CHILDREN OF THE MARKET PLACE
EDGAR LEE MASTERS
TO GEORGE P. BRETT
I was born in London on the eighteenth of June, 1815. The battle of Waterloo was being fought as I entered this world. Thousands were giving up their lives at the moment that life was being bestowed upon me. My father was in that great battle. Would he ever return? My mother was but eighteen years of age. Anxiety for his safety, the exhaustion of giving me life prostrated her delicate constitution. She died as I was being born.
I have always kept her picture beside me. I have always been bound to her by a tender and mystical love. During all the years of my life my feeling for her could not have been more intense and personal if I had had the experience of daily association with her through boyhood and youth.
What girlish wistfulness and sadness there are in her eyes! What a gentle smile is upon her lips, as if she would deny the deep foreboding of a spirit that peered into a perilous future! Her dark hair falls in rich strands over her forehead in an elfin and elegant disorder. Her slender throat rises gracefully from an unloosened collar. This picture was made from a drawing done by a friend of my father's four months before I was born. My old nurse told me that he was invalided from the war; that my father had asked him to make the drawing upon his return to London. Perhaps my father had ominous dreams of her ordeal soon to be.
They pronounced me a fine boy. I was round faced, round bodied, well nourished. The nurse read my horoscope in coffee grounds. I was to become a notable figure in the world. My mother's people took me in charge, glad to give me a place in their household. Here I was when my father returned from the war, six months later. He had been wounded in the battle of Waterloo. He was still weak and ill. I was told these things by my grandmother in the succeeding years.
When I was four years old my father emigrated to America. I seem to remember him. I have asked my grandmother if he did not sing "Annie Laurie"; if he did not dance and fling me toward the ceiling in a riot of playfulness; if he did not snuggle me under my tender chin and tickle me with his mustaches. She confirmed these seemingly recollected episodes. But of his face I have no memory. There is no picture of him. They told me that he was tall and strong, and ruddy of face; that my beak nose is like his, my square forehead, my firm chin. After he reached America he wrote to me. I have the letters yet, written in a large open hand, characteristic of an adventurous nature. Though he was my father, he was only a person in the world after all. I was surrounded by my mother's people. They spoke of him infrequently. What had he done? Did they disapprove his leaving England? Had he been kind to my mother? But all the while I had my mother's picture beside me. And my grandmother spoke to me almost daily of her gentleness, her high-mindedness, her beauty, and her charm.
I was raised in the English church. I was taught to adore Wellington, to hate Napoleon as an enemy of liberty, a usurper, a false emperor, a monster, a murderer. I was sent to Eton and to Oxford. I was indoctrinated with the idea that there is a moral governance in the world, that God rules over the affairs of men. I was taught these things, but I resisted them. I did not rebel so much as my mind naturally proved impervious to these ideas. I read the Iliad and the Odyssey with passionate interest. They gave me a panoramic idea of life, men, races, civilizations. They gave me understanding of Napoleon. What if he had sold the Louisiana territory to rebel America, and in order to furnish that faithless nation with power to overcome England in some future crisis? Perhaps this very moral governance that I was taught to believe in wished this to happen. But if the World Spirit be nothing but the concurrent thinking of many peoples, as I grew to think, the World Spirit might irresistibly wish this American supremacy to be.
And now at eighteen I am absorbed in dreams and studies at Oxford. I have many friends. My life is a delight. I arise from sleep with a song, and a bound. We play, we talk, we study, we discuss questions of all sorts infinitely. I take nothing for granted. I question everything, of course in the privacy of my room or the room of my friends. I do not care to be expelled. And in the midst of this charming life bad news comes to me. My father is dead. He has left a large estate in Illinois. I must go there. At least my grandmother thinks it is best. And so my school days end. Yet I am only eighteen!
I am eighteen and the year is 1833. All of Europe is in a ferment, is bubbling over in places. Napoleon has been hearsed for twelve years in St. Helena. But the principles of the French Revolution are working. Charles is king of France, but by the will of the nation first and by the grace of God afterward. There is no republic there; but the sovereignty of the people, the prime principle of the French Revolution, has founded the right of Charles to rule.... And what of England? Fox had rejoiced at the fall of the Bastille. Coleridge, Wordsworth, and Southey had sung of liberty, exulting in the emancipation of peoples from tyranny. Then they had changed. Liberalism had come under the heel again. Revolution was feared and denounced. Liberal principles were crushed.... But not for long. We students read Shelley and Byron. They were now gone from earth, eleven and nine years respectively. They had not altered their faith, dying in the heyday of youthful power. Would they have changed at any age to which they might have lived? We believed they would not have done so. But what of England? It is 1833 and the reform bill is a year old. The rotten boroughs are abolished. There is a semblance of democratic representation in Parliament. The Duke of Wellington has suffered a decline in popularity. Italy is rising, for Mazzini has come upon the scene. Germany is fighting the influence of Metternich. We students are flapping our young wings. A great day is dawning for the world. And I am off to America!
What is stirring there? I am bound for the Middle West of that great land. What is it like? Shall I ever return? What will my life be? These are my reflections as I prepare to sail.
I take passage on the Columbia and Caledonia. She is built of wood and is 200 feet long from taffrail to fore edge of stem. Her beam is 34-1/2 feet. She has a gross tonnage of 520 tons. She can sail in favorable weather at a speed of 12 knots an hour. I laughed at all this when, something more than twenty years after, I crossed on the Persia, 376 feet long, of 3500 tonnage, and making a speed of nearly 14 knots an hour, with her 4000-horse-power engines.
It is April. The sea is rough. We are no sooner under way than the heavy swell of the waves tosses the boat like a chip. The prow dips down into great valleys of glassy water. The stern tips high in the air against an angry sky. The shoulders of the sea bump under the poop of the boat, and she trembles like a frightened horse under its rider. I have books to read. My grandmother has provided me with many things for my comfort and delight. But I cannot eat, not until during the end of the voyage. I lie in a little stateroom, which I share with an American. He persists in talking to me, even at night when I am trying to sleep. He tells me of America. His home is New York City. He has been as far west as Buffalo. He gives me long descriptions of the Hudson River, and the boats on it that run to Albany. He talks of America in terms of extravagant eulogy. The country is free. It has no king. The people rule. I have read a little and heard something of America. At Oxford we students had wondered at the anomaly of a republic maintaining the institution of slavery. I asked him about this. He said that it did not involve any contradiction; that the United States was founded by white men for white men; that negroes were a lower order of beings; that their servitude was justified by the Bible; that a majority of the clergy and the churches of the country approved of the institution; that the slaves were well treated, much better housed and fed than the workers of Europe; better than the free laborers even in America. His thesis was that the business of life was the obtaining of the means of life; that all the uprisings in Europe, the French Revolution included, were inspired by hunger; that the struggle for existence was bound to produce oppression; that the strong would use and control the weak, make them work, keep them in a state where they could be worked. All this for trade. He topped off this analysis with the remark that negro slavery was a benign institution, exactly in line with the processes of the business of life; that it had been lied about by a growing fanaticism in the States; New York had always been in sympathy, for the most part with the Southern States, where slavery was a necessary institution to the climate and the cotton industry. He went on to tell me that about a year before a maniacal cobbler named William Lloyd Garrison had started a little paper called The Liberator in which he advocated slave insurrections and the overthrow of the laws sustaining slavery; and that a movement was now on foot in New England to found the American Anti-Slavery Society. And that John Quincy Adams, once President, but now a senile intermeddler, had been presenting petitions in Congress from various constituencies for the abolition of slavery in the District of Columbia. This would be finally squelched, he thought. New England had always demanded a tariff in order to foster her industries, and that policy trenched on the rights of the states not needing and not wanting a tariff. While slavery did not in any way harm New England, she intermeddled in a mood of moral fanaticism.
I was much interested in these revelations by Mr. Yarnell, for such was his name.... One morning we began to sense land. We had been about three weeks on the water. We were nearing the harbor of New York.
Yarnell was a man of about thirty. He seemed very mature to me. In fact he was quite a man of the world. I had told him my destination, and asked him how best to reach it. He had given me some information, but it was not wholly clear. He advised me to ask for direction at the Franklin House, which he recommended to me as a comfortable hotel.
As we came into the harbor we stood on the deck together while he pointed out the places of interest. I was thrilled with its beauty and its extent. The day was mild. A fresh breeze was blowing. May clouds floated swiftly in the clear sky. I felt my blood course electrically in expectation of the wonders of New York. It was now lying before me in all its color and mystery. Boats of all kinds passed us. There was a tangled thicket of masts at the piers. I discerned gay awnings over a walk around a building near the water. Yarnell said this was Castle Garden, where many diners came for the excellence of the food and the view of the harbor. I could begin to see up the streets of the city beyond the Battery. But there was a riot of stir and activity, in expectation of our boat.
I disembarked and hired a hack. I was traveling with a huge valise. This the hackman took for me. Yarnell came up to bid me adieu, promising to call upon me at the Franklin House. The fare was twenty-five cents a mile. The hotel was at 197 Broadway. Was it more than a mile? I did not know. I was charged fifty cents for the trip. I was not stinted for money, and it did not matter. I paid the amount demanded, and walked into the hotel.
How simple things are at the end of a journey and a daily restlessness to arrive! My valise was taken to my room. I went with the negro porter. I looked from my window out upon Broadway. The porter departed. The door was closed. My journey to New York was over. I was alone. I began to wish for Yarnell, wish to be back upon the boat. Above all I began to sense the distance that separated me from England and those I loved. Here was the afternoon on my hands. Should I not see something of the city? When should I start west? I took from my pocket the letter written from Illinois by the lawyer, who had advised this journey and my presence at Jacksonville, for that was the town where my father's estate was to be settled. For the first time I was conscious of the fact that difficulties probably stood in my way. The letter read: "Claims are likely to be made against the estate that require your personal attention." What could it mean? Why had my grandmother said nothing to me of this? She had seen the letter. I began to wonder. But to fight down my growing loneliness I started out to see the city.
As I passed up the street I bought Valentine's Manual and glanced at it as I walked. How far up did the city extend? The manual said more than thirteen miles. I could not make that distance before dark. A passerby said that there was a horse railway running as far as Murray Hill. But I strode on, arriving in a little while at Washington Square. Beyond this I could see that the city did not present the appearance of being greatly built. On my way I passed the gas works, the City Hall, many banks, several circulating libraries, saw the signs of almost innumerable insurance companies. But the people! They were all strange to me. So many negroes. My manual said there were over 14,000 negroes in the city, which, added to the white population, made an aggregate of more than 200,000 souls. I sat for a while in the Park and then retraced my steps.
On my way back I stopped at Niblo's Garden at Broadway and Prince Street. It was a gay place. People were feasting upon oysters, drinking, laughing, talking over the affairs of the day. Here I partook of oysters for the first time in my life. I walked through the grounds, looking at the flowers. I stared about at the splendor of the paintings and the mirrors in the rooms. Then like a ghost I resumed my way to my hotel. Why? There was nothing there to call me back. Yet it was the only home I had, and the evening was coming on.
Instead of stopping at the hotel, I went on to Castle Garden. I decided to dine there. I could look over the harbor and the ships. It was a way to put myself in touch with England, to travel back over the way I had come. I found a table and ordered a meal.
I became conscious of the fact that the captain of the Columbia and Caledonia was at a near table with a gay party. They had wine, and there was much merriment. This abandonment was in contrast to the serious, almost dark spirit of a party at another table. This was composed of men entirely. I had never seen such faces before. Their hair was long. They wore goatees. They were strangely dressed. They talked with a broad accent. Excitement and anger rose in their voices. They were denouncing President Jackson. The matter seemed to be a force bill, the tariff imposed by New England's enterprise, the duty of the Southern States to resist it. They were insisting that there was no warrant to pass a tariff law, that it was clearly a breach of the Constitution, and that it should be resisted to the death. There was bitter cursing of Yankees, of the greed of New England, of its disregard of the rights of the South.... But out upon the harbor the sea gulls were drifting. I could hear the slapping of the waves against the rocks. And in the midst of this the orchestra began to play "Annie Laurie." The tears came to my eyes. I arose and left the place. My mind turned to a theater as a means of relief to these pressing thoughts. I consulted my manual, and started for the American theater. It was described as an example of Doric architecture, modeled after the temple of Minerva at Athens. I found it on the Bowery and Elizabeth Street, bought a ticket for seventy-five cents and entered. The play was Othello, and I had never seen it before.
I could not help but overhear and follow the conversation of the people who sat next to me. They were wondering what moved Shakespeare to depict the story of a black man married to a white woman. Could such a theme be dramatized now? How could a woman, fair and high-bred, become the wife of a sooty creature like Othello? Was it real? If not real, what was Shakespeare trying to do? And much more to the same effect, together with remarks about negroes and that slavery should be let alone by New England, and by everyone else.
The play was dreary to me, played listlessly where it was not ranted and torn to tatters. I sat it through and then went back to my hotel.... The loneliness of that room as I entered it has never left my memory. For long hours I did not sleep. The city had 600 night watch, so the manual said, and I could hear some of them going their rounds. At last ... I awoke and it was morning. I awoke with a sense of delight in the strength and vitality which sleep had restored to me.... I went below to breakfast and to find the way to travel to Illinois.
The clerk of the hotel told me that the best route was by way of Albany, the canal, the Great Lakes to Chicago; that when I got there I would likely find a boat or stage service to Jacksonville. I could leave at noon for Albany if I wished. Accordingly, I made ready to do so.
I was entranced with the river boat. It was longer than the Columbia and Caledonia. And it was propelled by steam. It had the most enormous wheels. And no sooner were we under way than I found that we were gliding along at the rate of twenty miles an hour. The swiftly passing hills and palisades of the Hudson served to mark our speed. There were great saloons, lovely awnings under which to read or lounge, promenade decks. And there was a gay and well-behaved crowd of passengers.... At dinner we were seated at long tables, and served with every luxury. And the whole journey cost me less than seven shillings.
On arriving at Albany that night at about nine o'clock I found myself in the best of luck. I could get passage on a canal boat the next morning for Buffalo; rather I was permitted to sleep on board.... I got on and retired. I awoke just as the boat was beginning to start. I had never seen anything like this before. The boat was narrow, sharp, gayly painted. It was drawn by three horses, each ridden by a boy who urged the horses forward. We traveled at the great speed of five miles an hour.
But it was delightful. We were more than three days going from Albany to Buffalo. The time was well spent. The scenery was varied and beautiful. All the while we were climbing, for Lake Erie, to which we had to be lifted, was much above us. We went through lovely valleys; we ran beside glistening streams and rivers; we wound around hills. The farms were large and prosperous. The villages were new, fresh with white paint and green blinds, hidden among flowers and shrubbery.
You see, I am eighteen and these external objects realize my dreams and stimulate them. I do not know these people. They are frank, talkative, often vulgar and presuming. But they are friendly. There is much merriment on board, for we have to dodge down frequently to save our heads from the bridges which the farmers build right across the canal. The ladies have to be warned and assisted. There are narrow escapes and shouts of laughter. And when the dinner bell is rung by a comical negro every one rushes for the dining room. I am introduced again to the American oyster, raw, fried, and stewed. It is the most delicious of discoveries among the new viands. Then we have wonderful roast turkey, chicken, and the greatest variety of vegetables and sweets. I am keeping a daily record of events and impressions to mail to my dear grandmother when I shall arrive at Buffalo....
Sometimes I get tired of the boat. Then I go on land and run along the path behind the horses. A young woman on her way to Michigan to teach school joins me in these reliefs from the tedium of the boat. We exchange a few words. But I see that I am not old enough for her. I have already observed her in confiding conversation with a man about the age of Yarnell. And soon they go together to trot along the path, to stray off a little into the meadows, or at the base of the picturesque hills.... I am interested in the talk of the passengers, and cannot choose but follow it at times.... One man has been reading the New Yorker, printed by H. Greeley and Company. I learn that Horace Greeley is his full name, and he comes in for a berating at the hands of a man with one of the characteristic goatees that I first observed at Castle Garden. The Whigs! I had always associated this party with latitudinarian principles. Now I hear it called a centralist party, a monarchist party. A voluble man, who chews tobacco, curses it as a mask for the old Federalist party, which tried to corrupt America with the British system, after it had failed as a combination of Loyalists to keep America under the dominion of Great Britain.... This is all a maze to me, at least so far as the American application is concerned. Then the man with the goatee assails New England, and calls her the devotee of the soured gospel of envy which covers its wolf face of hate with the lamb's decapitated head of universal brotherhood and slavery abolition. Surely there is much strife in America.... Also again President Jackson, the tariff, and the force bill! And will South Carolina secede from the Union on account of the unjust and lawless tariff? New England tried to secede once when the run of affairs did not suit her. Why not South Carolina, then, if she chooses? Another man is reading a book of poems and talking at intervals to a companion. I hear him say that a Mr. Willis is one of the world's greatest poets. I glance at the book and see the name Nathaniel Parker Willis. Also it seems Willis is the editor of one of the world's greatest literary journals. It is published in New York and is called the New York Mirror.... It is all so strange. Is it true that in this country, so far from England, there are men who are the equals of Shelley and Byron, or of Tennyson, whose first book has given me such delight recently?...
We near the journey's end. At Lockport we are lifted up the precipice over which the Falls of Niagara pour some miles distant. We are now on a level with Lake Erie, to which we have climbed by many locks and lifts over the hills since we left Albany. Soon we travel along the side of the Niagara River; quickly we drift into Buffalo.
Buffalo, they told me, had about 15,000 people. I wished to see something of it before departing for the farther west. For should I ever come this way again? I started from the dock, but immediately found myself surrounded by runners and touters lauding the excellences of the boats to which they were attached. The harbor was full of steamboats competing for trade.... They rang bells, let off steam, whistled. Bands played. Negroes ran here and there, carrying freight and baggage. The air was vibrating with yells and profanity.... But I made my escape and walked through the town. It had broad streets, lovely squares, substantial and attractive buildings and residences. And there was Lake Erie, blue and fresh, rippling under the brilliant May sun. I had never seen anything remotely approximating Lake Erie.... "How large is it?" I inquired of a passerby. I was told that it was 60 miles wide and 250 miles long. Could it be true? Was there anything in all of Europe to equal it? I could not for the moment remember the extent of the Caspian Sea. And I stood in wonder and delight.
As I left the dock for my walk I had observed the name Illinois on a boat that had all the appearances of being brand new. I walked leisurely toward the dock so as to avoid the touters as much as possible while I was overlooking the boat. I liked it, but would it take me to Chicago? The gangplank was lying on the dock and near it stood what seemed to me to be the captain and the pilot, around them touters and others. I edged around to the captain and asked him if the Illinois would take me to Chicago. "In about an hour," he said with a laugh. Immediately I was besieged by the runners to help me on, to get my baggage, to serve me in all possible ways. I couldn't hire all of them. I chose one, who got my valise for me, and I went aboard.
It was a new boat, and this was its maiden trip. All the stewards, negroes, waiters were brisk and obliging, and bent on making the trip an event. The captain gave parties. He was a bluff, kindly man, who mingled much with favorite passengers. Wine flowed freely. The food was abundant and delicious. We had dances by moonlight on the deck. A band played at dinner and at night. The boat was distinguished for many quaint and interesting characters. I enjoyed it all, but made no friends. I did not understand this free and easy manner of life. The captain noted me, and asked if I was well placed and comfortable. Various people opened conversations with me. But I was shy, and I was English. I could not unbend. I did not desire to do so.
We docked at Erie and at Cleveland, both small places. We came to Detroit, the capital of Michigan. On the way some one pointed out the scene of Perry's victory over the hated British. We passed into Lake Huron.
Then later I was privileged to see Mackinac, an Indian trading post. I viewed the smoking wigwams from the deck of the Illinois. Here were the savages buying powder, blankets, and whisky. The squaws were selling beaded shoes. The shore was wooded and high.... I looked below into the crystalline depths of the water. I could see great fish swimming in the transparent calms, which mirrored the clouds, the forests, and the boats and canoes of the Indians.... We ran down to Green Bay, Wisconsin. Here too there were Indian traders.... We went on to Milwaukee. As there was no harbor here a small steamer came out to take us off. I went ashore with some others. A creek flowed from the land to the lake. But the town was nothing. Only a storehouse and a few wooden buildings. Soon we proceeded to Chicago. I was told that the northern boundary of Illinois had been pushed north, in order to give the state the southern shores of the great lake, with the idea of capturing a part of the emigration and trade of the East. This fact eventually influenced my life, and the history of the nation, as will be seen.
Chicago had been a trading post, and to an extent was yet. The population was less than 1000 people. There was a fort here, too, built in place of one which had been destroyed in a massacre by the Indians. There was much activity here, particularly in land speculation. Not a half mile from the place where we landed there was a forest where some Indians were camping. I heard that an Indian war was just over. The Black Hawks had been defeated and driven off. But some friendly remnants of other breeds were loitering about the town.
Carrying my valise, I began to look for a hotel for the night. Also, how and when was I to get to Jacksonville? A man came by. I hailed him and asked to be driven to a hotel. He walked with me north toward the river, past the fort and landed me at a hostelry built partly of logs and partly of frames. Surely this was not New York or Buffalo! As I came to the hotel I saw a man standing at the door, holding the bridle bits of an Indian pony. He came into the hotel soon, evidently after disposing of his charge. At that moment I was asking Mr. Wentworth, the hotel manager, how to get to Jacksonville. The man came forward and in the kindest of voices interrupted to tell me what the manager evidently could not. "I am going there myself to-morrow," he said. "You can ride behind. The pony can carry both of us." I looked at my new-found friend. He had deep blue eyes, a noble face, a musical and kindly voice. He looked like the people I had known in England. I was drawn to him at once in confidence and friendship. He went on to tell me later that he had been in the Black Hawk War; that he had been spending some time in Chicago trying to decide whether he would locate there or return to Jacksonville. He had been offered forty acres of land about a mile south of the river for the pony. But what good was the land? It was nothing but sand and scrub oaks. Unless the town grew and made the land valuable as building property, it would never be of value. For farming it was worthless. But around Jacksonville the soil was incomparably fertile and beautiful. He had decided, therefore, to return to Jacksonville. His eyes deepened. "You see that I am attached to that country." He smiled. "Yes, I must go back. Some one is waiting for me. You are heartily welcome to ride behind." How long would it take? A matter of five days. Meanwhile he had told me how to reach there independently: by stage to a place 90 miles south on the Illinois River, then by boat to a town on the river called Bath, then cross country to Jacksonville. I began to balance the respective disadvantages. "My name is Reverdy Clayton," he said, extending his hand in the most cordial way. I could not resist him. "My name is James Miles," I returned with some diffidence. "James Miles," he echoed. "James Miles ... there was a man of that name in Jacksonville, poor fellow ... now gone." "Perhaps he was my father ... did you know my father?" I felt a thrill go through me. Was this new-found acquaintance before me a friend of my father's? It turned out to be so. But why "poor fellow"?
Clayton was not over thirty-two, therefore my father's junior by some years. How well had they known each other? We went to dinner together. We were served with bacon and greens, strong coffee, apple pie. It was all very rough and strange. But Clayton told me many things. He knew the lawyer Brooks who had written me. Brooks was a reliable man. But when I pressed Clayton for details about my father he grew strangely reticent. I began to feel depressed, overcome by a foreboding of wonder.
After dinner we separated. Clayton had errands to do preparatory to leaving and I went forth to see the town. What a spectacle of undulating board sidewalks built over swales of sand, running from hillock to hillock! What shacks used for stores, trading offices, marts for real estate! Truly it was a place as if built in a night, relieved but little by buildings of a more substantial sort.... Drinking saloons were everywhere. I heard music and entered one of these resorts. There was a barroom in front and a dancing room in the rear. The place was filled with sailors, steamboat captains and pilots, traders, roisterers, clerks, hackmen, and undescribed characters. Women mingled with the men and drank with them. They dressed with conspicuous abandon, in loud colors. Their faces were rouged. They ran in and out of the dance room with escorts or without, stood at the bar for drinks, entwined their arms with those of the men. In the dance room a band was playing. A man with a tambourine added to the hilarity of the music. It was a wild spectacle, unlike anything I had ever seen. No one accosted me. I could feel a different spirit in the crowd from that I had seen on the boats or in New York. There was no talk of politics, negroes, force bills. They did not seem to know or to care about these things. It was a wild assemblage, but without meanness or malice. They were occupied solely with a spirit of carnival, of dancing, drinking, of talk about the arrival of the Illinois; about the price of land and the great future of Chicago. "It's as plain as day," said a man at the bar. "Here we are at the foot of the lake. The trade comes our way. The steamboats come here from the East. Look at the country! No such farm country in the world! Why, in twenty years this town will have a population of 20,000 people. It's bound to." How could it be? How could such a locality ever be the seat of a city? So far from the East. And nothing here but wastes of sand!
I left the place unnoticed and returned to the hotel. I sat down drearily enough. The feeling that I was far from home, far even from the civilization and the charm of New York came over me with depressing effect. I began to wish that Clayton would appear. I had not decided to accept his kindly offer. I must be off to-morrow. The air seemed oppressive. Was it so warm? I put my hand to my brow. It was hot. Perhaps I was not well. The trip I had just ended was after all wearisome. I had not slept well some nights. I sensed that I was fatigued. What would a ride of more than 200 miles on a pony do to me? But on the other hand I had the alternative of 90 miles by stage. For the first time I began to feel apprehension about the days ahead.
While I was thinking these matters over Clayton came in. He supplemented my doubts by telling me that if I was not used to riding, a journey of such length would make me lame; at least a little. I then decided that I would take the stage, and the boat. The next morning, promising to see me in Jacksonville and offering to befriend me in any way he could, Clayton bestrode his pony and was off. In an hour I was rolling in the stage toward the Illinois River....
We were some hours getting through the sand. Then we came to hilly country overgrown with oaks and some pines. Later the soil was rocky. We skirted along a little river; and here and there I had my first view of the prairie. The air above me was thrilling with the song of spring birds. I did not know what they were. Some of them resembled the English skylark in the habit of singing and soaring. But the note was different.
My head felt heavy. I seemed to be growing more listless. But I could not help but note the prairie: the limitless expanse of heavy grass, here and there brightened by brilliant blossoms. All the houses along the way were built of logs. The inhabitants were a large breed for the most part, tall and angular, dressed sometimes in buckskin, coonskin caps. Now and then I saw a hunter carrying a long rifle. The wild geese were flying....
Some of the passengers were dressed in jeans; others in linsey-woolsey dyed blue. As we stopped along the way I had an opportunity to study the faces of the Illinoisians. Their jaws were thin, their eyes, deeply sunk, had a far-away melancholy in them. They were swarthy. Their voices were keyed to a drawl. They sprawled, were free and easy in their movements. They told racy stories, laughed immoderately, chewed tobacco. Some of the passengers were drinking whisky, which was procured anywhere along the way, at taverns or stores. The stage rolled from side to side. The driver kept cracking his whip, but without often touching the horses, which kept an even pace hour after hour. We had to stop for meals. But the heavy food turned my stomach. I could not relish the cornbread, the bacon or ham, the heavy pie. When we reached La Salle, where I was to get the boat, I found myself very fatigued, aching all through my flesh and bones, and with a dreamy, heavy sensation about my eyes.
The country had become more hilly. And now the bluffs along the Illinois River rose with something of the majesty of the Palisades of the Hudson. The river itself was not nearly so broad or noble, but it was not without beauty.... More oblivious of my surroundings than I had been before, I boarded The Post Boy, a stern wheeler, and in a few minutes she blew the most musical of whistles and we were off....
The vision of hills and prairies around me harmonized with the dreamy sensations that filled my heavy head and tired body. I sat on deck and viewed it all. I did not go to the table. The very smell of the food nauseated me. I do not remember how I got to bed, nor how long I was there. I remember being brought to by a negro porter who told me that we were approaching Bath where I was to get off. I heard him say to another porter: "That boy is sure sick." And then a tall spare man came to me, told me that he was taking the stage as I was, and was going almost to Jacksonville, and that he would see me through. He helped me in the stage and we started. I remember nothing further....
I became conscious of parti-colored ribbons fluttering from my body as if blown by a rapid breeze from a central point of fixture in my breast. Was it the life going out of me, or the life clinging to me in spite of the airs of eternity? My eyes opened. I saw standing at the foot of the bed, an octoroon about fourteen years of age. She was staring at me with anxious and sympathetic eyes, in which there was also a light of terror. I tried to lift my hands. I could not. I was unable to turn my body. I was completely helpless. I looked about the room. It was small, papered in a figure of blue. Two windows stared me in the face. "Where am I?" I asked. "Yo's in Miss Spurgeon's house ... yo's in good hands." At that moment Miss Spurgeon entered. She was slender, graceful. Her hair was very black. Her eyes gray and hazel. Her nose delicate and exquisitely shaped. She put her hand on my brow and in a voice which had a musical quaver, she said: "I believe the fever has left you. Yes, it has. Would you like something to eat?" I was famished and said: "Yes, something, if you please." She went out, returning with some gruel. Turning to the octoroon she said: "Will you feed him, Zoe?" And Zoe came to the chair by the bed and fed me, for I could not lift a hand. Then I fell into a refreshing sleep. I had been ill of typhoid. Had I contracted it from the oysters, or from food on the steamer? But I had been saved. Miss Spurgeon had refused to let the doctor bleed me. She believed that careful nursing would suffice, and she had brought me through. But I had a relapse. I was allowed to eat what I craved. I indulged my inordinate hunger, and came nearer to death than with the fever itself. But from this I rallied by the strength of my youth and a great vitality. All the while Zoe and Miss Spurgeon watched over me with the most tender care. And one day I came out of a sleep to find Reverdy Clayton by the bed.
A father could not have looked at me with more solicitude. His voice was grave and tender. His eyes bright with sympathy. "You will soon be well again," he said. He took my hand, sat down by me, cautioned me not to worry about my business affairs, told me that nothing would happen adverse to my interests while I was incapacitated, that Mr. Brooks was guarding my affairs and that they were not in peril.... And it turned out that Miss Spurgeon was his fiancee, that it was to her that he had returned from Chicago. They were soon now to be married. I asked him if Zoe was a slave. He laughed at this. "No one born in Illinois is a slave," he said. "This is a free country. Zoe was born here."
Miss Spurgeon came in and I could now see them side by side. They seemed so kind and noble hearted, so suited to each other. I loved both of them.
I was stronger now, was sitting up part of each day. I reached out my hands and took their hands, bringing them together in a significant contact. Miss Spurgeon bent over me, placing a kiss upon my brow. "You are a dear boy," she said. And Reverdy said: "The Lord keep you always, son." Their eyes showed the tears, and as for me my cheeks were suddenly wet. Then from what they said I learned that Reverdy had been gone many months, that Sarah, for that was her name, had been in great anxiety, that Reverdy had just got out of the service the morning I had seen him in Chicago; and that he had speculated on staying there a while for the purpose of improving his fortune with a view to his marriage. But now having returned, they were to be married soon. What had been the delay thus far? They were waiting for me to get well. I had interfered, no doubt, with the wedding plans, with the arranging and ordering of the house for the wedding. But they said they wished me to be present. Sarah thought there was something well omened in my meeting with Reverdy in Chicago, and in the fate that had brought me to her house, and she wished to fulfill the happy auspices to the end by having me for the chief guest at the wedding. But how had I come to this household?
The stranger who had helped me on the boat at Bath had turned me over to a young man named Douglas who had brought me here, because of the poor comforts at the inn of Jacksonville. Douglas had been here but a few months himself, having come from the state of Vermont. He, too, had been ill of the same disease; had been confined under wretched circumstances at Cleveland on his way west; had nearly died. When he saw me he was moved to do the very best for me. He had brought me to Miss Spurgeon's and pleaded with her to take me in. And she had consented to the ordeal of my care, because Zoe insisted upon it, offering to take the burden of waiting upon me and watching over me. The Spurgeon house was quite the best in this town of 1000 people. Sarah's father and mother were both dead, and she was living here with a grandmother, a woman now of more than eighty, whom I did not see until I began to go about the house.... Meantime Zoe's face and manner became clearer to me day by day. She was not very darkly hued, rather lighter than the Hindus I had seen in England. Her hair was abundant and straight. Her lips were full but shapely. Her nose rather of a Caucasian type. Her voice was the most musical one could imagine. And she sang—she sang "Annie Laurie" at times in a voice which thrilled me. There was grace in her carriage, charm in her gestures and movements. And she waited upon me with the affection of a sister.
As I grew better Mr. Brooks came to call upon me. And at last I went to his office to talk over the matter of my father's estate. It was now July and the heat was more terrible than I had ever conceived could prevail outside of a tropical country.
Sarah and Zoe followed me to the door the morning I went to see Mr. Brooks. Cholera had descended upon the community and they begged me to go to Mr. Brooks' office and return at once, and not to be in the sun any more than was necessary. I had no fear. Having come from so serious an illness I did not feel that another malady would attack me soon. As I walked along I could see that the boundless prairie was around me. I inhaled the spaciousness of the scene. I could see the deep woods which stood beyond the rich prairies of tall and heavy grass. The town was built roughly of hewn logs. It was like a camp of hastily constructed shacks. But a college had already been founded. It had two buildings, one of logs and one of brick. I looked back to see that the Spurgeon house was substantially built, with care and taste.... Mr. Brooks' office was in one of the log structures about the square. One entered it from the street. I counted the signs of eleven lawyers on my way. The tavern where I had stayed, except for Douglas and Miss Spurgeon, was a most uninviting place.
Mr. Brooks sat behind a rude table. Back of him on a wall were a portrait of Washington and a map of Illinois. On the table there was a law book of some sort. Altogether there were three chairs in the room. The floor was made of puncheon boards, and was bare. Flies buzzed in the air and at the rude windows. I felt strong when I left the house. Now I was not sure how long I should feel so. Mr. Brooks invited me to have a seat; and after a few words about the heat and the cholera he began to tell me stories of the people and the country. "Some years ago," he said, "a man came to this country, I mean over around the river country which you saw when you took the steamboat at Bath. He didn't have anything, but he was ambitious to be rich. How could he do it? Well, you can work and buy land with your savings, and land here under the Homestead Act has been $1.25 an acre since 1820; still that may not put you ahead very fast. And if you're ambitious you want to get rich quick. That's the way every one here feels who is bent on getting rich. Money is not as plentiful as land; and if land is only $1.25 an acre it takes $800 to get a section. That's a lot of money to a man who has nothing. This land around here is rich as the valley of the Nile. It is six feet or more of black fertility. I'll bet that some say it will be worth $50 an acre."
I began to wonder why these Americans talk so much. I had observed it everywhere. Here I was come on a matter of business, of my father's estate; and the lawyer with whom I was forced to deal was talking to me interminably of things that had nothing to do with it. But I was young and strange, and not very strong; and it did not occur to me to show impatience with him. And so he went on.
"This man was fine to look at, prepossessing and engaging. He looked like a driver, a man of his word too. And one day when he was standing on the street here he was approached by a stranger who began to get him into conversation. You see, we don't have slavery here as a regular thing. The negroes are sort o' apprenticed—free but apprenticed. But under pretty severe laws, have to be registered, can't testify, and so forth. This state is part of the Northwest Territory which was made free by the old Confederate States in 1787; but we actually had an election here eleven years ago to make it slave. And the people voted it free. Anyhow we have negroes here; and the people are from Tennessee, Kentucky, Virginia, and the Carolinas where they do have slavery, and we're all beginnin' to be scared over the agitation. Now this stranger was a Southerner and any one could see he was; but of course didn't look different from some of our own people. So this stranger began to talk to this man and ask him if he was married, and he wasn't; and asked him if he would like to make some money, which of course he did.
"And finally the stranger said that he had a daughter that he would like to introduce, and asked this man to come with him a mile or so, and if he liked the girl he would pay him to marry her. They started off and found the girl. She was a mulatto or octoroon as they say, and as pretty as a red wagon. You see the stranger was pure white and from New Orleans; but the mother of the girl was a slave and they say kind of coffee colored. And the upshot of it was that the stranger offered this man $2500 to marry the octoroon. What he wanted to do was to place her well. He didn't want her to run the chance of ever being a slave, as she might be in the South. He was her father and he naturally had a father's feeling for her, even if she was an octoroon. And this stranger said that he had been around town and the country for some days looking at prospective husbands and making some inquiry, and that he had found no one to equal this man. The man liked the octoroon, the octoroon liked the man. And they struck a bargain. The man got his $2500; he married the girl on the spot. The stranger disappeared, and was never seen or heard of again. It all happened right there. The man bought land, he got rich. He was one of the best men I ever knew, and one of my best friends. The octoroon died in childbirth, leaving a daughter still living and in this town. The man died recently. His name was James Miles. He was your father. And Zoe is your half-sister, and wants to share in the estate, and that's why I sent for you."
The flies began a louder buzzing at the window. The heat had increased. I looked through the open door and saw a man fall over, whether from heat or cholera I could not tell. I was by now weary and faint. I said: "I do not know what to say now. If we can agree, I mean if we are allowed to agree, Zoe and I will have no trouble. I am getting faint. And I shall come again." With that I arose and walked weakly from the room.
What were my thoughts after all? Was I ashamed of my kinship with Zoe? With this human being who had nursed me so tenderly through my illness? Did I begrudge her the interest which she had, of right, with me in our father's estate? She was as closely connected to him by ties of blood as I was. These things I reflected upon as I felt course through me a deep undercurrent of regret.
Was it my mother? Her face came before me as I had learned to know it from her picture. Yes, that seemed to be it. My mother had not been honored. How could my father for any ambition, for any exigency of circumstance stoop to a marriage of this sort, with the memory of my mother still fresh in mind, if not in heart? Ah! that was it! Did he keep her in his heart? My grandmother's reticence about my father began to fill in with significance of this sort. She knew that he had married the octoroon not many years after my mother's death. She resented it and she preserved silence about him, while keeping me ignorant. Thus without any preparation for the disclosure, I had encountered it at full speed in my career. Reverdy had, no doubt, alluded to this matter when he spoke with such feeling of my father in Chicago. "Poor fellow," he had said. Did my father suffer for this marriage? What was his secret? Why "poor fellow?"
With these thoughts I entered the house. I could sense that they knew that I should return with the secret which they had kept from me. Zoe was not in sight. Sarah's grandmother sat in her chair by the window and called me to her. "Come here, Jimmy," she said. "You're a nice English boy. You know we are all English. My father and mother were English ... well, to be truthful, my father was half Irish. His mother was Irish. And that makes us all friends, no matter how much we fight. We fight and get over it. My husband was in the Revolutionary War; and he's dead and gone long ago; and here I am in this new country of Illinois with Sarah and a son-in-law soon to be ... and maybe as lonely sometimes as you are. Sarah's mother was my pride and she's dead a long time too, but I don't get over that.... What's the matter, Jimmy? You've had bad news. O, yes, it had to come. You know now about Zoe. Well, remember that pretty is as pretty does. For that matter, she is pretty enough, and good enough too. Change her skin and any boy would be proud to be her brother. That's what a little color does. And yet the good Lord made us all, white as well as black. I have always liked the colored people. I liked them in Tennessee, and I hated to see them mistreated whenever they were. But I'm like a lot of others, I don't know what we are going to do with so many of them; and I say let the southern people run their own business and not try to intermeddle in the business of the Almighty. If He hadn't wanted slavery He could have prevented it. As for me, I don't want no slaves. Every one to his own way. Reverdy's father came down from Tennessee too. He emancipated all his slaves before coming. He grew to hate slavery. He brought one old nigger woman with him to Illinois. She's here yet, on a farm not more than fifteen miles away. And Reverdy's father provided for her, and left a little fortune to Reverdy ... more than $600, and that gives him a start."
The old lady talked on in this manner without a pause.
Just then Reverdy and Sarah came in. They had been for a walk. Sarah had gathered a bouquet of wild flowers. They took in the scene, evidently divined the subject of our talk. For Reverdy sat down and began with gentleness to pick up its threads. "You have been told, James, I hope, that Zoe is not trying to take anything from you. She will make no fight on your father's will." ... "Will," I echoed. "There was a will then?" "Didn't Mr. Brooks tell you?" ... He hadn't told me. He had scarcely had the opportunity. But if Zoe had been remembered in the will what was the danger now? "No, your father was fond of Zoe ... he remembered her; but not to the same extent that he remembered you. She gets $500 of the estate and you get the rest. But the hitch is here: we have eleven lawyers in Jacksonville and another one studying to be a lawyer; this newcomer, Douglas. And they are as hungry as catfish after a hard winter. And Mr. Brooks feared that some of these fellows would try to stir up a little business by using Zoe to attack the will, and he thought it was best to get it settled. He was a good friend of your father's, liked him, and he wants to see his wishes carried out. Your father was one of the best of men. It's a great loss to the community ... his death."
But as Zoe was my sister why should she not have some of the land that my father left? Should her dark skin deprive her of that? My father had evidently thought so. But now I could settle the estate by enforcing the will, or I could divide the estate with her equally. Could I enforce the will after all? I knew nothing of such things. I hadn't asked Mr. Brooks' advice about anything. There I sat then going over these matters in my mind, in a kind of weariness and sickness of heart. I had heard of cases where wills had been rejected for fraud or lack of mind on the part of the maker. Was it possible that my father's mind was disturbed? What fraud could have been wrought upon him? I, the chief beneficiary, had not influenced him; no one could have done so for me. What then?
Zoe came in now and began to spread the table. There was only the one large room downstairs beside the kitchen. But I loved its comforts, its quaint and substantial furnishings. All brought from North Carolina originally, Mrs. Spurgeon said. There were silver spoons, hand wrought; and blue china, and thick blue spreads for the table. There were three rooms upstairs. The beds were posters, built up with feather beds in the cold weather; spread now with thick linen sheets. Mrs. Spurgeon had woven some of these things. Her loom stood yet in one of the outhouses, on occasion set up in the living room when she brought herself to the task of weaving, rarely now. She was too old for much labor. Sarah helped Zoe with the meal. Reverdy stayed to share it with us. But I had learned that he lived at the tavern, though he disliked it thoroughly.
Some nights later I asked Zoe to walk out with me. She was timid about the rattlesnakes which she said were everywhere through the woods and the grass, sometimes crawling into the roads. There were wildcats and wolves too in the timber; but they were not so likely to be encountered now as in the winter time. I had a pocket pistol, and taking up a hickory stick that was in the corner, I urged Zoe to allay her fears and come. Sarah joined me in prevailing upon her. Zoe doubtless knew that I wished to talk with her about the estate; and at last she walked with me out of the house and into the road.
After a few minutes of silence I asked her about my father: what were his spirits; his way of life; where did he live; did she live with him? Then Zoe told me some of the things I had learned from Mr. Brooks. And as her mother had died when Zoe was born she had been taken by Mrs. Spurgeon to raise. She said that her father, my father, had lived a part of the time at the inn, and a part of the time at his house on the farm; that during the last two years of his life she had seen more of him than formerly, though he was often in St. Louis, and even New Orleans. And she added with hesitation that he drank a good deal at the last, and was often depressed and silent. "Was he kind to you?" I asked. Zoe said that he was never anything but kindness, and that he provided her with comforts and with schooling whenever any one came along to teach the children of the community. I had already seen around the house a copy of the Spectator, and Pope's poems. Zoe told me that she had read these books, part of them over and over, and that she had had a teacher the year before who had helped her to understand them. I began to delimn Zoe as a girl of intelligence. Of vital spirits she had an abundance.... The night was very warm and of wonderful stillness, no breeze. We heard the cry of what Zoe called "varmints" in the woods. A night bird was singing. She told me it was the whippoorwill. I never had heard a more thrillingly melancholy note. Once Zoe stepped upon a stick in the road. Thinking it was a snake she gave a cry and leaped to one side. But I calmed her and we kept our way.... I had never seen the stars to the same advantage, not even on the ocean. They were spread above us in infinite numbers, and of remarkable brilliancy. And there was the prairie, stretching as far as the eye could penetrate into the haze of the horizon, except where a distant forest rimmed the edge of the visible landscape. Zoe took up my remark about the spaciousness of the country with telling me that young Douglas had been to supper a few nights before I had come to myself out of the fever, and that he had said that the prairie affected him as liberty would affect an eagle released from a cage; and that he looked back upon the hills of Vermont as barriers to his vision. "He is nearly your age," said Zoe; "only two years older. You will like him; every one does. No one can talk like him that I have ever heard."....
At last I brought forward the subject of our father's will. Zoe was silent for a moment, for my specific question was what she wished to have done. Then she said: "It's all foolishness. These lawyers here have been bothering me to get me to fight the will, and trying to get me to break the will because my pa drank. I know he drank, but I don't see what difference that makes. He always knew what he was doing, so far as I know; and even if he didn't I'd never say nothin' about it. I know my place; and things is gettin' worse about colored folks, and less chance for a colored girl to marry a white man even if she wanted to, 'specially if I knew he was marryin' me to get my land. I'm satisfied with the will the way it is and always have been, or any way you want it, Mr. James. I know my place, and that there is a kind of curse on me for bein' dark skinned; and I think my pa was mighty kind to make the will the way he did. This 5000 acres he left is worth a lot of money, more than $5000 Mr. Reverdy says; and if I had what the will gives me I'd have $500, and what would I do with it? For I've always got to work anyway."
Suddenly we saw lights ahead in the road and heard the rattle of wheels. It was the stage coming into Jacksonville. It was upon us almost at once. The lights of the lantern made us blink our eyes. We stepped to one side. A voice called out: "Well I'll be damned if there ain't a white feller strollin' with a nigger!" "Shut your trap," said the driver, and the stage rolled rapidly away from us.
My mind was suddenly made up as to the farm by the remark falling so brutally from these unknown lips. I took Zoe's hands. I drew her to me. She was weeping. Was not one half of her blood English blood? Yes, and what Englishman would not resent with tears an insult which he could neither deny nor punish? But I would punish it. Zoe should have her rightful half.... And silently we walked back.
The next morning the alarm over the cholera is more intense. All kinds of horrifying stories go the rounds. News has been brought by passengers on the stage that a man and his wife, living near the Illinois River, died within an hour of each other. They were well at dawn. At noon they were both under the black soil of the river's shore, buried by three stalwart sons, who carried their bodies in the bed clothing and let them down by it into hastily made graves.
Something has happened here. The stage driver who silenced the rowdies last night is stricken this morning at the tavern. He is dead. By noon he is buried in the village cemetery where the ashes of my father lie.
Mrs. Spurgeon thinks that Reverdy should leave the tavern and come here with the rest of us. I am to take the word to him when I go to see Mr. Brooks. She has seen the ravages of cholera before. There is nothing to do but to be careful about diet, keep cheerful, and surrender to no fears. I am not in the least alarmed. But the negroes are panic stricken. They are calling upon the Lamb to save them. They are singing and wailing. They are congregating at the hut of Aunt Leah, an aged negress, who is sanctified and gifted with supernatural power. Zoe is not in fear, and Sarah goes about the duties of the day with calm unconcern.
I am off to see Mr. Brooks again. The streets are almost deserted. The faces of those I meet are white and drawn. Mr. Brooks acts as if his mind is stretched out of him in apprehension. Yet he is in his office ready to pick up what business may come his way; and he is waiting to see me.
I tell Mr. Brooks at once that I want to divide the property equally with Zoe. He thinks, evidently, that I have weakened before the mere prospect of a contest; and he assures me that the estate can be settled as my father intended. Well, but can this plan of mine be carried out? As easily as the other, he says, and of course more bindingly if there can be a difference. For he had intended to have the court decree a sale of the property and divide the money under the sanction of the court. But according to my plan Zoe could get no more; and therefore no one could object to it.
I am curious about my father. What is the danger of a contest, even if Zoe could be brought to make one? Mr. Brooks tells me that my father was drinking heavily toward the last; that he looked aged and worn. His hair had turned white, though he was only forty. He acted like a man who had a corroding sorrow in his heart. When he took the cold it developed rapidly into lung fever. He was dead in three days. His will was made just as he took to his bed at the tavern. There were stray scamps about Jacksonville who would swear to anything. And though Zoe was a colored girl, and notwithstanding the character of such witnesses in her behalf, a case so composed might be troublesome. Then there was the treasure at stake; and the hunger of lawyers and maintainers. Well, I had settled it. None of these wolves should have a chance. Mr. Brooks scrutinized my face with large, pensive eyes. After a silence he said: "You are the boss; but I want you to know that the will can stand. I will guarantee to win the case if there is one." "Can we see the farm?" I asked. "And my father's grave?" Mr. Brooks brought up his buggy and we were off.
But first I wished to find Reverdy and give him Mrs. Spurgeon's message. He had gone out to his little farm. He was raising a crop, having returned from the war just in time to get it planted. It was only a little out of our way, and we could stop there on our return.
Almost at once we came to the cemetery, a crude enclosure, fenced with rough pickets, evidently split with the ax. Mr. Brooks led me to the spot.
Weeds abounded everywhere. The grasshoppers were flying before our steps. A long snake glided away from my feet as I stepped near the yellow clay which tented the body of my father ... and Zoe's father ... the husband of my lovely mother, so long dead. Here was the soldier of Waterloo, the adventurer into this Far West, the man who had died with some secret sorrow, or some sorrow for which he found no words or no confidant. Above me was the blinding sun, before me the prairie, at my feet this hillock of clay, where weeds had already begun to sprout. Mr. Brooks watched me; and seeing me move he started on; and I followed him through the broken gate to the buggy.
It was two miles to the log house which my father had built on his land. We drove up and went in. A tenant named Engle was living here with his wife and numerous children. Some of them crowded around us; others ran and hid, afterwards peered around the corner, timid and wild. Engle was not there; but his wife came from her washing to tell us where he could be found, what he was doing. When Mr. Brooks revealed to her who I was she stared at me with simple wondering eyes, drying her hands the while upon her apron. She was terribly upset by the reports of the cholera. Besides ... she went on: "There's a right smart lot of lung fever this summer. I 'low the men let their lungs get full of dust in the barn or somethin'. And I never did see the like of bloody flux among the children, and the scarlet fever too. We never had nothin' like that in Kaintucky. But I says to my man this mornin', there ain't nothin' to do but to stick it out. When yer time comes I guess there ain't no use ter run. And people do die in Kaintucky, too."
We proceeded to drive around the entire acreage. It took us some hours. Always the prairie, boundless and colorful. Miles of rich tall grass, sprinkled everywhere with purple, brick red, yellow, white, and blue blossoms! Billows of air drove the surface of it into waves. It was a sea of living green.
We passed forests of huge oak and elm trees, which grew along the little streams. There were many fields of corn, too, tall and luxuriant; and wheat ready for harvest. We came upon Engle at last. He wanted me to come close to see the corn. I got out and stood beside it, stroked its long graceful banners, turned up the dark soil with my boot and saw how rich and friable it was. And all this was mine, mine and Zoe's.
My imagination took fire. My ambition rose. I resolved to study the whole agricultural matter, and to reduce these acres in their entirety to cultivation. I would raise cattle and sheep. I would build fences. Above all I would make a house for myself. Here was my place in life and my work. No delay. I should begin to-morrow with something directed to the general end.
Returning we went past Reverdy's farm. But he had finished his work and gone to town. Accordingly we speeded up. When I arrived home I found Reverdy already there. But he would not leave the tavern. He gave no reason in particular. He said he was as safe there as anywhere; and it was more convenient for him.
But there was much doing. Sarah and Zoe were mixing the ingredients of a cake. A turkey was roasting; we were going to have a guest for supper. Douglas, the law student, the new school teacher, was coming; and all was delighted expectation. "For," said Mrs. Spurgeon, "I reckon we ain't never had such a young feller before around these parts. Talk! You never heard such talk. It flows just like the water down hill. And there never was a friendlier soul. I never thought they raised such people up in Yankeeland as him. You can bet he'll make his mark. He'll be a judge before he's ten years older; and they do well to get him here. And what I say is: where did he get his eddication? He is an orphan too, like you, James ... raised by an uncle so far as he had a raisin'. But the uncle fooled him. He promised him an eddication, and then went back on it. And what does young Douglas do? He busts away. He gets awful mad and comes west to make his fortune. Make a young feller mad, hurt him good and plenty, and if he has the right stuff you make a man of him. I've seen it over and over. When a young feller's mad and disappointed, if he's got the right stuff in him, he gets more energy, like a kettle blown off. They do, unless they sulk. Now there's other types. There was your poppy; he warn't mad and he didn't sulk exactly, and yet there was somethin'. He seemed to simmer and stew a little. But he left five thousand acres of land. Maybe he was one of these here big speculators like as is all over Illinois now, that has some kind of a different secret, and makes a big success some other way. You can never tell. But you see when Douglas came here he landed from Alton down here at Winchester and went right to work makin' a few dollars at a auction where he was a appraiser. And he worked at his trade too. For he's a cabinet maker. Yes, sir, he has a trade. With all the books he's read he has a trade. And now he's up here to look over the ground; for they say he's comin' here next spring to practice law, and even then he'll be only twenty-one."
Surely, this was a land of haste, of easy expedients. I did not know a great deal about the legal education of an English lawyer; but enough to appreciate the difference between the slow and disciplined training there and the rapid and loose preparation which I heard Mrs. Spurgeon describe with so much pride. I went into the corner of the room to write a letter to my grandmother.
This is the letter that I wrote:
"Dear Grandmama: I cannot describe to you the conditions that surround me. The boundless extent of the country, the wildness and beauty of the prairies, the roughness of this frontier town, above all the people themselves. The house I am living in is unlike anything you ever saw; but yet it is very comfortable. And my hostess, Mrs. Spurgeon, as well as her granddaughter, have treated me with all the consideration that my own kindred could do. I was very dangerously ill and they took care of me with wonderful solicitude; particularly Zoe, who nursed me and scarcely left my side. Now I am well, or nearly so, and they insist on my living with them. I pay two dollars a week, or about eight shillings. And everything is clean and nice; the food very good, delicious bacon smoked with hickory wood; but altogether the diet is unlike what I was accustomed to in England. It all seems like a story, first that I should meet Reverdy Clayton when I landed in Chicago from the steamboat which had brought me from Buffalo. He offered to bring me here on his Indian pony. But I was afraid to risk so long a ride, especially as at that time I was beginning to feel very badly. Then it is strange that I should get here and awake from an illness so serious in the house of Mrs. Spurgeon, whose granddaughter Sarah is going to marry Reverdy ... one never knows whether to attribute these things to Providence or to the accidents of life.... Perhaps you were right never to tell me about my father's marriage to the octoroon girl; but you must have known that I would find it out on arriving here. It has caused me much thought, if not disturbance of mind; but I have worked out my problems, perhaps impulsively, but still to my own satisfaction. Zoe is about the color of an Indian from Bombay. She is a beautiful girl, and shows her English blood in her manner and her active mind. I do not believe that there was the slightest danger that she would have attacked the will; but many considerations moved me to divide the estate with her equally. She took care of me with the most affectionate interest when I was ill. Besides, the land is not worth so very much, and one half of it will give her no fortune to mention. She is in danger even now, and the future for her is not reassuring. Illinois is supposed to be free territory, but it is not so many years ago that a vote was taken in Illinois to have slavery here, and it was defeated by no very great majority. And now the Illinois laws are rather strict as to colored people. The country is beginning to be feverish about the slavery question. I saw evidence of this in New York and on the way here; though just in this place the matter is not so much agitated. Yet the other day a copy of a periodical arrived here called The Liberator, and it made much angry talk. I will not tire you with this subject, dear grandmama, but only say that the effort here and everywhere in America seems to be directed toward hushing the matter up. But to return to Zoe: if her mother's father wished to secure the mother against misfortune by bringing her north and marrying her to a white man (my father, as it turned out) why should not I, her half-brother, try to protect her against the future that her mother might have incurred? I reason that I have taken the place of Zoe's grandfather, and must do for her what he tried to do for Zoe's mother. This inheritance of duty comes to me as the land comes to me, without my will. Zoe's grandfather gave my father his start, gave him the $2500 bonus to marry Zoe's mother. I think, in considering what share of the estate Zoe should have, these things cannot be ignored. Of course I don't know exactly how much of the $2500 went into this land. From things I have heard I think my father spent money freely; he went about a good deal and was not as temperate as he should have been for his own health and prosperity. Something was evidently preying upon his mind. Anyway, I have decided the matter, and I hope you will approve of me. I went to father's grave this morning, and it made me sad. Afterwards Mr. Brooks, the lawyer, drove me to the farm and around most of it. I am going to take hold of it at once. This country is growing rapidly, and I mean to do what my father didn't exactly. I am going to be rich; that is my ambition. And I must think and work. I am well again, or nearly so, and full of hope and plans, though sometimes lonely for you and for England. Some day I shall come back to see you. My love to you, dear grandmama. And do write me as often as you can.
And that evening Douglas came. He was of the smallest stature, but with a huge chest and enormous head. His hair was abundant and flowing, tossed back from his full forehead like a cataract. His eyes were blue and penetrating, but kindly. His face rather square. His voice deep and resonant. His words were clearly spoken, and fell from his lips freely, as if he were loosening them into a channel worn by long thinking. His ideas were clearly envisioned. He had read books of which I had never heard. But apart from books his sallies of wit, the aptness of his stories and allusions quite dazzled me.
Though he was but two years my senior, I felt like a boy in his presence. His maturity and self-possession and intellectual mastery of the hour kept me silent. He recalled what he had done to bring me to the comforts of Mrs. Spurgeon's house when I arrived in Jacksonville, ill and helpless. After that he did not exactly ignore me, but I seemed not to enter into the association of his ideas or their expression. He talked of the country. There was the matter of Texas, a territory half as large as central Europe. But if Texas seceded from Mexico he wished the country absorbed into the domain of the United States. Texas has a right to secede. All governments derive their powers from the consent of the governed. Let moralists and dreamers say what they would, the course of America was toward mastery of the whole of North America. Yes, and there was Oregon. If the Louisiana Purchase of 1804 did not include Oregon, what of the Lewis and Clark expedition; what of the founding of Astoria by Mr. Astor of New York, on the shores of the Columbia River; what of the restoration of Astoria to the United States in 1818 after it had been forcibly seized by Great Britain in the War of 1812? Douglas looked forward to the day when Great Britain would not have an inch of land from the Gulf of Mexico to the North Pole, and from the Atlantic to the Pacific. All of this vast territory should be the abiding place of liberty forever. Homestead laws should be passed with reference to it, and settlers invited to reduce it to cultivation. It should be tilled by millions of husbandmen, the most intelligent and progressive of the world. It should be crossed by railroads and canals. Already there were the Mohawk and Hudson railroad, the Boston and Albany, and the Baltimore and Ohio. Illinois should have railroads and canals; the rivers and harbors should be improved. Lake Michigan should be connected with the Mississippi River by a canal joining Lake Michigan with the Illinois River.
What was it all about? National wealth as a foundation for education, power, the supremacy of the white stocks having the greatest vitality.
Zoe was waiting upon the table, occasionally sitting down to take a bite. Douglas neither saw her nor was he oblivious of her. He talked ahead, referring now to the slavery question. He believed the North should leave the South alone. He had seen the reformer, the intermeddler, in his native lair in Vermont. Who had brought into this remote and peaceful town that copy of Garrison's Liberator? He was a half-cracked busybody. People who had no business of their own made the business of other people their business. He would put all such drivelers to work upon the roads, and thus make them contribute to the nation's wealth. He referred to the works of Jefferson, which he had read, to the Federalist, which he had read, and to much else, of which at that time I did not know a line. I studied Reverdy's face to see whether or not Reverdy concurred in what Douglas said. I had confidence in Reverdy, and was willing to go along with Douglas if Reverdy approved of these programs; although my English blood was stirred to some extent by Douglas' evident hostility to Great Britain. I sensed that Reverdy did not wholly agree with Douglas in all his theories and plans. But Reverdy knew that he could not cope with such a whirlwind as this dynamic logician. He therefore at times smiled a half disapproval, but did not express it. For myself I found my mind consenting to the magic of Douglas' vision. I did not relish the idea of England's surrendering Oregon; but, on the other hand, since my fortunes were cast in the United States, did it not behoove me to draw upon the country's increasing prosperity and to help to increase it? Texas did not matter. I did not fancy the institution of slavery. It grated upon my sensibilities; but I had a very slight understanding of it in the concrete. I was glad that England was rid of it. I had never admired the Wesleys, the Methodists; but I was glad to give them credit for what they had done to relieve England of such an abomination. I rejoiced that more than seven years before I was born Clarkson and Wilberforce had brought about the abolition of this traffic from the land of my nativity and its dependencies.
Then here was Zoe. If I was indifferent to slavery I had to be logical and be indifferent to her becoming a subject of barter. At least what, but a sentimental reason, could I set up against the enforced servitude of Zoe? What did it matter in point of justice and civilization that the South could not carry on her commercial interests without slavery? Was trade everything? Were the merchants the leaders of civilization? Were merchants to be permitted to do what they chose in order that they might create wealth for themselves, or even the nation? In a word, was wealth everything? My Adam Smith had said no, and I had already read that. He had classified banks of issue, colonialism, and slavery, as well as some other things as equal parts of a mercantile program. I was, therefore, inclined to dissent from any plan that included any one of these things. And still I was swept along by the torrent of Douglas' thinking. His vision enthralled me. His outlook upon the country, its increasing power and wealth, fascinated my imagination. Was I not resolved to be rich myself? And for moments I was under the spell of his great power. He was a world thinker, but with his own country forefronted in the playing of a colossal part. It appealed to my English blood, that blood which does great deeds through great vision, and then repents the iniquities along the way and corrects them at last. And who was Douglas in spirit? Nothing less than the English genius. And so my feelings were mixed, but admiration for him predominated. I felt his edge and did not like it; his audacity and resented it; his power and rebelled against it; his brusqueness and shrank from it; his emphasis upon power and supremacy, and felt that he might be overlooking finer powers and more lasting triumphs. But his eyes were full of kindly lights, in spite of their intellectual penetration; and he was charming to the last degree.
He stood up. I was a head taller than he. But his torso belonged to a giant, and his head. We all arose. And after a time, saying that he was spending his evenings in the study of law, he took his leave.
The autumn was coming on. The cholera had abated. The air was cool and fresh. The country was taking fire from the colors of the changing year. And I was feeling more rugged than I had ever felt in my life.
As I have said, a college had already been founded in Jacksonville. Indeed, some years before my coming the one brick building on the campus had been constructed; and before that the log hut, also on the campus, in which the young president and his pretty wife had spent their first winter here in 1829. Reverdy told me that he had helped to hew and place the logs. I had become acquainted with Mr. Sturtevant, the president; for he was eager to hear of England, and Oxford and Eton. I was fascinated with this experiment of a college in the wilderness. He loaned me many books; and I often spent an evening at his house.
In September I decided to go out to the farm and live with the Engles. I had many plans for the spring which could be better attended to on the ground; and then I was getting ready to build me a house. Reverdy knew where to find the logs, how to prepare them. He knew where to get men to help him, and I was glad to leave these things to him. Mr. Brooks had already commenced proceedings to settle the title to the land, dividing it between Zoe and me. This was off my mind. I had men building fences, plowing. I was buying horses, cattle, hogs. In all these things Reverdy was an incalculable help. I could not have succeeded without him. He knew horses and he helped me to honest dealers.
One day I was walking over my land. I came to a beautiful grove of trees by the brook. And there in the midst of it was a log hut. I pushed the rude door open and entered. There was but one room. It had a fireplace needing repair. I saw a ladder in the corner, climbed it through a loft hole and looked into the loft. The rafters were rough and crooked, made only of undressed poles. I could see daylight through the shingles. The floor was of hewn planks. But I was elated. Why not come here to live? I did not like the Engle children. They were too numerous. I had no privacy there. But here! I could be to myself. I could make myself more comfortable than I was at the Engles'. I could have what food I wanted. I could kill game, for the country was full of it. I could bring my books. I could be a lord.
I hurried back to town to tell Reverdy; to ask him to help me to mend the fireplace, and to put the house in condition for the coming winter. Reverdy looked at me in astonishment. How could I stand the loneliness? Did I know what I was getting into? Could I take care of myself entirely? What if I fell ill again and in the middle of the winter, when the ways were snowbound?
I thought of Zoe. Why not take her with me? I could teach her. She could run the house. Reverdy looked at me with a certain dubiety. Sarah would hate to part with Zoe. Perhaps there were other things; but he did not express them. However, nothing could deter me.
Zoe was delighted with the plan. She wanted to get away, to be with me, since I wanted her. Besides, Reverdy and Sarah were to be married in a few days. He was coming to the house to live and that would make a difference in the conveniences. And Mrs. Spurgeon, as far as I could judge, was not averse to Zoe's departure. Thus it was to be as I wished.
Reverdy left off the work on my new house to help me repair the hut. We had to make a hearth. For this I found stones by the brook. We stopped the chinks between the logs with heavy, tough clay. We mended the holes in the roof. We repaired the floor. I bought beds and bedding, utensils for cooking, a rifle, an ax, and some other tools. I stocked the house with provisions. And in a week I was installed, listening at night to the cry of the wild animals, wolves and foxes and owls; and the song of late whippoorwills when an access of lingering summer warmed the midnights. I chopped my own wood. I killed quails and squirrels, and roasted them. I tried my hand at making cornbread. And I awoke in the delicious mornings, exuberant and happy. Zoe had not come to me yet, for she was staying on at Mrs. Spurgeon's until Sarah was married. And at last the wedding was celebrated.
I shall never forget that night. It was unlike anything of which I had ever heard. The town minister performed the ceremony. Mr. and Mrs. Sturtevant were present. Douglas had been invited; but whether he failed to get the message, or whether his new duties of teaching at Winchester prevented him from coming I do not know. We missed him greatly. An emergency arose in which his courage and gift of speech might have been of use. I can imagine how he would have handled the crowd that assembled outside while the wedding was in progress. In short, we were treated to a shivaree, or charivari.
No sooner had the clergyman pronounced the final words than the most unearthly noise broke loose right at the door. There was the sound of tin pans, kettles, horns, drums; and this pandemonium was punctuated by the firing of shots and the throwing of stones at the door and gravel upon the window panes. Sarah, already flushed from excitement, took on an expression of alarm. I thought that we had been attacked by a band of Indians bent upon massacre. The clergyman, however, smiled. And Reverdy left the side of his bride and went to the door.
He flung it open. And there burst upon my vision the wildest assemblage of faces I had ever seen. Some were blacked to resemble the negro. Some were painted to look like the Indian on the warpath. They were dressed fantastically, in a variety of colors, with feathers in their hair or hats or coon caps. They leered, grinned from ear to ear. They yelled, and again began to beat their pans and kettles and to fire their rifles. Sarah put her fingers to her lips in a gesture of terror, of violated privacy. But after all this was but the frontier's hymeneal chant, the festivities of the uninvited wedding guests. To quiet them it was necessary to ask them to partake of the wedding delicacies.
They pushed and writhed into the room. Some of them were half drunk. They trod upon each other. What they might have done if Reverdy had not managed them out of the kindness of his heart and with a certain adroitness is past conceiving. It seemed to me that a riot was on the point of breaking loose at any minute. But having satisfied themselves, they began to file out. Some lingered to wish the bride and groom a happy life. Reverdy spoke with each one in such friendliness of voice and manner, in which there was neither nervousness nor resentment. He took it all as a matter of course. But Sarah was visibly distrait. I could see that she was relieved as they began to depart. A few yells, a few intermittent shots marked their going away. Then all was silent. The guests now began to leave. And as I was going back to my hut for the night I came to Reverdy and Sarah to bid them God-speed. I had never seen Sarah look so charming. Her bridal dress was made of striped calico. She had a bonnet to match. Reverdy had a new suit of blue jeans. He looked handsome and strong. And he turned his eyes upon Sarah with a look of protecting tenderness. I took their hands in mine to emphasize my blessing with the closeness of affectionate contact. Sarah kissed me on the cheek; and I left, bestriding my horse at the gate, and riding through the darkness to my hut.
Zoe was to come to me the next morning.
The next morning while I was sitting near the door, cleaning my rifle, I heard the soft pounding of a horse's hoofs on the heavy sod, and looking up saw Reverdy and Sarah. He was in the saddle, she was riding behind. I was about to ask for Zoe when I saw her peeping mischievously around the shoulder of Sarah, showing her white teeth in a happy smile. It was not Reverdy's Indian pony that was carrying so many travelers, but a larger horse. They all got down and came in to see my hut. Sarah was greatly pleased with it, and Zoe could not contain her delight. Reverdy and Sarah were on their way to Winchester to pay a brief visit to Sarah's aunt. They were soon off, Reverdy giving me the assurance that it would only be a few days before he would again be at work on my new house. Meanwhile the other men would continue getting the logs.
Zoe did not delay a minute in taking charge of the house. I had not cleared the breakfast table. She did so, then made my bed. I told her to spread it with clean sheets as it was to be hers now, but she would not hear to this. She was afraid to be on the ground floor where an intruder could walk in upon her, or a stray wolf push the door open and wake her with its unfriendly nose against her cheek. I told her then to look at the loft. She climbed the ladder and took a peek, descended with the remark that she liked it and would take it for hers. Almost at once we had perfect order in the hut.
Zoe cooked, and cleaned the rooms. I was busy with my new dwelling. I killed enough game to keep us in meat. Sometimes standing in the doorway I could bring down a deer. Then we had venison. But we were never without quail and ducks and geese. Zoe made the most delicious cornbread, baking it in a pan in the fireplace. The Engles brought us some cider. I had bought a fiddle and was learning to play upon it. We never lacked for diversion. In the evenings I played, or we read. My days were full of duties connected with the new house, or the crops and improvements for the next year. And spring would soon be here.
I was beginning to be looked upon as a driving man. They had scoffed at me as a young Englishman who could not endure the frontier life, and who knew nothing of farming. But they saw me take hold with so much vigor and interest that I was soon spoken of as an immediate success. My coming to the hut and living and doing for myself had helped greatly to confirm me in their esteem. I saw nothing hazardous or courageous in it. As for the daily life I could not have been more happily placed.
The fall went by. The winter descended. The brook was frozen. I had to break the ice with the ax to get water. I had to spend an hour each day cutting wood for the fireplace and bearing it into the hut. These were the mornings when the cold bath, which I could never forego, no matter what the circumstances were, tested my resolution. For I was sleeping in the loft where the bitter wind fanned my cheeks during the night. Zoe had found it too rigorous, and preferred the danger of an intruder to the cold. Even snow sifted on my face from rifts in the shingles which we had overlooked. But nevertheless I adhered to the morning lustration, sometimes going to the brook to do it. I had never experienced such cold.
Yet the months of November and December, which at the time I thought were the extreme of winter weather, were as nothing to the polar blasts that poured down upon us in January and February. I had no thermometer. But judging by subsequent observations I am sure that the temperature reached twenty degrees below zero. I took no baths in the brook now but contented myself with a hurried splash from a pan. At night I covered myself with all the blankets that I could support. I protected my face with a woolen cap, which was drawn over the ears as well. Zoe, though sleeping near the immense fire which we kept well fed with logs, got through but a little better than I. We heated stones in hot water to take to bed with us. All kinds of wild animals coming forth for food were frozen in their tracks. I found wolves and foxes in abundance lying stiffened and defeated in the woods. Some nights, seeing the light of our candle they would howl for food and shelter; and I heard them run up and down past the door, wisping it with their tails. Then Zoe would cling to me. And I would take up the rifle in anticipation of the wind opening the door and admitting the marauder. We were snowbound the whole month of February. I had to shovel a path to the brook. But it was out of the question for any one to go to town, or for any one to come to us. And of course during these bitter days nothing was done on my new house. The logs were all cut. They stood piled under the snow, except for a few that had been put in place.
One brilliant morning in the last of February I had gone to the brook for water. The cold had moderated to some extent. But the snow remained deep in the woods and on the fields. For though the sun shone, the sky was nevertheless hazed with innumerable particles of frozen mist, having the appearance of illuminated dust, or powdered mica. Somewhere in the depths of this screen I heard the joyous cry of a jay. And Zoe, who was by my side, said that spring was at hand.
The next day the air was milder. Soon the snow began to melt. We heard musical droppings from our eaves. The brook broke from its manacles. I could see patches of dead grass and dark earth between the disappearing snow on the fields. At break of day we heard the chirrup of the chickadee, the sparrow. I now resumed my plunge at the brook. And as we were depleted of cornmeal and other provisions, Zoe and I went to town, riding one of the horses which Engle had brought over to me. Bad news waited us here. Mrs. Spurgeon had died during the bitter weather, about three weeks before. Sarah was very much depressed. And Reverdy seemed almost as unhappy over the loss.
He had much to do, but he would now set to work upon my house.
Soon he came out bringing the men. I had made a drawing for the work and I was much about watching to see that it was followed. We could have had bricks for the chimney, though it was a good deal of labor to haul them. But why not a chimney of stone? There were plenty of stones of adequate size along the bed of the brook. And so we used them. But I did buy lumber for the floors. I sent to St. Louis for the kind of doors I wanted, and windows too. I was having a house built with regard to roominess and hospitable conveniences; a large living room, two bedrooms, a dining room, a kitchen, downstairs. The second floor was to have four chambers. I had selected a site back from the road. It was in a grove of majestic oaks, not far from the brook and the hut. The work progressed none too rapidly. Some of the men had to be away at times to attend to their farming. As for myself I had learned to plow, and was at it from early morning until sundown. I had many laborers working for me, plowing, sowing, building fences, clearing; in a word, reducing the land to cultivation. It was a big job.
I had won the respect of the community by the energy with which I had undertaken the task. The neighbors said I was an improvement on my father. They wondered, however, if I would be as far-sighted and acquisitive as he, if I would add to what I had or lose it.
In March I had a letter from my grandmother. She expressed pride in me for what I had done, approved the spirit I had shown towards Zoe. She was a great admirer of Wilberforce; and as she disliked America for its separation from the Crown she wished the institution of slavery no good on these shores. But she was disturbed about the conditions in England and Europe. The old order seemed to her to be crumbling. Revolution might break forth. The middle classes in England, having secured their rights, as she expressed it, the laborers were now striving for the franchise. Chartism was rampant. What would it all come to? Was England safe against such innovation? But how about America, if the colored people were given freedom, not of the franchise merely, but in civil rights of property and free activity? But contemporaneous with this letter, two events came into my life of profound influence. One was my meeting with Russell Lamborn, the son of one of Jacksonville's numerous lawyers. And the other was an extraordinary debate between a Whig politician named John J. Wyatt and young Douglas. It was at the debate that I met Lamborn.
Douglas had finished his school teaching. He had been licensed to practice law, though not yet twenty-one years of age. He had opened an office in the courthouse at Jacksonville. His sharp wit, pugnacity, self-reliance, had already excited rivalry and envy. He had suddenly leaped into the political arena, carrying a defiant banner.
Affairs in America were no more tranquil than they were in England. President Jackson had stirred the country profoundly by his imperious attitude toward the banking interests on the one hand, and the matter of South Carolina's nullification of the tariff law on the other hand. This had weakened the Democratic party in Illinois. And as there was to be an election in the fall of state officials, it was necessary to success to satisfy the electorate that President Jackson had not betrayed his leadership.
Bantering words went around to the effect that Douglas was seizing the opportunity of this debate to make himself known, to get a start as a lawyer, and a lift in politics. When a chance to make a hit fits the orator's opportunity and convictions, it would be difficult for a man of Douglas' enterprise and audacity to resist it.
For Douglas had, in spite of everything, captured the town. His name was on every one's tongue. He had lauded President Jackson and his policies with as much fervor as he had with virulence and vehemence denounced the humbugging Whigs, as he had characterized them. The village paper, a Whig publication, had sat upon him. It had dubbed him a turkey gobbler, a little giant, a Yankee fire-eater. But Douglas gave no quarter to any one. He returned blow for blow. He had become a terror. He must be subdued.
John J. Wyatt, a man of ready speech, in the full maturity of his powers, a debater and campaigner, a soldier in the War of 1812, and a respected character, was to lay the adventurer, the interloper, low! He was elected to the task. Was Douglas a youth? No. He was a monstrosity. He had always been a man. He had never grown up. He had simply appeared in this part of the world, a creature of mature powers. Yet Wyatt would subdue him.
We were all in anticipation of the contest. It was to take place in the courthouse. What was the subject? Anything. Everything. Chiefly Whiggery and Democracy. I came into town bringing Zoe and leaving her with Sarah. Reverdy and I went together. Here I met Russell Lamborn. He sat on one side of me and Reverdy on the other.
I shall never forget this night. Wyatt opened the debate, and he closed it. The question was: Are the Whig policies best for the country? Douglas had the negative and, therefore, but one speech. Was it fair? Had not the young man given away too much? No, for Douglas proved a match for two or three such minds as Wyatt's. He humiliated to the last degree the older, and at first confident, antagonist.