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Chapter 7

WHAT HAPPENED IN AMERICA.


On the way we found, to the right, a very handsome house. It was low, but convenient and neat, placed between a spacious barn and a large stable; the whole enclosed by a garden, well stocked with fruits of the country. It belonged to an old man, who invited us to alight at his retreat. He did not look like an Englishman; his accent showed us he was a foreigner. We anchored and went on shore. The old man welcomed us cordially, and gave us the best cheer to be had in the New World.

We discreetly insinuated our wish to know to whom we were indebted for so kind a reception.

"I am," said he, "of the race you call savages. I was born on the Blue Mountains, which bound this country in the west. In my childhood I was bitten by a rattlesnake, and abandoned. I was on the point of death. The father of the present Lord Baltimore, falling in with me, confided me to his physician; and to him I owe my life. I soon discharged the debt; for I have saved his in a skirmish with the neighboring tribes. He gave me, in return, this habitation."

Mr. Freind enquired if he was of Lord Baltimore's religion?

"How," said he, "would you have me profess another man's religion? I have my own."

This short and energetic answer made us reflect a little.

"You have, then," said I, "your own law and your own God?"

"Yes," he replied, with an assurance wholly free from pride. "My God is there," and he pointed to heaven. "My law is here," and he put his hand on his breast.

My friend was struck with admiration, and, pressing my hand, he said:

"This simple nature reasons more wisely than all the bachelors with whom we conversed at Barcelona."

He was anxious to know if he could gain any information respecting his son John. It was a weight that oppressed him. He enquired if his host had heard speak of some young people, who had made a great noise in the neighborhood.

"Indeed I have," said he, "I received them in my house; and they were so satisfied with the reception I gave them, that they have carried away one of my daughters."

Judge of my friend's distress at this intelligence. In his emotion, he could not avoid exclaiming:

"What! Has my son run away with your daughter?"

"Good Englishman," said the host, "do not let that grieve you. I am glad to find he is your son. He is handsome, well made, and seems courageous. He did not run away with my dear Parouba; for you must know that Parouba is her name, because it is mine. Had he taken off Parouba, it would have been a robbery; and my five sons, who are now hunting some forty or fifty miles from here, would not have endured such an affront. It is a great sin to thieve. My daughter went of her own accord with these young people. She has gone to see the country, a pleasure one cannot deny to one of her age. These travelers will bring her back to me before a month is passed. I am sure of it. They promised to do so."

These words would have made me laugh, had not the evident distress of my friend severely afflicted me.

In the evening, just as we were about to start to take advantage of the wind, one of Parouba's sons arrived out of breath, his face expressing horror and despair.

"What is the matter, my son? I thought you were hunting far away. Are you wounded by some savage beast?"

"No, father,—not wounded, yet in pain."

"But whence do you come, son?"

"From a distance of forty miles, without stopping; and I am almost dead."

The aged father makes him sit down. They give him restoratives. Mr. Freind and I, his little brothers and sisters, with the servants, crowd around him. When he recovered his breath, he exclaimed:

"Alas, my sister Parouba is a prisoner of war, and will no doubt be killed."

The worthy Parouba was grieved at this recital. Mr. Freind, feeling for him as a father, was struck to the very heart. At last, the son informed us that a party of silly young Englishmen had attacked, for diversion, the people of the mountains. He said, they had with them a very beautiful lady and her maid; and he knew not how his sister came to be with them. The handsome English lady had been scalped and killed; and his sister captured.

"I come here for aid against the people of the Blue Mountains. I will kill them too, and will retake my dear sister, or perish."

Mr. Friend's habits of self-command supported him in this trying moment.

"God has given me a son," said he. "Let him take both father and son, when the eternal decree shall go forth. My friend, I am tempted to think God sometimes acts by a special providence, since he avenges in America crimes committed in Europe, and since this wicked Clive-Hart died as she deserved. Perhaps the Sovereign of the universe does in his government punish even in this world crimes committed here. I dare not assert; I wish to think so; indeed I should believe it, were not such an opinion opposed to all metaphysical laws."

After these sad reflections on an event common in America, Freind resumed his usual demeanor.

"I have a good ship," said he to his host, "with abundant stores. Let us go up the gulf as near as we may to the Blue Mountains. My most anxious business now is to save your daughter. Let us go to your countrymen, say I bear the pipe of peace—that I am the grandson of Penn. That name alone will suffice."

At the name of Penn, so much revered throughout North America, the worthy Parouba and his son felt the greatest respect and the greatest hope. We embarked, and in thirty-six hours reached Baltimore.

We were scarcely in sight of this almost desert place, when we saw in the distance a numerous band of mountaineers descending to the plain, armed with axes, tomahawks, and those muskets which Europeans so foolishly sold to them, to procure skins. Already you might hear their frightful howlings. From another side we saw four persons approaching on horseback, accompanied by others on foot. We were taken for people of Baltimore, come there for the purpose of fighting. The horsemen galloped toward us, sword in hand. Our companions prepared to receive them. Mr. Freind, observing them steadily, shuddered for a moment; but soon resuming his sang-froid.

"Do not stir, my friends," said he. "Leave all to me."

He advanced alone and unarmed toward the party. In a moment, we saw the chief let fall the bridle from his horse, spring to the ground, and fall prostrate. We uttered a cry of surprise, and advanced. It was John himself, who, bathed in tears, had fallen at the feet of his father. Neither of them was able to speak. Birton, and the two horsemen with him, alighted. But Birton, in his characteristic way, said:

"My dear Freind, I did not expect to see you here. You and I seem born for adventures. I am glad to see you."

Freind, without deigning to reply, looked toward the army of mountaineers, now approaching us. He walked toward them, accompanied by Parouba, who acted as interpreter.

"Fellow countrymen," said Parouba, "behold a descendant of Penn, who brings you the pipe of peace."

At these words, the eldest of the tribe raising his hands and eyes to heaven, exclaimed:

"A son of Penn! He is welcome! May the Penns live for ever! The great Penn is our Manitou, our god. He and his were the only Europeans who did not deceive us, and seize on our land. He bought the territory we gave up to him; he paid for it liberally; he maintained peace among us; he brought us remedies for the few diseases we had caught from the Europeans. He taught us new arts. We never dug up against him and against his children the hatchet of war. For the Penns we always entertain respect."

Freind immediately sent for thirty hams, as many pies and fowls, with two hundred bottles of Pontac, from the ship. He seated himself close to the chief of the Blue Mountains. John and his companions assisted at the festival. John would rather have been a hundred feet under the earth. His father said nothing to him; and this silence increased his confusion.

Birton, who cared for nothing, seemed very jovial. Freind, before he began to eat, said to Parouba:

"One person, very dear to you, is waiting here. I mean your daughter."

The chief of the Blue Mountains ordered her to be brought. She had suffered no injury; she smiled to her brother and father, as if she had only returned from a walk.

I took advantage of the freedom of the meal, to enquire why the warriors of the Blue Mountains had put to death Madame Clive-Hart, and had done nothing to Parouba's daughter.

"Because we are just," returned the chief. "That proud English woman belonged to the party that attacked us. She killed one of our men by firing a pistol behind him. We did nothing to Parouba, as soon as we ascertained that she was a daughter of our tribes, and only came here for diversion. Every one should be treated according to his desert."

Freind was affected by this maxim, but he represented to them that the custom of burning captives at the stake, was degrading to worthy people; and that, with so much virtue, they should be less ferocious.

The chief then asked us what we did with those whom we killed in battle.

"We bury them."

"I understand. You leave them for worms to eat. Cannibals think proper to give themselves the preference. Their stomachs are a more honorable grave."

Birton supported with pleasure the opinions of the mountaineer. He said, the custom of boiling and roasting a neighbor must be both ancient and natural, since it prevailed in both hemispheres; and therefore it must be an innate idea;—that men were hunted before beasts, because it was easier to kill men than wolves;—that if the Jews, in their books, so long unknown, imagined that a certain Cain killed a certain Abel, it could only be with a view to eat him—that the same Jews admit they had often fed on human flesh;—that the best historians describe the Jews as eating the bleeding flesh of Romans, whom they massacred in Egypt, Cyprus, and Asia, in their revolts against the emperors Trajan and Adrian.

We allowed him to indulge in these coarse jokes, which, though unfortunately true at the bottom, had neither Grecian wit nor Roman urbanity.

Freind, without answering him, addressed the natives. Parouba translated, phrase by phrase. Tillotson himself never spoke with more force. The insinuating Smaldridge never displayed more touching graces. The great secret of eloquence is to convince. He proved to them, accordingly, that the execrable custom of burning captives, inspired a ferocity destructive to the human race; for this reason, they were strangers to the comforts of society and the tillage of the ground.

At last, they all swore by their great Manitou, that they would not burn men and women again.

Thus, from a single conversation, Freind became their legislator, like an Orpheus taming tigers. In vain may the Jesuits describe their miracles in letters which are rarely curious or edifying; they can never equal our good friend.

After loading the chiefs of the Blue Mountains with presents, he conducted the worthy Parouba back to his residence. Young Parouba, with his sister, accompanied us. The others went hunting in the distant forest.

John, Birton, and his companions, also embarked in the ship.

Freind persisted in his plan of not reproaching his son, whenever the young scamp did wrong. He left him to self-examination, and to consume his heart, as Pythagoras has it. Nevertheless, he took up the letter thrice, which had been received from England, and looked at his son as he read it. The young man would then cast his eyes on the ground; and respect and repentance might be read on his face.

Birton continued as gay and noisy as if he had just returned from the play. He was in character like the late Duke of Rochester, extreme in debauchery, bravery, sentiments, language, and, in his Epicurean philosophy, attaching himself only to the extraordinary and soon disgusted even then; having the turn of mind that mistakes probabilities for demonstrations; more wise and eloquent than any young man of his age; but too indolent to be profound in any thing.

While dining with us on board, Mr. Freind said to me:

"Indeed, my dear friend, I hope God will inspire these young people with purer morals, and that Clive-Hart's terrible example will be a lesson to them."

Birton, hearing these words, said, in a disdainful tone:

"For a long time I had been dissatisfied with that wicked Clive-Hart. Indeed, I scarcely care more for her than I do for a trussed fowl. But do you believe there exists (I don't know where) a being perpetually occupied in punishing the wicked men and women who people and depopulate the four quarters of our little world? Do you forget that the terrible Mary, daughter of Henry VIII., was happy till her death? and yet she had caused the execution of eight hundred citizens, of both sexes, on the pretext that they did not believe in transubstantiation and the pope. Her father, nearly as cruel, and her husband, more profoundly wicked, spent their lives in enjoyment. Pope Alexander IV., worse than these, was still more fortunate. All his crimes succeeded. He died at the age of seventy-two, rich and powerful, courted by the kings of the age. Where, then, is this just and avenging God?"

Mr. Freind, with austerity and calmness, replied:

"It seems to me, sir, you ought not to say 'there is no God.' Remember, Locke and Newton never pronounced that word but in a tone of reverence, that every one remarked."

"What care I" returned Birton, "for two men's grimaces? How did Newton look, when he wrote his Commentary on the Apocalypse? Or Locke, when he wrote the Dialogue between a Parrot and the Prince Maurice?"

Then Freind repeated the golden words which should be graven on every heart:

"Let us forget the dreams of great men; and remember the truths they have taught us."

This reply gave way to a well-sustained conversation, more interesting than that of the bachelor of Salamanca. I sat in a corner and took notes. The company drew round the disputants. The worthy Parouba, his son, and daughter, John's debauched companions, and John himself, with his head resting on his hands,—all listened with eager attention.



Francois-Marie Arouet Voltaire

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