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THE LAST SETTLER.
go to sleep in your hands -
look at the head of the ship. Now you 're not steering your course -ease her, man, ease her don't let her fly off
your're yawing about the ship dreadfully. Now, small helm, boy-look at the compass ; don't you see you are two points from her course? Meet her, now starboard a little ;" and so on.
Our distance from New Orleans was upwards of one hundred miles, about the same distance that Calcutta is from the Sandheads; and vessels are sometimes weeks in reaching the emporium of the valley of the Mississippi. On each side the banks were lined with logs; on which, under overshadowing reeds or shrubs, stood, singly or in pairs, white aquatic birds: and frequently alligators would be observed extended upon the timbers fast asleep. A ball glanced harmlessly off their hide, rough with tubercles, but it annoyed and awoke them, and snapping their jaws, they would plunge into the river.
We passed the log-hut of the last settler. He was seated at his door, and wore a broad-brimmed straw hat, red shirt, and canvass trowsers; his wife stood beside him, with a white-haired child in her arms. It was an interesting group, but the expression of their countenances was that of deep melancholy, for they were in the midst of dismal swamps; before them a canoe for fishing was moored to a stake, and a few stalks of maize showed how they subsisted.
I was much provoked at the laziness of my
Spanish messmates: as I commonly do, when on board small craft, I assisted in working the vessel; so the Dons took advantage of the trouble I was at, and in the evening I found myself in sole charge of the tiller and deck; all hands had gone below to sleep! Though, of course, quite ignorant of the river, yet I had read that it flowed in one deep channel, with few mudbanks, so I had nothing to do in steering but to avoid the wavy line of the current, and keep the vessel in the still water. The night was enlivened with a bright moon, which revealed the dark and wooded banks of the broad stream; sounds there were none on the river, but the hoarse croaking of the bull-frogs and the noise of the insects from the pestilential swamps on its margin. The hour and the scene were calculated to cause Fancy to take flight and think of the course of the mighty Mississippi; the “endless river," which I was now navigating, and of the tribes of red men who had been driven across it, and were disappearing in the far west.
I ascended in imagination to the small lakes, about the forty-eighth parallel from which the river first issues, where also the streams that descend into Hudson's Bay, and those which meet the Atlantic through the Gulf of St. Lawrence, rise. I descended the Mississippi for two hundred and thirty miles, through a prairie, with rushes and wild rice fringing the margin to the Falls of Peckagama, where it rushes over a rocky
COURSE OF THE MISSISSIPPI.
bed and descends twenty feet. Its waters are now for six hundred and eighty-five miles shaded with forests of oak, elm, maple, and other stately trees; it reaches the Falls of St. Anthony, and again descends a steep of forty feet, and sweeps past varied and picturesque bluffs of limestone, with forests intermixed, for a distance of eight hundred and forty-three miles, when it joins the Missouri, and immediately changes its hitherto clear and pellucid stream to the turbid colour of the latter river. "The Father of Waters" then rolls in one vast volume for twelve hundred and twenty miles past immense forests, broad prairies, rich bottoms, and pestilential swamps, till it joins the Gulf of Mexico.
I was indulging in my reverie, and the white sails were beginning to flap occasionally against the mast, indicating that the breeze was about to die away, when I heard far down the river a sound like the snoring of a giant; it increased in loudness, and I saw lights and some dark bodies advancing towards me up the river: this was the high-pressure steam-tug, Porpoise, with two vessels in tow. Our slumbering captain and crew were immediately aroused; the Aurora was also made fast to the steamer, and for the remainder of the night we breasted the tide in gallant style!
Oh, wonder-working steam! what thou may'st do
By thee we make broad cloth, hatch chickens too;
When morning dawned we were passing Fort St. Philip and Fort Jackson, built at a sudden turn of the river, which is raked by the guns little elevated above the water. Waving fields of sugar-cane, backed by dense forests, began to appear about forty-five miles below the city of our destination, the houses became more numerous, plantation succeeded plantation, a road behind the levee (or embankment to confine the river, and prevent its overflowing the cultivated ground) was occupied by bullock-waggons conveying produce; negroes were employed in the fields, or cutting up drift logs into firewood-"hewers of wood and drawers of water." The aged trees which had been spared on the river's banks, were loaded with long bunches of moss, as if the sea had passed over them, and had left them covered with weeds. A turn brought us in sight of New Orleans, extending in a curve along the north bank of the river, and we "cast off" among the shipping, "brought up" at a wooden wharf, and found thirty vessels on shore from the effects of the late hurricane, and round several of them a crowd of negroes, under the direction of white overseers, attempting, by means of canals, levers, and screws, to force them again into the river.
A very civil custom-house officer came on board, who seemed also quite superior to a bribe; and after arranging how my light baggage was to be disposed of, I landed, to deliver my letters of introduction, and inquire where I ought to reside.
In walking through the streets, many of which were well paved with stones brought from a great distance by sea, I observed that a great number of the lofty brickhouses, with stores on the groundfloor, were shut up, and that in some streets I was the only moving object. It needed no inquiry to know the cause of this desolation; long before I arrived, almost all the inhabitants of respectability (who had a regard for their health), had fled from this city of disease, and intended remaining away till about the 1st of November; and a small hearse, with a single horse in it passing me, told that the fell tyrant was already making havoc among those who were unable to flee from before his poisonous breath.
Some of those to whom I had letters, had left weeks before; but I was fortunate enough to find the British Consul at his pleasant country-house, and a countryman, Mr. M'Millan; to both of which gentlemen I am much indebted for attentions. I took up my residence in the merchants' and planters' hotel (until an opportunity for proceeding offered), with a most intelligent and active landlady, Madame Herries.
But truly my situation was far from being an agreeable one, though I could not complain, for I had wilfully braved the climate of the "Wet Grave," New Orleans, "where the hopes of thousands are buried." The hotel was a handsome and spacious brick building, in Canal Street, near the river, with a double row of young lime-trees in