Domestic Manners of the Americans, by Fanny Trollope

Chapter 16

Danger of rural excursions — Sickness

It is by no means easy to enjoy the beauties of American scenery in the west, even when you are in a neighbourhood that affords much to admire; at least, in doing so, you run considerable risk of injuring your health. Nothing is considered more dangerous than exposure to midday heat, except exposure to evening damp; and the twilight is so short, that if you set out on an expedition when the fervid heat subsides, you can hardly get half a mile before “sun down,” as they call it, warns you that you must run or drive home again, as fast as possible, for fear you should get “a chill.”

I believe we braved all this more than any one else in the whole country, and if we had not, we should have left Cincinnati without seeing any thing of the country around it.

Though we kept steadily to our resolution of passing no more sylvan hours in the forests of Ohio, we often spent entire days in Kentucky, tracing the course of a “creek,” or climbing the highest points within our reach, in the hope of catching a glimpse of some distant object. A beautiful reach of the Ohio, or the dark windings of the pretty Licking, were indeed always the most remarkable features in the landscape.

There was one spot, however, so beautiful that we visited it again and again; it was by no means free from mosquitoes; and being on the bank of a stream, with many enormous trees lying on the half-cleared ground around, it was just such a place as we had been told a hundred times was particularly “dangerous;” nevertheless, we dared every thing for the sake of dining beside our beautiful rippling stream, and watching the bright sunbeams dancing on the grassy bank, at such a distance from our retreat that they could not heat us. A little below the basin that cooled our wine was a cascade of sufficient dimensions to give us all the music of a waterfall, and all the sparkling brightness of clear water when it is broken again and again by jutting crags.

To sit beside this miniature cascade, and read, or dream away a day, was one of our greatest pleasures.

It was indeed a mortifying fact, that whenever we found out a picturesque nook, where turf, and moss, and deep shade, and a crystal stream, and fallen trees, majestic in their ruin, tempted us to sit down, and be very cool and very happy, we invariably found that that spot lay under the imputation of malaria.

A row upon the Ohio was another of our favourite amusements; but in this, I believe, we were also very singular, for often, when enjoying it, we were shouted at, by the young free-borns on the banks, as if we had been so many monsters.

The only rural amusement in which we ever saw any of the natives engaged was eating strawberries and cream in a pretty garden about three miles from the town; here we actually met three or four carriages; a degree of dissipation that I never witnessed on any other occasion. The strawberries were tolerable strawberries, but the cream was the vilest sky-blue, and the charge half a dollar to each person; which being about the price of half a fat sheep, I thought “pretty considerable much,” if I may be permitted to use an expressive phrase of the country.

We had repeatedly been told, by those who knew the land, that the second summer was the great trial to the health of Europeans settled in America; but we had now reached the middle of our second August, and with the exception of the fever one of my sons had suffered from, the summer after our arrival, we had all enjoyed perfect health; but I was now doomed to feel the truth of the above prediction, for before the end of August I fell low before the monster that is for ever stalking through that land of lakes and rivers, breathing fever and death around. It was nine weeks before I left my room, and when I did, I looked more fit to walk into the Potter’s Field, (as they call the English burying ground) than any where else.

Long after my general health was pretty well restored, I suffered from the effect of the fever in my limbs, and lay in bed reading several weeks after I had been pronounced convalescent. Several American novels were brought me. Mr. Flint’s Francis Berrian is excellent; a little wild and romantic, but containing scenes of first-rate interest and pathos. Hope Leslie, and Redwood, by Miss Sedgewick, an American lady, have both great merit; and I now first read the whole of Mr. Cooper’s novels. By the time these American studies were completed, I never closed my eyes without seeing myriads of bloody scalps floating round me; long slender figures of Red Indians crept through my dreams with noiseless tread; panthers flared; forests blazed; and which ever way I fled, a light foot, a keen eye, and a long rifle were sure to be on my trail. An additional ounce of calomel hardly sufficed to neutralize the effect of these raw-head and bloody-bones adventures. I was advised to plunge immediately into a course of fashionable novels. It was a great relief to me; but as my head was by no means very clear, I sometimes jumbled strangely together the civilized rogues and assassins of Mr. Bulwer, and the wild men, women, and children slayers of Mr. Cooper; and, truly, between them, I passed my dreams in very bad company.

Still I could not stand, nor even sit upright. What was I to read next? A happy thought struck me. I determined upon beginning with Waverley, and reading through (not for the first time certainly) the whole series. And what a world did I enter upon! The wholesome vigour of every page seemed to communicate itself to my nerves; I ceased to be languid and fretful, and though still a cripple, I certainly enjoyed myself most completely, as long as my treat lasted; but this was a shorter time than any one would believe, who has not found how such volumes melt, before the constant reading of a long idle day. When it was over, however, I had the pleasure of finding that I could walk half a dozen yards at a time, and take short airings in an open carriage; and better still, could sleep quietly.

It was no very agreeable conviction which greeted my recovery, that our Cincinnati speculation for my son would in no way answer our expectation; and very soon after, he was again seized with the bilious fever of the country, which terminated in that most distressing of all maladies, an ague. I never witnessed is effects before, and therefore made my self extremely miserable at what those around me considered of no consequence.

I believe this frightful complaint is not immediately dangerous; but I never can believe that the violent and sudden prostration of strength, the dreadfully convulsive movements which distort the limbs, the livid hue that spreads itself over the complexion, can take place without shaking the seat of health and life. Repeatedly we thought the malady cured, and for a few days the poor sufferer believed himself restored to health and strength; but again and again it returned upon him, and he began to give himself up as the victim of ill health. My own health was still very infirm, and it took but little time to decide that we must leave Cincinnati. The only impediment to this was, the fear that Mr. Trollope, who was to join us in the Spring, might have set out, and thus arrive at Cincinnati after we had left it. However, as the time he had talked of leaving England was later in the season, I decided upon running the risk; but the winter had set in with great severity, and the river being frozen, the steam-boats could not run; the frost continued unbroken through the whole of February, and we were almost weary of waiting for its departure, which was to be the signal of ours.

The breaking up of the ice, on the Licking and Ohio, formed a most striking spectacle. At night the river presented a solid surface of ice, but in the morning it shewed a collection of floating icebergs, of every imaginable size and form, whirling against each other with frightful violence, and with a noise unlike any sound I remember.

This sight was a very welcome one, as it gave us hopes of immediate departure, but my courage failed, when I heard that one or two steam-boats, weary of waiting, meant to start on the morrow. The idea of running against these floating islands was really alarming, and I was told by many, that my fears were not without foundation, for that repeated accidents had happened from this cause; and then they talked of the little Miami river, whose mouth we were to pass, sending down masses of ice that might stop our progress; in short, we waited patiently and prudently, till the learned in such matters told us that we might start with safety.

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Last updated Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 18:50