Title: The Half-Breed; A Tale of the Western Frontier
Creator: Walt Whitman [listed as A Brooklynite]
Date: June 4, 1846
Whitman Archive ID: per.00357
Source: The Brooklyn Daily Eagle and King's County Democrat, June 4, 1846: . Transcribed from digital images of a microfilm reproduction of an original issue.
Contributors to digital file: Sara Duke and Nicole Gray
cropped image 1
Original Novelette (Continued).1
A TALE OF THE WESTERN FRONTIER.
BY A BROOKLYNITE.
Who could be more happy than Peter Brown's bride? She was a young and handsome woman, possessed of much good sense, and a strong faculty of making people become attached to her. On no occasion was this latter trait illustrated more pleasantly than in the intercourse and friendliness between her husband and herself on the one part, and him who has been spoken of in a preceding page as the Lonesome Man, on the other. Ever since the hour when the monk, or Father Luke, as he was also sometimes called, united them in marriage, he had apparently found a new impulse to be sociable, by visiting the house of the blacksmith.
There was considerable of mystery about the character of the holy man. No one knew his life. Sometimes he would be absent for months, and then would suddenly appear in his rude dwelling once more, as if returned from a distant journey. It was generally supposed that in these intervals he went away to the convents of his brethren in Canada. No one sought to pry into his designs or wishes. Yet he was by no means of an austere disposition, and might probably have answeredanwered their questions, had they seen fit to proffer any. But in the west, where every one is in some degree or other an adventurer, few wish to investigate the former history of their neighbours. Inquisitiveness does not prevail there, as in some other sections of our republic.
Much more frequently than before, as has been intimated, the monk now sought communion with the villagers, and most of all the Browns. On the day of the hunting-party, he came there, and though Peter himself was absent, he was invited by the young wife to rest himself, and remain and chat with her. So kindly werewhere her requests proposed, and so yearning, if the truth be told, were the Lonesome Man's wishes for some kind of companionship, that he made little demur to accepting the invitation. The hours passed on quite pleasantly—each mutually entertained with the presence and cheerfulness of the other.
"Father Luke," said the hostess, after a long pause in her conversation, "I know you will not be offended, if I tell you I have wondered how you can be comfortable in that cold cave of yours, where they say you reside."
The monk smiled, quietly.
"I have long learned," said he, "to be content with coarse fare and coarse accommodation. It is part of the duty of such as I."
"And were you always content?"
"Not always," was the subdued answer.
The monk saw that his companion would probably have spoken further, had she not feared intruding on his wish for concealment.
"Daughter," said he, "perhaps I have been looked upon, by the good people hereabout, too much as a being of mystery. I have little that I wish to conceal. I will, if you have patience to bear it, tell you my story. Some few items, your own good sense will inform you, it were better to pass no further."
The young woman was certainly not so far superior to the foibles of her sex, as to turn away from any thing in shape ofaf a secret. She made a gesture of assent, and the monk proceeded:
"I was born in a country town in Ireland. My parents were in the humbler walks of life, and of all their children I alone received what might be called a respectable education. Even in my early boyhood, I was destined for the church.
"When I was about eighteen years old, my mother died—a sad loss to us all. A year passed away, before the end of which, my father finding the cares and troubles of his family to press heavily upon him took unto himself another wife.
"I had a sister—a lovely girl, some two years younger than myself. My sister possessed in her character some of the most excellent, as well as some of the weakest propensities of her sex. She was capricious and headstrong—but tender, and very affectionate. Her beauty gained her many suitors—whom her whim induced her to discard, as they were generally of our own lowly condition.
"One summer, there came to reside, for a few days, in our village, a citizen, named Arnold. It was a dark hour for poor Mary, when he made his entrance there. He was handsome, fascinating, and a confirmed rake.2
"They met—this man and my sister. Arnold saw what a prize the place had hitherto unconsciously contained, and determined to win it. Ah, if she would but have taken warning—for she was warned!
"To make the tale short, Mary, refusing to hear the advice of her well-wishers, received Arnold to her love. He protracted his visit to many weeks. Before he returned to the city, he added another to his triumphs. My sister fell! O, when will the false tone which pervades society, make it needful to hold beyond the pale of its promiscuous communion, the man who acts as Arnold acted?
"But what am I saying? From whom could such sentiments come with a more ill grace than me—me, who have been guilty of a similar, and even worse, course of conduct!
"A few months passed on, and my sister's frailty could no longer be concealed. Our step-mother was a severe woman. Her cold and haughty looks, and her sharp taunts, drove poor Mary almost insane. My father, too, when he knew his daughter's disgrace, expressed a determination to cast her off forever. Had our own mother been alive, the case would no doubt have resulted differently. She might have stormed for a time—but at least the fatal termination which, as things were, came to pass, would have been prevented!
"One day my sister was missing. She had decamped in the night, and no doubt was wandering about homeless and shelterless. We caused search to be made, which, at the end of a couple of days, ended in the discovery of the lost one. She was completely deranged—and, when found, was seated upon a bank in a wide forest. She died within a week from that time.
"Death, they say, blots out all misdoings. We were all grieved and agonied at the fate of our hapless Mary—but none with that passion which filled my own bosom. I pondered, night and day, upon the wickedness of her seducer, Arnold. A hundred schemes for revenge were fixed upon in my mind, and then abandoned.
"Happening to go, about this period, upon business in a neighbouring city, I was accidentally called upon, at my lodgings, by an itinerant teacher of sword-fencing. Suddenly, a new method of vengeance struck me. Upon the instant, I engaged the man to give me lessons. I applied myself diligently to my new study, and within a short time had the satisfaction of hearing my teacher pronounce me one of the most proficient pupils he ever had. I challenged Arnold to combat. He accepted my challenge.
"Perhaps you may wonder that in view of the profession I intended to follow, I should have thought fit to act thus. I was blinded by my hate for my sister's betrayer. I was engrossed by no other thought than that of revenge!
"Arnold met me, as I demanded. Whether it was that a just cause nerved my arm, or that his was powerless with conscious guilt, I know not—but he fell. When I left the place of the fight, he lay there a stiff and senseless corpse!
"My antagonist had relatives and friends of rank; and it was plainly dangerous for me to remain in Ireland. I gathered together what funds I could raise on so sudden an emergency, and fled. I directed my course to this general country of refuge for the oppressed and the unfortunate, America.
"Good daughter, I am now coming to a part of my fortunes which I must fain hurry over with a rapid and casual narration.
"My desire for adventure led me West—even to this region, which at the time I speak of, nearly thirty years since, was far more wild and uncultivated than at present. A party of hunters and traders with whom I travelled, encamped on this very spot during one entire winter. We were in the neighborhood of a tribe of Indians whom they wished an opportunity of extended intercourse with, in the way of traffic.
"There was a young maiden of the tribe of—. Bah! why does the tell-tale colour rush up into my face, and mantle it with the hue of shame!
"An Indian girl, who visited our camp now and then, saw something in the young Irishman that awoke in her breast the flame which burns as brightly in the midst of the great new world forests, as in the populous places of the old hemisphere. She loved me—and I—I had nothing to interrupt the tedium of our long stay. We were both with the hot blood of young veins. At the coming of the spring, I left the place.
"Some four or five seasons afterward, I came hither again. They showed the child of the Indian girl—my son!—I almost shrieked with horror at the monstrous abortion! The mother herself had died in giving it birth. No wonder. Never had my eyes been blasted with so much ugliness as that hunchback boy!
"Daughter, that child even now moves among you, an object of pity and disgust. Can you wonder when I tell you it is no other than the half-idiot, half-devil, Boddo?
"My wild and wayward course of life, for the next few years, I shall not pause to dwell upon.
"In the course of time, a poignant sense of my ill deeds, and a sickened feeling of the vanity of all human enjoyments, led me to take the vows of the order I now form an humble member of.
"One of the rules of our rigorous piety is, that a full and open confession of any sins that lie upon the breast, shall be given ere a man can become one of our community. By the advice of my superior, and prompted too by my own conscience, I have been aware that the least return I can make the wretched Boddo, for having been the author of his existence, is, to do my best toward opening his mind to the blessing of the True Faith.
"For this purpose I come every few months hither. I have laboured diligently to educate and imbue with devout feelings the unfortunate young man—but his besotted nature and wilful peevishness lead me to believe that my labours will too probably be in vain.
"Your look seems to ask me why I do not take him to a more congenial region for giving him the benefits of religion. Of what use would it be?—Now, no one knows the degree of relationship that exists between us, except yourself, and my holy intimates. Boddo, himself, is, of course, totally ignorant of it.
"Leaving the matter in the hands of Providence, and painfully conscious that naught which I could do, would benefit the condition of the poor creature—I have made up my mind that when I leave this place, as I shall shortly do, to return to my convent and my brethren, it will be to spend the rest of my days there, and to see this spot and my miserable offspring no more."
Toward the latter part of Father Luke's narration, he had been somewhat interrupted by sundry distant shouts, and sounds of tumult. Mrs. Brown, deeply interested in his story, had paid but little attention to them—but now the clang came nearer and nearer, and loud and agitated voices sounded out in the road near the door.
A moment longer, and the door opened quickly, and a man, the elder brother of the young wife, rushed toward her with his face very pale, and every sign of horror andend agitation.
"O, sister!" he cried, "Peter Brown is murdered, in the forest, by the Indian, Arrow-Tip!"
The startled woman looked a moment in his face, as if to assure herself that she heard aright. She saw crowding in at the door, and out upon the road, the forms of many of the neighbours. Then all swam before her eyes, and she fainted in her brother's arms.
[To be continued.]3
1. This installment is preceded on the front page of the Eagle by a poem titled "Summer," labeled "For the Daily Eagle." No author is listed. [back]
2. The word "rake" was used to describe a fashionable individual with dissolute or self-indulgent habits. [back]