A TRADE THE BEST INHERITANCE

The boys standing, as it were, upon their father’s shoulders,
sympathizing with and aiding him to the utmost of their ability, early
obtained a knowledge of working iron far beyond their years, and
contracted a love for the occupation, especially Clem, who seemed to
inherit all the patience, energy and originality of his father, together
with an amiable disposition and strength of limb. Until Clem was
nineteen they lived at home, doing nearly all the farming work, and at
the same time helping their father in the shop. They were then desirous
of going where a better quality of work was demanded than in their
native place.

“Well, boys,” said Richardson, “I’m entirely willing you should go. I
began too late–had too little to do with, no tools, and poverty to
struggle with–to accomplish much. I’ve done the best I could; but I
want you to have a better chance. I think you’ve both got the mechanical
principle in you, and had better go where you can work it out, have
tools to work with, and learn all that comes up.”

They went to Portsmouth, New Hampshire, where their father had
relatives, and after working a week on trial, were both hired as
journeymen. Clem never wanted to meddle with anything but edge tools,
displaying remarkable ability for that kind of work, while Robert proved
an excellent shoer, and had but few equals in wheel-tiring and all kinds
of carriage work. He could also make a wheel as well as iron it, and
manifested his father’s ability for working in wood. Learning the use of
hammer and file when mere children, and growing up to it, their work had
a finish about it that is seldom attained by those who commence work in
manhood, and when their habits are formed.

After perfecting their trade, they hired a shop and set up business for
themselves, Clem devoting the greater part of his time to making edge
tools, while Robert attended to the other portion of the work. Business
was good, and they accumulated property, and frequently sent money to
their parents, and cherished a strong affection for their native place,
going home every year to Thanksgiving.

When the boys had been a year from home, their father went to visit
them. At his leaving, the boys would have loaded him with
tools,–“swages,” “fullers,” “screw-taps,” “drills,” and “shears,” to
cut iron,–but he refused to take them.

“You know, boys,” said he, “I like to make things myself, and think as
much again of anything I make myself. I’m just as much obliged to you as
though I took them. I’ve seen all the tools you have here, and been
round among the shops and seen all the ways they do their work, and I’ll
go home and make every one of these tools; and I think I can improve
upon some of them. I’ve got help now, for Henry Bradford, John’s boy, is
coming to work with me, and learn the trade–that is, learn what little
I know.”

Finding he did not incline to take the tools, they put a lot of iron and
steel on board the sloop in which he started to return by the way of
Kennebunk, or, rather, Cape Porpoise, which was the landing-place then.

There was a little girl, Lucy Armstrong, who went to school with Clem
when it was kept in David Montague’s house, and they formed a childhood
liking for each other which continued and strengthened as they grew
older. Lucy was a girl of excellent abilities, the best scholar in the
school, and as she grew up manifested qualities that are not often
united. She possessed great energy of character, a robust constitution,
and most affectionate disposition. Everybody loved and pitied Lucy; for
her girlhood was embittered by many trials and sorrows.

Her father she never saw to recognize; he was killed by a bear when she
was a babe, and her mother was taken away when she was four years old.
Lucy, after her mother’s death, went to live with an uncle–her father’s
brother. He was a hard, penurious man, and his wife resembled him, being
a morose, griping woman, with no children of her own to draw out her
affections and sweeten her disposition. She made poor Lucy serve with
rigor. She was poorly clad, poorly fed, went barefoot in the summer and
till late in the fall, was obliged to work both out doors and in. When
dropping corn and potatoes in the spring, her feet were red as a
pigeon’s with cold, and in the fall they bled from being pricked with
the stubble. In the cold nights of November she must sit in the barn and
husk corn. The old folks did not intend to be cruel; but they had been
hardly dealt by themselves in childhood and youth, and hard treatment
renders people hard and callous in their treatment of others.

In one respect they faithfully discharged their duty–in sending her to
school every day so long as it kept, which was at first but six weeks in
the winter, but by the time Lucy was thirteen increased to fourteen
weeks; and after the town was incorporated and the ordinances of the
gospel established, she went to meeting every Sabbath. School days and
Sundays were the green spots, and all the green spots, in Lucy’s
cheerless life of incessant toil, save the few moments when sent to hunt
eggs; and hidden in the haymow from the eagle eye of her aunt, she read
Clem’s letters for the hundredth time. Clem seldom came to the house; a
visit from him put her aunt into a perfect fury, as she was unwilling to
lose so good a drudge.

“Get married!” she would say, “yes, that’s all girls nowadays think of.
Wonder what they expect to live on. Better get something ahead first.”

Although how she was to get anything ahead while spending her youth and
strength in their service did not appear, especially as her uncle had
made his will, and left all his property to a nephew as close-fisted as
himself. He often remarked “that he meant to leave what he had got by
hard knocks to somebody who knew how to take kere of it.”

“Clem,” said Robert, when the time during which they had hired as
journeymen had nearly expired, “if ever you mean to marry that girl, why
don’t you do it? What do you let her stay there for, suffer everything
but death, slave herself, and dry up, working for that old skinflint and
his woman? They’d move into a mustard seed, and then have rooms to let.
If you don’t, I’ll go and court her myself.”

“I mean to the moment I feel that I can support her comfortably. You
know I’m like father–one of the kind to cut my garment according to the
cloth. I don’t want to make her worse off than she is now.”

“That’s impossible. Get along with you; go hire two rooms somewhere, and
then go and get her. I’ll board with you. Nothing comes amiss to her;
she’s a treasure of a girl, smart as steel, and pleasant as a May
morning. What did father and mother have when they set up, and see where
they are now.”

Clem took his brother’s advice. Lucy’s aunt raved like a mad woman at
first; but when she found that it was no use, and the neighbors were all
against her, she calmed down, gave Lucy a bed and pillows stuffed with
turkey feathers, and said they would be on the town before two years.
She proved a false prophetess. In two years they were blessed with a
nice baby. Clem and Robert had all the work they could do, the hammer
going every evening till nine o’clock in the winter months, though they
still lived in two rooms, with the privilege of another for occasional
use. They continued to thrive till the war of 1812, when the brothers
took a contract from the government to bore cannon, which, proving a
very profitable job, left them with abundant means. Robert still
continued to board with his brother, and, remaining single, put all his
money into the firm.

William Richardson, accumulating property by his trade, bought a piece
of timber land every year, and let it lie. In the latter part of his
life the rise in the value of this land made him affluent. At his
decease this portion of his property fell to the sons, his wife having
died some years before him, and the daughters receiving their portion in
money. The shop remained as it was; Clem would have nothing touched. It
was not, to be sure, the original log hovel; but it was the same forge,
and the building stood on the same spot. The old pine stump still formed
the anvil block, and the hammer fashioned from the andirons still lay on
the anvil, just as his father had left it after his last day’s work.
There also were the tongs made from the legs of the kitchen tongs, and
the sledge forged from the churn-drill.

After the war business revived, and there was a great demand for lumber.
The Richardsons sold out at Portsmouth, returned to their native place,
bought the old mill privilege, and went to lumbering. Strange to say,
Clement Richardson and his wife, although retaining their simple and
industrious habits, felt that they did not want their children to work
as hard as they had; and going to the other extreme, while affording
them all the advantages of education and culture their altered
circumstances enabled them to bestow, trained them up in a way that
rendered them in all matters of practical life absolutely helpless.

This, as our readers know, was the character of Rich when he entered
college; he could scarcely tie his own shoes. The good fortune of
stumbling upon Morton for a while roused the energies that lay buried
beneath this effeminate training; but after separating from his mates,
he relapsed gradually into his former habits.

Thus passed the first year after leaving college; but with the
succeeding spring came something that, like to the shock of an
earthquake, effectually roused Rich from his poetic reveries and visions
of high art, rent with a rude hand the tissue of the dream-robe fancy
had woven, and set him face to face with the bitter, stern realities of
life.

Clement Richardson was naturally a prudent man, averse to incurring risk
of any kind; but uninterrupted success in all his plans for thirteen
years had rendered him sanguine. He found, soon after engaging in
lumbering, that very little was to be realized from small operations;
that, to accumulate, a person must either possess the capital and risk
it, or hire money and run the risk of losing that. He and his brother,
stimulated by the high price of lumber at that time, and intoxicated by
good fortune in lesser adventures, hired money largely, and expended
every dollar of their own in land and logs. They had a good drive, early
in the spring the logs were in the booms, and the mills running night
and day to manufacture them, in order to meet demands that were fast
maturing. The price of lumber was still high, future prospects were most
flattering, and the Richardsons felt that a fortune was within their
grasp, when rain began to fall while the water was still almost at
freshet pitch, and there was much snow in the woods at the head waters
of the river.

Clement concealed his anxiety from his children, and in some measure
from his wife, who, although she knew that great loss would follow the
breaking of the booms, was utterly ignorant of the extent of her
husband’s liabilities and of the crisis at hand.

Directly after supper the two brothers went out. Rich occupied a good
portion of the evening in reciting to his mother and sisters a poem he
had spent weeks in composing. After the children had retired, Lucy
Richardson sat sewing, wondering at the continued absence of her husband
and his brother, and listening to the roar of water. At length there
came a crash; she with difficulty suppressed a scream. In a few moments
a servant came to tell her one of the mills had gone.

“Where is my husband, Henry?”




“He and Mr. Robert are watching the boom.”

Another weary hour passed, when Clement Richardson came in; he was pale,
haggard, and dripping with water.

“Lucy,” he said, “I am _ruined_ and _Robert_ with me. All the money we
had outside of our real estate was in those logs, and they have gone
into the Atlantic, the mills with them, and it will take all our real
estate, furniture, and the house over our heads to pay the money we’ve
borrowed.” In those days creditors made a clean sweep, took everything
worth taking, and the wife’s property was held for the husband’s debts.

“It’s a great misfortune, husband; but it might have been much worse.”

“Worse, Lucy? How can a man lose more than all?”

“It would have been worse to lose health,–worse to lose our love for
each other, if such a thing could be,–worse to have a wicked,
disobedient, or deformed child; and I am sure it would be worse to lose
character, which you won’t if you have property enough left to pay all
you owe. It would certainly have been worse had it come when we were
past labor; and I’m sure we were happier before we moved into this
house, and when you were working at your trade, than we have ever been
since.”

“But the children, Lucy. I see it all now as one sees everything when it
is too late. We thought we had enough for them and us, and have taught
them everything except how to take care of themselves.”

“They will learn that. They are not too old to learn.”

The property of the brothers, very valuable, was sold, and the proceeds
divided among the creditors, who all relinquished voluntarily the
interest on their demands. This left the brothers, after paying
everything, one hundred and fifty dollars, as the remnant of a large
property. David Montague was dead; but his son Andrew inherited not only
his father’s property, but his principles. One of the creditors, he bid
off the old Richardson homestead, house, shop, and outbuildings. As soon
as the business was settled, he offered Clement Richardson money to go
into business again. The latter thanked him for the offer, but said he
intended, as soon as he could find a place to work, to go back to his
anvil.

“Clem,” said Andrew Montague, “our fathers come here and cut the first
trees together, and lived and died fast friends; you and I have grown up
together, and been just as good friends. I know you are proud-spirited,
and I love you all the better for it; but I beg of you, let me do this
much. There is the old shop; nothing has been disturbed; and there are
the tools your father _began_ with, and those more modern ones he used
in his latter days. Take it, rent free, and I’ll bring you a
fortnight’s work to-morrow morning. I will let you have the house as
soon as Coleman, whose family are sick, leaves it.”

“I’ll take it, Andrew, in the spirit in which it is offered, and may God
bless you. There’s luck in that old hammer that lies on the anvil where
father left it. The first blow I ever struck on iron I struck with that,
and the first work I ever did was to make a pair of bow-pins for your
father.”

As soon as Morton could leave the scholars he was instructing in
private, he set forward in the stage to see Rich, and well aware, by
letters received, of what had occurred, made inquiries, on arriving, for
the shop. Peering into the door around the corner of another building,
he saw a tall, strong-built man, past middle age, fitting a horse-shoe
at the anvil. Another person, of about the same age, but more slightly
built, was tearing the shoe from a horse’s foot. A bar of iron was
heating in the fire, apparently to make a new shoe, and at the bellows
stood Rich, the glory of Radcliffe, class poet, elegant scholar; those
finely-cut and delicate features, that no one could look upon without
interest, begrimed with smut, save where partially streaked with streams
of sweat; for it was a warm afternoon in May. As he turned towards the
fire, to look at the iron, Morton slipped behind him and laid his hand
upon the shoulders of Rich.