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Chronicles of a Kentucky Settlement

William Courtney Watts

Joseph Adair's Meeting with Laura Howard- Adair Introduces himself to the Howard Family-A Warm Reception-Laura Howard as an Artist. 

One afternoon, in the summer of 1825, when Mrs. Christopher Howard and two of her daughters were returning home, on horseback, from services at the Union Meeting-house, the elder of the daughters said: "Mother, I was told to-day that old Mrs. Lay is very sick. Do you mind if I ride by and see how she is?"

"I'm sorry to hear it," replied the mother. "Some of us ought to go and see her; and you may do so. And remember to ask if there is anything I can do for her. I wonder if she finished the warping of that cloth, before she was taken sick. If not, tell them to let me know, and I will come over to-morrow and finish it for her; for I know she is anxious for Eliza to go on with the weaving. And mind not to ride too fast, for that young horse of yours is hardly bridle-wise, and none of the gentlest; and if you go dashing along, as you sometimes do, you may get thrown. "

"All right, mother, " replied the daughter, "Jerry and I understand each other. He's only dangerous when he fears a pair of spurs; but I'll be careful." Then saying "By-by, " she turned from the main road, and was soon cantering along one which led through the woods for a mile or more, and terminated at Mrs. Lay's house.

An hour later Miss Howard was again in the main road where she had parted from her mother and sister and saw in advance of her a gentleman on horseback, riding very slowly. "I wonder who that is!" she said to herself. "He must be a stranger! I don't think I have ever seen him or his horse before. And, oh my, how very lame his horse is!"

She soon overtook the gentleman, and, when abreast of him, he, observing her, bowed and said: "Excuse me, Miss, for I am a stranger here. Can you tell me how far it is to Salem? My horse is very lame, as you may see, and I am anxious that he should have rest."

"The distance, sir, is about five miles," she answered, in a clear musical voice. "But, sir," she added, "I fear your horse is too lame to go that distance. My father lives on this road but a short distance from here, and he will, I am sure, take good care of your horse and loan you another to go on to town."

"That would be very kind of him", replied the stranger. "And may I ask your father's name?"

"Howard, sir," was the prompt answer.

"Ah! " exclaimed the gentleman, who was none other than Joseph Adair; who, then, whilst avoiding anything like an impertinent stare, looked more critically at the young lady than he had before done. "Can this Mr. Howard," he thought, "be Mr. Christopher Howard? It almost certainly isl And this is one of his daughters; but which one? Is it possible this can be Laura? She is apparently about the right age; yes, little Laura should now be about twenty years old; and she is certainly very beautiful, as I always imagined Laura would be. What an animated face, and what lovely blue eyes!" Then, fearing lest his protracted silence should surprise his fair companion, he resumed in a composed manner. "Can it be, " he said, "that your father once lived in Knoxville, Tennessee? for in that town I once knew a gentleman named Christopher Howard."

"My father's name, sir, is Christopher Howard, and he once lived in Knoxville." And, having said this, she felt much inclined to ask the gentleman his name, but she hesitated, thinking he would soon inform her.

"The Mr. Christopher Howard whom I knew," said the gentleman, "had-let me see-yes, he had six children: two daughters, Harriet and Nora; then two sons, Thornton and William; then another daughter, Eva; and last, such a pretty child, named Laura. "
At the mention of her name in so marked and yet so respectful a manner, accompanied by a look of such apparent interest, the young lady became so agitated that she let fall her riding whip; seeing which, the gentleman quickly dismounted, and having recovered the whip, handed it to her with a peculiarly pleasant smile. By the time he had remounted, she had recovered sufficient composure to apologize for the trouble she had given him, and continuing, said: "You have mentioned correctly the names of my brothers and sisters who are older than myself, and-my name is Laura. And now-"

She was interrupted by the gentleman, who said, in a pleasant and rather humorous manner: "Oh, you were going to ask my name. Now, had I asked your name, I should consider it only fair to tell you mine."

"Oh, sir, but you -

"Nay-nay," he said, again interrupting her, "I only asked your father's name, and spoke of a pretty child named Laura, when you told me - "

"But, sir," exclaimed the young lady, "that-"

"Don't apologize," he said quickly. "It was not quite fair for me to have spoken thus; and, if I have annoyed you, I must ask your pardon. But, " he went on, "before telling you my name, permit me to ask if you remember ever to have been nearly run over by a wagon."

"Oh, sir," she answered in an agitated manner, "I do not remember it, but my mother has often told me of how I was once saved, by a brave boy, from being run over, and perhaps killed."

"And does it so happen," resumed the gentleman, "that you now have, or ever had, among your trinkets a little green pebble?"

"I have it, here!" she answered, with ill-concealed excitement in her voice and manner, as she exhibited the glittering pebble, which was fastened to a small chain that hung around her neck. "And you"-she went on with unfeigned earnestness in her voice and manner- "you are Joseph Adair! I know it! "

"I am," was the low but distinct answer.

"Oh, how glad I am," she exclaimed, "to see you! When I was but a child, you saved my life! You gave me this beautiful stone! Oh, how glad we will all be to see you!"
"I am indeed glad," said Adair, in a somewhat tremulous voice, "to know that I have not been forgotten by you all, and I am specially pleased to find you wearing the pebble I gave you when I parted from you, a child, years ago. But now tell me," he went on, "about your parents, brothers, and sisters. I hope all are alive and well."

In reply she told him-and her expressive face was all aglow with animation as she spoke -that her father and mother were well, and that her brother Thornton and her sisters Harriet, Nora, and Eva were married and all doing well.

"Then you are not married?" he quickly asked.

"No, sir, " she blushingly replied. "But tell me," she quickly added, "tell me about yourself; where your home is; how long you will be with us, or remain in Salem."

After briefly telling her of his life up to the close of his apprenticeship, of the visit he had made to Knoxville, of his disappointment when he found that her father and the family had moved away, etc., he added: "I have since, as a journeyman saddler, travelled much, and wherever I went I made inquiry, but it was only a few weeks ago that I learned where your father lived; and my object in coming here was mainly to see you all."

"Then you are unmarried and have no settled home," she said. "Oh, how I wish you would remain-that you would make your home near us! We would all be so pleased!"
"I cannot tell you how glad I am to hear you say so, " he replied. "And, " he added after a thoughtful pause, "I may conclude to make my home in or near Salem. And is that your father's house?" he continued, as they came in sight of a two-story house, of hewn logs, which sat back some distance from the road and was surrounded by large black locust trees. "Is that your home?" And when she had replied in the affirmative, "Then," he resumed, "I think I must accept your kind invitation and stop for a while; and, if it is entirely convenient for your father to let me have another horse, I will leave my old comrade with him that he may rest. Besides, " he smilingly added, "that will give me a good excuse to come back and see you."

"I hope, " she frankly responded, "you will require no excuse for coming to see us whenever you are so inclined."

"I thank you heartily," he said; and then added: "But I want you to promise me not to tell any of your father's family who I am, and leave me to introduce myself."

"I will try," replied the conscientious young lady, "but I am not sure I can remain in your presence and yet act as if you were an entire stranger."

Mr. Howard, who was sitting under one of the shade trees in his yard reading, hearing the tramp of horses' feet, looked up, and seeing his daughter and a stranger approaching, went forward to the gate to meet them.

As soon as the gentlemen had exchanged salutations, Adair at once spoke: "Pardon me, sir," he said, "I am a stranger here, on my way to Salem. My horse having fallen very lame, I took the liberty of asking this young lady-your daughter-how much farther I had yet to travel; and, after informing me, she kindly suggested that you could perhaps take temporary charge of my lame horse and provide me with another to go on to Salem."

"Certainly, sir, certainly," replied the hospitable Mr. Howard. "Get down and rest yourself. You shall have another horse; you can take this one of my daughter's, and yours shall be well cared for. But come into the house! Supper is about ready, and you will, I hope, break bread with us."

On entering the house, Mr. Howard, in a few words, stated to his wife what the gentleman had said to him, whereupon she welcomed him, and, after inviting him to be seated, joined in Mr. Howard's invitation to remain for supper.

Mrs. Howard, Adair observed, had become a rather stout and gray-haired matron, but retained much of the vivacity and all of the kindliness of manner that had characterized her when he last saw her. Supper was soon announced, and before it was over the stranger was asked, by Mr. Howard, what part of the country he was from.

"I was born in North Carolina," the gentleman answered, "but, when I was quite a small boy, I left that State with a family who moved to Tennessee." And, after a slight pause-during which he noticed Mrs. Howard observing him very attentively, and that Miss Howard's face was somewhat flushed, -he continued: "The family settled first at Knoxville, but afterwards moved farther west."

At the mention of Knoxville, Mrs. Howard appeared as if she were about to rise from her seat, but she was checked by Mr. Howard, who said: "Ah, indeed! I once lived in Knoxville for a year or two. About what year was it when you were there?"

"Let me see," answered the stranger, musingly, "how old was I then; yes-yes, it must have been the year 1806."

"Is it possible!" exclaimed Mr. Howard. "Why, that is the very year I lived there." Then, after a pause, he asked, "And did you ever know a man there by the name of Howard-Christopher Howard?"

"Howard! Howard! " queried the stranger, passing his hand across his forehead as if to refresh his memory. "Yes, I think -I am in fact quite certain I did. He was-let me see; yes, he was, if I remember correctly, from South Carolina, was a surveyor, and had a - " Here the speaker paused for a moment and glanced at Miss Howard, who appeared somewhat confused-apprehensive, possibly, of another allusion to a "pretty child." But no; the gentleman was too considerate to add to her embarrassment, which had already attracted the attention of her mother, and he continued: "Yes, and he had several children, and a fine dog -a large, well-trained cur, named Rover."

"Well, sir," exclaimed Mr. Howard, "I am that person! And will you permit me to ask -"

"What! my name?" said the stranger, interrupting him; and then added in a slow, distinct manner: "Have none of you any recollection of ever having seen me before?"

Before his question was fairly concluded Mrs. Howard had risen from her seat and was by the side of her guest-who, seeing her approach, had also risen to his feet-and, radiant with smiles, she held out her hands, saying: "I do! You are Joseph Adair!"

And scarcely had the young man said "I am, and grasped the extended hand of Mrs. Howard, than Miss Howard, unable longer to restrain her joyous excitement, clapped her hands and exclaimed "I knew it!" After the handshaking all round, and after warm expressions of delight at meeting again, there had to be a partial explanation of the introduction which had taken place on the road, omitting, of course, any reference to the "pretty child" and the "pebble."

The supper over, the party withdrew to the wide, open porch in front of the house, when questions and answers rapidly followed. Adair gave his friends a short sketch of his life, and the only news they had ever received of Mr. Morris and his family. On the other hand, he learned that Mr. and Mrs. Howard had now eleven children, five sons and six daughters, four of whom, one son and three daughters, were married and at their respective homes, leaving seven under the paternal roof, the youngest of whom was a lad some seven years of age. Conversation was kept up until a late hour, Adair having gladly consented to remain during the night. The adventure with the Indian, years before, and the incidents in the camp the following night, were freely canvassed, and Adair was glad to learn that the blacks, Peter, Fanny, and Nelson, were alive and hearty; that although old Rover, the dog, had years before finished his course and stood his last watch, yet two of his progeny were then in the yard, but, whilst as brave and as watchful as old Rover, lacked his training.

All were much pleased when they learned that Mr. Adair thought of making his home in Salem; if, after investigation, he found there was a good opening for him, of which Mr. Howard assured him there was no doubt.

When the hour had grown somewhat late, Mrs. Howard spoke to her youngest daughter, a gentle, blue-eyed pet of about ten years of age, and reminded her that it was time for a little miss like her to be in bed. The "little miss," however, seemed loath to leave, and it soon transpired that there was a certain important question bothering her little brain; and, impatient as childhood is, and inquisitive after the manner of her sex, she "threw a bomb-shell into the camp" by asking her mother-in what the child intended for a low voice, but which all present heard-"if that gentleman," nodding her head towards Mr. Adair, "was the boy that sister Laura put in her picture."

Mrs. Howard laughed heartily at the unexpected query; but not so Miss Laura, whose blushes and confusion occasioned some broad smiles and mischievous glances from her brothers. Mrs. Howard, however, promptly parried the little miss's question by asking Joseph-for so she addressed him -if he remembered to have given one of her children a present of a pretty little stone.

"Yes, madam," he answered. "I remember it well; it was the day we parted in Knoxville. It was a green pebble that I found in a small mountain stream in my native State, and I presented it, in part payment, for a-for a present made me by your then youngest daughter."

"Then, of course, you remember," said Mrs. Howard, "the same young lady's narrow escape from being run over in the road?"

"Indeed I do!" was the smiling reply. "And I hope the young lady has met with no more such incidents, and that she"-here he glanced at Miss Howard - "harbors no prejudice against such useful assistants as horses and wagons."

"None whatever," the latter replied, "for I am indebted to that incident and the precious stone -for such I am told it is-which you gave me, for the repeated mention of your name to me, and for the pleasure we all feel in welcoming you among us. And I sincerely hope there may now be some opportunity for us to repay the debt of gratitude that I, especially, owe you."

Joseph Adair keenly appreciated the evidently sincere and kindly words spoken by Miss Howard; but, looking into her blue eyes, he, in a deliberate and earnest tone, replied: "Please do not speak nor think of me again as a creditor of yours, nor of any member of this family; for, on the contrary, I feel that I am a debtor to all of you whom I knew in my somewhat lonely boyhood." Then, as if to turn the conversation into a more sociable channel, he turned to Mrs. Howard and playfully remarked: "But, madam, permit me to ask an explanation of Miss Sarah's remark about the picture."
"Ah! then I must tell you," replied Mrs. Howard, "that Laura is somewhat of an artist; that is, she is at least fond of making pictures; but I must refer you to her for the explanation you ask."

Miss Howard was a really modest young lady, but she was imbued with quick perception, and while she regretted that her little sister had let slip the secret-if such it could be called, for there had previously been no secret about the picture,-she saw that a frank explanation would, in the end, be the least embarrassing.

"My pictures, Mr. Adair," she said, "are, I fear, only daubs. I have never had a lesson in drawing or in coloring, nor have I ever been able to obtain watercolors or oil paints, but have been limited to the use of such dyes and stains, I may call them, as mother and I have known of and could procure. So much by way of apology for the picture, which I will show you tomorrow. As for the subject aimed at, I must tell you that when I was a little girl, my mother told me of my life having been saved by a boy, some ten or twelve years of age, of whom she so often spoke that it naturally awakened in me a great desire to see and know my rescuer. I was further told of the pretty green pebble given me by the same boy, that I might not forget him. My gem-of which I confess I have ever been very proud-has, of course, served constantly to remind me of the giver, and of the circumstances, as related to me, under which it was presented. All this I tried, two or three years ago, to embody in a picture, in which some "movers" wagons, ready for their ground, appear in the background, and, in the forearms, to whom-the child -a black-haired, black-eyed boy is presenting a pretty little stone. Of course, I have always called the boy in the picture by your name, and hence the question by my little sister."

Miss Howard's frank but modest speech touched Adair deeply. He had thought much of the pretty child that was now before him a beautiful woman. She, too, it appeared, had not only thought of him, whom she could not remember to have ever seen, but she had tried to conjure up his face and form from the realm of dreamland. Verily! "there were more things in earth and heaven" than were ever "dreamt of in man's philosophy." Then, might there not be sympathetic chords in human hearts, which, touched by unseen fingers, give forth no sound that mortal's ear can hear, but which possess such heavenly harmony that celestial spirits catch the strains, and transmit them back to earth again to some responsive soul?

That night Joseph Adair felt stirring in his bosom a passion he had never known. The spark had long been there, but ne'er before the all-consuming flame. He tried to think, to reason calmly on the subject, for he was not one to be carried away by impulse, or to let his passions force him into a current too strong for him to resist. His heart said, "Strike while the iron is hot," but his reason said, "Look before you leap." Then came the thought: "She entertains, perhaps, a romantic and exaggerated notion of the debt of gratitude she owes me for having saved her life when a child, but her heart may long since have been given to another. Then, too, for years past I have been a wanderer. I may not like Salem; may soon grow tired and long to resume my roving life. And I am poor; have no home, no house; only a few hundred dollars in money, and my skill as a workman. If I have health I have no fears, but who 'knows what a day or an hour may bring forth.' Heigh, ho! I must wait." Then came a few hours of dreamy, unrefreshing sleep.

The next morning by early dawn, Joseph Adair was up and dressed. As he descended from his room and passed out through the porch, he met no one and went on to the stable to look after his horse. There he met both old Peter and his son Nelson, who, having learned who the stranger was, came forward, in their humble but respectful manner, and, shaking hands, expressed their great delight at seeing "Mars Josef" again. In reply to their anxious enquiries, Mr. Adair told them of Mr. Morris and his family, and particularly of Stephen, Matilda, and Ben; and then asked about his horse.

"Oh, Mars Josef," answered Peter, "he's doin' fust rate. Ise don't know 'zactly what's de matter wif him; can't see no hurt; 'spect he's kinder sprained his paster-j'int. I washed it las' night an' rub'd on some operdildoc, an' it don't seem so sore dis momin'. But, Mars Josef, he aint fit fur ridin' yit. 'Spect de bes' t'ing ter do wif him, is to turn him in de grass lot, whar he kin walk about a little, an' stan' in de branch an' cool his hoof, if he wants ter."

"All right, Uncle Peter," replied the gentleman, "I leave him in your care; and, I think with you, it would be well to turn him in the lot where he can take gentle exercise. And now, Uncle Peter, where is Aunt Fanny? for I must see and shake hands with her also. "
"She's in de kitchen, sar, gittin' bre'kfust. I'll call her out, fur she'll be mi'ty glad ter see you."

The kitchen was detached from the main house, and stood in a comer of the yard close by; and when old Fanny - now grown to be very stout - came to the door, in answer to Peter's call, and saw the young gentleman, her broad, black face fairly glistened with delight; and, hastily wiping her hands on her flaxen apron, and, waiting for no introduction, shook him warmly by the hand. "God bress de boy she exclaimed. "What a man he's growed to be! An' I's mi'ty glad ter see you! We's all glad ter see you; 'tic'lar young missis, 'cause dat chil' 's mi'ty offen talked ter me 'bout de boy what grab'd her outen de way of de run-away wagon."

And the garrulous old darkey would have said much more, but at that moment, who should appear but Miss Laura, coming from the house to give some order about breakfast. She was skipping and bounding along the path through the grassy yard until she saw Mr. Adair, when she suddenly stopped, but soon came more slowly forward and, with a heightened color, took his proffered hand. After the usual morning salutation, "I hope," she said, "you rested well last night."

"Thank you," he replied, "but I cannot say I slept much, but it was not the fault of my bed, which was a more comfortable one than I have been accustomed to. I perhaps had too much to think about; and a busy brain, you know, is not a sleepy one."

When she had delivered her order and they were returning to the house, he smilingly resumed: "Seeing you so active and joyous this morning, I am sure you must have rested well last night, and had pleasant dreams."

"Oh, I fear," she replied, "I am rarely so quiet and sedate as I should be, and that there is more of the restless robin than of the quiet dove about me."

"But then! " he exclaimed, breaking out into impromptu rhyme -a not unfrequent mental performance:

When youth and beauty's pulse is throbbin',
You well may be the 'restless robin';
When age is sanctified by love,
You then should be the 'quiet dove.'"

"Well done! " she cheerily exclaimed. "And now-

Allow me, sir, to ask who wrote
The lines which you so aptly quote?"

"Professor Doggerel, of course!" he answered. "And I see," he humorously added, "that you are quite as familiar with his writings as I am."

But by this time they were at the house, and breakfast was soon announced. This meal is generally a hurried one, and more particularly was this, then, true in the West and South among slave-owners, who rose early in order to set the machinery for the day's work in motion. But this breakfast company was such a cheerful one, and there was so much pleasant chatting and talking, that the meal was unusually prolonged. As soon, however, as it was over, Mr. Howard rose and excused himself to his guest on the plea of having some pressing work to attend to; and, saying he would leave him in care of the ladies until dinner, walked away.

"Now for that celebrated picture!" said Mr. Adair, addressing Miss Howard, as they all adjourned to the porch, which, in such warm weather, was much more airy and comfortable than any of the rooms in the house. Miss Howard immediately withdrew to obtain the picture, which hung in her own room. But when in her room and alone she seated herself by the window. Her eyes wandered over a field of Indian corn in tassel, and over the green forest and high hills beyond, but she noted none of their beauties. She was thoughtful-appeared even sad. She had tried to think, the night before, but Ada, her sister, had plied her with so many questions, surmises, and conjectures, how could she? The dream of her life! was it to be a veritable reality? He, whom she had seen only through the mist of imagination, was now a guest in the house! But was he what she had painted? Alike, and yet unlike! When she had first seen him, she was surprised by the contrast, but hour by hour the shadow and the substance assimilated. He was usually grave-grave almost to sternness, but, underneath, there was a vein of pleasantry and even playfulness. He had shown this in the manner of introducing himself to her on the road, to the family at the table, and his rhyme about the "restless robin" and "the quiet dove." And yet he did not look as if he would have much patience with any one who crossed him. His eyes, too, were so black and piercing, they almost made her tremble. Thoughts like these passed rapidly through the fresh intuitive mind of this country maiden. Strangers she rarely saw. Is it, then, any wonder that when she saw one,-and more particularly this one who interested her so much, and around whom clustered so many dreams,-she should try to analyze the man by the first impressions made upon her? But she should not sit there longer. He might be surprised at her lengthened absence. "And, besides," she said to herself, "the sooner this picture show is over, the sooner I will get over my nervousness."

As soon as she appeared on the porch, her mother, who had noticed her long absence, playfully said to her, "Have you been retouching your picture?"

Now, 't is a well known psychological fact that young ladies, when embarrassed, are much more apt to make seemingly rude remarks than polite and pleasant speeches. So it was on this occasion. Besides, Miss Howard had never been nurtured to put a strict guard over her speech, but allowed, like a wild bird, to warble at her own free will. Hence, no sooner was her mother's question asked than she replied: "Only making the boy's face one shade darker, and cleaning the baby's face."

Of course, Mrs. Howard and Mr. Adair laughed at her sally. But was his a genuine laugh? Was there not something feigned about it? Such were the questions that instantly flashed across Miss Howard's mind, and, handing Mr. Adair the picture, she exclaimed: "Oh, Mr. Adair, forgive me for so rude a speech; of course, I only jested."

"Forgive you?" he said interrogatively, and speaking very earnestly. "Certainly! I know you would not paint me darker than I am."

He then bent his eyes upon the picture, which he examined long and attentively. The ideal likeness of himself was, of course, wide of the mark, excepting the black hair and eyes; but there was the fitting show of sadness in the face, and even traces of tears. The child had also a shade of sadness in her dimpled face and soft blue eyes; and while with one chubby hand she clutched the green pebble and pressed it to her lips, with the other hand she pointed to the wagon and running horses in the distance, from which the boy had rescued her. The mother's features were given with much fidelity.

"Well," said Mr. Adair, after his long and apparently close inspection, "I suppose you expect me to tell you what I think of your picture?"

"Certainly," answered the young lady, "but, in pity, be not too severe in your judgment."

"No danger of that," was the reply, and with evident candor he continued: "I am, of course, no judge of such work. I must, however, say that, after what you have told me, I am surprised at your skill. You evidently have a natural aptitude, or talent, for both drawing and coloring. The perspective of your picture strikes me as good, and the proportions of the several objects and figures accurate. In a few words, the picture, merely as such, pleases me, whilst with the subject, I can but be deeply impressed."

There was so much of seriousness in Mr. Adair's tone and manner that Miss Howard, on receiving the picture, looked and bowed rather than spoke her thanks for his commendation, and withdrew, to hang the picture again in its accustomed place.

To be continued.





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