Gilbert Martin and Wife, Magdelana (1776)
It was the second day of their journey to their first home. Lana, in the cart, looked back to see how her husband was making out with the cow. He had bought it from the Domine for a wedding present to her. He had hesitated a long while between the cow and the clock; and she had been disappointed when he finally decided on the cow, even though it cost three dollars more; but now she admitted that it would be a fine thing to have a cow to milk. As he said, it would give her companionship when he was working in the woods.
Privately she had thought at the time that she would show him that she could manage their first house and help him with the fields also. She was a good strong girl, eighteen years old the day she married, and she thought that if they both worked hard, in a few years they would have money enough to pay thirteen dollars for a clock if they really wanted it. There were only two cows anyway at Deerfield Settlement, and she might make money with the extra butter.
The cow had given a good deal of trouble yesterday, leaving its own village, but this morning it seemed to be anxious to keep up with the cart. Lana supposed the land looked strange to the poor beast, and that now the cart and the small brown mare were the only things it felt at home with.
Gilbert smiled when she looked back, and raised the hand in which he carried the birch switch. He had taken off his jacket, for the weather was warm, and his shirt was open at the neck. She thought, “He’s handsome,” and waved back cheerfully. Anyway, the Reverend Mr. Gros made two clocks a year which he tried to sell to any couple he was marrying, and no doubt a year or two from now there would be one to pick out if they ever came back so far.
The Domine had wedded Magdelana Borst to Gilbert Martin in the Palatine Church at Fox’s Mills two days ago. There had been just her family in the little stone structure, Mr. and Mrs. Gros, and a couple of Indians, half drunk, who had heard of the ceremony and happened over from Indian Castle in hopes of getting incited to the breakfast. Lana’s father had given them a York shilling to get rid of them and they had gone down to Jones’s tavern to buy rum saying, “Amen” very gravely in English.
It was a pleasant breakfast in the Dutch-like kitchen with its red and black beams. They had had glasses of the hard cider saved over from last fall, and sausage and cornbread, and then Gilbert had gone out to get the cart and cow and Mother had slipped tearfully upstairs and come down again with the air of a surprise and given Lana the Bible for a departing present.
It was a beautiful book, bound in calfskin, with a gilded clasp. She had taken it to the Domine for him to write in, and he had put her name very elegantly on the flyleaf, Magdelana martin, and then very solemnly he had turned to the empty pages at the back and had written there:—
July 10, 1776-married this day Gilbert Martin, of Deerfield Settlement, Tryon County, the State of New York, North America, to Magdelana Borst, of Fox’s, Tryon County, by Reverend Daniel Gros.
They had all thought it was very impressive, seeing “the State of New York,” and Mother had looked tearful again for a moment or two, because, as she said, there was no telling what kind of country it was now, with its name changed, and all the troubles of the war in Canada.
But that had passed over quickly. It had been too late then to bring up the old argument about the Indian menace, by which for a week they had tried to persuade Gilbert to settle on their own farm. His place seemed so far away—it would take two days to get to—it was more than thirty miles.
But Gilbert had been unshakable. He had paid for the land in Hazenclever’s Patent beyond Crosby’s Manor. He said that it was good land. He had worked there all fall and got his house up and cleared some ground already, and would have a crop of Indian corn, on part of it. It was something no one in his right senses could abandon. And he was capable of looking after Lana as well as any man.
She remembered how he and her father had talked together, and that talk had impressed her father. “He has paid for his land,” he said, “and he has built his house alone so that he could buy himself a yoke of oxen, with the money saved.”
“But, Henry,” said her mother, “Lana knows nobody up there. It is so far away.”
“Gilbert has friends and neighbors,” he said. “I think Lana will get along all right,” and he had smiled at her. “You can’t keep all your daughters to yourself, you know, Mummschen. What would the poor young men do, if all the mothers in the world did that? Where would I have been, if your mother had done that to you? I ask you.” He had even laughed about it, while Gilbert, for some reason, looked embarrassed, maybe because Lana’s sisters were looking at him so admiringly. It seemed a wonderful thing to them for a girl to start off to a strange place with a man like Gilbert, whom she had seen not more than half a dozen times before in her life.
That first time she had seen him seemed long ago now, though it was still less than a year. Then months and four days, to-day, Lana said to herself, shaking the reins over the mare’s back. She and her sisters had been drying flax over the put on the hillside. They had been playing at kentecoying, and perhaps they had become careless, for they had not noticed the young man coming along the road. And when they had at last seen him just below them, looking up at Lana and smiling, Lana had stepped back inadvertently onto the poles in which the flax was spread, and the poles had come loose from the hillside, throwing her and the flax at once into the pit of coals. The flax instantly burst into flame, but with the quickness of lighting, the sisters said, the young man had flung down his pack, run up the hill, and jumped down into the pit. Lana’s heavy linsey petticoat had not caught fire; but by the time he had hoisted her out, her calico short gown was burning, and with great presence of mind he had lifted her petticoat over her head, wrapping the upper half of her body in it and so smothering the flames.
If he had not saved her daughter’s life, Mrs. Borst told him half an hour later, he had certainly saved her from being badly scarred. She called it a noble action and asked him to stay the night. He had accepted. At supper he had told them that he was going west. He had no family, but he had enough money to buy some land with.
Little did Mrs. Borst or Lana herself guess how it would turn out. But when he left he caught her alone outside the door and whispered that he would return some day, if she were willing he should. Lana could not answer, beyond nodding’ but that had seemed enough for him; and he went away with big strides while her father said behind her, “That’s a fine young man.”
Lana had dreamed about him during the winter. Often she thought he would not come back. But in the end of the winter, just when the sugaring was beginning, he had arrived one afternoon. He told them about his experiences in the westward. Up there they didn’t hear much of the political doings of the lower valley. They knew that Guy Johnson and the Butlers had gone west, of course, and Mr. Weaver, Gil’s neighbor, attended Committee meetings from time to time, which gave them some news. But Mr. Kirkland, the missionary, had made the Oneida Indians so friendly that one did not have the same feeling about the possibility of an Indian war. And besides, when people were clearing land they were too busy all day and too tired at night to think much about other things.
Gilbert himself had started clearing his first five acres. He had boarded during the winter with the Weavers, who had been very nice to him, paying for his food by helping George Weaver one day a week. He had got his cabin walls laid up and a good chimney in. The cabin was set right at the turn the road made for the Mohawk River ford. One could look from the door south across the marsh to the river itself, a fine prospect. Behind the house there was a natural spring.
Though he told the family about these things, Lana, in her heart, knew he was telling them to her alone. She was afraid, after supper, to go out, knowing that he would follow her. But nothing she could do could keep her from offering to step down to Jones’s for her father’s beer. And as she knew he would, the young man offered to go with her to carry the jug.
On the way down he had told her still more about the place. It sounded like the most wonderful place she had ever seen. He was going to buy a plough and also get a yoke of oxen this summer. There was some natural pasture along the river on his place. The loam was deep. He expected it was four feet deep in places. He had built the cabin with an extra high roof, which made the sleeping loft quite airy. He had never slept better in his life than he had slept in that loft. In March he had bought two window sashes from Wolff’s store in Cosby’s Manor, glass sashes, so that the kitchen seemed as light as a church. He wished Lana could see it.
Though Lana wished so herself, they had by that time come to Jones’s, and she had had to go in after the beer. When she came out again, the young man had been quite silent. Even when she had asked him a shy question or two, he had hardly answered. It was only as they came in sight of the lighted windows of the Borst house that he asked her suddenly whether she would come and look at it as his wife.
“Yes,” said Lana. Though she had expected the question all along, and though she knew what her answer was going to be, the word put her into a panic. “You’ll have to ask Father,” she added.
He had done so, much more calmly than he had asked her; and after their walk together, her father had also said “Yes.” And then Gilbert had arranged to come back for her when his first rush of spring work was ended, so long as he should not be called out on militia duty.
Now they were on the Kingsroad. It ran from the ford at Schenectady the length of the Mohawk Valley; passing the Johnson land, Guy Park and Fort Johnson, Caughnawaga, Spraker’s, Fox’s, Nellis’s, Klock’s, and on to the carrying place at the falls. Then past the Eldridge Settlement, which was on the north side of the river opposite German Flats, and so to the settlement at the West Canada Creek crossing. Form that settlement it continued into the woods through Schuyler, to Cosby’s Manor, and then to Deerfield, where it crossed the river. West of there it was a barely passable track into the Indian camp at Oriska on Oriskany Creek. It ended at Fort Stanwix, which some people were saying would be repaired this summer by the Continental government.
From her high perch on the cart, Lana had looked out over the Mohawk all day. Last evening they had climbed the steep ascent beside the falls. A little before that, Gilbert had come alongside the cart to point out to her the fine red brick house of Colonel Herkimer with its gambrel roof, higher than any roof she had ever seen. But once past the falls they had burrowed into a stretch of woods, and for a way the land seemed wild. There was only one house, a small one, glimpsed through an opening in the trees. Then, almost at dark, they had emerged on the broad intervale lands that marked the beginning of the German Flats. A little tavern stood beside the road, and they put up in it.
Lana thought of their arrival with swelling pride. The landlord, a Mr. Billy Rose, was smoking an after-supper pipe in the door. He was in his shirt, with a leather apron, and had bidden her “Good evening,” quite politely.
Gil came up, harrying the cow. He walked directly to the innkeeper and asked for a night’s lodging. “Two shilling for you and the missis,” said the innkeeper, “and one for the mare. You can turn the cow in by the apple tree.”
“We’ll want a room to ourselves then,” said Gil.
“You can have the top room,” said Mr. Rose. “I can’t guarantee not to have to stick in someone else, though.”
Gil never so much as batted his eye. He held is purse open in one hand and put his fingers in. “Would two fips be worth a guarantee, Mr. Rose?”
“Seeing it’s the top room,” said Mr. Rose, “I’ll guarantee it.” He took the two fips and slipped them into a pocket under his apron; and after that he became most obliging, addressing Lana continually as “Mrs. Martin” and calling Gil “Mister,” and once even “Esquire.”
Lana fixed her hair in the back shed with Mrs. Rose’s glass, shook the dust for her dress with a whisk of twigs, and came back to Gil. They had supper at a table for themselves in the tap, as quietly as any well-wedded couple in the world. There was only one other man there and he hardly noticed them. He was a one-eyed man, a stranger, Mr. Rose said, on his way up from Albany.
They had some blood sausage with pig greens, sauerkraut, and smoked trout, and Gil had insisted on her taking a small glass of gin with him. “Seeing it’s to-night,” he managed to whisper. “Just especial.” The whole affair seemed to Lana ruinously expensive, but after the drink she found herself flooded with a feeling of utter irresponsibility. She even enjoyed it when a small stout man named Captain Small, with a couple of friends, dropped down from Eldridge’s and started talking in loud voices about Sir John Johnson’s having broken his parole and taken off the Highlanders to Canada. One side said that that was a good thing, getting the Scotch out of the valley; and the other said that it meant there would be nothing to hold back the Tories. But Mr. Rose reminded them that it had happened two months ago, nearly to the day, and there had been no chance in the war.
Lana felt herself very mature to be sitting in a taproom listening to men, and she tried to understand what they were saying about the army’s being driven back out of Canada. Small said, “Georgie Helmer come back last month. He was with Montgomery’s regiment. He said it all went fine till the last day of last year when they didn’t take Quee-bec. They he said everything went to pieces. Arnold got hurt and since then the smallpox has got into the army. He had it. He said he bought an inoculation off a Dr. Barker for fifteen cents cash money. And he was the first man in his company to get it. Everybody that bought inoculations off Barker got the disease. They thought it was because his hands was dirty and he didn’t clean his nail, which eh scratched them with. Then they found out he’d been all through the army and everybody he touched got it. Ain’t that an awful way to fight, though?”
Everybody nodded. Lana watched the shadow of Mr. Rose’s queue nodding up and down along the neck of a bottle. When she looked at him, he was still nodding, and the eelskin his hair was clubbed in glistened a greenish gray.
“The trouble is,” he said, “there ain’t anybody up there worth two cents except Arnold, and Captain Brown.”
“Brown says Arnold is no better than the rest.”
“John Brown’s a good man.”
They argued. The one-eyed man in the corner, who hadn’t said anything, now raised his voice. He had a pursy mouth and spoke softly.
“The trouble with the American army is your Continental Congress,” he said.
“What do you mean?” It was Gil who asked, and the truculence in his voice thrilled Lana. All the others were looking from him to the stranger.
But the stranger said calmly, “I mean what I said. It’s no better than a cesspool. What good there is in it is hid by the scum that keeps getting on top.”
Captain Small said, “I guess you mean Adams and that Yankee bunch.”
The one-eyed man nodded, looking at Gil. The patch over his eye gave his face an oddly sinister expression.
“They’re a bunch of failures and they talk loud to keep themselves in power. I wouldn’t put the dependence in them I’d put in a bedbug. They all bite when you’re asleep. Why, if I lived up here, I wouldn’t take chances playing with them.”
“Wouldn’t you?” said Gil. “Why not?”
“Because they only play politics with the army. How many regulars do they send up here? None. Why not? Because you don’t count to them for votes. You can’t bring pressure on them. And I hear there’s seven hundred British troops moving up to Oswego this fall. But that won’t bother them, safe in Philadelphia. Why, anybody could see this war would have to be won up north.”
“Say, what’s your business up here?”
“My business is to see what’s going on,” the man said equably, “and my name’s Caldwell.” He got up from his corner and moved towards Billy Rose. “How about my tally?” he asked.
Nobody said anything as he paid across the plank bar. But when he stopped in the door to ask how far it was to Shoemaker’s, they told him it was eight miles.
“He’s a queer-acting cuss,” observed Small.
Rose said, “There’s a lot of queer people in the valley, now. Did he mean the Indians was coming down?”
“I think,” said Gil, “That there’s a lot of foolish talk about this Indian business. Just because it happened in the French war, don’t mean it will now.”
“Listen, young man,” said Captain Small. “How would you feel if you’d been drove out of your land and house? If you was a mean man naturally?”
“You mean the Butlers and Johnsons?”
“Them,” said Small. “Them and their bunch.”
“But that don’t mean they’ll bring the Indians.”
“Listen, Mr. Martin. The Mohawks went west with them. They’ve got to feed them, hain’t they? They plain can’t do that in Niagara. Ten to one they get them foraging down here.”
“Well,” said Gil, “I guess we can look after them all right.”
“I guess we’ll have to, young man.”
Gil rose and, feeling his hand on her arm, Lana rose with him. As she saw the others watching her, she went suddenly pink. She felt that she was blushing all over while they said good-night. Mr. Rose picked up his Betty lamp and took them to the stairs.
“Have a good sleep,” he said.
“Good night,” they said.
Gil went first. When Lana climbed through the trapdoor into the small stuffy room with its cord bed in the middle, like a fortress in a little clearing, he was facing her.
“You didn’t get scared with what they said?” he asked anxiously. “You hear that kind of talk all over the place.”
She was still faintly tingling from the unaccustomed drink. And she looked at him, so straight and tall, with his good features and his blue eyes, and lean broad shoulders, remembering the way he had picked her out of the flax kiln. She felt proud and reckless and gay.
“Not of the Indians,” she said.
Then her eyes dropped and she couldn’t look at him again as they undressed.