Monday, September 5, 2016

Bertram Born Part One

Bertram Born was a colorful character in the Mountains of North Carolina. I haven't found anything more about him than this one article written in "The New Englander" Published in 1885

Here's the first part of the article:

Chapter I.—A North Carolina Incident.
While riding along by the French Broad river, I allowed myself a small soliloquy:—This section is un-American. These people do not hurry and worry. Americans are satisfied with America as a whole, but seldom with their own portion of the vast country. New England boys want to go West to work; western men want to come East to live and enjoy the fruits of their self-sacrifice. But the North Carolinian can hardly better his chances of success or the conditions of comfortable living by going away from home. The other day I met a young drover. He told me that he would be off for Colorado soon.
“You would like to see the world," I conjectured.
" Yes. I reckon I'll come back directly. The boys I have known who've gone West are all back here again and they do say this is the only place to live."
It is delightful to find people believing not only in their own country, but in their own township. And yet how closely allied with ignorance is this bliss. For instance: After parting company with the drover, my way lay through one of those extensive pine forests which cover the southern slopes of the Blue Ridge. An hour sufficed to confuse me thoroughly. I had not an idea which one of the glistening tracks of white sand to follow at the next crossway, when with joy I discovered a log hut, chinked with red clay, a spiral of blue smoke ascending from its chimney. Its occupant appeared in answer to my shout, slouched amicably towards me, and "lowed" he would show me the way—so politely! He used the Sir in every sentence, yet not in servility. With him it was a courteous form, like the French Monsieur. This is the "tie ornament of a slovenly mountain idiom. I should have enjoyed a longer conversation, for he showed the excellent quality of thoughtfulness, asking among other things, " Whar is New England, Sir ? I reckon it aint far from old England, Sir." Then at a turning, where a choice of ways came in sight, he stopped, pointed down the road to a small stream and said:
" See that'ar branch, thar, Sir ? Waal, when you cross that bra-anch, you turn—you turn (reflecting)—Which side your mare's mane lie, Sir ?"
" Left."
" Waal, when you get across that bra-anch yonder, you just turn to the left, Sir."
At this point in the soliloquy, my attention was attracted by the near sound of falling water. Remember that here, between Asheville and Warm Springs, the French Broad, although a considerable stream, is still three thousand feet above the sea-mirror, and hurries along at a tremendous pace, —dashes foaming and chafing against the rugged, darkly wooded mountains, in spite of which it accomplishes a hasty descent. Here a narrow side valley, through which a brook makes the best of its way to join the main current, tumbling over successive terraces of granite, seething in the deep pool at the base of each cascade and elsewhere sheeting itself prettily over the smooth dark rock. I was ready to dismount and try my poor skill at sketching so lovely a spot, when—the Troubadour appeared.
Certainly a striking figure ! A man like the other features of the scene which had laid its spell upon me. A man who had matured and grown strong under natural influences— grown rugged but not coarse through forty years (it seemed) of storm and sunshine. Something fine and commanding, whether in his thoughtful face or the ease with which he rode, as though unconscious of a separate existence in his thoroughbred, made me question instantly his being a " native." But if not a mountaineer, what could be the meaning of such a costume ( He wore a dark green velvet jacket and gray corduroy knickerbockers, both very rusty, strings supplying the place of buttons at the knees. On his head was a straw sombrero, so wide- brimmed as actually to shade his shoulders. He carried a light single barrel bird gun across the saddle and was followed by a fine Gordon setter. It would be difficult to say wherein it consisted, but there was a slight touch of dandyism withal Possibly the suggestion came from his red neckcloth. His face was so weather-worn and hardened that, smiling, he must smile in seams. In addition to his fowling-piece, this practiced horseman here a small guitar in a baize cover slung across his shoulders.
"There is a legend," said he with grave deliberateness, "that these pools are bottomless and that two young lovers took the fatal leap together into their unknown depths. If that is true, the lovers must have been visitors from New York. I never heard of a genuine North Carolinian who did not care more for life than for love."
" And yet," I doubted, " these mountaineers are said to be courageous."
This most unconventional person rejoined: " Courage is familiarity with danger. I have seen a man who dared not cross the ocean on a Cunard steamer, boldly attack a dish of raw tripe at an hotel."
He had not introduced himself, neither had his horse, nor yet his dog. All three appeared to accept my presence as naturally as if we had been members of the same household happening to meet in the hallway. In the same matter-of- course fashion, we cantered over the level stretches and walked up hill and down towards Squire Justice's " hotel," keeping together and chatting. I can no more undertake to follow the course of our conversation than to describe from memory all the varied scenes of that panorama of river, forest, and sky as each turn in the road revealed a new prospect. But I wish to convey in a few words my impression of his strange mode of existence, gathered from his unreserved communications.
Evidently a gentleman by birth and education, who had read much and traveled widely, my companion employed in conversation a superior, rather bookish, vocabulary and style. Occasional sentences were evidently studied; so much so indeed that I at first supposed him to be quoting from some book which I had not read. When describing a tornado which had devastated portions of northern Georgia the previous year, he dwelt with much appreciation upon its freaks and the curious incidents which attended its progress, observing finally, " Always some trifles of humor come to the surface of a great disaster like bubbles where the water is torn below a cataract; and the spirits which laugh in storm are not all devils—laughing in bitterness—but some are Ariels : these laugh in the very gladness of a light nature."
I. " Bravo ! who wrote that ?
He. " I will tell you—Anon."
He kept his punning promise fully; for he did presently make himself known to me as an author, while he remained and remains anonymous. In the mountains he was called Bertram Born,—evidently an assumed name.
Bertram Born avoided the larger towns, passing from one outlying farmstead to another. He would carry about little presents of tobacco, seed-corn, or powder and shot, which insured a cordial welcome wherever he appeared. He was welcomed also as historian of the mountain folk, for his personal recollections extended over a period of twenty years, while traditions of the earliest settlers and the expulsion of the Indians were stored in his retentive memory. As for his wanderings, they were commonly within the limits of North Carolina, although sometimes he would follow the course of small rivers such as the Pacolet from their source through the narrow, fertile valleys of northern South Carolina, and more frequently find himself in the picturesque Habersham county of northern Georgia. Indeed this latter must be a tempting field for such a wandering story-teller and adventurer. Instead of sharp peaks, the mountains of Habersham have fruitful craters—or let us say, dimples of fertile valley—at their very summits where Nature has laid her hand in blessing, and at her touch springs have burst forth and barren rock has been transformed into the deepest and richest black earth of all that region. There are cabins of farmers,—each household in undisputed possession of its mountain. Fruit trees there and cattle, separated by miles of forest from the nearest orchards and herds A tall, gaunt race living there, speaking vaguely and mildly. Think of the isolation of these places and then imagine how joyfully a lively acquaintance would be received. And besides, Bertram established closer relations with many of these uncritical people. Many a slouching, mild-eyed mountaineer hailed him as best friend, and (it may as well be confessed) more than one maiden giantess secretly owned his overlordship. These people are natural. Why should not a piece of bright ribbon and a few kind words win a way to maiden's heart and favor? Rules of the moral code, accepted as such by all good citizens of the nearest large town, are here crowded aside by the pressure of natural forces. So amiable, so truly amiable is this mountain folk, that it will readily accept almost any form of religious doctrine; but it will recognize only such restraints as accord with local tastes and usages. Crime of the gravest kind is called "meanness." Swearing and working on Sunday are the two offenses which excite general disapproval.
"In this land,'' said my companion, "every root produces flowers; while everything which moves either stings or kicks or chews tobacco."
Bertram had never cared to acquire a permanent home, although nothing would have been easier. One has only to choose a sheltered spot near a crystal spring, build a cabin (it will take but two weeks), and then clear away right and left with his axe far as he like, and plant shallow in loam a yard deep. A few dollars will be enough for the establishment of a marrying man. Why, with a hundred dollars one might get a giantess. But our Bertram was an incorrigible errant.
An hour before dark, we arrived at Squire Justice's hotel,— store, post office, and tavern, all in one. The situation of the house on rising ground, an eighth of a mile from the river and road, in a little park of its own, sheep grazing on the lawn, does not suggest an inn; but my companion feels at home here as everywhere and points out the merits of the location with a sense of partial ownership. When we had passed through the gate and were approaching the house, he spoke to an old negro nurse who stood beside the roadway with her charge, a little girl holding in her arms a doll almost as large as herself. Pointing to the doll: "Aunty, is that a sure enough baby, or is it an artificial baby?"
The negress grinned. " Lordy, Lordy, Mass' Born, is that vousself here again?"
A moment later our horses were standing before the wide whitewashed piazza. "See there, my friend," I said, " can you tell me what's going on in that room?" Through an open window I saw a curious kind of needle work. A light, flat frame, over which was stretched a white' sheet, was suspended from the ceiling by cords attached to its four corners. An enormous flat hammock? No; for it is being covered with a flowery pattern. A hanging garden, then? No; only quilting.
"Just come with me," replied Bertram Born, leading the way into the house and opening a side door without ceremony.
A jolly girl, that, bending over the quilt. A giantess from the Black Mountain, I should think, visiting her cousins, the Justices. She was quite handsome, with merry bright eyes and red cheeks. Her eyes became brighter and her cheeks flushed when we entered. I could not flatter myself; it was for the Troubadour. Confound the old Lothario! He has no right to a better name, for he seeks no higher honors.
However, I forget my mortification, envy, or whatever it may be called, in listening to their conversation. She is speaking the thought uppermost in her mind, with the simplicity of a child of nature. Her thought is an aspiration to see the great world. He, having deliberately turned his back upon the world, is easy and contented in the rudeness of these mountains. Hence his superiority and attractiveness to her. He is to her the nearest approach of the desired. He has been in Washington, in London, even in Paris, perhaps. Heavens! He has lived. He has seen the originals of those elegant ladies in long trains who inarch across the paper covers of the half- dozen of novels in the nearest village library. She is only a poor mountain girl, and people must buy friendship, she has read. Well, he may have the rose from her hair. But wait; here is a turn which shows the very heart of simple maiden of the Black Mountain. He asked, '' How long would it take for you to know me ?"
She repeats: " How long to love?"
Her woman's nature is right on the surface. One reads in her lively expression such thoughts as these: " Is he really in earnest?—Is he out of reach?—I am attractive.—Is he making fun of me?—Shall I see him soon again?" It is high time for me to withdraw.
After a supper of hot corn bread and light biscuits, fried ham, buttermilk, and coffee (the invariable supper of the South!), half-a-dozen men were seated on the wide piazza in arm chairs, smoking red-clay pipes with long cane stems or using tobacco in another less picturesque fashion,—more subjectively. Central in the group was the venerable figure of Squire Justice. He was telling his stock anecdotes about the healthfulness of the region: " Why, ole Miss Bridgman was confirmed by the Bishop this summer and her two gals at the same time. Well, gentlemen, she is one hundred and four years old and the two babies are sixty-five and sixty-eight years." The speaker had himself been one of twelve friends, young men together in the township. Of the twelve, six went away and they had all died ; while those who had remained at home were all hale and hearty to this day.
How many similar instances his garrulity might have offered and the good nature of his nicotinated audience would have sluggishly accepted, it is impossible to say, for at that moment came dashing up the driveway a willing horse,—a muscular, lean, corn-fed animal,—and an unwilling horseman, unpracticed, plump with a succession of hotel dinners, the tails of his long gray coat flying out wildly and his hat crushed over his eyes. At the door the horse stopped of his own accord suddenly,—so suddenly that the rider was thrown forward upon his neck. A moment later appeared a fat old darkey running along the road and leading a pack-horse with well-filled saddle bags. The African was shouting, " Wha ! Wha ! I never did see a man ride so fas as dat man !"
While settling his hat and cravat, the new comer explained volubly, " My nag wanted to run. I had no objection. Here come my things." Then addressing me, who happened to be nearest, he offered his card, " Thomas R. Bagman, Richmond," and in the corner, " Representing Messrs. Stuff, Rubbish & Shoddy."
I explained briefly that I was not a competitor, but making a horseback tour of the mountains.
"That is something I never could understand," commented the drummer. " That must be no end lonesome. Now, if I want a sight, I just go to church and take my seat in the gallery, front row, forward. It isn't for the sermon—O, no. But I just watch the effect the parson's words have upon the audience,—how different people take the same thing differently."
To my great surprise, Bertram Born answered him: " Then you will allow us to put mountains and watercourses in place of parson and to watch the effects which their speech produces upon an audience,—upon the people we meet,—with more satisfaction, young man, in that these tones are true, while your parson may be telling lies."
Like an old book! Silence ensued. Evidently Bertram was used to being allowed the last word. This silence was broken by Squire Justice, asking, " What you goin' to tell us about to-morrow, General?"

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