Chapter 11

So foul a sky clears not without a storm.

King John.

In the mean time the industrious and irreclaimable hours continued their labours. The sun, which had been struggling through such masses of vapour throughout the day, fell slowly in a streak of clear sky, and thence sunk gloriously into the gloomy wastes, as he is wont to settle into the waters of the ocean. The vast herds which had been grazing among the wild pastures of the prairies, gradually disappeared, and the endless flocks of aquatic birds, that were pursuing their customary annual journey from the virgin lakes of the north towards the gulf of Mexico, ceased to fan that air, which had now become loaded with dew and vapour. In short, the shadows of night fell upon the rock, adding the mantle of darkness to the other dreary accompaniments of the place.

As the light began to fail, Esther collected her younger children at her side, and placing herself on a projecting point of her insulated fortress, she sat patiently awaiting the return of the hunters. Ellen Wade was at no great distance, seeming to keep a little aloof from the anxious circle, as if willing to mark the distinction which existed in their characters.

“Your uncle is, and always will be, a dull calculator, Nell,” observed the mother, after a long pause in a conversation that had turned on the labours of the day; “a lazy hand at figures and foreknowledge is that said Ishmael Bush! Here he sat lolloping about the rock from light till noon, doing nothing but scheme—scheme —scheme—with seven as noble boys at his elbows as woman ever gave to man; and what’s the upshot? why, night is setting in, and his needful work not yet ended.”

“It is not prudent, certainly, aunt,” Ellen replied, with a vacancy in her air, that proved how little she knew what she was saying; “and it is setting a very bad example to his sons.”

“Hoity, toity, girl! who has reared you up as a judge over your elders, ay, and your betters, too! I should like to see the man on the whole frontier, who sets a more honest example to his children than this same Ishmael Bush! Show me, if you can, Miss Fault-finder, but not fault-mender, a set of boys who will, on occasion, sooner chop a piece of logging and dress it for the crop, than my own children; though I say it myself, who, perhaps, should be silent; or a cradler that knows better how to lead a gang of hands through a field of wheat, leaving a cleaner stubble in his track, than my own good man! Then, as a father, he is as generous as a lord; for his sons have only to name the spot where they would like to pitch, and he gives ’em a deed of the plantation, and no charge for papers is ever made!”

As the wife of the squatter concluded, she raised a hollow, taunting laugh, that was echoed from the mouths of several juvenile imitators, whom she was training to a life as shiftless and lawless as her own; but which, notwithstanding its uncertainty, was not without its secret charms.

“Holloa! old Eester;” shouted the well-known voice of her husband, from the plain beneath; “ar’ you keeping your junkets, while we are finding you in venison and buffaloe beef? Come down—come down, old girl, with all your young; and lend us a hand to carry up the meat;—why, what a frolic you ar’ in, woman! Come down, come down, for the boys are at hand, and we have work here for double your number.”

Ishmael might have spared his lungs more than a moiety of the effort they were compelled to make in order that he should be heard. He had hardly uttered the name of his wife, before the whole of the crouching circle rose in a body, and tumbling over each other, they precipitated themselves down the dangerous passes of the rock with ungovernable impatience. Esther followed the young fry with a more measured gait; nor did Ellen deem it wise, or rather discreet, to remain behind. Consequently, the whole were soon assembled at the base of the citadel, on the open plain.

Here the squatter was found, staggering under the weight of a fine fat buck, attended by one or two of his younger sons. Abiram quickly appeared, and before many minutes had elapsed, most of the hunters dropped in, singly and in pairs, each man bringing with him some fruits of his prowess in the field.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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