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Fortunes of a Country-Boy; Incidents in Town—and His Adventure at the South


A Tale of Long-Island.


Incidents in Town—and his Adventure at the South.1

Chapter I.

ONE bright cool morning in the autumn of 183–, a country market wagon, which also performed the office of stage-coach2 for those whose means or dispositions were humble enough to be satisfied with its rude accommodations, was standing, with the horses harnessed before it, in front of a village inn, on the Long Island turnpike. As the geography of some reader may be at fault to tell the exact whereabouts of this locality, I may as well say, that Long Island is a part of the State of New York, and stretches out into the Atlantic, just south-eastward of the city which is the great emporium of our western world. The most eastern county of the island has many pretty towns and hamlets; the soil is fertile, and the people, though not refined or versed in city life, are very intelligent and hospitable. It was in that eastern county, on the side nearest the sea, that the road ran on which the market-wagon just mentioned was going to traverse. The driver was in the bar-room, taking a glass of liquor.

As the landlord, a sickly-looking, red-nosed man, was just counting out the change for the one dollar bill out of which the price of the brandy was to be taken, a stranger enters upon the scene. He was a robust youth, of about twenty years; and he carried an old black leather valise in his hand, and a coarse overcoat hanging on his arm. The proprietor of the vehicle standing outside, knew, with the tact of his trade, the moment this young man hove in sight, that he probably wished to take passage with him. The stranger walked along the narrow path that bordered the road, with a ligth and springy step; and as he came toward the tavern, the personages who noticed him, thought they saw him brushing something from his eyes—the traces of tears, as it were. Upon the valise which he carried in his hand, was tacked a small card, on which was written, "Franklin Evans."

Reader, I was that youth; and the words just quoted, are the same of the hero of the tale you have now begun to peruse. Flattered shall I feel, if it be interesting enough to lead you on to the conclusion!

"What, Frank, is it you?" said the landlord's wife to me, coming in from an adjoining room at this moment. "Surely you cannot be going from the village? How are all your uncle's folks this morning? Baggage with you, too! Then it must be that you leave us, indeed."

"I am bound for New York," was my brief answer to the somewhat garrulous dame, as I opened the old-fashioned half-door, and entered the house. I threw my valise upon a bench, and my over-coat upon it.

The good landlady's further inquisitiveness was cut short, by my taking the driver out to his wagon, for the purpose of making arrangements and settling the price of my passage. This was soon concluded, and my rather limited stock of travelling gear was safely deposited on the top of some baskets of mutton in the rear of the vehicle.

Upon getting into the waggon, I found that it already had four occupants, whom I had not seen before; as the canvass top had concealed and sheltered them, and they had remained silent during my conversation with the driver and the people of the tavern. Some part of what I learned about these personages, in the course of our journey, I may as well state here.

There was a young man about four or five years older than myself. His name was John Colby. He was a book-keeper in a mercantile establishment in the city, and from his lively, good-tempered face, one might easily judge that fun and frolic were the elements he delighted in. Colby sat on the same seat with myself, and not many minutes passed away before we were on quite sociable terms with one another.

Back of us sat an elderly country woman, who was going to visit a daughter. Her daughter, she took occasion to inform us, had married a very respectable citizen about three months previous, and they now lived in good style in the upper part of a two story house in Broome street. The woman was evidently somewhat deficient in perception of the ridiculous—as she herself was concerned; but still, as she was a woman, and a mother, and her conversation was quite harmless—no one thought of evincing any sign of amusement or annoyance at her rather lengthy disquisitions upon what, to us, were totally uninteresting topics.

At her side was a middle-aged gentleman, named Demaine. He was dressed with such exceeding neatness, that I could not but wonder how he came to ride in so homely a conveyance. Of his character, more will be learned in the subsequent pages.

On the back seat of all, and crowded among a heterogenous mass of 'market truck,' sat a gentleman, the last of my four companions. I could occasionally hear him humming a tune to himself, which was proof that he did not feel in any other than a pleasant mood. He was dressed plainly, though I thought richly; and I understood by my friend, the driver, at one of the stopping places, that his rear passenger had come with him from an obscure village, whence there was no other conveyance, and where he had been for sporting purposes.

The journey on which we were all bound, (each of us was going to New York,) might have been rather monotonous, were it not that after a few miles we most of us allowed the reserve of strangers to melt away, and began to treat one another as familiar acquaintances. My neighbor by the side of the country woman, was the only exception to this. He preserved a stiff pragmatical demeanor, and evidently thought it beneath him to be amused, and quite indecorous to join in the laugh at our little witticisms. Colby and I, however, chatted away, occasionally interchanging a remark with the gentleman on the back seat, whom we found to be quite a fine fellow, according to our notions. Though there was a species of dignity about him which forbade too near an approach of familiarity, there was nothing of that distant haughtiness which characterized our other male passenger.

With the disposition of cheerful hearts, we found a source of pleasure in almost everything. The very slowness and sleepiness of the pace with which our horses jogged along, was the text for many a merry gibe and humorous observation. Entering into the spirit of our gayety, the sportsman in the further seat entertained us with numerous little anecdotes, many of them having reference to scenes and places along the road we were passing. He had, he told us, a fondness for prying into the olden history of this, his native island; a sort of antiquarian taste for the stories and incidents connected with the early settlers, and with the several tribes of Indians who lived in it before the whites came.

Chapter II.

As it was now past noon, we began to feel as though we should be none the worse for our dinner. Accordingly, in good time, our driver drew up at a low-roofed public house,3 and proceeded with great deliberation to ungear his horses, for the purpose of giving them a temporary respite from their labors.

Glad of being able to get out in the open air, and upon our legs once more, myself and Colby (for we had become quite cronies) sprang lightly from the vehicle, and bouncing along the little door yard, felt quite refreshed at stretching our cramped limbs on the low porch which ran along in front of the house, Demaine got out very leisurely, and with a cool disdainful look, stood by the front wheels of the wagon, eyeing the house and the people of the place, some of whom now made their appearance. The country woman also made a movement forward.—She was a fat and somewhat clumsy dame; and we thought the least Demaine could do, would be to offer her some assistance in getting down upon the ground. He stood in such a position himself, that he effectually precluded any one else from offering that assistance. But he continued his contemptuous stare, and paid, apparently, not the least attention to what was going on around him.

Turning around a moment to look at Colby, who called my attention in the room, the next minute my hearing was assailed by a quick clear cry; and upon looking toward the wagon, I saw that the woman had entangled her dress and was on the point of falling. A little longer, and she might have been down upon that part of the vehicle just behind the horses, or even under their feet; and yet Demaine, with his arrogant look, offered her no assistance! I sprang toward her; but before I could reach the place, the antiquary had rapidly jumped out upon the ground, and was safely landing her beside him. The incident was a trifling one; but I don't know that I ever, merely from one item of conduct, took such a dislike to any man as I did to Demaine, from that occurrence.

I thought I noticed during our dinner, that the antiquary regarded Demaine with peculiarly cool and distant demeanor. To us, he was affable and pleasant, and polite in his attentions to the lady; but though not rude, I am sure the same feelings which took root in my own mind, started in his also.

To be continued.4


1. In his revision to the story of Franklin Evans, Whitman omitted the temperance frame and much of the content having to do with alcohol and temperance. He also revised the title to reflect the story's shift to a more general piece of sensational fiction. For a discussion of this and other revisions, see Stephanie Blalock and Nicole Gray, "Introduction to Franklin Evans and 'Fortunes of a Country-Boy.'" For a complete list of revisions (not including changes to punctuation), see Thomas L. Brasher, ed., The Collected Writings of Walt Whitman: The Early Poems and the Fiction (New York: New York University Press, 1963), 124–239. [back]

2. The stagecoach was a horse-drawn vehicle that transported passengers or parcels on a regular schedule. [back]

3. A public house could refer to a pub or tavern; or an inn that provided travelers with food, drink, and lodging. [back]

4. Click here for the next installment of "Fortunes of a Country-Boy." [back]

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