"The artist makes me a beauty, don't he? What boots! What eyes!"
Seldom had genial Grif Yeatman welcomed guests more desirable and less like one another than were the strongly individualized men who came from the flatboat to his tavern to take temporary lodging before hunting up the several citizens they wished to meet.
Burr's arrival in the embryo Queen City of the West was noised from house to house, and within an hour many citizens had called to shake hands. The suave New York politician had partisan adherents and personal friends in the Buckeye State. Among these was John Smith, whose acquaintance he had made in Washington—the Hon. John Smith, one of the first two senators representing Ohio in Congress.
Burr procured a fine saddle-horse, and after bidding good-by to Arlington set out to visit the Senator who lived some twelve miles from town. The solitary horseman was not sorry to leave behind him the raw metropolis, the dirty streets of which were lined with log cabins and dingy white frame houses. Beyond Deer Creek the horseman spurred eastward along a black loamy wagon road, trotting through groves and half-cleared fields until he passed a small hamlet bearing the great name Columbia. Beyond this cluster of habitations lay Turkey Bottom, so named on account of the wild flocks which made it their resort. Burr selected the most distinctly marked of the several discernible trails and traces in the mazy wilderness before him. Uncertain wheel tracks indicated that the backwoods farmers, whose cabins were never less than a mile apart, took various routes, according to their fancy or the exigencies of the season. At one place a tree, recently blown down, lay across the bridle-path, and, while guiding his horse around this obstacle the rider saw a brown bear lurch off, swaying its head in sulky humor.
The grandeur of the primeval solitude impressed Burr more profoundly than he had imagined possible. The solemn majesty of the brotherhood of lofty trees around and above him inspired awe. A sense of bewilderment stole upon him. "Am I lost in the woods?" he wondered, looking around for signs of human life. So strange did everything appear that he was in doubt whether the log house not a hundred feet ahead of him was an actual structure. The house was real, and in the dooryard he saw a human being busy about some task. He rode up and asked the way to Senator Smith's.
"Smith? You mean Elder Smith?" gossipped a woman, pausing from her soap-making, near an ash-hopper. "Some do call him Senator, and some call him Preacher, but most call him Elder Smith or else plain John."
"Does he preach?"
"Yes; some Sundays; generally he only exhorts. Turn to your right after passing that wild-cherry, and you will see the Miami; follow along up stream, and you can't miss sight of the mill and the still-house. They belong to him, and so does the big store at Columbia. John Smith is the richest man in these parts, but he isn't proud and stuck up. When you come to the mill they'll show the way to the house. A mighty fine house it is."
Burr thanked the woman and spurred on. "Smith is worth the trouble of coming out for to see. No broken reed, but a pillar of state and church is this same senator, elder, farmer, merchant, miller and distiller." Thus meditating, the fisher of men followed the road by the cherry tree and along the river, and soon reached Smith's lonely dwelling, a new farmhouse, constructed of hewn logs and having a huge stone chimney. Dismounting, Burr stepped upon the porch and knocked at the door. The summons was answered by Mrs. Smith, who, though a senator's wife, was country bred and untaught in artificial usages. She received the urbane stranger with a timidity amounting almost to trepidation.
Her husband had gone to the woods to cut a wagon pole, and pending his return Burr waited in the front room of the log mansion, and made a heroic effort to melt the ice of reserve which seemed to congeal Mrs. Smith's flow of speech. Seldom had he failed in the winning art of conversation, especially with women. Ladies were his favorite pursuit, if not his prey. But Elder Smith's wife proved unapproachable by language of tongue or eye. Talking to her was like talking to a lay figure with vocal and locomotive organs.
Luckily or otherwise, an unexpected diversion was in store for Burr—a role which he did not anticipate devolved upon him, and required him to play his part in a dramatic scene with a character much more sympathetical than Mrs. Smith. From the moment he crossed the threshold to enter the plain parlor he had been conscious of a fugitive fragrance, scarcely perceptible, which he recognized as the scent of Parisian musk, a perfume much in favor with the exquisite beaux and belles of that day. The telltale odor was reminiscent of past gallantries, and it served in a subtle way to herald the coming of a person whose appearance suggested knowledge of the gay world. Not uncurious to steal a glance at the strange visitor, a woman, tastefully arrayed in sable robes, entered unannounced from a cozy side-room. An unbidden blush betokened her surprise and emotion. Burr blenched slightly, but neither the red signal nor its effect was observed by Mrs. Smith, who, glad to shift the task of entertaining Colonel Burr, introduced him to Mrs. Rosemary.
"You will please excuse me; I'll send a boy to the woods for Mr. Smith. Make yourselves at home; we housekeepers in the country have a good many chores."
Like the practical Martha that she was, Dame Smith, cumbered with much prospective serving, hastened to the dining-room to set the table. On her exit from the parlor she closed the door behind her, not having the slightest suspicion that chance had made her house a place of clandestine meeting.
"Salome! Can it be you?"
"It can, if we are not both in a delirium. I did not expect ever to see you again. Who could induce Aaron Burr to come to Ohio?"
"Perhaps an irresistible attraction—some spell of bewitchment. You must inform me. What brings you to this wandering wood like a lost Una?"
"Business. I came a passenger on General Wilkinson's barge. We had a delightful voyage, a May festival, gaiety, music, dancing."
"Do you recollect passing Bacchus Island?"
"Yes. Why do you ask? We floated by the interesting place one heavenly afternoon. We saw four persons looking at us from a high bank—two couples that seemed strolling lovers. I wondered if either of the women could be the beautiful Madam Blennerhassett. We were dancing on the deck—that is, the other ladies were; I do not now dance."
"I grieve to see that you do not, Mrs. Rosemary. I did not even know that you had become his wife; these mournful robes tell me you are a widow."
"You did not know? Do you care? You grieve to see me a widow? Ah, me! Men are consistent. Let me explain the cause of my coming West. I own ever so much land near Cincinnati and a whole block of town lots, bequeathed to me by my late husband. George was kinder to me than I deserved. When I read his will I cried. I went to my lawyer in Philadelphia and asked what I should do to realize most on this Ohio property. He advised me to come here, and have the title examined, and learn the real value of the land, and he gave me a letter to Senator Smith, who, he said, was a good man, one who knows about law and deeds and everything. So I am here. These pokey people are very obliging; they insisted I should lodge with them until my affairs were settled. Now you have my story—tell me yours. As for my bereavement—my heart history—why speak of that?" A film of tears dimmed her eyes as Burr made answer in soothing words.
"I am to blame. Let us not pain ourselves by talking or thinking of death or mourning. I dreamt lately of you as you now appear. How beautiful and brilliant you look in black, Salome. Pardon me, Madam—, I knew you by that name in the past, and you must not be offended if I recall."
"Ah! do not recall. I am willing for you to let bygones be bygones—if—you—desire. Do you like this black gown better than the blue brocaded one I wore that evening at Princeton?"
"How can I decide? You always dress in perfect taste. Whatever you wear is pretty, and you, I am sure, are lovelier than ever."
Smilingly the young widow sighed, then in a listening attitude, with finger on lip, whispered, "Sh! Our hostess!" and changing her voice continued in a tone of conventional languor: "Yes, the weather is very fine. We were remarking, Mrs. Smith, how sweet and pure the atmosphere."
"Well, yes; the air seems fresh and healthy, but we have a touch of malaria now and then in this Miami Valley."
Hon. John Smith, having chopped down a hickory sapling to make a coupling pole, put his axe-craft to further use by cutting off a forked bough, crooked by Nature, in the exact shape for a pack-saddle. Satisfied with these forest spoils, the rustic statesman returned to his house, where Burr met him with a cordial grasp and a ready tribute of adulation.
"My dear Senator, this is like greeting Cincinnatus on the pastoral side of Tiber, where he dwelt in domestic peace with his wife Racilia."
The salutation gratified the Member of Congress, for he was susceptible to flattery, and knew enough of Roman history to understand the allusion to Cincinnatus, though he had never before heard of Racilia. He valued the evidence of Burr's esteem, implied in the pilgrimage the latter had taken the trouble to make, and no effort was spared to load the colonel with proofs that his visit was appreciated.
In Washington, Burr had known Smith only slightly and officially as one of the senators from Ohio. In the retirement of a lonely farm hourly companionship fostered intimacy. Conversation forgot constraint; the two freely unfolded to each other their thoughts, feelings and hopes, and a community of ideas was gradually established between them. Burr encouraged personal revelation and solicited confidential opinions. He affected warm interest in the details of Smith's affairs—farming operations, grinding of wheat and corn, profitable sales of whiskey, and growing trade at the Columbia store. Neither the piety of the preacher nor the patriotism of the senator could quell in Smith the cupidity of the fortune-builder. Adroitly did Burr shift the trend of discourse to suit his own ends, leading the elder by plausible arguments to accept as logical the sophistry of self-love and greed. The word business was stretched to cover a multitude of sins; the new dictionary of self-aggrandizement concealed a spurious gospel of intrigue and treason.
Spoken words are but breath, and who can report all that passed between the tempter and the tempted? Or who can be sure that the craftiness of the guest was greater than the cunning of the host? The nebulous emanations of Burr's mind were rounding into a definite world of purpose. He invoked the aid of the Hon. John Smith to set the new planet revolving. Conspiracy was planned in the woods and fields of a quiet farm in the valley of the Little Miami.
Burr, yielding to persuasion, protracted his stay almost a week, being feasted and lodged in the country house. Many were the spoken confidences and frequent the "fair, speechless messages" which passed between him and Mrs. Rosemary, as occasion offered, while they lingered at the home of their common friend and counsellor. On the day preceding that of Burr's departure, a bright Sunday, they accompanied the Smith family to a religious service held in a maple grove, near the Miami. The devout farmers, who, with their wives and children, came many miles to the place of worship, observed with solemn eyes of approbation that Burr studied his hymn-book and small gilded Bible, and that the demure lady by his side, dressed in mourning, looked the pattern of saintly piety. While going home from the camp meeting, supporting Mrs. Rosemary on his arm, Burr spoke feelingly of himself, his hopes, and secret plans. Then it was that he told his lovely partner about his contemplated Southern empire which, he declared, would be an elysium for women. Then it was that he gallantly offered to invest to her advantage any portion of the cash she might realize from the sale of her deceased husband's estate. She hung on his arm confidingly and promised to consider his words.
Sitting on the porch in the Sabbath twilight beside Salome, Burr softly intoned his regret that in the morning he must part from her. Sportfully he drew from her finger a diamond ring. "Do you want it back after all these years?" she murmured. "No, dear, you shall have it again in a moment." He turned to a window, and with the sparkling stylus incised some delicate characters upon a pane of glass. Then he returned the ring to its owner, who, after perusing the inscription, looked round into his face, her own radiant with happiness.
The window-pane remained unbroken for nearly a century, and the writing on it was always shown to strangers visiting the old historic homestead. The cutting diamond traced two names upon the glass—those of Senator Smith's transitory guests. Many a sentimental girl, pausing over the double inscription, and mildly condemning Burr, has wondered whatever became of Salome Rosemary.
VIII. DIAMOND CUT DIAMOND.
Bearing in mind his hours of cautious interview with the elder and minutes of furtive dalliance with the widow, Burr rode back to Cincinnati, and regretful that he had lost the companionship of Arlington, resumed his housekeeping and his journey on the flatboat, which he now christened Salome.
Burke Pierce was retained as captain, notwithstanding his late atrocious conduct.
"I didn't know what I was about," he assevered, in self-exculpation; "I was full of Monongahela, and there's a quarrel in every pint of that and manslaughter in every quart."
Burr, whose prospective foray in Mexico would require the service of all the dare-devils who could be enlisted, did not scruple to conciliate this outlaw, nor to give him an inkling of warlike preparations against the Spaniard. Pierce, flattered by this confidence, readily volunteered to lend his aid at any time to whatever enterprise Burr might propose, and, like one of the tools of Brutus, he was ready to say, "Set on your foot; I follow you to do I know not what." Yet he knew more than might be supposed, of the history, official rank and designs of his employer. To the soothing counsel, "You must not bear malice toward that young Virginian; remember, he is one of us." Burke replied with a nod and a sinister laugh.
The Salome was moored at the landing near Fort Massac. General Wilkinson, whose barge lay in port, was stopping temporarily at this station before proceeding to his headquarters in St. Louis. Burr must win Wilkinson, and to the winning of an ally so influential he must bring to bear all the arts of address and insinuation, for he had to deal with a wily character. Yet he did not doubt that, by discreet appeals to the vanity and cupidity of the general, he could induce that blandest of politicians to embark in an enterprise which promised evergreen laurels and rich returns of gold.
Arrayed in his best cloth, with boots freshly polished and face smoothly shaven, with queue and ruffles in perfect condition, a Beau Brummel of exterior proprieties and a Machiavelli in finesse, Aaron Burr presented himself at the barracks, and was welcomed with effusive cordiality by his friend and comrade. The two shook hands with the hearty familiarity of veterans glad to renew old associations.
"Colonel Burr, I am delighted to see you here. Your letter, written in Philadelphia, reached me at the capital. Pray, take this big chair; it is rather comfortable."
"Very elegant, I should say, general, especially for a remote outpost like this. The Government, I imagine, does not furnish you with such costly articles."
"Oh, no, no, certainly not; the chair is part of the furniture of my barge. I must provide myself with these necessaries from my private purse. Necessaries, I say; for use breeds wants; I was habituated from my birth to social refinements, ease and the luxuries of the table.—You must take a cup of kindness with me. What will you drink? I have here sherry, whiskey, peach-brandy and applejack."
The general, as he enumerated the liquors, stepped to the sideboard, which, with its array of bottles, looked like a bar.
Wilkinson was a handsome man, about forty-eight years old. Slightly under the average height, he was of symmetrical figure, and his countenance was agreeable, despite a deeply florid complexion. He held his head well, his walk was firm and dignified, and his bearing was graceful. The well-fitting suit of blue and yellow uniform which he wore with an air of pomp and authority was very becoming to his noble form.
Burr, out of courtesy, drank a glass of light wine, but his entertainer, apologizing for his own robuster taste, poured out a stiff tumbler of brandy, which he swallowed with relish.
"I congratulate you, general," began Burr, "on your appointment to the governorship. The President showed wisdom in his selection."
"I appreciate your confidence, colonel. My good name is my pearl of price. In the many stations I have filled I have always tried to do my duty, and shall try in this. I owe it to you, my dear sir, to say so much, for I believe I am indebted to the late Vice-President for my new position. Mr. Jefferson is understood to have appointed Wilkinson as a mark of favor to Colonel Burr."
"Possibly so; I claim no credit. But I am sincerely glad you are the man. The office is no sinecure. The state of feeling in regard to the Spanish boundary is ominous. Shall you be able to adjust the matter amicably or will the dispute result in war?"
"That is a question events must answer. I am devoted to my country and her interests, and whether as a leader of her armies or as governor of part of her wide domain I shall proceed with an eye single to those interests."
"I know, general, that whatever is right and just you will do, and I assume that when you speak of devotion to your country and her interests, you mean the people and their interests. Under a properly constituted government there should be no conflict between the welfare of the nation and the welfare of the individuals comprising the nation. If the authority of an arbitrary government prove oppressive, or if the liberties of those dwelling in a section be disregarded, I hold to the good old democratic rule that the injured have a right to protest and to resist. The principles for which you and I fought were the principles of individual liberty and of State sovereignty. We were revolutionists."
"Yes," said Wilkinson, playing with one of his brass buttons, "I fully agree with your fundamental propositions."
"But you don't see how they are going to help you in adjusting the boundary line between our country and the Spanish possessions. I have a suggestion to make. There ought to be no boundary line at all between the two countries. This republic, or perhaps I should say, the Western people, should wash out that line with Spanish blood, and make Louisiana and Mexico one domain. I go in for war."
"There is prospect of war, Colonel Burr, but Congress and the President seem timid about making an open declaration. In case hostilities should be precipitated by the Spaniards—"
"What in that case?"
"Why, then an invasion of Mexico might be a military necessity."
"Invasion? Would not the conquest of Mexico be easy? A sufficient force can be raised."
Wilkinson left off toying with his button and looked far away—far as Mexico, far as the Pacific Ocean.
"You are aware, governor—no man living has ampler knowledge of the facts than you have—that only five or six years ago Washington and Hamilton planned and were about to execute a project to seize the Spanish provinces, with British aid. The pretext was war with France, the real object was to take New Orleans, probably Mexico. You were the person whom they wisely entrusted with the management of the business."
"Yes, but not with the command of the troops."
"No; you were to organize the Legion of the West, not to lead it to victory, as you surely would have done had opportunity offered. Hamilton secured the leadership as his perquisite and was careful to see that I was not advanced. He dissuaded Washington from choosing me quartermaster. But they could not obscure my name nor dim your reputation. The people know what is what and who is who. They know 'little Burr' and they know the 'Washington of the West.'"
Wilkinson sat up straighter in his chair.
"The epoch in which it has been my lot to live has been eventful. I little dreamed, when a lad on a Maryland farm, what fortunes lay before me. Who could have prophesied, when you and I began our military career, that my humble services would ever be likened to those of the Father of our Country?"
"You are a better general than ever George Washington was," declared Burr, employing a tone and look so candid and emphatic that his sincerity was not doubted. "What he and Hamilton failed to accomplish, owing to the action of Jefferson in purchasing Louisiana, and so ending the French quasi war, why may not you and I bring to a successful issue? If there was no irregularity in that, there can be none in a renewal of essentially the same plans. Let the Legion of the West be organized once more, and the Washington of the West direct it as he will."
Wilkinson went to the sideboard and moistened his lips.
"There is much that I might tell you, colonel, concerning that proposed expedition of Hamilton's. Men are but men, and the philanthropist weeps over their frailties. For myself, I am open and above board; I abhor deceit and intrigue; I am a man whose head may err, but whose heart cannot be misled. That all are not so I have learned to my cost. You have no idea, sir, what whisperings, what suppression of motives, what secret understandings, marked the proceedings of eminent persons whose public or private interests were involved in the scheme of 1799."
"All men's consciences are not so sensitive as yours, general, nor do all men proceed so boldly. You have courage. But there is some excuse for the secret methods which your nature condemns. Prudence is a prime virtue. There are questions of method and of policy, which are best discussed confidentially, by sagacious men."
"Oh, yes, yes, yes, of course."
"For instance, we two, Wilkinson, here in private, may properly compare opinions on such subjects as this of the Spanish dispute. You and I are in substantial agreement on theories of government. I presume you have no more faith than I have in the permanency of the present Constitution. It is on its trial, and I am of the opinion that it cannot last long."
"Colonel Burr, you are right. The Union is held together by a thread. Yet the salutary restraints of religion and morality are none the less binding. The hallowed bonds which connect the citizens and the State are not made of paper. There is a stronger law than the letter of the Constitution."
"Law, as the world goes," said Burr, "is whatever is boldly asserted and plausibly maintained. But I wish to speak to you of the prospect opening before us in the Mississippi Valley. Here are you, commander-in-chief of the Western troops and governor of Upper Louisiana. Immense power rests in your hands. Now, if it be the will of the people of Kentucky and the Southern States that Mexico should become a part of our common country, or should the sovereign citizens of this section prefer that Mexico shall become part of an independent republic or empire, formed by uniting all the States and Territories of the Southwest, including Mexico—I say if 'we, the people,' demand this, and volunteer to devote lives and fortunes and sacred honor to establish such a new nationality, could not you, would not you, must you not, as a patriot, as a friend of liberty, as a servant of the people, seize an opportunity of making yourself greater than Washington, by fathering a richer, freer and more glorious country than that now held together by a Constitution which, as you truly say, is no stronger than a thread?"
Is it possible that Burr when he uttered these words could have been aware that he was repeating arguments very similar to those which Baron Carondelet had addressed to Wilkinson nine years before, to induce him to deliver Kentucky to his Catholic Majesty, the King of Spain? Burr's proposal had so many points of coincidence with that made by the Spanish governor, that Wilkinson felt a momentary sense of being detected. There was also a confusion of impressions in his brain; the very service he had tendered to Spain, for gold and for glory, was now solicited against Spain for glory and for gold.
Burr saw that his words were striking home and resumed interrogatively:
"Were you not instrumental in the good work of separating Kentucky from Virginia? You made eloquent speeches, you managed everything."
"Yes, I pleased everybody."
"You will please more by abetting a grateful constituency in their efforts to form a better government than the East can pledge them. If it was a good thing to separate Kentucky from Virginia, how much better to sever the Southwest from—"
"This much I will say," interrupted Wilkinson: "I am in favor of State sovereignty and the rights of secession. I am a consistent man. The principles I advocated in 1785 I still hold. My dear colonel," he continued, coming up to Burr and placing both hands on his shoulders, "I must reflect on all this; you broach momentous matter and you take me by surprise. No doubt you have considered the subject in all its phases. I have not. Tell me what you have learned, so far, in regard to the drift of popular feeling."
"I have learned much and am learning more every day. I have conversed with men of every rank, in the East and in the South and in the West, and I am sure of the ground I walk on. These people of Kentucky and Tennessee are ripe for war with the abhorred Spaniard. They have a thousand grievances. They hate New England and mistrust the Federal Government. They are ready for any new combination which can be shown conducive to their prosperity locally. They only wait a leader or leaders. The destiny of the West is manifestly independence. What I intend is this: I shall go to New Orleans, the very heart of the disturbed region, and shall ascertain the wishes, temper and resources of the people upon whom we have to depend. On my return I will report to you the results of my inquiry and observation, and then, if you desire, we may hold further conference."
"I must take time to reflect. Prudence, to recall your own words, is a prime virtue. I am a public servant, an officer of the Government, entrusted with sacred obligations. Your advice, however, cannot be other than wise and statesmanlike."
"General Wilkinson, we are old friends—comrades in arms once; now associates in a magnificent enterprise, if you so will—an enterprise harmful to no American citizen, vastly beneficial to Louisiana, Mexico, and the West in general, and fraught with sure and superb fortunes for the men who have the ability, the courage and the fortitude to carry it to a successful issue."
The general, again stepping to the sideboard and filling two glasses from the brandy bottle, passed one of them to his guest.
"This to the memory of past successes and the hope of future prosperity for us both."
"I drink to the hope more than to the memory, for the past is an empty chest, the future a full coffer," said Burr, and drained his glass.
"You take your liquor like a hero!" joked Wilkinson. "It will do you good, colonel."
The men shook hands and Burr departed, after promising to renew the conversation next day. Slowly he walked along the river bank, saying to himself, "If I could only rely on him. He is slippery as an eel, but a net of golden promise will hold him if anything will. I fancy I have caught James Wilkinson, and if so, half the battle is won."
Wilkinson sat in his big easy-chair, pondering. "Aaron Burr is a shrewd manipulator of men. Naturally he is looking out for his own elevation. He is a falling angel. But his plans are good and hold out strong inducements to the course he proposes. If he will undertake to fit out an expedition and provide recruits, I see no reason why I should not avail myself of the results of his energy. I am in power already—I combine the authority of general and governor—and I cannot see how Burr's co-operation can lessen my dignity or prevent my aggrandizement. Precaution is the word. We shall see how events develop. Perhaps this scheme will open my way to attain the height of my ambition. So long as the signs are propitious I will be safe in trusting them; but should disaster threaten, I can at any time change my policy. Precaution! No precipitancy, no ill-considered pledges."
Thus reflected General Wilkinson. Then, left alone, he gradually yielded to the sedative effect of dinner and drink and fell into a drowse. The dusk of evening had stolen over the river and darkened the woods around the fort. The sound of footsteps at the door startled the sleeper.
A swarthy boatman with a leathern coat slouched in.
"Palafox. You back again?"
"Don't call me Palafox, general. I've changed my name for reasons you might guess. Palafox ha'n't been a safe name to carry since that business at the mouth of the Ohio."
"You need not worry yourself about that 'business,' as you call it, of ten or eleven years ago. I got you out of a bad scrape; your associates, who were arrested, and tried were discharged; the accusations are forgotten. What do you want, Palafox?"
"I tell you I'm not Palafox—I'm Captain Burke Pierce—that's the name I've been going by at Pittsburg and all along the Ohio. I left the other name in New Orleans. Folks don't forget names or deeds so soon as I wish they would. I know the court cleared the men, but they don't forget the trick played on them. Pepillo, who was the helmsman of the piroque, isn't dead, and he would shoot or stab me on sight. Vexeranno is alive yet, too, and he is one of the three who planned to do it."
"Speak no more of the horrible affair, my friend. We were none of us gainers by it. You know how much I lost. But I saved you from arrest, and you ought to be grateful. Why are you here?"
"General Wilkinson, I don't know whether I am thankful or not. You call me your friend, and I have been your friend. It wasn't so much for my sake that you got me off as to keep evidence from leaking out that might have made somebody else uncomfortable. Yes, I've done things for you that you ought to be grateful for, governor! Why am I here? I'm here for back pay. You owe me six hundred dollars."
"Man, you are mad. You presume on my generosity and my past indulgence toward you. I have already paid you more than I should have done, and you owe to me your life and your safety. You overestimate the value of your past services, and I am tired of your importunity. Remember that I am the commander-in-chief of the army and the governor of Louisiana. Do you think it safe to trifle with me? How did you get by the guard to-night?"
"Walked; same as I got by Aaron Burr."
Wilkinson looked up anxiously.
"Palafox—I won't be harsh with you. Take a dram. You were faithful to me and to your duty in former years, and I hope to find profitable employment for you again. Here are five dollars; now leave the premises."
Palafox took the money and disappeared in the gathering gloom. General Wilkinson closed the door and locked it. Then he sat back in his big chair, bowed his brow, and with arms folded sat meditating the past. At length he rose, shook his head, as if sadly answering in the negative some question of conscience, and—took another glass of brandy.
IX. DON'T FORGET THE BITTERS.
Monsieur Deville, having consulted Dr. Goforth, on vaccination, milk-sickness and miasma, took the mail-packet for Gallipolis. Arlington, after transacting the business which brought him to Cincinnati, started for his distant Virginia home, not by water nor by the direct route through Kentucky to the Old Wilderness Road, but across southern Ohio, over the highway which led to Marietta. The young man told landlord Yeatman that his object in choosing this roundabout course was to see the country; and he told the truth, but not the whole truth. Arlington cared not so much about going to Marietta as about getting there. He had not escaped the consequences of his recent perilous exposure to the rays of bewitching eyes. As he rode along through the woods he saw flocks of paroquets fluttering their emerald wings and making love as they flew. The red birds were singing bridal songs in the sugar-trees, and the shy hermit thrush betrayed his domestic secrets by husbandly notes piped from the spice-brush thicket. The wild flowers, too, anemone, puccoon and addertongue, nodding in the light breeze, seemed conscious of the joy of life in spring.
The pilgrimage to the Muskingum was one long meditation on Evaleen Hale. Arlington was powerless to break the rosy mesh which entangled him. The bright image of the golden-haired New England girl waylaid him again and again. He reached Marietta on a fine, bright morning, and having consigned his horse to the care of the ostler of the Travellers' Rest, he presently started out in search of the dwelling-place of Evaleen, trusting, like Shelley's Indian lover, to the Spirit in his feet.
It did not take long to make the rounds of the prim, Puritan village, and though he caught sight of more than one pretty maid peeping with coy curiosity from cottage window or garden plot, he saw no face comparable with that which he had cherished in memory since seeing the original in Blennerhassett's parlor. A lame soldier of the Revolutionary War pointed out to him the squares named Campus Martius and Capitolium, and directed him to follow the Sacra Via, through a covert way, to the wonderful ancient earthworks hard by—vast enclosures, terraces and tumuli, resembling natural hills, but, in fact, the piled-up monuments of the Mound Builders. The greatest and most impressive of these mysterious remains, a huge mound in the form of a sugar-loaf, appealed so strongly to Arlington's imagination, that, contemplating it, he for a time forgot everything else, losing himself in admiration and conjecture. Intending a closer inspection of the steep, artificial hill, he crossed a dry fosse which ran around it in a perfect circle, and was clambering up the mound when a voice from above startled him.
"Come up, come right up! There's a good path starts t'other side of that wild gooseberry bush."
Looking aloft, Arlington beheld, seated on the summit of the mound, the grotesque figure of Plutarch Byle.
"It blows a body, don't it?" said Byle, recognizing the Southerner with a familiar nod. "Give us your hand; I'll haul you safe to the peak of Aryrat. I'm right glad to see you, and I'm not sorry he isn't along with you. Have you got rid of him for good?"
"Do you mean Colonel Burr?"
"Exactly; he's a sort of burr I hope to God will never stick to me or to any friend of mine. I like you, Burlington, and I congratulate you, as the saying is, that you pulled him off. Folks oughtn't to be too familiar with strangers, ought they? You or I might be taken in by appearances. I confess I was deceived in—I won't say that man, but that hoop-snake. He was as fine looking a man as I am. But let's not mention him. Which way do you hail from now? When did you strike Marietta?"
"To-day, Mr. Byle."
"Call me Plutarch. I don't like European forms. How long do you calculate to stay, Burlingham?"
"Not long. I am on my return to Virginia, and stop in Marietta to see these earthworks. You are acquainted here. Do you know—do you know of a family by the name of Hale?"
"Well, yes; that is, I know old Squire George Hale by sight, and I met his daughter once in a sort of social way like, at Mrs. Blennerhassett's. The Hales is a fine family, regular high posts with a silk tester; they're upper-crust Boston quality. George hasn't lived here long, only about a year, and I've been away up on Yok River, at brother Virgil's, most of the time for the last five year. The Hales are blue blood, and no mistake. The young woman is a seek-no-farther. She is about to marry a feller from Massachusetts, who is here now a-sparking like fox-fire. I don't know the particulars, but I put this and that together, and I'm satisfied it's a match, and though I'm always danged sorry for any girl who gets married, I reckon this feller is about as decent as any of us. His names is Danvers—Captain Danvers; a right peert young chap, in the reg'lar army. I saw them yesterday, Evaleen and him—her name's Evaleen—walking, spooney-like, down by Muskingum, and I says to myself, 'By the holy artichokes, I'd like to be in the captain's military boots.'"
"Are you sure they are engaged?" queried Arlington.
"Yes, sure as coffin-nails; why? Do you know the Spring Beauty?"
"I have met her."
"I'll bet you took a fancy to her the minute you sot eyes on her. So did I; but I nipped it in the bud. You look as if you might be hugely in love, Burlington. I know adzactly how you feel. Everything is prodigious out here in the West—big trees, big fish, big mammoth bones, and big hearts. I'll swan! the kind of love that you are liable to in these tremendous woods is like the rest of the works of Nature, immense. Howsomever, a man can stand a terrible sight of love and get over it. I know what I'm talking about. Love's a queer complaint! By ginger, I realize from experience how it takes hold of the system. You mightn't guess it, but I pulled through the toughest case of woman-stroke that ever a young feller was took with.
'Cheeks of my youth, Bathed in tears have you been.'
It's facts I'm stating. Still, a good constitution does mend fast when the flightiness and distress in the imagination leaves him and he cools down to his right mind. And there's medicine for every ailment, balm in Gilead, by gum, even for love sickness. The seed-pods of the cucumber tree soaked in raw whiskey makes a first-rate bitters for all such like fevers. I'm sorry for you, but—hold up, what did I tell you? Look yonder! Do you see that couple walking this way from Campus Martius? That's them!"
Looking in the direction indicated by Plutarch's long forefinger, Arlington saw a man and a woman, side by side, slowly approaching the mound, so absorbed in each other's companionship that they seemed oblivious to the landscape and the sky. Neither glanced upward, though they came so near the base of the hill that the envious spy on the summit, peering down, identified the person and the voice of the lady as belonging unmistakably to Miss Hale. The pair paused under a dog-wood from which Captain Danvers plucked a flowery bough; then they resumed their stroll, walking toward the village, arm in arm.
"Shall I holler to them?" asked Byle with the friendliest intentions.
"By no means!" said Arlington hastily. "I have not the slightest interest in either of them. What have you here in your basket—botanical specimens?"
The inquiry set Plutarch's tongue running on his favorite theme. "I'm a sort of self-made doctor, Mr. —— won't you please write your name out just as you spell it yourself, and let me have it? I ain't sure of the accent. I've been digging roots and so on, for brother Blennerhassett. He's an odd fish—he fancies he knows yarbs. Well, now, he does; that is, he can learn and is learning faster than you would believe a near-sighted United Irishman could learn anything outside of books. He knows ginseng from pleuresy-root, anyhow. This plant—I'm taking the whole thing, root and stem, to show him how it grows—is the genuine Indian physic; I got it right by a big rotten log in Putnam's woods. What do you say to taking a tour to Blennerhassett's with me in my piroque? I've got as snug a piroque as ever oversot."
There was no reason why Arlington should not seize this offered opportunity of once more visiting the island, and pay his respects to the proprietor, whom he had some curiosity to meet. Besides, might he not chance to learn the true condition of affairs regarding Evaleen Hale and the objectionable captain?
Rocking on lazy eddies of a sheltered cove lay the piroque. It was a dugout or canoe, made by hollowing with axe and adz a section of a cucumber tree. One-fourth of its length was covered with canvas stretched on hoops, forming a canopy to shed rain and to screen the passenger from the sun's rays. The cosy shelter was made use of by Plutarch as a receptacle for "specimens" of all varieties, animal, vegetable and mineral. The boat was propelled by a paddle, and, as the owner had warned Arlington, was liable to be toppled over by any heedless movement of its occupants. In this craft, the distance from Marietta to the island was measured without accident. Landed on the gravelly beach, Plutarch bent his steps toward the dazzling white house, Arlington at his side. Peter Taylor, puttering in the front yard, greeted the visitors in his saturnine style.
"Which way is the Highcockolorum?" inquired Plutarch, thrusting out his hand.
The gardener was perplexed.
"I mean your boss. Ah, there he is, with a gun! What's the fraction now? When I first came to this place his little boy offered to stick a tin sword through me, and I wonder now if pap means to shoot me!"
"'E couldn't 'it you at ten paces," grumbled the Englishman, manifesting grim enjoyment. Byle winked in response. Blennerhassett, leading Dominick by the hand, came to meet them, and Arlington was courteously received.
"I regret my absence at the time you did us the honor to call. I have since had a delightful letter from Colonel Burr, who promises to favor us again. Mrs. Blennerhassett told me every particular of your brief sojourn here. She was charmed with her guests. I am sorry she happens to be from home. She has gone to spend the day with friends in Marietta."
"That's where she was, by gum, the first time I called here," broke in Byle, whose unconscious temerity Blennerhassett, not being able to rebuke, had concluded to tolerate. "I have fetched you a lot more plants and roots, and the spines of that big cat-fish I told you about. Here's another curiosity—the wing of a queer bird that I don't know—maybe you will—I shot the fowl flying. I see you own a rifle!"
"Yes," answered the recluse, placing the piece in Plutarch's hands. "You are familiar with American guns. What is your opinion of this one? It was recommended to me as an excellent article, and I bought it at an enormous price, so my neighbors tell me. But from my indifferent success in bringing down game with it, I am forced to the conclusion that the barrel must be defective. Peter thinks not, but he is more of an adept in horticulture than in shooting."
The gardener was miffed by this left-handed compliment, but he did not venture to resent the impeachment. Plutarch handled the gun with the confident facility of an expert, poised it to ascertain the weight, noticed the calibre and the maker's name, admired the beauty of the stock, and tested the action of the trigger, lightly lifting the maple breech to his shoulder. The spectators marvelled at the delicate touch of his seemingly coarse fingers.
"This is a good rifle," said he. "Do you see that red head on the top of that tree t'other side of the house?" No one did perceive the bird which the hunter professed to discover on the top of a tall sycamore distinctly visible at a distance of many rods beyond the roof. Byle drew up the rifle and fired.
"Run, bub, and pick him up," said Plutarch, dropping the butt of the rifle and resting it carelessly on the toe of his shoe. Dominick hesitated, but the black man, Scipio, who had drawn near to witness the shooting, trudged away to the foot of the tree, where he found a dead woodpecker lying on the ground. He picked up the bird, still warm and bleeding, and brought it to Blennerhassett, who expressed enthusiastic admiration for the marksman's skill. Plutarch received the praise without showing the pleased vanity he inwardly felt, and having reloaded the gun with neat celerity, he passed it to the owner, saying in his unceremonious way, "Now, boss, it's your turn."
Blennerhassett at first declined to make an exhibition of his skill, but on persuasion consented to fire at a mark under the direction of his faithful servant, Peter Taylor, who was accustomed to attend him on hunting excursions. Mr. Byle, with accommodating alacrity, offered his hat as a suitable target, having stuck a maple leaf on the centre of the crown to answer as the bull's eye. The party shifted ground to the rear premises, and the hat was fixed to the side of the barn. Blennerhassett took his place directly in front of the mark, at a distance from it of twenty steps deliberately paced off by Plutarch. When their chief cocked the rifle there was a general commotion among the servants, black and white, for by this time the whole retinue of the establishment, including ostler, footman, butler, field hands and housemaids, had collected to see the sport. The principal actor, being self-absorbed as well as near-sighted, was scarcely aware of the tittering assemblage. Abstracted from every other thought, he fixed his attention on the great business in hand, not without misgiving and nervous agitation. When he lifted the rifle to his shoulder, and, trembling with excitement, pointed it in the manner he conceived to be proper, Peter Taylor, stationed at his master's back as prompter and artillerist, gave directions: "Now, sir, cool and steady! 'Old her level! Not so 'igh, Mr. Blennerhassett. There! So! 'Old on! 'Old on! A leetle more up! Ready! Fire!"
In agitation, the gentleman drew the trigger, and the next instant a pane of window-glass, fully six feet from the outmost rim of Mr. Byle's straw hat, was shivered to pieces, and the fragments were heard to tinkle as they fell within the barn. The chagrin of the mortified rifleman was cunningly abated by Peter's declaring that he himself was at fault in confining his master's attention to vertical rather than to horizontal considerations; but while he thus explained away the failure, he winked at the other servants and whispered aside to Plutarch that, though horticulture was his profession, he was a better shot than his distinguished employer.
"That's claiming a good deal, isn't it?" replied Byle, following with his eye the humiliated subject of their comment, who, conscious that he had made himself ridiculous, withdrew from the scene and tried to recover lost dignity by retiring with his guest to the privacy of his library. There, rallying his spirits, he dilated upon law, science and belles-lettres, oblivious of the fact that his commonplace remarks were tedious to a lively mind. He was opinionated, though not egotistical; revered authority, took himself seriously, and was a hero worshipper lacking humor and imagination. Pedantically conscious of imparting his stored wisdom to the attentive listener, whom he desired to entertain, he glowed with ingenuous enthusiasm while he commented, in mildly magisterial fashion, on books and authors. He read aloud extracts from "Shaftsbury's Characteristics," nodding approval of the dullest sentences. Then he opened a large new folio, illustrated with allegorical plates and profusely annotated.
"This is my latest literary treasure, Erasmus Darwin's wonderful poem, 'The Temple of Nature,' recently published, and superior, I think, to the 'Botanic Garden.' Let me read from the first canto, on the Production of Life."
Arlington in "wise passivity" submitted to the infliction, and with feigned pleasure followed the torturer's voice, delivering page after page of solemn science in polished heroic couplets. At length, in a lull between the lines on Imitation and those on Appetency, the young man mustered courage to broach the subject nearest his heart, by asking the irrelevant question, "You are acquainted, I dare say, with the prominent families of Marietta; do you happen to know a gentleman by the name of Hale? George Hale?"
Blennerhassett, keeping one eye on the Temple of Nature, answered mechanically:
"Yes; George Hale is one of our best citizens. He is held in high esteem, a man of some wealth and of great probity, but not college bred. I am sure, Mr. Arlington, you will discern high poetical qualities in this passage from the second canto, entitled Reproduction of Life. Shall I read it aloud?"
"By all means, sir. I should be delighted to hear you read the entire volume, but I regret that I have engagements up the river."
"I will detain you only a moment, Mr. Arlington. Perhaps you would like to carry the book with you to read on your way back. This is the passage I referred to:
'Now, young Desires, on purple pinions borne, Mount the warm gale of Manhood's rising morn; With softer fires through Virgin bosoms dart, Flush the pale cheek, and goad the tender heart!'
Those are well-constructed verses, my dear sir—equal to Dryden. 'On purple pinions borne,' sounds well. The alliteration is pleasing. Note the effect, also, in the phrase 'Manhood's morn,' and the last line is poetical,
'Flush the pale cheek, and goad the tender heart.'
Or this, suggesting how love and sympathy causes affinities which—
'Melt into Lymph or kindle into gas.'
There are those who contend that scientific truths cannot be stated poetically; but here, I am sure, science and sentiment are at one. Am I not right?"
"Doubtless your judgment is correct," assented Chester, uncertain whether Blennerhassett was speaking in earnest or in irony. "I confess I am not a literary student. Pardon the interruption and my inquisitiveness, but am I correctly informed that the young lady to whom I was introduced, a few weeks ago, when I called here, is related to Mr. Hale of whom we were speaking?"
"Quite right; she is his daughter, Miss Evaleen, an amiable girl. Margaret and the boys think the world of her."
Arlington made another effort to satisfy his jealous curiosity. "I was told by a gentleman in Marietta that Miss Hale is about to be married. Am I correctly informed? The lucky man is to be envied."
Blennerhassett, whose eyes were still picking poetic gems from Darwin, answered vaguely.
"Oh, to be sure. A fortunate man. She will make an excellent wife. Did you hear such a report? Not surprising; I remember now that Margaret mentioned something of Evaleen's prospects in that way—to the effect, I believe, that she, that is, Miss Hale, had received gallant attentions from an eligible young man—a suitor. Women take more interest than we men do in affairs of this nature. I can give no particulars."
"This Captain Danvers—?" faltered Chester.
"Danvers? Danvers?" repeated the absent-minded philosopher amiably. "Ah, yes. Captain Danvers is at present stopping at the Hale residence. My wife tells me that Evaleen and he are exceedingly devoted to each other. Naturally. You would be welcome, I assure you, if you should call. They are very hospitable."
Without further inquiries, Arlington presently took leave to join Byle, with whom he voyaged back to Marietta. Wrapped in meditation he sat, taciturn, ballasting the unstable piroque which his stalwart comrade propelled with astonishing speed against the current. Chester spoke not a dozen sentences during the tedious passage from the island to the village. Byle, strange to say, also held his tongue, but he watched his melancholy companion with varying facial expressions, eloquent of fellow-feeling. The piroque was brought to shore on the east bank of the Muskingum, a short distance above the mouth of the river.
"You can tell your grandchildren that you sot your foot just where Rufus Putnam did when he jumped off the Mayflower in 1788. This is the spot where the first settlers of Ohio landed."
"You make me feel quite like a historical character," said Arlington, and thanked his obliging guide.
"I don't reckon history is all over yet, Arlington. Good-night, and take keer of yourself. I'm goshamighty sorry your goose is cooked in regards to Evaleen. Still, this Danvers is a perfect gentleman—you'd say so yourself if you knowed him as she does. By dad, we can't all have the same girl, or others would suffer. Don't forget the bitters. Speaking of bitters and how to cure trouble in this vale of tears, as the saying is, I reckon you have heard of a man by the name of Jonathan Edwards? He's dead now, but he made his living by preaching, and he wrote books. The only one of his works that I ever read was his Rules, and they are elegant. One of Jonathan's rules I learned by heart: 'When you feel pain, think of the pains of martyrdom and of hell.' You might try that. But whatever you try, don't forget the bitters—fruit of the cucumber tree in raw whiskey."
"Don't forget the bitters." These words kept repeating themselves in Chester's mind long after he had gone to bed in the small room assigned to him by the host of the Travellers' Rest. He slept wretchedly, rose late the next morning, breakfasted, and after ordering his horse to be saddled at nine o'clock, walked to the wharf where lay the mail-boat ready to start down the Ohio. Among the few taking passage on the vessel was Captain Danvers, who had been ordered to report for service in St. Louis, and was on his way thither. Arlington observed the fine-looking young officer with the petulant dislike of foiled envy. So spiteful was his mood that he wished a pretext for saying or doing something offensive to his handsome rival. Such a pretext was afforded. A veteran major who had accompanied Danvers to the boat, to bid him good-bye, called out:
"Captain, don't let the Indians scalp you or the Spaniards take you prisoner. If you had been three weeks sooner you might have had Aaron Burr for a fellow-traveller. He stopped here on his way down the river."
"I would not travel on the same boat with Aaron Burr. I consider him guilty of murder."
Arlington's wrath broke forth. "Any man who says that speaks calumny."
"Do you mean to insult me, sir? I never saw you before, and did not address you."
"I do not stand on ceremony with those who traduce my friends," retorted the Southerner sneeringly. "Colonel Burr is my friend—you have maligned him."
Danvers contemptuously replied: "You seem proud of your alleged intimacy with a notorious criminal. Perhaps you are the Vice-President's brother, or are you his man-servant?"
The taunt raised a laugh at Arlington, who roared out:
"Burr did right in calling Hamilton to the field; he vindicated his own honor."
"Push off! Loosen that line!" shouted the captain from the deck. "Hurry up! blast you! we're a year behind time!"
The boat-hands made a show of haste without making speed, reluctant to miss the chance of witnessing a fight.
"Captain Danvers, perhaps, like other Yankees, you preach against duelling, but do not scruple to traduce men who are not present to resent your words."
"You know my name!" cried Danvers, "but are wrong in supposing that I will stand an affront. If you are a gentleman—"
"If? Couldn't you waive ifs and buts long enough to try the Weehauken experiment and then investigate my pedigree? The question is, are you a man or a dastard?"
"Swaller your fire, young salamander," broke in the captain of the boat. "We hain't got no time to fuss nor fight duels. Push off, there, boys! Get your poles in hand and give her a reverend set! If the feller on shore is hankering for gore let him swim after us. Let go that cordelle, you cussed, lazy, flat-bellied, Hockhocking idiot! Can't you learn that a vessel won't navigate while she's tied to a tree and stuck fast in the mud?"
Soon in midstream, the boat moved away rapidly, impelled by the triple force of current, wind and oars, and the Virginian was jeered at from deck and shore. It completed his mortification to observe Danvers waving him a disdainful farewell. He returned to the tavern, paid his reckoning, mounted his horse, and rode away dejected and miserable. Self-disgust wrought in him a revulsion against Ohio, Marietta and the Blennerhassetts, and caused him, for the moment, to wish he had never met Evaleen. He rode along the village street, his mind's ear ringing with Byle's parting advice: "Don't forget the bitters." While his horse was trotting past a house that stood back from the street, in the midst of shrubbery, he thought he heard his own name spoken. On turning his head, he saw two ladies observing him from a leaf-screened veranda. His impulse was to halt; he drew bridle, but, recalling the scene on the wharf, he spurred on.
"My dear girl," exclaimed the elder of the two ladies, watching the unheeding horseman, "that gentleman is Mr. Arlington or Mr. Arlington's twin brother."
Evaleen's lips trembled as she replied hesitatingly, "It cannot be he; he would have called. He knows we live in Marietta."
"I am sure it is Mr. Arlington, and I cannot account for his failing to pay you his respects. He showed a decided interest in you that day on the island. To my eye it looked very like love at first sight; and I cannot help believing that his sole errand in Marietta is to see you again."
Evaleen, reddening, plucked leaflets from the honeysuckle which covered the porch.
"What am I to Mr. Arlington?"
"Perhaps more than he is to you. I wish he could have met Captain Danvers."
Evaleen's blush faded.
"I may never see Warren again," she sighed; "he is reckless and will not shun Spanish bullets or yellow fever. I can't bear to think of what he must endure in the army."
"Be proud that he has gone to the war as a brave man should. I admire men who are fearless."
"Oh, Margaret, you don't know how dear he is to me!"
"My darling, I understand. But Natchez is not out of the world, even if the soldiers should be sent there. After all, there may be no fighting. But I can't solve the mystery of our Virginia friend's ungallant conduct."
Midday came and went, the afternoon wasted away, the sun set, but the disappointing cavalier came not back to the village. Madam Blennerhassett said no more about him, though she noticed that at intervals Evaleen furtively glanced through an open window eastward down the long perspective of the shaded road.
X. "NOW TO MY CHARMS AND TO MY WILY TRAINS."
Burr tarried at Massac, spinning subtle webs to entangle human flies. He "lived along the line" of correspondence, keeping in touch with former associates and recent acquaintances. In his ark, seated at a rough table, he wrote to those he hoped to gain or feared to lose. He did not neglect the Blennerhassetts, nor Arlington, nor the confiding young law-students of Pittsburg. A lengthy letter was penned to the Hon. John Smith, and, at the same sitting, a model billet-doux to Mrs. Rosemary. Other business was combined with this epistolary industry, for, even before the stamp of the writer's seal was lifted from the soft, red wafer on the widow's letter, a backwoods settler came, by appointment, to close a bargain by which the flatboat "Salome" was sold.
The somewhat damaged vessel was knocked to pieces by its new owner, who used the timber to construct a shanty, a stable, and a pig-pen, for his family and other live-stock. Before this degrading transmutation was begun, the original proprietor of the now abandoned craft removed to the commodious cabin of an elegant barge, provided by the courtesy of Wilkinson. In this convenient vessel, navigated by a select crew under command of a faithful sergeant, the sole passenger embarked for New Orleans. In frequent conference with Wilkinson he had amplified and enforced the arguments broached at the first interview. On the day set for the statesman's departure, the two men spoke together, very confidentially.
"Good-bye, Aaron; I augur well of your undertaking. The auspices are favorable. We are engaged in a scheme full of danger, requiring enterprise; but, if successful, fraught with fortune and glory."
"General, we are engaged, not in a scheme, but in a sublime exploit. We are to create an ideal commonwealth. The materials are ready. I go to take seizin of the grandest dominion on the curve of the globe. Military force will be requisite to sustain civil polity. The names Burr and Wilkinson are linked together in the chain of destiny. Farewell, and God bless you. When I return, I will hasten to join you at St. Louis, and give a full report of my stewardship."
With rhetoric like this, the parting guest closed his valedictory. His barge was soon under way. Down the calm Ohio, down the solemn Mississippi fared Aaron Burr, bound for the prodigal South. Swept along by the urgent stream, his boat seemed the plaything of fate, and the unstable element upon which it rode and rocked and trembled, he likened to human life, fleeting, turbulent, treacherous, yet grandly beautiful. Yielding to that mood in which the judgment and the will are suspended, and the passive brain is played upon by every sight and sound, he sat in an easy chair smoking, lost in sensuous languor, like an Asian prince. He was, for the time, possessed by the sensation of being royal. He enjoyed by anticipation the prerogatives of sovereignty, the power, the luxury, the voluptuous pleasure. The objects of his ambition appeared then how easy of attainment! To accomplish seemed no more difficult than to desire. The stream was running his way, and the wind was blowing his way. As surely as the Mississippi goes to the Mexican Gulf, would destiny waft Burr to the ocean of his desire. Imaginations so extravagant, courted in solitude and fed by indolence, served to beguile the days of the long voyage from Fort Massac to New Orleans.
At last the barge rounded into port, late in the afternoon of a perfect summer day. Aaron the First, standing upon deck, was coming unto his own; or rather, the city came floating out to meet her king. The bending shore which gives the name Crescent City to the emporium of the South, was lined with ships from every sea, and with innumerable river craft. New Orleans was one of the richest marts on the hemisphere. Burr stepped ashore and quickly ascended the levee. Hundreds of pleasure-seekers swarmed the footpaths or rested on the benches under the rows of orange trees which shaded the broad causeway.
On turning his eyes towards the city, Burr experienced a thrill of surprise. The prospect surpassed his pre-conceptions. In the subdued glow of the setting sun, he saw all things touched with a visionary splendour. Streets, roofs, belfries, the cathedral spire, and the flag of the Union streaming far away above the fort, appeared objects in an enchanted scene. Were the seven cities of Cibola clustered in one golden capital?
The spell was broken by the practical promptings of common sense. Not in possession, but only in pursuit of a treasury and a scepter, the would-be monarch addressed himself to the solution of his complicated problem. It was necessary to learn how the Louisianians regarded the Federal government, how much prejudice they felt against the Atlantic States, and whether they could be influenced to break away from the Union and to organize a separate autonomy. Burr wished further to know who and how many were disposed to wage war against the Spaniards with the ulterior design of conquering Mexico. In order to learn the inside facts he must gain the confidence of all, must make himself popular, must fathom hearts and steal away brains. The final success of his plans would depend on the good-will of the people. The good-will of the people must be won by address—by social tact. Social tact was Aaron Burr's art of arts. He deliberately set about the delicate business of captivating a city that he might eventually capture it.
Wilkinson had pressed upon him letters of introduction to the magnates of the town. Neither letters nor formal receptions were needed to introduce Aaron Burr to society. His manner was passport, entitling him to cross all borders; his sympathy was cosmopolitan, his toleration unlimited, his pleasure, to please others, his study urbanity. Jews thought him a Hebrew, and Christians voted him orthodox. The amiable but capricious creoles, easy to take offense, yet blind in their devotion to those they confide in, swarmed to his standard. The Roman Catholic bishop countenanced him, endorsed his aims, and signalized an official friendliness by accompanying him on a visit to the Ursuline Convent, and there the son of a Protestant preacher chatted pleasantly with my lady prioress and her demure nuns. Burr went everywhere, and wherever he went, he made discreet use of his opportunity to inquire, to observe, to listen, to make friends and proselytes. He felt the pulse of public sentiment. Never to any person did he fully disclose his designs. Without argument or appeal, he convinced, persuaded, and inflamed the victims of his corrupting influence. To the avaricious his intimations promised riches; to the luxurious, pleasure; to those disaffected towards the East, revolt and secession.
Affairs in the Southwest were unsettled. Only a year and a half had elapsed since Louisiana had passed into American hands. Jefferson's land purchase was a current topic of conversation. Opinions differed, and men hotly discussed the question whether, even if the President had a constitutional right, he had a moral warrant for saddling upon the young republic a wild domain, of doubtful value, sparsely inhabited by Indians and already dedicated, by tradition, to the rule of an alien, white population. The Spaniard and the Frenchman, sold and transferred, by one power to another, could not be expected to submit. The citizens had long yielded willing allegiance to his Spanish majesty, the emblem of whose sovereignty had been hauled down, to give place to the tri-color of France; and now that second banner had disappeared. Though an American governor ruled the district, there prevailed among the populace a hope and belief, that, after a brief meteoric display, the red, white and blue, emblazoned with stars, would fade and vanish from its proud height over the old fort, new garrisoned by American soldiers. Spanish officers in disguise lingered in the haunts of their former dignity and sway. They stirred up secret dissension. They deemed themselves not extinguished, though eclipsed. Discontent and resistance were in the air. War-clouds hung dark along the Mexican and Floridan border, rumbling with ominous thunder.
Into this chaos of troubled politics, and conflicting interests, Aaron Burr came exploring, vigilant to note and sedulous to question. The sum of the impressions which he received confirmed him in the belief that the people of the West and Southwest were ready and anxious to separate their section from the Atlantic States; and he felt convinced that it would be no trouble "to enlist recruits and make arrangements for a private expedition against Mexico," especially in case of war with Spain.
It was the middle of September when, true to his promise, Burr appeared at St. Louis, in Wilkinson's quarters, to unfold the tale of his triumph in New Orleans. In the course of his animated narrative, he said:
"There is an infinite difference between floating down to New Orleans in your delightful barge, and jogging homeward a thousand miles on horseback. That interminable stretch of dreary wilderness from Natchez to Nashville, along the Indian trail, over sandy wastes, through pine woods, was intolerable. I was glad enough to reach Tennessee and old Kentucky. The people of Frankfort treated me very handsomely, as did those of Lexington. I paid my respects to the local idol, the young Virginia orator and rising lawyer, Henry Clay. That man is a prodigy—he will make his mark. I wish he were hand in hand with us, like Jackson, and ready to embark his fortune at our prompting."
"So do I. Clay is a rising power, notwithstanding his conceit. He will make a stir in Congress some of these days."
"That he will," said Burr, and proceeded with his story, at the close of which he exclaimed,
"I wish you could attend one of the meetings of the Mexican Society in New Orleans. Its object is to discuss means of emancipating Mexico. You should hear, as I have heard, the outspoken discontents of the creole population. They adore the institution of African slavery. They hate New England. They will not buy even a Yankee clock if it is adorned with an image of the Yankee Goddess of Liberty. But they are mine, every mother's son of them, and what is more important, every father's daughter of them. I took the city by storm, and the outlying provinces belong to us. We have a people and, virtually, an army. The moral conquest is complete. When the hour strikes for extending the borders of our conceded realm, you are the chosen Caesar."
"Can we depend on David Clarke's co-operation?"
"Why not? His interests are bound up in ours. We have a host of stanch adherents, in all parts of the country and on the high sea, and in Europe, soldiers, statesmen, capitalists. I need not name them to you. All these are to be kept in mind and treated with due consideration. Our enterprise is in its preliminary stage. The shrewd work of enlisting recruits must be intrusted to carefully selected captains. I have the ways and means clearly in my head. Every detail must be worked out in practice."
"Burr, you are more circumspect than I gave you credit for being. There is always danger in the dark. Have you entertained the possibility of defection?"
"I have measured my ground, and calculated the curve of my leap. I shall not fall into an abyss, or dash myself upon a rock. If we fail to sever the Union, and do not succeed in the conquest of Mexico, I have so masked our designs as to make them appear in the guise of innocent land-speculations on the Wachita river."
XI. PALAFOX GROWS INSOLENT.
Early in October Wilkinson's duties required him to visit the town of Genevive, some fifty miles south of St. Louis. The best cabin in a keelboat had been furnished in sumptuous style for the accommodation of the self-indulgent chief. Such was the attractiveness of this cosy retreat that the general preferred it to his official quarters on the shore and he occasionally spent a whole afternoon reading, writing or dozing there in undisturbed privacy.
On the day before that fixed for his departure he prolonged his stay in the cabin to a late hour, for reasons partly physical, partly mental. His robust health and ebullient spirits were suffering an unwonted depression. Even his strong constitution could not withstand the "miasmatic" vapor of the lowlands near the Western watercourses. The malarial poison had entered his blood, causing low fever, dull headache and general hypochondria. Copious doses of Peruvian bark bitters aggravated the unpleasant symptoms. Moreover, the weather had turned unseasonably raw and gusty. The characteristic mildness of October gave way to gloomy inclemency. The month was not like its usual self, and Wilkinson partook of its exceptional harsh melancholy. Appropriate for a season so dreary was the sad name of Fall—Fall, the period of decline, decay and death. For the first time in his life Wilkinson "heard the voice which tells men they are old," though he was not old.
The general sat holding in his hand a short letter, in cipher. The last sentence did not please him. "God bless you and grant you a safe deliverance from factions and factious men." These words Wilkinson read over and over. To him, in his dejected mood, with nerves unstrung and head swimming in quinine bitters, the blessing sounded ironical; a mocking face seemed concealed behind the mask of considerate friendliness. The tone of the communication struck him as patronizing, perhaps unconsciously made so, but the more offensive on that account. One suspicious fancy engenders another; it now occurred to the general that his former comrade and late guest, in more than one unguarded speech, had arrogated superiority, and that he had presumed, without sufficient warrant, on the subserviency of men greater than himself.
"Does he think I am committed to him, body and soul? Does he take it for granted that I am a tool and a fool? Burr should consider his own position and mine. I have had too much experience in the world to be caught by this shrewd contriver, or by any man."
Wilkinson put the letter away, and taking a book, threw himself on his bed. The volume he had chosen was a fine copy of the Sentimental Journey, his favorite reading. The italicised wit and glossy licentiousness of Yorick did not fix attention. Neither the "Dead Ass," nor the "Starling," nor the fair "Fille de chambre," had now a charm to steal the reader from his petty miseries of head and heart. Casting the book aside, he again arose, paced nervously up and down the cramped cabin, and once more sought comfort in the cushioned seat. Prudence bade him seek home before nightfall, but the inertia of despondency kept him from going. The gathering darkness, the whining wind, the sound of restless water lapping and sucking around the keel, suggested superstitious forebodings and called up dismal images. To every mood there is a season; this was Wilkinson's hour of self-examination. He looked backward on his deeds and inward on his motives. He mistrusted the future. If he were sure that Burr's rainbow dipped its gorgeous ends in gold, no accusing ghost of the past would deter him from chasing the yellow temptation over mountains or through bogs. He was not given to brooding over bygone failures, nor was he much afraid that his buried sins would arise to find him out. He began to think better of his friend's message. Burr was certainly a deep man and bold; he had genius; he had perseverance, enthusiasm, resource, resolution. Taking him all in all, he was a masterful spirit, a fit partner, nay, even a leader for James Wilkinson.
To dispel mental gloom, the general summoned his familiar, the nimble spirit of alcohol. One dram proved so enlivening, by going "straight to the spot," that another was tossed off, from a sense of gratitude. Evidently the best ingredient in the bitters was the solvent, not the Peruvian bark. Wilkinson placed the bottle in a cupboard, and was preparing to leave the cabin, when the door opened and in walked Palafox. The commander-in-chief, whom fever and quinine had rendered hot-headed, stared angrily.
"What does this mean? Didn't I warn you never again to come to me unless sent for? You sneak in without so much as knocking! Your effrontery deserves a horsewhip! Begone!"
Instead of going, the intruding boatman pulled off his slouch hat and made a humble bow: "I beg your pardon, general, but I used to come and go, you recollect, by your order, informally, like a kind of private secretary, and I can't get rid of the familiar habit."
"Familiar! I should say so! You are brazen! I doubt you are drunk or you would not have the audacity to invade my privacy and speak as you do."
"Well, governor, what if I am drunk? You don't see anything disgraceful in that, do you?"
The insolence of this personal thrust enraged Wilkinson beyond endurance. In his indignation he snatched a sheathed sword from the wall and struck Palafox a rash blow. The ruffian recoiled, staggering, and clutched at the hilt of a dirk in his belt.
"Is that enough for you?" cried the furious general.
The Spaniard, livid and trembling, checked the impulse to draw his dirk, and slowly raising his hand to the bleeding welt on his forehead, said with sullen irony:
"It's now more'n three months since I invaded your privacy, as you call it. I came all the way from Natchez for money, not for abuse. You owe me, and if you are a man of your word you'll pay me. I want to leave this part of the country, and won't bother you any more after you've paid what's coming to me, unless you want to hear some facts concerning your own good that I've picked up for you."
The unabashed, persistent importunity of Palafox, astounded Wilkinson. There was an accent of admiration in his exclamation, "You dare-devil!"
"I'm not daring you, general, and if I was, you are not a devil, only a debtor."
The dignity of Wilkinson could not suffer further saucy retort or question.
"This farce must end. I cannot bandy words with such as you. Not another dollar shall you receive from me—not a penny. You had my final word at Massac, last Spring. Quit this boat instantly, and leave St. Louis. If I see you again, or hear of your hanging around the garrison, I'll settle your account in short order."
"I don't belong to the army."
"No!" answered the chief, sternly, "but I do; and I have civil authority also. If you had justice, Palafox, you would hang. I am ashamed of myself to speak to you further. Now, go."
"Yes, I'll go; I'll go in a minute; but I've got a scrap of paper I want to read to you. Will you hear it?"
Not unwilling to learn what might be the purport of the writing so dramatically introduced, and in order to get rid of Palafox without further violence, Wilkinson consented to listen.
With his back to the door, the lowering Spaniard read the following: "It is not necessary to suggest to a gentleman of your experience and knowledge of the world, that man, throughout the world, is governed by private interest, however variously modified it may be. Some men are avaricious, some are vain, others are ambitious. To detect the prevailing passion, to lay hold of and to make most of it is the profoundest secret of political science."
Pausing, he asked sarcastically:
"Are those your sentiments? Folks say you wrote this to Gardoqui, in January, 1789. That was before your plot with the Spanish Minister, Carondelet. Liars say, and say in print, that you hatched up a plan to split the West from the East, and to put the West under Spanish control. They say, these malicious liars do, that Tom Power brought ten thousand dollars bribe money, packed in barrels of sugar and bags of coffee, from New Madrid to Louisville, and that Philip Nolan conveyed the sweetened lucre to Fort Washington."
Wilkinson laughed. "You do not believe such absurdities, do you Palafox?"
"Why should I disbelieve? Carondelet's plan seems excellent to me, a Spaniard. We have been talking about events that happened ten years since. I was in your service nearly twenty years ago; you sent correspondence down the river when I was a boy, but I was a good, careful boy, and always tried to act with intelligence. I've saved lots of nice letters. I'm fond of good reading."
Whether it was owing to illness or quinine or conscience, a slight dizziness came over Wilkinson; his head swam; he leaned far back in his chair, and endeavored to steady his thoughts. Palafox cast on him a sidelong malicious glance and continued his monologue:
"Yes, I've got lots of fine sentiments in my archives. Here's an original. It's tolerable old, you see, stained and worn." This he said displaying a soiled paper, which he drew carefully from a large leathern pocket-book. "Let's see. Yes, this is the original of a fine letter, a copy of which I delivered to Governor Miro."
"Miro!" exclaimed Wilkinson.
"Yes; Miro, that's the name—Don Estevan Miro, Spanish governor of Louisiana, before Carondelet's day."
Wilkinson rose menacingly. Palafox did not flinch, but leering significantly, read these words:
"My situation is mortally painful because, whilst I abhor all duplicity, I am obliged to dissemble. This makes me extremely desirous of resorting to some contrivance that will put me in a position in which I flatter myself to be able to profess myself publicly the vassal of his Catholic majesty, and, therefore, claim his protection, in whatever public or private measures I may devise to promote the interests of the crown."
"There, general, I should say this might be valuable property for you to possess, and damaging to you if it falls under the eye of the public," remarked Palafox, thrusting the letters into his pocket. "It bears your signature. I deciphered every secret letter that touched my hand from you to Miro and Carondelet, and from them to you. Now, hadn't you better buy the whole damned correspondence?"
"Buy?" sneered Wilkinson, trembling with passion. "So this is all the desperate attempt of a felon to levy blackmail upon his benefactor!"
The boatman turned to lift the latch.
"You won't buy, then?"
No reply was vouchsafed the desperado.
"I'll tell you what I'll do. I'll throw in a spice of Aaron Burr pepper that he happened to spill in my sight. You and Aaron appear to be thick. He and I are chums, too. He is one of us. The colonel is a lovely mole, very smooth and shiny, but he don't always tunnel deep enough to hide his track."
"O, I'm going. If you won't buy, I'll keep. Good-bye, general."
He deliberately put on his slouch hat and backed out through the narrow doorway. As a parting salute he touched with his finger the red contusion on his forehead. Wilkinson stood a few seconds, in rigid silence, then stepped to the open door and called aloud:
No answer was returned to the cry, nor did the vanished figure reappear. Not even the sound of his retreating footfalls could be heard. A dense fog had risen, shrouding the river and crawling over cottage and chapel and fort. Alone, in the boat's cabin, by the dim light of a flickering lamp, the general waited and waited, anxious to soothe and conciliate the malignant underling, once his minion, now an unscrupulous enemy, too dangerous to be despised. The proud officer listened for a returning step or a relenting voice, but heard no other noise than that made by the whining winds, and by the waters of the Mississippi fretting and swirling around the keel of his solitary boat.
XII. SNARING A PHILOSOPHER.
After his tour in the West, Burr, homeward bound, pursued his way from St. Louis to Vincennes, thence to Cincinnati, and up the Ohio to the beautiful island he had visited in the month of May. Change of season had transformed a paradise of soft verdure and tender bloom into an Eden of gorgeous foliage and gaudy flowers. The house of Blennerhassett he saw embowered in trees magnificently colored by the wonder-working frosts of October. The place was Faerie Land, but had not Gloriana been there, it may be doubted whether other attractions of the lovely isle would have detained the restless conspirer. Once more the American statesman stood in the presence of the fairest dame west of the Alleghanies, and she received him with cordial words and kind eyes.
"We have been expecting this visit. Your letters to my husband kept us both in hope you would not fail to honor us before your return to Philadelphia."
"The boat which brought me up-stream, madam, rounded into your wharf of its own motion, attracted by some lodestone or guiding star. I am here again, after many days."
"You have wandered far since you happened to discover our hiding-place last May."
"Wandered is the word. Like a pilgrim, I went in Spring to come back in Autumn."
"Bringing the palm?"
"Palm, olive, laurel, myrtle—the whole botany of lucky leaves. How are my boys, Dominick and—what's the younger one's name?—Yes, Harman, how are they? I am due in Philadelphia, but I delay business to indulge inclination."
"You did not quite forget the lonely island and its solitary family?"
"He would be an insane palmer who could forget the most attractive shrine in the round of his long pilgrimage—"
As Burr was saying these words, a soft shuffling step was heard in the adjoining room, and a grave gentleman in spectacles made his appearance in the doorway.
"Colonel Burr, my husband."
"A happiness and an honor to meet you, Colonel Burr."
Bow followed bow, urbane word echoed word, awkwardly protracting the salutatory ceremony until Burr felt like a Chinese mandarin at a court reception. According to his wife's judgment, Mr. Blennerhassett acquitted himself admirably; she felt that Burr must recognize sterling manhood and aristocratic breeding. This he did, and more, for at a glance he read the book and volume of her husband's character, interpreting more accurately than it was in her nature to do. The woman's partial eye discovered the sound qualities it wished to see, while the calculating insight of the man of the world detected the flaws he was too willing to find.
The solemnities of introduction being safely over, Blennerhassett monopolized the guest, and led the way to his study, eager to set forth a feast of information. Among his books he could talk like a book; out of the library he lost energy. There was one source from which he took a current of mental force more vitalizing than any stream of ideas from books, and that source was the superior intellect of his wife. Hardly could he make up his mind on any practical matter, unassisted by her thinking and advice. Doubly dependent, he was not the man to cope with the daring, self-reliant, versatile Aaron Burr. But once in his stronghold, bulwarked by standard editions, and, as it were, in the arsenal of established science, the philosopher rose to his best. He fairly glowed with learning's soft fire, while exhibiting his telescope, microscope, electrical machine, et cetera, and stating to the last shilling what each piece of apparatus cost and how it was to be used. Burr, himself a victim of mild bibliomania, took most interest in the loaded shelves, along which his eyes travelled with rapid discrimination.
"I see familiars here. Your Voltaire is a match for mine. Ah!—Rousseau, Bentley, Gibbon, Hume—I fancy myself in my study on Richmond Hill. You must be a free-thinker. Where is the Holy Bible? I hope you are not past that?"
"The Sacred Scripture? I have two copies. I believe they are both in Margaret's room—I mean Mrs. Blennerhassett's. She reads the Bible frequently, especially the poetical parts. The Hebrew mind is poetical. I have searched the Scripture in vain for scientific data. There is little or no exact science in the work. Nothing on physic, though they claim that St. Luke was a doctor. Let me show you a remarkable volume—centuries old—this folio copy of Hippocrates, translated from the original Greek into Arabic and from Arabic into Latin. My favorite reading, however, is purely literary—the book of books—the incomparable Homer. Alexander the Great kept his Homer in a golden box; I keep mine in my head, sir, or perhaps I should say, in my heart. I have committed to memory the greater part of the epic."
"Is it possible?"
To Burr's consternation, the host seemed desirous of proving that it was possible, by reciting the Iliad.
Blennerhassett kept hexameters flowing several minutes, marking quantity with tongue and moving finger.
"What a pity we lack spondees, in English, colonel. Do you write verse, sir?"
"Not I. I suppose you do?"
"No; not since leaving college. I admire poetry, but I could never master the meters. It is different with Margaret—I mean my wife. She writes correctly. She is a born poet. You recall Horace, 'poeta nascitur.' I confine my pen to the composition of music and political essays."
"I have heard of your political writings, but not of your musical compositions," said Burr; the last half of the speech being true. "Nor have I had the good fortune to read the poems of Madam Blennerhassett. Are they in print?"
"Some have been published, fugitively; the most of them remain in manuscript."
"Sir, you could not give me a greater pleasure than the perusal of those poems would afford."
The near-sighted sage unlocked a rosewood cabinet and took out three leaves of tinted paper which he gave to Burr. On the pages were written, in fine hand, several stanzas under the title, "Indian Summer."
"Read this at your leisure and give me your opinion." Burr, bowing, took the manuscript, and the complaisant husband, pointing to a pile of sheet music, spoke on. "This is of my own composition. Do you play the violoncello?"
Burr shook his head.
"Perhaps you prefer the violin or the flute?"
"No, I cannot play any instrument—not even a jewsharp."
"Not even that?" murmured the other, with a sigh of infinite regret. "I am fond of the violincello, the viola da gamba of medieval times. Properly it is not a viol—not a base viol as some suppose, but a violin of extra large size. That is what it is."
While imparting this knowledge, the speaker drew from a baize bag the instrument, and tuned it. He placed an open music book upon a rest, and proceeded to entertain his audience of one. He played and played and played. The best way to please such an artist is to humor the illusion that his exertions give pleasure. No human performance can last forever—not even a concert. A string broke, and the musician, putting his 'cello aside with a sigh, suffered the conversation to run in a new channel opened by Burr.
"Bravo! You play delightfully. There is magic in your fingers. Beware of such skill; it may charm yourself to your injury. You have read everything; you remember Bunyan's episode of the Enchanted Ground. This island reminds me of that valley of rest. Is it possible you have forgotten the world since abandoning public affairs?"
"No, sir; no. I sought retirement for many reasons, but I am a cosmopolitan. I care for the welfare of the race. I may describe myself as a philanthropist, a humanitarian. I know Europe, I am learning America. My local attachments are not strong, though my principles are like iron. I left my native country to seek a larger freedom in the United States."
"Then why do you confine your liberty? This is a pent-up field for a man of broad views."
"I beg your pardon. Solitude is the best school in which to study society. In this seclusion I read, and reading makes a full man. Though a newcomer, I try to keep myself informed concerning this country's history and institutions. I do not understand all the complications of your politics; I am no partisan. No one is better prepared than yourself to expound public matters. This dispute in regard to the boundary line between Louisiana and Mexico threatens war, does it not?"
"I fear not," replied Burr, remarking an opportunity to inform and bias an unwary savant. The lump had invited the leaven.
"I fear not."
"Then you desire war?"
"This Government should take care of its own, at all hazards. The Spaniards wish to provoke hostilities. My friend and fellow-officer, General Wilkinson, commander-in-chief of the Western troops, holds the army in readiness to advance into Mexico at a moment's warning."
"At a moment's warning?" repeated Blennerhassett, dubiously. "General Wilkinson told you so? Is he—a reliable officer?"
"He and I are most intimate friends. We consult on public and on private concerns. I have just returned from his headquarters in St. Louis, where we were considering a business enterprise—the purchase of a large tract on the Wachita river, between the Red and the Sabine."
"Do you purpose returning South to remain?"
"My intention is to buy those fertile lands, establish a colony, and develop the resources of the region, as a sure and easy means of making my own fortune, and the fortunes of my associates."
"You are confident that the prospect of increasing your capital is good?"
"I am absolutely certain. I speak positively, but not rashly."
Blennerhassett nodded slowly, three or four times, and Burr spoke on.
"That the investment will prove enormously profitable I have not the shadow of a shade of doubt. General Wilkinson knows the property, and so do I. There are more than a million acres to be had for fifty thousand dollars. The present value is ten times that amount."
"If the inquiry is not impertinent, sir, have you organized a joint stock company? Have you completed your plans?"
"Practically, everything is arranged. Negotiations are afoot. The necessary capital will be forthcoming. We take no risk. To you I will say, in confidence, that the number of shareholders will be severely limited. You know how desirable it is, in partnerships of this kind, to admit only men of unimpeachable honor."
Again Blennerhassett nodded three or four times, like an automaton. Burr, affecting to dismiss the topic, turned again to the book-shelves and fell to reading the gilded titles. A copy of "The Prince" arrested his eye. Taking this down, he opened it at random, and read aloud: "Men will always prove bad, unless by necessity they are compelled to be good."
"What do you think of that as an estimate of human nature?"
Burr fluttered the leaves of the famous treatise and came upon this sentence, marked by a pen: "It is of great consequence to disguise your inclination and to play the hypocrite well; and men are so simple in their temper and so submissive, that he that is neat and cleanly in his collusions shall never want people to practice upon."
"Why did you mark that passage?"
"To condemn the doctrine. The hypocrite can never thrive; the plain, honest man always sees through the disguise. Virtue is all-seeing, but fraud is blind."
"You mint apothegms, sir. It is an intellectual feast to hear you talk."
Burr replaced Machiavelli on its shelf, confronted his host, and, in a tone deferential and almost apologetic, said, "You must not accuse me of flattery, sir, when I bluntly charge you with defrauding the world and robbing that humanity which you profess to love."
"I can't find any flattery in such accusation. Kindly explain what you mean. Whom do I defraud? and how is it flattery to charge a man with insincerity?"
"Well, you seem to me to be evading your duty to the world, by hiding from its great public interests, enterprises and conflicts. You linger here, a magnificent hermit. If ever a philanthropist hid his light under a bushel, thou art the man. If ever brilliant talents rusted in a napkin, yours do. Your noble wife is cut off from the splendid career appropriate to her, and is compelled to devote her days to rural walks and the direction of a few negro slaves. Not to dwell on the sacrifice of mother and sons, your own learning, fortune, and extraordinary mental powers—your genius for dealing with men—are here employed, not in the service of mankind, but in—" Burr was tempted to say "fiddling," but he substituted the words—"gazing at the stars through a telescope. Pardon me for speaking strongly. It is only a few hours since we first met, but I am drawn to you. I admire and esteem you, and my motive in this perhaps impertinent appeal, is the wish to serve you."
Blennerhassett felt much gratified by the insidious censure. His portrait, amiably regarding its original from the wall, listened approvingly to Burr, and smiled acquiescence. "Does the mild-eyed thing recollect me?" mused Burr. The picture betrayed no sign of recognition and the original spoke.
"Such candor is rare, and I appreciate it. I am honored by the outspoken confidence of the man I know you to be, not only from what I have read of your political course, which I wholly approve, but from Mrs. Blennerhassett's reports of your conversation. Her judgment is unerring. I defer to it. You will confer a great favor on me by explaining, in detail, your Southern plans."
Thus solicited, Burr adroitly availed himself of the opportunity to divulge, not only his project of settling the Bastrop lands, but such part of his other plans as he deemed it prudent to reveal at the time. He learned to his satisfaction that Blennerhassett had no repugnance to the idea of separating the Western States from the Eastern and of invading Mexico. Burr's angling had gone on for an hour, with lures so tempting that the gudgeon seemed about to swallow bait, hook and all, when the conversation was disturbed by an unusual clamor of excited voices coming from the negro quarters. Blennerhassett, in a flurry, excused himself, and hastened to inquire what was the matter. He found his servants, black and white, huddled together around Scipio, who had just told the grinning crowd that Honest Moses was missing from the plantation, having been enticed by an Ohio farmer to cross the river and run away to the free North.