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- Gaut Gurley - 5/59 -


stand by an equal or greater number of government officials, deeply intent on a seizure, a most furious conflict would ensue, in which the combatants, growing desperate for the seizure or defence of the prize, would ply their hard yeoman fists, clubs, loaded whipstocks, or whatever was at hand, with terrible effect, and often prolong the melee till the snow or ground was encrimsoned with blood, and scarcely an uninjured man remained on the ground. Sometimes the besetting officials were made prisoners, and marched off at the cocked pistol's mouth into the deep woods, and, after being led forward and backward through the labyrinths of the forest till bewildered and lost, were suddenly left to find their way out as they best could,--a feat which there was no danger of their accomplishing till long after both the smugglers and their goods were beyond the reach of pursuers. And sometimes the smugglers, when closely pressed and seeing no hope of rescue if taken, as their last resort, drew their dirks and pistols; and wo to the official who then persisted in attempting a seizure.

But the system of tactics more generally practiced by the smugglers was that of craft and concealment, carried out by some ingenious measure to prevent all suspicion of the times and places of their movements, by travelling in the night or in stormy weather, or in the most unfrequented routes, and, when pursued, by putting the pursuers on false scents, or by feints of running away with loads of empty boxes to mislead pursuit, till the goods, which had been previously taken to some place of temporary concealment, could be removed from the vicinity of the search and sent on their destination.

Such were the general features of the illicit traffic which characterized the period of which we are treating,--a traffic which laid the foundations of many a village fortune, whose dashing heirs would not probably be very willing to acknowledge the true source from which the wealth and position they may now be enjoying was derived,--and finally a traffic which, in its attending homicides and desperate affrays, its hot pursuits and marvellous escapes, its curious concealments and artful subterfuges, and, lastly, in the family and neighborhood feuds which it left behind, would furnish materials for a series of tales as wild and romantic, if not always as creditable to the actors, as any thing ever yet spread before the public.

It was this questionable business which was then occupying the thoughts of Gaut Gurley, and in which it was his aim to involve Mark Elwood, whom he had pitched on for the purpose, as not only a man of sufficient means, with no scruples which could not be overcome, but a man whom he believed he could make dependent on him, when once enlisted, and to whom he could dictate terms for his own services. And it is no wonder that a man of his dark cunning, working on one of the obtuse moral sense, the love of money, and the thoughtlessness of consequences, of Elwood, should, as he did, soon completely succeed in his objects. For, after having kindled Elwood's political prejudices against the embargo law, which was held up to be such an outrage on the commercial rights of the North that it were almost a merit to violate it, Gaut proceeded to show how enormous were the profits to be made in this trade, and how safely the goods might be smuggled in, through the back roads and forest routes with which he was familiar, by employing Frenchmen, as he could, at a cheap rate, to bring them in large panniers on the backs of their Canadian ponies, or by engaging Indians, who could be enlisted for even less wages, to bring them in knapsacks through the woods. And so clearly did he demonstrate all this to the mind of Elwood, that the latter, being unable any longer to resist the temptation of thus securing the gains of a traffic, by the side of which the small profits of his store at home dwindled into contempt, soon resolved to engage in it.

From this time Gaut was in high favor with Elwood. The two, indeed, seemed to have suddenly become inseparable. They were always found together, and always engaged in some closely private conversation, the purport of which no others were permitted to know, or were enabled to conjecture, except from the new business movement which was observed soon to follow the forming of their mysterious connection. And that movement was that Elwood put his store in charge of a clerk, and, giving out that he was about to engage more extensively in the fur trade, which would require him to be often absent, went off with a strong and fleet double team, in a northerly direction, with Gaut for his only companion.

With the advent of this new era in the life of Elwood, every thing became changed about his establishment. His bustling presence, with his bantering, off-hand, and communicative talk, no longer enlivened the store and neighborhood; and people, who before seemed to know every thing about his business and plans, now knew nothing. For he was now most of the time absent in conducting his operations at the north, or in his stealthy journeyings thence to the cities, to receive and dispose of the valuable packages which he had put on their passage. He generally came and departed in the night, and, even during his brief stays at home, he kept himself secluded, seeming to wish to be seen as little as possible. All this, of course, led to considerable talk and various speculations; but he so well shrouded his movements from the public, and kept afloat so many plausible stories to account for his change of business, that he prevented suspicions from taking any definite shape about home, or spreading abroad to any extent that endangered his operations, although those operations were constantly continued for years, and, from cautious and small beginnings, at length became more bold, extensive, and successful, perhaps, than any thing of the kind ever carried on in the interior of New England. But there was one whose suspicions of the true character of the business in which he was engaged, notwithstanding his denials and evasions, even to her, and whose fears and anxieties on account of the dangers she believed he was constantly incurring, not only from seizure of his property and the personal violence to which he was exposed in trying to defend it, but from his association of reckless confederates, especially Gaut Gurley, of whose dark character, as little as she had seen of him, she was already filled with an instinctive dread,--there was one whose suspicions, and consequent anxieties, he could never succeed in quieting; and that was his discreet and faithful wife. She had, during the first year or two of his new career, often expostulated with him on the doubtful character of his business; but he, by always making light of her fears, by telling her some truth and withholding more, and disclosing as great a part of his astonishing gains as he supposed would pass with her for honest acquisitions, generally silenced, if he did not convince, her; and she, finding him always light-hearted and satisfied with himself, when he came home, finally ceased her remonstrances, having concluded she would try to conquer her doubts and fears, or at least say no more on the subject.

At length, however, after a prolonged absence on a tour, in which he had a large venture at stake, he came home in a greatly altered mood. His usual buoyancy of spirits was gone; he appeared gloomy and abstracted; and, although, in reply to the anxious inquiries of his wife, he represented himself to have been entire successful,--even to a greater extent than ever before,--yet it was quite obvious that something very untoward, to say the least, must have happened to him. He would not leave his house after dark, he placed loaded pistols within the reach of his hand when he went to bed, and he would often start up wildly from his sleep. His whole conduct, indeed, was such as to excite the deeper concern of his perplexed wife, for she feared it betokened his connection with something very wrong,--something that had brought him into deadly peril,--something, perhaps, done to others, which made her tremble to think of, but something, at all events, which made her more than ever dread to have him go back again to the scene of his operations. But of the last-named of her fears she was shortly relieved; for, to her agreeable surprise, he soon assured her of his determination to break off entirely from the business he had been pursuing, and, as much to her gratification as to the evident vexation of Gaut Gurley, who had come on to look his employer up, he firmly persisted in carrying out his resolution. Nor was this all. He rapidly drew his business to a close, broke off his old associations, privately left the place, and, in a few weeks, sent for his family to join him in Boston, where it appeared he had been for some time secretly transferring his capital, and where he had now established himself in business, with all the means required, even there, of doing it to the best advantage. And for some years he _did_ engage in business to advantage, the same strangely good luck attending him, and prospering wonderfully in all he undertook, till he gained the reputation of being among the wealthiest of the city. But the spoiler came in a second appearance of Gaut Gurley, who, having squandered in the country the bounteous sums of money which Elwood had paid him for his services, now followed the latter to the city. And, with the coming of that personage, together with the foolish ambition that had, about that time, seized Elwood, to outshine some of his city competitors in display and expensive living, commenced the wane of a fortune which, as large as it was, it had required but two short years to bring to the verge on which we represented its unhappy master as standing in the opening scene of our story.

Having now related all we designed in this retrospect of events, we will return from the somewhat long but necessary digression, and take up the thread of the narrative where we left it.

CHAPTER III.

"I strive in vain to set the evil forth. The words that should sufficiently accurse And execrate the thing, hath need Come glowing from the lips of eldest hell. Among the saddest in the den of woe, Most sad; among the damn'd, most deeply damn'd."

Once on a time, before the dark catalogue of vices was made complete by the wicked inventions of men, or the evil made to counterbalance the good in the world, the Arch Enemy of mankind, deeply sensible of the vantage-ground occupied by the antagonistic Being, and anxiously casting about him for the means of securing an equilibrium of power, called around him a small company, consisting of those of his Infernal subjects whom he had previously noted for their excellence, in subtility and devilish invention, and, after fully explaining his wants and wishes to his keenly appreciating auditory, made proclamation among them, that the Demon who should invent a new vice, which, under the name and guise of Pastime, should be best calculated to seduce men from the paths of virtue, pervert their hearts, ruin them for earth and educate them for hell, should be awarded a crown of honor, with rank and prerogative second only to his own. He then, with many a gracious and encouraging word to incite in them a spirit of emulation, and nerve them for exertion in the important enterprise thus set before them, dismissed them, to go forth among men, observe, study, and come again before him on a designated time, to report the results of their respective doings, and submit them to his decision. Eager to do the will of their lord and Lucifer; as well as to gain the tempting distinctions involved in his award, the commissioned, fiend-group dispersed, and scattered themselves over the earth, which was understood to be their field of operations. And, after noting, as long as they chose, all the different phases of human society, the secret inclinations of those composing it, their follies, weaknesses, and points most vulnerable to temptation, they each returned to the dark dominions whence they came, to cogitate in retirement, concoct and reduce to form those schemes for securing the great object in view, which their observations and discoveries on earth had suggested.

At the time appointed for the hearing and decision, the demoniac competitors again assembled before their imperial arbiter; not this time in secret conclave, but in the presence of thousands of congregated fiends, who, having been apprised of the new plan about to be presented for peopling the Commonwealth of Hell with recruits from earth, had come up in all directions from their dismal abodes, to hear those plans reported, and witness the awarding of the prize for the one judged most worthy of adoption. Lucifer then mounted his throne, commanded silence, and ordered


Gaut Gurley - 5/59

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