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A Frontier Romance: A Tale Of Jumel Mansion
by [?]

I

A new settlement in a new country: no contemporary mind can conceive the possibilities of future greatness that lie in the fulfilment of its prophecy.

A long, irregular quadrangle has been hewn from the woods bordering the north bank of the Ohio River. Scattered through the clearing are rude houses, built of the forest logs. Bounding the space upon three sides, and so close that its storm music sounds plain in every ear, is the forest itself. On the fourth side flows the wide river, covered now, firm and silent, with a thick ice blanket. Across the river on the Kentucky shore, softened by the blue haze of distance, another forest crowds down to the very water’s edge.

It is night, and of the cabins in the clearing each reflects, in one way or another, the character of its builder. Here a broad pencil of light writes “Careless!” on the black sheet of the forest; there a mere thread escaping tells of patient carpentry.

At one end of the clearing, so near the forest that the top of a falling tree would have touched it, stood a cabin, individual in its complete darkness except for a dull ruddy glow at one end, where a window extended as high as the eaves. An open fire within gnawed at the half-green logs, sending smoke and steam up the cavernous chimney, and casting about the room an uncertain, fitful light–now bright, again shadowy.

It was a bare room that the flickering firelight revealed, bare alike as to its furnishings and the freshness of its peeled logs, the spaces between which had been “chinked” with clay from the river-bank. Scarcely a thing built of man was in sight which had not been designed to kill; scarcely a product of Nature which had not been gathered at cost of animal life. Guns of English make, stretched horizontally along the walls upon pegs driven into the logs; in the end opposite the wide fireplace, home-made cooking utensils dangled from the end of a rough table, itself a product of the same factory. In front of the fire, just beyond the blaze and the coals and ashes, were heaped the pelts of various animals; black bear and cinnamon rested side by side with the rough, shaggy fur of the buffalo, brought by Indians from the far western land of the Dakotas.

Upon the heap, dressed in the picturesque utility garb of buckskin, homespun, and “hickory” which stamped the pioneer of his day, a big man lay at full length: a large man even here, where the law of the fittest reigned supreme. A stubbly growth of beard covered his face, giving it the heavy expression common to those accustomed to silent places, and dim forest trails.

Aside from his size, there was nothing striking or handsome about this backwoods giant, neither of face nor of form; yet, sleeping or waking, working or at leisure, he would be noticed–and remembered. In his every feature, every action, was the absolute unconsciousness of self, which cannot be mistaken; whether active or passive, there was about him an insinuation of reserve force, subtly felt, of a strong, determined character, impossible to sway or bend. He lay, now, motionless, staring with wide-open eyes into the fire and breathing slowly, deeply, like one in sleep.

There was a hammering upon the door; another, louder; then a rattling that made the walls vibrate.

“Come!” called the man, rousing and rolling away from the fire.

A heavy shoulder struck the door hard, and the screaming wooden hinges covered the sound of the entering footfall.

He who came was also of the type: homespun and buckskin, hair long and face unshaven. He straightened from a passage which was not low, then turning pushed the unwieldy door shut. It closed reluctantly, with a loud shrilling of its frost-bound hinges and frame. In a moment he dropped his hands and impatiently kicked the stubborn offender home, the suction drawing a puff of smoke from the fireplace into the room, and sending the ashes spinning in miniature whirlwinds upon the hearth.