and stateliness of his manner, and bristled up as he accosted me. He demanded if my name was not Ringwood.

'I was startled, for I supposed myself perfectly incog. ; but I answered in the affirmative. *Your family, I believe, lives in Richmond.'

My gorge began to rise. Yes, Sir,' replied I, sulkily,“ my family does live in Richmond.'

· And what, may I ask, has brought you into this part of the coun• Zounds, Sir! cried I, starting on my feet,' what business is it of yours? How dare you to question me in this manner?'

• The entrance of some persons prevented a reply; but I walked up and down the bar-room, fuming with conscious independence and insulted dignity, while the pompous-looking personage, who had thus trespassed upon my spleen, retired without proffering another word.

• The next day, while seated in my room, some one tapped at the door, and, on being bid to enter, the stranger in the powdered head, small-clothes, and shining shoes and buckles, walked in with ceremonious courtesy

*My boyish pride was again in arms; but he subdued me. formal, but kind and friendly. He knew my family, and understood my situation, and the dogged struggle I was making. A little conversation, when my jealous pride was once put to rest, drew every thing from me. He was a lawyer of experience, and of extensive practice, and offered at once to take me with him, and direct my studies. The offer was too advantageous and gratifying not to be immediately accepted. From that time I began to look up. I was put into a proper

track, and was enabled to study to a proper purpose. I made acquaintance, too, with some of the young men of the place, who were in the same pursuit, and was encouraged at finding that I could hold my own' in argument with them. We instituted a

try?'

He was

debating club, in which I soon became prominent and popular. Men of talents, engaged in other pursuits, joined it, and this diversified our subjects, and put me on various tracks of inquiry. Ladies, too, attended some of our discussions, and this gave them a polite tone, and had an influence on the manners of the debaters. My legal patron also may have had a favorable effect in correcting any roughness contracted in my hunter's life. He was calculated to bend me in an opposite direction, for he was of the old school ; quoted Chesterfield on all occasions, and talked of Sir Charles Grandison, who was his beau ideal. It was Sir Charles Grandison, however, Kentuckyized.

I had always been fond of female society. My experience, however, had hitherto been among the rough daughters of the backwoodsmen; and I felt an awe of young ladies in 'store clothes,' and delicately brought up. Two or three of the married ladies of Bardstown, who had heard me at the debating club, determined that I was a genius, and undertook to bring me out. I believe I really improved under their hands; became quiet where I had been shy or sulky, and easy where I had been impudent.

'I called to take tea one evening with one of these ladies, when to my surprise, and somewhat to my confusion, I found with her the identical blue-eyed little beauty whom I had so audaciously kissed. I was formally introduced to her, but neither of us betrayed any sign of previous acquaintance, except by blushing to the eyes. While tea was getting ready, the lady of the house went out of the room to give some directions, and left us alone.

• Heavens and earth, what a situation! I would have given all the pittance I was worth, to have been in the deepest dell of the forest. I felt the necessity of saying something in excuse of my former rudeness, but I could not conjure up an idea, nor utter a word. Every moment matters were growing worse. I felt at one time tempted to do as I had done when I robbed her of the kiss : bolt from the room, and take to flight; but I was chained to the spot, for I really longed to gain her good will.

At length I plucked up courage, on seeing that she was equally confused with myself, and walking desperately up to her, I exclaimed:

• I have been trying to muster up something to say to you, but I cannot. I feel that I am in a horrible scrape. Do have pity on me, and help me out of it!'

* A smile dimpled about her mouth, and played among the blushes of her cheek. She looked up with a shy but arch glance of the eye, that expressed a volume of comic recollection ; we both broke into a laugh, and from that moment all went on well.

A few evenings afterward, I met her at a dance, and prosecuted the acquaintance. I soon became deeply attached to her; paid my court regularly; and before I was nineteen years of age, had engaged myself to marry her. I spoke to her mother, a widow lady, to ask her consent. She seemed to demur; upon which, with my customary haste, I told her there would be no use in opposing the match, for if her daughter chose to have me, I would take her, in defiance of her family, and the whole world.

"She laughed, and told me I need not give myself any uneasiness ;

[ocr errors]

would be no unreasonable opposition. She knew my family, and all about me.

The only obstacle was, that I had no means of supporting a wife, and she had nothing to give with her daughter.

No matter; at that moment every thing was bright before me. I was in one of my sanguine moods. I feared nothing, doubted nothing. So it was agreed that I should prosecute my studies, obtain a license, and as soon as I should be fairly launched in business, we would be married.

'I now prosecuted my studies with redoubled ardor, and was up to my ears in law, when I received a letter from my father, who had heard of me and my whereabouts. He applauded the course I had taken, but advised me to lay a foundation of general knowledge, and offered to defray my expenses, if I would go to college. I felt the want of a general education, and was staggered with this offer. It militated somewhat against the self-dependent course I had so proudly, or rather conceitedly, marked out for myself, but it would enable me to enter more advantageously upon my legal career.

I talked over the matter with the lovely girl to whom I was engaged. She sided in opinion with my father, and talked so disinterestedly, yet tenderly, that if possible, I loved her more than ever. I reluctantly, therefore, agreed to go to college for a couple of years, though it must necessarily postpone our union.

Scarcely had I formed this resolution, when her mother was taken ill, and died, leaving her without a protector. This again altered all my plans. I felt as if I could protect her. I gave up all idea of collegiate studies; persuaded myself that by dint of industry and application I might overcome the deficiencies of education, and resolved to take out a license as soon as possible.

• That very autumn I was admitted to the bar, and within a month afterward, was married. We were a young couple; she not much above sixteen, I not quite twenty; and both almost without a dollar in the world. The establishment which we set up was suited to our circumstances : a log-house, with two small rooms; a bed, a table, a half dozen chairs, a half dozen knives and forks, a half dozen spoons ; every thing by half dozens; a little delft ware; every thing, in a small way: we were so poor, but then so happy!

• We had not been married many days, when court was held at a county town, about twenty-five miles distant. It was necessary for me to go there, and put myself in the way of business : but how was I to go ? I had expended all my means on our establishment; and then, it was hard parting with my wife, so soon after marriage. However, go I must. Money must be made, or we should soon have the wolf at the door. I accordingly borrowed a horse, and borrowed a little cash, and rode off from my door, leaving my wife standing at it, and waving her hand after me. Her last look, so sweet and beaming, went to my heart. I felt as if I could go through fire and water for her.

• I arrived at the county town, on a cool October evening. The inn was crowded, for the court was to commence on the following day. I knew no one, and wondered how I, a stranger, and a mere youngster, was to make my way in such a crowd, and to get business. The public room was thronged with the idlers of the country, who gather

VOL. XVI.

35

together on such occasions. There was some drinking going forward, with much noise, and a little altercation. Just as I entered the room, I saw a rough bully of a fellow, who was partly intoxicated, strike an old man. He came swaggering by me, and elbowed me as he passed. I immediately knocked him down, and kicked him into the street. I needed no better introduction. In a moment I had a dozen rough shakes of the hand, and invitations to drink, and found myself quite a personage in this rough assembly. * The next morning the court opened. I took my seat among

the lawyers, but felt as a mere spectator, not having a suit in progress or prospect, nor having any idea where business was to come from. In the course of the morning, a man was put at the bar, charged with passing counterfeit money, and was asked if he was ready for trial. He answered in the negative. He had been confined in a place where there were no lawyers, and had not had an opportunity of consulting any. He was told to choose counsel from the lawyers present, and to be ready for trial on the following day. He looked round the court, and selected me. I was thunder-struck. I could not tell why he should make such a choice. I, a beardless youngster; unpractised at the bar; perfectly unknown. I felt diffident yet delighted, and could have hugged ihe rascal.

• Before leaving the court, he gave me one hundred dollars in a bag, as a retaining fee. I could scarcely believe my senses; it seemed like a dream. The heaviness of the fee spoke but lightly in favor of his innocence, but that was no affair of mine. I was to be advocate, not judge, nor jury. I followed him to jail, and learned from him all the particulars of his case : from thence I went to the clerk's office, and took minutes of the indictment. I then examined the law on the subject, and prepared my brief in my room. All this occupied me until midnight, when I went to bed, and tried to sleep. It was all in vain. Never in my life was I more wide awake. A host of thoughts and fancies kept rushing through my mind : the shower of gold that had so unexpectedly fallen into my lap; the idea of my poor little wife at home, that I was to astonish with my good fortune! But then the awful responsibility I had undertaken ! — to speak for the first time in a strange court; the expectations the culprit bad evidently formed of my talents; all these, and a crowd of similar notions, kept whirling through my mind. I tossed about all night, fearing the morning would find me exhausted and incompetent; in a word, the day dawned on me, a miserable fellow !

I got up feverish and nervous. I walked out before breakfast, striving to collect my thoughts, and tranquillize my feelings. It was a bright morning; the air was pure and frosty. I bathed my forehead and my hands in a beautiful running stream; but I could not allay the fever heat that raged within. I returned to breakfast, but could not eat. A single cup of coffee formed my repast. It was time to go to court, and I went there with a throbbing heart. I believe if it had not been for the thoughts of my little wife, in her lonely log house, I should have given back to the man bis hundred dollars, and relinquished the cause. I took my seat, looking, I am convinced, more like a culprit than the rogue I was to defend.

When the time came for me to speak, my heart died within me. I

« PreviousContinue »