Roger Malvin's Burial

          ONE OF THE few incidents of Indian warfare, naturally susceptible of
          the moonlight of romance, was that expedition, undertaken, for the
          defence of the frontiers, in the year 1725, which resulted in the
          well-remembered "Lovell's Fight." Imagination, by casting certain
          circumstances judiciously into the shade, may see much to admire in the
          heroism of a little band, who gave battle to twice their number in the heart
          of the enemy's country. The open bravery displayed by both parties was
          in accordance with civilized ideas of valor, and chivalry itself might not
          blush to record the deeds of one or two individuals. The battle, though so
          fatal to those who fought, was not unfortunate in its consequences to the
          country; for it broke the strength of a tribe, and conduced to the peace
          which subsisted during several ensuing years. History and tradition are
          unusually minute in their memorials of this affair; and the captain of a
          scouting party of frontier-men has acquired as actual a military renown, as
          many a victorious leader of thousands. Some of the incidents contained in
          the following pages will be recognized, notwithstanding the substitution of
          fictitious names, by such as have heard, from old men's lips, the fate of the
          few combatants who were in a condition to retreat, after "Lovell's Fight."

          The early sunbeams hovered cheerfully upon the tree-tops, beneath which
          two weary and wounded men had stretched their limbs the night before.
          Their bed of withered oak-leaves was strewn upon the small level space,
          at the foot of a rock, situated near the summit of one of the gentle swells,
          by which the face of the country is there diversified. The mass of granite,
          rearing its smooth, flat surface, fifteen or twenty feet above their heads,
          was not unlike a gigantic grave-stone, upon which the veins seemed to
          form an inscription in forgotten characters. On a tract of several acres
          around this rock, oaks and other hard-wood trees had supplied the place
          of the pines, which were the usual growth of the land; and a young and
          vigorous sapling stood close beside the travellers.

          The severe wound of the elder man had probably deprived him of sleep;
          for, so soon as the first ray of sunshine rested on the top of the highest
          tree, he reared himself painfully from his recumbent posture, and sat erect.
          The deep lines of his countenance, and the scattered grey of his hair,
          marked him as past the middle age; but his muscular frame would, but for
          the effects of his wound, have been as capable of sustaining fatigue, as in
          the early vigor of life. Languor and exhaustion now sat upon his haggard
          features, and the despairing glance which he sent forward through the
          depths of the forest, proved his own conviction that his pilgrimage was at
          an end. He next turned his eyes to the companion, who reclined by his
          side. The youth, for he had scarcely attained the years of manhood, lay,
          with his head upon his arm, in the embrace of an unquiet sleep, which a
          thrill of pain from his wounds seemed each moment on the point of
          breaking. His right hand grasped a musket, and, to judge from the violent
          action of his features, his slumbers were bringing back a vision of the
          conflict, of which he was one of the few survivors. A shout,--deep and
          loud to his dreaming fancy,--found its way in an imperfect murmur to his
          lips, and, starting even at the slight sound of his own voice, he suddenly
          awoke. The first act of reviving recollection, was to make anxious
          inquiries respecting the condition of his wounded fellow traveller. The
          latter shook his head.

          "Reuben, my boy," said he, "this rock, beneath which we sit, will serve for
          an old hunter's grave-stone. There is many and many a long mile of
          howling wilderness before us yet; nor would it avail me anything, if the
          smoke of my own chimney were but on the other side of that swell of
          land. The Indian bullet was deadlier than I thought."

          "You are weary with our three days' travel," replied the youth, "and a little
          longer rest will recruit you. Sit you here, while I search the woods for the
          herbs and roots, that must be our sustenance; and having eaten, you shall
          lean on me, and we will turn our faces homeward. I doubt not, that, with
          my help, you can attain to some one of the frontier garrisons."

          "There is not two days' life in me, Reuben," said the other, calmly, "and I
          will no longer burthen you with my useless body, when you can scarcely
          support your own. Your wounds are deep, and your strength is failing
          fast; yet, if you hasten onward alone, you may be preserved. For me there
          is no hope; and I will await death here."

          "If it must be so, I will remain and watch by you," said Reuben, resolutely.

          "No, my son, no," rejoined his companion. "Let the wish of a dying man
          have weight with you; give me one grasp of your hand, and get you hence.
          Think you that my last moments will be eased by the thought, that I leave
          you to die a more lingering death? I have loved you like a father, Reuben,
          and, at a time like this, I should have something of a father's authority. I
          charge you to be gone, that I may die in peace."

          "And because you have been a father to me, should I therefore leave you
          to perish, and to lie unburied in the wilderness?" exclaimed the youth.
          "No; if your end be in truth approaching, I will watch by you, and receive
          your parting words. I will dig a grave here by the rock, in which, if my
          weakness overcome me, we will rest together; or, if Heaven gives me
          strength, I will seek my way home."

          "In he cities, and whenever men dwell," replied the other, "they bury their
          dead in the earth; they hide them from the sight of the living; but here,
          where no step may pass, perhaps for a hundred years, wherefore should I
          not rest beneath the open sky, covered only by the oak-leaves, when the
          autumn winds shall strew them? And for a monument, here is this grey
          rock, on which my dying hand shall carve the name of Roger Malvin; and
          the traveller in days to come will know, that here sleeps a hunter and a
          warrior. Tarry not, then, for a folly like this, but hasten away, if not for
          your own sake, for hers who will else be desolate."

          Malvin spoke the last few words in a faultering voice, and their effect
          upon his companion was strongly visible. They reminded him that there
          were other, and less questionable duties, than that of sharing the fate of a
          man whom his death could not benefit. Nor can it be affirmed that no
          selfish feeling strove to enter Reuben's heart, though the consciousness
          made him more earnestly resist his companion's entreaties.

          "How terrible, to wait the slow approach of death, in this solitude!"
          exclaimed he. "A brave man does not shrink in the battle, and, when
          friends stand round the bed, even women may die composedly; but
          here--"

          "I shall not shrink, even here, Reuben Bourne," interrupted Malvin. "I am
          a man of no weak heart; and, if I were, there is a surer support than that
          of earthly friends. You are young, and life is dear to you. Your last
          moments will need comfort far more than mine; and when you have laid
          me in the earth, and are alone, and night is settling on the forest, you will
          feel all the bitterness of the death that may now be escaped. But I will
          urge no selfish motive to your generous nature. Leave me for my sake;
          that, having said a prayer for your safety, I may have space to settle my
          account, undisturbed by worldly sorrows."

          "And your daughter! How shall I dare to meet her eye?" exclaimed
          Reuben. "She will ask the fate of her father, whose life I vowed to defend
          with my own. Must I tell her, that he travelled three days' march with me
          from the field of battle, and that then I left him to perish in the wilderness?
          Were it not better to lie down and die by your side, than to return safe,
          and say this to Dorcas?"

          "Tell my daughter," said Roger Malvin, "that, though yourself sore
          wounded, and weak, and weary, you led my tottering footsteps many a
          mile, and left me only at my earnest entreaty, because I would not have
          your blood upon my soul. Tell her, that through pain and danger you were
          faithful, and that, if your life-blood could have saved me, it would have
          flowed to its last drop. And tell her, that you will be something dearer than
          a father, and that my blessing is with you both, and that my dying eyes can
          see a long and pleasant path, in which you will journey together."

          As Malvin spoke, he almost raised himself from the ground, and the
          energy of his concluding words seemed to fill the wild and lonely forest
          with a vision of happiness. But when he sank exhausted upon his bed of
          oak-leaves, the light, which had kindled in Reuben's eye, was quenched.
          He felt as if it were both sin and folly to think of happiness at such a
          moment. His companion watched his changing countenance, and sought,
          with generous art, to wile him to his own good.

          "Perhaps I deceive myself in regard to the time I have to live," he
          resumed. "It may be, that, with speedy assistance, I might recover of my
          wound. The foremost fugitives must, ere this, have carried tidings of our
          fatal battle to the frontiers, and parties will be out to succour those in like
          condition with ourselves. Should you meet one of these, and guide them
          hither, who can tell but that I may sit by my own fireside again?"

          A mournful smile strayed across the features of the dying man, as he
          insinuated that unfounded hope; which, however, was not without its
          effect on Reuben. No merely selfish motive, nor even the desolate
          condition of Dorcas, could have induced him to desert his companion, at
          such a moment. But his wishes seized upon the thought, that Malvin's life
          might be preserved, and his sanguine nature heightened, almost to
          certainty, the remote possibility of procuring human aid.

          "Surely there is reason, weighty reason, to hope that friends are not far
          distant," he said, half aloud. "There fled one coward, unwounded, in the
          beginning of the fight, and most probably he made good speed. Every true
          man on the frontier would shoulder his musket, at the news; and though
          no party may range so far into the woods as this, I shall perhaps
          encounter them in one day's march. Counsel me faithfully," he added,
          turning to Malvin, in distrust of his own motives. "Were your situation
          mine, would you desert me while life remained?"

          "It is now twenty years," replied Roger Malvin, sighing, however, as he
          secretly acknowledged the wide dissimilarity between the two cases,--"it
          is now twenty years, since I escaped, with one dear friend, from Indian
          captivity, near Montreal. We journeyed many days through the woods, till
          at length, overcome with hunger and weariness, my friend lay down, and
          besought me to leave him; for he knew, that, if I remained, we both must
          perish. And, with but little hope of obtaining succour, I heaped a pillow of
          dry leaves beneath his head, and hastened on."

          "And did you return in time to save him?" asked Reuben, hanging on
          Malvin's words, as if they were to be prophetic of his own success.

          "I did," answered the other. "I came upon the camp of a hunting party,
          before sunset of the same day. I guided them to the spot where my
          comrade was expecting death; and he is now a hale and hearty man, upon
          his own farm, far within the frontiers, while I lie wounded here, in the
          depths of the wilderness."

          This example, powerful in effecting Reuben's decision, was aided,
          unconsciously to himself, by the hidden strength of many another motive.
          Roger Malvin perceived that the victory was nearly won.

          "Now go, my son, and Heaven prosper you!" he said. "Turn not back
          with our friends, when you meet them, lest your wounds and weariness
          overcome you; but send hitherward two or three, that may be spared, to
          search for me. And believe me, Reuben, my heart will be lighter with
          every step you take towards home." Yet there was perhaps a change,
          both in his countenance and voice, as he spoke thus; for, after all, it was a
          ghastly fate, to be left expiring in the wilderness.

          Reuben Bourne, but half convinced that he was acting rightly, at length
          raised himself from the ground, and prepared himself for his departure.
          And first, though contrary to Malvin's wishes, he collected a stock of
          roots and herbs, which had been their only food during the last two days.
          This useless supply he placed within reach of the dying man, for whom,
          also, he swept together a fresh bed of dry oak-leaves. Then, climbing to
          the summit of the rock, which on one side was rough and broken, he bent
          the oak-sapling downward, and bound his handkerchief to the topmost
          branch. This precaution was not unnecessary, to direct any who might
          come in search of Malvin; for every part of the rock, except its broad,
          smooth front, was concealed, at a little distance, by the dense
          undergrowth of the forest. The handkerchief had been the bandage of a
          wound upon Reuben's arm; and, as he bound it to the tree, he vowed, by
          the blood that stained it, that he would return, either to save his
          companion's life, or to lay his body in the grave. He then descended, and
          stood, with downcast eyes, to receive Roger Malvin's parting words.

          The experience of the latter suggested much and minute advice, respecting
          the youth's journey through the trackless forest. Upon this subject he
          spoke with calm earnestness, as if he were sending Reuben to the battle
          or the chase, while he himself remained secure at home; and not as if the
          human countenance, that was about to leave him, were the last he would
          ever behold. But his firmness was shaken, before he concluded.

          "Carry my blessing to Dorcas, and say that my last prayer shall be for her
          and you. Bid her have no hard thoughts because you left me
          here"--Reuben's heart smote him--"for that your life would not have
          weighed with you, if its sacrifice could have done me good. She will marry
          you, after she has mourned a little while for her father; and Heaven grant
          you long and happy days! and may your children's children stand round
          your death-bed! And, Reuben," added he, as the weakness of mortality
          made its way at last, "return, when your wounds are healed and your
          weariness refreshed, return to this wild rock, and lay my bones in the
          grave, and say a prayer over them."

          An almost superstitious regard, arising perhaps from the customs of the
          Indians, whose war was with the dead, as well as the living, was paid by
          the frontier inhabitants to the rites of sepulture; and there are many
          instances of the sacrifice of life, in the attempt to bury those who had
          fallen by the "sword of the wilderness." Reuben, therefore, felt the full
          importance of the promise, which he most solemnly made, to return, and
          perform Roger Malvin's obsequies. It was remarkable, that the latter,
          speaking his whole heart in his parting words, no longer endeavored to
          persuade the youth, that even the speediest succour might avail to the
          preservation of his life. Reuben was internally convinced, that he should
          see Malvin's living face no more. His generous nature would fain have
          delayed him, at whatever risk, till the dying scene were past; but the
          desire of existence, and the hope of happiness had strengthened in his
          heart, and he was unable to resist them.

          "It is enough," said Roger Malvin, having listened to Reuben's promise.
          "Go, and God speed you!"

          The youth pressed his hand in silence, turned, and was departing. His
          slow and faultering steps, however, had borne him but a little way, before
          Malvin's voice recalled him.

          "Reuben, Reuben," said he, faintly; and Reuben returned and knelt down
          by the dying man.

          "Raise me, and let me lean against the rock," was his last request. "My
          face will be turned towards home, and I shall see you a moment longer, as
          you pass among the trees."

          Reuben, having made the desired alteration in his companion's posture,
          again began his solitary pilgrimage. He walked more hastily at first, than
          was consistent with his strength; for a sort of guilty feeling, which
          sometimes torments men in their most justifiable acts, caused him to seek
          concealment from Malvin's eyes. But, after he had trodden far upon the
          rustling forest-leaves, he crept back, impelled by a wild and painful
          curiosity, and, sheltered by the earthy roots of an uptorn tree, gazed
          earnestly at the desolate man. The morning sun was unclouded, and the
          trees and shrubs imbibed the sweet air of the month of May; yet there
          seemed a gloom on Nature's face, as if she sympathized with mortal pain
          and sorrow. Roger Malvin's hands were uplifted in a fervent prayer, some
          of the words of which stole through the stillness of the woods, and
          entered Reuben's heart, torturing it with an unutterable pang. They were
          the broken accents of a petition for his own happiness and that of Dorcas;
          and, as the youth listened, conscience, or something in its similitude,
          pleaded strongly with him to return, and lie down again by the rock. He
          felt how hard was the doom of the kind and generous being whom he had
          deserted in his extremity. Death would come, like the slow approach of a
          corpse, stealing gradually towards him through the forest, and showing its
          ghastly and motionless features from behind a nearer, and yet a nearer
          tree. But such must have been Reuben's own fate, had he tarried another
          sunset; and who shall impute blame to him, if he shrank from so useless a
          sacrifice? As he gave a parting look, a breeze waved the little banner
          upon the sapling-oak, and reminded Reuben of his vow.
 
 

          Many circumstances contributed to retard the wounded traveller, in his
          way to the frontiers. On the second day, the clouds, gathering densely
          over the sky, precluded the possibility of regulating his course by the
          position of the sun; and he knew not but that every effort of his almost
          exhausted strength, was removing him farther from the home he sought.
          His scanty sustenance was supplied by the berries, and other spontaneous
          products of the forest. Herds of deer, it is true, sometimes bounded past
          him, and partridges frequently whirred up before his footsteps; but his
          ammunition had been expended in the fight, and he had no means of
          slaying them. His wounds, irritated by the constant exertion in which lay
          the only hope of life, wore away his strength, and at intervals confused his
          reason. But, even in the wanderings of intellect, Reuben's young heart
          clung strongly to existence, and it was only through absolute incapacity of
          motion, that he at last sank down beneath a tree, compelled there to await
          death. In this situation he was discovered by a party, who, upon the first
          intelligence of the fight, had been despatched to the relief of the survivors.
          They conveyed him to the nearest settlement, which chanced to be that of
          his own residence.

          Dorcas, in the simplicity of the olden time, watched by the bed-side of her
          wounded lover, and administered all those comforts, that are in the sole
          gift of woman's heart and hand. During several days, Reuben's
          recollection strayed drowsily among the perils and hardships through
          which he had passed, and he was incapable of returning definite answers
          to the inquiries, with which many were eager to harass him. No authentic
          particulars of the battle had yet been circulated; nor could mothers, wives,
          and children tell, whether their loved ones were detained by captivity, or
          by the stronger chain of death. Dorcas nourished her apprehensions in
          silence, till one afternoon, when Reuben awoke from an unquiet sleep,
          and seemed to recognize her more perfectly than at any previous time.
          She saw that his intellect had become composed, and she could no longer
          restrain her filial anxiety.

          "My father, Reuben?" she began; but the change in her lover's
          countenance made her pause.

          The youth shrank, as if with a bitter pain, and the blood gushed vividly
          into his wan and hollow cheeks. His first impulse was to cover his face;
          but, apparently with a desperate effort, he half raised himself, and spoke
          vehemently, defending himself against an imaginary accusation.

          "Your father was sore wounded in the battle, Dorcas, and he bade me not
          burthen myself with him, but only to lead him to the lake-side, that he
          might quench his thirst and die. But I would not desert the old man in his
          extremity, and, though bleeding myself, I supported him; I gave him half
          my strength, and led him away with me. For three days we journeyed on
          together, and your father was sustained beyond my hopes; but, awaking
          at sunrise on the fourth day, I found him faint and exhausted,--he was
          unable to proceed,--his life had ebbed away fast,--and--"

          "He died!" exclaimed Dorcas, faintly.

          Reuben felt it impossible to acknowledge, that his selfish love of life had
          hurried him away, before her father's fate was decided. He spoke not; he
          only bowed his head; and, between shame and exhaustion, sank back and
          hid his face in the pillow. Dorcas wept, when her fears were thus
          confirmed; but the shock, as it had been long anticipated, was on that
          account the less violent.

          "You dug a grave for my poor father, in the wilderness, Reuben?" was the
          question by which her filial piety manifested itself.

          "My hands were weak, but I did what I could," replied the youth in a
          smothered tone. "There stands a noble tomb-stone above his head, and I
          would to Heaven I slept as soundly as he!"

          Dorcas, perceiving the wildness of his latter words, inquired no further at
          the time; but her heart found ease in the thought, that Roger Malvin had
          not lacked such funeral rites as it was possible to bestow. The tale of
          Reuben's courage and fidelity lost nothing, when she communicated it to
          her friends; and the poor youth, tottering from his sick chamber to breathe
          the sunny air, experienced from every tongue the miserable and humiliating
          torture of unmerited praise. All acknowledged that he might worthily
          demand the hand of the fair maiden, to whose father he had been "faithful
          unto death"; and, as my tale is not of love, it shall suffice to say, that, in the
          space of a few months, Reuben became the husband of Dorcas Malvin.
          During the marriage ceremony, the bride was covered with blushes, but
          the bridegroom's face was pale.

          There was now in the breast of Reuben Bourne an incommunicable
          thought; something which he was to conceal most heedfully from her
          whom he most loved and trusted. He regretted, deeply and bitterly, the
          moral cowardice that had restrained his words, when he was about to
          disclose the truth to Dorcas; but pride, the fear of losing her affection, the
          dread of universal scorn, forbade him to rectify this falsehood. He felt,
          that, for leaving Roger Malvin, he deserved no censure. His presence, the
          gratuitous sacrifice of his own life, would have added only another, and a
          needless agony to the last moments of the dying man. But concealment
          had imparted to a justifiable act, much of the secret effect of guilt; and
          Reuben, while reason told him that he had done right, experienced, in no
          small degree, the mental horrors, which punish the perpetrator of
          undiscovered crime. By a certain association of ideas, he at times almost
          imagined himself a murderer. For years, also, a thought would
          occasionally recur, which, though he perceived all its folly and
          extravagance, he had not power to banish from his mind; it was a haunting
          and torturing fancy, that his father-in-law was yet sitting at the foot of the
          rock, on the withered forest-leaves, alive, and awaiting his pledged
          assistance. These mental deceptions, however, came and went, nor did he
          ever mistake them for realities; but in the calmest and clearest moods of
          his mind, he was conscious that he had a deep vow unredeemed, and that
          an unburied corpse was calling to him, out of the wilderness. Yet, such
          was the consequence of his prevarication, that he could not obey the call.
          It was now too late to require the assistance of Roger Malvin's friends, in
          performing his long-deferred sepulture; and superstitious fears, of which
          none were more susceptible than the people of the outward settlements,
          forbade Reuben to go alone. Neither did he know where, in the pathless
          and illimitable forest, to seek that smooth and lettered rock, at the base of
          which the body lay; his remembrance of every portion of his travel thence
          was indistinct, and the latter part had left no impression upon his mind.
          There was, however, a continual impulse, a voice audible only to himself,
          commanding him to go forth and redeem his vow; and he had a strange
          impression, that, were he to make the trial, he would be led straight to
          Malvin's bones. But, year after year, that summons, unheard but felt, was
          disobeyed. His one secret thought, became like a chain, binding down his
          spirit, and, like a serpent, gnawing into his heart; and he was transformed
          into a sad and downcast, yet irritable man.

          In the course of a few years after their marriage, changes began to be
          visible in the external prosperity of Reuben and Dorcas. The only riches of
          the former had been his stout heart and strong arm; but the latter, her
          father's sole heiress, had made her husband master of a farm, under older
          cultivation, larger, and better stocked than most of the frontier
          establishments. Reuben Bourne, however, was a neglectful husbandman;
          and while the lands of the other settlers became annually more fruitful, his
          deteriorated in the same proportion. The discouragements to agriculture
          were greatly lessened by the cessation of Indian war, during which men
          held the plough in one hand, and the musket in the other; and were
          fortunate if the products of their dangerous labor were not destroyed,
          either in the field or in the barn, by the savage enemy. But Reuben did not
          profit by the altered condition of the country; nor can it be denied, that his
          intervals of industrious attention to his affairs were but scantily rewarded
          with success. The irritability, by which he had recently become
          distinguished, was another cause of his declining prosperity, as it
          occasioned frequent quarrels, in his unavoidable intercourse with the
          neighboring settlers. The results of these were innumerable law-suits; for
          the people of New England, in the earliest stages and wildest
          circumstances of the country, adopted, whenever attainable, the legal
          mode of deciding their differences. To be brief, the world did not go well
          with Reuben Bourne, and, though not till many years after his marriage, he
          was finally a ruined man, with but one remaining expedient against the evil
          fate that had pursued him. He was to throw sunlight into some deep
          recess of the forest, and seek subsistence from the virgin bosom of the
          wilderness.

          The only child of Reuben and Dorcas was a son, now arrived at the age
          of fifteen years, beautiful in youth, and giving promise of a glorious
          manhood. He was peculiarly qualified for, and already began to excel in,
          the wild accomplishments of frontier life. His foot was fleet, his aim true,
          his apprehension quick, his heart glad and high; and all, who anticipated
          the return of Indian war, spoke of Cyrus Bourne as a future leader in the
          land. The boy was loved by his father, with a deep and silent strength, as
          if whatever was good and happy in his own nature had been transferred
          to his child, carrying his affections with it. Even Dorcas, though loving and
          beloved, was far less dear to him; for Reuben's secret thoughts and
          insulated emotions had gradually made him a selfish man; and he could no
          longer love deeply, except where he saw, or imagined, some reflection or
          likeness of his own mind. In Cyrus he recognized what he had himself
          been in other days; and at intervals he seemed to partake of the boy's
          spirit, and to be revived with a fresh and happy life. Reuben was
          accompanied by his son in the expedition, for the purpose of selecting a
          tract of land, and felling and burning the timber, which necessarily
          preceded the removal of the household gods. Two months of autumn
          were thus occupied; after which Reuben Bourne and his young hunter
          returned, to spend their last winter in the settlements.
 
 
 

          It was early in the month of May, that the little family snapped asunder
          whatever tendrils of affection had clung to inanimate objects, and bade
          farewell to the few, who, in the blight of fortune, called themselves their
          friends. The sadness of the parting moment had, to each of the pilgrims, its
          peculiar alleviations. Reuben, a moody man, and misanthropic because
          unhappy, strode onward, with his usual stern brow and downcast eye,
          feeling few regrets, and disdaining to acknowledge any. Dorcas, while she
          wept abundantly over the broken ties by which her simple and
          affectionate nature had bound itself to everything, felt that the inhabitants
          of her inmost heart moved on with her, and that all else would be supplied
          wherever she might go. And the boy dashed one tear-drop from his eye,
          and thought of the adventurous pleasures of the untrodden forest. Oh!
          who, in the enthusiasm of a day-dream, has not wished that he were a
          wanderer in a world of summer wilderness, with one fair and gentle being
          hanging lightly on his arm? In youth, his free and exulting step would know
          no barrier but the rolling ocean or the snow-topt mountains; calmer
          manhood would choose a home, where Nature had strewn a double
          wealth, in the vale of some transparent stream; and when hoary age, after
          long, long years of that pure life, stole on and found him there, it would
          find him the father of a race, the patriarch of a people, the founder of a
          mighty nation yet to be. When death, like the sweet sleep which we
          welcome after a day of happiness, came over him, his far descendants
          would mourn over the venerated dust. Enveloped by tradition in
          mysterious attributes, the men of future generations would call him
          godlike; and remote posterity would see him standing, dimly glorious, far
          up the valley of a hundred centuries!

          The tangled and gloomy forest, through which the personages of my tale
          were wandering, differed widely from the dreamer's Land of Fantasie; yet
          there was something in their way of life that Nature asserted as her own;
          and the gnawing cares, which went with them from the world, were all
          that now obstructed their happiness. One stout and shaggy steed, the
          bearer of all their wealth, did not shrink from the added weight of Dorcas;
          although her hardy breeding sustained her, during the latter part of each
          day's journey, by her husband's side. Reuben and his son, their muskets
          on their shoulders, and their axes slung behind them, kept an unwearied
          pace, each watching with a hunter's eye for the game that supplied their
          food. When hunger bade, they halted and prepared their meal on the
          bank of some unpolluted forest-brook, which, as they knelt down with
          thirsty lips to drink, murmured a sweet unwillingness, like a maiden, at
          love's first kiss. They slept beneath a hut of branches, and awoke at peep
          of light, refreshed for the toils of another day. Dorcas and the boy went
          on joyously, and even Reuben's spirit shone at intervals with an outward
          gladness; but inwardly there was a cold, cold sorrow, which he compared
          to the snow-drifts, lying deep in the glens and hollows of the rivulets, while
          the leaves were brightly green above.

          Cyrus Bourne was sufficiently skilled in the travel of the woods, to
          observe, that his father did not adhere to the course they had pursued, in
          their expedition of the preceding autumn. They were now keeping farther
          to the north, striking out more directly from the settlements, and into a
          region, of which savage beasts and savage men were as yet the sole
          possessors. The boy sometimes hinted his opinions upon the subject, and
          Reuben listened attentively, and once or twice altered the direction of their
          march in accordance with his son's counsel. But having so done, he
          seemed ill at ease. His quick and wandering glances were sent forward,
          apparently in search of enemies lurking behind the tree-trunks; and seeing
          nothing there, he would cast his eyes backward, as if in fear of some
          pursuer. Cyrus, perceiving that his father gradually resumed the old
          direction, forbore to interfere; nor, though something began to weigh upon
          his heart, did his adventurous nature permit him to regret the increased
          length and the mystery of their way.

          On the afternoon of the fifth day, they halted and made their simple
          encampment, nearly an hour before sunset. The face of the country, for
          the last few miles, had been diversified by swells of land, resembling huge
          waves of a petrified sea; and in one of the corresponding hollows, a wild
          and romantic spot, had the family reared their hut, and kindled their fire.
          There is something chilling, and yet heart-warming, in the thought of these
          three, united by strong bands of love, and insulated from all that breathe
          beside. The dark and gloomy pines looked down upon them, and, as the
          wind swept through their tops, a pitying sound was heard in the forest; or
          did those old trees groan, in fear that men were come to lay the axe to
          their roots at last? Reuben and his son, while Dorcas made ready their
          meal, proposed to wander out in search of game, of which that day's
          march had afforded no supply. The boy, promising not to quit the vicinity
          of the encampment, bounded off with a step as light and elastic as that of
          the deer he hoped to slay; while his father, feeling a transient happiness as
          he gazed after him, was about to pursue an opposite direction. Dorcas, in
          the meanwhile, had seated herself near their fire of fallen branches, upon
          the moss-grown and mouldering trunk of a tree, uprooted years before.
          Her employment, diversified by an occasional glance at the pot, now
          beginning to simmer over the blaze, was the perusal of the current year's
          Massachusetts Almanac, which, with the exception of an old black-letter
          Bible, comprised all the literary wealth of the family. None pay a greater
          regard to arbitrary divisions of time, than those who are excluded from
          society; and Dorcas mentioned, as if the information were of importance,
          that it was now the twelfth of May. Her husband started.

          "The twelfth of May! I should remember it well," muttered he, while many
          thoughts occasioned a momentary confusion in his mind. "Where am I?
          Whither am I wandering? Where did I leave him?"

          Dorcas, too well accustomed to her husband's wayward moods to note
          any peculiarity of demeanor, now laid aside the Almanac, and addressed
          him in that mournful tone, which the tender-hearted appropriate to griefs
          long cold and dead.

          "It was near this time of the month, eighteen years ago, that my poor
          father left this world for a better. He had a kind arm to hold his head, and
          a kind voice to cheer him, Reuben, in his last moments; and the thought of
          the faithful care you took of him, has comforted me, many a time since.
          Oh! death would have been awful to a solitary man, in a wild place like
          this!"

          "Pray Heaven, Dorcas," said Reuben, in a broken voice, "pray Heaven,
          that neither of us three die solitary, and lie unburied, in this howling
          wilderness!" And he hastened away, leaving her to watch the fire, beneath
          the gloomy pines.

          Reuben Bourne's rapid pace gradually slackened, as the pang,
          unintentionally inflicted by the words of Dorcas, became less acute. Many
          strange reflections, however, thronged upon him; and, straying onward,
          rather like a sleep-walker than a hunter, it was attributable to no care of
          his own, that his devious course kept him in the vicinity of the
          encampment. His steps were imperceptibly led almost in a circle, nor did
          he observe that he was on the verge of a tract of land heavily timbered,
          but not with pine-trees. The place of the latter was here supplied by oaks,
          and other of the harder woods; and around their roots clustered a dense
          and bushy undergrowth, leaving, however, barren spaces between the
          trees, thick-strewn with withered leaves. Whenever the rustling of the
          branches, or the creaking of the trunks made a sound, as if the forest
          were waking from slumber, Reuben instinctively raised the musket that
          rested on his arm, and cast a quick, sharp glance on every side; but,
          convinced by a partial observation that no animal was near, he would
          again give himself up to his thoughts. He was musing on the strange
          influence, that had led him away from his premeditated course, and so far
          into the depths of the wilderness. Unable to penetrate to the secret place
          of his soul, where his motives lay hidden, he believed that a supernatural
          voice had called him onward, and that a supernatural power had
          obstructed his retreat. He trusted that it was Heaven's intent to afford him
          an opportunity of expiating his sin; he hoped that he might find the bones,
          so long unburied; and that, having laid the earth over them, peace would
          throw its sunlight into the sepulchre of his heart. From these thoughts he
          was aroused by a rustling in the forest, at some distance from the spot to
          which he had wandered. Perceiving the motion of some object behind a
          thick veil of undergrowth, he fired, with the instinct of a hunter, and the
          aim of a practiced marksman. A low moan, which told his success, and
          by which even animals can express their dying agony, was unheeded by
          Reuben Bourne. What were the recollections now breaking upon him?

          The thicket, into which Reuben had fired, was near the summit of a swell
          of land, and was clustered around the base of a rock, which, in the shape
          and smoothness of one of its surfaces, was not unlike a gigantic
          grave-stone. As if reflected in a mirror, its likeness was in Reuben's
          memory. He even recognized the veins which seemed to form an
          inscription in forgotten characters; everything remained the same, except
          that a thick covert of bushes shrouded the lower part of the rock, and
          would have hidden Roger Malvin, had he still been sitting there. Yet, in
          the next moment, Reuben's eye was caught by another change, that time
          had effected, since he last stood, where he was now standing again,
          behind the earthy roots of the uptorn tree. The sapling, to which he had
          bound the blood-stained symbol of his vow, had increased and
          strengthened into an oak, far indeed from its maturity, but with no mean
          spread of shadowy branches. There was one singularity, observable in
          this tree, which made Reuben tremble. The middle and lower branches
          were in luxuriant life, and an excess of vegetation had fringed the trunk,
          almost to the ground; but a blight had apparently stricken the upper part
          of the oak, and the very topmost bough was withered, sapless, and utterly
          dead. Reuben remembered how the little banner had fluttered on the
          topmost bough, when it was green and lovely, eighteen years before.
          Whose guilt had blasted it?
 
 
 

          Dorcas, after the departure of the two hunters, continued her preparations
          for their evening repast. Her sylvan table was the moss-covered trunk of a
          large fallen tree, on the broadest part of which she had spread a
          snow-white cloth, and arranged what were left of the bright pewter
          vessels, that had been her pride in the settlements. It had a strange
          aspect--that one little spot of homely comfort, in the desolate heart of
          Nature. The sunshine yet lingered upon the higher branches of the trees
          that grew on rising ground; but the shades of evening had deepened into
          the hollow, where the encampment was made; and the fire-light began to
          redden as it gleamed up the tall trunks of the pines, or hovered on the
          dense and obscure mass of foliage, that circled round the spot. The heart
          of Dorcas was not sad; for she felt that it was better to journey in the
          wilderness, with two whom she loved, than to be a lonely woman in a
          crowd that cared not for her. As she busied herself in arranging seats of
          mouldering wood, covered with leaves, for Reuben and her son, her voice
          danced through the gloomy forest, in the measure of a song that she had
          learned in youth. The rude melody, the production of a bard who won no
          name, was descriptive of a winter evening in a frontier-cottage, when,
          secured from savage inroad by the high-piled snow-drifts, the family
          rejoiced by their own fireside. The whole song possessed that nameless
          charm, peculiar to unborrowed thought; but four continually-recurring
          lines shone out from the rest, like the blaze of the hearth whose joys they
          celebrated. Into them, working magic with a few simple words, the poet
          had instilled the very essence of domestic love and household happiness,
          and they were poetry and picture joined in one. As Dorcas sang, the walls
          of her forsaken home seemed to encircle her; she no longer saw the
          gloomy pines, nor heard the wind, which still, as she began each verse,
          sent a heavy breath through the branches, and died away in a hollow
          moan, from the burthen of the song. She was aroused by the report of a
          gun, in the vicinity of the encampment; and either the sudden sound, or her
          loneliness by the glowing fire, caused her to tremble violently. The next
          moment, she laughed in the pride of a mother's heart.

          "My beautiful young hunter! my boy has slain a deer!" she exclaimed,
          recollecting that, in the direction whence the shot proceeded, Cyrus had
          gone to the chase.

          She waited a reasonable time, to hear her son's light step bounding over
          the rustling leaves, to tell of his success. But he did not immediately
          appear, and she sent her cheerful voice among the trees, in search of him.

          "Cyrus! Cyrus!"

          His coming was still delayed, and she determined, as the report had
          apparently been very near, to seek for him in person. Her assistance, also,
          might be necessary in bringing home the venison, which she flattered
          herself he had obtained. She therefore set forward, directing her steps by
          the long-past sound, and singing as she went, in order that the boy might
          be aware of her approach, and run to meet her. From behind the trunk of
          every tree, and from every hiding place in the thick foliage of the
          undergrowth, she hoped to discover the countenance of her son, laughing
          with the sportive mischief that is born of affection. The sun was now
          beneath the horizon, and the light that came down among the trees was
          sufficiently dim to create many illusions in her expecting fancy. Several
          times she seemed indistinctly to see his face gazing out from among the
          leaves; and once she imagined that he stood beckoning to her, at the base
          of a craggy rock. Keeping her eyes on this object, however, it proved to
          be no more than the trunk of an oak, fringed to the very ground with little
          branches, one of which, thrust out farther than the rest, was shaken by the
          breeze. Making her way round the foot of the rock, she suddenly found
          herself close to her husband, who had approached in another direction.
          Leaning upon the butt of his gun, the muzzle of which rested upon the
          withered leaves, he was apparently absorbed in the contemplation of
          some object at his feet.

          "How is this, Reuben? Have you slain the deer, and fallen asleep over
          him?" exclaimed Dorcas, laughing cheerfully, on her first slight observation
          of his posture and appearance.

          He stirred not, neither did he turn his eyes towards her; and a cold,
          shuddering fear, indefinite in its source and object, began to creep into her
          blood. She now perceived that her husband's face was ghastly pale, and
          his features were rigid, as if incapable of assuming any other expression
          than the strong despair which had hardened upon them. He gave not the
          slightest evidence that he was aware of her approach.

          "For the love of Heaven, Reuben, speak to me!" cried Dorcas, and the
          strange sound of her own voice affrighted her even more than the dead
          silence.

          Her husband started, stared into her face; drew her to the front of the
          rock, and pointed with his finger.

          Oh! there lay the boy, asleep, but dreamless, upon the fallen
          forest-leaves! his cheek rested upon his arm, his curled locks were
          thrown back from his brow, his limbs were slightly relaxed. Had a sudden
          weariness overcome the youthful hunter? Would his mother's voice arouse
          him? She knew that it was death.

          "This broad rock is the grave-stone of your near kindred, Dorcas," said
          her husband. "Your tears will fall at once over your father and your son."

          She heard him not. With one wild shriek, that seemed to force its way
          from the sufferer's inmost soul, she sank insensible by the side of her dead
          boy. At that moment, the withered topmost bough of the oak loosened
          itself, in the stilly air, and fell in soft, light fragments upon the rock, upon
          the leaves, upon Reuben, upon his wife and child, and upon Roger
          Malvin's bones. Then Reuben's heart was stricken, and the tears gushed
          out like water from a rock. The vow that the wounded youth had made,
          the blighted man had come to redeem. His sin was expiated, the curse
          was gone from him; and, in the hour, when he had shed blood dearer to
          him than his own, a prayer, the first for years, went up to Heaven from the
          lips of Reuben Bourne.