There was a cave In among the hills on a tract of wild land joining the 'squire's farm. At the time of which we write, it had never been dlscovered by those residing in the neighborhood, and was known only to four men, and these were the four that Kitty saw sitting in the deep ravine. The cave was in a solitary, wild and romantic spot. Tall trees covered the ground, while underneath the tangled underbrush grew thick and dense. Wild rose bushes, and sweet briers, and tangled vines, seemed to render the nook inaccessible to the foot of man. Grape-vines clambered up the giant oaks, and ran in wild profusion among the topmost branches. A lover of nature in her wildest moods would have been enchanted •with the beauty and luxuriance heaped together in such rich exuberance. Who would have dreamed that the scheming, plotting brain of man would so prostitute the charms and secrecy of this secluded spot? Did I say tho foot of man had never penetrated these sylvan recesses. By stooping down, and by creeping on one's knees, and by crawling like a snake, an entrance close to the ground had been made into that cave so charmingly hidden by the emerald glories of the summer, The cave had been cleaned out, and only the rocky sides and floor and the jagged roof overhead ■were visible. Not a ray of light penetrated. A bear-skin was spread down for the three occupants to sit upon. A smooth plane of rook, green with mosses and lichen, was a resting-place for the elbow of the whispering speaker, and he was 'Squire Gardiner. Job and Morrison, with bated breaths, sat doubled up listening.
"We will have to be devilish careful, boys," .said he; "it will be all day with us if the thing's known. Now when I was in Zanesville the other day, disposing of some of it, they watched me pretty sharply, and I felt my knees shake under me, buti l put on a brave face, and said I'd like to get rid of a little of my loose cash, that it was troublesome and heavy carrying so much of it about me. I pretended that I'd been over the mountains and got it of father. Now Beavers will be here before long, and then we'll try It again. That last run of dollars and half dollars don't quite suit me; they are too yellow; the color is not quite right yet; but Beavers will know how to arrange it better," and the 'squire leaned back in his small quarters and stroked his beard, and cleared his throat in as quiet a way as possible.
"Well," said Morrison, "I tried one of the dollars 'long side of a rale Simon Pure that little Polly Warrett wears round her neck on a ribbon, and I declare for it if I didn't think it wa'n't quite the right shade o' color— too yallar-like, I thought,"
"Well, for my part," said Job, "I couldn't see a mite o' difference. But I do wish Kitty, my wife, wasn't so uneasy. I'm afeard she will mistrust; an' her conscience is so tender-like, 'specially sence the baby died, that it is no easy matter to pacify her if she sets her mind on a thing.''
"Devil take the women! say I," said the 'squire, threading his fingers through his beard in a quick, decided way. "Now my wife has no mind of her own; I can wind her round my hands like you would a hank of fine thread — whatever I think she thinks; whatever I say she says; and whatever I propose she agrees to it. If I were in league with Satan, she'd think it all right, and hurrah for me. That's the kind of a woman! I don't like your sniveling, pious, set-up women, who have wills of their own." Here he stopped short, thinking it proper to concilliate Job, and said: "Guess your wife, Job, is made of finer stuff than mine, though. Mine don't care for posies or pets, or any of these little pretty things, like Madame Kitty does; and somehow I kind of wished she did the other day when I saw your wife training her morning-glory vines about the door and window, and coaxing the ivy to run up on the end of the house. Such things are kind of good and gentle, and make folks feel better, and the like," and the wily man sighed and pressed his hand on his forehead.]
"Time we'd go, ain’t it?" said Job.
"Yes, s'pose it is," was the 'squire's reply; and then he looked in under some stones to see that the carefully-hidden tools and dies were safely out of sight. "Well, when Beavers comes we'll try it over again then," said he; "and we will meet in the old cabin in the woods, where we'll have a fair chance. I'll let you know more about it; and, boys, when you need any money let me know; but I swear you must be careful; it's a tricky business, and requires a fellow to keep both eyes open."
And so, one at a time, the three men crawled softly out of the hidden cave. The 'squire was the last one to leave it. A thick mat of wild roses grew at the low entrance; they had been laid over to one side; these he replaced as carefully as a tender mother would lightly lay the covering over the cradle of her babe. And in the gathering darkness the men separated and took different directions to their homes.
These were the first counterfeiters in this neighborhood in the far West fifty years ago. To be sure they were not the first in the newly-settled country, because counterfeiting was a regularly organized business, even before that early date; this was a branch, and these were among the first workers in this iniquitous traffic. It was carried on by shrewd, designing men from the East — men who ranked intellectually far above the majority of the hardy pioneer settlers. Perhaps it is well that these old woodland haunts are dumb, yet living witnesses of such scenes as would thrill our hearts today, and startle us with terror to know that we tread upon ground sacred if not historic.
Beavers came as the squire had anticipated. The fine steed stood at the hitching-post behind the still-house in the hollow, as oft before, and Job was conversing in a low tone of voice with the 'squire, who appeared restless and uneasy, and started at every sound he heard.
"No, it's not an accursed business, either, Homers," said he, laying his hand on Job's shoulder; "just as good men as the sun shines on are engaged in it. Why should you or I toil like slaves when wealth and ease are within our reach? We have just as good a right to live well and easy as Judge Nillson or Captain Hickman, or even Parson Barkdoll —heh?" and he laughed, and let his voice come down to a whisper as he dwelt upon the last name with unctuous emphasis. "Tell you now, Job, we're bound to succeed, and may the Lord of battles help us. Beavers says he has the right stuff now; and he says the last batch was too deuced yellow; but we'll manage them now, halleluia!"
The old cabin In which the five counterfeiters met at midnight stood close to the banks of a clear, swift creek that rushed round curves and over rocks, and the waters broke into eddies and swirls, and the musical sounds were soothing and melodious. I always pause in passing that picturesque place, and I smile in spite of myself as I listen to the dash and ripple, and purl and swash of the beautiful waters.
Job was a little tardy that night, and the other four men were all there before he came. Klngsley and Morrison sat on a log, both poor, dull, kindhearted men, so unselfish and so true that they made useful tools in the hands of the two leaders in this nefarious game. Beavers and the 'squire stood apart a little from the others.
"Is there any danger whatever to be apprehended, think you, in trying this experiment tonight?" said Beavers. Now I know so little comparatively of chemistry and the compounding of these different things, that I can't say that I am over-anxious to have a hand in it."
"I am not afraid, for my part," was the reply. "I am sure I can't see that there could be any danger whatever. Putting this other stuff in cannot be dangerous, I am sure."
"We ought to understand more of chemistry and the nature of chemicals," said Beavers, slowly. "We work blindly, and our hands are fettered; but it is too late now to retract, for here comes our other man." And with stealthy step Job came creeping along among the willows and alders as softly as he could.
In less than one hour there was a fire, a dim light, a waiting crucible, and all the necessary materials on hand ready for action. Just before the compounds were put together, Beavers stepped to the door and passed out. The 'squire noticed the movement, and smiled grimly. Then he laid something out on a board that served for a table and said: "Now, boys, in about a half a minute you add this, shaking it gently all the time — but, jingo! seems to me the air is close in this place," and pushing back his hair he walked to the door and leisurely stepped outside. He did not stop to look up at the stars, or pause to listen to the musical murmur of the winding creek a-near the deserted cabin, but with a step as soft as a fox's he stole round to the side of the house, and, bending down, he peeped through between the old logs where the chinking was out. His eyes were us sharp as steel, and as glittering, and he muttered, "The coward!" thinking of Beavers's fears and his regard for his own safety.
The three men were bending over the crucible. Job was obeying orders; and barely had he poured in the untested compound, when an explosion took place — a puff, a crash, a noise that seemed to fill all space, and then all was dark and still. A groan came from the cabin; another groan from another corner; the sound of a man's feet fleeing from the place, a prolonged " Oh-h-h!" as though wrung from one full of pain and distress, and the 'squire with blanched face and trembling limbs came hurriedly to the assistance of his unfortunate tools. Job's eyes were badly burned, and the other men lay gasping for breath. They had all inhaled the poisonous vapor, and were suffering intensely.
"I had just stept out, boys; I did not think of this. The Lord knows I'll sorrow over this till the day of my death! Who would have dreamed! It's a horrid bad business, my lads! Why what could have made it!" and such half-incoherent, broken utterances, fell from the lips of the 'squire as he walked from one to another of the scared, suffering men. "Life or death, boys, this thing must be kept quiet; that's the trouble now; if it gets out, the State's Prison is waiting for us all; and I'd rather die ten thousand deaths than go there," said the 'squire, in a low voice.
"Oh, yes! oh, yes! groaned the three poor fellows in piteous unison. One of the men could walk; his breathing was impeded, his breast pained him; that was all, he said. The other had to be carried home; and Job, with his burnt eyes and singed, red face, swollen and painful, was an intense sufferer for many long weeks. His wife divined the secret, and only for Job's sake and the fair names of her little daughters she would have had the 'squire arrested immediately on suspicion.
When the neighbors inquired into Job's case, and saw his embarrassment and heard his equivocal answers, they shook their heads and pursed their lips, and gave an extra hitch to their yarn-knit " gallowses," and said: "'Pears like suthin' ort for be done."
'Squire Gardiner saw the sidewise nods of sundry heads, and he began to feel fear of the State's Prison, and one morning it was known far and near that "Old 'Squire Gardiner, he has gone away out to the Maumee country." No one knew just where, but they all knew that his sly move had saved his hair from being shingled by the authorities.
In less than two years he died in that agueish, miasmatic climate, and his last poor home-sick request was that his emaciated body be taken home for burial. It was brought here in a little, ricketty, creaking wagon; and as death makes people kind of heart, forgiving, charitable and loving, so were all of those who came, far and near, to the strange funeral, in the dead of the dreary winter time.
All the old pioneers were laid in the south end of the village grave-yard in those days, and there they dug his grave, and after the frozen clumps were thrown in and rudely heaped up, men turned away with pity in their faces, and said: "Well, I've nothin' agin the 'squire," and they gee-hawed their oxen round among the stumps and logs, and men, women and children piled into the homeward bound sleds, and this was the last on earth of poor, misguided, dwarfed, blighted, lonely, dead 'Squire Gardiner. And all this happened fifty years ago, away back in the far-distant past, and I write this, and the hand that guides the pen and traces the sentences could probably hold all in its palm that to-day remains on earth of this man of evil deeds whose poor life was a bar, and a ban, and a blight upon the lives of others. God pity us all!
Morrison died a year after; the poisonous inhalation was death, a lingering, slow, painless pining away; a shortness ot breath —g eneral debility, the doctor called it, a genteel name to speak, and one that was, and is, broad enough to cover a multitude of sins. Poor fellow! At the foot of his grave, on the day of his burial, stood one in whose heart was festering the same secret that his dead associate had carried down into that wildwood grave before him, Wes Kingsley. An old home-made slouch hat, contrived out of the skin of a raccoon with the ringed tail loft on, was pulled down over his pallid forehead, his hands were thrust down deep into the pockets of his breeches, and he stood in a feeble, slinking way, as though his heart was broken and he cared for nothing that this earth held. In less than six months he followed his ill-starred comrade into that unknown land. He was so emaciated when he died that one man carried his body until the straggling procession had passed, single file, down the path that led from his cabin, through the thicket, into the laid road.
Job Somers lasted longer than either of the others. His eyesight was irreparably injured, but Kitty's skilful nursing and tender care were the means of adding more years to his blighted life. Under the influence of religion, Kitty Somers's disposition had grown tender, and serene, and gracious, her quick impulses had mellowed down into a sweet kindliness of spirit, and she had grown into a very lovable woman. Before Job died he became an enthusiastic Methodist, and when he went down into the river of death it was not in fear and trembling, but with his soul filled with jubilant rejoicing.
Kitty lived to see the western wilderness blossom like the rose. One day, her grandsons, while out surveying some lands they had purchased, came upon the old cave that had once been the hiding- place of the counterfeiters. Some dies and tools . were found in a tolerable state of preservation, but there was no one left to identify them, or tell whence they came or whose they were. And for Grandmother Kitty's sake no words of suspicion were framed and spoken. Old men and women looked into each other's eyes but said nothing.
Five years ago, I was passing the village graveyard, where some neighbors were digging the grave of Grandmother Somers. One man was leaning on his shovel idly, and I paused and spoke to him. They were digging it in the south end, were all the graves were made fifty and sixty years ago. The ground was beautiful — save a few hillocks and dimpling hollows, it was as level as a floor, and the long grass looked as though its soft green lengths had been combed out or swept a-down by gently flowing waters.
"How sacred this ground looks!" I said, with reverent admiration.
"An' it's chock full o' graves, too, sis," said the man; "leastaways, the old sexton tells me so," said he, and he shifted his position on the shovel handle that he might rest the more comfortably.
"Yes, it is like unto a silent city; a city full of sleepers," I said, as my eye ran over the green breadth spread out before me.
Just then the man down in the grave called out in a tone of dismay: "Well! well! well! I declare for it if I haven't struck into another grave!"
I passed hurredly through the gate and stood there with the men — not one of us saying a word. What sacrilege this was! Who was to blame? While we stood wondering, the old mossy gate creaked on its rusty hinges and the sexton came hobbling in upon his cane and crutch.
He was horrified. "It's my fault, boys; I ought to 'a knowed that we was ruther a fringin' on old 'Squire Gardiner's grave. But these old, long-ago graves are gone to nothin' a' most, and I've not much to guide me but my mem'ry and it's gittin' treacher'us-like. I do say for it! if yon isn't the last remnants of the 'squire's head, or what was once his head; and the airth's kind o' crumblin' in, and we'll have to mzke the best on't we can now."
I sat down on the yellow clay and leaned over and peered down into the depths. Right in the foot of Kitty Somers's grave was the head of 'Squire Gardener's. The skull was a crumbling thing, visible, and while we looked at it, with a little sound like "t-s-h!" it fell into pieces.
"Let me touch it, please," I whispered to the man down in the vault, and silently he laid some of the brown crumbling crust in my open palm. I shuddered, and a chill crept over me, and I caught my breath suddenly as I placed them back in his broad hand.
"Lay them in again, but farther back, so's not to interfere with this grave o' her'n," said the old sexton.
The earth was soft and he shoved them back. I sat there as if dreaming. I knew the story of Kitty Somers, and I knew of 'Squire Gardiner, and the influence he had had over poor Job in the beginning of his young wedded life, and I knew of the sad lives of those upon whom the baneful power of this one man had fallen fatally. And this man, shrewd, energetic, bold and brave, born, perhaps, to do good and great things, but wronged in his tender years, robbed of his best and noblest impulses, here he lay—the last of his beautiful forehead despoiled by the mattock's blow, and gathered into strangers' hands, and curiously looked upon by strangers' eyes, and then thrust aside to make room for the feet of a woman whose life he had made cheerless and desolate, whose home lis had darkened, whoso hopes he had blighted! Was that retribution? or was it mere chance? was roused from my dreamy reverie by the old man leaning on the shovel, who said: "Wall now, sis, if you'll git out o' the way we'll finish this ere job."
I sprang from the heap of yellow clay on the edge of the grave, and begging pardon, turned to go away when I heard one of them say: "It's deep enough; jist level it now, and that'll do; 'pears like it inclines to cave in, an' we'd better secure the earth 'fore it does."
Then I walked home as in a dream, and more than once I whispered to myself: "And this is the end of those two! Strange! the head of 'Squire Gardiner moved aside to make room for the feet of Kitty Somers!"
50 YEARS AGO OR, THE CABINS OF THE WEST
A series of articles that appeared
in 1875 in Arthur’s Home Magazine
© 2011 Peggy Mershon. Contact at firstname.lastname@example.org
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No. 1 … Poor Kitty Sommers … Page 2