This may be the last of these for awhile; I still have some 10-12 to key in, but I think I have made my point, that at age 16, Mathew Franklin Whittier was truly a literary child prodigy. To that extent, it is not outlandish at all for me to posit that he co-authored "A Christmas Carol." Not, actually, from any other consideration, either. But first and foremost, I want to demonstrate that he had the talent.
The piece I just finished keying in, today, should clinch it. This pseudonym, "N.N.K.," whatever it signifies, is the one I would stand most firmly behind as being his, in the 1829 "New-England Galaxy." I won't go into how I have come to that conclusion. Just keep in mind I have, now, well over a thousand of Mathew's works to compare with, and even if I didn't have subconscious past-life memory, I know his style like the back of my hand.
By far, most of his fictional sketches were loosely based on his own life. This one, however, is probably an exception. I get the gut feeling that it was based--again, loosely--on an actual news account. I haven't looked for it in the papers prior to this date, but I'll bet it's there, somewhere. He has done this before, especially when he was writing the "blotter" as a reporter for one of three different newspapers (at different times). So perhaps this came up in that context; or perhaps it was in the news at the time.
This is what you might call "white hat/black hat" style fiction--what we might expect from Victorian times, and also what we might expect from a 16-year-old writer. But it's good. It's very good. It's way, way, way better than Samuel Clemens' first effort, when he was 16 (look it up). This is, if I'm not mistaken in my history or mathematics, five years before Charles Dickens began submitting his own sketches to the British papers. This is one thing I want to hammer home--Mathew was actually the senior writer, and he hit the ground running. I even have one piece, which I'm convinced is his, which appeared in the 1827 "New-England Galaxy," when he was only 15 years old. And it's pretty good, too. But not as good as this one. And you have seen the piece I shared a couple of days ago. This means that Mathew could consistently hit this level.
I'll just cut-and-paste it below, and insert the HTML coding. Oh, I found a photograph of Mathew, probably from his early 30's, which of course has gone straight into my book. More on that, later.
A LEGEND OF THE LAW.--MARTIN VAN DEINSTER.
There are few places more wildly beautiful and picturesque than some spots in the vicinity of the White Mountains of New Hampshire. Until within a few years the narrow passes of this lofty range were only known to the hunter or Canada trader;--but enterprise has carried society and civilization even here, and fashion, in search of the wonderful and beautiful, has penetrated this secret domain of Nature. The few inhabitants there settled, have been found hardy, enterprising and hospitable, and like the inhabitants of most mountainous districts, full of superstitious legend and marvellous tradition. Among others they have the following:--
Long before these desert lands had been much explored, Martin Van Deinster arrived in this country from his dear Amsterdam. Martin was not a needy adventurer who had come in search of mines of gold and grottos of jewels; but when he left Holland, he was a thriving merchant, and a jolly widower, who could smoke his pipe, drink his strong beer, and slap his thigh at a good joke, with as self-satisfied an air, as the most portly burgomaster of the good city. What then could send him to this land of any thing but promise was a profound mystery to the buxom dames of the land of flannel petticoats, who eyed the muscular figure and leathern purse of the jolly young widower with something near akin to admiration.
At length, however, it was plainly seen that Martin was determined to disappoint the hopes of all of them; and public rumour assigned a thousand different causes for his eccentricity; all, however, founded on escape from public justice. Theft, murder, and a long list of equally amiable deeds were heaped upon poor Van Deinster, who deliberately packed up bag and baggage,--left most of his funds in the hands of Van Brudder & Co., and marched down to the quay, with his pretty daughter on his arm, as unconcerned about the pother as his grandfather's portrait.
In crossing the Atlantic, Martin seemed to have left behind him many of his most inveterate Dutch prejudices and habits. Instead of planting himself, (as most of his countrymen would have done,) in a marsh or a bog, with a canal in front and fever and ague all round, Martin made his way directly to the highlands of New Hampshire, and selected for his residence a beautiful spot in the midst of one of the passes of the White Hills.
Van Deinster was too rich and too lazy to take his axe on his back and march resolutely into the wilderness, as is the fashion with new settlers of late years, but with the assistance, which he easily procured, the business of clearing, building and making comfortable was not one of long duration. The house, substantial and Dutch built, was situated on a gentle swell around which a mountain rivulet, a branch of the Saco, rippled with a shallow stream; though its wide and broken bed filled with dark brown rocks and occasional tree-stumps, proved that there were times when it could assume the flood, the force and the destructiveness of a mighty torrent.
Here it was then, that at the very outpost of civilization, Martin Van Deinster took up his residence. Had the good dames of Amsterdam seen him, ten miles from any other settlement and a hundred from any thing which bore semblance of a Court of Justice, they would have thought themselves fully justified in their worst suspicions. Still Martin was any thing rather than a misanthrope. His frank hospitality was open to all who sought it, and his home-brewed and tobacco pipes were at the service of all comers, red or white.
As might have been expected, Deinster was a great favourite with all parties and tribes, and was universally allowed to stand on neutral ground; while his pretty Kate was regarded as an object of stupid homage by all the frequenters of the Dutchman's comfortable domicil. In fact Kate was a pretty girl,--and she knew it. She kept to some Dutch fashions, but neglected all that seemed not to her taste, and thus though she seldom sported half the numbers of petticoats which a Dutch belle would think seemly, yet the real Amsterdam brevity of those same articles were well adapted to show off an ankle which you never could have suspected had passed its early years in the vicinity of a Dutch dyke.
Deinster had lived in this curious situation for nearly eight years. He was as proud of his beer, and his tobacco, and his independence, as old Nick Bergen himself, who kept the big inn at Haerlem. Many a one stopped to partake of his gratuitous cheer, and many a one visited his mansion for a peep at his pretty daughter. The truth was, that Kate with her beauty and her expectations, had found out enough of the world, even at that distance, to be a bit of a coquette. Perhaps it was innate--perhaps it is female nature--perhaps----
Among the visiters at Martin's house, there was, however, one, (and we believe only one,) against whom our friend Martin had a very particular dislike. This was a stout, well-made, handsome-limbed young fellow, who followed the various indescribable trades (perhaps, in present days they would be termed professions,) of hunter, trapper, pedlar and bushwhacker. Shrewd, active, cunning and not over conscience-burdened, Andrew Fearencroft was up to any bargain and ripe for any adventure. A good reason for Van Deinster's antipathy might be found in the fact that on their very first acquaintance, Andrew had taken him sadly in a bargain. Of this good hit Andrew soon repented, for he found that there was a better chance of making a fortune from the partiality of the daughter, than there was from the small impositions which he might occasionally practise on the father.
Unfortunately for the peace of the family, Kate and her father did not exactly agree in their opinions about Andrew. Matters, as might have been expected, gradually changed from bad to worse. Still the old gentleman never dreamed of real trouble, until at the end of a romping sleigh-ride, Andrew ventured soberly to propose himself to Van Deinster as a son-in-law. 'Donner and blitzen,' or 'tousand deyvils,' were too mild words to act as safety-valves to Martin's wrath, and after a vain attempt to give utterance to his feelings, he fairly turned Andrew out of the house, and that too in no very courteous style. After this explosion of true Dutch wrath, (which is rather slow to be started, but always means something when it does come Martin was unsociable, testy and uneasy;--and Kate proved herself a tip top fashionable by indulging in a fit of the sulks, and sat gazing out of the window with a pouting lip and a darkened brow.
For the whole day, the clouds had been rolling up the rough and jagged sides of the lofty range on the north and west. The rain at sunset had not commenced in the valleys and passes, but the rivulets and mountain streams were gradually swelling and uttering louder murmurs as they dashed along, indicating a heavy rain on the highlands. Occasionally, indeed, the mist would rise and discover some high corner and projecting angle of the hill, but the summit was still higher aloft shrouded in its dark and majestic mantle; and then the clouds would again roll down the ravines, and drag slowly along the lower hills, which like guards round a throne seemed to stand around the monarch of their company, proud of his eminence.
The next morning's sun rose clear and bright upon a scene of destruction and ruin. Martin's nearest neighbor was an English farmer, who had about three months previous settled three miles below Martin's residence. He was of course a good friend of Van Deinster, more so, from a great similarity in their honest, straightforward dispositions. He had listened with fearful forebodings to the thunder of the 'mountain-slides,' and at early daylight had sprung forth to survey the ruin and inquire for the safety of Van Deinster. He had not, however, proceeded far up the stream, before he saw the object of his solicitude coming towards him, with hurried step and wild manner, with his hair uncovered and blown about by the wind, his dress disordered and mudded--he was springing forward with rapid strides, now nearly in the centre of the roaring stream and now upon its banks. At the same instant the eyes of both of them rested upon an object, floating upon the waters before them. There was no mistaking it. It was the body of the once blooming Kate,--the pride of the Highlands,--the flower of the wilderness.
Poor Van Deinster sunk down in utter helplessness by his child--while his friend raised the body, from which life had long since fled, and on the left side, a deep and mortal stab was discovered.
* * * * * *
Several days after a mournful group assembled around the now sad mansion of Martin Van Deinster. The horror which all naturally feel at the burial of a suicide, seemed here more than usually deep and solemn. In the midst of the group of sorrowing mourners stood Andrew Fearencroft, but in his countenance there dwelt more suspicion than woe, more anger than grief. In how whispers he now conversed with a sturdy yeoman, and now with some aged matron; and the tale went round of his former rejection, and of Martin's anger, and of his daughter's spirit; until at last the popular feeling was roused to action, and even over his daughter's grave, Martin Van Deinster was arrested as her murderer.
Again Martin passed through the thronged street, and again did he mingle in the crowds of his fellow-beings. But it was in the chains of a criminal, not in the garb of riches and honour. It was to meet the horror of the public not the warm pressure of friendly welcome.
The trial came on, and there sat the enrobed judges, and by their sides the clergy, for in those days the pulpit was always the amicus curiae. And there stood Martin Van Deinster; but his proud spirit was broken. In a moody stupor he looked round upon the crowd of eager faces that were peering at him with that morbid curiosity for the horrible which characterizes our species. And there stood Andrew Fearencroft, bold, forward and impudent to tell a tale of his suspicions warped into certainties. Among them all there was one eye that he could not meet. It was that of Martin's English friend. He had been faithful to his friendship from the first. He had consoled the wounded spirit of the broken-hearted old man, and in the midst of persecution and contempt, had still whispered of justification and acquittal. And at length he was placed on the stand, to tell his part of the flimsy evidence before them.
But it was not of Martin that he spoke;--it was of Andrew Fearencroft. He told of his threats, his profligate character, he told of his absence, and concealment until the day of the funeral, and he produced a torn piece of grey cloth, which he swore he had found firmly clasped in the hand of the unfortunate girl as he drew her from the stream.
As the story went on, the eyes of all were turned one by one upon Andrew. Martin seemed roused from his lethargy, at finding himself no longer the object of public gaze; and at last seemed to regard Andrew with a wildly intense look. Until at length the grey cloth was at once recognized as part of a singular hunting frock which Andrew had worn on the morning of the storm.
Andrew had at first tried boldly to face the witness; but to the guilty nothing is so horrible as public scrutiny. His face was now pale, now flushed, until at the last he fell backwards insensible on the floor.
The dense multitude still waited in breathless suspense, while the judges and magistrates consulted for an instant. In a few minutes they again turned to the prisoner, and in a deep low tone the Chief Justice pronounced the discharge of the prisoner and ordered the arrest of Fearencroft. Poor Martin's mind had already borne more than mortal strength can always bear, and he only answered by one burst of loud hysteric laughter and a scream of wild and dreadful agony,--it was his last.
Stephen Sakellarios, M.S.
Music opening this page, "Take a Pebble," Emerson, Lake and Palmer, first album