HARDMA.N'S SCENES AND AD - VENTURES IN AMERICA..
TICB "scenes and adventures " in this volume, according to the pre- face of Mr. Hardman, are based upon the German works of Charles Sealsfield. "I have," he says "condensed and thrown together some of their more striking and interesting; passages ; using much compression—aiming at rendering the spirit rather than the letter—occasionally, when for connexion's sake or other reasons it appeared advisable, introducing original passages. I venture to believe my rifacimenti better adapted to English tastes than would be a complete and literal translation of any one of Mr. Sealsfi.eld's numerous works."
The scenes thus concocted are tales of adventure. They .consist of sketches of natural phtenomena, and of life and cha- racter, in the regions South of the Missisippi, at a time when .the country was even wilder than it now ; for the latest t ale in point of time relates to the so-called Texan war of independence. "The Cypress Swamp of Louisiana" combines in itself the horrors of a prairie and forest on fire with the animal and vegetable wonders of those alleged monster-breeding places an American swamp. "The Bloody Block House," a continua- tion of the swamp adventure, describes the defence of a wood fort- rens by some American squatters in Louisiana, against an attack of Snish soldiers assisted by some creole French. "Adventures in texas" paints in successive incidents the country and,people in the early days of the American settlements and gives a pretty contin, nous account of the. war till the victory over Santa Anna ; the different adventures being, strung together by the personality of the narrator, and the story of Bob Rock, a singular character, re- pentant ruffian, and species of machinery. "Two Nights in Southern Mexico" desoribes in the form of travel an attack upon men by a gigantic species of ape, and a sudden land-flood that reminds one of the deluge. "A Sketch in the Tropics" narrates the escape of a South American Patriot from the Spaniards at Havanna, by means of an American Captain, and a subsequent meeting at Lima when the Patriot was triumphant. In point of composition, the book bears the relation to fiction proper which melodrama bears to tragedy. The scenery, the in- cidents, the persons, are appropriate enough to the place ; it is evident that the writer has, by observation or very close study, made himself familiar with what he undertakes to describe. The adventures are not only possible, but more remarkable ones may have occurred in fact. The whole, however, is garish and thea- trical, wanting the repose and probability of general nature. The situations lose their effect by being made too effective; the events aro too onesided—too lucky for the winning party—the escapes too much in the very nick of time to be probable in fiction ; the land- scapes are sometimes too striking; and though we only hear of the "-snapping turtle," which creature Bon Gaultier has made me- morable in a ballad, the fera4 are brought together in too great numbers. In the natural phtenomena the book reminds one of Marryatt's Monsieur Violet, in making too much of South Ame- rican nature, while the style is more laboured. The whole how- ever, is readable, and there is nothing so gross as to shock cre- dence.
A Tropical swamp, with its teeming life, seems one of the most striking objects for description ; yet the description never comes up to the preconceived idea : the dismal-swamp of the Southern States does not fulfil the expectation ; and so it is with other of these gigantic marshes,—perhaps because the men who have really been through- Ter do not write books, and those who write books do not go them. This picture of the Cypress Swamp, and the passage across Wunder, the guidance of some squatters to escape from the prairie on fire, is clever, though exaggerated for effect. "We had proceeded but a very short distance into the swamp before we found out the use of the torches. The huge trunks of the cypress-trees, which stood four or five yards asunder, shot up to. a height of fifty feet, en- , Scenes and Adventures in Central America. Edited by Frederick Hardman, Esq.. Author of" Peninsular Scenes and Sketches," " The Student of Salamanca," &c. rublished by Blackwood and Sons. tirely free from branches, which then, however, spread Out at right angles to the stem, making the trees appear like gigantic umbrellas, and covering the whole morass with an impenetrable roof, through which not even a sun- beam could find a passage. On looking behind us, we saw the daylight at the entrance of the swamp, as at the mouth of a vast cavern. The further we went the thicker became the air ; and at last the effluvia was so stifling and pestilential that the torches burnt pale and dim, and more than once threatened to go out. I. Yes, yes,' muttered our guide to himself, a night passed in this swamp would leave a man ague-struck for the rest of his days. A night—ay, an hour would do it, if your pores were ever so little open; but now there's no danger ; the prairie fire's good for that, dries the sweat and closes the pores.'
"Ile went on conversing thus with himself but still striding forward, throwing his torchlight on each log or tree-trunk, and trying its solidity with his foot before he trusted his weight upon it—doing all this with a dexterity and speed that proved his familiarity with these dangerous paths. " Keep close to me,' said he to us, but make yourselves light—as light, at least, as Britishers can make themselves. Hold your breath, and—ha ! what is that log ? Hello, Nathan,' continued he to himself, what's come to you, man? Don't you know a sixteen foot alligator from a tree ? ' "He had "stretched out his foot, but fortunately, before setting it down, he poked what he took for a log with the butt of his gun. The supposed block of wood gave way a little, and the old squatter, throwing himself back, was within an ace of pushing me into the swamp. " 'Alia, friend,' said he, not in the least disconcerted, you thought to sarcumvent honest folk with your devilry and cumin'. " ' What is the matter ? ' asked I.
"'Not much the matter,' he replied, drawing his knife from its sheath. Only an alligator ; there it is again.' "And in the place of the log which had disappeared, the jaws of a huge alligator gaped before us. I raised my gun to my shoulder. The Yankee seized my arm. "'Don't fire,' whispered he. 'Don't fire so long as you can help it. We ain't alone here. This will do as well,' he added, as he stooped down and drove his long knife into-the alligator's eye. The monster gave a frightful howl, and lashed violently with its tail, besprinkling us with the black slimy mud of the swamp. " ' Take that,' said the squatter with a grim smile, 'and that, and that stabbing the brute repeatedly between the neck and the ribs, while it writhed and snapped furiously at him. Then wiping his knife, he stuck it in his belt, and looked keenly and cautiously around him, " 'I've a notion there must be a tree trunk hereaway ; it ain't the first time I've followed this track. There it is, but a good six foot off.' And so
saying, he gave a spring, and alighted in safety on the stepping-place. "Have a care, man,' cried I. There is water there. I see it glitter.' "'Pooh, water ! What you call water is snakes. Come on.',
"I hesitated, and a shudder came over me. The leap as regarded distance was a trifling one, but it was over an almost bottomless chasm full of the foulest mud, on which the mocassin snakes, the deadliest of American. rep- tiles, were swarming. "'Come on !'
"Necessity lent me strength, and, pressing my left foot firmly against the log on which I stood, and which each moment sank with our weight deeper into the soft slimy ground, ..1 sprang across. Carleton followed me. " Well done !' cried the old man. Courage, and a couple more such leaps, and we shall be getting over the worst of it.'
• We pushed on, steadily but slowly, never setting our foot on a log till we bad ascertained its solidity with the butts of our guns. The cypress swamp extended four or five miles along the shores of the creek : it was a deep lake of black mud, covered over and disguised by a deceitful bright green veil of creeping plants and mosses, which had spread themselves in their rank luxuriance over its whole surface, and over the branches and trunks of the trees that were scattered about it. These latter were not placed with any very great regularity, but had yet been evidently arranged by the hand of ann.
" 'There seems to have been a sort of path made here,' said Ito our guide; 'for
" 'Silence !' interrupted he, in a low tone; silence, for your life till we are on firm ground again. Don't mind the snakes,' added he, as the torch- light revealed some enormous ones lying coiled up on the moss and lianas
close to us. Follow me closely.' "But at the very moment that I stretched forward my foot, and was about to-place it in the print that his had left, the hideous jaw of an alliga- tor was suddenly stretched over the tree-trunk, not twelve inches from my leg, and the creature snapped at me so suddenly that I had but just time to fire my gun into his glittering lizard-like eye. The monster bounded back, uttered a sound between a bellow and .a groan, and, striking wildly about him in the morass, disappeared.
"The American looked round when I fired, and an approving smile played about his mouth as he said something to me-which I did not hear, owing to the infernal uproar that now arose on all aides of us, and at first completely deafened Inc.
"Thousands, tens of thousands, of birds and reptiles, alligators, enormous bull-frogs, night-owls, ahingas, herons, whose dwellings were in the mud of the swamp, or on its leafy roof, now lifted up their voices, bellowing, hoot- ing, shrieking, and groaning. Issuing from the obscene retreats in which they had hitherto lain hidden, the alligators raised their hideous snouts out of the green coating of the swamp, gnashing their teeth, and straining to- wards us, whilst the owls and other birds circled round our heads, ' flapping and striking us with their wings as they passed. We drew our knives, and endeavoured to defend at least our heads and eyes ; but all was in vain against the multitude of enemies that surrounded us ; and the unequal com- bat could not possibly have lasted long, when suddenly a shot was tired, fol- lowed immediately by another. The effect they produced was magical. The growls and cries of rage and fury were exchanged for howls of fear and com- plaint: the alligators withdrew gradually into their native mud ; the birds flew in wider circles around us; the unclean multitude were in full retreat. By degrees the various noises died away. But our torches had gone out, and all around us was black as pitch.
" 'In God's name, are you there, old man ? ' asked I.
"'What! still alive?' he replied, with a laugh that jarred unpleasantly upon my nerves; 'and the other Britisher too ? I told ye we were not alone. These brutes defend themselves if you attack theta upon their own ground, and a single shot is sufficient to bring them about one's ears. But when they see you're in earnest they soon get tired of it, and a couple more shots sent among them generally drive them away again ; for they are but senseless squealin' creturs after -all.'
"Whilst he spoke, the old man struck fire and lit one of the torches.
"'Luckily, we have rather better footing here,' continued he. 'And now' forward quickly;. for the sun is set, and we have still some way to go.'
"And again he led the march with a skill and confidence in himself which each moment increased our reliance upon him. After proceeding in this manner for about half an hour, we saw a pale light glimmer in the dis- tance."