This was Scipio's story, but Peter Taylor, who stood smoking a small pipe, with looks of austere indifference to all human interests, had another theory to account for the leave-taking of Moses.
"I've no hidea 'e ran away to Ohio. That lazy nigger 'ated work too much to run away to Ohio. I suspicion that the rascal drifted away on a flatboat."
"What makes you think so, Peter?"
"I can't say that I altogether think anything sure about the nigger. It isn't my business to think about other people's business. I only say I suspicion. If I knew what was hid in the future, I would have told. But it's my firm suspicion that a boatman by the name of Sheldrake lured Honest Moses away on a flatboat."
"No; Mars Taylor," reiterated Scipio, "Moses done tole Ransom he was gwine to run off, up Muskingum."
"When did he tell you?"
"For de Lawd sake!" cried out Juno, the kitchen maid, whose rolling eyes were the first to see the master approaching. "I never 'spected Honest Moses of sneaking fum his good home and kind Mars and Missus like a brack thief in de night. Whar's Daniel? I hy'ard him prayin' for Moses yesterday."
"No prayin' is gwine to keep Honest Moses fum de debil. Dat nigger's not got no religion to his name—not a speck. Didn't I tell Missus when she thought she cotched me and Ransom sellin' watermillions and sweet 'tatoes to de boys from Marietta, dat it was Moses done it?"
Exasperated, perplexed, not knowing how to act, Blennerhassett sought his wife, with whom he held a closet conference, lamenting his troubles and soliciting counsel. The lady advised him to summon Peter Taylor, and suggested that the two should go across the river to Belpre, there consult the squire, and set in motion every available agency to insure the recapture of the fugitive. The much-worried philosopher begged Burr to excuse him for a couple of hours, and hurriedly started on his vexatious quest, accompanied by the phlegmatic gardener. Complying good-naturedly with a proposal of Dominick and little Harman, and convoyed by those devoted children, Burr explored orchards, fields and stockyard, and won the extravagant praises of the black people by visiting their quarters and greeting every one, from Scipio to the youngest pickaninny, with a cheerful word and a smile. Every slave on the plantation was in voluntary bonds to "Mars Burr, de fine gen'leman wi' de coal brack eyes."
XIII. THE ENCHANTED GROUND.
While Blennerhassett tramped about Belpre, his wife assumed the government at home, and Burr studied fresh means of invading her heart. The lady neither saw nor wished any escape from the pleasant task of entertaining the affable "pilgrim." Considering how seldom a person of extraordinary mental gifts brought to her isolated home the sparkle of wit, the hostess made the most of a golden opportunity. She waited with eagerness for Burr's return from his ramble with the boys, whose adhesiveness she knew by experience might prove too constant, like the clinging of Sindbad's Old Man of the Sea.
Burr, despite his professed fondness for the company of boys, longed to exchange the society of Dominick and Harman for that of their winsome mother. Therefore, he managed to engage the lads in the construction of a mimic fort in a cornfield. Promising to inspect the grand earthwork when it was completed, the colonel slipped away to reconnoiter another field.
Retreating in good order, he arrived at the long portico, and, under its cover, passed to the hall, through which he reached the cosy room where he and Arlington had been entertained. The French sofa, the ebony stand, the clavier, looked familiar. The gilded harp stood invitingly in a place of honor. He drew near the instrument, and, smiling to himself, thrummed a few notes on the lower strings. As if summoned by the sound, from the routine of household tasks, the mistress of the mansion entered in her regal manner and begged pardon for having neglected her guest.
Burr was in his element as the bird in air; his winged words now skimmed the surface of common levels, now soared, then circled round subjects grave or gay, often fluttering, but never failing. The range of discussion was wide and free. They talked society, arts, countries, travels, the pleasure of life and its pain. He told of his sojourn in New Orleans, describing a city not celestial, but abounding in the delights of this world. She gave reminiscences of her birthplace, the Isle of Wight, spoke of her marriage and subsequent journeyings in Europe and America.
Burr recalled the incidents of his previous visit, and besought madam to sing again the songs which had delighted him that evening after the ramble in the woods. She cheerfully complied; for singing was her prime accomplishment. The lady felt keen enjoyment in the consciousness of being understood and sympathized with, by a man of brains and character.
The hour for lunch having arrived, Burr was conducted to the dining-room, and the pair sat down to a dainty repast, served by a black damsel, who cast furtive glances upon the stranger, and observed that the "Missus" wore her finest jewels and seemed refreshed by the cares of hospitality. Never before had such enlivening gossip been heard by a servant in that sober house. The table-talk played familiarly with names and individuals.
"What became of the handsome young Arlington?"
"You think him handsome? He is in Virginia. I expect him to join me in a business enterprise. A fine fellow, thorough-bred. His name calls to mind your protegee, the golden-haired Yankee beauty. Arlington was smitten by her demure eyes—pierced to the heart. Those wild violets worked him woe."
"Are you sure? Did he own it?"
"He did not confess in words, but I divined the secret, which was no secret, for he revealed it by every sign known to the Court of Love. He was struck as by lightning—stunned by a love bolt."
"The stroke was harmless. On his return from Cincinnati he passed through Marietta, where he knows Evaleen lives, and made no effort to meet her, but rode by her house; I was with her on the porch, and we both saw him trot past on a black horse. He stared our way and must have identified us, yet he turned his face forward and spurred on."
"Incredible! Your eyes deceived you."
"No; it was Mr. Arlington; he made a flying trip to the island in company with a peculiar person, one Plutarch Byle."
"Byle? I shall never forget Plutarch!" interjected Burr, laughingly. "Dominick christened our fort, 'Fort Byle.'"
"Have you seen our gaunt Hercules? Isn't he an odd Grecian? In his 'piroque' he brought Mr. Arlington here. I was from home, as I said. My husband suggested to your Virginian friend that he ought to call on the Hales, but the faithless cavalier slighted us. I much doubt his interest in Evaleen."
"I am certain he was smitten."
"Then he is inconstant, or else belongs to the tribe of faint hearts. How ridiculous the idea of folks falling in love at first sight! Yet they often do. The girl was pleased with him, and she still likes him."
"Likes him, does she?" drawled Burr, sarcastically, and lifted a gherkin to his teeth.
"Yes, don't you like him?"
He bit the pickle quite savagely.
"What do you think of her?"
"It cannot be the fault of the male sex that she remains single."
"Some women are not inclined to marry."
"Is Miss Hale one of those foolish virgins?"
"She is wise in taking time to select. She has many suitors."
"And you think she likes Arlington?"
"I know she does."
"Humph! she might do better."
"She might fare worse."
"Does he write to her?"
"No, not that I know of."
"He is an idiot."
"You show a jealous interest in the young man." Here madam halted abruptly. "Pardon me; I hear the boys; their father must have returned."
She rose expecting to receive her husband at the dining-room door, but the footsteps she heard were not his. The vociferous boys came rushing in. "Fort Byle" was finished. Wouldn't "General" Burr come and see?
"You should not storm in, rudely, children; you disturb us. Harman, you have ruined your clothes; you are covered from head to foot with—I don't know what!"
"Spanish needles and sticktights; they won't hurt. Juno will scrape them off. We're hungry."
"Won't he come to the fort after luncheon?" importuned Dominick.
"Yes, I will come."
"Listen," said the mother. "My son, you must first go with me to the ferry. I am uneasy about papa. He did not intend to be gone longer than a couple of hours. We must try to meet him. Perhaps the colonel will go along, down to the landing."
"Certainly," replied the colonel, studying how to get rid of the "sticktights."
After luncheon, all set out on the proposed walk to the river-side. The island and the vistas it commanded naturally drew folks out of doors. Finer weather could not be imagined. The distance from the lawn to the wharf, by way of the winding road, measured not less than a quarter of a mile. The boys raced ahead in the frolic fashion of human colts, yelling, leaping and throwing stones. Slowly the matron and her escort followed, far in the wake of the obstreperous juveniles.
"They are growing up like savages," said the mother, deprecatingly. "What shall I do with them? To teach them properly seems impossible. I am the parent of a brace of barbarians. Yet they are dear sweet boys—loving and brave. They despise meanness and never tell lies."
"Then you are the mother of nobles. They will be men—to-morrow. Plato truly says the boy is the most unmanageable of animals. Boys have an element of the cruel and ferocious. But we need not take this much to heart. They will outgrow the savage. We must not look for ripe fruit on green sprouts, nor for elaborate reason or virtue in children."
"Yet I cannot bear to have them grow up in wild ignorance."
"No; youth must be guided. No greater evil can befall a lad than to be left to do as he pleases. Yet in well-born children, such as yours, much may be trusted to nature. I rely on human essence. Freedom is the best school. I don't believe we are born with evil passions and base propensities. God made our faculties. The doctrine of total depravity slanders the Creator. The perfect man uses all, abuses none of his organs or energies. To educate a man is to give his hands, brain, and heart their maximum power. This can be done outside of academies. The free schooling out of school, which your sons now enjoy, is a discipline towards success in life. Those fellows will be of some account, depend upon it. The ancient Eastern wisdom said, 'Know thyself'; the new Western oracle says, 'Do something worth doing.'"
"How true and how encouraging," exclaimed the enthusiast at his side. "I wish Mr. Blennerhassett could hear your broad views. But I am not sure you are right in relying entirely on weak human nature. I was taught to mistrust the natural man. Is not conversion necessary?"
"In case the soul begins with a pure inheritance, I see no necessity for regeneration. We come into the world potentially complete. The thorough development of body and mind will furnish the world with a perfect man. The best education gives man's natural powers the right direction and the greatest efficiency. We must trust in what we are,—in our own selfhood. Give man elbow room, give him breathing space, liberty to think, feel and do. This is true living."
Mrs. Blennerhassett stooped to pick up a blood-red leaf. They were nearing the boat-landing. The way was overarched by spreading branches of gigantic maple-trees. The boys had wandered to the head of the island, two furlongs away.
"What of woman's education? Should it differ from man's?"
"No; I train my daughter as I might train a son."
"Are her thoughts like yours?"
"I put slight restraint on her thoughts or emotions. There is no sex in soul. Woman should be free as the free breeze singing in the leaves over our head, and ruffling the waves out yonder on the river."
"You grow eloquent. Is it the singing breeze or the rippling water that causes you to put your principles in language so poetical?"
"Do I speak poetically? That grand oak tree may shed Dodonian influence. It looks the king of trees—the emperor. These magnificent maples, robed and crowned in emerald, gold, and royal crimson, are the queens."
"I am glad you love the forest, and are susceptible to nature's subtile appeals. I don't like people who have no feeling for scenery, and are not affected by the sublime and beautiful in nature. Mr. Blennerhassett does not agree with me in applying such a test to judge one's friends by. He thinks I might be deceived, and says that very wicked folks may delight in very lovely scenes. In my opinion the good and the beautiful are in harmony, and a wicked heart seldom goes with an aesthetic taste. I may be wrong, but I like to think that souls which are thrilled by the stars and the mountains and the sea, and by such forms and colors as we now contemplate, must be the nobler and purer for the experience."
Burr listened attentively to this rhapsody. The melodious voice spoke on: "I never grow tired gazing on this landscape. Splendid!"
"Splendid!" echoed Burr.
A subdued rapture animated the lady's features and imparted fresh vitality of beauty to her breathing form. She advanced to the edge of the water, stepped upon the ferryboat, an uncouth scow, like a floating wharf, with stout railing upon the sides. From this platform she could take in a fuller prospect. The joy of admiration possessed her. She stood, self-forgetful, looking upon the gleaming river and the distant, gorgeous Ohio hills. Burr, lingering on the bank, a few yards behind, certainly took an intense human interest in the landscape, seeing in the foreground that symmetrical figure, with plump arm outstretched. To be the sole spectator of that unstudied pose was worth more than the Vatican and all the galleries in the world.
"See the bright sunshine, the soft shadow, the dim gold of the water, and the misty blue of the sky! Those magnificent hills seem not solid substance but piled clouds, yellow, and green, and scarlet. Can any other valley in the world show a more satisfactory picture, outlines as lovely, tints so delicate!"
"Nowhere else, in all my travels," murmured Burr, speaking from his point of view. "Nowhere have I seen so much beauty at a single glance. The picture is unrivalled."
"Do you say this in earnest or only to please me?" queried the frank gentlewoman, turning her face shoreward in time to see a pair of dark eyes regarding her with unaccountable ardor. Burr courteously proffered his hand to assist her from the pedestal, the deck of the scow. She accepted his aid, and lightly sprang to the damp sand of the beach, into which her foot sank deep enough to print a pretty track.
"Look out, you will soil your shoes; shall I remove the mud?" said Burr, taking out his handkerchief.
"No, thanks; it is only clean sand." A tuft of soft green grass furnished a ready mat, on which she wiped her small foot, not invisible to Burr while he modestly inspected the mussel shells and polished pebbles washed ashore by the plashing ripples. From the beach he picked a bone-like fragment resembling milky quartz. This he brought to the lady, who had chosen a mossy seat on the trunk of a fallen sycamore.
"It is a lucky-stone," she remarked. "It brings fortune."
"I will send it to Theodosia," said the finder, pocketing the treasure.
A pensive mood had succeeded the anxious wife's elation. She gazed across the river expectantly. Not a rowboat in sight, excepting a skiff lying alongside the scow.
"I fear he is having needless bother. How miserable! Our slaves are a burden, not worth the trifles they pilfer. I wish they would all run away, then we might have an excuse for flying."
"And could you leave your earthly paradise?"
"Yes; though I am attached to the island. I should regret to lose the trees, the river, the sky."
"Earth and sky stretch far. I sympathize with your feeling for the place. I told your husband it was like Bunyan's Enchanted Ground. Beulah, however, and the Delectable Mountains lie beyond the Enchanted Ground."
"Could I make verse, I would sing of October in the Ohio Valley, or of Indian Summer, which comes in November, don't it?"
She glanced up inquiringly. He held some leaves of pink paper covered with writing, recognizing which, she flushed.
"How did you come by that? Did he—?"
She made a motion as if to take the paper. Burr, pretending not to see the gesture, began to read in a low voice, infusing into the verse more thought and sentiment than it contained. His perfect reading gave the commonplace stanzas aesthetic effect. The authoress confessed their merit to her secret soul.
"I am vexed that Harman gave you that. It is silly stuff."
"On the contrary, it is literature. You don't know, madam, how good it is. I have a favor to beg; allow this poem to be printed in the Port Folio. I know the editor, Jo Dennie, and shall call and give him this copy when I reach Philadelphia. You will not deny me this pleasure?"
Confident that she would not take offense he slid the lines on Indian Summer into his breast pocket, to keep company with the lucky-stone. The situation had become riskily sentimental and intensely stimulating to Burr's disposition as a social trifler. He was reckless of consequences, vain of conquest over any woman, and scrupulous only to avoid failure in his amours. The more innocent and virtuous the victim, the keener and more careful was he in pursuit. To entrap unsuspecting game without exciting alarm he considered the most exquisite art of gallantry. What sport it was to entangle this superb creature in a web of invisible gossamer threads!
"Tell me more about your Theodosia. Have you a picture of her?"
The question and request smote the father's conscience with a momentary compunction.
"I will tell you all about Theodosia. I like to think and speak of her. She is my life, my soul, my ambition, my joy. Theodosia has no fault that I can see, no trait which I do not admire and love. She is—"
The sentence was stopped short by a startling cry—a scream. Madam Blennerhassett sprang to her feet, trembling, and saw Dominick running towards her. He fell at her feet exhausted, caught at her gown and gasped:
"Harman! Harman will drown!"
She took the boy's hand and made him stand up.
"Be a man. Keep calm. Speak plain. What is the matter?"
"O mother! He wouldn't mind me! He pushed a rotten, old leaky dugout from the sandbar and climbed in, with a piece of paddle, and got out so far that the current caught him."
"What sandbar? Which channel?"
"This side. The Ohio side."
The mother suddenly grew faint. Speech forsook her tongue. The trees vanished and the air was a blur, through which she saw a moving shape that looked the shadow of a human figure. All this in an instant. The swoon passed, the trees reappeared, the shadow took the form of Aaron Burr, tugging at a chain which fastened a skiff to a timber of the scow. A violent jerk wrenched out the strong staple that held the chain padlocked to the ferryboat, and the mother saw the colonel leap into the skiff, seize the oars, and launch out into midstream. This natural act, heroic in her esteem, she saw and her heart grew big with gratitude. She beheld another sight which caused at once a shock of hope and a shudder of despair. She had hurried to the deck of the scow to get an unobstructed view of the river both up stream and down. Dominick at her side uttered a wild cry. "There he comes now!"
"There he comes!" But where she could not at first make out. Dominick pointed to an object like a drifting log in the middle of the swift-flowing stream. The object—a wooden trough, not three yards long—carried one mariner, the venturesome baby, Harman. The tiny craft and its helpless passenger came into plain view nearly opposite the landing. Burr's boat was rapidly nearing the crazy dugout when the terror-stricken castaway, catching a glimpse of his mother, rashly stood up and called "Mamma! Mamma!"
"Sit down! Sit down!" shouted Burr.
"Keep still! Sit down!" screamed Dominick.
The distracted mother, to enforce obedience, added gestures to cries. The scared child, further agitated by these demonstrations, entirely lost self-control. His posture caused the unstable trough to topple over and the lad was plunged into the flood. The frothing mouth of a wave swallowed him. No; his doom was not sealed; taught by instinct or by pluck, the little fellow had the presence of mind to save himself by clinging to the capsized canoe. He held on tenaciously, drifting like a part of the treacherous log. Burr's skiff was in full chase a few rods in the wake. The mother watched the race, breathless, numb, with all-seeing eye. Her hands gripped the oaken bar fastened across that end of the ferryboat which was farthest out in the river and she stretched forward head and body, heedless of the down-tumbling mass of her loosened hair, reckless of everything but the fate of her boy. Her strained gaze kept focussed on the precious drift. Dominick wept aloud.
"What shall we do? What shall we do? Oh, if papa were only here!"
"Hush! Don't cry. Don't speak. What could your father do? Pray with all your soul; pray to Heaven that Colonel Burr may save your brother."
The aching eyes measured the diminishing distance between the two boats. It seemed to the mother possible, for nothing is impossible to faith, that by the sheer force of her projected will she might hold the child back from death. Even while she solaced her dread with this fancy the gliding log slipped free from the lad's tired fingers, and again the woman watching from the ferry gave up hope. She shuddered, closed her eyes, and pressed her forehead hard against the oak railing.
"O my God, my God! our darling is gone!"
At this crisis Dominick believed he saw what his mother, bowed and blinded, did not see—a miracle working. Pantingly he cried out "Mamma!" The only response to his call was a moan and the despairing words, "Drowned! My baby is drowned!"
"No! No! Look, mother! See there! Colonel Burr won't let Harman sink! Look! He has him by the arm, he has pulled him into the skiff. It did good to pray."
Burr, acting as any man would have done under the circumstances, having rescued the child without danger to himself and with little difficulty, was a demi-god in the estimation of the Blennerhassett family. Little Harman's misadventure, the enforced long swimming in rough water, the two duckings and their disagreeable effects on throat and lungs, left him in a wretched condition, but by no means in need of a coffin. His teeth chattered, his hands were blue, he whimpered, but when Burr landed him high, if not dry, on a bed of gravel at the river's margin, the drenched youngster mustered heroism enough to comfort his mother by piping out the assurance, "I'm all right."
"Thank God you are, my sweet pet, and thank Colonel Burr for saving you," sobbed Madam Blennerhassett, while she gathered the shivering young one into her bosom, and almost extinguished the life that was left in him with tears and fondlings.
Burr took off his coat, and wrapped it about the protesting infant, and carried him home, a feat as glorious, in the mother's mind, as his historic exploit of bearing Montgomery's body from the battlefield. Dry clothing, doses of cordial, vigorous chafing of body and limbs, by many loving hands, soon brought the patient "round." By the time his father came home, soon after the rescue, the urchin declared he was "well" and would rather upset again in the river than be rubbed and hugged any more.
The endeavors of Blennerhassett to trace Honest Moses proved futile. That the slave had escaped by water, the balance of testimony rendered probable. Abe Sheldrake, in all likelihood, had coaxed the negro away.
When night came, Blennerhassett, holding curtain council, as usual, with his wife, dutifully repeated to her what Burr had revealed of the Wachita speculation, and asked advice. She made up his mind promptly. "Share the enterprise, if you think he really wishes your co-operation. Do whatever he desires. We can never cancel our debt of obligation. We owe him everything. He saved your namesake's life."
Convinced by this womanly reasoning, Harman, senior, could scarcely sleep nor wait till morning, so eager was he to lay his influence, his purse and his property at Burr's disposal. Before the clock struck five he was out of bed, and the quavering of his flute disturbed the colonel's slumber. No sooner was breakfast over than the conference on the land-purchase project was resumed, Madam Blennerhassett participating.
"You propose," said Blennerhassett, "to buy forty thousand acres for forty thousand dollars, and you have the pledge of Mr. Clarke, of New Orleans, and of your son-in-law, Governor Alston, that they will stand surety for you. I will gladly make a third with these gentlemen."
The offer was graciously accepted as a trust betokening future transactions of mutual profit. Further confidential discourse ensued, and it was agreed that Mr. Blennerhassett should assist the cause by writing, under a pseudonym, a series of essays for the Ohio Gazette, on the commercial interests of the West, indirectly favoring disunion.
Burr congratulated himself on the successful issue of his second campaign in the Enchanted Ground. He had won the islanders. Promising to keep the Blennerhassetts apprised of the progress of his plans, he bade old and young good-bye, and departed for Philadelphia, the lucky-stone in his breast pocket.
XIV. A LARGESS OF CORONETS.
The story leaps over a period of nine months. The winter of 1805-6 disrobed the trees on Blennerhassett's Island and spring again reclothed them. Wild violets once more sprinkled the glades and a new flowering of rosebushes in the garden fronting the house increased the fame and complacency of Peter Taylor. Another July plumed the maize, where the plough had obliterated Fort Byle. At last came imperial August, and with the glowing month returned Aaron Burr, his designs ripened, his enthusiasm culminant. The silent wheelwork of conspiracy had now been in operation for upward of a year. The arch complotter was of buoyant heart and happy tongue, for he came accompanied by Theodosia, the loved associate in whom he reposed absolute trust, the good familiar whom he invoked when all other spirits failed him.
Theodosia made no enemies. Her beauty attracted and her amiability retained the devotion of men, the friendship of women. Nature had lavished upon her those rare, delicate, elusive qualities which go to make up that top flower of evolution, the woman of fascination, a creature indefinable, like poetry. In New York, city and State, she was a reigning belle, caressed by society; she had been named the social queen of South Carolina, under the title of la Sainte Madam Alston. To Theodosia, his only child, whose education he directed, whose opinions he had shaped, whose sympathies were always with him, right or wrong, who after her marriage scarce less than before, looked to him for guidance, as he to her for implicit approval—to her Burr confided every detail of his plan of conquest, every vaulting anticipation of sovereignty. "Be what my heart desires and it will console me for all the evils of life. With a little more determination you will obtain all that my ambition or vanity fondly imagines." In this strain was the father wont to appeal to the daughter, by letter. His thoughts, like carrier pigeons, were always homing to her. Hounded by obloquy, accused of murder, when he fled from Richmond Hill after the duel at Weehauken, he sought security and absolution in the sanctuary of la Sainte Alston's house in Charleston. "You and your boy will control my fate," he had exclaimed. And now, when the seek-no-further hung ruddy on the orchard bough, and the wild bigonia swang in air ten thousand trumpets of red gold, Burr reappeared at the White House of Blennerhassett, according to his promise, bringing with him Theodosia Alston and her little son.
"Behold," said Burr to Madam Blennerhassett, in the ornate style he had learned to use when addressing her, "this is my Sheba, to whom I have not told the half of your bounty or the king's wisdom. She has not come to prove him with hard questions, but to repose under his almug trees. My daughter, Mrs. Alston."
"She is no stranger to my thoughts," said the hostess, embracing and kissing Theodosia. "Our minds have met in our correspondence. How very young you look, and how like your father. And the baby resembles you both."
"No baby," chimed in Burr, cheerily. "He has grown a big boy, have you not, Gamp? Harman must take charge of him and teach him to build forts, play Indian, and go buccaneering in a dugout."
"What a funny name!" returned Harman, partly in self-defense.
"Gamp is his short, everyday name," explained the colonel. "It means grandpa. But on great public occasions, when Gamp is on his dignity, we must address him by his full title, Don Gampillo."
Theodosia valued the lightest foam-bell on the wayward surface of fashion, yet had escaped what Burr condemned as "the cursed effects of fashionable education," and it is needless to say that conventional ceremonies were waived between herself and the lady of the isle.
"You came from Marietta; were you agreeably entertained there?"
"They lionized father."
"No; they 'snaked' me. I was dragged into service by main force."
"Father means that they insisted on his drilling the militia. We arrived on a muster day, and nothing would do but he must prove the right to his rank by explaining the manual of arms. There are ever so many old soldiers in Marietta."
"Yes, I drilled the men as soldiers, in the afternoon, and she drilled them as captives, in the evening, at the ball; a modified fan-drill made them march to her orders. Theodosia danced with at least a dozen distinguished citizens."
"How many wives, widows, spinsters and school-girls did you lead up and down?" retorted Theodosia.
"I don't know; I didn't count; I dance for politeness, not for victory. My daughter has a drop of coquette's blood in her veins; though where it came from I can't imagine. Do you recollect, Theodosia, the remark of the Mayor of New York, when he invited you to go on board a war vessel? 'Don't bring any of your sparks on board, for they have a magazine and we should all be blown up.'"
To the ponderous mind of Mr. Blennerhassett, the feather-light badinage flying back and forth between Mrs. Alston and her sire, smacked of unbecoming levity. He had looked up a topic for weightier talk.
"Did you name your daughter, may I ask, Colonel Burr, anticipating extraordinary rank for her? Had you in mind Theodosius the First, called the Great, or the second and more famous emperor of the name? Eudosia was a Roman empress, wife of the second Theodosius. She was a poetess."
The man of facts glanced significantly toward his own wife, and resumed:
"Perhaps you had the name Eudosia vaguely in your memory when you chose the name Theodosia. History informs us that Theodosius was controlled by his wife and by his sister Pulcheria."
"My Theodosia was so christened," answered Burr, "because I like the name. It sounds well. I like it the better now that you tell us it suggests a possibility of imperial sway. Who knows what may come to pass?"
In anticipation of the third advent of Burr to the island, many letters had been exchanged, and it was arranged that, for some months at least, "the close contriver" of the vast enterprise in hand should remain with Theodosia and Don Gampillo in the mansion, the island being an eligible point for headquarters. Around this nucleus the hitherto mobile elements of his design should crystallize into definite shape.
What had Burr been doing in the three-quarters of a year which had elapsed since he bade good-bye to the Blennerhassetts in October? He had employed most of this time in Washington and Philadelphia, writing hundreds of letters, sounding the President, tampering with civil and military officials, intrigueing with the British Minister, in a word, organizing a conspiracy, which he believed would eventually give him a dictator's unlimited command over a magnificent realm. To Wilkinson he had written in cipher many letters, one of which ran thus: "The execution of our project is postponed until December; want of water in the Ohio rendered movement impracticable; other reasons rendered delay expedient. The association is enlarged and comprises all that Wilkinson could wish. Confidence limited to few. Though this delay was irksome, it will enable us to move with more certainty and dignity. Burr will be through the United States this summer. Administration damned, which Randolph aids. Nothing has been heard from the brigadier since October. Address Burr at Washington."
The "brigadier" remained in St. Louis until late in August, when he was ordered to collect his force at Fort Adams, now Vicksburg, and in September he transferred the troops to Natchitoches on the Red River, to defend the western frontier against threatened invasion by Spaniards beyond the Sabine.
Arlington, ignorant of the treasonable designs of Burr, but zealous against Spain and ambitious to share in the conquest of Mexico, had volunteered to make a tour through Kentucky and Tennessee, to Natchez and New Orleans, on business relating to the Wachita lands, which Burr had purchased. The Virginian started on his long journey early in autumn.
To Blennerhassett, Burr dilated in confidential privacy:
"All is planned and ready to be put into execution. The iron is red on the anvil. At least five hundred men are pledged to me, and I have on my memorandum books, the names of as many thousands who will join us when wanted. Every man is to receive one hundred acres of the Bastrop land, besides his regular pay. All are to present themselves armed and equipped, when boats are provided for their transportation and the signal is given. I have told none of the volunteers exactly what will be expected of them, but all are devoted to us. Of prominent persons now in our confidence and ready to act at a word from me, I could name scores, besides yourself and Governor Alston. Among our confederates are Commodore Truxton, the British Minister at Washington, and the Catholic Bishop of New Orleans."
"Have you considered," asked Blennerhassett, "what might be the condition of our venture, in case General Wilkinson fails to second your designs against Mexico?"
"Even that contingency, I have taken into account, though we do Wilkinson injustice to suppose it possible that he will fail us. Our plans are excellent. If the Mexican string should break—as it will not—the Wachita string, which you helped to twist, will send a sure arrow to the mark of our high calling. Failure, my dear sir, is not possible. The gods invite to glory and to fortune."
In collocutions of this tenor, Burr, adapting himself to the moods of his sedate ally, unfolded his purposes. The philosopher heard, acquiesced, and accepted the part assigned to him in the execution of the great business. Blennerhassett's temperament, however, was such as to check, in some degree, the full flow of Burr's exuberant speech. It was always with constraint and reservation that the latter communicated himself to the head of the house. Not so when in familiar converse with Madam Blennerhassett and Theodosia; uninfluenced by the dampening presence of the husband, he poured out his innermost cogitations, assurances, optimistic surmises. The three were in perfect accord. One evening they were seated in the seclusion of the library. The children had gone to sleep, upstairs, Harman and Gampy under the same chintz canopy. Mr. Blennerhassett, detained in Marietta on an errand relating to the affairs of the Wachita company, probably would not reach home before morning. Theodosia asked for a sentimental ballad.
"Not a love-song," said Burr, "but something heroic—a battle hymn or a stirring march."
"Will you both agree to a compromise and accept some half-romantic, half-pious verses which I composed and set to music? The colonel will remember the incident which suggested the lines."
The harp was brought in from the adjoining room and Mrs. Blennerhassett sang her original lay with the following chorus:
"No longer in Enchanted Ground Thy lingering feet delay; Beulah's borders lie beyond, Rise, pilgrim, and away!"
"Bravo! Well sung and well said!" Burr emphasized this verdict by clapping his hands, and Theodosia joined in the applause.
"Your allegory is no enigma to me," said she. "There is this difference between us and Bunyan's pilgrim—he left the Enchanted Ground forever—you can return when you please, and as often as you please. Our promised land takes in and retains all the desirable property on the road to the Shining Gates, and we shall possess the Happy City without crossing that awful river."
"Ah, yes," quoth Burr, in low, earnest tones, as if uttering the authentic revelations of an oracle. "This life we are sure of. The part of wisdom is to live as if to-day were our only day, and yet provide for an infinite series of to-morrows. Dum vivimus vivamus. When we are established in Eldorado, in my new Spain, my Mexican Cathay, in our Woman's Paradise, where the tree of knowledge is not forbidden—then will you think the Golden Age is come again. Ours will be no feeble Republic, no Union of States loosely tied together by a filament; we will have a firmer government, a strong, liberal, enlightened Empire. That grand old Roman word, Imperium, pleases my ear. I will extirpate the Spanish power from the continent, and establish a throne at the old capital of the Montezumas."
"Father!" asked Theodosia, catching fresh enthusiasm. "The Western States will hasten to cast off their allegiance to the East, whose rulers have traduced and persecuted you, and they will claim the protection of your banner?"
"That, my daughter, is for the future to decide. If the States west of the Alleghanies, exercising the sacred right to secede, renounce the Union, and seek to join our Empire, we shall welcome them."
"New Orleans would be your capital city, at first, would it not?—and our home would be there and not in Mexico?"
"As you choose, Theodosia," replied Burr, caressing his daughter's hand.
"And you know, my dear Mrs. Blennerhassett," chimed the radiant favorite, "you will be a duchess and your husband Minister to the Court of St. James; Mr. Alston is Chief Grandee and Secretary of State."
In such airy nothings did the credulous women put their trust, entranced by the voice of the sanguine charmer. Their faith in him was absolute. For was not this daring leader wise and powerful and popular? Had he not been Vice President and had he not come within one vote of being President of the United States? He was cheated out of that one vote. Why should he not establish an independent government in that great West, through which his tour had been as the triumphal progress of a beloved monarch?
In the course of the talk, Madam Blennerhassett chanced to mention the name of Miss Hale.
"Ah! Miss Hale!" said Burr, his eyes brightening, "I have often thought of that splendid woman in connection with our court. She must be approached on the subject, madam, and by you."
Theodosia glanced at her beautiful friend with a look of jealous surprise.
"There are difficulties in the way, Colonel Burr," answered the lady of the island, coloring deeply. "Her father, one of the most influential citizens of Marietta, entertains a violent prejudice against you."
"We want nothing to do with him, then," said Theodosia, sharply.
"Ah, my dear child, there are many good men who do not know Aaron Burr as you know him, and whose political antipathies we must tolerate. But his antagonism need not prevent his peerless daughter from accepting the coronet of a countess."
"Countess!" exclaimed Theodosia. "Is this young woman a sorceress? Has she bewitched you?"
Mrs. Blennerhassett glimpsed her own image in the mirror. "Perhaps Colonel Burr anticipates raising the countess to the throne of an empire."
"I will have a voice in that, and so will Gampy," declared Theodosia, with a merry laugh. "The succession is fixed."
"You should become acquainted with Miss Evaleen Hale, Mrs. Alston. Evaleen is my most intimate friend. She is now in much anxiety on account of an uncle in New Orleans, a wealthy merchant, who was stabbed in the back by a drunken Spaniard. The wound caused partial paralysis, and Richard Hale desires his niece, who has always been a favorite, to come and attend him in his helpless condition. Several urgent letters have decided her to make the tedious and not altogether safe journey down the river on a barge, which is to start from Marietta within six weeks."
"Did I not say the gods are propitious?" broke in Burr; "Miss Hale is going our way at an opportune time. Her rich uncle will bequeath her his fortune and go to Heaven; she will take the money and go to Mexico."
XV. THERE BE LAND RATS AND WATER RATS.
At some distance north of Natchez, and below the third Chickasaw bluff, near the bank of one of the bayous, which seem to run from rather than toward the Mississippi, a band of desperadoes had established a temporary abode, sometime in the year 1805. They were an organized league of robbers, bandits of stream and shore, preying on the solitary traveller who rode through the pines on the way between Natchez and the North, and more frequently surprising the unwary farmer or trader, transporting goods to market by water. A number of flatboats laden with the plunder of the freebooters lay moored close to the north shore, under the shelter of the overhanging bushes, at the distance of a mile or two up this narrow but deep creek. Farther up the bayou, and a few rods from it, in an obscure hollow and almost hidden by cypress trees, from which depended curtains and streamers of gray Spanish moss, stood a log building, the rendezvous of the outlaws. The structure was low and long, consisting of three huts so joined as to look like one.
If a wandering stranger chanced upon this out-of-the-way and forbidding lodge, he might read, painted on a board over the entrance of the cabin, the words, "Cacosotte's Tavern." Within the dingy front cell or bar-room of the prison-like shanty, one evening in the early part of September, five or six persons had assembled. They were rough characters, engaged in drinking and coarse talk. One of the company was a negro. The only woman there was a big-bosomed, brown-visaged, black-eyed, savage looking creature not destitute of wild charm. If long hair be a glory to woman, then was this dark female covered with glory—her glossy mane fell far down over her shoulders and back. Whether she was English, French, Spanish or Indian, or a mixture of these, neither her looks nor her speech determined. She spoke little, and took small interest in what others said, yet seemed to regard herself as the responsible mistress of the premises. She had charge of the housekeeping, such as it was, and dealt out tobacco and liquor. It appeared, however, that she was not the sole manager of Cacosotte's Tavern. Cacosotte himself claimed superior authority, as proprietor.
Cacosotte was a most ill-favored knave, of a purplish yellow complexion and mumbling speech. His comrades called him "Sott" for brevity, or "Nine Eyes," not because he had nine eyes, as he had only one, but because he boasted he had "gouged" nine enemies—that is, dug out their organs of sight with thumb and fingers.
Two of the select party were Burke Pierce and Abe Sheldrake. The least conspicuous individual in the room was a sullen, suspicious, cat-footed man, who kept his slouch hat pulled over his face, and sat apart, smoking a pipe. He was a fresh recruit, and had given his name as Turlipe. Only one day had he been sworn to the service of the brigands, promising to do the bidding of their chief, Burke Pierce.
Expurgated of much grossness and profanity, the discursive talk, in this hiding place of criminals, may be partially reproduced as follows. The chief is first to speak:
"There was a French hunter, who hid a lot of skins in a clearing close by Red River, at a place called 'Cache la Turlipe.' Are you akin to that Turlipe?"
The sullen man shook his head.
"Have you been in the business before this?"
"More or less. I have run on the river all my life; was patron on a Kentucky boat."
"'Tain't a business, it's a profession," put in Nine Eyes. "But the profits ain't wot they used to be, and the risks is greater. I mind the time, cap, when Cave in the Rock, up the Ohio, jest below Massac, was the headquarters of the biggest men in our line. Wilson's boys done their wreck'n along by Hurricane, and stored their stuff in the cave. They carried on the Last Night-Cap game when they could get hold of a good customer."
"What's that?" asked Sheldrake. Cacosotte grinned and winked at Pierce.
"Your pard's too green to plug, cap."
"Don't you Pittsburgers drink a las' snort before goin' to bed? Well, can't you see the pint? They played the game this-a-way. Lodgers at the House of Natur often overslep themselves—couldn't wake up. There was a sign down on the river bank, jest under the cave—'Wilson's Liquor Vault and House for Entertainment.' The durn fool farmers comin' down the river with their produce had a cur'osity to see what the plague a vault was like and how Wilson's liquor tasted. They clim up, got drunk, were put to bed, and—" Here Nine Eyes went through a pantomime suggestive of throat-cutting. The black man, who stuck close by Sheldrake's side, twisted in his seat, and showed the white of his eyes. Sott, delighted to note these signs of trepidation, went on with his reminiscences.
"Cap'n, you ric'lect Colonel Plug, that carried on at Hurricane Island and the mouth of Cash, after Wilson was nabbed? Plug was a Yankee, and a hell of a smart un. He was from Pensylvany. His real name was Fluger, but we called him Plug and his woming Pluggie. I got into a misunderstanding with the colonel about that lady; colonel allowed her and me was too thick, so me and him, begad, had a rough-and-tumble, and that's how I come by this here." He pointed to his empty eye-socket. "Pluggie was one of your furriners—jest like Mex, but not so pooty."
"If she was half as handsome as Mex," said Pierce, "I don't wonder that you gave your right eye for her."
To this compliment Mex responded by resentfully casting the contents of a whiskey glass into Pierce's face and breast, whereupon the men all laughed loud.
"You dasn't smoke the senorita, cap," mumbled Nine Eyes, aside to Pierce.
"The purtiest wench I ever seen," babbled Sheldrake, "was the one me and you spied through the winder at Blennerhassett's, that night Aaron Burr and his pard from Virginy stopped over. I'll never forgit how we snuck up and seen them two sparkin' on the sofy."
"Right you are, Abe; and I was a damned fool not to nab her that day, when she was pullin' posies in the woods—"
"She'd of been a screechin' armful for you, Burke, with them shiny yaller curls of hern flyin' over your shoulder!"
This side colloquy, Mex heard, and her countenance glowered. Noiselessly she came to the bench upon which Palafox sat, and pressed close to his side. The captain, without looking at her, mechanically stroked her long mane.
"Fine wimming," remarked Sott, sagely, "is like pizen vine, pooty and clingin,' but pesky dangerous; I hadn't better teched Pluggie. A woming of your own is worse yet. She spiles on you, and you can't sell her as you do a hoss or a nigger."
Pierce looked at the darky, who grinned self-consciously.
"How many times over has Abe sold you since you ran away from the island?"
"Seben times," answered Honest Moses, and chuckled. "Mistah Sheldrake done sell me fo' cash, plunk down; I fugitives back to him, and he done sell me agin fo' mo' cash. I gits mo' money out o' speculatin' in dis heah darky, dan Scipio and Dan'l can git ahookin' watermillions fo' a hundred yeahs."
Nine Eyes took up his dropped theme.
"The hoss trade," said he, "the hoss trade don't pay here as it did with Wilson's boys. There's more risk in gettin' rid of a hoss than in sellin' the same nigger ten times over. Say, cap, is your new man onto the pass words and signs?" The speaker flung out three fingers of his left hand, to which signal Pierce responded by an answering gesture. But the captain had grown tired of Cacosotte's conversation. He ordered Mex to bring him another drink. Then, turning to Sheldrake, he said in undertones:
"Abe, you mind that trip from Pittsburg to Massac. Recollect what I told you that night? Before many weeks there's going to be a chance for men like us to make our fortunes as easy as floating down the Mississip."
The jealous eye of Mex was constantly dartling, and her ear was alert to catch every syllable Pierce uttered. She paid no attention to Sheldrake, who responded guardedly to his chief's overtures.
"Captain, if you know a safer way, I'd like to learn it. Now that the army is at Fort Adams, and soldiers is comin' and goin' from St. Louis to Orleans, we can't do nothin' widout bein' found out by Gen'l Wilkinson."
"Wilkinson," growled Pierce, with an oath. "Do you suppose I am afraid of his big names, 'General' and 'Governor'? Jimmy Wilkinson owes me money, and he owes me an apology, and he's got to come down from his high horse, or I'm a liar. Eh? Sheldrake, did you ever hear anybody call me a liar? Did you, Mex? Did you, Sott? ever hear any one say Burke Pierce was a liar or a foot-licker?"
"I'd hate to be in the place of the man that 'u'd dare," swore Cacosotte, hastily. He had noticed the excessive drinking, with dread of the probable consequence.
"I guess you would hate to rile me up even if you was a great general, dressed in uniform, and with gold epaulettes and buttons all over. I want to say to you, Abe, and you, Sott, and you over there smoking your pipe, you raw recruit—I've got in my pocket, what will bring the brigadier to terms. Bet your souls on it! Bet your black hair, Mex! Say, you raw recruit, where's your pal? Where's the feller you said wanted to join us? Open you jaws!"
"He is down on the boat," said the sullen man, rising and emptying his pipe. "I'll go hunt him."
"You'll be back and bunk here, or will you sleep on one of the boats?" asked Cacosotte.
"If it's all the same to you, I'll come back and bunk here."
The night was advancing, and the great white owls were beginning a dismal hooting in the cypress trees. Upon reaching the place where the boats were moored to the bushy shore of the bayou, Turlipe called:
"Hello, are you there?"
A man scrambled up the bank in response to the call. The two Spaniards sat upon the bank of the bayou, and held a long consultation in their native language. It was eleven o'clock when Pepillo, alias Turlipe, arose to go back to the tavern.
"You needn't come along, Vexeranno; I can do the job without help. Only stay here and wait. Have the skiff ready to carry us down stream as fast as we can row. I may come back any time in the night."
While Pepillo, squatting on the ground beside the sluggish estuary, imparted to his accomplice the details of a bloody design, Palafox in the tavern waxed more and more violent. He menaced an imaginary foe with clinched fist. Mex tried to soothe him. He sat for a while in sulky quiet. Rousing again, he ordered a candle, opened a leathern wallet, and took from it a number of soiled papers. His hand shook.
"Look here, Abe, these old letters are worth more money than all our plunder will fetch."
No response came from Sheldrake, who had prudently retired to the second compartment of the row of huts opening into one another. The whimsical Cacosotte had named the several rooms "Hell," "Purgatory," and "Heaven." Sheldrake sought a sleeping couch in "Purgatory," whither Honest Moses had preceded him to "flop" in a corner.
Mex stood behind the captain while he sat fumbling over a timeworn manuscript, peering at its hieroglyphics in the dim light of the candle. Cacosotte, yawning, rubbed his one eye, and groped his way to a slumber-rug in "Heaven." Then Mex put her brown hand timidly on the shoulder of Palafox.
"One in woods—not nab—no! no!" she said, shaking her head violently and frowning.
"What you jabbering about now? Don't you see I'm busy?"
"Woman through window—not big Mex—look so!"
She wrinkled her features, and shrank down mimicking a dwarf. The robber now understanding her speech and pantomime, slapped his thigh, guffawed exasperatingly, and, roughly pushing the jealous barbarian aside, "No, Mex, she don't look like that. Tall, white as your teeth, smooth and purty as an antelope—"
"Mex purtier. Mex not Choctaw—Castiliano. Look blood." She nipped her forearm with sharp teeth, and crimson drops oozed.
The mane shook, and the wild eyes glared behind the half-drunken man, who continued to fumble his papers. Before long his hand fell heavily, his eyes closed, and he slept. Mex shook him by the shoulders. Partially aroused, he looked up, thrust the papers and the wallet deep within a breast pocket, quitted the bench, and lay down on a pallet in the corner of the room. Mechanically he deposited a primed pistol under his blanket, ready to hand. Soon he was snoring.
An hour went by. The new recruit had not returned. Mex scarcely kept her eyes open where she crouched, Indian fashion, on a buffalo robe, behind the bar. Nine Eyes had bolted the outer door before retiring. Eleven o'clock; the white owls were at their boldest, hooting lugubrious serenades to the answering wolves. Pepillo was at the cabin door, trying the latch. Mex heard the sound, got up, and unfastened the bolts.
"Sh!" said she, and giving him the candle, pointed to the back room; then drowsily resumed her nest on the buffalo robe. Pepillo took the feeble light; nodded, but did not immediately follow directions. He set the candle down upon the floor in front of the bar, so that its faint flicker, unobserved by the woman, made objects barely visible in the room. This done, he shuffled his feet slightly to apprise the half-conscious guardian of the ominous house that he was obeying her orders, and vanished in the rear darkness. The dead hush of sleep now reigned over the place. So it seemed, but the stealthy Pepillo was wide awake. He remained motionless, breathless, hidden in the gloom of the second cabin. At length he reappeared, took up the candle, stood awhile listening, then moved cautiously to the edge of the counter, behind which the woman slept in her lair. He peeped over to assure himself of her complete somnolence. Satisfied that Mex would not likely be roused by any slight disturbance, he stole to the front door and undid the fastenings so softly that not a creak of the bolt sliding from its staple was heard even by his own quick ear. But when he swung the door open, providing for his ready escape, the hinges gave out a complaining sigh. The sound was faint, but it startled Mex. She raised her drowsy head, and through the mass of sable hair tangling over her half-open eyes, peered out from behind the shelter of the bar. Pepillo had drawn a poignard and was tip-toeing toward the sleeping captain. Mex gave a catamount cry. Palafox started up, pistol in hand, none too soon to avoid the deadly blade of the assassin. "Palafox!" This one word was all Pepillo uttered. In the act of springing to stab, he leaped to his own death, shot through the head. As he fell, the poignard, escaping his relaxed grasp, rang on the floor. Mex, who tiger-like had sprung from her covert, snatched up the shiny weapon, and fiercely stabbed it into Pepillo's lifeless breast.
Cacosotte and Sheldrake, roused by the report of a pistol, hurried in, staring amazedly at Palafox, Mex and the fallen Spaniard.
"Carry that out," ordered Palafox, nodding toward the body. "Tie a stone to its neck and chuck it into the bayou." The two men obeyed. "Get something, Mex, and wipe up that puddle," pointing to the blood on the floor. "You must keep Hell clean."
The wild creature, quivering with ferocious passions, put a fondling arm around the manslayer.
"Mex wake captain. Help kill. Mex Castiliano. Nigger wench—no!—Injun squaw—no!—Your woman."
XVI. A PATRIOT NOT TO BE TAMPERED WITH.
Four men on horseback were nearing the country house of Colonel George Morgan, a veteran of the Revolutionary War, living near Cannonsburg, Pennsylvania. Two of the riders were Colonel Morgan's stalwart sons, and they were escorting Aaron Burr and Colonel Dupeister, one of Burr's confederates. The ex-Vice-President rode beside the elder brother, who was an officer of high rank in the militia.
"Speaking of Washington County, General Morgan,—are the people of your neighborhood prosperous and contented?"
"We are a community of farmers, very prosperous and hopeful. Our population is increasing rapidly. We have no cause for discontent."
"What is the condition of the new college at the county seat? I am told there is an educational awakening among your young men."
"Yes; we are proud of Jefferson College; the institution is now in its fourth year, and is flourishing beyond expectation."
"You call it Jefferson College; it was named for Washington and Jefferson, was it not? The lesser star is in the ascendant, and twinkles amazingly now that the greater has set. Don't you think we are too much be-Jeffersoned?"
"Thomas Jefferson is an able man," was the commonplace reply, spoken bluntly, and accompanied by a look of irritation at the sarcastic question. Burr, conscious of the disapproval implied in the officer's curt answer, managed to change partners so as to ride abreast of the younger brother, Thomas, while Dupeister spurred forward and engaged John in discourse on stock-raising and the prospect of crops. With Thomas, an aspiring soul, in the flush of those discursive hopes and speculations which make ambitious youth restless, Burr employed his usual suasive arts, hopeful of winning a recruit.
"Your brother and I were speaking about the outlook here, for enterprising citizens. What are your pursuits? Are you a Knight of the Plow?"
"No, sir; not permanently; I am trying to make a lawyer of myself."
"That's good in a way, as a stepping-stone. The study of the law disciplines the mind, but is not profitable otherwise. The practice is a species of servitude, often a servitude to inferiors, for doubtful reward. Politics is better, but not the best."
"What is the best?"
"That depends upon the man. Some are easily contented. But I am not sure that contentment is a trait of a noble mind. I used to own negro slaves in New York. They were contented. To rest satisfied is the virtue of slaves."
"Yes, the niggers are contented, generally speaking. You were about to say what you think the best profession."
"The best for an ignorant African may be bondage to a good master; the best for you would be something more aspiring. I regard military life—the profession of arms, as the highest and most independent."
"Not in times of peace."
"This is not a time of peace, Mr. Morgan. We are on the eve of war and stupendous conquests. I speak advisedly. I am a soldier myself. You have heard rumors of war on the Sabine?"
"Yes; rumors. The Morgans are a military family, also; and I feel fighting blood stir in me when I read about the Spaniards."
"Does the red stuff boil? Your blood is right. You can't help it. If you, or your younger brother—I believe you have a brother besides the general?"
"Yes, George. My name is Thomas. They call me Tom."
"Tom, eh? Well, then, Tom, I was about to say if you and your brother George—"
"Spur up, gentlemen, we are leaving you behind," shouted General Morgan, looking back. "We are within half a mile of father's residence."
"More talk another time," said Burr, not finishing his sentence, and the pair, urging their horses to a faster gait came up with the others. Just then the party met a robust countryman who saluted the Morgans, as he trotted by on a skittish colt.
"What a fine-looking fellow! I wish I had ten thousand just such vigorous young giants!"
"What would you do with them?" the general asked. "Ten thousand would form a large colony. That is one of the farm hands. Those are our barns and the house is just beyond."
On their arrival, Colonel George Morgan stood on the porch to receive his guests. A well-preserved old gentleman, he might have said:
"My age is as a lusty winter, Frosty, but kindly."
His career had been eventful, aggressive, venturesome, and romantic. At the close of the Revolutionary War he felt aggrieved because of the non-payment of claims he held against the Government. Odium attached to his name on account of his procuring from Spain a grant of lands west of the Mississippi, on which he founded the village of New Madrid. He had expressed sympathy for Aaron Burr, whom he regarded as a much-abused statesman. The prevailing sentiment among army men justified the duel with Hamilton.
After dinner, the visitors repaired to the parlor, where was held a conversation in which Burr was the principal talker. More virulent and less discreet than usual, he indulged in witty flings at public men and roundly censured the administration, not aware that most of his auditors heard him with impatience. Colonel Morgan attempted to introduce another theme, by referring to the rapid spread of population westward.
"When I first went out West on my New Madrid scheme, there was scarcely a family between the Alleghanies and the Ohio. Now we have three great States. We shall have to remove the National capital to Pittsburg."
"No, never," said Burr, positively. "In less than five years you will be totally divided from the Eastern States."
"God forbid! I hope no such disaster will come in my time."
"Disaster or no disaster, the Union will split, or I am a false prophet. How can it be otherwise? What is to hold us together? Congress is a shadow, the executive a phantom too thin to cast a shadow. With two hundred armed men I could drive Congress, the President and Cabinet into the Potomac; with five hundred I could take New York City. Ask Colonel Dupeister!"
Dupeister nodded an emphatic yes; but not so did bluff John Morgan.
"By God, sir, you couldn't take our little village of Cannonsburg with five hundred men!"
"That, then, is because you are at the head of the militia. I should want your Cannonsburgers in my five hundred. But I talk too loud. Pardon; let us get out of doors; I would like to go the round of your plantation and look through the mill. Tom, won't you oblige us?"
While Tom piloted the visitors about the place, the eldest son took occasion to speak a word of warning to the father. "You may depend upon it, Colonel Burr is here on a secret errand to you. He will open himself to you this night. He is engaged in some suspicious enterprise in which he wants Tom to join."
"What foolishness you talk, my son; Aaron Burr is a soldier, a loyal man who fought for his country's flag; he would never do a dishonorable thing; certainly he would not approach me with improper suggestions."
"Then my precaution is needless. Yet have your mind prepared. Tom revealed to mother some of Burr's words, which, if seriously meant, are not such as you will approve."
The subject was dropped, nor was any more said in the course of the afternoon on political topics. About nine o'clock the guests were shown to their bedrooms and the members of the family also retired, except Colonel and Mrs. Morgan. They were in the habit of sitting up late, the wife reading aloud to her husband in the quiet hours, after the rest of the family had retired. The book which engaged their attention was "Modern Chivalry," the first novel written and published west of the Alleghanies. They had reached that part of the story which describes how Teague O'Regan was treated to a coat of tar and feathers. The passage amused the grizzled colonel, and he listened eagerly to the words:
"By this time they had sunk the butt end of the sapling in the hole dug for it, and it stood erect with a flag displayed in the air, and was called a liberty pole. The bed and pillow-cases had been cut open, and were brought forward. The committee seized Teague and conveyed him to a cart, in which the keg of tar had been placed."
"That's correct," interrupted the veteran. "That's the way to do it. Read on."
Mrs. Morgan proceeded: "They stripped him to the waist, and, pouring the tar upon his naked body, emptied at the same time a bed of feathers on his head, which, adhering to the viscous fluid, gave him the appearance of a wild fowl of the forest."
"Ha! ha! I've seen that done more than once; the author describes it well. What next?"
The tall Dutch clock in the next room, after a grumble and whirr, struck eleven, as if reproving the old couple for sitting up so late to read a novel. Before the ringing of the last stroke died away, footsteps were heard descending the stairs. Mrs. Morgan gave her husband a significant glance, saying in a low tone, "John was right; you have it now," and hurriedly left the parlor by a back door. She had scarcely made her exit when Burr entered, with a lighted candle in his hand.
"What, Colonel Burr, are you still up?"
"You yourself are not yet abed. Do I intrude?"
"Oh, no, no, no! Take a chair. We have a practice of sitting up to read after the children have gone to bed. John, Tom, and George are the children. Mrs. Morgan has been reading aloud from 'Modern Chivalry.'"
"A clever book," said Burr, "very lively and ingenious."
"I agree with you. The story gives a true picture of scenes which the author must have witnessed in Pittsburg. We were laughing over the account of Teague's adventure with the tar-and-feather committee. Poor Teague! He should have been spared. His persecutors were guilty, and not he."
"That's the way of the world, Colonel Morgan. Often the wrong man is blackened with the tar of calumny. You and I have not escaped. Pardon me for claiming a few moments' conference. You have had much experience, know many public men, and are a judge of human nature. I wish to ask your counsel."
Morgan blinked hard at the candle, nodding his willingness to listen, and tapping nervously on the table with his middle finger. Burr drew from an inside pocket a long, narrow memorandum book, written full of names.
"This is what I call my Roster of the Faithful," he said, and looked searchingly into the face of the patriarch, whose glum reticence puzzled him.
"Umph! Faithful to what?"
"To their principles and their friends. I assume that we know each other's history and political views. Colonel Morgan has not always had justice from those clothed in brief authority; you have freely exercised your individual right to better your worldly condition; you were not acting inconsistently as a citizen when you entered into perfectly proper contracts with a foreign 'power.'" The speaker paused, for he was aware of a bristling antagonism on Morgan's part.
"Yes," grunted the old gentleman, "perfectly proper."
Burr hesitated, more and more doubtful of his ground; but his was an audacious nature. Turning over the leaves of his memorandum book, he asked,
"Do you know Mr. Vigo, at Fort Vincent, a Spaniard?"
"I ought to know him! I have every reason to believe he was deeply involved in the British Conspiracy of '88, the object of which was to separate the States. The design which Vigo abetted was nefarious, yes, sir, nefarious! yes, damnable! The same disloyal and turbulent spirit caused the Whiskey Rebellion here in Pennsylvania, which General Dave Morgan, General Neville, and I crushed out. The diabolic sentiment of disunion survives yet; Pittsburg tolerates a set of seditious young men, a nest of vipers of the Vigo species."
The general checked his tirade, noticing that Colonel Burr put the list of names into his pocket with an air of hurt dignity.
"You must excuse me; I would not be rude, but soldiers use plain terms. You asked me about Vigo, and you have my opinion."
"Your feeling in regard to Colonel Vigo certainly is not flattering to the gentleman. I regard him as a deserving patriot. May you not be in error? Give the devil his due. You must not tar-and-feather the wrong man."
"Yes, yes, yes! I mean to be just. The devil should have his due. As for Vigo, I want no dealings with him, or with any of his stripe. I shouldn't hesitate to recommend a coat of tar-and-feathers and a ride upon a fence-rail for him. And if I should ever detect Tom, or any of my boys, even sympathizing in any attempt to dissolve the Union, I would warm the pitch for them myself, as sure as there is a God Almighty."
"Good-night," said Burr, stiffly, and went upstairs to bed. The next morning he and Dupeister rose early, and were on the way to Pittsburg before their host was well awake. The sons arose betimes, however, and bade the parting guests good speed.
After breakfast, Colonel Morgan summoned his family and told what had passed between himself and guest.
"He has insulted us by assuming us to be traitors at heart. Aaron Burr is meditating dangerous designs. I will write to the President."
Tom and George, impressed by their father's stern seriousness, and now realizing the presumably infamous nature of the service to which temptation might have lured them, hung their heads. The mother held hers high. Her jealous patriotism was alarmed and quickened. No taint of disloyalty should infect her sons, nor should word or look of hers hint weak misgiving of their rectitude. She assumed the Morgan stock incorruptible, and spoke proudly as befits an American matron. There was no tremor in her voice, no indecision in her steady eye, which flashed the sentiments uttered by the tongue.
"The brightest name in the world's history is that of George Washington—the blackest that of—" She paused, and her youngest son pronounced the detested name, "Benedict Arnold."
"Benedict Arnold—yes; his sword was recreant, his heart false. In all our annals only this one officer's record is polluted, God forbid the rise of a second traitor. But, my sons, if treason should again threaten liberty, I know on which side the Morgans will be found."
So speaking, this true "Daughter of the Revolution" unlocked a colonial chest containing relics cherished as credentials of family honor, and took from it a banner, tattered and rent in battles of the Revolutionary War. Dark stains consecrated its stripes and stars.
"This is my only brother's blood. My boys are patriots by inheritance from two lines of ancestors; you will always stand faithful to your Mother Land as to me, your mother."
"Have no fear for us, mother," said Tom. "The Morgans and the American flag stand or fall together."
"Amen!" added the deep voice of the husband and father.
XVII. THE BUSY NOTE OF PREPARATION.
"Peggin' away, all hands, eh? I never heard such a swishing of handsaws and banging of hammers; you make more noise than ten navy yards. How you getting along?"
"Not so briskly as I could wish; we are under contract to finish fifteen of these large batteaux, besides a sixty-foot keelboat by December."
"Sassyfax! Fifteen? What for?"
"To carry colonists down the Mississippi to the Wachita lands. The big keelboat is to transport provisions."
"You don't say! Now, how many men will them fifteen boats accommodate, when they're done? 'Bout thirty to a boat?"
"Yes; thirty or forty; we calculate the whole fleet will carry five hundred men."
"Five hundred! I'll swan! Do you think they'll ever drum up five hundred lunatics for such an expedition?"
"You'll have to ask Mr. Blennerhassett about that. My business is to build the boats, not to man them."
"Right you are, mister; every man ought to mind his own business, and I'll bet a pewter toothpick you understand flatboats, even if you don't know anything else. I will speak to my friend Mr. B. in regard to his end of the business, for I see him coming. That's him walking this way along the shore; you can know Harman a mile off by his stoop. 'Fore I go, I'll take a squint at the extra-fine ark they tell me you are fixing up for the family—I mean Blennerhassett's own folks. Blame my buttons, if I don't always hate to pronounce that larruping long name Blennerhassett! Byle is a heap shorter and better name. I s'pose you reco'nize me, don't you? I'm pretty well known in these parts. Plutarch is my Christian name. Did you ever read Plutarch's Lives? I didn't write 'em, but I'm living one of 'em. I ought to know you, you're dadblamed face is familiar, but bejiggered if I haven't let your last name slip my mind."
The ship-carpenter, to whom these questions and comments were addressed, had resumed his work, not paying any attention to Mr. Byle, who, finding his words unheeded, gave no sign of discomfiture, and went on talking to himself in the friendliest manner.
"Here we are, five miles above the mouth of Muskingum, making batteaux to go five million miles south of the jumping-off place of creation! Will I go with you, friends and fellow-citizens? No, not by a jugful. Do you think Byle is a plumb fool? I wouldn't mind going on a voyage with the madam and the young ones, but not with such an addle-pate as the near-sighted. Nor with Colonel Hoop Snake! No, there's no use arguing; I tell you once for all, I won't go. I'd no more trust in him than I'd trust you, old Muskingum, not to undermine your banks at Spring flood. A felon who would murder Alexander Hamilton—what crime wouldn't he commit? I'm consarned sorry for the family over on the island; ain't you, neighbor? Yes, you; I ask you, Mr. Jay Bird, singing and chattering to yourself on the willows. How are you?"
"Pretty well, I thank you," replied a stoop-shouldered pedestrian, who, drawing near, had recognized the voice without distinctly seeing the person of Byle. "How are you?"
"I was talking to that other jay, Mr. B. But I'd ruther talk to you. I'm hearty. How's all your kith an' kin? I thought of coming down to the island, to see you, but now you're here, I'll put off the trip a week or so. Jist say to the boys I'm making a crossgun for 'em. Give my regards to your better half, and I wish you'd tell Scipio that the melon he sent me was luscious. I'm here on a kind o' important business; came clear up from town to inquire about this expedition. You're managing the colony matters, and you're the codger to give me the real facts."
Blennerhassett, who had undertaken to use every means in his power to induce men to join the proposed colony, suffered Byle's fraternal confidences with as good a grace as possible, hoping to enlist a useful factotum.
"I will gladly give any information you desire in regard to the Wachita settlement, and our plans for the winter."
"I knowed you would. I told what-ye-call-him—the boss carpenter so. He allowed I'd best ask you for the particulars, and it's fair to you that I should. You pay for all this lumber and hammering and sawing, out of your own pocket; you have a right to answer questions. How much is the whole caboodle going to cost you?"
"Perhaps that question is not pertinent to our present interview. I presume you wish to learn the conditions of our agreement with volunteers?"
"That's so; you don't presume a speck; I wish to learn all about everything. What are the conditions?"
"We pledge ourselves to pay every man who goes with us fair wages, and to give every one a hundred acres of the Bastrop land. Each man is to provide himself with a blanket, a good rifle and a supply of ammunition."
"What do you want with rifles? Do you expect to have to fight?"
"Not necessarily; all pioneers need guns. Did not the forty men who settled Marietta bring rifles and ammunition?"
"I swow you've got me, Mr. B. No man can keep house without a gun, I admit that. I'd as soon go without my head. I've got a gun, all right, and a blanket. What else?"
"That is all. Be ready on the first of December with your blanket and rifle, and we'll provide for your other wants."
"Well, that looks fair. But let me give you a bit of advice before you start. Don't you go at all. As sure as my name is Byle, you'll be sorry for yourself and Maggy, as you call her, if you do go. You mustn't git mad at me, Harman, for speaking out plain. I'm friendly to you and your folks; don't like to see you put upon; and I consider it my goshdurned duty to tell you that this here Colonel Beelzebub is making a cussed fool of you. I'd have no hobnobbing with a hoop snake. Don't trust ary shape of a sarpent in your apple-tree. You know your eyes are not as long-ranged as some. This is God's truth with the bark off. He don't talk to Adam in the Garden in our days, but I sh'd think you'd hear what mortal men are saying. You're a readin' man—haven't you come across what the press wrote about that scorpion in your bozom?
'Oh, Aaron Burr, what have you done? You've shot our General Hamilton! You stood behind a bunch of thistles, And murdered him with two horse-pistols!'
Excuse my interest in you; a full kittle will bile over. I've lots and slithers of United States information that ain't to be found in your green emerald Erin, no more than snakes is."
Blennerhassett was in doubt whether to consider himself insulted or befriended. He had misgivings concerning Burr and the colony. Common sense told him that Byle might be more than half right.
"Do you know anything of the far West?" he asked. "Report gives out that it is a marvellous region."
Byle had a spice of mischief in his composition. He could not resist a humorous impulse to gull a credulous foreigner.
"Maybe I can give you some curious facts not generally known. I'm a sort of bookworm myself. I've nosed the Coon Skin Library. Did anybody ever tell you of the Missouri salt mountain? a mountain of real salt one hundred and eighty miles long, and forty-five broad, white as snow, and glittering in the sun? No vegetation grows near it, but a river of brine runs from its base. I have a chunk of the salt."
"Wonderful, wonderful!" ejaculated Blennerhassett.
"Isn't it wonderful? But not so contrary to nature as the shoe-and-stocking trees that grow at the headwaters of this Muskingum River."
"That seems impossible—shoe-and-stocking trees, did you say?"
"It does sound improbable, I admit, but seeing is believing. I've pulled half-grown shoes off one of those trees with these hands. I don't expect you to take my word. I didn't believe the story myself at first, and can't bring my mind to believe what my own brother Virgil told me he had seen and tasted—the Whiskey Lake in Southern Kentucky."
Gullible as he was, Blennerhassett looked incredulous. Byle's expression was serious to solemnity. His big blue eyes vouched for his perfect sanity.
"Now, I must go," said he, turning away; "I've a heap of things to do and folks to see before sunset. Good-bye."
Genuine kindness had prompted Plutarch to blurt out unsought counsel, and he hurried away, congratulating himself on having discharged an obligation to his conscience. His long, swinging strides propelled him to Marietta in half an hour. Near the court-house he met a gentleman, whom he accosted, taking him cordially by the hand and inquiring, "Isn't this Squire George Hale?"
"George Hale is my name," returned the gentleman, reservedly, and disengaging his fingers from the strong grip of the tall man.
"Yes, you are the individual I took you to be, and no mistake. I seldom forget faces, though I get names crooked now and then. Your name and your corporosity go together; you look hale and hearty! I never was picked up but once, in shaking hands with a stranger, but that once was enough. Before I knew what I was about I shook hands, last May was a year ago, with—I vow I'm ashamed to tell you who with. Are you going home, Mr. Hale? Is Miss Evaleen in town now? The first time I met your daughter she was down at Blennerhassett's! The last time was here in Marietta, out by the big mound. Is she as well as usual?"
Mr. Hale stared in blank bewilderment. He first surmised that an escaped lunatic was face to face with him. Yet there was coherence in the strange man's speech, and nothing wild in his looks. In fact, Mr. Hale had frequently seen the gaunt, gigantic figure of Plutarch dodging about the town, and had heard his name spoken as that of a very eccentric person. Like everybody else who was brought within speaking distance of the oddity, the sedate New Englander was at a loss how to behave toward him. Plutarch was never at a loss. Detecting a hair lodged on the squire's shoulder, he picked it off, and winked.
"A pretty long hair, old man, to be found on your collar. I hope it came from one of your own women-folks. What's the last word from Captain Danvers? When is that knot to be tied, anyhow? If you'll give me an invite, I'll be there, sure. I told young Burlington—no, I mean Arlington—all the facts just as they are."
"You did? What facts? Who is Arlington?"
"Don't you know Arlington, Squire Hale? Is it possible? Well, well, well! Now that explains a good deal. These young folks are as sly as a gallinipper. You have to keep your eye skinned to see all that goes on, by land and river, and especially on islands. There's not a bit of criticism to be made on Evaleen's conduct, nor on Arlington's. He couldn't help himself, no more than a fly in a honey-pot. The minute he saw your gal, he fell slap dab in love with her. The poor feller was nigh about dead for love the day we sot on the summit."
"What rigmarole is this? You sot on the summit? Arlington? My daughter? Tell me simply and briefly what you mean."
"I mean briefly and simply, Mr. Chester Arlington, of Virginia, came here to spark Evaleen; he as good as told me so; that is, I am satisfied he did; it stands to reason and the nature of a gentleman! Secondly, I told him it was no go. I said to Chester, 'You must hunt up another sweetheart, for Leeny Hale is engaged. She is going to be married,' says I, 'to Captain Warren P. Danvers.'"
"You told this Mr. Arlington that my daughter was engaged to marry Captain Danvers?"
"Yes; that's what I told him. Isn't that so? Of course, she couldn't marry 'em both at once, and I wanted to put Chester out of misery. That's why I broke it to him. You may tell the betrothed, as you call it, I mean your daughter, as much or as little as you please; but if that young woman had saw how that young man looked when I told him he couldn't have her, I do believe she might have shook Danvers and took Arlington. That's what I had to say to you, Squire Hale, and now I've said it, I feel easier. I must be going. Mighty fine weather, this! Good-bye! Gals will fool their daddies."
Away went Byle, about everybody's business, and home hastened George Hale, not so much to tell Evaleen what he had heard concerning herself, as to learn from her the solution of the mystery of Arlington, Danvers and "the summit."
Day after day, and week after week, the shipwrights plied their tasks with saw and hammer, with adz and mallet, constructing the vessels to convey men and goods down the river in the Winter. A large purchase of provisions, ham, bacon, flour, whiskey, was made in advance, and various accoutrements were secretly collected in anticipation of Burr's enterprise.
New gods had been set up in the sequestered home of the Blennerhassetts. The Lares and Penates there honored were not now the images of Emmett and Agnew, not the names of dead ancestors, but the living spirit and example of Napoleon and the magic word Empire. No longer could the harpsichord charm or the strings of the viol allure. The music-books gathered dust in the alcove, and the "Iliad" stood unopened on the shelf. Instead of rambling in the woods, or strolling on the banks of the Ohio, or galloping to Marietta clad in a crimson cloak, or giving banquets or balls to entertain the admiring gentry of Belpre, Madam Blennerhassett spent busy days and anxious nights working and planning for a potential greatness, a prospective high emprise. A change had come over the spirit of her dream. She had ceased to feel an interest in domestic duties and pleasures; she neglected the simple cares of the plantation, took no satisfaction in binding up the bruises of her slaves, or curing their ailments with medicine and kindness; the talk of Peter Taylor about flowers and fruit, or of Thomas Neal, concerning pet heifers, and new milk and butter and cheese, became tedious; the jokes and laughter of the farm-hands and dairymaids she heard with irritation; nor could the prattle and play of her romping boys divert her mind from the one absorbing theme—the descent of the Mississippi, the conquest of Mexico, the creation of a New World. In close daily communion with Theodosia, she dwelt not in a white frame house on a woody island of the Ohio River, not in the present; but in the future, and in a marble palace in the splendid domain of Aaron I. The two enthusiastic women, allied in a common cause, inspired alike by the experience of wifehood and maternity, similarly ambitious, passionate and imaginative, reciprocated each other's sentiments and strengthened each other's resolution.