The summer flew away. In October, Governor Alston visited the island. Many consultations were held in the gilded parlor and in the hushed library; more plans were divulged, more pledges given—and Burr departed never again to cross the threshold of the house on the island. Theodosia and her husband and child went to Lexington, Kentucky, whither they were accompanied by Blennerhassett.
Left alone in the great ghost-white house, its mistress wandered from room to room, restless and melancholy. The boys were at play on the lawn; she could hear their mirthful shouts. She felt a vague longing, like homesickness, and yet she was at home. Wearily she sat down in her husband's study chair in the quiet library. She glanced round at the books, the apparatus, the musical instruments. Everything presented an unnatural aspect. Startled by the snapping of a string on the untouched violincello, she uttered an involuntary exclamation, rose, and went up close to the portrait of her husband. But owing to the dimness of the light or the sadness of her mood, the features, instead of smiling, seemed to regard her with a mournful gaze. A sense of desolation overwhelmed her. Endeavoring once more to fly from herself, she called her children. They came, and she kissed them, putting an arm around each.
"Dominick, do you want to go away, away to Mexico, and become rich and great?"
"No, no, mamma; I want to live here forever with you and papa."
"We both do," iterated Harman. "We both do."
"Colonel Burr will be there to take care of us all. He saved your life, Harman, and he loves you, I am sure."
"Mamma, he loves you, but he don't love papa."
The mother blushed, and a big tear rolled down her cheek.
XVIII. THE VOYAGE OF THE BUCKEYE.
George Hale, yielding to the importuning letters of his brother Richard, consented that Evaleen should risk the peril of a voyage to New Orleans. Luckily the young lady was to have travelling companions. One of her uncle's letters contained this passage: "Ask your father to hunt up my old-time friend, Dr. Eloy Deville, to whose care and medical skill I owe my life. He still lives, I believe, in Gallipolis. Tell dear old Frenchy and little Lucrece—I suppose she is now almost grown—that I have unearthed family facts much to their worldly advantage. They must come to this city, to the French quarter. My discoveries are astounding, but credible. Eloy may inherit a fortune. I will see that he loses nothing. My advice is, come at once. The doctor and his daughter will be good company for you on your voyage."
Eloy was easily induced to do as his friend and former patient advised.
"Oui, monsieur, certainment shall we depart most glad from ze log hut. Lucrece, ma chere fille, dance for ze delight! We shall, on ze to-morrow, us depart, on ze joli bateau with ze mademoiselle; quick shall run ze stream, row ze oar, fly ze sail—we come right away to ze excellent long friend of your father. Ze honor and ze felicity shall be to me to serve mademoiselle for ze sake of her divine uncle, for ze own beautiful sake of ze fair angel."
The Buckeye, on which Evaleen and her friends took passage, carried a cargo for the Southern market. The crew numbered eight picked men, commanded by Eli Winslow, a talkative Vermonter, with none too much experience on the Mississippi, but overstocked with self-confidence.
Such clothing and household goods as he thought essential to take along for himself and daughter, Doctor Deville packed in old trunks, or tied up in bundles, all of which were deposited on the river bank, six hours ahead of time. The luggage included a basket of Bordeaux, a surgeon's case, a chest of medicine, and a violin in a green bag. At last the barge hove in sight, announced by the echoing of the boat horn. The fidgety Frenchman gave Lucrece a kiss and almost dislocated her arm by pulling her after him to the landing. A long half hour he had yet to wait before The Buckeye was made fast to the posts on the bank and Eloy was helped on board, still holding fast to his chere fille. It would require a volume to report the conversation which enlivened the many days' journey down the Ohio and the Mississippi. The doctor chirruped constantly. He knew a little of everything, and talked much of nothing, very amusingly. Often he sang French songs, often played dance tunes on the violin, now and then took an enlivening taste of wine.
Past Cincinnati, past Louisville and the Falls of the Ohio, past Shawnee Town, past Fort Massac, and Diamond Island and Battery Rock, the vessel moved slowly and steadily along. The voyagers were told that the lower river was infested still by wreckers, one scene of whose frequent depredations was Wolf Island. Captain Winslow discoursed much on the state of Western commerce, and the dangers which menaced travel.
"A great part," said he, "of the Territory of Mississippi, stretching from Tennessee to Natchez, is unbroken forest, inhabited by Indians, and infested with wolves and panthers. We shall see no sign of civilization on the eastern shore until after we have skirted six hundred miles of waste, howling wilderness."
At length they came to where the Ohio is merged and lost in the Mississippi. The turbid onhurrying volume of mighty waters heaved and foamed, as if troubled by furious, disturbing forces working below. The boat shuddered and its strong joints groaned in the strenuous hug of the river.
"Hereafter we can proceed only by daylight," said Winslow. "We shall have many dangers to contend with—a succession of chutes, races, chains, and cypress bends. You will see no end of this gloomy forest. There are plenty of rattlesnakes, bears, and catamounts in those jungles, doctor."
"Par bleu! Ze catamount shall stay in ze jungle and delight heself with her family amiable. We not shall invite heem to tea. Are no inhabitants in this wilderness?"
"A few whites and some Indians. See those squaws digging wild potatoes for food."
"Do many boats go to New Orleans?" asked Miss Hale.
"Yes, ma'am; all sorts from a birch canoe to a full-rigged ship. Hundreds are lost. We are now coming to a wreck-heap."
The passengers saw an immense huddle of drifted logs, and the broken timbers of shattered boats, and entire scows, rotting, half-submerged, or warping high and dry on top of the hill of confused ruin. The sight of these hulks, abandoned to the grinding eddies, added a sense of dread to the weary anxiety already felt by the girls. The progress down the Ohio had been tedious; how much more so the interminable windings on the Mississippi, and the long, lonesome nights, made sleepless by the cries of birds that flit in darkness, and by the howls of wild beasts. Evaleen's nocturnal fears, when the barge lay moored, were not so well founded as were the apprehensions which daylight renewed, of disaster on the treacherous flood. The more she learned of the river, the more she realized the risks of each day's navigation.
"Young ladies, see! That is a sawyer; an ugly one, sticking its sharp horn up to hook us. I don't mind a danger which shows above water; but your sleeping sawyer is the mischief to be dreaded."
"What's a sleeping sawyer?"
"If I could point out the nasty thing, I wouldn't dread it; a sleeping sawyer does its sawing under the surface. We are liable to run on to the point of one any second."
"Mercy! Do you think we are coming on a sleeping sawyer now?" asked Evaleen.
The captain hoped not, and directed attention to another phenomenon not of a nature to induce feelings of security.
"What do you see away down the river?"
"Do you mean that low island?"
"Yes, an island and not an island. Wait until we drift nearer. You will see river moss and rank water plants growing over the surface, but it is not part of the firm land; it is a wooden island."
"How? A wooden island?"
"Just so. We shall see many such. Logs and all kinds of drift lodge against the upper part of a stable island or peninsula, and the accumulated mass grows into a great raft matted together by roots and vines. The whole thing, driven by winds or currents, sometimes swings free from its anchorage and drifts away. Then it is called a floating, or wandering island."
Lucrece, who had been sweeping the circle of the horizon with the seaman's glass, caught far to the northward, the glimpse of a sail.
"I see away up the river what looks like a leetle black house, with a white thing on the roof."
"That boat," said Winslow, "is miles and miles behind us; it is above the second bend. Let me look.—She carries a square sail, amidships, as we do, but she is not a barge. Stop, I know what she is—there's a flag at the top of the mast—she must be a government transport, coming with troops for Fort Adams or the Natchitoches country."
Lucrece caught a quick breath and asked eagerly:
"Troops from St. Louis, think you?"
"Most likely, miss."
Evaleen's interest was also excited, but she kept silent, and soon slipped away alone into her cabin. The French maiden remained on deck a long time, watching the transport, whenever she could bring it within the field of vision.
"The soldiers, will they perhaps overtake us?" she inquired, turning her brilliant big eyes to Winslow.
"Like enough; but you needn't be afraid of the reg'lars; they won't molest us."
"I haf no fear; I haf curiositee."
At last Lucrece returned the glass to the captain, thanked him, and slowly sought her companion, keeping a small, brown hand just over her heart to make sure that a precious letter which she carried there was still safe and in its right place.
Lucrece and Evaleen had readily fallen into sympathetic relations. Days of chattering on deck, and nights of prattle before falling asleep on the same couch, left few girlish secrets unexchanged. The scant experience of Lucrece's isolated life had brought her only a small stock of personal doings or feelings to disclose. Yet, up to the hour of her coming into the private cabin, after seeing the government transport, she had not told the very thing which she knew would most surely enlist the sympathy of Evaleen or of any other woman.
Now, Lucrece was moved to pour out her simple heart in maiden confidence to Miss Hale, her only female friend.
"Ah, ma sweet Evaleen, I no more shall be able to hide my feeling—I tell you, right as it happen, the beginning and the end of my story, that no person shall know.
"One day, at Gallipolis, a young soldier there stopped. He came in the mail-boat, and the reason he entered our cottage was one of the boatmen had been hurt by accident—his arm crushed, poor man—and as papa is known by all as a surgeon, the young officer—he was capitaine—he run up the hill to our log cabin. I tell him mon pere, alas, was not at home—mon pere had gone that day to Belpie. The very handsome face—how shall I say?—was upset by disappointment—teach me if I use the wrong word. I saw the sad regret and was grieved also. He looked in my eyes with a kind pity for the hurt boatman, and quickly I spoke. 'Monsieur, I, also, can use the instruments of mon pere, and wrap the bandages. Always I assist. Mon pere names me his aide. I will go and dress the hurt arm.' The young man did not say no, but his eyes were full of doubt, very much in doubt of me. I took the surgeon's case, and we made haste to the mail-boat. How they all did stare and stare! I had handled the sharp knives, and my father had taught me perfection. Instantly I did the operation necessaire, the brave captain much helping. Then the gallant soldier brought me home, carrying the case, and, oh, my Evaleen, how shall I say, he kissed my lips, say 'Forgive,' and went away. I have see him no more."
As Evaleen listened to these naive sentences, her expression grew more and more troubled.
"At Gallipolis? A captain? Do you know his name?"
"His name—oh, yes, I know his name—Warren Danvers."
Evaleen's lip quivered. A shade of anxiety and pain saddened her countenance.
"I should resent the insult," she said coldly. "Have you told me all?"
"No, my sweetest sister; I confess to you now my great, precious secret. Alas, I give my heart that day. I love that only man."
"You love him? This is the silliest tale I ever heard. Let us go out and breathe the fresh air. Absurd! Do you fancy he loves you?"
"He has written me one letter of love—here it is."
Lucrece drew a tiny note from her bosom and went with Evaleen near the prow of the barge to take the evening breeze. The first pale stars were barely visible in the clear sky.
Lucrece unfolded the missive, and held it up in the dim light, but she did not know that tears were blinding Evaleen's eyes.
"Sometime, Lucrece, but not now, I will tell you a story of foolish love to match your own. We are all alike, and we all hope against reason."
"No; there is no reason, no wisdom, no prudence—only love. Yes, yes, something more, as I see the only star that shines there above the dark trees, and seems to die and live again while we look at it. I see the hope that my soldier loves me and will be faithful."
On the sixth day after leaving the mouth of the Ohio, the boat had passed the third Chickasaw Bluff, and was within fifty miles of Natchez, when blue-black clouds suddenly overcast the sky, and a violent storm burst upon the river. Buffeted by opposing forces, the Mississippi soon began to fume and rage like a wrathful brute. The three passengers were on deck.
"How wicked the river looks under this indigo sky!" said Evaleen. "I wish we were ashore. There must be extreme danger in such a high wind."
"There is always danger on the Mississippi, but such gusts soon blow over. We are safer in midstream than near shore. I'll manage the boat, never fear. You and Miss Deville had best go into the cabin before the rain comes upon us."
The girls had scarcely found shelter when a volley of big drops swept, rattling, over the deck. Soon the waves rose so high as to bury the running board of the barge. The cotton-wood trees along the shore were twisted and torn up; blinding spray and rain filled the dark air. The captain saw his vessel in danger of drifting upon a wooden island, and could not decide whether to steer to the right or to the left of the obstruction. Voices from the eastern bank of the river were heard, shouting through the storm.
"Sheer clear of the island! This is the safe channel! Row in close to this side! There's a bayou here!"
Winslow could not see the men who gave this warning, but he was relieved. The halloo and answering shouts were heard by Lucrece and Evaleen. Regardless of advice, and wind, and rain, they returned to deck. The men, unable to steady the barge, lost presence of mind; the captain knew not what orders to give, but finally commanded,
"Lower the yawl, we will try to make fast to a tree. Quick! Steady! Four of you jump in! John, take charge of the cordelle; can you row, doctor? We need help."
"Certainment. Do not fear, my two brave daughters; this good shower shall refresh ze atmosphere."
He sprang into the yawl with the others, and seized the oars. The barge was driven and sucked toward a revolving eddy. Evaleen, observing the consternation of the rivermen, felt a sudden shock of terror.
"Lucrece!" she cried, grasping the French girl by the wrist. "We are lost! We shall drown! The men can do nothing! How the boat creaks and trembles!"
Lucrece was preternaturally calm. She took Evaleen protectingly in her arms.
"Have no fear, my sister. Mon pere shall not let us perish—he has the strong rope. And see! see, is there not somebody who could come to our aid?"
Evaleen gazed through the driving haze, and saw, tossing on the rough water, a skiff which seemed to be making toilsome progress toward the doomed craft. Farther up the stream she thought she could discern the party in the yawl, striving to reach shore with the cumbersome cordelle. Pole, nor oar, nor rudder could save the Buckeye from the fury of the eddy. The slender craft, sixty feet in length, was whirled round and round with dizzy rapidity. The violence of the down-pull at the vortex broke her in the middle. All on board fled aft, to the highest deck, an elevation peculiar to barges. There remained the forlorn hope that the men in the skiff might approach the sinking wreck. This they did. They pulled alongside the half-hull, and with great difficulty and risk succeeded in taking the girls aboard. Three of the four boat-hands on the barge at the time of the disaster perished in the funnel of the eddy. One swam ashore. Evaleen devoutly thanked the Divine Power for her deliverance. Lucrece crossed herself. The French girl's anxiety was now all for her father. She did not see the yawl, though it had landed.
"Mon pere! O mon pere—mon pauvre pere!"
"He'll turn up, mam'sel," said a voice she did not like. There were two men in the skiff. Lucrece now observed their appearance closely. A look at the features of the man who had spoken confirmed a reviving impression that he and the ribald boatman who had insulted her from the deck of Burr's flatboat at Gallipolis were the same. He affected not to identify her, but kept gloating eyes on Evaleen.
"You needn't feel a bit afraid, young ladies; you are in trusty hands. Our business is to save property and to rescue folks. We will row you to a safe place, and then come back and help the men pick up what they can of their wrecked goods."
Evaleen saw floating barrels and boxes, part of the cargo of the Buckeye. She also noticed skiffs putting out from shore.
"Them is some of our organization coming to save goods. This here eddy is a dangerous place for boats."
"Why did you direct our captain to pass this way, if it is a dangerous place?" asked Lucrece.
"Oh, the island over yonder is a damned sight more dangerous, ain't it, Abe?"
"You are not rowing direct for the shore. I shall be very grateful to you, gentlemen, if you land us at the nearest point and assist our friends who are out on the water in a yawl."
"Be easy, miss; we'll look after your friends by and by. I reckon they can take care of themselves, though."
"Ladies fust, and gents next," interjected Sheldrake, leering at Evaleen. "We know how to be perlite to women. Don't we, cap? Specially to purty women. The young lady is right when she calls me and you gents, eh, cap?"
"Shut your gab, and mind your oar," answered the chief.
What object had these unknown watermen in conveying their unwilling passengers away from communication with Captain Winslow and Doctor Deville? Evaleen could not hide her dismay. Lucrece grew desperate.
"Will you stop the boat, sir? I beg it as a favor. I must go back to mon pere. He will think us drowned. I must find him."
"Keep cool, miss. We will help you to a place where you will be taken good care of, by nice folks. You can stay there and rest yourselves, and get a bite to eat and a glass of cordial, while we go back to look after the salvage."
Five minutes more and the skiff was brought to rest beside a scow loaded with damaged merchandise. The abducted women were hustled to the shore.
"Come along, miss; this way."
Thus speaking, Palafox, going ahead, almost dragged Evaleen by an obscure path to Cacosotte's Tavern. Lucrece followed perforce, convoyed by Sheldrake. When they reached the threshold, the chief outlaw kicked the door, which was soon opened from within. The frowning face and bold bosom of Mex fronted the captives. With one hand she flung back the tangled hank of her long black hair, while the light of her black eyes shone full on Evaleen. The side glare cast on Lucrece was less vicious.
"Mex, here is two fine ladies that will stop in our house a while," said Palafox. "Treat 'em to the best you've got. Take mighty good care of 'em till I come back, Blackie, or you'll hear from me. Put 'em in number three, there's most light there, and it's safer. Tell Sott, when he comes back, to keep his nine eyes on the front door, to see that nobody that oughtn't to gets in or out."
"One apiece for us, eh, Mex?" added Sheldrake.
The kidnappers departed, after fastening the outer bolt of the door. Mex, sole custodian of the unwilling guests, scowled upon them, in silence. Evaleen came to her with appealing looks.
"Please unlock the door and let us go. Here, take my purse. I will give you more if you will set us free—all I have. You are a woman; have pity; let us go."
Mex grasped the silken purse, keeping her eyes steadily on the beautiful pleader.
"You window woman?"
Evaleen, nonplussed, ventured to nod acquiescence with these unintelligible words.
The captive nodded again, in dumb perplexity, eager to encourage any sign of human kindness on the part of the wild being into whose power she had fallen.
"White Mex teeth." She showed her sharp incisors, presenting an aspect of fierce scorn.
"Castiliano. My home. Come."
The laconic hostess accompanied these words with a gesture, beckoning the young ladies to follow her, and led the way through the second room, to the heavy wooden portal of the third.
"Mex let lady out."
With exulting hearts, the girls heard this promise. The dark woman opened the door and motioned them to enter, which they did. Mex then slammed the door, and bolted it upon her unlucky prisoners.
XIX. ARLINGTON'S RIDE.
Chester Arlington set out from his Virginia home for the Southwest, carrying in his brain many anticipations, memories, and dreams, having slight connection with his nominal duties as Burr's business agent. He hoped to swell his own fortune by speculation in Wachita land; certainly he was eager to be among the first to march into Mexico when the signal for invasion should be given, openly or secretly. Moreover, sheer restlessness and love of adventure prompted him to ride over the hills and far away.
As he proceeded westward along the Old Wilderness Road, through Cumberland Gap, into the heart of Kentucky, he had plenty of time for meditation. The varied prospects continually appealing to his eye mixed their images with pictures in his memory, especially with recollections of his journey down the Ohio. The interesting route over which he was now passing had been marked out by Boone and the early pioneers. Of the eighty thousand or more inhabitants living in Kentucky at this time, nearly all had come West on horseback or on foot. The famed region—the hunting ground of the Indians before the "Long Knives" invaded it—retained the chief features of a primeval forest. The settlers' houses were cabins in the clearing.
The Virginian's meditations were broken in upon by various diverting sights and sounds. His attention was attracted by some picturesque hunter, dressed in buckskin pantaloons, fringed jacket, broad yellow belt, and wolfskin cap, and carrying a long rifle; or, perchance, he exchanged good-humored remarks with a wayfaring rustic who proposed to swap horses. He wended his way through the Blue Grass region, through Lexington and Frankfort, and southward into Tennessee. Arlington found keen enjoyment in what he saw and heard, though never quite losing from consciousness a haunting memory of the Lady of the Violets. He read with curiosity the tavern signs, wondering what relation such names as "The General Washington," "The Sign of the Wagon," "The Seven Stars," "The Golden Bull," "The Red Lion" bore to the character of the entertainment advertised by the several symbols, for Chester never failed to revive at meal-times a hearty regard for victuals and drink. The table fare in Kentucky and Tennessee was much the same wherever the traveller stopped—consisting of bacon, eggs, and of corn bread in the form of dodgers, or of big loaves weighing eight or ten pounds, cooked in a portable iron Dutch oven. Coffee the landlord always served, tea never, and no meal was complete without toddy. Peaches abounded; and a drink called metheglin, made of their juice mixed with whiskey and sweetened water, the thirsty traveller thought a rival to mint julep.
One night Arlington put up at a locally celebrated tavern on the border of Tennessee. He found the genial host—an honest gossip called Chin—enjoying a hospitable carouse with half a dozen boon companions soaked full of flip and peach brandy. The jolly topers welcomed the newcomer to share their cups. They imparted much old news, and volunteered many encomiums on the landlord and his inn. They took special pride in Chin's tavern, owing to the undoubted historical fact that the guest-room had been occupied by Louis Philippe one night in the year 1802. On requesting to be shown to bed, the Virginian was conducted by the landlord, candle in hand, to a bare loft, on the floor of which lay a straw tick covered by a blue blanket.
"There's a bed a young gentleman ought to be proud to sleep on," affirmed the host, waving the candle over the couch. "If it's good enough for the son of the Duke of Orleans, it's good enough for me or you, eh? Wouldn't you like an applejack or a stiff metheglin to make you sleep sound? The boys downstairs respect you, sir, for the way you liquored. A young man travellin' can't be too sociable or treat too often. Well, good-night; you're lucky to strike that bed; you don't lay every night under a kiver and onto a tick slep between by the son of the Duke of Orleans."
Chester found the bed conducive to dreams, in which he was happy beyond the happiness of duke or king, dreams of Blennerhassett's island in May, and of wandering with a wingless Yankee angel in that earthly Paradise. Next morning, in payment for lodging and breakfast, he offered a silver dollar.
"That's too much," said Chin. "Here, Joel, chop this coin. I must give you the change in sharp-shanks. Will you have it in quarters or eighths?"
"In whatever form you please."
"Then make it quarters, Joel," directed the landlord, tossing the dollar to a negro, who neatly cut the piece into four equal segments, one of which was handed back to the departing guest.
Arlington proceeded southward toward Natchez, following the road over which Burr had travelled toilsomely nearly two years before. Though warned not to undertake the journey alone, our hero, like James Fitz James, chose to trace a dangerous path only because it was "dangerous known." Road, properly so called, none had yet been opened through the wilderness stretching from Tennessee to lower Louisiana, and spreading eastward from the Mississippi. The route led the traveller along an old trail, over sandy spaces shadowed by melancholy pines, beside stagnant lagoons, across sluggish streams, and into cypress swamps, the lurking-place of reptiles, the dreary haunt of bats and vultures. The road, at best, was an indifferent bridle path, and at worst, a blind labyrinth of seldom trodden ways in the woods. Arlington carried in his saddle-bags a supply of bread and cheese, and he kept ready primed, in holster at his pommel, a brace of big pistols.
On the evening of the second day after entering the piny woods of Mississippi, he came upon a party of Creeks and Cherokees. They were friendly; their chief offered the hospitality of the camp, venison to eat and a buffalo hide to sleep on. These mild savages spoke a few English words, and they had partially adopted the customs of white people. The men wore an upper garment, like a shirt, and, about their loins a girdle of blue cloth a yard and a half long. Their legs were bare, their feet shod with moccasins of stag-skin. They were shorn of all hair except a grotesque tuft on top of the head. To enhance their masculine beauty, they sported nose-rings and painted their faces red, blue or black. The dress of the squaws consisted of a shirt, a short petticoat, and ornamental gaiters. Not one of them suffered a ring in her nose or paint on her cheeks, and all seemed proud of their hair. A dusky beauty, the chief's daughter, insisted on picketing and feeding Arlington's horse. On the next morning, before quitting the camp, the young man gallantly gave her a silk scarf, a present which all the other Indians, from the chief down, envied her.
No adventure of an unpleasant kind befell Chester Arlington until after he had crossed Black River, well on the way to Natchez. One day, in the dusk of evening, he heard a voice from a distance shout after him, "Ho, there!" He looked in the direction from which the shout had been sent, and returned an answering "Hello!" but could see no person, nor could he elicit another cry from the solitude. This unaccountable voice, sounding in the wilderness, had a disagreeable effect on Arlington's nerves, though he was not in the least alarmed by it. His horse, however, tired as the brute was, pricked up its ears, gave a suspicious snort, and moved with quicker pace. Perhaps half an hour passed; the twilight deepened, and the weary traveller looked right and left for a suitable camping spot for the coming night. He checked the horse, rose in his stirrups, turning his head to prospect a green nook near the bridle path, when, crack! whiz! and a bullet grazed his left ear. This was more serious than a lone cry in the wilderness. Horse and rider instantly sought security in flight. The spurs were hardly needed to urge the black stallion forward. A brisk gallop along such ready avenues as Jetty could follow in the darkening woods, rapidly put a safe distance between the traveller and the random highwayman who had shot at him. At any rate, Arlington decided to dismount and take the chances. He tethered the animal, ate a dodger, and slept on his arms.
On the following morning new cause for anxiety arose. The bridle path was not to be found. In galloping away to avoid bullets, Chester had swerved much to the westward, and far from the obscure and crooked "trace." For a whole day he wandered circuitously, in vain search for the beaten course. The more stubbornly he resolved to keep "calm, cool, and collected," the worse confused were his calculations. He experienced sensations unlike any he had ever before felt. It vexed him to confess to himself that his usually clear brain was a muddle. He seemed not only to have missed the way, but had also lost the faculty of self-direction.
The night was again coming on. Now, Arlington regretted his obstinacy in refusing the service of a guide. Danger for danger's sake was playing ironically with him. He reflected that the wisest thing for him to do was to save his strength, recover his wandering wits, and start afresh the next morning. Luckily his saddle-bags were stored with a good stock of rations. He tied his jaded horse to a cypress-tree, and sat down on the ground to endure as patiently as he could the long dark hours. "A prince's bed in Chin's loft," thought he, "is luxury compared with this. All comfort is relative. I will sleep if I can. I shall need myself to-morrow."
The croaking of frogs in the swamp and the shrill trumpeting of the mosquito army attacking his face and hands were not agreeable lullabies. As the darkness deepened, a medley of doleful noises pervaded the horrible wilderness. An unearthly gabble of strange water-fowl broke out suddenly, was kept up for a few seconds only, and then ceased. Only once in the night did Arlington hear that demoniac gabble; but he lay awake for hours expecting and dreading to hear it again. The owls were not so sparing of their vocal performances, scores of them joining in concert to serenade the lost man. Sometimes their prolonged notes sounded like the wail of a deserted babe, sometimes like mocking laughter, and again like a deep guttural snore. Nothing worse than mosquitos, dismal sounds, and the dank vapor of the swamp afflicted the weary man, who, falling asleep at midnight, slept so soundly that on waking late next morning he reproached himself for not having dreamed as usual of Evaleen Hale.
"How do you feel this morning, Jetty?" he said, patting his black horse. "Are you well rested? I will get you the best breakfast to be had in this God-forsaken region, and we must trot on or stay here and perish. Never say die, Jetty."
Real difficulties invigorate the brain of a brave man. Arlington awoke with a definite plan of procedure in his mind. After feeding Jetty and breakfasting with keen gusto, he renewed his search for the lost path, keeping the points of the compass ever in view. Natchez lay to the south and also to the west. By going due south one must certainly strike the road at some point.
"Are you ready to start, my lad?" said the man to the horse. The horse whinnied an equine response, and was soon bearing his master southward through the underbrush. Many an hour was wasted; the sun climbed to the meridian, and no indication of the anxiously looked-for trail was seen. At length, just as Arlington's pioneering eye lit upon the shining surface of a lazy brook, a dozen yards away, Jetty suddenly halted, put nose to the ground and began to paw. The animal had found a path, scarcely discernible, yet a practicable road marked by hoof-tracks. The course of it was along the edge of the small stream flowing westerly. "Manifestly the rational thing to do now is to follow the new-found trail, which, in all probability, is the right road to Natchez, or if not, it may lead to the Mississippi, where a boat can be hailed."
Progress was slow and painful. The oppressive afternoon was half spent when a breeze started up, the precursor of a thunder-gust. The breeze, strengthening to a brisk gale, made Arlington hold fast to his hat, and caused the long streamers of Spanish moss to wave like gray banners from the limbs of the cypress-trees. The air grew murky, clouds were flying in dark blotches. A hurricane was sweeping across the country; the loud rush of it came roaring up the stream; it lashed and twisted and tore trees; poured down torrents; thundered around and above Arlington and his terrified horse, without doing either man or beast the slightest hurt, save deluging them with rain, and pounding them as with mighty hammers of wind. The storm swept past, the rain ceased, the wind died away, and the traveller thanked his stars he had escaped death. On, on, farther and farther toiled the travellers, now both afoot, Arlington leading his panting beast. The water-way on their south, near the bank of which the road lay, widened abruptly, and became a broad, natural canal, with crumbling shores. Arlington paused to speculate on the strange aspect of things. Long had he journeyed among bushes and trees, over logs and across streams and oozy marshes; now he deemed he was nearing the Mississippi. "I am De Soto the Second; an explorer of new regions, a discoverer of strange watercourses. This Acheron at my left must flow into some larger body of water, if it flows at all. Courage, Jetty! We are on the way to the Father of Waters."
Climbing once more into the saddle, Arlington resumed his ride, patting his horse on the neck, and encouraging him with words.
"Patience, good boy; keep up a day or two more. Surely this widening stream on our left creeps to the big river. See! A boat! A vessel made by man's hands lies on the shore of this Dead Sea!"
Joyfully Chester sprang to the ground, and leaving the animal to browse, ran down to the edge of the bluff to learn if any living creature were aboard. He discovered three or four large boats, freighted with barrels and boxes. He called, but no answer came back. Turning to look after his horse, he noticed a foot-path leading into a thicket, and having pushed his way amid the wet bushes, he came into a broader path, which brought him to a supposititious tavern, the headquarters of Palafox's gang.
"A queer place for a public house," thought Arlington, reading the sign over the door. "Table set in the wilderness; I am out of danger of starvation, anyhow. Blessed be the name of Cacosotte."
Thus communing with himself, the young man pounded vigorously on the puncheon door. No one came to open to him. Loudly he called in the hearty manner of the backwoodsman:
"Hello the house!"
Nobody answered the call, though Arlington could have sworn he heard suppressed voices within. It flashed upon him that the place might be a trap for travellers, and the sign-board a decoy. His two heavy pistols, each more than a foot long, hung strapped to his belt. The priming was fresh; the flints were accurately set.
"Hello, there, within!"
Still no answer, yet again the sound of voices—women's voices. The stranger left the front portal to investigate the rear end of the long cabin. Loopholes in the log walls permitted air and light to enter the rooms. Through one of these openings, an aperture which might very likely conceal the muzzle of an aimed rifle, Arlington heard—not the report of a gun, but what surprised him more—his own name shrieked by Evaleen Hale. The hurried, excited appeal of the captives made clear the prompt and only course for the man to take. He hastened to the front door again, and now saw a reason why the strong bolts on the outside had been fastened. These he drew, and almost heaving the door off its hinges, rushed into the den. Mex stood on guard in the first partition door, a butcher knife in her hand. Slight parley did the athletic, impetuous Virginian ranger hold with the dragon who interposed between him and his lady-love. "Drop the knife! Throw up your hands!" he demanded, with an emphasis of desperation, which left no doubt of his intentions. Mex knew the meaning of pistols; she was cowed; the knife fell and her hands went up. Secretly she was glad to be foiled. She wished to be rid of the woman Palafox admired, and she could think of but two modes of disposing of her—killing her or letting her escape. Slowly walking backward, menaced by a cocked pistol, Mex retreated to the door of the room in which the ladies were locked up. The bolts were unfastened by her, the door swung inward, and the prisoners sprang to freedom. Now again Mex showed fight. She flashed Pepillo's poignard from a hidden sheath and made at Arlington, who struck the weapon down, shoved the savage woman back into the room, and bolted the door.
XX. MOSTLY LOVE MATTERS.
Captain Winslow and those with him in the yawl at the time of the sinking of the barge, intent on their work of landing and of managing the cordelle, did not witness the rescue of Miss Hale and her companion. The place where the yawl came to shore, was overhung by bushes, and shut from view in the direction of the mouth of the bayou by trees and branches just blown down. Throughout the disastrous half-hour, only Dr. Deville thought less of self-preservation than of the safety of others. Constantly he tried not to lose sight of his daughter and of Evaleen, and he felt sure he had seen the girls going ashore in a skiff, rowed by two men. The boatman, who escaped by swimming when his fellows went down in the whirl of the eddy, could not believe but that the women were drowned.
Winslow and his drenched crew followed Dr. Deville down to the angle formed by the river and the bayou, where stood those of the wreckers not employed with oar or boat-hook. And now the conclusion of the sailor who swam to shore was confirmed by other testimony. These fellows swore they had seen the lost women struggling in the water. Another declared he saw them sink while he was making a desperate effort, against wave and gale, to reach them in his boat. Notwithstanding the assertions of the watermen, Deville did not relinquish faith in his own eyes. He suspected foul play. So did Winslow, who began to discover the spurious quality of the pretended salvage corps. The vigilant exertions of these hookers-in of flotsam could be accounted for only on the supposition that here, at the outlet of Cypress Bayou, Captain Winslow had fallen into the hands of a gang such as he had described to his passengers.
Palafox and his confederate made haste to return from their thieves' den to the scene of the wreck. Deville's pleading inquiry concerning the missing girls drew from the abductors feigned expressions of surprise and regret. Turning to Winslow, Palafox said:
"I'm 'stonished, captain, that you risked takin' women on board a freight boat."
"Yes," added Sheldrake. "You'll blame y'rself 's long 's you live. Them bodies will come up as floaters, down about Baton Rouge."
Doctor Deville groaned.
"No, no! Say not that. My dear daughter shall not be lost! Ah! Mon dieu!"
"Daughter? Was one of 'em your daughter, grand-daddy?" exclaimed Sheldrake. "Think of that, Burke! His daughter drownded!"
"Je suis fache de votre malheur, pere," said Palafox, in a tone of affected commiseration. Then turning to Sheldrake with a grin, "Better not devil the old man any more, Shel; he's gone crazy. Hello, there comes another boat!"
The craft sighted was a transport, flying the Stripes and Stars, and bearing a detachment of soldiers from St. Louis to Natchez. On being vociferously hailed by Winslow and his men, the batteau headed for the shore. During the slow and laborious process of landing, the wreckers, observing uniformed soldiers, with guns, furtively slipped away, one by one, disappearing in the bush; all excepting Palafox, who, with brazen audacity, still held his ground, acting his part as succorer of the unfortunate.
"I mean to join the army myself," said he to Winslow, as a lieutenant and several men came ashore. "I'd enlist now if it wasn't for my family at home—two sick babies."
A yell of delight from Dr. Deville startled all on shore and on the boat. His vigilant eye, ever enfilading the tangled copse to the eastward, had caught through an opening in the bushes the flutter of a blue gown, which he recognized as the kirtle of his idolized Lucrece. She presently emerged from the thicket, accompanied by Arlington and Evaleen. Palafox was much disconcerted. He forgot his role of public benefactor, and was casting about to slip away as his fellows had done, when Arlington, rushing forward, pistol in hand, savagely confronted him.
"Stop!" thundered the Virginian, covering the desperado with his pistol, and glaring upon him with determined eye. Palafox, unable to escape, nonchalantly bit a chew of tobacco and nodded insolently.
"Take this man prisoner!" demanded the Virginian, keeping his eye and his pistol on the boatman.
"You've no warrant to take me," sneered Palafox.
"No warrant is required. Seize him, soldiers—he is a robber, an outlaw!"
To the accusation of Arlington, Miss Hale added her entreaties in terms so urgent that Palafox was arrested with little ceremony.
While the soldiers were hustling the kidnapper aboard the boat, the officer in command, Captain Warren Danvers, hastened to the shore, having recognized the voice of Evaleen. Neither Lucrece, who loved Danvers, nor Chester, who loved Evaleen, could hear what passed, in rapid speech, between the affectionate couple. The story of the voyage, the wreck, the abduction, Evaleen imparted in a breath. She told as briefly the circumstances of the rescue.
"Oh, Warren, is it really you? A divine Providence guards us. Such a coincidence is not blind chance. Who could guess when we parted that we should come together under these circumstances. The hand of Heaven saved us."
"My dear girl, will you give no credit to human saviors? It appears you owe special gratitude to a mortal. I can't claim any merit for saving you, but I am extremely happy that we are once more together. Who is your travelling companion? We must look after her."
"Are you tired of me already," she playfully chided, "and curious to make a new friend? They are French people from Gallipolis."
"French? Is she French?" asked Danvers, gazing toward Lucrece.
"French? Is she French?" tenderly mocked Evaleen. "I told you they were French. Now I am jealous. Do you know any French girl in Gallipolis?"
"Nonsense, Evaleen! I am not a woman's man. Pardon, I don't mean that I don't like you, of course—"
"Like—don't you love me? I love you with all my heart, you dear fellow! But I love Lucrece also, and maybe I'll let you love her just a little."
Danvers seemed embarrassed. Evaleen went on:
"We are forgetting our friends. Come, you must thank the man who saved us."
The pair hurried to where Arlington stood.
"Mr. Arlington, this is Captain Danvers."
"I have met Captain Danvers."
"How, what? Have you, Warren, formed the acquaintance of—?"
"I have seen Mr. Arlington once before."
"A good while ago. On the day I left for St. Louis."
"You never told me." Danvers looked hard at Arlington, who felt called upon to explain.
"Madam, I challenged Captain Danvers to fight."
Evaleen's blue eyes opened wide.
"And you accepted the challenge?"
Arlington's heart leapt within him. "Brother?" he stammered. "Captain Danvers your brother?"
"He is my half brother."
Danvers laughed out. Putting his arm around Evaleen, he said, "Mr. Arlington, if you are still disposed to fight me, we may meet when you please. But I am of the opinion you will learn from Evaleen that you have more cause to cherish hard feelings against the man you champion than against me."
"At any rate," said Arlington, as the two shook hands, "whatever you may think concerning Colonel Burr, this is not the place nor time for quarrelling. You have the Spaniards to fight—I must fight a rash temper."
Lucrece, pale and sad-eyed, was leaning upon her father's shoulder. Evaleen hastened to her, and the doctor went up to Arlington to pour out endless thanks.
"Are you sick, Lucrece? Shall we go to the boat?"
"Sick, sick at heart."
"There is a way to cure that."
"No, my Evaleen, there is no cure. But you shall it all forgive. How could I know? You say you sometime tell me the story I read, alas, too late."
"Story? What story?"
"Ah, my sweet friend—pardon me—pity Lucrece. Mon soldat—mon capitaine, you love heem—he love you—how shall we not hate us?"
The captain made bold to approach the ladies. When his eyes met those of Lucrece, Evaleen interpreted the silent language exchanged.
"Lucrece, your soldier is my brother, you jealous little tigress! But," she added in a whisper, "don't let him kiss you again."
Danvers, without delay, gave directions for all to embark, and himself conducted Lucrece and her jubilant father on board.
Arlington, escorting the Lady of the Violets, asked her, in an undertone, "Did you get my last letter from Virginia?"
"Yes," answered Evaleen. "Did you receive mine, in which I explained the mistakes of Byle?"
"No; I did not get such a letter. Tell me all the contents."
"That will require time."
"Did you answer my—my question?"
"Wait until you see the letter."
"I don't think I can wait."
"Then until we can talk on the boat."
Danvers proposed to take the crew and passengers of the wrecked barge Buckeye aboard his transport and carry them as far south as Natchez, where a family boat could be procured for the continuance of their voyage to New Orleans. Arlington, of course, was accommodated; also his faithful horse, Jetty, which had followed him down the margin of the bayou. The understanding was that Winslow should conduct the doctor and the ladies from Natchez to New Orleans, leaving Danvers free to march his troops to Natchitoches, while Arlington remained in Natchez to transact the business intrusted to him by Burr.
The transport was soon afloat. Monsieur Deville, quickly recovering his habitual gaiety, chirruped:
"Have I not said, Mees Hale, to your father that hees gairl sall be safe as ze baby in ze cradle? Have I not keep my word? Ze leetle blow of ze wind, it is all ovair. What we care now for ze boat-wreckair, ze bad robbair? Voila! have we not brush away ze mosquito? But say to me, my daughter's dear friend, am I myself Eloy Deville? Ze Captain Danvers, is he a lunatic?"
"No, doctor, not a lunatic, but a lover. My brother and your daughter have been sweethearts for many moons."
"Now I am sure you also, Mees Hale, have lost your head. You also are in ze delirium."
Danvers, attempting to ingratiate himself with pere Eloy, was called away by an occurrence which caused him chagrin. The sentinel to whom was assigned the duty of keeping watch over Palafox was not sufficiently vigilant to foil his cunning. The amphibious athlete managing deftly to loosen the cords which bound his wrists, slipped like an eel from the boat into the river, and, diving deep, swam awhile under water, then on the surface, and finally reached the eastern shore of the Mississippi, a few miles south of the point at which the boat had landed. Long, toilsome, exhausting, was his return tramp toward the sole haunt in which he could expect sympathy or command protection. He did not rely on honor among thieves, but he had confidence in Mex, who was bound to him, he believed, by two strong ties, love and fear.
Night had fallen before Palafox reached the southern edge of the bayou at the point opposite his only house and home, and it was pitchy dark, when, having swam across the stagnant channel, he trudged, wet and weary, to the barred door of Cacosotte's Tavern, and knocked. Mex undid the bolts and let her master in, her sagacious eyes swiftly taking note of his bodily plight and desperate mood. To her demonstration of savage tenderness he returned a ferocious growl, and shoved her from him roughly.
"Fetch me the brandy, quick! Don't you see I'm drowned?"
He swallowed at a gulp the potation she poured out, and stepping into a dark recess christened "The Captain's Corner," where hung various stolen articles of men's apparel, he exchanged his soaked garments for dry ones.
Meanwhile, Mex sullenly placed upon a table such food as her cupboard could supply. Palafox emerged, mollified in temper, but still irascible. In his hand he held the long leathern pocket-book containing the alleged evidence of Wilkinson's complicity with the Spanish government. It was creased and dripping, and before eating he opened it, carefully took out the papers, and spread them on the counter of the bar to dry.
"You wouldn't guess there might be a fortune in these, would you, Blackey?"
"Not Blackey! No negar-wool!" She shook her long black hair, and her blacker eyes glittered. "No Mexicano, no red squaw—your woman."
Palafox was wont to amuse himself by provoking the pride and jealousy of this caged creature of untamed affections.
"Where is Sott? Did he come home? He ought to be burnt alive for letting my game escape. Where is he?"
Mex, standing behind her lord and watching him as he ate and drank, explained that Nine Eyes had been badly hurt in a fight with one of the band; a bullet had shivered the bones of his arm; the sufferer had groaned and howled, but she soothed him, she said, by a charm, and he at last slept.
Sott's nondescript nurse had in fact, administered an opiate. In addition to the arts of the hoodoo and medicine man, she possessed unusual knowledge of the virtue of wild plants, including those of dangerous quality. There was never race or tribe so primitive as to be ignorant of deadly herbs. This scarcely half-civilized daughter of miscegenation was a Hecate in the skilful decoction of potent leaves, roots and berries.
"You charmed him to sleep?" sneered Palafox, glancing back threateningly, and speaking in Spanish. "Be careful who you charm. Best not be coddling Nine Eyes, or any other man, while I'm livin'. Bring another bottle. You could have kept those girls here for me, if you'd tried. You allowed that strutting dandy to carry them off before your eyes. This makes the second time he got away from me. The third time is the charm. Not your kind of charm, Mex, but one that acts quicker."
"What charm?" asked Mex, who had gone behind the bar, and was busy with bottles and cups. She decanted some drops into a flask.
"What charm! Copper-cheeks! You don't recollect how I dosed Pepillo that night!"
"Yes, that night me save your life. Me your wife then! Me kill dandy?"
Palafox chuckled at the question.
"No, senora, no. I'll do that part of the business, and you see after the charming. You might have captivated the dandy for all I care, and kept him to yourself. It isn't him I want. I want her. And I'll have her yet. I've set my heart on getting ahold of that woman."
The hand of Mex could not have been steady; she let fall something that broke like glass.
"What are you spilling, there? Don't break my bottles. Bring me more drink."
Mex started up confusedly from behind the bar, brought a flagon, sat down on the bench beside Palafox, and looked into his face. A furious resentment was raging in her heart.
Palafox enjoyed his temporary wife's manifestations of jealousy. He laughed, took a deep draught from the flagon, and said:
"You are infernal particular, Mex. I never heard of another woman of your pedigree who was opposed to polygamy."
She did not understand all the words he used, but gathered the chief import, and replied with impetuous wrath:
"No Mex—not Choctaw—me Castiliano—me Senora Palafox." The desperado sat still several minutes, drank again from a bowl which Mex had mixed.
"You're all right, senora—I couldn't keep house without you. Look ye here, bring all those papers and I'll put 'em safe back in the pocket book." The papers were folded up and enclosed carefully into the leathern wallet. Palafox, with trembling hand, thrust the package in his pocket, and then staggered to his feet.
"There's a queer pain in the back of my neck and in my chest, Mex; I can't stand up—help me." He leaned on the bar, and the woman hastily drew to the middle of the floor the great buffalo robe which was her usual bed. She also brought a panther's hide rolled up to serve as a pillow. The horribly staring eyes of Palafox followed her motions.
"There's something ails my heart, I tell you."
He stumbled upon the bed of pelts and lay sprawling.
"More drink! water! brandy! quick!"
With difficulty Mex turned the man upon his back. A while he lay still. His breathing was labored and he twitched convulsively. The entire nervous system was suddenly depressed. Mex stood motionless beside the pallet, her eyes riveted upon him. Presently his livid lips opened, and he spoke gaspingly, "I'm done for."
His hand fumbled about his heart. He was falling into syncope. He did not feel the sweep and tickle of downfalling hair which, for a moment, enmeshed and covered his face, when Mex knelt at his side and took from his bosom the pocket-book he had told her contained a fortune.
Having secured this treasure, the slighted mistress of a dying robber slid noiseless as a shadow to her accustomed covert behind the bar. When she came thence her feet and ankles were encased in high buckskin moccasins adorned in bright colors. About her shoulders she drew an Indian blanket decorated in richest style of barbaric elegance. She paused to bestow a parting look on the distorted face of him she had loved and poisoned. A feeble moan came from his lips. She knew it meant death, for wolf's-bane was mixed with the last draughts he had taken.
Like a shadow Mex passed from the cabin into the darkness of the woods. She had prevented the man from pursuing any other woman.
The hours of night wore slowly away, and Cacosotte, returning to consciousness after his anaesthetic sleep, felt renewed pain in his disabled arm. As soon as he realized his condition, he sat up in bed and shouted for his nurse. "Mex!" No answer.
"Mex, for God's sake come and fix my arm."
No answer. No sound whatever was to be heard in the lonely cabin.
"Mex, O Mex!"
No response. Cacosotte waited half an hour and again called out. Finally he got up, and in the gray light of a cloudy November dawn made his way from his remote couch in "Heaven" to the glimmering twilight of "Hell." Mex was not in her lair, nor was the couch itself in the usual place.
Cacosotte bent over Palafox and saw a corpse.
XXI. PRO AND CON.
"No, sir, no, sir! I deny the statement. Burr is not getting justice. Daviess is a persecutor, not a prosecutor. He hates Burr as he hates every Republican. He rakes up all the filthy lies of the past, concerning Burr and Wilkinson, and peddles them round in that dung-cart, The Western World, which his man Friday, John Wood, drives."
"You'd best not talk too loud, Hadley; Wood is at the door."
"Who wants John Wood?" bawled the bearer of that name. "Hadley, you?"
"No; I avoid you and your paper. You ought to be sued for libel. I say to you as I just now said to Ogden, that Jo Hamilton Daviess is making this fuss, not for furtherance of law and justice, but to blacken the name of Burr."
"Burr blackened it himself," retorted Wood, "with the blood of Hamilton."
"Black blood it was, from a black heart. Don't say anything against that duel here in Kentucky!" said Hadley.
The wrangle, of which the foregoing speeches were a part, took place in Frankfort, Kentucky, on the morning of December 2, 1806. The town was thronged with zealous partisans, Federalists and Republicans, from near and far. Scores of sturdy ploughmen and cavalcades of stock-raisers had ridden from their Blue Grass farms to the State capital, on horses of a breed and beauty unsurpassed in the world. Every tavern, blacksmith-shop, and grocery drew its crowd, for the weather was cold, and the country folks were glad of a chance to warm themselves while they boisterously discussed the latest phases of the legal proceeding then in progress, involving the reputation of Aaron Burr, and threatening his personal liberty.
Daviess, a staunch Federalist, controlled a political newspaper, the avowed purpose of which was "to drag to light the men who had been concerned with Miro in the Spanish conspiracy of 1787." Daviess had written to Jefferson accusing General Wilkinson of having been in Spanish pay, and later had charged both Wilkinson and Burr with the grossest disloyalty. These two men were openly and repeatedly attacked in the paper, a copy of which Wood held in hand when he confronted Hadley.
"You can't smutch the character of Daviess," said Wood. "His name is above suspicion. He performs his duty as United States District Attorney without fear or favor."
"You are not competent to give an unbiased opinion; your bread-and-butter depends upon the man who set you up in business."
The sneer drew applause from a majority of those in the store. Burr had won the heart of the populace. Wood returned a sharp rejoinder.
"What a pity that some good man has not set Hadley up in a better business than pettifogging. Apply to your patron, Judge Innes. Lick his foot. There's an immaculate judge for you! Talk of corruption! I've been present at every session of the court whenever the case of Burr came up. Away back as early as the beginning of November Daviess moved for a process to compel the attendance of Burr in court to answer charges of treason. Daviess made affidavit that he had positive evidence of Burr's plotting to wage war against Spain, invade Mexico, and break up the Union. What was the action of Judge Hary Innes? He overruled the motion—denied the course of justice."
"No," broke in the other, "he denied the motion because there were no grounds for the charge."
"Hold on, Mr. Hadley, till I am through. I want these young men from the Blue Grass and from Lexington to know the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth."
"Fust time truth ever come from the editor of The Western World!" growled a backwoodsman in buckskin breeches. "I'll bet my money on Burr. Burr ought to be President 'stid of Jefferson. He was cheated out of the Presidency."
"That's the talk!" put in a squeaky-voiced old man, wiping his lips with the back of his hand, after having taken a drink of cheap whiskey, for a dram went gratis with every purchase, and old Jim Sweet had bought a long woollen "comfort" for his scrawny neck. "That's the talk, gen'l'men. I say, hurrah for Wilkinson and Burr and Harry Clay! I wisht Clay had popped a hole in Daviess, jest like Burr did in Hamilton. Why didn't they fight? They say Daviess sent a challenge. Wonder why that dool 'tween Jo and Harry never come off?"
Hadley shrugged his shoulders.
"That gits me," continued Jim. "Reckon it were a case of one askeert and an' t'other da'sn't, eh, Hen?"
"Skeert nothin'!" mumbled the backwoodsman. "Clay's a dead shot."
The man of the newspaper here put in. "Daviess sent Clay a challenge; that's certain."
"Yes! an' there's another fack what's durn certain, my friend, or I'm a liar!" The backwoodsman roused himself from his stooping posture and sat glaring at the editor. "Harry Clay done accepted Daviess's challenge; an' if matters was arranged satisfactory to both parties without no pluggin', I reckon there ain't no need of comments from outsiders."
Editor Wood, aware that the public sentiment was against him, prudently withdrew, leaving the floor to Hadley, which zealous Democrat, addressing sympathetic auditors, voiced their feelings and his own.
"I was in the court room, and I saw some of you there when first Daviess tried to calumniate Burr; and I was there when Innes overruled the motion. That was a great day. The judge had scarcely finished speaking when Burr himself, just from Lexington, entered the court-house. He made the neatest speech ever I heard—perfectly calm and dignified—and he asked for a full and free investigation—the sooner the better, he said—now, if possible. You heard that speech, Jim, didn't you?"
Old Jim, who, with trembling hands, was in the act of adjusting his new comfort, swore he had heard all the great preachers and lawyers of his day, but Burr knocked the persimmons.
"Do you recamember, Hen," said he, familiarly addressing Hadley. "Do you recamember how Daviess hopped up and snarled out, 'You shall have all the investigation you want!' He said it in jest that tantulatin' style. 'All the in-ves-ti-gation you want.' I was riled. I hissed."
"Like an old snappin' turtle," said the backwoodsman.
"I recollect," resumed Hadley, "the judge fixed the next Wednesday for the hearing, as Burr desired. Wednesday came, but Daviess wasn't ready. One of his witnesses absent. What could the judge do but discharge the jury? He did discharge the jury, and then, gentlemen, we had another surprise! No sooner had those jurymen left the box than in marched Burr once again, and said he regretted that the jury had been discharged, and asked the reason. Daviess buzzed up, like a mad hornet, and explained that one of his principal witnesses, Davis Floyd, was in Indiana attending a territorial legislature. Everybody burst out laughing, and the judge had to call the court to order. You ought to have seen Burr! Without cracking a smile, he desires that the cause of Floyd's absence be entered upon record. Then he makes another address, partly to the court and partly to the people, denying in toto the charges against him, and insisting on a fair investigation. There is not a franker, more open-and-above-board soul living than this same Aaron Burr of New York! They can't catch him by any tricks of law or lying. He won't be downed. To-day comes the last tug of war. I never saw such another crowd in this town as we have now to attend court. All Frankfort is here, all Lexington, and pretty much all Kentucky."
"I'll be danged," piped old Jim, "if I don't start right away and try to git a bench. An ailin' man, like me, can't scrouge, as I used to could."
"Go 'long wi' me; I'll jam you through the crowd, or mash you, Jim," offered the backwoodsman. "Fetch out the jug, Sanders, it's my treat. Come up to the counter, neighbors, 'less you mean to insult me. Here, use this dipper, Jim. All must drink—yes, you too, Solly." These last words were addressed to a ghost-like man with a long white beard and insane eyes, who had glided into the store. He was recognized by all present under the name of "Solly," an abbreviation of Solitarius. The demented fanatic sadly shook his head.
"Peace be with you all. Amen!"
"Amen, Solly; how's the Halcyon Itinerary?" asked Hadley, in playful irony. "Where's your revelations?"
"Awake from your dreams." This monition, uttered in a slow, solemn tone, was received by the loafers good-naturedly, being advice they had often heard from the same lips.
"This whiskey'll wake 'em up, Solly, if anything this side of liquid fire can. Here's a tinful for you."
The crazy prophet waved the offering away, raised his palms in silent benediction, and glided out as noiselessly as he had entered.
"Badly cracked," said the grocery-keeper.
"Religion done it," exclaimed Old Jim, between swallows.
The drinks having been paid for, the entire company, led by the backwoodsman, left the store and hurried to the court-house.
XXII. NOT A TRUE BILL.
The oft-deferred and eagerly expected hour came, in which the charges brought against Aaron Burr by the United States District Attorney of Kentucky were to be investigated before a Grand Jury, Judge Hary Innes presiding. The court-room was crammed from wall to wall with a crowd of men impatiently awaiting the first move in the anticipated war of words between two famous lawyers, who were known to be not only political antagonists, but also personal enemies. The cause of the impending battle was worthy of the contestants. On the result of that day's testimony and debate hung the fortunes of the conspirator and his federaries. This Burr realized, though few of his devoted adherents in that crowded room had suspicion that the charges against him were true. In the minds of most of them he figured as a martyr, a patriotic citizen maligned and traduced. There were many in that assemblage who, had they believed his designs traitorous, would have greeted him not with applause, but with a volley of rotten eggs.
When Judge Innes stepped behind the high desk of justice, and took his official seat, a buzz of expectation went round. The clerk of the court bustled in with an air of importance, and shook hands with the District Attorney, whose troubled, anxious eye shot piercing glances in every direction. Daviess appeared to be seeking for somebody he hardly hoped to find. Old Jim, standing in a corner, craned his neck to get a better view, wheezily murmuring in the ear of his friend, the backwoodsman, "Jo looks cross. I reckon he has lost somethin'."
"'Spect he has lost his case," remarked Buckskin Breeches, stooping to spit tobacco juice on the floor. At this moment a cheer, seconded by general handclapping, announced the coming of Burr and his counsel, Clay and Allen. The judge did not check the demonstration; on the contrary, he smiled a beaming welcome and was unjudicial enough to nod familiarly from his high bench.
The case was called with the usual forms of procedure, when, to the disgust of Old Jim and the auditors generally, Daviess asked a further postponement owing to the absence of an indispensable witness, John Adair. The judge hesitated, Burr had nothing to say, and the spectators manifested signs of democratic protest against being disappointed in their hopes of a forensic entertainment. Burr's lawyers were very willing to treat the populace to a taste of oratory, which, in the guise of legal discussion, might produce remote political effects, for office-seeking was a fine art in the good old days of Jackson and Clay. Colonel Allen arose to insist that the investigation go on or else be abandoned finally and entirely, and to this the judge seemed to assent. Daviess, fearful that the court and the balance of public opinion were against him, felt the difficulty of his position, but determined to summon all his power of argument and persuasion, hoping to turn the tide in his favor. A bold man, ready in debate, sharp at repartee, the leader of his party, the District Attorney was considered a match for any member of the Kentucky bar. The judge, the assembled lawyers, and the waiting audience perceived in the very attitude of Daviess, when he rose to plead for postponement, that he was loaded with a great speech. They were not mistaken. For more than an hour he held the absorbed attention of every listener. He set forth clearly and forcibly the fundamental reasons why the accusation of treason against a prominent citizen should be fully investigated.
"Your Honor," said he, in conclusion, "I appear before you and before the people of this State and county, and before the throne of Almighty God; I come in the discharge of an imperative duty, as a servant of the United States, to which I am bound by a sacred oath; I come to lay before you damning evidence that the accused is guilty of treason to his country. Only give me time—grant me another day. I shall produce unwilling witnesses whose testimony will convince even the most prejudiced politician, will persuade even his own deluded followers that Aaron Burr is engaged in machinations to destroy this Federal Union which the men of Lexington and Bunker Hill fought and died to establish. Behold the Brutus who would stab, not a despotic Caesar, but the nourishing bosom of his native country. We have here, in loyal Kentucky, a Lexington, our most populous city. Remember that it was named in commemoration of the first battle of the Revolution. Shall our Lexington be suffered to become a hot-bed of sedition? No, your Honor—a thousand times, no!"
The effect of this peroration was for the moment overwhelming. A dead silence prevailed throughout the court-room. Garrulous Old Jim attempted no sarcastic criticism; he rolled his blear eyes in the direction of the backwoodsman and shook his head as if to say, "I give it up." The climax of the day's oratory, however, was yet to come. Daviess took his seat and Clay instantly sprang up to answer him. "Harry of the West," already a popular idol, was the most celebrated speaker in Kentucky. Not yet thirty years of age, he had just been chosen to represent his State in the Senate of the nation. Burr, soliciting his professional aid, had written a note denying either treasonable intentions or complicity with traitors. "You may be satisfied," wrote he, "that you have not espoused the cause of a man any way unfriendly to the laws, the government, or the interest of his country." Relying on this assurance, Clay gave his services without fee, perhaps in anticipation of the satisfaction he would enjoy in vanquishing with the tongue the man who had once challenged him to mortal combat with pistols. His resolute mien, tall, graceful figure, expressive gestures, flashing eye, and mellifluous voice captivated independently of the substance of his discourse. Clay was eloquent by nature. There was no resisting the flood of his impassioned speech.
In the course of his address, which was meant as much for the public ear as for that of the judge, he said: "These paltry charges, may it please your Honor, these foul and slanderous charges, the filthy ooze of an irresponsible newspaper, are incredible, preposterous—nay, mendacious! They are not made in good faith. The purpose of those who are fomenting mischief, under the pretence of performing public duty, is not what it professes to be. The motives underlying this show of public virtue are sinister and selfish."
"Do you mean to cast reflections on my character, sir?" demanded Daviess.
"Not at all. You are brilliant enough to shine by your own light. Look, sir, a moment, at the history of this illustrious American citizen whom you are called upon to vex and vilify; remember his heroic conduct in war, his splendid services in peace; recall the story of his public sacrifices and his private misfortunes; who, I ask, is worthy of a generous people's gratitude and confidence if Aaron Burr be not worthy? Do you charge him with disloyalty? him the hero of Quebec, of Long Island, and of Monmouth? him the very sword hand of Washington?" This flourish of rhetoric added an extra inch to the length of Jim Sweet's craned neck.
"Sock it to 'em!" he tried to shout, but his phthisicky effort ended in a spell of coughing.
"Order in the court!" shouted the clerk, fixing the disturber with threatening eye.
"They tell us Republics are ungrateful, and it seems that my learned friend, the district attorney, would have you believe that miserable maxim. Out upon such a sentiment! We boast, sir, of the hospitality of Old Kentucky, especially of the Blue Grass region, and well we may boast. Our people are magnanimous—their hearts are great. But what shall be said of the unspeakable meanness, baseness, perfidy, of that man or that community which would betray the stranger at the gates, that would traduce and malign a high-minded, unsuspecting guest? What, your Honor, is the hospitality of that section or city in this vast Republic, the function of whose tribunals is to protect the rights of the individual; what is the hospitality of a neighborhood which permits a citizen to lie in wait to assassinate a pilgrim of peace? That, your Honor, is what the prosecutor purposes. He would blacken the reputation of his brother who happens to be of a different political complexion. He would filch from the ex-Vice-President of the United States his good name."
"He'd flitch his own mother," ventured Jim, on whose brain the dipperful of whiskey was producing mixed results.
"Hold yer gab," said the backwoodsman, hoarsely. "Listen!"
The orator turned full upon the district attorney and thundered: "Has it come to such a pass that a private citizen cannot make a tour of observation through this free country without being dragged before a court to answer trumped-up accusations as preposterous as they are malignant? What will become of your rights and mine? Will some prosecuting attorney arrest me on my way to Washington, because I have somewhere, at some time, expressed private opinions from which he dissents! I would like Mr. Daviess to tell us what the Constitution means? Does it not insure to us all the right of habeas corpus?"
The outcome of the day's debate was a substantial victory for Burr, though a technical one for Daviess. The court adjourned to the following morning. Again the officers of the county, the jury, the lawyers, and the great concourse of citizens, assembled. The district attorney submitted his indictment and sent his evidence to the jury. The jury heard witnesses and returned the presentment, "Not a true bill."
On hearing the foreman announce this decision, the partisans of Burr and his counsel broke out in tumultuous rejoicing. Hadley stood up on a bench and shouted:
"Three cheers for Aaron Burr; Hip, hip, hurrah!"
The judge could not or did not check the enthusiasm.
"Three and a tiger for Clay!" squeaked Old Jim, and the cheers were repeated.
Burr, escorted by his attorneys, made his way through the crowd, shaking hands right and left. On the sidewalk, near the court-house, the three gentlemen were accosted by the ghostly Solitarius.
"Awake from your dreams!" said the mild lunatic, in his peculiar, hollow, monotonous voice—and he rolled his overlustrous eyes upon Burr.
"Brethren, be not forgetful to entertain the stranger! I am that Solitarius, to whom this new gospel was revealed, by an angel of God, while I dwelt in a cell at the foot of the Alleghany Mountains, in the year of our Lord 1799."
Clay drew his client forward by the arm, but not before "Solly" had thrust into Burr's hand a copy of the "Millennial Prophecy."
"Awake from your dreams!" These repeated parting words of the crazy prophet stuck in Burr's memory.
The ordeal of a legal investigation had been endured, apparently without scath to the accused. The grand jury, not satisfied with acquitting Burr, pressed upon him a written declaration, signed by every member, exonerating him completely. A public ball was given in his honor. Exulting in his triumph, he danced and made merry, admired by the chivalry and adored by the beauty of the choicest society in Frankfort and Lexington.
On the very day in which Daviess moved for a process to compel Burr's appearance before the Frankfort court, a woman clothed in black and closely veiled was granted an interview with the President of the United States, in his private office at Washington City. She came from Philadelphia, and appeared to have no acquaintance in the new capital on the Potomac. She declined to unveil her face or to impart her name.
"I am here to put into the hands of the President a written statement, accompanied by copies of letters and other documents, revealing the secret plans of a conspirator, who, if not quickly arrested in his career of treason, will disrupt this Union and establish a rival government in the Southwest."
The President mechanically accepted the package handed him, and the mysterious woman left his apartment, re-entered her carriage, and ordered the driver to take the road back toward Philadelphia.
XXIII. THE FATAL CIPHER.
The disgruntled Spaniards continued to threaten war. Governor Claiborne ordered Casco Calvo and Intendant Morales to quit the territory of New Orleans. Soon after this a body of Spanish troops, supported by Indian allies, assembled on the Sabine to menace the American borders. In August a force actually crossed the Sabine and advanced to Bayou Pierre, near Natchitoches, a hundred and twenty miles west of Natchez.
General Wilkinson came from St. Louis to Natchez, and presently advanced to Natchitoches at the head of a body of one hundred regulars and five hundred militia. Late one afternoon in October word was brought to Wilkinson in his tent that a young man of fine appearance had arrived in camp, desiring to enlist as a volunteer. The general gave orders to bring the man into his presence. The would-be soldier was conducted immediately to headquarters, and there he imparted his name and the real cause of his coming, his representation to the sentinel being a ruse.
"Ah, you are Colonel Burr's confidential secretary; you have travelled far and must be exhausted. You bring documents for me?"
"Yes, sir; my credentials are included with matters more important."
"You know the contents of the enclosure?"
"Only the general import. The sender of these missives has divulged much to me. You may trust me."
"I trust you implicitly, Mr. Swartwout. The embassy on which you come is of a delicate character, requiring discretion—as secret service always does."
The general opened the package, and found that it contained three separate papers. The first was a letter introducing Samuel Swartwout, and vouching for his prudence, courage and trustworthiness. The other two papers were in hieroglyphics. Wilkinson, smiling graciously, turned to the messenger.
"Perhaps I had best be alone while I examine the other documents. I will see that you are made comfortable."
An officer was summoned. "Captain Danvers, this gentleman is my guest. Please see that he is suitably quartered and provided with a seat at my table. He is the son of an old military acquaintance of mine."
The cipher agreed upon by Wilkinson and Burr was a composite of arbitrary signs and of numerals representing letters of the alphabet. The first riddle read by Wilkinson was a private letter to Burr from General Dayton. Part of the contents ran thus: "Under the auspices of Burr and Wilkinson, I shall be happy to engage, and when the time arrives, you will find me near you. Write and inform me, by first mail, what may be expected from you and your associates.... Wealth and honor, courage and union, Burr and Wilkinson! Adieu."
The other communication was from Burr himself.
"Your letter, postmarked 13th May, is received. At length I have obtained funds and have actually commenced. The eastern detachments from different points, and under different pretences, will rendezvous on the Ohio, 1st of November. Everything internal and external favors our views. Naval protection of England is secured. Truxton is going to Jamaica, to arrange with the admiral on that station. It will meet us at the Mississippi. England, a navy of the United States, are ready to join, and final orders are given to my friends and followers. It will be a host of choice spirits. Wilkinson shall be second to Burr only, and Wilkinson shall dictate the rank and promotion of his officers. Burr will proceed westward 1st of August, never to return. With him go daughter and grandson. The husband will follow in October, with a corps of worthies. Send forwith an intelligent friend, with whom Burr may confer. He shall return immediately with further interesting details; this is essential to harmony and concert of movement. Send a list of all persons known to Wilkinson west of the Alleghany Mountains, who could be useful, with a note delineating their character. By your messenger send me four or five of the commissions of your officers, which you can borrow under any pretence you please. They shall be returned faithfully. Already are orders given to the contractor to forward six months' provisions to points Wilkinson may name; this shall not be used until the last moment, and then under proper injunctions. Our project, my dear friend, is brought to a point so long desired. Burr guarantees the result with his life and honor, with the lives and honor and the fortunes of hundreds, the best blood of our country. Burr's plan of operation is to move down rapidly, from the falls, on the 15th of November, with the first five hundred or thousand men, in light boats now constructing for that purpose, to be at Natchez between the 5th and 15th of December, there to meet you, there to determine whether it will be expedient in the first instance to seize on, or pass by, Baton Rouge ... on receipt of this send Burr an answer ... draw on Burr for all expenses, etc. The people of the country to which we are going are prepared to receive us; their agents, now with Burr, say that if we will protect their religion and will not subject them to a foreign power, that in three weeks all will be settled. The gods invite us to glory and fortune; it remains to be seen whether we deserve the boon. The bearer of this goes express to you; he will hand a formal letter of introduction to you, from Burr; he is a man of inviolable honor and perfect discretion, formed to execute rather than project, capable of relating facts with fidelity, and incapable of relating them otherwise. He is thoroughly informed of the plans and intentions of ——, and will disclose to you, as far as you inquire, and no further; he has imbibed a reverence for your character, and may be embarrassed in your presence; put him at ease, and he will satisfy you."
The eastern sky was flushed faintly with morning red before the general finished deciphering this long message. Wilkinson saw that he could no longer maintain an equivocal attitude, but must either yield positively to Burr's proposals or denounce them. Early in the day he summoned the messenger to his tent for a private interview.
"My dear sir," said the general, "you should be proud to be recommended by such a man, in such language. Burr has absolute confidence in your honor, fidelity, veracity and courage."
Swartwout answered with feeling and dignity.
"I hope I may prove myself worthy of his confidence and of yours. I would not hesitate to risk my life for Colonel Burr or for his best friend, General Wilkinson."
"That is very noble of you. Tell me, now that you are rested and refreshed after your long journey, by what route did you come?"
"I came straight from Pittsburg, thence westward through Ohio and Kentucky to Louisville, and from there on to St. Louis, expecting to find you at that post. Learning that you had gone down the Mississippi I followed in a skiff. I have been more than two months on the way from Philadelphia to Natchitoches and have travelled fully fifteen hundred miles."
"The document in your custody justified the difficult journey, Mr. Swartwout. What information did you gather in the progress of your trip, concerning our preparations?"
"I learned that, with the support of a powerful association extending from New York to New Orleans, Colonel Burr is levying an armed body of seven thousand men, with the view of carrying an expedition against the Mexican provinces. Five hundred men are to descend the Alleghany, for whose accommodation boats are ready."
"What will be the course of action?"
"This territory will be revolutionized. Some property will be seized in New Orleans, I suppose. Our boats will be ready to leave in February for Vera Cruz; the troops will march from there to the City of Mexico."
"Does Colonel Burr know there are several millions of dollars in the Bank of New Orleans?"
"We know that full well."
"Is it the intention to seize upon the deposits of private individuals?"
"We mean to borrow, not to violate private property. We must equip ourselves in New Orleans; we expect naval protection from Great Britain. Of course, general, everything depends upon your co-operation."
"Mr. Swartwout, the plans set forth in Colonel Burr's schedule are admirable! You will readily perceive, however, that my part in carrying them into effect must be manipulated with caution. I am surrounded, as you see, by officers whom I must manage discreetly. It is impossible that I should ever dishonor my commission. If I cannot join in the expedition, the engagements which the Spaniards have prepared for me in my front might prevent my opposing your operations. Do you understand me?"
Burr's agent understood. He interpreted Wilkinson's language to mean much more than it said, attributing to the commander a profound sagacity which imposed reticence for causes beyond an ordinary man's ken. His unsuspicious mind had been schooled by Burr to believe implicitly in Wilkinson.
Swartwout was under engagement to join Burr at Nashville, and he pressed for a letter which he might deliver to his chief. This request Wilkinson evaded. Promising to return Burr a speedy answer, he detained the envoy under various pretexts, bestowing upon him every hospitable attention, and finally dismissed him with oral messages, after having consumed ten days of his time.
Three days subsequent to the departure of Swartwout another messenger, as secret and more swift, was dispatched from Natchitoches, bearing to Washington City from the commander-in-chief, a full disclosure of the plans of conspiracy, and fastening the charge of treason on Aaron Burr. All the machinery of civil and military executive power was put in motion in the districts over which Wilkinson's authority extended.
The information forwarded by Wilkinson's messenger reached Washington City November 25, 1806. It was by no means the only evidence the President had received, impeaching the loyalty of the eminent politician. Daviess had written, and Morgan had written, and the veiled witness in black had come in person with the facts reiterated in Wilkinson's letter of exposure.
The President issued a proclamation, "warning and enjoining those who had been led to participate in the unlawful enterprise, to withdraw without delay, and requiring all officers, civil and military, of any one of the States or Territories, to be vigilant, each within his respective department, in searching out and bringing to punishment all persons engaged or concerned in the undertaking."
XXIV. THE MIDNIGHT DEPARTURE.
The first snowstorm of early winter was whirling its flaky showers over the frozen fields and through the naked woods of Bacchus Island. The short day was nearing a dismal close. Harman Blennerhassett paced uneasily to and fro within the narrow confines of his study. His face was haggard, his general aspect that of a man harassed and hopeless. Yet he seemed idle and without sense of responsibility for the future. His air indicated irresolution, ennui, mild disgust of the world and of himself. He took down Homer, brushed the dust from the covers, and then replaced the volume on its shelf. He gave the glass cylinder of his electrical machine a turn or two, and was for the moment gratified to elicit a faint spark, a feeble snap of blue fire, which clicked from the "receiver" to his knuckles. His eye dwelt fondly for a few seconds on the air-pump, but wandered from that to the telescope, and finally took cognizance of an apparatus for weighing heavy articles. This was provided with a small platform, upon which the recluse philosopher stepped, to determine his exact weight. He was busied in this personal experiment, when a visitor was announced and ushered into his sanctum sanctorum.
"I beg pardon! Do I intrude?" said the caller, a man of official bearing, who gave the name of Graham.
"Not in the least, Mr. Graham. I have been taking my weight, and I beg you to excuse me until I note the precise number of pounds and ounces. My memory is treacherous. I make it a rule to ascertain my weight and my height several times a year, but I can never remember either, an hour after. I actually forget the date of my own birthday and how old I am."