THE campaigner marched out of a lawyer’s office in Nassau Street, New York.
“Shyster,” said our old man, as he called me into his own den, or rather lair,— (for den, I take it, is the private residence of a beast of prey, anti lair his place of business. I do not think that this definition is mine, but I forget to whom it belongs,)— “I suppose you would not dislike a trip into the country? Very well. These papers must be explained to General Van Bummel, and signed by him. He lives at Thunderkill, on the Hudson. Take the ten-o’clock train, and get back as soon as you can. Charge your expenses to the office.”
“ What luck! ” thought I, as I dashed down-stairs into the street, — determined to obey his last injunction to the letter, whatever course I might think fit to adopt about the one preceding it. No one who has not been an attorney’s clerk at three dollars a week, copying declarations and answers from nine A. M. to six P. M., in a dusty, inky, uncarpeted room, with windows unwashed since the last lease expired, can form a correct notion of the exhilaration of my mind when I took my seat in the railroad-car. The great Van Bummel himself never felt bigger nor better.
It was in that loveliest season of the year, the Indian summer, — a week or ten days of atmospheric perfection which the clerk of the weather allows us as a compensation for our biting winter and rheumatic spring. The veiled rays of the sun and the soft shadows produce the effect of a golden moonlight, and make even Nature’s shabbiest corners attractive. To be Out-of-doors with nothing to do, and nothing to think of but the mere pleasure of existence, is happiness enough at such times. But I was looking at a river panorama which is one of Nature’s best efforts, I have heard; and on that morning it seemed to me impossible that the world could show anything grander.
It was very calm. The broad glittering surface of the river showed here and there a slight ripple, when some breath of air touched it for a moment; but wind there was none,— only a few idle breezes lounging about, waiting for orders to join old Boreas in his next autumnal effort to crack his cheeks. The bright-colored trees glowed on the mountain-sides like beds of living coals.
“ How the deuse,” thought I, as I stared at them, “ can a discerning public be satisfied with Cole’s pictures of ‘ American Scenery in the Fall of the Year’? You see on his canvas, to be sure, red, green, orange, and so on, the peculiar tints of the leaves; but Nature does more (and Cole does not) : she blends the variegated hues into one bright mass of bewitching color by the magic of this soft, golden, hazy sunshine. I wish, too, that the great company of story-tellers would let scenery rest in peace. The charm of a landscape is entireness, unity; it strikes the eye at once and as a whole. Examination of the component parts is quite a different thing. Who can build up a view in his mind by piling up details like bricks upon one another? Most people, I suspect, will find, as I do, that, no matter what author they may be reading, the same picture always presents itself. A vague outline of some view they have seen arises in the memory,— like the forest scene in a scantily furnished theatre, which comes on for every play. The naked woods, trees, rocks, lake, river, mountain, would have done the business just as well, and saved a deal of writing and of printing. The most successful artist in this line I know of is Michael Scott, whose tropical sketches in ' Tom Cringle’s Log’ are unequalled by any landscape-painter, past or present, who uses pen and ink instead of canvas and colors.”
My trance was broken by the voice of the brakeman shouting, “ Thunderkill,” into the car, as the train drew up at a wooden station-house. Jumping out, I asked the way to General Van Bummel’s. A man with a whip in his hand offered his services as guide and common carrier. I determined to experience a new sensation,— for once in my life to anathematize expenditure, and charge it to the office. So, climbing into a kind of leathern tent upon wheels, I was soon on my way to the leaguer of the General. A drive of a mile brought us to two stout stone gateposts, surmounted each by a cannon-ball, which marked Van Bummel’s boundary. We turned into a lane shut in by trees. While busily taking an inventory of the General’s landed possessions for future use, my attention was drawn off by loud shouts, the sound of the gallop of horses and the rattling of wheels. Imagining at once that the General’s family-pair must be running away with his family-coach, I eagerly urged my driver to push on ; but the cold-hearted wretch only laughed and said.he “guessed there was nothing particular the matter.” At last, we debouched (excuse the word ; I have not yet got the military taste out of my mouth) upon a lawn, across which a pair of large hay horses, ridden postilion-fashion by one man, were dragging a brass six-pounder, upon which sat another in full uniform.
“ What the Devil is that ?” said I.
“ That’s the Gineral and his coachman a-having a training,” answered my driver.
As he spoke, the officer shouted, " Halt! ”
Coachy pulled up.
“Unlimber!” thundered the chief; and, aided by his man, obeyed his own orders.
“ Load! ” and “ Fire ! ” followed in rapid succession.
I saw and smelt that they used real powder. This over, the horses were made fast again, John bestrode his nag, the General clambered on to his brazen seat, and down they came at a tearing pace directly towards us. Luckily I had read “ Charles O’Malley,” and knew how to behave in such cases. I jumped from the wagon, and, tying my handkerchief to the ferule of my umbrella, advanced, waving it and shouting, “ A flag of truce! ” The General ordered a halt and despatched himself to the flag. As he approached, I beheld a stout, middle-aged, goodnatured looking man, dressed in the graceless costume of Uncle Sam’s army ; but I must say that he wore it with more grace than most of the Regulars I have seen. Our soldiers look unbecomingly in their clothes, — there is no denying it,— a good deal like sups in a procession at the Bowery. A New-York policeman sports pretty much the same dress in much better style. You hardly ever see an officer or private, least of all the officer, with the air militaire. I also noticed with pleasure that the General had not on his bead that melodramatic black felt, feather-bedecked hat, which some fantastic Secretary of War must have imagined in a dream, after seeing “ Fra Diavolo ” at the opera, or Wallaek in Massaroni. In plaee of this abomination, a cap covered with glazed leather surmounted his martial brow. When we met, I lowered my umbrella and offered my card, with the office pasteboard. He took them with great gravity, read the names, and requested me to fall back to the rear and await orders. Then rejoining his gun, he was driven slowly towards the house,— my peaceful ambulance following at a respectful distance. When I reached the door, the six-pounder had disappeared behind a clump of evergreens, and the General stood waiting to receive me. His manner was affable.
“ How d’ye do, Mr. Shyster ? Glad to see you, Sir. Walk into the library, Sir.”
I complied, and while the General was absent, engaged in carrying out some hospitable suggestions for my refreshment, I examined the room. It was large, and handsomely furnished. I looked into the bookcases: the shelves were filled with works on War, from Cæsar’s Commentaries down to Louis Napoleon on Rifled Cannon. In one corner stood a suit of armor; in another a stand of firearms ; between them a star of bayonets. On the mantelpiece I perceived a model of a small field-piece in brass and oak, and, what interested me more, a cigarbox. I raised the lid; the box was half full of highly creditable-looking cigars. My soul expanded with the thought of a probable offer of at least one.
“None of your Flor de Connecticuts,” I thought, “from the Yuelta Abajo of New-Windsor, but the genuine Simon Puros.”
A second glance at the inside of the lid caused grave doubts to depress my spirits. I beheld there, in place of the usual ill-executed lithograph with its fábricas and its calles, three small portraits. The middle one was the General in full uniform; I recognized him easily; the other two were no doubt his aides-decamp ; — all evidently photographs ; they were so ugly. I dropped the lid in disappointment, and turned to the side-table. On it lay a handsome sword in an open box lined with silk. Over it hung, framed and glazed, the speech of the committee appointed by his fellow-soldiers of the county to present the sword to the General, together with the General’s “ neat and appropriate ” answer and acceptance.
I began to be a little astonished. I certainly did not expect anything of this sort. Our old man called him General, to be sure; but General means nothing, in the rural districts, but a certain amount of wealth and respectability. It has taken the place of Squire. But here was I with a man who took his title au sérieux. What with the uniform, the cannon, and the coachman, I began to feel like an ambassador to a potentate with a standing army.
Here the General reappeared, bearing in his august hands a decanter and a pitcher. After due refreshment, I produced my papers, made the necessary explanations, and executed my commission so much to his satisfaction that he invited me cordially to dine and spend the night, instead of taking the eveningtrain down. I accepted, of course,—such chances seldom fell into my way,—and was shown into a nice little' bedroom, in which I was expected to dress for dinner. Dress, indeed ! I had on my best,
and did not come to stay. Novel-heroes manage to remain weeks without apparent luggage; but a modern attorney’s clerk, however moderate may be his toilette-tackle, finds it inconvenient to be separated from it. However, I did what I could,— washed my hands, settled the bow of my neck-tie, smoothed my hair with my fingers, and thought, as I descended to the drawing-room, of the travelling Frenchman, who, after a night spent in a diligence, wiped out his eyes with his handkerchief, put on a paper false collar, and exclaimed,—“ Me voici propre ! ”
The General, in a fatigue-dress, presented me to Mrs. Van Bummel, a goodlooking woman of pleasant dimensions,:— to Miss Bellona Van Bummel, who evidently thought me beneath her notice, — and to the Reverend Moses Wether, whose mild face, white cravat, and straight-cut collar proclaimed him. As I came in, his Reverence attempted to slip meekly out, but was stopped energetically by the General.
“ How is this ? Mr. Wether, you know you cannot leave, Sir.”
“ But, my dear General, I only dropped in for a few moments; and really I have so much to do! ”
“ I am sorry, Sir,” rejoined the General, sternly, " but you cannot be excused. You accepted the position of Chaplain to the Regiment. You neglected to attend the last two reviews. You were condemned by a Court Martial, over which I presided, to twenty-four hours’ arrest, which you must now submit to.”
“ But, my dear General,” feebly expostulated the man of prayer, “ you know I thought the nomination a mere pleasantry ; I had no idea you were serious, or I should never have listened to the proposition.”
“ Can’t help that, Sir. You accepted the commission, you neglected your duty, and you must take the consequences,”
Just then, as the poor perplexed parson was about to make another attempt for liberty, a side-door swung open; a well-built, comely servant-girl, dressed like Jenny Lind in the " Fille du Régiment,” appeared. Bringing the back of her hand to her forehead, she said,—
“ General, dinner is ready.”
Van Bummel muttered something about " joining our mess,” and led the way to the banqueting-hall. I was too hungry to be particular about names, and did ample justice to an excellent spread and well-selected tap,— carefully avoiding eating with my knife or putting salt upon the table-cloth, which I had often heard was never done by the aristocracy. As I kept my eyes upon the others and imitated them to the best of my ability, I hope I did not disgrace Nassau Street.
The evening passed quickly and agreeably. I played chess with the reverend prisoner. The man of war read steadily in a folio history of Marlborough’s campaigns, making occasional references to maps and plans. As the clock struck nine, an explosion on the lawn made the windows rattle again. I jumped to my feet, but, seeing that the rest of the company looked surprised at my vivacity, I sat down, guessing that the six-pounder and the coachman had something to do with it.
“ Don’t be alarmed, Sir,” said the General, " it’s only gun-fire. We retire about this time.”
I took the hint, requested to be shown to my room, undressed, jumped into a camp bedstead, and tried to sleep. Impossible !—the novelty of my day’s experiences, the beauty of the night, (for the full moon was shining into the windows,) or perhaps a cup of strong coffee I had swallowed without milk after dinner because the others took it, kept me awake. Finding sleep ont of the question, I got up and dressed myself. My chamber was on the ground-floor, and opened upon the lawn. I stepped quietly out into the hazy moonlight, lighted a cigar, and walked towards the river. It was a remarkably fine evening, certainly, but a very damp one. Heavy dew dripped from the trees. I found, as my weed grew shorter, that my fondness for the romantic in Nature waned, and slowly retraced my steps to the house, muttering to myself some of Edgar Poe’s ghostly lines: —
An opiate vapor, dewy, dim,
Exhales from out her golden rim,
And softly dripping, drop by drop,
Upon the quiet mountain-top,
Steals drowsily and musically
Into the universal valley.”
I was about entering, when a figure advanced suddenly from behind a pillar of the veranda, holding a something in its hand which glittered in the moonlight, and which rattled as it dropped from the perpendicular to the horizontal, pointing at me.
“ Who goes there ? ” said the apparition, in a hoarse voice. “ Stand, and give the countersign ! ”
I recognized the voice of the soldierservant of the morning. There he was again, that indefatigable coachman, doing duty as sentinel with a musket in his hands. Not knowing what else to say, I replied,—
“ It is I, a friend ! ”
My good grammar was thrown away upon the brute.
“ The countersign,” he repeated.
“ Pooh, pooh! ” said I, “ I do not know anything about the countersign. I am Mr. Shyster, who came up this morning, when you and the General were doing light-artillery practice on the lawn. Please let me go to my room.”
But the brute stood immovable. As I advanced, I heard him cock his musket.
“ Good God ! ” thought I, “ this is no joke, after all. This stupid stable-man may have loaded his musket. What if it should go off? If I retreat, I must camp out, — no joke at this season; — rheumatism and a loss of salary, to say the least. This will never do.”
And I screamed,—
“ General! General Van Bummel! ”
“ Silence! or I’ll march you to the guard-house,” thundered the sentinel.
Luckily the General lay, like Irene, “ with casement open to the skies.” He heard the noise. I recognized his martial tones. I hurriedly explained my situation. He gave me the word ; it was Eugene; countersign, Marlborough. This satisfied the Coach-Cerberus, and I passed into bed without further mishap.
The first sound I heard the next morning was the rat-tat-too of a drum. “ There goes that d—d coachman again,” I said to myself, and turned over for another nap; but a shrill bugle-call brought me to my seat.
Running to the window, I saw two men on horseback in dragoon equipments. The horses were the artillerynags of yesterday; the riders, the General and his man-at-all-arms. Hurrying on my clothes, I got out of doors in time to see them go at a gallop across the lawn, leap a low hedge at the end of the grass-plot, and disappear in the orchard. Thither I followed fast to see the sport. They reached the boundary-line of the Van-Bummel estate, wheeled, and turned back on a trot. When the General espied me, he waved his sabre and shouted, “Charge!” They galloped straight at me. I had barely time to dodge behind an apple-tree, when they passed like a whirlwind over the spot I had been standing on, and covered me with dirt from the heels of their horses. I walked back to the house, very much annoyed, as men are apt to be, when they think they have compromised their dignity a little by dodging to escape danger from another’s mischief or folly. At breakfast, accordingly, I remonstrated with the chief; but he only laughed, and asked me why I did not form a hollow square and let the front rank kneel and fire.
“As soon as you have finished your coffee,” he added, “ I will take you into the trenches, and there you will be out of danger.”
I could not refuse. The trenches were at the bottom of the garden, near the entrance-drive. I had seen them yesterday, and in my ignorance thought of celery; now, I knew better. This morning, a tent was pitched a few yards from a long low wall of sods ; and between the tent and the sods there was a small trench, about large enough to hold draining-tiles. Pointing to the wall, the general said,—
“There is Sebastopol,” (pronouncing it correctly, accent on the to,) “ and here,” turning to the tent, “are my head-quarters. My sappers have just established a mine under the Quarantine Battery. In a few moments I shall blow it up, and storm the breach, if we make a practicable one.”
Here the Protean coachman made his appearance with a leather apron and a broad-axe. He signified that all was ready. A lucifer was rubbed upon a stone, the train ignited, bang went the mine, and over went we all three, prostrated by a shower of turf and mud. The mine had exploded backward, and had annihilated the storming party. Fortunately, the General had economized in powder. Gradually we picked ourselves up, considerably bewildered, but not much hurt. Van Bummel attempted to explain; but I had had enough of war’s alarms, and yearned for the safety and peace of Nassau Street. So I bade the warrior goodmorning, and took the first down-train, multa mecum volvens: “making a revolver of my mind,” Van Bummel would have translated it. I knew that our soil produced more soldiers even than France, the fertile mother of rod-legged heroes; but I did not expect, in the Nineteenth Century and in the State of New York, to have beheld an avatar of the God Mars.