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- Gaut Gurley - 4/59 -


In a few minutes the company had dispersed for their respective homes, and with them, also, had unnoticed slipped away their infatuated host.

CHAPTER II.

"At first, he, busy, plodding poor, Earned, saved, and daily swelled his store; But soon Ambition's summits rose, And Avarice dug his mine of woes."

For the better understanding of some of the allusions of the preceding chapter, and of others that may yet appear in different parts of our tale, as well, indeed, as for a better appreciation of the whole, we will here turn aside from the thread of the narrative just commenced, to take a brief retrospect of the leading events and circumstances with which the previous lives of the several personages we have introduced had been connected, and among which their characters had been shaped and their destinies determined.

Some twenty two or three years previous to the juncture we have been describing, Arthur and Mark Elwood, by the fruits of their unremitting industry as laborers on a farm in summers, and as pedlars of what they could best buy and sell in winters, added to the few hundred dollars patrimony they each inherited, were enabled, in a few years, to realize the object of their early ambition, in the opening of a small retail store, in one of the little outskirt villages of northern New-Hampshire.

Such, like that of hundreds of others among us who now count their wealth by half millions, was the slender beginning of these two brothers. And, although they were from the first, as we have seen them at the last, as different in their general characters as they were in their persons, they yet got on very well together; for, however they might disagree respecting the modes and means of acquisition, they were always as one in regard to the great result each alike had in view, and that was to make money and be rich. And, by a sort of tacit understanding, falling into the departments of business best suited to their different tastes and capacities, the quiet, cautious, calculating, and systematic Arthur confined himself to the store, kept the books, contrived the _ways and means_, and, in short, did the principal head-work of the establishment; while Mark, being of a more stirring turn, and, from his brisk _bon homme_ manner and less scrupulous disposition, better calculated for drumming up customers and securing bargains for the store, did most of the outdoor business, riding about the country, contracting for produce, securing barter deal, and making himself, in all things, the runner and trumpeter of the company. At night they usually met together to compare notes and report progress; and they were never happier than when they sat down in their small store-room, hemmed in and surrounded by casks of nails, quintals of codfish, farming tools, etc., on one side, and narrow shelves of cheap calicos, India cottons, and flaunting ribbons, on the other, and recounted to each other the business and bargains of the day. Thus the two, working on, like the spring and balance-wheel of some piece of mechanism, in harmony together, soon placed themselves beyond all fears of failure, and seemed happy and contented with their situation and prospects.

This situation of affairs, however, was not destined to be of very long continuance. Not long after finding themselves safely on the highway to independence, they very naturally began to think of selecting, from among the fair young customers of their store, the ones who might make them eligible companions for life. And, as the wayward love-fates would have it, they both secretly fixed their affections on one and the same girl,--the pretty and sensible Alice Gregg, who, though a plain farmer's daughter, was, to the vexation and envy of her numerous rustic suitors, to be won by nothing short of one of the village merchants. Alice was not long in discovering her advantage, nor in deciding to avail herself of it, so far as to confine her election to one of these, her two undeclared lovers. And, after balancing a while in her mind the account between her judgment, which would have declared for the reserved but sterling Arthur, and her fancy, which clamored hard for the manly-looking and more social Mark, she finally yielded the reins to the latter, and took measures accordingly. After this, Arthur's taste in selecting a piece of goods did not, as before, seem to be appreciated. Her handkerchief was never dropped where he had any chance to pick it up; and she was never quite ready to go till Mark was nearest at hand to help her into her wagon or side-saddle. By this delicate system of female tactics, common with girls of more pretensions than Alice, she effectually repressed the advances of the one, and as effectually encouraged those of the other; and the result, as she had anticipated, was a declaration from Mark, an acceptance on her part, and a speedy marriage between them. Arthur's heart bled at the event; but it bled inwardly; and he had at least the consolation of believing that no one suspected the state of his feelings, except, perhaps, Alice, and he was not unwilling that _she_ should know them. He therefore put the best face on the matter he could,--appeared wholly unconcerned,--attended the wedding, and with forced gayety _openly_ wished the new married couple the happiness which he _secretly_ wished was his own. The tender passion had been a new thing to the money-loving Arthur. By its elevating influences, he, who had looked for enjoyment only in wealth, had been enabled to raise his vision to a higher sphere of happiness. And thus to lose the bright glimpses, and be thrown back to earth again, was, in reality, however he might disguise the fact from others, a serious blow to his feelings, and one, indeed, which soon mainly led to a movement on his part that gave a new turn to his apparent destinies, and a no less one, probably, to those of his then almost envied brother Mark. For, finding it impossible to feel his former interest in business, in a place whose associations had become painful to him, he secretly resolved to leave it as soon as he believed he could do so without leading to any surmises respecting the true cause of the change he contemplated. Accordingly, in a few months, he began to suggest his own unfitness for making a profitable partner in country trade, and finally came out with a direct proposition to his brother to buy him out at a sum which he knew would be a temptingly low one. And the result was, that the proposition was accepted, "the partnership dissolved by mutual consent," and the released Arthur, with his portion, soon on his way to one of the eastern seaports, to set up business, as he soon did, for himself alone.

The withdrawal of Arthur Elwood deprived this little establishment of its only really valuable guidance, and left it to the chance fortunes of greater gains or greater losses than would have been likely to occur under the cautious and hazard-excluding system of business which he had adopted for its control. But, nothing for a year or two occurring to induce Mark Elwood to depart from the system under which the business had been conducted, and Arthur's prudent maxims of trade, to which he had been accustomed to defer, remaining fresh in his mind, he naturally kept on in the old routine, which he was the more willing to follow, as by it he found himself clearly on the advance. He was blessed in his family; for his wife, who had no undue aspirations for wealth or show, had not only proved an efficient helper by her economy and good counsels, but added still more to his gratification by bringing him a promising boy. Being the only trader of the village, or hamlet it might more properly be called, he was conscious of being the object of that peculiar kind of favor and respect which was then--more freely than at the present day, perhaps--accorded to the country merchant by the masses among whom he resided. And, finding his still comparatively moderate expectations thus every day fully realized, he was satisfied with his condition in the present, and hopeful and happy in the prospects it presented in the future; for the demon of unlawful gain had not then tempted him into forbidden paths by the lure of sudden riches.

But that demon at length came in the shape of Gaut Gurley. From what part of the country this singular and questionable personage originally came, was unknown, even in the neighboring village (which was within the borders of Maine) where he had recently located himself with a young wife and child. And, as he very rarely made any allusions to his own personal affairs, every thing relating to his origin, life, and employments, previous to his appearance in this region, was a matter of mere conjecture, and many a dark surmise, also, we should add, respecting his true character. For the last few years, however, he was known to have followed, at the appropriate seasons of the year, the business of trapping, or trading for furs with the Indians, around the northern lakes. He had several times passed through the village on his returns from his northern tours, and called on the Elwoods, whose contrasted characters he seemed soon to understand. But he pressed no bargains upon them for his peltries; for, disliking the close questionings and scrutinizing glances of Arthur, and finding he could make no final trade with Mark without the assent of the former, he gave up all attempts of the kind, and did not call again during the continuance of the partnership, nor till this time; when, finding that Mark was in trade alone, he announced his intention of spending some time in the village, to see what arrangements could be made, as he at first held out to Elwood, for establishing this as his place for the regular sales or deposit of his furs.

But the fur traffic, whatever it might have been formerly, was now not the main, if any part of the object he had in view. The times had changed, closing many of the old avenues of trade, but opening new ones to tempt the ever restless spirit of gain. And, although the fur trade was still profitable, there was yet another springing up, which, for those who, like him, had no scruples about engaging in it, promised to become far more so. The restrictions which it had been the policy of our government to throw around commerce, in the incipient stages of our last national quarrel with Great Britain, had caused an unprecedented rise in the prices of silks and other fine fabrics of foreign import. This had put whatever there was of the two alleged leading traits of Yankee character, acquisitiveness and ingenuity, on the _qui vive_ to obtain those goods at the former prices, for the purpose of home speculation. And Canada, being separated by a land boundary only from the States, presented to the greedy eyes of hundreds of village mammonists, who, like Elwood, were plodding along at the slow jog of twenty per cent profits, opportunities of so purchasing as to quadruple their gains; which were quite too severe a test for their slender stock of patriotism to withstand. It was but a natural consequence, therefore, that all of them whose love of gain was not overcome by their fear of loss by detection and the forfeiture of their goods, should soon be found, in spite of all the vigilance and activity of the host of custom-house officers by whom the government had manned the Canadian lines, secretly engaged in that contraband traffic.

The history of smuggling as carried on between the Northern States and Canada, from the enactment of the embargo at the close of 1807, and especially from the enactment of the more stringent non-intercourse law of 1810, to the declaration of war in 1812, and even, to a greater or less extent, to the proclamation of peace in 1815, is a portion of our annals that yet remains almost wholly unwritten. Although the contraband trade in question was doubtless more or less followed along the entire extent of our northern boundaries, from east to west, yet along no portions of them half so extensively, probably, as those, of Vermont and New Hampshire, which, from their close contiguity to Montreal and Quebec, the only importing cities of the Canadas, afforded the most tempting facilities and the best chances for success. Along these borders, indeed, it was for years one almost continuous scene of wild warfare between the custom-house officers and their assistants, and the smugglers and their abettors, both parties carrying arms, and the smugglers, especially, going armed to the teeth. In these skirmishes many were, at different times, killed outright; many more were missing, even on the side of the officials, for whom dark fates were naturally conjectured; while hundreds, on both sides, were crippled or otherwise seriously wounded. Sometimes, when a double sleigh, or wagon, deeply laden with smuggled goods, in charge of three or four stout and resolute fellows aboard, who, with as many more, perhaps, of their confederates on horseback or in light teams, before and behind, were making their way, at full speed, with their prize, from the line to some secret and safe depository in the interior, was suddenly beset and brought to a


Gaut Gurley - 4/59

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