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Chambers, William / Chambers's Edinburgh Journal, No. 422 Volume 17, New Series, January 31, 1852
CHAMBERS' EDINBURGH JOURNAL


CONDUCTED BY WILLIAM AND ROBERT CHAMBERS, EDITORS OF 'CHAMBERS'S
INFORMATION FOR THE PEOPLE,' 'CHAMBERS'S EDUCATIONAL COURSE,' &c.


No. 422. NEW SERIES. SATURDAY, JANUARY 31, 1852. PRICE 1-1/2 _d._




THE HAPPY JACKS.


'On Saturday, then, at two--humble hours, humble fare; but plenty, and
good of its kind; with a talk over old fellows and old times.'

Such was the pith of an invitation to dinner, to accept which I
started on a pleasant summer Saturday on the top of a Kentish-town
omnibus. My host was Happy Jack. Everybody called him 'Happy Jack:' he
called himself 'Happy Jack.' He believed he was an intensely 'Happy'
Jack. Yet his friends shook their heads, and the grandest shook theirs
the longest, as they added the ominous addendum of 'Poor Devil' to
'Happy Jack.'

'Seen that unhappy wretch, Happy Jack, lately?'

'Seen him! of course, yesterday: he came to borrow a half-sovereign,
as two of his children had the measles. He was in the highest spirits,
for the pawnbroker lent him more on his watch than he had expected,
and so Jack considered the extra shilling or two pure gain. I don't
know how the wretch lives, but he seems happier than ever.'

On another occasion, the dialogue would be quite different.

'Who do you think I saw last night in the first tier at the
Opera?--who but Happy Jack, and Mrs Happy Jack, and the two eldest
Happy Jack girls! Jack himself resplendent in diamond studs, and
tremendously laced shirt-front; and as for the women--actually queens
of Sheba. A really respectable carriage, too, at the door; for I
followed them out in amazement: and off they went like so many lords
and ladies. Oh, the sun has been shining somehow on the Happy Jacks!'

In due time I stood before the Terrace honoured by the residence of
the Happy Jacks--one of those white, stuccoed rows of houses, with
bright green doors and bright brass-plates thereon, which suburban
builders so greatly affect. As I entered the square patch of
front-garden, I perceived straw lying about, as though there had been
recent packing; and looking at the drawing-room window, I missed the
muslin curtain and the canary's brass cage swathed all over in gauze.
The door opened before I knocked, and Happy Jack was the opener. He
was clad in an old shooting-coat and slippers, had a long clay-pipe in
his mouth, and was in a state of intense general _déshabille_. Looking
beyond him, I saw that the house was in _déshabille_ as well as the
master. There were stairs certainly, but where was the stair-carpet?
Happy Jack, however, was clearly as happy as usual. He had a round,
red face; and, I will add, a red nose. But the usual sprightly smile
stirred the red round face, the usual big guffaw came leaping from the
largely opening mouth, the usual gleam of mingled sharpness and
_bonhomie_ shone from the large blue eyes. Happy Jack closed the door,
and, taking my arm, walked me backwards and forwards on the gravel.

'My boy,' he said, 'we've had a little domestic affair inside; but you
being, like myself, a man of the world, we were not of course going to
give up our dinner for that. The fact is,' said Jack, attempting to
assume a heroic and sentimental tone and attitude, 'that, for the
present at least, my household gods are shattered!'

'You mean that'----

'As I said, my household gods are shattered, even in the shrine!'

It was obvious that the twang of this fine phrase gave Jack uncommon
pleasure. He repeated it again and again under his breath, flourishing
his pipe, so as, allegorically and metaphorically, to set forth the
extent of his desolation.

'In other words,' I went on, 'there has been an--an execution'----

'And the brokers have not left a stick. But what of that? These, are
accidents which will occur in the best'----

'And Mrs'----

'Oh! She, you know, is apt to be a little downhearted at times; and
empty rooms somehow act on her idiosyncrasy. A good woman, but weak.
So she's gone for the present to her sisters; and as for the girls,
why, Emily is with her mother, and Jane is at the Joneses. Very decent
people the Joneses. I put Jones up to a thing which would have made
his fortune the week before last; but he wouldn't have it. Jones is
slow, and--well---- And Clara is with the Hopkinses: I believe so, at
least; and Maria is---- Confound me if I know where Maria is; but I
suppose she's somewhere. Her mother managed it all: I didn't
interfere. And so now, as you know the best and the worst, let's come
to dinner.'

An empty house is a dismal thing--almost as dismal as a dead body. The
echo, as you walk, is dismal; the blank, stripped walls, shewing the
places where the pictures and the mirrors have been, are dismal; the
bits of straw and the odds and ends of cord are dismal; the coldness,
the stillness, the blankness, are dismal. It is no longer a
habitation, but a shell.

In the dining-room stood a small deal-table, covered with a scanty
cloth, like an enlarged towel; and a baked joint, with the potatoes
under it, smoked before us. The foaming pewter-can stood beside it,
with a couple of plates, and knives and steel forks. Two Windsor
chairs, of evident public-house mould, completed the festive
preparations and the furniture of the room. The whole thing looked
very dreary; and as I gazed, I felt my appetite fade under the sense
of desolation. Not so Happy Jack. 'Come, sit down, sit down. I don't
admire baked meat as a rule, but you know, as somebody says--

"When spits and jacks are gone and spent,
Then ovens are most excellent,"
And also most con-ven-i-ent.

The people at the Chequers managed it all. Excellent people they are.
I owe them some money, which I shall have great pleasure in paying as
soon as possible. No man can pay it sooner.'

The dinner, however, went off with the greatest success. Happy Jack
was happier than ever, and consequently irresistible. Every two or
three minutes he lugged in something about his household gods and the
desolation of his hearth, evidently enjoying the sentiment highly.
Then he talked of his plans of taking a new and more expensive house,
in a fashionable locality, and furnishing it on a far handsomer scale
than the old one. In fact, he seemed rather obliged to the brokers
than otherwise for taking the quondam furniture off his hands. It was
quite behind the present taste--much of it positively ugly. He had
been ashamed to see his wife sitting in that atrocious old easy-chair,
but he hoped that he had taken a step which would change all for the
better. Warming with his dinner and the liquor, Happy Jack got more
and more eloquent and sentimental. He declaimed upon the virtues of
Mrs J., and the beauties of the girls. He proposed all their healths
_seriatim_. He regretted the little incident which had prevented their
appearance at the festive board; but though absent in person, he was
sure that they were present in spirit; and with this impression, he
would beg permission to favour them with a song--a song of the social
affections--a song of hearth and home--a song which had cheered, and
warmed, and softened many a kindly and honest heart: and with this
Happy Jack sang--and exceedingly well too, but with a sort of
dreadfully ludicrous sentiment--the highly appropriate ditty of _My
Ain Fireside_.

Happy Jack was of no particular profession: he was a bit of a
_littérateur_, a bit of a journalist, a bit of a man of business, a
bit of an agent, a bit of a projector, a bit of a City man, and a bit
of a West-end man. His business, he said, was of a general nature. He
was usually to be heard of in connection with apocryphal companies and
misty speculations. He was always great as an agitator. As soon as a
League was formed, Happy Jack flew to its head-quarters as a vulture
to a battle-field. Was it a league for the promotion of
vegetarianism?--or a league for the lowering of the price of meat?--a
league for reforming the national costume?--or a league for repealing
the laws still existing upon the Statute-book against witches?--Happy
Jack was ever in the thickest of the fray, lecturing, expounding,
arguing, getting up extempore meetings of the frequenters of
public-houses, of which he sent reports to the morning papers,
announcing the 'numerous, highly respectable, and influential' nature
of the assembly, and modestly hinting, that Mr Happy Jack, 'who was
received with enthusiastic applause, moved, in a long and
argumentative address, a series of resolutions pledging the meeting
to,' &c. Jack, in fact, fully believed that he had done rather more
for free-trade than Cobden. Not, he said, that he was jealous of the
Manchester champion; circumstances had made the latter better
known--that he admitted; still he could not but know--and knowing,
feel--in his own heart of hearts, his own merits, and his own
exertions.

The railway mania was, as may be judged, a grand time for Happy Jack.
The number of lines of which he was a provisional director, the number
of schemes which came out--and often at good premiums too--under his
auspices; the number of railway journals which he founded, and the
number of academies which he established for the instruction of
youthful engineers--are they not written in the annals of the period?
Jack himself started as an engineer without any previous educational
ceremony whatever. His manner of laying out a 'direct line' was happy
and expeditious. He took a map and a ruler, and drew upon the one, by
the help of the other, a straight stroke in red ink--which looked
professional--from terminus to terminus. Afterwards, he stated
distinctly in writing, so that there could be no mistake about the
matter, that there were no engineering difficulties--that the landed
proprietors along the line were quite enthusiastic in their promotion
of the scheme--and that the probable profits, as deduced from
carefully drawn-up traffic-tables, would be about 35 per cent. At this
time, Happy Jack was quite a minor Hudson. He lived in an atmosphere
of shares, scrip, and prospectuses. Money poured in from every
quarter. A scrap of paper with an application for shares was worth the
bright tissue of the Bank--and Jack lost no time in changing the one
for the other. Amid the mass of railway newspapers, he started _The
Railway Sleeper Awakened_, _The Railway Whistle_, _The Railway
Turntable_, and _The Railway Timetable_; and it was in the first
number of the last famous organ--it lived for three weeks--in which
appeared a letter signed 'A Constant Reader.' After the bursting of
the bubble, Happy Jack appeared to have burst too; for his whereabouts
for a long time was unknown, and there were no traditions of his being
seen. Then he began to be heard of from distant and constantly varying
quarters of the town. Now you had a note from Shepherd's Bush, and
next day from Bermondsey. On Tuesday, Jack dated Little King Street,
Clapham Road; on Thursday, the communication reached you from Little
Queen Street, Victoria Villas, Hackney; and next week perhaps you were
favoured with a note from some of the minor little Inns of Court,
where the writer would be found getting up a company on the fourth
floor in a grimy room, furnished with a high deal-desk, two
three-legged stools, and illimitable foolscap, pens, and ink.

Where Mrs Happy Jack and the young-lady Happy Jacks went to at these
times, the boldest speculator has failed to discover: they vanished,
as it were, into thin air, and were seen no more till the sunshine
came, when they returned with the swallows. The lady herself was a
meek, mild creature, skilful in the art of living on nothing, and
making up dresses without material. She adored her husband, and
believed him the greatest man in the world. On the occurrence of such
little household incidents as an execution, or Jack making a rapid act
of cabmanship from his own hearth to the cheerful residence of Mr Levi
in Cursitor Street, the poor little woman, after having indulged
herself in the small luxury of a 'good cry,' would go to work to pack
up shirts and socks manfully, and with great foresight, would always
bring Jack's daily food in a basket, seeing that Mr Levi's bills are
constructed upon a scale of uncommon dimensions; after which, she
would eat the dinner with him in the coffee-room, drink to better
days, play cribbage, and at last get very nearly as joyous in that
greasy, grimy, sorrow-laden room, with bars on the outside of the
windows, as if it were the happy home she possessed a few weeks ago,
and which she always hoped to possess again. As for the girls, they
were trained by too good a master and mistress not to become apt
scholars. They knew what a bill of sale was from their tenderest
years; the broker's was no unfamiliar face; and they quite understood
how to treat a man in possession. Their management of duns was
consummate. Happy Jack used to listen to the comedy of excuses and
coaxings; and when the importunate had departed, grumblingly and
unpaid, he used solemnly to kiss his daughters on the forehead, and
invoke all sorts of blessings upon his preservers, his good angels,
his little girls, who were so clever, and so faithful, and so true.

And in many respects they were good girls. The style in which they
turned frocks, put a new appearance upon hoods, and cloaks, and
bonnets, and came forth in what seemed the very lustre of novelty--the
whole got up by a skilful mutual adaptation of garments and parts of
garments--was wonderful to all lady beholders. In cookery, they beat
the famous _chef_ who sent up five courses and a dessert, made out of
a greasy pair of jack-boots and the grass from the ramparts of the
besieged town. Their wonderful little made-dishes were mere scraps and
fragments, which in any other house would have been flung away, but
which were so artistically and scientifically handled by the young
ladies, and so tossed up, and titivated, and eked out with gravies,
and sauces, and strange devices of nondescript pasty, that Happy Jack,
feasting upon these wonderful creations of ingenuity, used to vow that
he never dined so well as when there was nothing in the house for
dinner. To their wandering, predatory life the whole family were
perfectly accustomed. A sudden turn out of quarters they cared no more
for than hardened old dragoons. They never lost pluck. One speculation
down, another came on. Sometimes the little household was united. A
bit of luck in the City or the West had been achieved, and Happy Jack
issued cards for 'At Homes,' and behaved, and looked, and spoke like
an alderman, or the member of a house of fifty years' standing. When
strangers saw his white waistcoat, and blue coat with brass buttons,
and heard him talk of a glut of gold, and money being a mere drug,
they speculated as to whether he was the governor or the vice-governor
of the Bank of England, or only the man who signs the five-pound
notes. That day six weeks, Jack had probably 'come through the court;'
a process which he always used somehow to achieve with flying colours,
behaving in such a plausible and fascinating way to the commissioner,
that that functionary regularly made a speech, in which he
congratulated Happy Jack on his candour, and evident desire to deal
fairly with his creditors, and told him he left that court without the
shadow of a stain upon his character. In the Bench, in dreary suburban
lodgings, or in the comfortable houses which they sometimes occupied,
the Happy Jacks were always the Happy Jacks. Their constitution
triumphed over everything. If anything could ruffle their serenity, it
was the refusal of a tradesman to give credit. But _uno avulso non
deficit alter_, as Jack was accustomed, on such occasions, classically
to say to his wife--presently deviating into the corresponding
vernacular of--'Well, my dear, if one cock fights shy, try another.'

A list of Jack's speculations would be instructive. He once took a
theatre without a penny to carry it on; and having announced _Hamlet_
without anybody to play, boldly studied and performed the part
himself, to the unextinguishable delight of the audience. Soon after
this, he formed a company for supplying the metropolis with Punches of
a better class, and enacting a more moral drama than the old
legitimate one--making Punch, in fact, a virtuous and domestic
character; and he drew the attention of government to the moral
benefits likely to be derived to society from this dramatic reform.
Soon after, he departed for Spain in the gallant Legion; but not
finding the speculation profitable, turned newspaper correspondent,
and was thrice in imminent danger of being shot as a spy. Flung back
somehow to England, he suddenly turned up as a lecturer on chemistry,
and then established a dancing institution and Terpsichorean Athenæum.
Of late, Jack has found a good friend in animal magnetism, and his
_séances_ have been reasonably successful. When performing in the
country districts, Jack varied the entertainments by a lecture on the
properties of guano, which he threw in for nothing, and which was
highly appreciated by the agricultural interest. Jack's books were
principally works of travel. His _Journey to the Fountains of the
Niger_ is generally esteemed highly amusing, if not instructive: it
was knocked off at Highbury; and his _Wanderings in the Mountains of
the Moon_, written in Little Chelsea, has been favourably reviewed by
many well-informed and discriminating organs of literary intelligence,
as the work of a man evidently well acquainted with the regions he
professes to describe.

Where the Happy Jacks are at this moment no one can tell. They have
become invisible since the last clean out. A deprecatory legend has
indeed been in circulation, which professed that Jack was dead, and
that this was the manner in which, on his deathbed, he provided for
his family:--

'Mrs Happy Jack,' said the departing man, 'I'm not afraid of you. You
have got on some way or other for nearly forty years, and I don't see
why you shouldn't get on some way or other for forty more. Therefore,
so far as you are concerned, my mind is easy. But, then, you
girls--you poor little inexperienced poppets, who know nothing of the
world. There's Jane; but then she's pretty--really beautiful. Why, her
face is a fortune: she will of course captivate a rich man; and what
more can a father wish? As for Emily--I fear Emily, my dear,
you're rather plain than otherwise; but what, I would ask, is
beauty?--fleeting, transitory, skin-deep. The happiest marriages are
those of mutual affection--not one-sided admiration: so, on the whole,
I should say that my mind is easier about Emily than Jane. As for
Maria, she's so clever, she can't but get on. As a musician, an
artist, an authoress, what bright careers are open for her! While as
for you, stupid little Clara, who never could be taught anything--I
very much doubt whether the dunces of this world are not the very
happiest people in it--Yes, Clara; leave to others the vain and empty
distinctions of literary renown, which is but a bubble, and be happy
in the homely path of obscure but virtuous duty!'

Happy Jack ceased. There was a pause. 'And now,' he said, 'having
provided for my family, I will go to sleep, with a clear conscience
and a tranquil mind.'

I said that I always distrusted this legend. I am happy to say, that
even as I write I have proof positive that it is purely a fiction. I
have just had a card put into my hand requesting my presence at a
private exhibition of the celebrated Bloomer Family, while an
accompanying private note from Jack himself informs me that the
'celebrated and charming Bloomer group--universally allowed to be the
most perfect and interesting representatives of the new _régime_ in
costume'--are no other than the Happy Jacks _redivivi_--Mrs J. and the
girls donning the transatlantic attire, and Happy Jack himself
delivering a lecture upon the vagaries of fashion and the
inconsistencies of dress, in a new garment invented by himself, and
combining the Roman toga with the Highland kilt.




THE DESERT HOME.[1]


Robinson Crusoe is the parent of a line of fictions, all more or less
entertaining; but those of our own day, as might be expected, share
largely in the practical spirit of the time, making amusement in some
degree the mere menstruum of information. Following the Swiss Family
Robinson, we have here an English Family Robinson, which might as well
be called an American Family Robinson; and although ostensibly meant
for the holiday recreation of youth, it proves to be a production
equally well suited for children of six feet and upwards. The author
is personally familiar with the scenes he describes, and is thus able
to give them a verisimilitude which in other circumstances can be
attained only by the rarest genius; and notwithstanding the
associations, of his last book, the _Scalp-hunters_, there is only one
bloody conflict in the present one fought by animals of the genus
Homo.

The local habitation of the lost family is a nook in the Great
American Desert--a nook in a desert twenty-five times the size of
England! But this wilderness of about a million square miles is not
all sand or all barren earth: it contains numerous other features of
interest besides mountains and oases; it includes the country of New
Mexico, with its towns and cities; the country round the Great Salt
and Utah Lakes, where the germ of a Mormon nation is expanding on all
sides; and it is traversed in its whole breadth by the Rocky
Mountains. An English family, after being ruined in St Louis, and
reduced to their last hundred pounds, are persuaded by a Scottish
miner to accompany him across this desert to New Mexico. 'They are a
wonderful people,' says the story-teller, 'these same Scotch. They are
but a small nation, yet their influence is felt everywhere upon the
globe. Go where you will, you will find them in positions of trust and
importance--always prospering, yet, in the midst of prosperity, still
remembering, with strong feelings of attachment, the land of their
birth. They manage the marts of London, the commerce of India, the
fur-trade of America, and the mines of Mexico. Over all the American
wilderness you will meet them, side by side with the backwoods-pioneer
himself, and even pushing him from his own ground. From the Gulf of
Mexico to the Arctic Sea, they have impressed with their Gaelic names
rock, river, and mountain; and many an Indian tribe owns a Scotchman
for its chief.'

The adventurers join a caravan, which is attacked by Indians, and the
family of the destined Robinson find themselves alone in the
wilderness, 800 miles from the American frontier on the east, 1000
miles from any civilised settlement on either the north or south, and
200 miles from the farthest advanced lines of New Mexico in the
desert. They are, in short, lost; but in due time they are found again
by other explorers. These strangers are standing on the edge of a
cliff several hundred feet sheer down. 'Away below--far below where we
were--lay a lovely valley, smiling in all the luxuriance of bright
vegetation. It was of nearly an oval shape, bounded upon all sides by
a frowning precipice, that rose around it like a wall. Its length
could not have been less than ten miles, and its greatest breadth
about half of its length. We were at its upper end, and of course
viewed it lengthwise. Along the face of the precipice there were trees
hanging out horizontally, and some of them even growing with their
tops downward. These trees were cedars and pines; and we could
perceive also the knotted limbs of huge cacti protruding from the
crevices of the rocks. We could see the wild mezcal, or maguey-plant,
growing against the cliff--its scarlet leaves contrasting finely with
the dark foliage of the cedars and cacti. Some of these plants stood
out on the very brow of the overhanging precipice, and their long
curving blades gave a singular character to the landscape. Along the
face of the dark cliffs all was rough, and gloomy, and picturesque.
How different was the scene below! Here everything looked soft, and
smiling, and beautiful. There were broad stretches of woodland, where
the thick foliage of the trees met and clustered together, so that it
looked like the surface of the earth itself; but we knew it was only
the green leaves, for here and there were spots of brighter green,
that we saw were glades covered with grassy turf. The leaves of the
trees were of different colours, for it was now late in the autumn.
Some were yellow, and some of a deep claret colour: some were
bright-red, and some of a beautiful maroon; and there were green, and
brighter green, and others of a silvery-whitish hue. All these colours
were mingled together, and blended into each other, like the flowers
upon a rich carpet. Near the centre of the valley was a large shining
object, which we knew to be water. It was evidently a lake of crystal
purity, and smooth as a mirror. The sun was now up to meridian height,
and his yellow beams falling upon its surface caused it to gleam like
a sheet of gold. We could not trace the outlines of the water, for the
trees partially hid it from our view, but we saw that the smoke that
had at first attracted us rose up somewhere from the western shore of
the lake.' In this strange oasis they found what appeared to be a snug
farm-house, with stables and outhouses, garden and fields, horses and
cattle. Here they were hospitably entertained by the proprietor, his
wife, and two sons, and served by a faithful negro; and of course it
is the history of the settlers, and their struggles, expedients, and
contrivances which form the staple of the work.

In this history we have the process of building a log-house, and the
usual modes of assembling round the squatter such of the comforts of
life as may be obtained in the desert; but our family Robinson appears
to have been the most ingenious as well as the most fortunate of
adventurers, for there are very few, even of the luxuries of civilised
society, which are beyond his reach. The natural history of the book,
however, is its main feature; and the adventures of the lost family
with the unreasoning denizens of the desert remind us not unfrequently
of the pictures of Audubon. This is among the earliest:--'There were
high cliffs fronting us, and along the face of these five large
reddish objects were moving, so fast that I at first thought they were
birds upon the wing. After watching them a moment, however, I saw that
they were quadrupeds; but so nimbly did they go, leaping from ledge to
ledge, that it was impossible to see their limbs. They appeared to be
animals of the deer species, somewhat larger than sheep or goats; but
we could see that, in place of antlers, each of them had a pair of
huge curving horns. As they leaped downward, from one platform of the
cliffs to another, we fancied that they whirled about in the air, as
though they were "turning somersaults," and seemed at times to come
down heads foremost! There was a spur of the cliff that sloped down to
within less than a hundred yards of the place where we sat. It ended
in an abrupt precipice, of some sixty or seventy feet in height above
the plain. The animals, on reaching the level of this spur, ran along
it until they had arrived at its end. Seeing the precipice, they
suddenly stopped, as if to reconnoitre it; and we had now a full view
of them, as they stood outlined against the sky, with their graceful
limbs and great curved horns, almost as large as their bodies. We
thought, of course, they could get no farther for the precipice, and I
was calculating whether my rifle, which I had laid hold of, would
reach them at that distance. All at once, to our astonishment, the
foremost sprang out from the cliff, and whirling through the air, lit
upon his head on the hard plain below! We could see that he came down
upon his horns, and rebounding up again to the height of several feet,
he turned a second somersault, and then dropped upon his legs, and
stood still! Nothing daunted, the rest followed, one after the other,
in quick succession, like so many street-tumblers; and, like them,
after the feat had been performed, the animals stood for a moment, as
if waiting for applause!' These were the _argali_, or wild sheep,
popularly termed bighorns, and resembling an immense yellow goat or
deer furnished with a pair of ram's horns.

Such are the anecdotes which the reader will find thickly scattered
throughout this volume; but perhaps the most interesting are a series
of conflicts witnessed by the father and one of the sons, and in the
course of which they are themselves exposed to some danger. They had
gone out to gather from the live oaks a kind of moss, which they
found to be quite equal to curled hair for stuffing mattresses; and
while perched upon one of the trees, the drama opened by the violent
scolding of a pair of orioles, or Baltimore birds--so called from
their colour, a mixture of black and orange, being the same as that in
the coat-of-arms of Lord Baltimore. The cause of the disturbance
appeared to be a nondescript animal close to the edge of the thicket,
with a variety of little legs, tails, heads, ears, and eyes stuck over
its body. 'All at once the numerous heads seemed to separate from the
main body, becoming little bodies of themselves, with long tails upon
them, and looking just like a squad of white rats! The large body to
which they had all been attached we now saw was an old female opossum,
and evidently the mother of the whole troop. She was about the size of
a cat, and covered with woolly hair of a light gray colour.... The
little 'possums were exact pictures of their mother--all having the
same sharp snouts and long naked tails. We counted no less than
thirteen of them, playing and tumbling about among the leaves.' The
old 'possum looked wistfully up at the nest of the orioles, hanging
like a distended stocking from the topmost twigs of the tree. After a
little consideration she uttered a sharp note, which brought the
little ones about her in a twinkling. 'Several of them ran into the
pouch which she had caused to open for them; two of them took a turn
of their little tails around the root of hers, and climbed up on her
rump, almost burying themselves in her long wool; while two or three
others fastened themselves about her neck and shoulders. It was a most
singular sight to see the little creatures holding on with "tails,
teeth, and toe-nails," while some peeped comically out of the great
breast-pocket.' Burdened in this way, she climbed the tree, and then
taking hold of the young 'possums, one by one, with her mouth, she
made them twist their tails round a branch, and hang with their heads
downwards. 'Five or six of the "kittens" were still upon the ground.
For these she returned, and taking them up as before, again climbed
the tree. She disposed of the second load precisely as she had done
the others, until the thirteen little possums hung head downwards
along the branch like a string of candles!'

The mother now climbed higher up; but the nest, with its tempting
eggs, hung beyond her reach; and although she suspended herself by the
tail--at last almost by its very tip--and swung like a pendulum,
clutching as she swung, it was all in vain. At length, with a bitter
snarl, she gave up the adventure as hopeless, detached the young ones
from their hold, flung them testily to the ground, and descending,
took them all into her pouch and upon her back, and trudged away.
'Frank and I now deemed it proper to interfere, and cut off the
retreat of the old 'possum: so, dropping from our perch, we soon
overtook and captured the whole family. The old one, on first seeing
us approach, rolled herself into a round clump, so that neither her
head nor legs could be seen, and in this attitude feigned to be quite
dead. Several of the youngsters who were _outside_, immediately
detached themselves, and imitated the example of their mother--so that
the family now presented the appearance of a large ball of whitish
wool, with several smaller "clews" lying around it!' The family
Crusoes, however, were not to be cheated: they took the whole
prisoners, intending to carry them home; and making the mother fast to
one of the saplings, returned to their tree.

Soon the persecuted orioles began to scream and scold as before. Their
enemy this time was a huge moccason, one of the most venomous of
serpents. 'It was one of the largest of its species; and its great
flat head, protruding sockets, and sparkling eyes, added to the
hideousness of its appearance. Every now and then, as it advanced, it
threw out its forked tongue, which, moist with poisonous saliva,
flashed under the sunbeam like jets of fire. It was crawling directly
for the tree on which hung the nest.' The birds seemed to think he
meant to climb to their nest, and descended in rage and terror to the
lower branches. 'The snake, seeing them approach almost within range
of his hideous maw, gathered himself into a coil, and prepared to
strike. His eyes scintillated like sparks of fire, and seemed to
fascinate the birds; for instead of retiring, they each moment drew
nearer and nearer, now alighting on the ground, then flapping back to
the branches, and anon darting to the ground again--as though they
were under some spell from those fiery eyes, and were unable to take
themselves away. Their motions appeared to grow less energetic, their
chirping became almost inaudible, and their wings seemed hardly to
expand as they flew, or rather fluttered, around the head of the
serpent. One of them at length dropped down upon the ground within
reach of the snake, and stood with open bill, as if exhausted, and
unable to move farther. We were expecting to see the snake suddenly
launch forth upon his feathered victim; when all at once his coils
flew out, his body was thrown at full length, and he commenced
retreating from the tree!' The object that caused this diversion was
soon visible. 'It was an animal about the size of a wolf, and of a
dark-gray or blackish colour. Its body was compact, round-shaped, and
covered, not with hair, but with shaggy bristles, that along the ridge
of its back were nearly six inches in length, and gave it the
appearance of having a mane. It had very short ears, no tail whatever,
or only a knob; and we could see that its feet were hoofed, not clawed
as in beasts of prey. But whether beast of prey or not, its long
mouth, with two white tusks protruding over the jaws, gave it a very
formidable appearance. Its head and nose resembled those of the hog
more than any other animal; and in fact it was nothing else than the
peccary--the wild hog of Mexico.'

The moccason did not wait to parley with his enemy, but skulked away
through the long grass, every now and then raising his head to glare
behind him. But the peccary tracked him by the smell, and on coming up
to him, uttered a shrill grunt. 'The snake, finding that he was
overtaken, threw himself into a coil, and prepared to give battle;
while his antagonist, now looking more like a great porcupine than a
pig, drew back, as if to take the advantage of a run; and then halted.
Both for a moment eyed each other--the peccary evidently calculating
its distance--while the great snake seemed cowed and quivering with
affright. Its appearance was entirely different from the bright
semblance it had exhibited but a moment before when engaged with the
birds. Its eyes were less fiery, and its whole body seemed more ashy
and wrinkled. We had not many moments to observe it, for the peccary
was now seen to rush forward, spring high into the air, and pounce
down with all her feet held together upon the coils of the serpent!
She immediately bounded back again; and, quick as thought, once more
rose above her victim. The snake was now uncoiled, and writhing over
the ground. Another rush from the peccary, another spring, and the
sharp hoofs of the animal came down upon the neck of the serpent,
crushing it upon the hard turf. The body of the reptile, distended to
its full length, quivered for a moment, and then lay motionless along
the grass. The victor uttered another sharp cry, that seemed intended
as a call to her young ones, who, emerging from the weeds where they
had concealed themselves, ran nimbly forward to the spot.'

While the father and son are watching the peccary peeling the serpent
as adroitly as a fishmonger would skin an eel, another actor enters
upon the scene. This was the dreaded cougar, an animal of the size of
a calf, and with the head and general appearance of a cat. Creeping
stealthily round his victim, who is busy feasting on the quarry, he
at length attains the proper vantage-ground, and gathering himself up
like a cat, springs with a terrific scream upon the back of the
peccary, burying his claws in her neck, and clasping her all over in
his fatal embrace. 'The frightened animal uttered a shrill cry, and
struggled to free itself. Both rolled over the ground--the peccary all
the while gnashing its jaws, and continuing to send forth its strange
sharp cries, until the woods echoed again. Even the young ones ran
around, mixing in the combat--now flung sprawling upon the earth, now
springing up again, snapping their little jaws, and imitating the cry
of their mother. The cougar alone fought in silence. Since the first
wild scream not a sound had escaped him; but from that moment his
claws never relaxed their hold, and we could see that with his teeth
he was silently tearing the throat of his victim.'

The Robinsons of the desert were now in an awkward predicament; for
although they had been safe from the peccary, the cougar could climb a
tree like a squirrel. A noise, however, disturbs him from his meal,
and swinging the dead animal on his back, he begins to skulk away. But
he is interrupted before he can reach cover; and as the new-comers
prove to be twenty or thirty peccaries, summoned to the field by the
dying screams of their comrade, he has more to do than to think of his
dinner. To fling down his burden, to leap upon the foremost of his
enemies, is but the work of an instant; but the avengers crowd round
him with their gnashing jaws and piercing cries, and the brute darts
up the tree like a flash of red fire, and crouches not twenty feet
above the heads of the horrified spectators! The father, however,
after some agonising moments of deliberation, brings him down with his
rifle; and the cougar, falling among the eager crowd below, is torn to
pieces in a moment. But this does not get rid of the peccaries, who
set up their fiendish screams anew as they discover two other victims
in the tree. The father fires again and again, dropping his peccary
each time, till five lie dead upon the ground; but the rage of the
rest only becomes more and more furious--and the marksman is at his
last bullet. Here we shall leave him; and such of our readers as may
be interested in his fate--who form, we suspect, a very handsome
percentage on the whole--may make inquiries for themselves at his
Desert Home.

* * * * *

FOOTNOTES:

[1] Or the Adventures of a Lost Family in the Wilderness. By Captain
Mayne Reid. London: Bogue. 1852.




THE VATTEVILLE RUBY.


The clock of the church of Besançon had struck nine, when a woman
about fifty years of age, wrapped in a cotton shawl and carrying a
small basket on her arm, knocked at the door of a house in the Rue St
Vincent, which, however, at the period we refer to, bore the name of
Rue de la Liberté. The door opened. 'It is you, Dame Margaret,' said
the porter, with a very cross look. 'It is high time for you. All my
lodgers have come home long since; you are always the last, and'----

'That is not my fault, I assure you, my dear M. Thiebaut,' said, the
old woman in a deprecatory tone. 'My day's work is only just finished,
and when work is to be done'----

'That's all very fine,' he muttered. 'It might do well enough if I
could even reckon on a Christmas-box at the end of the year; but as it
is, I may count myself well off, if I do but get paid for taking up
their letters.'

The old woman did not hear the last words, for with quick and firm
step she had been making her way up the six flights of stairs, steep
enough to make her head reel had she been ascending them for the first
time.



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Library mainpage -> Chambers, William -> Chambers's Edinburgh Journal, No. 422 Volume 17, New Series, January 31, 1852