E-text prepared by Al Haines
THE PURCHASE PRICE
OR, THE CAUSE OF COMPROMISE
AUTHOR OF THE MISSISSIPPI BUBBLE 54-40 OR FIGHT
WITH ILLUSTRATIONS BY
M. LEONE BRACKER AND EDMUND FREDERICK
HON. ALBERT J. BEVERIDGE A PROGRESSIVE IN THE CAUSE OF ACTUAL FREEDOM
Chapter I A LADY IN COMPANY II THE GATEWAY AND SOME WHO PASSED III THE QUESTION IV THE GAME V SPOLIA OPIMA VI THE NEW MASTER VII A CONFUSION IN CHATTELS VIII THE SHADOW CABINET IX TALLWOODS X FREE AND THRALL XI THE GARMENTS OF ANOTHER XII THE NIGHT XIII THE INVASION XIV THE ARGUMENT XV THE ARBITRAMENT XVI THE ADJUDICATION XVII THE LADY AT TALLWOODS XVIII ON PAROLE XIX THE ENEMY XX THE ART OF DOCTOR JAMIESON XXI THE PAYMENT XXII THE WAY OF A MAID XXIII IN WASHINGTON XXIV IN THE NAME OF ALTRUISM XXV THE ARTFUL GENTLEMAN PROM KENTUCKY XXVI THE DISTINGUISHED GENTLEMAN FROM NEW YORK XXVII A SPLENDID FAILURE XXVIII IN ACKNOWLEDGMENT XXIX IN OLD ST. GENEVIEVE XXX THE TURNCOAT XXXI THE SPECTER IN THE HOUSE
A LADY IN COMPANY
"Madam, you are charming! You have not slept, and yet you smile. No man could ask a better prisoner."
She turned to him, smiling faintly.
"I thank you. At least we have had breakfast, and for such mercy I am grateful to my jailer. I admit I was famished. What now?"
With just the turn of a shoulder she indicated the water front, where, at the end of the dock on which they stood, lay the good ship, Mount Vernon, river packet, the black smoke already pouring from her stacks. In turn he smiled and also shrugged a shoulder.
"Let us not ask! My dear lady, I could journey on for ever with one so young and pleasant as yourself. I will give you my promise in exchange for your parole."
Now her gesture was more positive, her glance flashed more keenly at him. "Do not be too rash," she answered. "My parole runs only while we travel together privately. As soon as we reach coach or boat, matters will change. I reserve the right of any prisoner to secure life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. I shall endeavor, believe me—and in my own way."
He frowned as she presently went on to make herself yet more clear. "It was well enough when we traveled in our own private express, from Washington here to Pittsburgh for then there was no chance for escape. I gave my parole, because it pleased you and did not jeopardize myself. Here my jailer may perhaps have some trouble with me."
"You speak with the courage and fervor of the true leader of a cause. Madam," he rejoined, now smiling. "What evil days are these on which I have fallen—I, a mere soldier obeying orders! Not that I have found the orders unpleasant; but it is not fair of you to bring against mankind double weapons! Such is not the usage of civilized warfare. Dangerous enough you are as woman alone, without bringing to your aid those gifts of mind suited to problems which men have been accustomed to arrogate to themselves."
"Arrogate is quite the right word. It is especially fit for a jailer."
This time the shaft went home. The florid countenance of young Captain Carlisle flushed yet ruddier beneath its tan. His lips set still more tightly under the scant reddish mustache. With a gesture of impatience he lifted his military hat and passed a hand over the auburn hair which flamed above his white forehead. His slim figure stiffened even as his face became more stern. Clad in the full regimentals of his rank, he made a not unmanly figure as he stood there, though hardly taller than this splendid woman whom he addressed—a woman somewhat reserved, mocking, enigmatic; but, as he had said, charming. That last word of description had been easy for any man who had seen her, with her long-lashed dark eyes, her clear cheek just touched with color, her heavy dark hair impossible to conceal even under its engulfing bonnet, her wholly exquisite and adequate figure equally unbanished even by the trying costume of the day. She stood erect, easy, young, strong, fit to live; and that nature had given her confidence in herself was evidenced now in the carriage of head and body as she walked to and fro, pausing to turn now and then, impatient, uneasy, like some caged creature, as lithe, as beautiful, as dangerous and as puzzling in the matter of future conduct. Even as he removed his cap, Carlisle turned to her, a man's admiration in his eyes, a gentleman's trouble also there.
"My dear Countess St. Auban," said he, more formally, "I wish that you might never use that word with me again,—jailer! I am only doing my duty as a soldier. The army has offered to it all sorts of unpleasant tasks. They selected me as agent for your disappearance because I am an army officer. I had no option, I must obey. In my profession there is not enough fighting, and too much civilian work, police work, constable work, detective work. There are fools often for officers, and over them politicians who are worse fools, sometimes. Well, then, why blame a simple fellow like me for doing what is given him to do? I have not liked the duty, no matter how much I have enjoyed the experience. Now, with puzzles ended and difficulties beginning, you threaten to make my unhappy lot still harder!"
"Why did you bring me here?"
"That I do not know. I could not answer you even did I know."
"And why did I come?" she mused, half to herself.
"Nor can I say that. Needs must when the devil drives; and His Majesty surely was on the box and using his whip-hand, two days ago, back in Washington. Your own sense of fairness will admit as much as that."
She threw back her head like a restless horse, blooded, mettlesome, and resumed her pacing up and down, her hands now clasped behind her back.
"When I left the carriage with my maid Jeanne, there," she resumed at length; "when I passed through that dark train shed at midnight, I felt that something was wrong. When the door of the railway coach was opened I felt that conviction grow. When you met me—the first time I ever saw you, sir,—I felt my heart turn cold."
"And when the door of the coach closed on myself and my maid,—when we rolled on away from the city, in spite of all I could do or say—, why, then, sir, you were my jailer. Have matters changed since then?"
"Madam, from the first you were splendid! You showed pure courage. 'I am a prisoner!' you cried at first—not more than that. But you said it like a lady, a noblewoman. I admired you then because you faced me—whom you had never seen before—with no more fear than had I been a private and you my commanding officer."
"Fear wins nothing."
"Precisely. Then let us not fear what the future may have for us. I have no directions beyond this point,—Pittsburg. I was to take boat here, that was all. I was to convey you out into the West, somewhere, anywhere, no one was to know where. And someway, anyway, my instructions were, I was to lose you—to lose you. Madam, in plain point of fact. And now, at the very time I am indiscreet enough to tell you this much, you make my cheerful task the more difficult by saying that you must be regarded only as a prisoner of war!"
Serene, smiling, enigmatic, she faced him with no fear whatever showing in her dark eyes. The clear light of the bright autumn morning had no terrors for youth and health like hers. She put back a truant curl from her forehead where it had sought egress to the world, and looked him full in the face now, drawing a deep breath which caused the round of her bosom to lift the lace at her throat. Then, woman-like, she did the unlocked for, and laughed at him, a low, full ripple of wholesome laughter, which evoked again a wave of color to his sensitive face. Josephine St. Auban was a prisoner,—a prisoner of state, in fact, and such by orders not understood by herself, although, as she knew very well, a prisoner without due process of law. Save for this tearful maid who stood yonder, she was alone, friendless. Her escape, her safety even, lay in her own hands. Yet, even now, learning for the first time this much definitely regarding the mysterious journey into which she had been entrapped—even now, a prisoner held fast in some stern and mysterious grasp whose reason and whose nature she could not know—she laughed, when she should have wept!
"My instructions were to take you out beyond this point," went on Carlisle; "and then I was to lose you, as I have said. I have had no definite instructions as to how that should be done, my dear Countess." His eyes twinkled as he stiffened to his full height and almost met the level of her own glance.
"The agent who conveyed my orders to me—he comes from Kentucky, you see—said to me that while I could not bow-string you, it would be quite proper to put you in a sack and throw you overboard. 'Only,' said he to me, 'be careful that this sack be tightly tied; and be sure to drop her only where the water is deepest. And for God's sake, my dear young man,' he said to me, 'be sure that you do not drop her anywhere along the coast of my own state of Kentucky; for if you do, she will untie the sack and swim ashore into my constituency, where I have trouble enough without the Countess St. Auban, active abolitionist, to increase it. Trouble '—said he to me—'thy name is Josephine St. Auban!'
"My dear lady, to that last, I agree. But, there you have my orders. You are, as may be seen, close to the throne, so far as we have thrones in this country."
"Then I am safe until we get below the Kentucky shore?" she queried calmly.
"I beg you not to feel disturbed,—" he began.
"Will you set me down at Louisville?"
"Madam, I can not."
"You have not been hampered with extraordinary orders. You have just said, the carte blanche is in your hands."
"I have no stricter orders at any time than those I take from my own conscience, Madam. I must act for your own good as well as for that of others."
Her lip curled now. "Then not even this country is free! Even here there are secret tribunals. Even here there are hired bravos."
"Ah, Madam, please, not that! I beg of you—"
"Excellently kind of you all, to care so tenderly for me—and yourselves! I, only a woman, living openly, with ill will for none, paying ray own way, violating no law of the land—"
"Your words are very bitter, Madam."
"The more bitter because they are true. You will release me then at Cairo, below?"
"I can not promise, Madam. You would be back in Washington by the first boats and trains."
"So, the plot runs yet further? Perhaps you do not stop this side the outer ways of the Mississippi? Say, St. Louis, New Orleans?"
"Perhaps even beyond those points," he rejoined grimly. "I make no promises, since you yourself make none."
"What are your plans, out there, beyond?"
"You ask it frankly, and with equal frankness I say I do not know. Indeed, I am not fully advised in all this matter. It was imperative to get you out of Washington, and if so, it is equally imperative to keep you out of Washington. At least for a time I am obliged to construe my carte blanche in that way, my dear lady. And as I say, my conscience is my strictest officer."
"Yes," she said, studying his face calmly with her steady dark eyes.
It was a face sensitive, although bony and lined; stern, though its owner still was young. She noticed the reddish hair and beard, the florid skin, the blue eye set deep—a fighting eye, yet that of a visionary.
"You are a fanatic," she said.
"That is true. You, yourself, are of my own kind. You would kill me without tremor, if you had orders, and I—"
"You would do as much!"
"You are of my kind, Madam. Yes; we both take orders from our own souls. And that we think alike in many ways I am already sure."
"None the less—"
"None the less, I can not agree to set you down at Cairo, or at any intermediate point. I will only give my promise in return for your own parole. That, I would take as quickly as though it were the word of any officer; but you do not give it."
"No, I do not. I am my own mistress. I am going to escape as soon as I can."
He touched his cap in salute. "Very well, then. I flattered myself we had done well together thus far—you have made it easy. But now—no, no, I will not say it. I would rather see you defiant than to have you weaken. I love courage, and you have it. That will carry you through. It will keep you clean and safe as well."
Her face clouded for the first time.
"I have not dared to think of that," she said. "So long as we came in the special train, with none to molest or make me afraid—afraid with that fear which a woman must always have—we did well enough, as I have said; but now, here in the open, in public, before the eyes of all, who am I, and who are you to me? I am not your mother?"
"Scarcely, at twenty three or four." He pursed a judicial lip.
"Nor your sister?"
"Nor your wife?"
"No." He flushed here, although he answered simply.
"Nor your assistant in any way?"
His face lighted suddenly.
"Why not?" said he. "Can't you be my amanuensis,—that sort of thing, you see? Come, we must think of this. This is where my conscience hurts me—I can't bear to have my duty hurt you. That, my dear Countess, cuts me to the quick. You will believe that, won't you?"
"Yes, I believe that. Jeanne," she motioned to her maid who stood apart all this time, "my wrap, please. I find the air cool. When the body is weak or worn, my dear sir, the mind is not at its best; and I shall need all my wits."
"But you do not regard me as your enemy?"
"I am forced to do so. Personally, I thank you; professionally, I must fight you. Socially, I must be—what did you say,—your amanuensis? So! We are engaged in a great work, a treatise on our river fortifications, perhaps? But since when did army officers afford the luxury of amanuenses in this simple republic? Does your Vehmgerichte pay such extraordinary expenses? Does your carte blanche run so far as that also?"
"You must not use such terms regarding the government of this country," he protested. "Our administration does not suit me, but it has pleased a majority of our people, else it would not be in power, and it is no Vehmgerichte, The law of self preservation obtains in this country as with all nations, even in Europe. But we have planned no confiscation of your property, nor threatened any forfeiture of your life."
"No, you have only taken away that which is dearer than anything else, that which your government guarantees to every human being in this country—liberty!"
"And even that unconstitutional point shall remain such no longer than I can help, Madam. Do not make our journey longer by leaving it more difficult. God knows, I am beset enough even as it is now. But be sure our Vehmgerichte, as you are pleased to call it, shall never, at least while I am its agent, condemn you to any situation unsuited to a gentlewoman. A very high compliment has been paid you in holding you dangerous because of your personal charm. It is true, Madam, that is why you were put out of Washington—because you were dangerous. They thought you could get the ear of any man—make him divulge secrets which he ought to keep—if you just asked him to do it—for the sake of Josephine St. Auban!" He jerked out his sentences, as though habitual reticence and lack of acquaintance with women left it difficult for him to speak, even thus boldly.
"Oh, thank you, thank you!" She clapped her hands together, mockingly.
"Before now, women less beautiful than you have robbed men of their reason, have led them to do things fatal as open treason to their country. These men were older than you or I. Perhaps, as you will agree, they were better able to weigh the consequences. You are younger than they, younger than I, myself; but you are charming—and you are young. Call it cruel of me, if you like, to take you by the hand and lead you gently away from that sort of danger for just a few days. Call me jailer, if you like. None the less it is my duty, and I shall call it in part a kindness to you to take you away from scenes which might on both sides be dangerous. Some of the oldest and best minds of this country have felt—"
"At least those minds were shrewd in choosing their agent," she rejoined. "Yes; you are fanatic, that is plain. You will obey orders. And you have not been much used to women. That makes it harder for me. Or easier!" She smiled at him again, very blithe for a prisoner.
"It ought to have been held down to that," he began disconsolately, "I should have been all along professional only. It began well when you gave me your parole, so that I need not sit nodding and blinking, over against you also nodding and blinking all night long. Had you been silly, as many women would have been, you could not this morning be so fresh and brilliant—even though you tell me you have not slept, which seems to me incredible. I myself slept like a boy, confident in your word. Now, you have banished sleep! Nodding and blinking, I must henceforth watch you, nodding—and blinking, unhappy, uncomfortable; whereas, were it in my power, I would never have you know the first atom of discomfort."
"There, there! I am but an amanuensis, my dear Captain Carlisle."
He colored almost painfully, but showed his own courage. "I only admire the wisdom of the Vehmgerichte. They knew you were dangerous, and I know it. I have no hope, should I become too much oppressed by lack of sleep, except to follow instructions, and cast you overboard somewhere below Kentucky!"
"You ask me not to attempt any escape?"
"Why, I would agree to as much as that. It is, as you say, a matter of indifference to me whether I leave the boat at Cairo or at some point farther westward. Of course I would return to Washington as soon as I escaped from bondage."
"Excellent, Madam! Now, please add that you will not attempt to communicate with any person on the boat or on shore."
"No; that I will not agree to as a condition."
"Then still you leave it very hard for me."
She only smiled at him again, her slow, deliberate smile; yet there was in it no trace of hardness or sarcasm. Keen as her mind assuredly was, as she smiled she seemed even younger, perhaps four or five and twenty at most. With those little dimples now rippling frankly into view at the corners of her mouth, she was almost girlish in her expression, although the dark eyes above, long-lashed, eloquent, able to speak a thousand tongues into shame, showed better than the small curving lips the well-poised woman of the world.
Captain Edward Carlisle, soldier as he was, martinet as he was, felt a curious sensation of helplessness seize upon him as he met her, steady gaze, her alluring smile; he could not tell what this prisoner might do. He cursed the fate which had assigned such a duty, cursed especially that fate which forced a gallant soldier to meet so superb a woman as this under handicap so hard. For almost the first time since they had met they were upon the point of awkwardness. Light speech failed them for the moment, the gravity of the situation began to come home to both of them. Indeed, who were they? What were they to the public under whose notice they might fall—indeed, must fall? There was no concealing face and figure of a woman such as this; no, not in any corner of the world, though she were shrouded in oriental veil. Nay, were she indeed tied in a sack and flung into the sea, yet would she arise to make trouble for mankind until her allotted task should be complete! How could they two answer any question which might arise regarding their errand, or regarding their relations as they stood, here at the gateway of the remoter country into which they were departing? How far must their journey together continue? What would be said regarding them?
Carlisle found it impossible to answer such questions. She herself only made the situation the more difficult with her high-headed defiance of him.
Hesitating, the young officer turned his gaze over the wide dock, now covered with hurrying figures, with massed traffic, with the confusion preceding the departure of a river boat. Teams thundered, carts trundled here and there, shoutings of many minor captains arose. Those who were to take passage on the packet hurried forward, to the gangway, so occupied in their own affairs as to have small time to examine their neighbors. The very confusion for the time seemed to afford safety. Carlisle was upon the point of drawing a long breath of relief; but even as he turned to ask his companion to accompany him aboard the boat he caught sight of an approaching figure which he seemed to recognize. He would have turned away, but the keen-witted woman at his side followed his gaze and paused. There approached these two now, hat in hand, a gentleman who evidently intended to claim acquaintance.
This new-comer was a man who in any company would have seemed striking. In complexion fair, and with blue or gray eyes, he was tall as any Viking, as broad in the shoulder. He was smooth-faced, and his fresh skin and well-developed figure bespoke the man in good physical condition through active exercise, yet well content with the world's apportionment. His limbs were long, his hands bony and strong. His air, of self-confident assurance, seemed that of a man well used to having his own way. His forehead was high and somewhat rugged. Indeed, all his features were in large mold, like the man himself, as though he had come from a day when skin garments made the proper garb of men. As though to keep up this air of an older age, his long fair hair was cut almost square, low down on the neck, as though he were some Frank fresh from the ancient forests. Over the forehead also this square cut was affected, so that, as he stood, large and confident, not quite outre, scarce eccentric, certainly distinguished in appearance, he had a half-savage look, as though ignorant or scornful of the tenderer ways of civilization. A leader this man might be, a poor follower always.
Yet the first words he uttered showed the voice and diction of a gentleman. "My dear Captain," he began, extending his hand as he approached, "I am indeed charmed! What a delight to see you again in our part of the world! I must claim the pleasure of having met you once—two years ago, in St. Louis. Are you again on your way to the frontiers?"
The tone of inquiry in his voice was just short of curious, indeed might have been called expectant. His gaze, admiring yet polite, had not wholly lost opportunity to list the attractions of this lady, whose name had not yet been given him.
The gentleman accosted declined to be thus definite; adding only, after the usual felicitations, "Yes, we are going down the river a little way on the Vernon here."
"For some distance?"
"For quite a distance."
"At least, this is not your first journey down our river?"
"I wish it might be the last. The railway is opening up a new world to us. The stage-coach is a thing of the past."
"I wish it might be, for me!" rejoined the stranger. "Unfortunately, I am obliged to go West from here over the National Road, to look at some lands I own out in Indiana. I very much regret—"
There was by this time yet more expectancy in his voice. He still bowed, with respectful glances bent upon the lady. No presentation came, although in the easy habit of the place and time, such courtesy might perhaps have been expected. Why this stiffness among fellow travelers on a little river packet?
The tall man was not without a certain grave audacity. A look of amusement came to his face as he gazed at the features of the other, now obviously agitated, and not a little flushed.
"I had not known that your sister—" he began. His hand thus forced, the other was obliged to reply: "No, the daughter of an old friend of mine, you see—we are en voyage together for the western country. It has simply been my fortune to travel in company with the lady. I present you, my dear sir, to Miss Barren. My dear Miss Barren, this is State Senator Warville Dunwody, of Missouri. We are of opposite camps in politics."
The tall man bowed still more deeply. Meantime, Josephine St. Auban in her own way had taken inventory of the new-comer. Her companion hastily sought to hold matters as they were.
"My dear Senator Dunwody," he said, "we were just passing down to the boat to see that the luggage is aboard. With you, I regret very much that your journey takes you from us."
The sudden consternation which sat upon Dunwody's face was almost amusing. He was very willing to prolong this conversation. Into his soul there had flashed the swift conviction that never in his life had he seen a woman so beautiful as this. Yet all he could do was to smile and bow adieu.
"A fine man, that Dunwody, yonder," commented the young captain, as they parted, and as he turned to his prisoner. "We'll see him on in Washington some day. He is strengthening his forces now against Mr. Benton out there. A strong man—a strong one; and a heedless."
"Of what party is he?" she inquired, as though casually.
"What a man's party is in these days," was his answer, "is something hard to say. A man like Dunwody is pretty much his own party, although the Bentonites call him a 'soft Democrat.' Hardly soft he seems, when he gets in action at the state capital of Missouri yonder. Certainly Dunwody is for war and tumult. None of this late weak-kneed compromise for him! To have his own way—that is Dunwody's creed of life. I thank God he is not going with us now. He might want his own way with you, from the fashion of his glances. Did you see? My word!" Young Carlisle fumed a shade more than might have seemed necessary for military reasons.
Josephine St. Auban turned upon him with her slow smile, composedly looking at him from between her long, dark lashes.
"Why do you say that?" she inquired.
"Because it is the truth. I don't want him about."
"Then you will be disappointed."
"Why do you say that? Did you not hear him say that he was going West by coach from here?"
"You did not give him time. He is not going West by coach."
"What do you mean?"
"He will be with us on the boat!"
THE GATEWAY, AND SOME WHO PASSED
When Captain Edward Carlisle made casual reference to the "weak-kneed compromise," he simply voiced a personal opinion on a theme which was in the mind of every American, and one regarded with as many minds as there were men. That political measure of the day was hated by some, admired by others. This man condemned it, that cried aloud its righteousness and infallibility; one argued for it shrewdly, another declaimed against it loudly. It was alike blessed and condemned. The southern states argued over it, many of the northern states raged at it. It ruined many political fortunes and made yet other fortunes. That year was a threshold-time in our history, nor did any see what lay beyond the door.
If there existed then a day when great men and great measures were to be born, certainly there lay ready a stage fit for any mighty drama—indeed, commanding it. It was a young world withal, indeed a world not even yet explored, far less exploited, so far as were concerned those vast questions which, in its dumb and blind way, humanity both sides of the sea then was beginning to take up. America scarce more than a half century ago was for the most part a land of query, rather than of hope.
Not even in their query were the newer lands of our country then alike. We lay in a vast chance-medley, and never had any country greater need for care and caution in its councils. By the grace of the immortal gods we had had given into our hands an enormous area of the earth's richest inheritance, to have and to hold, if that might be; but as yet we were not one nation. We had no united thought, no common belief as to what was national wisdom. For three quarters of a century this country had grown; for half a century it had been divided, one section fighting against another in all but arms. We spoke of America even then as a land of the free, but it was not free; nor on the other hand was it wholly slave. Never in the history of the world has there been so great a land, nor one of so diverse systems of government.
Before these travelers, for instance, who paused here at the head of the Ohio River, there lay the ancient dividing line between the South and the North. To the northwest, between the Great Lakes and the Ohio, swept a vast land which, since the days of the old Northwest Ordinance of 1787, had by national enactment been decreed for ever free. Part of this had the second time been declared free, by state law also. To the eastward of this lay certain states where slavery had been forbidden by the laws of the several states, though not by that of the nation. Again, far out to the West, beyond the great waterway on one of whose arms our travelers now stood, lay the vast provinces bought from Napoleon; and of these, all lying north of that compromise line of thirty-six degrees, thirty minutes, agreed upon in 1820, had been declared for ever free by national law. Yet beyond this, in the extreme northwest, lay Oregon, fought through as free soil by virtue of the old Northwest Ordinance, the sleeping dog of slavery being evaded and left to lie when the question of Oregon came up. Along the Pacific, and south of Oregon, lay the new empire of California, bitterly contended over by both sections, but by her own self-elected state law declared for ever free soil. Minnesota and the Dakotas were still unorganized, so there the sleeping dog might lie, of course.
To the south of that river on which our voyagers presently were to take ship, lay a section comprising the southern states, in extent far larger than all the northern states, and much stronger in legislative total power in the national halls of Congress. Here slavery was maintained by laws of the states themselves. The great realm of Texas, long coveted by the South, now was joined to the ranks of the slave-holding states, by virtue of a war of somewhat doubtful justice though of undoubted success. Above Texas, and below the line of thirty-six degrees, thirty minutes, lay a portion of what was known as the Indian country, where in 1820 there had been made no prohibition of slavery by the national government.
Above the line of thirty-six degrees, thirty minutes, there thrust up a portion of Texas which had no law at all, nor had it any until a very recent day, being known under the title of "No Man's Land." Yet on to the westward, toward free California, lay a vast but supposedly valueless region where cotton surely would not grow, that rich country now known as Utah, Nevada, Arizona and New Mexico. This region, late gained by war from Mexico, soon to be increased by purchase from Mexico on the South, was still of indeterminate status, slavery not being prohibited but permitted, by federal action, although most of this territory had been free soil under the old laws of Mexico. Moreover, as though sardonically to complicate all these much-mingled matters, there thrust up to the northward, out of the permitted slavery region of the South, the state of Missouri, quite above the fateful line of thirty-six degrees, thirty minutes, where slavery was permitted both by federal and state enactment.
Men spoke even then, openly or secretly, of disunion; but in full truth, there had as yet been no actual union. In such confusion, what man could call unwise a halting-time, a compromise? A country of tenures so mixed, of theories so diverse, could scarcely have been called a land of common government. It arrogated to itself, over all its dominion, the title of a free republic, yet by its own mutual covenant of national law, any owner of slaves in the southern states might pursue what he called his property across the dividing line, and invoke, in any northern state, the support of the state or national officers to assist him in taking back his slaves. As a republic we called ourselves even then old and stable. Yet was ever any country riper for misrule than ours? Forgetting now what is buried, the old arguments all forgot, that most bloody and most lamentable war all forgot, could any mind, any imagination, depict a situation more rife with tumult, more ripe for war than this? And was it not perforce an issue, of compromise or war; of compromise, or a union never to be consummated?
Yet into this heterogeneous region, from all Europe, itself convulsed with revolution, Europe just beginning to awaken to the doctrine of the rights of humanity, there pressed westward ever increasing thousands of new inhabitants—in that current year over a third of a million, the largest immigration thus far known. Most of these immigrants settled in the free country of the North, and as the railways were now so hurriedly crowding westward, it was to be seen that the ancient strife between North and South must grow and not lessen, for these new-comers were bitterly opposed to slavery. Swiftly the idea national was growing. The idea democratic, the idea of an actual self-government—what, now, was to be its history?
North of the fated compromise line, west of the admitted slave state of Missouri, lay other rich lands ripe for the plow, ready for Americans who had never paid more than a dollar an acre for land, or for aliens who had never been able to own any land at all. Kansas and Nebraska, names conceived but not yet born,—what would they be? Would the compromise of this last summer of 1850 hold the balances of power even? Could it save this republic, still young and needy, for yet a time in the cause of peace and growth? Many devoutly hoped it. Many devoutly espoused the cause of compromise merely for the sake of gaining time. As neither of the great political parties of the day filled its ranks from either section, so in both sections there were many who espoused, as many who denied, the right of men to own slaves. We speak of slavery as the one great question of that day. It was not and never has been the greatest. The question of democracy—that was even then, and it is now, the greatest question.
Here on the deck of the steamer at the little city of Pittsburg, then gateway of the West, there appeared men of purposes and beliefs as mixed as this mixed country from which they came. Some were pushing out into what now is known as Kansas, others going to take up lands in Missouri. Some were to pass south to the slave country, others north to the free lands; men of all sorts and conditions, many men, of many minds, that was true, and all hurrying into new lands, new problems, new dangers, new remedies. It was a great and splendid day, a great and vital time, that threshold-time, when our western traffic increased so rapidly and assuredly that steamers scarcely could be built rapidly enough to accommodate it, and the young rails leaped westward at a speed before then unknown in the world.
Carried somehow, somewhither, for some reason, on these surging floods, were these travelers, of errand not wholly obvious to their fellows, yet of such sort as to call into query alike the nature of their errand and their own relations. It is easily earned repetition to state that Josephine St. Auban's was a presence not to be concealed. Even such a boat as the Mount Vernon offered a total deck space so cramped as to leave secrecy or privacy well out of the question, even had the motley and democratic assemblage of passengers been disposed to accord either. Yet there was something in the appearance of this young woman and her companion which caused all the heterogeneous groups of humanity to make way for them, as presently they approached the gang-plank.
Apparently they were not unexpected. The ship's clerks readily led the way to apartments which had been secured in advance. Having seen to the luggage of his charges, whom he disposed in a good double state-room, the leader of the party repaired to his own quarters. Tarrying no longer than to see his own luggage safe aboard, he commanded one of the men to fetch him to the office of the captain.
The latter gentleman, busy and important, dropped much of his official way when he found whom he was accosting. "This is quite unexpected, sir," he began, removing his cap and bowing.
"Captain Rogers," began the other, "you have been advised to some extent of my plans by telegram from Washington."
The captain hesitated. "Is this with the lady's consent? I must consider the question of damages."
"There will be no damages. Your owners will be quite safe, and so will you."
"Are there any charges of any kind against——?"
"That is not for you to ask. She is under my care, and must not disembark until I say the word. You will kindly give her a place at my table. There must be no idle curiosity to annoy her. But tell me, when shall we reach the mouth of the river? Is it not possible to save some time by avoiding some of the smaller stops?"
"But our freight, our passengers—" The captain passed a hand across his brow, much perplexed. The other showed a sudden firmness.
"My errand demands secrecy and speed alike. There must be no communication between this boat and the shore, so far as this young lady is concerned. Meantime, if all is ready, it would please me mightily if we could start."
The captain pulled a bell rope. "Tell the mate to cast off," he said, to the man who answered. An instant later the hoarse boom of the boat's whistles roared out their warning. There came a crush of late-comers at the gangway. Shouts arose; deck hands scrambled with the last packages of freight; but presently the staging was shipped and all the lines cast free. Churning the stained waters into foam with her great paddles, the Mount Vernon swung slowly out into the narrow stream.
"Now, Captain Rogers," went on Captain Carlisle, tersely, "tell, me who's aboard;" and presently he began to ponder the names which, in loose fashion, the clerk assembled from his memory and his personal acquaintance.
"Hm, Hm!" commented the listener, "very few whom I know. Judge Clayton from the other side, below Cairo. State Senator Jones, from Belmont—"
"You know Mr. Jones? Old 'Decline and Fall' Jones? He never reads any book excepting Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. Always declines a drink when offered, but he's sure to fall a moment later!" Thus the smiling clerk.
"Well, I may see Mr. Jones, possibly Judge Clayton. There's no one else." He seemed not dissatisfied.
Alas! for human calculations and for human hopes! Even as he left the captain's room to ascend the stair, he met face to face the very man whose presence he least desired.
"Dunwody!" he exclaimed.
The gentleman thus addressed extended a hand. "I see you are safe aboard. Myself, too, I am very glad."
"I thought you said you were going—"
"I was, but I changed my mind at the last moment. It is far more comfortable going down by boat than it is by stage. Then, the thought of the pleasure of your society on the journey—" He was smiling, rather maliciously.
"Yes, yes, of course!" somewhat dismally.
"But now, to be frank with you, you don't seem altogether happy. Why do you want to be rid of me? What harm have I done?" smiled Dunwody.
"Oh, my dear sir!"
"May not one change his mind if he likes?"
"My dear sir, there is no argument about that."
"Certainly not! The only argument is on the previous question—When are you going to introduce me as you should, to that extremely beautiful young lady who is with you?"
"Good God, my very dear sir!"
"You are not 'my dear sir' at all, so long as you try to hoodwink me," persisted Dunwody, still smiling. "Come, now, what are you doing here, west bound with a young and charming person who is not your wife, widow, mother, daughter, fiancee or sister—who is not—"
"That will do, if you please!" Carlisle's hot temper named into his freckled face.
"Why so touchy?"
"It is within a man's rights to choose his own company and his own ways. I am not accountable, except as I choose."
The other man was studying him closely, noting his flush, his irritation, his uneasiness. "But what I am saying now is that it is cruel, unusual, inhuman and unconstitutional to be so selfish about it. Come, I shall only relent when you have shown yourself more kind. For instance, in the matter of her table in the dining-room—"
"The lady has expressed a desire to remain quite alone, my dear sir. I must bow to her will. It is her privilege to come and go as she likes."
"She may come and go as she likes?" queried Dunwody, still smiling. There was a look on his face which caused Carlisle suddenly to turn and examine him sharply.
"Without your consent, even?"
"Then why should she have sent me this little message?" demanded Dunwody suddenly. He presented a folded bit of paper, snapping it on the back with a finger.
A still deeper flush spread over the young officer's telltale face. He opened and read: "If you care to aid a woman who is in trouble, come to me at room 19 when you can."
"When did you receive this?" he demanded. "By God!" he added, to himself, "she did it, too!"
"Within the moment. Her maid brought it."
"You didn't have this before you came on board—but of course, that wasn't possible."
Dunwody looked at him keenly. "You have just heard me," he said. "No, I don't deny there are some things here which I can't understand. You are covering up something, my dear Captain, of course, but just what I do not know. Your station in life, your presence in this country, so far from home!—" He smiled now in a way which his antagonist considered sinister. Yet what defense could be made without exposing secrets which were not his to uncover?
"Come," went on Dunwody, "let's be frank about it. You may trust me, of course. But—neither sister, wife, nor servant—could you blame any man, especially any man who had a direct message like this, for wanting, or, say, even demanding a meeting? Haven't I the right? Come, now!"
Carlisle made no immediate answer, and was about to turn on his heel, finding it hard to restrain himself. He paused, however.
"Very good, then. To show how little you know me, and how much you wrong both this lady and myself, you shall meet her, as you say. Not that you have earned the right."
The Mount Vernon, favored by a good stage of water, soon cleared the narrow Monongahela channel, passed the confluence, and headed down under full steam, all things promising well for a speedy and pleasant run. The sky was blue and cloudless, and the air fresh with the tang of coming autumn. Especially beautiful were the shores which they now were skirting. The hues of autumn had been shaken down over mile after mile of wide forest which appeared in a panorama of russet and gold and red, to grow the more resplendent when they should arrive opposite the high bluffs which line the stream almost to the town of Wheeling.
Below these upper reaches, then the least settled and wildest portion of the country along the Ohio, the river flattened and widened, the current becoming more gentle, and the shores, though not yet wholly cleared of their forests, presenting here and there scenes of rural rather than of savage beauty. Civilization had not as yet taken full hold along this rich valley. The old town of Marietta, the cities of Louisville and Cincinnati, the villages huddled at mouths of such rivers as came down from the Virginia hills, or the larger settlements marking points near the debouchments of slower streams like the Muskingum and Wabash, which crossed the flatter lands beyond, made the chief points of traffic and of interest in those days of west bound travel.
On the upper deck or along the rails of the lower deck, many passengers were gazing out at the varying pictures of the passing shores. Not so the young officer, erstwhile accosted as jailer of a woman, later hinted to be something else than jailer. With eyes cast down, he spent most of his time pacing up and down alone. Yet it was not an irresolute soul which reposed beneath the half-frigid exterior. He presently arrived upon a plan of action.
The public, too, had its rights, he concluded, and the woman as a woman had her rights also to her good fame. He must not harm her name. Best then, to disarm suspicion by playing the game wholly in the open. The midday meal now being announced by loud proclamation of the boat's gong, he turned, and soon rapped at the door of room nineteen.
Jeanne, the tearful but faithful maid who shared her mistress' fortunes, by this time had done what she could to mend her lady's appearance. The traces of travel had been quite removed, by virtue of the contents of such valises as they had with them. Good health and youth, as well as good courage, fought for Josephine St. Auban, as well as good sense and a philosophy of travel learned by experiences in other lands. If indeed she had not slept, at least her face did not betray that fact. Her color was good, her eye was clear. Her dark hair, brushed low over the temples in the fashion of the day, was fresh and glossy. Moreover, her habiliments were such as to cause most of the feminine occupants of the boat to make careful note, when she had accepted Carlisle's escort and entered the dining-room. She walked with calmness to the table reserved for her, and with inclination of the head thanked him as he arranged her chair for her. Thus in a way the gauntlet was by both thrown down to all present.
Most of those present without hesitation showed their interest. The hum of the dingy tables slackened and ceased. A score of women frowned at a score of men whose glances wandered undutifully. Who was she, and what? That question certainly passed in the minds of most in the crowded little room. Meantime, Josephine St. Auban's own eyes were not unregardful.
"I see that my guess was quite correct," she said at length, smiling full at her guardian.
At once he caught her thought. "Oh, about Mr. Dunwody," he assented, assuming a carelessness which she read through at once. "Yes, I met him—a while ago. He told me he had suddenly decided to change his plans and take the Vernon down the river, instead of going by stage. Very natural of him, too, I should say. I would be much distressed to think of myself traveling by coach, even in weather pleasant as this. He has keen eyes, though, has he not?" he added resentfully.
"That is to say—"
"So hard hit that he threatens a duel or worse if I do not at once further his desire to pursue his acquaintance. It's not myself he's so eager to meet. He has no love for me, that's sure, long ago."
"Indeed?" She kept her eyes fixed on her plate. If a slight flush tinged her cheek it scarce was visible. "Is that all?" she asked at length.
"Madam, you yourself could best answer your own question." He looked at her keenly, not showing his case; not telling her that Dunwody had shown him her hasty note. Not the flicker of an eyelash betrayed her own thought. Surely, she had courage. Surely, she meant trouble.
"How delightful!" she resumed at length calmly. "Not that I weary of your company, sir; but I told you my parole was ended when we reached the boat. Suppose, now, I should stand up here and cry out that I am being restrained of my liberty. What would be the result?"
"I should be hung at the yard-arm instantly! I should be lynched. Dunwody would come in the lead, crashing over the tables. I fear Dunwody, even bearing a rope, as we used to say—in Virgil, was it?"
"Admirable! Now, since that is true, suppose you and I make some sort of terms! I'm tired of being jailed, even in a traveling jail. I told you fairly I should try to escape; and so I shall."
He needed no second look to catch the resolution in her glance. "Our game is somewhat desperate, Madam, I admit," said he, "I scarcely know whether you are in my hands or I in yours. As I have already given you consideration, let us hope you will do as much for me, remembering at least the delicacy of my position. I'm under orders; and I'm responsible for you."
"Yes?" she rejoined. "Now, as to what I suggest, it is this: You shall leave the boat at Louisville or Cincinnati. Your errand is already sufficiently well done. You have got me out of Washington. Suppose we set Cincinnati as the last point of our common journey?"
"But what then for you. Madam?"
"As to that, I can not tell. Why should you care? Do not be concerned over details. You have brought me into this situation. I must escape from it in my own way."
"You sting me deeply. I've had to do this, just as an executioner may have to cut off a head; but a thousand times I ask your pardon. A thousand times you, yourself, have made me ashamed. Come, when we part, shall it not be as friends? You have won my respect, my admiration. I wish I were entitled to your own. You've been perfect. You've been splendid."
"Look," she said, without raising her eyelids.
He turned. Dunwody was making his way toward them among the tables.
"My dear Senator," said Carlisle, choking down his wrath as the Missourian reached them and bowed his salutations, "I have the greatest pleasure in the world in keeping my promise to you. I am delighted to have you join our little party at this time. You remember the Countess—I would say, Miss Barren?"
"I have not so soon forgotten," answered Dunwody. His commanding eyes still sought her face. Beyond a slight bow and one upward glance, she did not display interest; yet in truth a sudden shiver of apprehension came into her heart. This was a different sort of man she now must endeavor to handle. What was it that his straight glance meant?
It was a singular situation in which these three found themselves. That she had asked the aid of this new-comer was a fact known to all three of them. Yet of the three, none knew precisely the extent of the others' knowledge. Dunwody at least was polite, if insistent, in his wish to learn more of this mysterious young woman who had appealed to him for aid, yet who now made no further sign. Who was she? What sort was she? he demanded of himself. God! if she was one sort. And why should she not be that sort? Did not the River carry many sorts? Was not the army ever gallant? What officer ever hesitated in case of a fair damsel? And what fair damsel was not fair game in the open contest among men—that old, old, oldest and keenest of all contests since this hoary world began?
"I am sure the fatigue of the journey across the mountains must have left you quite weary," he ventured, addressing her. "There's only the choice of sleeping, or of hanging over the deck rail and looking at these hills." He waved a hand toward a window, whence might be seen the near-by shores.
Josephine St. Auban showed no sign of perturbation as she answered: "Not so weary as busy. The duties of an amanuensis leave one small time for recreation." Her face was demureness itself.
The situation assumed swift complications. Carlisle caught his cue, with alertness fairly to be called brilliant. "Yes," said he, "the young lady is of foreign education and family, and is most skilful in these respects. I should find it difficult to carry forward my literary work without her able assistance. It is a boon which even few public men have shared with myself. You know, I am in the West in view of certain writings." He virtuously sat erect, with a fine air, presently pushing back his chair.
Dunwody looked from one to the other in perplexity. He had expected to find a woman claiming his aid, or rather his acquaintance under excuse of a plea for aid. He found both these apparently in league against him, and one of these apparently after all not what he had thought! His face flushed. Meantime Josephine St. Auban arose, bowed, and left them.
When the two men found themselves alone, Dunwody, for a time lost in moody silence, at length broke out into a peal of laughter. "Well, human nature is human nature, I suppose. I make no comment, further than to say that I consider all the lady's fears were groundless. She has been well treated. There was no need to call for my aid. The army is hard to defeat, Captain, and always was!"
"I had not myself regarded any officer in the light of an oppressor of the distressed amanuensis," he went on. "But come now, who is she? You started to call her 'Countess.' Since when have countesses gone into secretarying? Tut! Tut! and again, my dear man, Tut!"
"Sir," replied Carlisle, "I recall that when I was a youth, some of us, members of the Sabbath-school class, occasionally would ask our teacher a question on the Scriptures which he could not answer. In that case he always said, 'My dear young friends, there are some things which are not for man to know.'"
"I accept my temporary defeat," said Dunwody slowly. "We'll see. But come, now, Captain, time is passing and the tables are yearning for trouble. The army is distinguished not alone in love. Draw-poker hath its victories, not less than war. I told Jones and Judge Clayton and one or two others that I was pining for a little game of draw. What do you say? Should not all lesser questions be placed in abeyance?"
"That," said the other, "comes to me at the present moment in the nature of an excellent compromise measure. I am agreed!"
Fencing thus, neither sure of his adversary, they now made their way to one of the larger saloons, which ordinarily was devoted to those who preferred to smoke, mayhap to chew, perhaps even to do worse; for the door leading to the bar-room of the boat was near at hand. A darky boy stood grinning, arranging a table, offering cards and tobacco in a tempting tray. The two drew up leisurely to the table, and presently were joined by the gentlemen whom Dunwody had mentioned. For the time, then, as two of the four reflected, there was a truce, a compromise.
They made a group not uninteresting as they gathered about the table in the deck saloon. The youngest of the four received the deference generally accorded the uniform he wore, and returned the regard due age and station in the civilian world. For the moment rid of one annoying question, he was quite his better self, and added his quota in the preliminary badinage of the game. Across the table from him sat Judge Henry Clayton of New Madrid, a tall and slender gentleman with silky white mustaches and imperial, gentle of speech, kindly of countenance, and with soft, white hands, whose long fingers now idly raised and let fall some of the parti-colored tokens of the game.
At Clayton's side, Dunwody, younger, larger and more powerful, made something of a contrast. Both these gentlemen had removed their coats and hung them across the backs of chairs, evidently intending a serious session. In this procedure the last of the party now followed suit,—the Honorable William Jones, state senator from Belmont, Missouri. Seating himself, the latter now in turn began shuffling a pack between fingers short, puffy, freckled and experienced. His stooped shoulders thrust forward a beardless round face, whose permanently arched eyebrows seemed to ask a continuous question, his short, dark hair receded from a high forehead, and a thick mid-body betokened alike middle age and easy living. A planter of the back country, and a politician, his capital was a certain native shrewdness and little else. Of course, in company such as this, and at such a day, the conversation must drift toward the ever fruitful topic of slavery.
"No, sir," began the Honorable William Jones, indulging himself in the luxury of tobacco as he addressed his companions, "there ain't no doubt about it. Us Southerners orto take all that new country west of the Missoury, clean acrost to the Pacific."
The older gentleman smiled at him. "You forget California," said he. "She is already in, and free by her own vote."
"An' a crime aginst the natural rights of the South! Sir, the institution of slavery is as old as history. It is as old as the first settlement of agricultural man upon one piece of ground. It's as old as the idea of sovereignty itself."
Dunwody gave a sly wink at his neighbor, Judge Clayton. The latter sank back in his chair resigned. Indeed, he proceeded to precipitate what he knew was to come.
"Sir, England herself," he assented gravely, "is the oldest of slavers. The Saxons, of whom we speak as the fathers of freedom, were the worst slave masters in the world—they sold their very kin into slavery at times."
The Honorable William Jones was impatient of interruption. "Comin' to our own side of the sea, gentlemen, what do we find? New England foremost in the slave trade! New York, ownin' onct more slaves than Virginny ever did! Georgia was fo'ced to take on slave labor, although she had tried to do without it. Every race, every nation, sirs, has accepted the theory of slave labor. What says Mr. Gibbon in his great work—in his remarkable work, his treasure house of learnin'—The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire—if I had my copy here I could put my finger on to the very place where he says it, sirs. Why, sirs, in the Decline and Fall—I could show you the very line and chapter if I had my copy here—but it's up in my room—I could show you the very chapter on slavery, by the Lord Harry! sir, where Mr. Foote, of the state of Mississippi, in his last speech down in that country, sirs,—"
"Now, now, Jones," Dunwody raised a restraining hand at length, "just sit down. Don't go get your copy of the Decline and Fall. We're willing to take some of that for granted. Let's get at the pleasant task of taking away all the money of this Free Soil gentleman from the North. Non politics, non religion, sed poker! That's why we're here."
The Honorable William Jones, his eloquence thus dammed up, seemed to experience a sudden restriction of the throat, and coughed once or twice. "I will go against the said poker just onct," said he; "but, ahem!"
"I would suggest," said Dunwody, "that before we tempt the gods of fortune we should first pour a libation for their favor. What do you say, sir?" He turned to Jones and winked at Clayton.
"No, no, no, sir! No, I thank you just as much, but I never drink more than onct in a day. At home it varies. On some days I like my liquor in the mornin', some days just before bedtime, especially if there is any malary about, as there is in most of my country—indeed, I think there is some malary in these Ohio bottoms up here."
"That fact is beyond dispute," ventured Judge Clayton gravely. "In short, I myself feel in danger as we pass through these heavy forests."
"Quite so," assented the Honorable William Jones. "Sometimes I take a drink in the mornin' before breakfast, especially if there is malary around, as I said; sometimes before dinner, but only one; or, sometimes right after dinner, like now. Difference among men, ain't there? Some say it's wrong to drink before breakfast. Others say one drink then goes farther'n six later in the day. For me, now, only one drink a day. Unless—that is, of course—unless there is some very special occasion, such as—"
"Such as that offered by this most malarious country," ventured the judge gravely.
"Well, yes, since you mention it, on such an occasion as this. But Tom—" turning to the colored boy, "Make it very light; ver-r-ry light. Hold on thah, you rascal, not too light!"
The Honorable William Jones set an example in which he was joined temperately by the judge, the others contenting themselves in completing their arrangements for the game. The tokens were distributed, and in accordance with the custom of the time, the table soon was fairly well covered with money of divers sorts, gold coin, a lesser amount of silver, bills issued by many and divers banks in this or that portion of the country.
Silence fell when the game really began. The Honorable William Jones at first ever and anon threatened to erupt into Roman facts and figures, but chilly glances made his answer. Half an hour, and the passing of time was forgot.
At first the cards ran rather severely against the judge, and rather in favor of the historian, who played "the said poker" with such thoroughness that presently there appeared before him a ragged pile of currency and coin. Dunwody and Carlisle were losers, but finally Dunwody began to edge in upon the accumulated winnings of his neighbor on the right. An hour passed, two hours, more. The boat plowed on down-stream. Presently the colored boy began to light lamps. There came to the faces of all the tense look, the drawn and lined visage which is concomitant to play for considerable stakes. A frown came on the florid countenance of the young officer. The pile of tokens and currency before him lessened steadily. At last, in fact, he began to show uneasiness. He thrust a hand into a pocket where supplies seemed to have grown scarce. There is small mercy in a game of poker hard played, but at least one of his opponents caught some such signal of distress. Dunwody looked up from his own last hand.
"Don't leave us just yet, friend," he said. "You may draw on me for all you like, if you care to continue. We shall see that you get a ticket back home. No man can ask more than that!"
"I have a thousand acres of cotton land 'n a hunnerd niggers waitin' for me to git home," said the Honorable William Jones, "an' by hockey, I raise the ante to twenty dollars right hyer! Are you all comin' in?"
"I have at least that much left in my locker," answered Judge Clayton. "What do you say to doubling that?"
"Suit me," said Dunwody briefly; they nodded assent all around, but the younger man ventured:
"Suppose I sit with you for one jack-pot, gentlemen. The hour is growing late for me, and I must plead other duties. When a man is both busy and broke, it is time for him to consider."
"No, no," expostulated the Honorable William Jones, who long since had forgotten his rule regarding one drink a day. "No, no, not broke, and not busy! Not at all!"
"I don't know," said Dunwody. "Suppose we make it one more jack-pot all around?" They agreed to this. It was Judge Clayton's deal.
"Gimme at least three," began the senator from Belmont, puckering out his lips in discontent.
"Three good ones," consented the judge. "How many for the rest of you?"
Dunwody shook his head. "I'll stand as it is, please."
The judge quietly discarded two cards, Carlisle having done the same. The betting now went about with more than one increase from the Honorable William Jones, whose eyes apparently were seeing large. At last the "call" came from Carlisle, who smilingly moved the bulk of his remaining fortune toward the center of the table. Thereupon, with a bland and sane smile, the Honorable William Jones shook his head and folded his cards together. The judge displayed queens and tens, the gentleman opposite queens and deuces. Dunwody laid down his own hand, which showed aces and fours. They all sighed.
"Gentlemen, you all deserve to win," said Dunwody. "I feel like a thief."
"I have a thousand acres of niggers 'n four hunnerd cotton lands," remarked the Honorable William Jones, amiably, "says you can't do it again. I can prove it from Mr. Gibbon's 'Cline 'n Fall."
Judge Clayton rose, laughing, slapping Dunwody on the shoulder and giving an arm to Mr. Jones, whom he assisted to his room.
Dunwody remained seated at the table, carelessly shuffling the cards between his fingers. Once in a while he cast an amused glance toward Carlisle, and at last remarked, as though continuing an arrested thought:
"Amanuensis, is she?" He chuckled. The other ventured no reply.
"My dear sir, at your age, I congratulate you! The choice of an amanuensis is one very important for a public man, not less so, I imagine, for a military man. Consider the need—"
"I think that will do, my dear Dunwody," rejoined Carlisle at length, the hot blood in his face. "Frankly, this conversation is unwelcome to me."
"I'll tell you what I'll do with you," exclaimed the Missourian suddenly. "I'll bet you every cent in this pile of my winnings here that that young lady isn't your amanuensis, and never has been. I'll bet its like that she is no relative of yours. I'll bet it all over again that she is the most beautiful woman that ever set foot on a boat on this river, or ever set foot on any land. Moreover, I'll bet again—"
"You might win a certain share of these wagers," smiled the young officer, willing to pass by a possible argument. "Moreover, I am quite willing to discuss arrangements for changing the term of servitude of this young lady. I've been doing a little thinking about one or two matters since this morning."
"Quite right. I wouldn't care to restrain her in any way, if she cared to travel in other company. Our work is well advanced toward completion, as it is."
"Yet you came here with her? Then what—?"
"Never mind what the relation may have been, my dear fellow. It irks me now. Especially does this sort of conversation irk me, because it is not fair to the young lady herself."
Dunwody drew in his breath with a strong sigh. He sat up straight in his chair, then rested an arm on the table, as he leaned forward toward the other. "A young lady has had a poor protector who would not protect her name. Of course!"
"In any case," smiled Carlisle, forcing the frown away from his face, "my fortunes need mending now. Do you think I could continue a journey down the river in company so strong at cards as yours? At a later time, if you like, I will endeavor to get my revenge."
"Suppose you have it now," said Dunwody calmly. "Haven't you just heard me say I haven't the means?"
"You have as much as I have."
"Tut! tut! I don't borrow to play cards."
"You do not need to borrow. I say, your stake equals mine, and we will play at evens, too. Come, deal one hand, poker between two, and to the hilt."
The other man looked at him and gazed at the heaped pile of coins and notes which lay before him. He himself was no pale-blooded opponent, nor usually disposed to slight the opportunities of the game. "I don't understand," said he finally. "Certainly I am not willing to pledge my land and 'niggers,' like our friend from Belmont here. Perhaps my fall has been hard enough not to tempt me to go on with my sort of luck. Suppose I decline!"
"You don't understand me," said Dunwody, looking him fair in the face. "I said that your stake can easily be equal with this on the table. I'll play you just two out of three jack-pots between the two of us. You see my stake."
"You can make it even by writing one name—and correctly—here on a piece of paper. Full value—yes, ten times as much as mine! You are giving odds, man!"
"I don't understand you."
"You don't want to understand me. Come, now. You, as an army man, ought to know something of the history of poker in these United States. Listen, my friend. Do you recall a certain game played by a man higher in authority—younger than he is to-day—a game played upon a snowbound train in the North country? Do you remember what the stakes were—then? Do you recall that that man later became a president of the United States? Come. There is fine precedent for our little enterprise."
The swift flush on the face of the other man made his answer. Dunwody went on mercilessly:
"He played then much as you do now. There was against him then, as there is now against you, a man who admired not so much just one woman in all the world as, let us say, one particular woman then and there present. Perhaps you remember his name—Mr. Parish—later ennobled by the German government and long known as a land baron in New York. Come! Think of it! Picture that snowbound train, that great citizen, and Parish, playing and playing, until at last it came to the question of a woman—not so beautiful as this one here, but in her own way shrewd, the same sort of woman, I might say—mysterious, beautiful, and—no, don't protest, and I'll not describe. You remember very well her name. It was pleasant property not so long ago for everybody. They played for the love, not for the hand, of that woman. Parish won her. Do you remember now?"
The younger man sat looking at him silently, his face now grown quite pale. "I am unwilling, sir, to allow any man to mention such details regarding the past life of my commander-in-chief, a president of the United States. It is not seemly. My profession should free me, by its very nature, from conversation such as this. My errand should free me. My place as a gentleman should free me, and her, from such discussion. It must, it shall, sir!"
"Forgive me," said Dunwody, coloring. "Your rebuke is just. I ask your pardon freely; but remember, what I say here is between us two, and no one else. Why deny yourself the luxury of remembering such a game as that? It was a man's game, and well worth the playing. Your former head of the army, at least, lost; and he paid. The other won. All Ogdensburg can tell you about that to-day. They lived there—together—Parish and the woman, till he went abroad. Yes, and she was a prisoner there not simply for a short time; she lived and died there. Whatever Parish did, whoever he was, he never loved any other woman as he did that one. And by the Lord! when it comes to that, no other woman in that town ever was loved more than she by everybody. Odd creatures, women, eh? Who can find them out? Who can weigh them, who can plumb their souls? But, my God! who can do without them?"
Carlisle made no answer, and Dunwody went on. "She had political intrigues back of her, just as this woman here has, for all I know. But one lost in that game, and the other, won. I've often wondered about that particular game of cards, my friend,—whether after all she loved the man who won her, right or wrong,—what became of her,—who she was? But now, tell me, was not our drunken friend right? Has human nature changed since Rome? And has not the conqueror always ruled? Have not the spolia opima, the rarest prizes, always been his?"
Carlisle only sat silent, looking at him, pale now, and rigid. He still made no comment.
"So now I say," went on Dunwody, "here is that same situation, twice in one lifetime! It's ominous, for somebody. There is trouble in the air, for some or all of us. But I say I offer you fair play, even, man to man. I ask no questions. I will not take any answers, any more than those two would have allowed any, that day on the train there, when they played, ten years or more ago. That was a foreign woman. So is this, I think. She is the most beautiful woman I have ever seen. I have looked her in the face. I shall never see such another face again. Man, I'm mad over her. And you've just said you'd loose your hold on her, whatever it is—for her sake. By God! once my hold was on her, she never should get away—again."
"What do you propose?" asked the other hoarsely.
"I propose only to offer you that same game over again!" replied Dunwody. "Man, what an uncanny thing this is! But, remember one thing,—no matter what comes, I shall never mention our meeting here. I am not your keeper."
"Sir," broke out the other, "you embarrass me unspeakably. You do not know the circumstances. I can not tell—"
"Pardon me, I make no taunts, and I have said I tell no tales. But my word of honor, man,—I will play you,—two out of three, to see—who takes her." His voice was low, tense, savage.
The younger man sat back in his chair. One knowing his tempestuous nature might have expected anger, consternation, resentment, to remain on his face. On the contrary, a sudden light seemed to come into his countenance. Suddenly he stifled a smile! He passed a hand across his brow, as though to assure himself. It was not so much confidence or resolution as half deliberation which shone in his eye as he cast a glance upon the heap of money on the opposite side of the table. Yet no sordid thought, no avarice was in his gaze. It was the look of the fanatic, the knight errant, resolved upon deed of risk or sacrifice for sake of a woman's wish; but with it was the amusement of a man who foresaw that difficulties lay ahead of him who essayed the role of jailer to Josephine, Countess St. Auban. What now passed across his countenance, little by little, therefore, was relief, relaxation from a strain, a solution of some doubtful problem. In brief, there seemed offered to him now the opportunity to terminate an errand which suddenly had grown distasteful to him and dangerous both to him and to his charge. At one stroke he might secure for himself riddance of the company of an embarrassing companion who already had served notice of her intention to desert him; and might also keep silent this man, whom she had asked for aid. As for him, she would take his measure quickly enough if he presumed in any way. Would not the purpose of his journey have been accomplished, might not he himself return to his work, would not each of these three have been served to his or her own liking, should now the suggestion of this eager man be accepted? If he won at the cards, why then—if he lost—but that he resolved not to do! The greatest misfortune possible, to his perplexed soul, was that the cards should not be against him. As he reflected upon these things, he hesitated. It was but to gain time.
"Senator Dunwody," said he, at length, "you and I are from different parts of the country—from two different worlds, you might say. You believe in slavery and the extension of it—I believe in just the reverse. I would sacrifice my professional future, if need were, in that belief." The other nodded, but his eyes did not waver.
"Very good! Now, I want to say to you this much. The young lady who has been with me is dangerous. She is an abolitionist of the strictest sect. She is very likely an European revolutionist, among other things. She is dangerous as such. I think I can say this much, and break no pledge of confidence."
"That isn't how she is dangerous to me. But is that the crime for which you transport her for life?" smiled the other. His shot came so close that his companion raised a hand.
"I don't deny, don't explain, don't argue," he retorted curtly. "I only say that I shall be willing to part with her services and turn her over to your own care, if you both so like. We know she has appealed to you for aid. My own errand, if you please, is near to its close. It has been—"
"Cut the cards, man!" cried the Missourian. It was lucky that he interrupted. He was just in time to prevent the other from making the mistake of saying what was the truth—that he was in any case about to leave the young lady to her own devices, and by her own request. The game which he most valued now was not on the table before him. He was playing it in his own mind. In short, duty or no duty, he was resolved to end the role of jailer and prisoner, for sake of the prisoner herself. Let others attempt the unpleasant task if they liked. Let others condemn if they liked. He, Carlisle, could be jailer no longer. Yet he deliberated well the risk he ran.
"It would be ruin to me if this were known, Senator Dunwody, and of that you are perfectly aware."'
"I know that as well as you, but there can be honor even in politics, war, or—love. I have given you my word. Deal!"
"You are impatient. You rejoice as a strong man to run a race, my dear sir."
"I do run a race. I am strong. Play! It is in the cards that I must win."
"But if you should lose?"
"I shall not lose!"
His insistence, his confidence, almost caused the older man to laugh. "No, my friend," said he to himself, "you shall not lose!" But what he said aloud was, "You must not be excited, Dunwody. You may need all your nerve. I thought you cooler in times of stress."
"You don't know me. I don't know myself. Perhaps it is ice in your blood—I don't know,—it's fire in mine."
"Very well,—I hope you like the cards I have given you." But there was no ice in the red flush on Carlisle's sanguine face,
"Give me four more," cried the Missourian, flinging down his own cards with hands that trembled.
"Quite right, sir, you shall have them. But how you tremble! I wouldn't have so poor a nerve as yours for all the money in the world, my dear Senator. You act as though there were four hundred acres of niggers at stake, as Mr. Jones would say!"
"Go on! You don't know what there is at stake."
"So, now. You have your four cards. For myself—though you are so excited you wouldn't notice it if I did not call your attention to it—I take but three. You are an infant, man. See that you be not delivered into the hands of the enemy."
They looked now each into his renewed hand of five cards. Dunwody swept a stack of money toward the center of the table. "A thousand dollars against one look from her eye!"
"My dear sir," rejoined the other calmly, "you are raised to the extent of two glances—one from each eye."
"Another thousand for the touch of her glove."
"I come back. You shall have a pair."
"A thousand more to hear the sound of her step—another thousand for one smile!"
Carlisle's voice trembled, but he forced himself under control. "My dear sir, you shall have all you wish! I am sure if she could see you now she herself would be disposed to smile. You do not yet understand that woman. But now, suppose that the betting has gone far enough? What cards have you? For myself, I discover that I have drawn four kings. I trust that you have four aces of your own."
There was sincerity in this wish, but Dunwody answered gloomily: "You gave me three tens and a pair of fives, with what I held. You have won the first round."
He dashed a hand, and cleared the square of matted hair from his forehead, which now was beaded. Red, florid, full-blooded, balked in his eagerness, he looked as savage as some denizen of the ancient forest, in pursuit as reckless, as ill-suited with ill-fortune.
"My deal," said he, at length, in a voice half a growl. And later, "How many?"
"I shall, if you please, require but one card," was the quiet answer. Dunwody himself required two. They sat narrowly eying each other, although there was in this close duel small advantage for either except in the run of the cards themselves.
"It is perhaps needless for us to waste time, since I can not divide my stakes," smiled the younger gentleman.
Again with a half growl, Dunwody threw down his cards, face upward. His teeth were clenched, all his muscles set, all his attitude strained, tense.
"You have won, my dear Senator! I failed to improve my four cards, which, it is true, were of one color, but which I regret to say still remain of the one color and of no better company!"
"It is even!" exclaimed Dunwody. "Come!"
The cards went around once more, and once more the officer asked for a single card. Once again he lost.
Dunwody drew back with a deep sigh. "Look!" he said, "of my three cards, two were what I wanted—aces, aces, man!—four of them! By every token, I have won. It's fate!"
The face of his opponent was a study. His eyebrows went up in pleasant expostulation at the other's eagerness. "So, then," said he, "I suppose I must pay my stake, much to my regret. Ah! how fortune has run against me to-day. And so, here it is,—I write her name for you once more—this time her real name, so far as any in America know it—thus,—Josephine, Countess St. Auban, of France, of Hungary, of America, abolitionist, visionary, firebrand. There, then,—though I think you will find the matter of taking possession somewhat difficult to compass—so far as I am concerned, she is, with all my heart, yours to have and to hold, if you can! My duty to her is over. Yours begins, I hope!"
Dunwody found no speech. He was pale, and breathing fast.
Gravity increased in the other's demeanor. His face now looked drawn, weary. "I beg, my dear sir," he said, "nay, I entreat and command you, to make all gentle and kind use of this which the gods have given you. I confess nothing whatever, except that I am hungry and tired to extinction. I congratulate the winner, and consider myself fortunate to be allowed to go in peace to my own place—penniless, it is true, but at least with a conscience quite clear." The frown on his face, the troubled gaze of his eyes, belied his last words. "It's no part of my conscience to coerce a woman," he added defiantly. "I can't do it—not any longer."
"It is well to be a cheerful loser," returned Dunwody, at last. "I couldn't blame any man for being coerced by—her! I admit that I am. But after this, what will be your plans?"
"I purpose leaving the boat at the first suitable stop, not farther down than Louisville, at least. Perhaps Cincinnati would be yet better. By the fortunes of war you will, therefore, stand in my stead. I've changed my mind, suddenly. I told the young lady that we would continue on together, even beyond Cairo. But now—well, to the victor, as Mr. Marcy has said, belong the spoils. Only, there are some titles which may not be negotiated. A quitclaim is by no means a warranty. You'll discover that." He smiled grimly.
The other made no answer. He only stood to his full height and stretched out his great arms. He seemed a figure come down unchanged from some savage day.
THE NEW MASTER
Alone in her state-room all these hours, Josephine St. Auban had abundant time to reflect upon the singular nature of her situation. At first, and very naturally, she was disposed to seek the protection of the boat's officers, but a second thought convinced her of the unwisdom of that course. As to this stranger, this stalwart man of the West, she had appealed to him and he had made no sign. She had no friend, no counselor. A feeling of inefficiency, of smallness and helplessness, swept over her. For the first time in her life she found herself hard and fast in the grasp of events over which she had absolutely no control. She was prisoner to her own good fame. She dared not declare herself. She dared not cry out for help. None would believe her story. She herself did not fully understand all the circumstances connected with her unlawful banishment from the capital of the proudest and freest republic of the world.
It was while still in this frame of mind that, on the day following, there came to her a messenger bearing the card of Warville Dunwody. She gazed at it for some moments undecided, debating. She tried to reason. Had she trusted rather to woman's vaticination, matters had been better for her. What she actually did was to summon Jeanne to complete some hurried toilet preparations. Then she set out to meet the sender of the card.
There was no occupant of the saloon excepting one, who rose as she entered, hesitating. On the instant a sudden change swept over Dunwody's face. Was it at first assuredness it had borne? "I am glad that you have thus honored me," he said simply.
"It is much pleasanter to move about as one may," she answered. "But where is our friend, Captain Carlisle, this morning? Is he ill, or simply unmindful of one so unimportant as myself? I have not heard from him."
"He left the boat last night," answered Dunwody gravely, his eyes fixed on her face.
"Left the boat—he is gone? Why, he sent me no word, and I thought—at least, he said—"
"He has, Madam, like Cataline, evaded, broken forth, absconded. But as to leaving word for you, he was not quite so heartless as all that. I have a message for you."