Norwood, chapter 2

July 10, 2015

[Well, oops:  I left out chapter 2!]

ABIAH CATHCART.Abiah Cathcart was an honorable specimen of a New-England farmer. Any one accustomed to judge of men would see at a glance that he did not belong to that class of farmer-drudges, who tease Nature for a living, and make up for lack of skill and knowledge of their business by an insatiable and tormenting industry. He thought out his work, and then worked out his thoughts. He was a man of great bodily strength; of calmness and patience, joined to an inflexible will. His face accurately recorded his nature. It was large-framed, not mobile, but clear and open in expression; it exhibited more of goodness and wisdom, than of felling or imagination. Had he been clothed in the habiliments and seated on the bench of a court, every one would have said, “He looks every inch a judge.”

He received from his parents a healthy body, a sound judgment, habits of industry, a common-school education, and besides, nothing;—save their good name and wholesome example. In all his boyhood, and till he was eighteen years old, he had probably never altogether had five dollars of “spending money” from his father. He used to tell his own boys, afterward, with some quiet pride, that he had never spent for mere pleasure a single dollar which he had not himself earned by hard work. He believed it to be almost immoral to spend property which had not been seasoned by one’s own toil or skill. He used to say that pleasure was wholesome and indispensable when one had earned a right to it, but that amusement got for nothing relaxed a man and demoralized him.

When he was eighteen years old, Cathcart bought his time of his father for two hundred dollars. These were considered very liberal terms in those days. A son’s services for three years before his majority were no small part of the working capital of a small farm.

Being master of his time, he considered and made an inventory of his goods and properties. First, there was a good stout body, six feet high and well developed; a face and head that an honest man need not be ashamed to carry through the world. Next, he had a suit of new woollen clothes, and one old suit; six pairs of woollen stockings, which his mother’s own hands had knit from wool which grew, under his own eye, on his father’s flock; a pair of new thick boots for Sundays, an every-day pair, an axe, a brave heart—honest and steadfast; this was all that he carried out of his father’s house. No! He carried likewise his father’s blessing—unspoken, but not the less real; and his mother’s prayers, silent and gentle, but which could never miss the road to the throne of all bounty!

Life was before him. He did not waver an hour as to his plans. He was a farmer’s son, he knew how to work, and by work he meant to thrive. His vision of success was not extravagant—a homestead and a family; and property to support and educate his children until they should be old enough to take care of themselves. This was the measure of his dream.

This ought not to seem difficult. and it would not be, in new regions where land may be had for a nominal price, and where the climate prolongs the summer, while it straitens the winter within narrow bounds. But in old New England, in the neighborhood of large towns, where land is expensive, summers short, winters long, and the soil not indulgent, yielding its moderate crops to coercion rather than to coaxing, it is not easy for a man who has only his own hands for a capital to buy a farm, stock it, earn upon it the means of paying for it, and at the same time to support a growing family.

This did Abiah Cathcart by intelligent industry and sturdy perseverance. Not a thing did he ever get by craft. And who shall blame his honest pride, afterward, when he was wealthy, that he had created his own fortune? Wealth created without spot or blemish is an honest man’s peerage; and to be proud of it is his right. It is not the empty pride of money, but pride of skill, of patience, of labor, of perseverance, and of honor, which wrought and secured the wealth!

When he left his father’s house he hired out at teaming, twelve dollars a month and found. Cathcart had this sign of a sound nature—that he loved a horse. His employer gave him some discretion in buying and selling; and soon, by purchase and exchange, Cathcart had made up the best team in the neighborhood. Nothing went over the road that everybody stared at more than his horses. It pleased him to see men pull up, look over the horses, and exclaim:

“That’s a team for you! I say, mister, will you sell those horses?”

He was pleased almost every day. His horses were moderately large but compact, and the very models of strength. Look at them! The fine ear, the clean and finished look of their heads, and, above all, the large, lively eyes that easily change expression, and you will see that they have nerve as well as muscle. If you doubt, you should see them when a heavy load threatens to stall them; the rousing, the excitement, the prodigious swell of muscles, and, when the load is safely brought up or through, the nervous flash of the eye, and the restless champ upon the bit! He loved their company—loved to feed them—loved to take his book (he was ever and always a reader) at noon, after his frugal meal was done, and sit by his team, while the horses ground their oats, or cracked and craunched their Indian corn. Do you wonder, reader, at such pleasure? Then you know little of some scenes of life. Ask an old Western wagoner, what have been the happiest hours of his life—and he will tell you—

“Well, stranger, I’ve seen some pretty jolly times. but, for solid comfort, I think I’ve enjoyed the most when I was laying in my wagon near a creek, and the fire was flickering among the trees, and I was jest goin’ to sleep—I think I never heard anything quite so pleasant as my horses, at both ends of the wagon, chankin corn!”

His employer died. It being autumn, Cathcart engaged to clear off a piece of mountain wood, and haul it to town, at so much a cord. Doing well at this, the next fall he took a contract for making charcoal, and became almost a hermit in the woods—chopping, piling, and tending the heap; and, until he had completed the job, living in a shanty of his own construction.

In summer, he worked upon the farm, getting fair wages; and thus, in five years, he found himself rich—for he had earned a thousand dollars and won a royal woman’s heart.


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