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gentleman who helped me in my civilengineering.
Myndert Gerrit came from Schenectady to found the place. He was a rich man by inheritance, and he had more
over inherited pride, ambition, and a
As he stood on the hill to the southwest of his new purchase, Myndert Gerrit saw before him three wooded promontories stretching out into the lake-Near Point to the east, Far Point to the west, and Middle Point, shorter by half than its neighbors, nestling between them, and dividing a large bay into tv snug harbors. Middle Point must have been, centuries ago, as long
as the others, but it had been fighting a slowly losing battle with the mighty current from the west that swept inward from Far and out again past the end of Near Point. This current made entrance to the western harbor difficult -even dangerous-but the eastern it was an easier matter to reach, and, once in, the largest ship on the lake could lie in safe water while the northwester went by Far and Near and the current hammered away at Middle, making a poor foot a year out of the firm, rootbound soil. And at the head of this little haven the land lay in a low plateau, forming a natural levee.
Here came Myndert Gerrit, in 1822, with his only son (he was a widower) and his whole household, including ten free negroes, formerly his slaves. The son was then a man of thirty, unmarried and devoted in all things to his father. They were constant companions, and as far as I could learn, they cared little for other society. Gerrit reserved the high eastern promontory for his own mansion. He laid the foundation that year, while he and his people lived in log-cabins. During the summer he surveyed the level land, and staked it out for streets. In the fall he went to New York, and he returned the next spring, leading a caravan of some twenty families, and bringing with him the machinery for a saw-mill and a grist-mill. It was a long and tiresome journey: a great labor of transportation; but, by water and by wagon, they made it in about a
Laborers came from neighboring villages (or rather settlements) and ground was broken without delay. They cut a good road running two miles to the eastward, where it opened up a branch of Gravelly River, which gave them flatboat navigation to the line of the Grand Canal, as they called the Erie, at that time within a year or two of completion.
The mansion on Near Point was finished in September, and the two Gerrits went to live in it. Standing at his west window late one afternoon, he looked out and saw a sight that filled him with pride. Middle Point was shorn of every tree, and bristled only with surveyor's stakes. Only the great gaps in the earth showed where the twisted roots
'Myndert Gerrit saw before him three wooded promontories stretching out into the lake."
had been, and these were growing into larger holes, that marked the sites of houses to be. Up in the streets back of the levee a few light structures had already arisen. Two or three temporary docks stretched out into the quiet blue waters of the harbor. Myndert Gerrit looked longest at Middle Point, now a low table of land with water on both sides. A street-or what was to be a street-ran down its middle, from the water to where, at the mainland, it joined the great road that stretched away through the woods to the river-to the great world-to trade and life and fortune.
Now," he said to his son, "my part is done. I have made all ready for them. Now we may begin to look for returns.'
Ay, Myndert Gerrit, your part is done, and it was done when you uprooted the first tree and dug the first well on Middle Point. Look from your window to-day in the red fall sunset, and see if you can, in your fancy, the town of your love and hope. See the glister of the evening sun on the low roofs of houses, on steeple and spire rising serenely above them! See it redden the chimneys of homes and set its dazzling blaze in the window-panes. Hear, if you can, in your thought, the sound of people moving about the streets, of children's voices at play, of clanking anvils, of horses' feet on the roadways, of creaking cordage and flapping canvas where your laden ships lie at their docks with their white sails emblazoned by the warm light of the west! See it hear it -be glad of it in the pride of your heart rejoice in the town in which you have sunk all your wealth and the heritage of your son ! For when you wake to-morrow you will awake from a dream, your returns shall be water and the
wind of the north; your house shall be taken from you, and in a little while you shall have no part or lot in this home of your own choosing-save in six feet of earth above your face.
That night Myndert Gerrit heard the northwester come roaring down from the Canada forests; but he paid no heed to it. He had heard it many a night before. It might knock at his headland gates till it wearied, for all he cared.
But the next morning at five o'clock, his son, looking pale and frightened, came to his bedside, and told him he must go at once to the town-so they called it already. He dressed himself and hastened to Middle Point, and there he found all the towns-people gathered. They stood in little knots, or wandered about trying to make out the full extent of the damage. Their faces were pale, and showed ghastly in the gray and doubtful light. A chill of alarm and apprehension had seized them. They looked suspiciously and almost resentfully at the old man and his son. What had these two men brought them to?
Myndert Gerrit saw his great mistake with his eyes, but his heart at first refused to accept the truth. He was like a man who sees death for the first time, knows it is death, and yet cannot make it real to his own mind that the blood will no more flow in the cold veins, that the heart shall not beat again; that breath and life have gone out together. At first he went about bravely, showing the people how a jetty here, and a dyke there, and a sea-wall in a third place would put all to rights; but even before his hearers had seen that the remedy was far beyond any means that they possessed, he himself knew that the danger to come was not to be met by any scheme of his devising. The greater
part of the Point was still there, but fifty yards were gone from the further end, and the unprotected earth was still crumbling into the turbid current. The cellars were full of water, and along the western side deep gullies ran up to the line of the main street. The framework and foundation of the Point were gone; it was a mere bank of earth before that violent and uncontrollable inland ocean. When he saw this, he went back to his house and locked himself in his room, and not even his son saw him until the next day. Then he appeared again, and tried, for a little, to save the day by moving his settlement further back. But the panic was too strong for him; the people would have none of him or of his settlement. Some of them were for going back to their old homes; but the most went over to Far Point and bought land there, for Gerrit paid back to every man what his land had cost him. Then he took to his bed, and died on New Year's day, leaving his son to straighten out the tangle of his affairs. This task, prosecuted with the sternest economy and industry, occupied seven years. At the end of the seven years, he had paid off every cent that his father owed, and he himself was able to live on a pitiful remainder of their great fortune, just enough to pay for what little he ate and drank. He lived rent free in one of the old cabins on the level land. That marshy strip was his yet, for no one cared to take it from him.
Middle Point was gone entirely. A low earth bluff marked its landward end. The water had crept up, urged by the current, that now set far in, and out along Near Point, and a shallow inlet. ran far up into what had been the levee. On the edge of this inlet, among the low trees and underbrush at the base of the high point on which his father's house had stood, old John Gerrit dwelt in his little log-cabin, that had once been the temporary shelter of his father's negroes. He was fifty years old when the sad work of his life was done; and, knowing of no other work for himself, having no other aim in life, he sat himself down to live life out without troubling his neighbors.
A quarter of a century passed between the wreck of the Gerrit fortunes and the
days when I first saw the old man, who had once been the young man of the house, walking about the streets of Gerrit's Gate in those unaccountable rusty clothes of his, which, though he changed them often enough, never looked new or fresh. Gerrit's Gate, in the meanwhile, had thriven, after a fashion, in the very teeth of fortune, and in spite of being settled upon the site despised of Myndert Gerrit. In my boyhood it had a couple of grain-elevators (which changed hands every year or so), a steam saw-mill, a lumber-yard, and a patent-medicine factory. It had old residents and new residents, a conservative party and a progressive party. Need I say that the progressive party was divided from its opponents on the question of getting such an appropriation from Congress as would stimulate the town's consumptive prosperity with the glow of commercial health, and make her the Metropolis of the Northern Lakes?
What I have here set down of John Gerrit's early history I gathered in part from my father, in part from John Gerrit himself. But it was not until after the old man's death that I learned why the old folks of the town called him Squire Five-Fathom. It seemed, an old lake sailor told me, that the water off the end of what had been Middle Point stood just thirty feet deep, and the ridge of rock that had formed the Point's foundation was marked "Five-Fathom Point" on old charts-marked as a dangerous spot, where the current had seized more than one storm-driven ship and cast her against the stony shore.
But what I had heard was quite enough to fire a boy's imagination, and from the day he first spoke to me, Squire Five-Fathom was to me a figure of romance and mystery who got tangled up in my dreams with Old Mortality and Robinson Crusoe and Ethan Brand-I had no "Jack Popaways" or "Young Gold-Coiners" to read about in my lone provincial youth. I stood at the gate to watch him as he went past the house every morning toward the town, on the pitiful little errands of his commissary. How long he made those errands-how much ground he contrived them to cover! Many a time, in later years, I
have seen him going from shop to shop, and even wandering in search of street stands, that he might buy the one apple that seemed to him best worth a penny."
Thus I worshipped, for a long time, in silence and at a distance. Then came a dull, cloudy, summer Saturday afternoon, when my parents went to Catullus Corners, a town some miles down our little branch railroad, for the funeral of some aunt or cousin, and I was left alone, in charge of an Irish handmaiden, who presently swore me to secrecy, and herself went off to a christening. She told me, as she departed, that if I stirred "off the block"-my usual limits of solitary excursion, set by paternal decree-the banshee of the family would catch me. But, ah! I was beyond the day of faith in
the banshee, and the Celtic wraith had no terrors for me. I hung awhile on the gate, waiting for some wandering boy, that I might lure him in to play with me; but no boy came. As I look back now, it seems to me that boys must have been very scarce at Gerrit's Gate. Perhaps they were all fishing on that day, for it was cloudy and still. All I know is, they came not. I looked up and down the road. I walked to the east corner and back, and then to the west corner, and then temptation seized me. It was only a couple of hundred yards down the dusty high-road to the head of the lane that led down to the inlet. There, in the mysterious, enchanting thickets by the water's edge lay the dwelling of the one human being of my acquaintance who looked as though he had come out
of one of those books which were far more real to me then than real life.
Far off, the clock in our kitchen struck three. Three long hours before my father and mother should return! Three long hours of a lonely summer afternoon
"Three minutes later I was running down that boughroofed avenue."
-and only a feeble and inadequate conscience of eight years' growth to stiffen my moral backbone and nerve me to heroism and renunciation! One stray, momentary glimmer of sunlight flashed through the clouds, and lit up the leafy entrance to the lane.
Three minutes later I was running down that bough-roofed avenue, my pace gradually slowing, for the gleam of sunlight was gone, and it was dismally dim under the trees. But the delicious thrill of illicit adventure was in all my small body, and by and by I was out of the dim shade and on the broad open path that the pot-hunters had trodden all around the inlet. Then I saw below me its shallow reaches of water, paved with round stones, and bordered with bushes. Then, almost before I knew where I was, the log-cabin lay almost under my feet, between the path and the edge of the
There were bushes all about it, except for a little space in front. A mountain
ash, at one end, towered above it, and tossed high in the air its bunches of reddening berries. In my memory of that guilty hour, the smell of the mountain-ash is stronger than the picture of the dark cabin, the dull sky, and, to the northward, the gray, uneasy lake, restless even in that heavy, storm-breeding calm.
I stole cautiously down into the little clearing, and viewed my field of exploration. Smoke rose from the chimney; a smell of broth on the fire overcame the rank, raw smell of the ash-berries. I was too deeply steeped in crime to attempt to resist an irrational impulse which came over me, and I walked up to the door and knocked loudly. Then I stood there with my heart beating hard, like a repeated echo of my knock. Would he come to the door? What would he say? What should I say? Would he speak pleasantly to me? Would he talk to me of his strange history? Should we stray into delightful confidences? Could I trust him with certain speculations which I had long nursed concerning the treasures of Captain Kidd? What was before me-the magic vista of romance, or the bitter ignominy of a snub?
The door opened, and the tall figure of Squire Five-Fathom leaned over me. Between his legs I saw the fire on the cabin hearth. All else was a smoky darkness. He looked down at me, and his great dark eyes stared, startled, questioning, out of their deep sockets. My hand was in all human probability the first that had knocked at his door in a quarter of a century. Even the tax-collector left him alone.
"What do you want, little boy?" he asked, in a voice that seemed to come from the ground underneath him.
Inwardly I was something dashed; but the spirit of my impulse was not to be overcome.
"I have come to call," I said, and I said it firmly.
His eyes, still troubled with the wonder of lonely old age at any unusual thing, looked me all over. Slowly he seemed to comprehend that I was but a natural, mortal boy. His voice had lost its startled tone of depth and had come back to the quaver of old age when he spoke again, asking my name. I