New Boston has once been the most promising of the growing cities of the West, according to some New York gentleman who constituted a land improvement company, distributed handsome maps gratis, and courted susceptible Eastern editors. Its water-power was unrivaled; ground for all desirable public buildings, and for a handsome park with ready-grown trees and a natural lake, had been securely provided for by the terms of the company’s charter; building material abounded; the water was good; the soil of unequaled fertility; while the company, with admirable forethought, had a well-stocked store on the ground, and had made arrangements to send to the town a skillful physician and a popular preacher.
A reasonable number of colonists found their way to the ground in the pleasant Spring time, and, in spite of sundry local peculiarities not mentioned in the company’s circular, they might have remained, had not a mighty freshet, in June, driven them away, and even saved some of them the trouble of moving their houses.
When, however, most of the residences floated down the river, some of them bearing their owners on their roofs, such of the inhabitants as had money left the promised land for ever; while the others made themselves such homes as they could in the nearest settlements which were above water, and fraternized with the natives through the medium of that common bond of sympathy in the Western lowlands, the ague.
Only a single one of the original inhabitants remained, and he, although he might have chosen the best of the abandoned houses for his residence, or even the elegant but deserted “company’s store,” continued to inhabit the cabin he had built upon his arrival. The solid business men of the neighboring town of Mount Pisgah, situated upon a bluff, voted him a fool whenever his name was mentioned; but the wives of these same men, when they chanced to see old Wardelow passing by, with the wistful face he always wore, looked after him tenderly, and never lost an opportunity to speak to him kindly. When they met at tea-parties, or quilting-bees, or sewing-societies, or in other gatherings exclusively feminine, there were not a few of them who had the courage to say that the world would be better if more men were like old Wardelow.
For love seemed the sole motive of old Wardelow’s life. The cemetery which the thoughtful projectors of New Boston had presented to the inhabitants had for its only occupant the wife of old Wardelow; and she had been conveyed thereto by a husband who was both young and handsome. The freshet which had, soon afterward, swept the town, had carried with it Wardelow’s only child, a boy of seven years, who had been playing in a boat which he, in some way, unloosed.
From that day the father had found no trace of his child, yet he never ceased hoping for his return. Every steamboat captain on the river knew the old man, and the roughest of them had cheerfuly replied in the affirmative when asked if they wouldn’t bring up a small boy who might some day come on board, report himself as Stevie Wardelow, and ask to be taken to New Boston.