'In the name of Heaven, man,' cried Martin angrily, 'don't talk of Eden in the same breath with that place. Are you mad? There--God forgive me!--don't think harshly of me for my temper!'
After that, he turned away, and walked to and fro upon the deck full two hours. Nor did he speak again, except to say 'Good night,' until next day; nor even then upon this subject, but on other topics quite foreign to the purpose.
As they proceeded further on their track, and came more and more towards their journey's end, the monotonous desolation of the scene increased to that degree, that for any redeeming feature it presented to their eyes, they might have entered, in the body, on the grim domains of Giant Despair. A flat morass, bestrewn with fallen timber; a marsh on which the good growth of the earth seemed to have been wrecked and cast away, that from its decomposing ashes vile and ugly things might rise; where the very trees took the aspect of huge weeds, begotten of the slime from which they sprung, by the hot sun that burnt them up; where fatal maladies, seeking whom they might infect, came forth at night in misty shapes, and creeping out upon the water, hunted them like spectres until day; where even the blessed sun, shining down on festering elements of corruption and disease, became a horror; this was the realm of Hope through which they moved.
At last they stopped. At Eden too. The waters of the Deluge might have left it but a week before; so choked with slime and matted growth was the hideous swamp which bore that name.
There being no depth of water close in shore, they landed from the vessel's boat, with all their goods beside them. There were a few log-houses visible among the dark trees; the best, a cow-shed or a rude stable; but for the wharves, the market-place, the public buildings--
'Here comes an Edener,' said Mark. 'He'll get us help to carry these things up. Keep a good heart, sir. Hallo there!'
The man advanced toward them through the thickening gloom, very slowly; leaning on a stick. As he drew nearer, they observed that he was pale and worn, and that his anxious eyes were deeply sunken in his head. His dress of homespun blue hung about him in rags; his feet and head were bare. He sat down on a stump half-way, and beckoned them to come to him. When they complied, he put his hand upon his side as if in pain, and while he fetched his breath stared at them, wondering.
'Strangers!' he exclaimed, as soon as he could speak.
'The very same,' said Mark. 'How are you, sir?'
'I've had the fever very bad,' he answered faintly. 'I haven't stood upright these many weeks. Those are your notions I see,' pointing to their property.
'Yes, sir,' said Mark, 'they are. You couldn't recommend us some one as would lend a hand to help carry 'em up to the--to the town, could you, sir?'
'My eldest son would do it if he could,' replied the man; 'but today he has his chill upon him, and is lying wrapped up in the blankets. My youngest died last week.'
'I'm sorry for it, governor, with all my heart,' said Mark, shaking him by the hand. 'Don't mind us. Come along with me, and I'll give you an arm back. The goods is safe enough, sir'--to Martin--'there ain't many people about, to make away with 'em. What a comfort that is!'
'No,' cried the man. 'You must look for such folk here,' knocking his stick upon the ground, 'or yonder in the bush, towards the north. We've buried most of 'em. The rest have gone away. Them that we have here, don't come out at night.'
'The night air ain't quite wholesome, I suppose?' said Mark.
'It's deadly poison,' was the settler's answer.
Mark showed no more uneasiness than if it had been commended to him as ambrosia; but he gave the man his arm, and as they went along explained to him the nature of their purchase, and inquired where it lay. Close to his own log-house, he said; so close that he had used their dwelling as a store-house for some corn; they must excuse it that night, but he would endeavour to get it taken out upon the morrow.