Being the Story of the World's Greatest Exploration and the Romance of a Very Gallant Gentleman.
BY EMERSON HOUGH
THE COVERED WAGON, NORTH OF 36, ETC.
ILLUSTRATED BY ARTHUR I. KELLER
NEW YORK GROSSET & DUNLAP PUBLISHERS
Made in the United States of America
COPYRIGHT, 1916, BY EMERSON HOUGH
COPYRIGHT, 1916, BY THE FRANK A. MUNSEY COMPANY
Printed in the United States of America
TO ROBERT H. DAVIS GOOD FRIEND INVALUABLE COLLABORATOR
I. MOTHER AND SON 3
II. MERIWETHER AND THEODOSIA 15
III. MR. BURR AND MR. MERRY 30
IV. PRESIDENT AND SECRETARY 36
V. THE PELL-MELL AND SOME CONSEQUENCES 47
VI. THE GREAT CONSPIRACY 71
VII. COLONEL BURR AND HIS DAUGHTER 86
VIII. THE PARTING 94
IX. MR. THOMAS JEFFERSON 105
X. THE THRESHOLD OF THE WEST 117
XI. THE TAMING OF PATRICK GASS 128
XII. CAPTAIN WILLIAM CLARK 137
XIII. UNDER THREE FLAGS 143
XIV. THE RENT IN THE ARMOR 153
I. UNDER ONE FLAG 167
II. THE MYSTERIOUS LETTER 182
III. THE DAY'S WORK 191
IV. THE CROSSROADS OF THE WEST 199
V. THE APPEAL 208
VI. WHICH WAY? 218
VII. THE MOUNTAINS 230
VIII. TRAIL'S END 241
IX. THE SUMMONS 250
X. THE ABYSS 256
XI. THE BEE 272
XII. WHAT VOICE HAD CALLED? 280
XIII. THE NEWS 292
XIV. THE GUESTS OF A NATION 300
XV. MR. JEFFERSON'S ADVICE 308
XVI. THE QUALITY OF MERCY 316
XVII. THE FRIENDS 328
XVIII. THE WILDERNESS 336
XIX. DOWN TO THE SEA 351
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
"'Him Ro'shones,' replied the girl" Frontispiece
"'Mistah Thomas Jeffahson!' was his sole announcement" 50
"'Oh, Theo, what have I done?'" 162
"Her face indeed!" 252
THE MAGNIFICENT ADVENTURE
MOTHER AND SON
A woman, tall, somewhat angular, dark of hair and eye, strong of features—a woman now approaching middle age—sat looking out over the long, tree-clad slopes that ran down from the gallery front of the mansion house to the gate at the distant roadway. She had sat thus for some moments, many moments, her gaze intently fixed, as though waiting for something—something or someone that she did not now see, but expected soon to see.
It was late afternoon of a day so beautiful that not even old Albemarle, beauty spot of Virginia, ever produced one more beautiful—not in the hundred years preceding that day, nor in the century since then. For this was more than a hundred years ago; and what is now an ancient land was then a half opened region, settled only here and there by the great plantations of the well-to-do. The house that lay at the summit of the long and gentle slope, flanked by its wide galleries—its flung doors opening it from front to rear to the gaze as one approached—had all the rude comfort and assuredness usual with the gentry of that time and place.
It was the privilege, and the habit, of the Widow Lewis to sit idly when she liked, but her attitude now was not that of idleness. Intentness, reposeful acceptance of life, rather, showed in her motionless, long-sustained position. She was patient, as women are; but her strong pose, its freedom from material support, her restrained power to do or to endure, gave her the look of owning something more than resignation, something more than patience. A strong figure of a woman, one would have said had one seen her, sitting on the gallery of her old home a hundred and twenty-four years ago.
The Widow Lewis stared straight down at the gate, a quarter of a mile away, with yearning in her gaze. But as so often happens, what she awaited did not appear at the time and place she herself had set. There fell at the western end of the gallery a shadow—a tall shadow, but she did not see it. She did not hear the footfall, not stealthy, but quite silent, with which the tall owner of the shadow came toward her from the gallery end.
It was a young man, or rather boy, no more than eighteen years of age, who stood now and gazed at her after his silent approach, so like that of an Indian savage. Half savage himself he seemed now, as he stood, clad in the buckskin garments of the chase, then not unusual in the Virginian borderlands among settlers and hunters, and not held outre among a people so often called to the chase or to war.
His tunic was of dressed deer hide, his well-fitting leggings also of that material. His feet were covered with moccasins, although his hat and the neat scarf at his neck were those of a gentleman. He was a practical youth, one would have said, for no ornament of any sort was to be seen upon his garb. In his hand he carried a long rifle of the sort then used thereabout. At his belt swung the hide of a raccoon, the bodies of a few squirrels.
Had you been a close observer, you would have found each squirrel shot fair through the head. Indeed, a look into the gray eye of the silent-paced youth would have assured you in advance of his skill with his weapons—you would have known that to be natural with him.
You would not soon have found his like, even in that land of tall hunting men. He was a grand young being as he stood there, straight and clean-limbed; hard-bitten of muscle, albeit so young; powerful and graceful in his stride. The beauty of youth was his, and of a strong heredity—that you might have seen.
The years of youth were his, yes; but the lightness of youth did not rest on his brow. While he was not yet eighteen, the gravity of manhood was his.
He did not smile now, as he saw his mother sitting there absorbed, gazing out for his return, and not seeing him now that he had returned. Instead, he stepped forward, and quietly laid a hand upon her shoulder, not with any attempt to surprise or startle her, but as if he knew that she would accept it as the announcement of his presence.
He was right. The strong figure in the chair did not start away. No exclamation came from the straight mouth of the face now turned toward him. Evidently the nerves of these two were not of the sort readily stampeded.
The young man's mother at first did not speak to him. She only reached up her own hand to take that which lay upon her shoulder. They remained thus for a moment, until at last the youth stepped back to lean his rifle against the wall.
"I am late, mother," said he at length, as he turned and, seating himself at her feet, threw his arm across her lap—himself but boy again now, and not the hunter and the man.
She stroked his dark hair, not foolishly fond, but with a sort of stern maternal care, smoothing it back in place where it belonged, straightening out the riot it had assumed. It made a mane above his forehead and reached down his neck to his shoulders, so heavy that where its dark mass was lifted it showed the skin of his neck white beneath.
"You are late, yes."
"And you waited—so long?"
"I am always waiting for you, Merne," said she. She used the Elizabethan vowel, as one should pronounce "bird," with no sound of "u"—"Mairne," the name sounded as she spoke it. And her voice was full and rich and strong, as was her son's; musically strong.
"I am always waiting for you, Merne," said she. "But I long ago learned not to expect anything else of you." She spoke with not the least reproach in her tone. "No, I only knew that you would come back in time, because you told me that you would."
"And you did not fear for me, then—gone overnight in the woods?" He half smiled at that thought himself.
"You know I would not. I know you, what you are—born woodsman. No, I trust you to care for yourself in any wild country, my son, and to come back. And then—to go back again into the forest. When will it be, my son? Tomorrow? In two days, or four, or six? Sometime you will go to the wilderness again. It draws you, does it not?"
She turned her head slightly toward the west, where lay the forest from which the boy had but now emerged. He did not smile, did not deprecate. He was singularly mature in his actions, though but eighteen years of age.
"I did not desert my duty, mother," said he at length.
"Oh, no, you would not do that, Merne!" returned the widow.
"Please, mother," said he suddenly, "I want you to call me by my full name—that of your people. Am I not Meriwether, too?"
The hand on his forehead ceased its gentle movement, fell to its owner's lap. A sigh passed his mother's set lips.
"Yes, my son, Meriwether," said she. "This is the last journey! I have lost you, then, it seems? You do not wish to be my boy any longer? You are a man altogether, then?"
"I am Meriwether Lewis, mother," said he gravely, and no more.
"Yes!" She spoke absently, musingly. "Yes, you always were!"
"I went westward, clear across the Ragged Mountains," said the youth. "These"—and he pointed with contempt to the small trophies at his belt—"will do for the darkies at the stables. I put yon old ringtail up a tree last night, on my way home, and thought it was as well to wait till dawn, till I could see the rifle-sights; and afterward—the woods were beautiful today. As to the trails, even if there is no trail, I know the way back home—you know that, mother."
"I know that, my son, yes. You were born for the forest. I fear I shall not hold you long on this quiet farm."
"All in time, mother! I am to stay here with you until I am fitted to go higher. You know what Mr. Jefferson has said to me. I am for Washington, mother, one of these days—for I hold it sure that Mr. Jefferson will go there in some still higher place. He was my father's friend, and is ours still."
"It may be that you will go to Washington, my son," said his mother; "I do not know. But will you stay there? The forest will call to you all your life—all your life! Do I not know you, then? Can I not see your life—all your life—as plainly as if it were written? Do I not know—your mother? Why should not your mother know?"
He looked around at her rather gravely once again, unsmilingly, for he rarely smiled.
"How do you know, mother? What do you know? Tell me—about myself! Then I will tell you also. We shall see how we agree as to what I am and what I ought to do!"
"My son, it is no question of what you ought to do, for that blends too closely in fate with what you surely will do—must do—because it was written for you. Yonder forest will always call to you." She turned now toward the sun, sinking across the red-leaved forest lands. "The wilderness is your home. You will go out into it and return—often; and then at last you will go and not come back again—not to me—not to anyone will you come back."
The youth did not move as she sat, her hands on his head. Her voice went on, even and steady.
"You are old, Meriwether Lewis! It is time, now. You are a man. You always were a man! You were born old. You never have been a boy, and never can be one. You never were a child, but always a man. When you were a baby, you did not smile; when you were a boy, you always had your way. My boy, a long time ago I ceased to oppose that will of yours—I knew that it was useless. But, ah, how I have loved that will when I felt it was behind your promise! I knew you would do what you had set for yourself to do. I knew you would come back with deeds in your hand, my boy—gained through that will which never would bend for me or for anyone else in the world!"
He remained motionless, apparently unaffected, as his mother went on.
"You were always old, always grown up, always resolved, always your own master—always Meriwether Lewis. When you were born, you were not a child. When the old nurse brought you to me—I can see her black face grinning now—she carried you held by the feet instead of lying on her arm. You stood, you were so strong! Your hair was dark and full even then. You were old! In two weeks you turned where you heard a sound—you recognized sight and sound together, as no child usually does for months. You were beautiful, my boy, so strong, so straight—ah, yes!—but you never were a boy at all. When you should have been a baby, you did not weep and you did not smile. I never knew you to do so. From the first, you always were a man."
She paused, but still he did not speak.
"That was well enough, for later we were left alone. But your father was in you. Do I not know well enough where you got that settled melancholy of yours, that despondency, that somber grief—call it what you like—that marked him all his life, and even in his death? That came from him, your father. I thank God I did not give you that, knowing what life must hold for you in suffering! He suffered, yes, but not as you will. And you must—you must, my son. Beyond all other men, you will suffer!"
"You were better named Cassandra, mother!" Yet the young man scarce smiled even now.
"Yes, I am a prophetess, all too sooth a prophetess, my son. I see ahead as only a mother can see—perhaps as only one of the old Highland blood can see. I am soothseer and soothsayer, because you are blood of my blood, bone of my bone, and I cannot help but know. I cannot help but know what that melancholy and that resolution, all these combined, must spell for you. You know how his heart was racked at times?"
The boy nodded now.
"Then know how your own must be racked in turn!" said she. "My son, it is no ordinary fate that will be yours. You will go forward at all costs; you will keep your word bright as the knife in your belt—you will drive yourself. What that means to you in agony—what that means when your will is set against the unalterable and the inevitable—I wish—oh, I wish I could not see it! But I do see it, now, all laid out before me—all, all! Oh, Merne—may I not call you Merne once more before I let you go?"
She let her hands fall from his head to his shoulders as she gazed steadily out beyond him, as if looking into his future; but she herself sat, her strong face composed. She might, indeed, have been a prophetess of old.
"Tragedy is yours, my son," said she, slowly, "not happiness. No woman will ever come and lie in your arms happy and content."
He half flung off her hands, but she laid them again more firmly on his shoulders, and went on speaking, as if half in reverie, half in trance, looking down the long slope of green and gold as if it showed the vista of the years.
"You will love, my boy, but with your nature how could love mean happiness to you? Love? No man could love more terribly. You will be intent, resolved, but the firmness of your will means that much more suffering for you. You will suffer, my boy—I see that for you, my first-born boy! You will love—why should you not, a man fit to love and be loved by any woman? But that love, the stronger it grows, will but burn you the deeper. You will struggle through on your own path; but happiness does not lie at the end of that path for you. You will succeed, yes—you could not fail; but always the load on your shoulders will grow heavier and heavier. You will carry it alone, until at last it will be too much for you. Your strong heart will break. You will lie down and die. Such a fate for you, Merne, my boy—such a man as you will be!"
She sighed, shivered, and looked about her, startled, as if she had spoken aloud in some dream.
"Well, then, go on!" she said, and withdrew her hands from his shoulders. The faces of both were now gazing straight on over the gold-flecked slope before them. "Go on, you are a man. I know you will not turn back from what you undertake. You will not change, you will not turn—because you cannot. You were born to earn and not to own; to find, but not to possess. But as you have lived, so you will die."
"You give me no long shrift, mother?" said the youth, with a twinkle in his eye.
"How can I? I can only tell you what is in the book of life. Do I not know? A mother always loves her son; so it takes all her courage to face what she knows will be his lot. Any mother can read her son's future—if she dares to read it. She knows—she knows!"
There was a long silence; then the widow continued.
"Listen, Merne," she said. "You call me a prophetess of evil. I am not that. Do you think I speak only in despair, my boy? No, there is something larger than mere happiness. Listen, and believe me, for now I could not fail to know. I tell you that your great desire, the great wish of your life, shall be yours! You never will relinquish it, you always will possess it, and at last it will be yours."
Again silence fell between them before she went on, her hand again resting on her son's dark hair.
"Your great desire will cost me my son. Be it so! We breed men for the world, we women, and we give them up. Out of the agony of our hearts, we do and must always give them up. That is the price I must pay. But I give you up to the great hope, the great thing of your life. Should I complain? Am I not your mother, and therefore a woman? And should a woman complain? But, Oh, Merne, Merne, my son, my boy!"
She drew his head back, so that she could see deep into his eyes. Her dark brows half frowning, she gazed down upon him, not so much in tenderness as in intentness. For the first time in many months—for the last time in his life—she kissed him on the forehead; and then she let him go.
He rose now, and, silently as he had come, passed around the end of the wide gallery.
Her gaze did not follow him. She sat still looking down the golden-green slope where the leaves were dropping silently. She sat, her chin in her hand, her elbows upon her knees, facing that future, somber but splendid, to which she had devoted her son, and which in later years he so singularly fulfilled.
That was the time when the mother of Meriwether Lewis gave him to his fate—his fate, so closely linked with yours and mine.
MERIWETHER AND THEODOSIA
Soft is the sun in the summer season at Washington, softer at times than any old Dan Chaucer ever knew; but again so ardent that anyone who would ride abroad would best do so in the early morning. This is true today, and it was true when the capital city lay in the heart of a sweeping forest at the edge of a yet unconquered morass.
The young man who now rode into this forest, leaving behind him the open streets of the straggling city—then but beginning to lighten under the rays of the morning sun—was one who evidently knew his Washington. He knew his own mind as well, for he rode steadily, as if with some definite purpose, to some definite point, looking between his horse's ears.
Sitting as erect and as easily as any cavalier of the world's best, he was tall in his saddle seat, his legs were long and straight. His boots were neatly varnished, his coat well cut, his gloves of good pattern for that time. His hat swept over a mass of dark hair, which fell deep in its loose cue upon his neck. His cravat was immaculate and well tied. He was a good figure of a man, a fine example of the young manhood of America as he rode, his light, firm hand half unconsciously curbing the antics of the splendid animal beneath him—a horse deep bay in color, high-mettled, a mount fit for a monarch—or for a young gentleman of Virginia a little more than one hundred years ago.
If it was not the horse of a monarch the young man bestrode, none the less it was the horse of one who insisted that his stables should be as good as those of any king—none less, if you please, than Mr. Thomas Jefferson, then President of the United States of America.
This particular animal was none other than Arcturus, Mr. Jefferson's favorite saddler. It was the duty as well as the delight of Mr. Jefferson's private secretary to give Arcturus and his stable-mate, Wildair, their exercise on alternate days. On this summer morning Arcturus was enjoying his turn beneath his rider—who forsooth was more often in the saddle than Mr. Jefferson himself.
Horse and rider made a picture in perfect keeping as they fared on toward the little-used forest road which led out Rock Creek way. Yonder, a few miles distant, was a stone mill owned by an old German, who sometimes would offer a cup of coffee to an early horseman. Perhaps this rider knew the way from earlier wanderings thither on other summer mornings.
Arcturus curveted along and tossed his head, mincing daintily, and making all manner of pretense at being dangerous, with sudden gusts of speed and shakings of his head and blowing out of his nostrils—though all the time the noble bay was as gentle as a dog. Whether or not he really were dangerous would have made small difference to the young man who bestrode him, for his seat was that of the born horseman.
They advanced comfortably enough, the rider seemingly less alive to the joys of the morning than was the animal beneath him. The young man's face was grave, his mouth unsmiling—a mouth of half Indian lines, broken in its down-sweeping curve merely by the point of a bow which spoke of gentleness as well as strength. His head was that of the new man, the American, the new man of a new world, young and strong, a continent that had lain fallow from the birth of time.
What burdened the mind of a man like this, of years which should have left him yet in full attunement with the morning of life and with the dawn of a country? Why should he pay so little heed to the playful advances of Arcturus, inviting him for a run along the shady road?
Arcturus could not tell. He could but prance insinuatingly, his ears forward, his head tossed, his eye now and again turned about, inquiring.
But though the young man, moody and abstracted, still looked on ahead, some of his senses seemed yet on guard. His head turned at the slightest sound of the forest life that came to him. If a twig cracked, he heard it. If a green nut cut by some early squirrel clattered softly on the leaves, that was not lost to him.
A bevy of partridges, feeding at dawn along the edge of the forest path, whirled up in his horse's face; and though he held the startled animal close, he followed the flight of the birds with the trained eye of the fowler, and marked well where they pitched again. He did these things unconsciously as one well used to the woods, even though his eye turned again straight down the road and the look of intentness, of sadness, almost of melancholy, once more settled upon his features.
He advanced into the wood until all sight of the city was quite cut off from him, until the light grew yet dimmer along the forest road, in places almost half covered with a leafy canopy, until at length he came to the valley of the little stream. He followed the trail as it rambled along the bank toward the mill, through scenes apparently familiar to him.
Abstracted as he was he must have been alert, alive, for now, suddenly, he broke his moody reverie at some sound which he heard on ahead. He reined in for just an instant, then loosed the bridle and leaned forward. The horse under him sprang forward in giant strides.
It was the sound of a voice that the young cavalier had heard—the voice of a woman—apparently a woman in some distress. What cavalier at any time of the world has not instinctively leaped forward at such sound? In less than half a moment the rider was around the turn of the leafy trail.
She was there, the woman who had cried out, herself mounted, and now upon the point of trying conclusions with her mount. Whether dissatisfaction with the latter or some fear of her own had caused her to cry out might have been less certain, had it not been sure that her eye was at the moment fastened, not upon the fractious steed, but upon the cause of his unwonted misbehavior.
The keen eye of the young man looked with hers, and found the reason for the sudden scene. A serpent, some feet in length—one of the mottled, harmless species sometimes locally called the blow-snake—obviously had come out into the morning sun to warm himself, and his yellow body, lying loose and uncoiled, had been invisible to horse and rider until they were almost upon it. Then, naturally, the serpent had moved his head, and both horse and rider had seen him, to the dismay of both.
This the young man saw and understood in a second, even as he spurred forward alongside the plunging animal. His firm hand on the bridle brought both horses back to their haunches. An instant later both had control of their mounts again, and had set them down to their paces in workmanlike fashion.
There was color in the young woman's face, but it was the color of courage, of resolution. There was breeding in every line of her. Class and lineage marked her as she sat easily, her supple young body accommodating itself handsomely to the restrained restiveness of the steed beneath her. She rode with perfect confidence, as an experienced horsewoman, and was well turned out in a close habit, neither old nor new.
Her dark hair—cut rather squarely across her forehead after an individual fashion of her own—was surmounted by a slashed hat, decorated with a wide-flung plume of smoky color, caught with a jewel at the side. Both jewel and plume had come, no doubt, in some ship from across seas. Her hands were small, and gloved as well as might be at that day of the world. There was small ornament about her; nor did this young woman need ornament beyond the color of her cheek and hair and eye, and perhaps the touch of a bold ribbon at her throat, which held a white collar closer to a neck almost as white.
An aristocrat, you must have called her, had you seen her in any chance company. And had you been a young man such as this, and had you met her alone, in some sort of agitation, and had consent been given you—or had you taken consent—surely you would have been loath to part company with one so fair, and would have ridden on with her as he did now.
But at first they did not speak. A quick, startled look came into the face of the young woman. A deeper shade glowed upon the cheek of the cavalier, reddening under the skin—a flush which shamed him, but which he could not master. He only kept his eyes straight between his horse's ears as he rode—after he had raised his hat and bowed at the close of the episode.
"I am to thank Captain Lewis once more," began the young woman, in a voice vibrant and clear—the sweetest, kindest voice in the world. "It is good fortune that you rode abroad so early this morning. You always come at need!"
He turned upon her, mute for a time, yet looking full into her face. It was sadness, not boldness, not any gay challenge, that marked his own.
"Can you then call it good fortune?" His own voice was low, suppressed.
"Why not, then?"
"You did not need me. A moment, and you would have been in command again—there was no real need of me. Ah, you never need me!"
"Yet you come. You were here, had the need been worse. And, indeed, I was quite off my guard—I must have been thinking of something else."
"And I also."
"And there was the serpent."
"Madam, there was the serpent! And why not? Is this not Eden? I swear it is paradise enough for me. Tell me, why is it that in the glimpses the sages give us of paradise they no more than lift the curtain—and let it fall again?"
"Captain Meriwether Lewis is singularly gloomy this morning!"
"Not more than I have been always. How brief was my little hour! Yet for that time I knew paradise—as I do now. We should part here, madam, now, forever. Yon serpent spelled danger for both of us."
"For both of us?"
"No, forgive me! None the less, I could not help my thoughts—cannot help them now. I ride here every morning. I saw your horse's hoof-marks some two miles back. Do you suppose I did not know whose they were?"
"And you followed me? Ah!"
"I suppose I did, and yet I did not. If I did I knew I was riding to my fate."
She would have spoken—her lips half parted—but what she might have said none heard.
He went on:
"I have ridden here since first I saw you turn this way one morning. I guessed this might be your haunt at dawn. I have ridden here often—and feared each time that I might meet you. Perhaps I came this morning in the same way, not knowing that you were near, but hoping that you might be. You see, madam, I speak the absolute truth with you."
"You have never spoken aught else to any human soul. That I know."
"And yet you try to evade the truth? Why deceive your heart about it, since I have not deceived my own? I have faced it out in my own heart, and I have, I trust, come off the victor. At some cost!"
Her face was troubled. She looked aside as she replied in a voice low, but firm:
"Any woman would be glad to hear such words from Captain Lewis, and I am glad. But—the honest wife never lived who could listen to them often."
"I know that," he said simply.
"No!" Her voice was very low now; her eyes soft and cast down as they fell upon a ring under her glove. "We must not meet, Captain Meriwether Lewis. At least, we must not meet thus alone in the woods. It might cause talk. The administration has enemies enough, as you know—and never was a woman who did not have enemies, no matter how clean her life has been."
"Clean as the snow, yours! I have never asked you to be aught else, and never will. I sought you once, when I rode from Virginia to New York—when I first had my captain's pay, before Mr. Jefferson asked me to join his family. Before that time I had too little to offer you; but then, with my hopes and my ambitions, I ventured. I made that journey to offer you my hand. I was two weeks late—you were already wedded to Mr. Alston. Then I learned that happiness never could be mine.... Yes, we must part! You are the only thing in life I fear. And I fear as well for you. One wagging tongue in this hotbed of gossip—and there is harm for you, whom all good men should wish to shield."
As he rode, speaking thus, his were the features of a man of tremendous emotions, a resolute man, a man of strength, of passions not easily put down.
She turned aside her own face for an instant. At last her little hand went to him in a simple gesture of farewell. Meriwether Lewis leaned and kissed it reverently as he rode.
"Good-by!" said he. "Now we may go on for the brief space that remains for us," he added a moment later. "No one is likely to ride this way this morning. Let us go on to the old mill. May I give you a cup of coffee there?"
"I trust Captain Meriwether Lewis," she replied.
They advanced silently, and presently came in sight of a little cascade above a rocky shallowing of the stream. Below this, after they had splashed through the ford, they saw the gray stone walls of Rock Creek Mill.
The miller was a plain man, and silent. Other folk, younger or older, married or single, had come hither of a morning, and he spoke the name of none. He welcomed these two after his fashion. Under the shade of a great tree, which flung an arm out to the rivulet, he pulled out a little table spread in white and departed to tell his wife of the company. She, busy and smiling, came out presently with her best in old china and linen and wherewith to go with both.
They sat now, face to face across the little table, their horses cropping the dewy grass near by. Lewis's riding crop and gloves lay on his knee. He cast his hat upon the grass. Little birds hopped about on the ground and flitted here and there in the trees, twittering. A mocker, trilling in sudden ecstacy of life, spread a larger melody through all the wood.
The sun drew gently up in the heavens, screened by the waving trees. The ripple of the stream was very sweet.
"Theodosia, look!" said the young man, suddenly swinging a gesture about him. "Did I not say right? It is Eden! Ah, what a pity it is that Eden must ever be the same—a serpent—repentance—and farewell! Yet it was so beautiful."
"A sinless Eden, sir."
"No! I will not lie—I will not say that I do not love you more than ever. That is my sin; so I must go away. This must be our last meeting—I am fortunate that it came by chance today."
"Going away—where, then, my friend?"
"Into the West. It always has called me. Ah, if only I had remained in the Indian country yonder, where I belonged, and never made my ride to New York—to learn that I had come too late! But the West still is there—the wilderness still exists to welcome such as me!"
"But you will—you will come back again?"
"It is in the lap of the gods. I do not know or care. But my plans are all arranged. Mr. Jefferson and I have agreed that it is almost time to start. You see, Theodosia, I am now back from my schooling. You behold in me, madam, a scientist! At least I am competent to read by the sun and stars, can reckon longitude and latitude—as one must, to journey into the desert yonder. If only I dared orient my soul as well!"
"You would never doubt my faith in my husband."
"No! Of course, you love your husband. I could not look at you a second time if you did not."
"You are a good man, Meriwether Lewis!"
"Do not say it! I am a man accursed of evil passions—the most unhappy of all men. There is nothing else, I say, in all the world that I fear but my love for you. Tell me it will not last—tell me it will change—tell me that I shall forget! I should not believe you—but tell me that. Does a man never forget? Success—for others; happiness—for someone else. My mother said that was to be my fate. What did she mean?"
"She meant, Meriwether Lewis, that you were a great man, a great soul! Only a man of noble soul could speak as you have spoken to me. We women, in our souls, love something noble and good and strong. Then we imagine someone like that. We believe, or try to believe, or say that we believe; but always——"
"And a woman may divide not love, only love of love itself?"
"I shall love your future, and shall watch it always," she replied, coloring. "You will be a great man, and there will be a great place for you."
"And what then?"
"Do not ask what then. You ask if men never change. Alas, they do, all too frequently! Do not deny the imperious way of nature. Only—remember me as long as you can, Meriwether Lewis."
She spoke softly, and the color of her cheek, still rising, told of her self-reproof.
He turned suddenly at this, a wonderfully sweet smile now upon his face.
"As long as I can?"
"Yes. Let your own mind run on the ambitions of a proud man, a strong man. Ambition—power—place—these things will all be yours in the coming years. They belong to any man of ability such as yours, and I covet them for you. I shall pray always for your success; but success makes men forget."
He still sat looking at her unmoved, with thoughts in his heart that he would not have cared to let her know. She went on still, half tremblingly:
"I want to see you happy after a time—with some good woman at your side—your children by you—in your own home. I want everything for you which ought to come to any man. And yet I know how hard it is to alter your resolve, once formed. Captain Lewis, you are a stubborn man, a hard man!"
He shook his head.
"Yes, I do not seem to change," said he simply. "I hope I shall be able to carry my burden and to hold my trail."
"Fie! I will not have such talk on a morning like this."
Fearlessly she reached out her hand to his, which lay upon the table. She smiled at him, but he looked down, the lean fingers of his own hand not trembling nor responding.
If she sensed the rigidity of the muscles which held his fingers outward, at least she feared it not. If she felt the repression which kept him silent, at least she feared it not. Her intuitions told her at last that the danger was gone. His hand did not close on hers.
She raised her cup and saluted laughingly.
"A good journey, Meriwether Lewis," said she, "and a happy return from it! Cast away such melancholy—you will forget all this!"
"I ask you not to wound me more than need be. I am hard to die. I can carry many wounds, but they may pain me none the less."
"Forgive me, then," she said, and once more her small hand reached out toward him. "I would not wound you. I asked you only to remember me as——"
"As I shall you, of course. And I remember that bright day when you came to me—yonder in New York. You offered me all that any man can ever offer any woman. I am proud of that! I told my husband, yes. He never mentions your name save in seriousness and respect. I am ambitious for you. All the Burrs are full of ambition, and I am a Burr, as you know. How long will it be before you come back to higher office and higher place? Will it be six months hence?"
"More likely six years. If there is healing for me, the wilderness alone must give it."
"I shall be an old woman—old and sallow from the Carolina suns. You will have forgotten me then."
"It is enough," said he. "You have lightened my burden for me as much as may be—you have made the trial as easy as any can. The rest is for me. At least I can go feeling that I have not wronged you in any way."
"Yes, Meriwether Lewis," said she quietly, "there has not been one word or act of yours to cause you regret, or me. You have put no secret on me that I must keep. That was like a man! I trust you will find it easy to forget me."
He raised a hand.
"I said, madam, that I am hard to die. I asked you not to wound me overmuch. Do not talk to me of hopes or sympathy. I do not ask—I will not have it! Only this remains to comfort me—if I had laid on my soul the memory of one secret that I had dared to place on yours, ah, then, how wretched would life be for me forever after! That thought, it seems to me, I could not endure."
"Go, then, my savage gentleman, and let me——"
"And let you never see my face again?"
She rose and stood looking at him, her own eyes wet with a sudden moisture.
"Women worth loving are so few!" she said slowly. "Clean men are so few! How a woman could have loved you, Meriwether Lewis! How some woman ought to love you! Yes, go now," she concluded. "Yes, go!"
"Mrs. Alston will wait with you here for a few moments," said Meriwether Lewis to the miller's wife quietly. He stood with his bridle rein across his arm. "See that she is very comfortable. She might have a second cup of your good coffee?"
He swung into his saddle, reined his horse about, turned and bowed formally to his late vis-a-vis, who still remained seated at the table. Then he was off at such speed as left Arcturus no more cause to fret at his bridle rein.
MR. BURR AND MR. MERRY
The young Virginian had well-nigh made his way out over the two miles or so of sheltered roadway, when he heard hoof beats on ahead, and slackened his own speed. He saw two horsemen approaching, both well mounted, coming on at a handsome gait.
Of these, one was a stout and elderly man of no special shape at all, who sat his horse with small grace, his florid face redder for his exercise, his cheeks mottled with good living and hard riding. He was clad in scrupulous riding costume, and seemed, indeed, a person of some importance. The badge of some order or society showed on his breast, and his entire air—intent as he was upon his present business of keeping company with a skilled horseman—marked him as one accustomed to attention from others. A servant in the costume of an English groom rode at a short distance behind him.
The second man was lighter, straight and trim of figure, with an erectness and exactness of carriage which marked him as a soldier at some part of his life. He was clad with extreme neatness, well booted also, and sat his mount with the nonchalance of the trained horseman. His own garb and face showed not the slightest proof that he had been riding hard.
Indeed, he seemed one whom no condition or circumstance could deprive of a cool immaculateness. He was a man to be marked in any company—especially so by the peculiar brilliance of his full, dark eye, which had a piercing, searching glint of its own; an eye such as few men have owned, and under whose spell man or woman might easily melt to acquiescence with the owner's mind.
He sat his horse with a certain haughtiness as well as carelessness. His chin seemed long and firm, and his lofty forehead—indeed, his whole air and carriage—discovered him the man of ambition that he really was. For this was no other than Aaron Burr, Vice-President of the United States, whose name was soon to be on the lips of all. He had lately come to Washington with the Jefferson administration.
This gentleman now reined up his horse as he caught sight of the young man approaching. His older companion also halted. Burr raised his hat.
"Ah, Captain Lewis!" he said in a voice of extraordinary sweetness, yet of power. "You also have caught the secret of this climate, eh? You ride in the early morning—I do not wonder. You are Virginian, and so know the heats of Washington. I fancy you recognize Mr. Merry," he added, his glance turning from one to the other.
The young Virginian bowed to both gentlemen.
"I have persuaded his excellency the minister from Great Britain to ride with us on one of our Washington mornings. He has been good enough to say—to say—that he enjoys it!"
Burr turned a quick glance upon the heavier figure at his side, with a half smile of badinage on his own face. Lewis bowed again, formally, and Anthony Merry answered with equal politeness and ceremony.
"Yes," said the envoy, "to be sure I recall the young man. I met him in the anteroom at the President's house."
Meriwether Lewis cast him a quick glance, but made no answer. He knew well enough the slighting estimate in which everything at Washington was held by this minister accredited to our government. Also he knew, as he might have said, something about the diplomat's visit at the Executive Mansion. For thus far the minister from Great Britain to Washington had not been able to see the President of the United States.
"And you are done your ride?" said Burr quickly, for his was a keen nose to scent any complication. "Tell me"—he lifted his own reins now to proceed—"you saw nothing of my daughter, Mrs. Alston? We missed her at the house, and have feared her abduction by some bold young Virginian, eh?"
His keen eye rested fairly on the face of the younger man as he spoke. The latter felt the challenge under the half mocking words.
"Yes," he replied calmly, "I have seen Mrs. Alston. I left her but now at the old mill, having a cup of coffee with the miller's wife. I had not time myself for a second, although Mrs. Alston honored me by allowing me to sit at her table for a moment. We met by accident, you see, as we both rode, a short time ago. I overtook her when it was not yet sunrise, or scarcely more."
"You see!" laughed Burr, as he turned to Merry. "Our young men are early risers when it comes to pursuit of the fair. I must ride at once and see to the welfare of my daughter. She may be weeping at losing her escort so soon!"
They all smiled in proper fashion. Lewis bowed, and, lifting his hat, passed on. Burr, as they parted, fell for just a half-moment into thought, his face suddenly inscrutable, as if he pondered something.
"There is the ablest man I have seen in Washington," blurted out Merry suddenly, apropos of nothing that had been said. "He has manners, and he rides like an Englishman."
"Say not so!" said Burr, laughing. "Better—he rides like a Virginian!"
"Very well; it is the same thing. The Virginians are but ourselves—this country is all English yet. And I swear—Mr. Burr, may we speak freely?—I cannot see, and I never shall see, what is the sense in all this talk of a new democracy of the people. Now, what men like these—like you——"
"You know well enough how far I agree with you," said Burr somberly.
"'Tis an experiment, our republic, I am willing to say that boldly to you, at least. How long it may last——"
"Depends on men like you," said Merry, suddenly turning upon him as they rode. "How long do you suppose his Majesty will endure such slights as they put on us here day by day? My blood boils at the indignities we have had to suffer here—cooling our heels in your President's halls. I call it mere presumptuousness. I cannot look upon this country as anything but a province to be taken back again when England is ready. And it may be, since so much turbulence and discourtesy seem growing here, that chance will not wait long in the coming!"
"It may be, Mr. Merry," said Aaron Burr. "My own thoughts you know too well for need of repetition. Let us only go softly. My plans advance as well as I could ask. I was just wondering," he added, "whether those two young people really were together there at the old mill—and whether they were there for the first time."
"If not, 'twas not for the last time!" rejoined the older man. "Yonder young man was made to fill a woman's eye. Your daughter, Mr. Burr, while the soul of married discreetness, and charming as any of her sex I have ever seen, must look out for her heart. She might find it divided into three equal parts."
"How then, Mr. Minister?"
"One for her father——"
Aaron Burr bowed.
"Yes, her father first, as I verily believe. What then?"
"The second for her husband——"
"Certainly. Mr. Alston is a rising man. He has a thousand slaves on his plantations—he is one of the richest of the rich South Carolinian planters. And in politics he has a chance—more than a chance. But after that?"
"The third portion of so charming a woman's heart might perhaps be assigned to Captain Meriwether Lewis!"
"Say you so?" laughed Burr carelessly. "Well, well this must be looked into. Come, I must tell my son-in-law that his home is in danger of being invaded! Far off in his Southern rice-lands, I fear he misses his young wife sometimes. I brought her here for the sake of her own health—she cannot thrive in such swamps. Besides, I cannot bear to have her live away from me. She is happier with me than anywhere else. Yes, you are right, my daughter worships me."
"Why should she not? And why should she not ride with a gallant at sunrise for an early cup of coffee, egad?" said the older man.
Burr did not answer, and they rode on.
In the opposite direction there rode also the young man of whom they spoke. And at about the time that the two came to the old mill and saw Theodosia Alston sitting there—her face still cast down, her eyes gazing abstractedly into her untasted cup on the little table—Meriwether Lewis was pulling up at the iron gate which then closed the opening in the stone wall encircling the modest official residence of his chief and patron, President Jefferson.
PRESIDENT AND SECRETARY
There stood waiting near the gate one of Mr. Jefferson's private servants, Samson, who took the young man's rein, grinning with his usual familiar words of welcome as the secretary dismounted from his horse.
"You-all suttinly did warm old Arcturum a li'l bit dis mawnin', Mistah Mehywethah!"
Samson patted the neck of the spirited animal, which tossed its head and turned an eye to its late rider.
"Yes, and see that you rub him well. Mind you, if Mr. Jefferson finds that his whitest handkerchief shows a sweat-mark from the horse's hide he will cut off both your black ears for you, Samson—and very likely your head along with them. You know your master!" The secretary smiled kindly at the old black man.
"Yassah, yassah," grinned Samson, who no more feared Mr. Jefferson than he did the young gentleman with whom he now spoke. "I just lookin' at you comin' down that path right now, and I say to myself, 'Dar come a ridah!' I sho' did, Mistah Mehywethah!"
The young man answered the negro's compliment with one of his rare smiles, then turned, with just a flick of his gloves on his breeches legs, and marched up the walk to the door of the mansion.
At the step he turned and paused, as he usually did, to take one look out over the unfinished wing of stone still in process of erection. On beyond, in the ragged village, he saw a few good mansion houses, many structures devoted to business, many jumbled huts of negroes, and here and there a public building in its early stages.
The great system of boulevards and parks and circles of the new American capital was not yet apparent from the place where Mr. Thomas Jefferson's young secretary now stood. But the young man perhaps saw city and nation alike advanced in his vision; for he gazed long and lingeringly before he turned back at last and entered the door which the old house servant swung open for him.
His hat and crop and gloves he handed to this bowed old darky, Ben—another of Mr. Jefferson's plantation servants whom he had brought to Washington with him. Then—for such was the simple fashion of the menage, where Meriwether Lewis himself was one of the President's family—he stepped to the door beyond and knocked lightly, entering as he did so.
The hour was early—he himself had not breakfasted, beyond his coffee at the mill—but, early as it was, he knew he would find at his desk the gentleman who now turned to him.
"Good morning, Mr. Jefferson," said Meriwether Lewis, in the greeting which he always used.
"Good morning, my son," said the other man, gently, in his invariable address to his secretary. "And how did Arcturus perform for you this morning?"
"Grandly, sir. He is a fine animal. I have never ridden a better."
"I envy you. I wish I could find the time I once had for my horses." He turned a whimsical glance at the piled desk before him. "If our new multigraph could write a dozen letters all at once—and on as many different themes, my son—we might perhaps get through. I vow, if I had the money, I would have a dozen secretaries—if I could find them!"
The President rose now and stood, a tall and striking figure of a man, over six feet in height, of clean-cut features, dark hazel eye, and sandy, almost auburn, hair. His long, thin legs were clad in close-fitting knee breeches of green velveteen, somewhat stained. His high-collared coat, rolling above the loosely-tied stock which girded his neck, was dingy brown in color, and lay in loose folds. He was one of the worst-clad men in Washington at that hour. His waistcoat, of red, was soiled and far from new, and his woolen stockings were covered with no better footwear than carpet slippers, badly down at the heel.
Yet Thomas Jefferson, even clad thus, seemed the great man that he was. Stooped though his shoulders were, his frame was so strong, his eye so clear and keen, though contemplative, that he did not look his years.
Here was a man, all said who knew him, of whose large soul so many large deeds were demanded that he had no time for little and inconsequent things—indeed, scarce knew that they existed. To think, to feel, to create, to achieve—these were his absorbing tasks; and so exigent were the demands on his great intellectual resources that he seemed never to know the existence of a personal world.
He stood careless, slipshod, at the side of a desk cluttered with a mass of maps, papers, letters in packets or spread open. There were writing implements here, scientific instruments of all sorts, long sheets of specifications, canceled drafts, pages of accounts—all the manifold impedimenta of a man in the full swing of business life. It might have been the desk of any mediocre man; yet on that desk lay the future of a people and the history of a world.
He stood, just a trifle stooped, smiling quizzically at the young man, yet half lovingly; for to no other being in the world did he ever give the confidence that he accorded Meriwether Lewis.
"I do not see how I could be President without you, Merne, my son," said he, employing the familiar term that Meriwether Lewis had not elsewhere heard used, except by his mother. "Look what we must do today!"
The young secretary turned his own grave eye upon the cluttered desk; but it was not dread of the redoubtable tasks awaiting him that gave his face all the gravity it bore.
"Mr. Jefferson—" he began, but paused, for he could see now standing before him his friend, the man whom, of all in the world, he loved, and the man who believed in him and loved him.
"Yes, my son?"
"Your burden is grievous hard, and yet——"
"Yes, my son?"
But Meriwether Lewis could not speak further. He stood now, his jaws set hard, looking out of the window.
The older man came and gently laid a hand upon his shoulder.
"Come, come, my son," said he, his own voice low and of a kindness it could assume at times. "You must not—you must not yield to this, I say. Shake off this melancholy which so obsesses you. I know whence it comes—your father gave it you, and you are not to blame; but you have more than your father's strength to aid you. And you have me, your friend, who can understand."
Lewis only turned on him an eye so full of anguish as caused the older man to knit his brow in deep concern.
"What is it, Merne?" he demanded. "Tell me. Ah, you cannot tell? I know! 'Tis the old melancholy, and something more, Merne, my boy. Tell me—ah, yes, it is a woman!"
The young man did not speak.
"I have often told all my young friends," said Mr. Jefferson slowly, after a time, "that they should marry not later than twenty-three—it is wrong to cheat the years of life—and you approach thirty now, my son. Why linger? Listen to me. No young man may work at his best and have a woman's face in his desk to haunt him. That will not do. We all have handicap enough without that."
But still Meriwether could only look into the face of his superior.
"I know very well, my son," the President continued. "I know it all. Put her out of your heart, my boy. Would you shame yourself—and her—and me?"
"No! Never would I do that, Mr. Jefferson, believe me. But now I must beg of you—please, sir, let me go soon—let it be at once!"
The older man stood looking at him for a time in silence, as he went on hurriedly:
"I must say good-by to you, best and noblest of men. Indeed, I have said good-by to—everything."
"As you say, your case is hopeless?"
"Ah, well, we have both been planning for our Western expedition these ten years, my son; so why should we fret if matters conspire to bring it about a trifle earlier than we planned?"
"I asked you when I was a boy to send me, but you could not then."
"No, but instead I sent yonder maundering Michaux. He, Ledyard, and all the others failed me. They never saw the great vision. There it lies, unknown, tremendous—no man knows what—that new country. I have had to hide from the people of this republic this secret purpose which you and I have had of exploring the vast Western country. I have picked you as the one man fitted for that work. I do not make mistakes. You are a born woodsman and traveler—you are ready to my hand as the instrument for this magnificent adventure. I cannot well spare you now—but yes, you must go!"
They stood there, two men who made our great adventure for us—vision-seers, vision-owned, gazing each into the other's eyes.
"Send me now, Mr. Jefferson!" repeated Meriwether Lewis. "Send me now. I will mend to usefulness again. I will work for you all my life, if need be—and I want my name clear with you."
The old man laid a kindly hand upon his shoulder.
"I must yield you to your destiny," said he. "It will be a great one." He turned aside, a hand to his lip as he paced uncertainly. "But I still am wondering what our friends are doing yonder in France," said he. "That is the question. Livingston, Monroe, and the others—what are they doing with Napoleon Bonaparte? The news from France—but stay," he added. "Wait! I had forgotten. Come, we shall see about it!"
With the sudden enthusiasm of a boy he caught his young aide by the arm. They passed down the hall, out by the rear entrance and across the White House grounds to the brick stables which then stood at the rear.
Mr. Jefferson paid no attention to the sleek animals there which looked in greeting toward him. Instead, he passed in front of the series of stalls, and without excuse or explanation hurriedly began to climb the steep ladder which led to the floor above.
They stood at length in the upper apartment of the stable buildings. It was not a mow or feed loft, but rather a bird loft, devoted to the use of many pigeons. All about the eaves were arranged many boxes—nesting places, apparently, although none of the birds entered the long room, which seemed free of any occupancy.
Mr. Jefferson stood for a moment, eagerly scanning the rear of the tier of boxes. An exclamation broke from him. He hurried forward with a sudden gesture to a little flag which stood up, like the tilt of a fisherman on the ice, at the side of the box to which he pointed.
"Done!" said he.
He reached up to the box that he had indicated, pressed down a little catch, opened the back and looked in. Again an exclamation escaped him.
He put in a hand gingerly, and, tenderly imprisoning the bird which he found therein, drew it forth, his long fingers eagerly lifting its wings, examining its legs.
It could easily be seen that the box was arranged with a door on a tripping-latch, so that the pigeon, on entering, would imprison itself. It was apparent that Mr. Jefferson was depending upon the natural homing instinct of his carrier pigeons to bring him some message.
"I told them," said he, "to loose a half-dozen birds at once. See! See!"
He unrolled from one leg of the prisoner a little cylinder of paper covered with tinfoil and tied firmly in its place. It was the first wireless message ever received at Washington. None since that time has carried a greater burden. It announced a transaction in empires.
Mr. Jefferson read, and spread out the paper that his aide might read:
General Bonaparte signed May 2—Fifteen millions—Rejoice!
In no wider phrasing than that came the news of the great Louisiana Purchase, by virtue of which this republic—whether by chance, by result of greed warring with greed, or through the providence of Almighty God, who shall say?—gained the great part of that vast and incalculably valuable realm which now reaches from the Mississippi to the Pacific Ocean. What wealth that great empire held no man had dreamed, nor can any dream today; for, a century later, its story is but beginning.
Century on century, that story still will be in the making. A home for millions of the earth's best, a hope for millions of the earth's less fortunate—granary of the peoples, mint of the nations, birthplace and growing-ground of the new race of men—who could have measured that land then—who could measure it today?
And its title passed, announced in seven words, carried by a bird wandering in the air, but bound unerringly to the ark of God's covenant with man—the covenant of hope and progress.
Thomas Jefferson stretched out his right hand to meet that of Meriwether Lewis. Their clasp was strong and firm. The eye of each man blazed.
"Mr. Jefferson," said Meriwether Lewis, "this is your monument!"
"And yours," was the reply. "Come, then!"
He turned to the stairs, the pigeon still fondled in his arm. That bird—a white one, with slate-blue tips to its wings—never needed to labor again, for Mr. Jefferson kept it during its life, and long after its death.
"Come now," he said, as he began to descend the ladder once more. "The bird was loosed yesterday, late in the afternoon. It has done its sixty or seventy-five miles an hour for us, counting out time lost in the night. The ship which brought this news docked at New York yesterday. The post stages carrying it hither cannot arrive before tomorrow. This is news—the greatest of news that we could have. Yesterday—this morning—we were a young and weak republic. Tomorrow we shall be one of the powers of the world. Go, now—you have been held in leash long enough, and the time to start has come. Tomorrow you will go westward, to that new country which now is ours!"
Neither said anything further until once again they were in the President's little office-room; but Thomas Jefferson's eye now was afire.
"I count this the most important enterprise in which this country ever was engaged," he exclaimed, his hands clenched. "Yonder lies the greater America—you lead an army which will make far wider conquest than all our troops won in the Revolutionary War. The stake is larger than any man may dream. I see it—you see it—in time others also will see. Tell me, my son, tell me once more! Come what may, no matter what power shall move you, you will be faithful in this great trust? If I have your promise, then I shall rest assured."
Thomas Jefferson, more agitated than any man had ever seen him, dropped half trembling into his chair, his shaggy red mane about his forehead, his long fingers shaking.
"I give you my promise, Mr. Jefferson," said Meriwether Lewis.
THE PELL-MELL AND SOME CONSEQUENCES
It was late in the afternoon when the secretary to the President looked up from the crowded desk. "Mr. Jefferson," ventured he, "you will pardon me——"
"Yes, my son?"
"It grows late. You know that today the British minister, Mr. Merry, comes to meet the President for the first time formally—at dinner. Senor Yrujo also—and their ladies, of course. Mr. Burr and Mr. Merry seem already acquainted. I met them riding this morning."
"Hand and glove, then, so soon? What do you make of it? I have a guess that those three—Burr, Merry, Yrujo—mean this administration no special good. And yet it was I myself who kept our Spanish friend from getting his passports back to Madrid. I did that only because of his marriage to the daughter of my friend, Governor McKean, of Pennsylvania. But what were you saying now?"
"I thought perhaps I should go to my rooms to change for dinner. You see that I am still in riding-clothes."
"And what of that, my son? I am in something worse!"
The young man stood and looked at his chief for a moment. He realized the scarce dignified figure that the President presented in his long coat, his soiled waistcoat, his stained trousers, and his woolen stockings—not to mention the unspeakable slippers, down at the heel, into which he had thrust his feet that morning when he came into the office.
"You think I will not do?" Mr. Jefferson smiled at him frankly. "I am not so free from wisdom, perhaps, after all. Let this British minister see us as we are, for men and women, and not dummies for finery. Moreover, I remember well enough how we cooled our heels there in London, Mr. Madison and myself. They showed us little courtesy enough. Well, they shall have no complaint here. We will treat them as well as we do the others, as well as the electors who sent us here!"
Meriwether Lewis allowed himself a smile.
"Go," added his chief. "Garb yourself as I would have you—in your best. But there will be no precedence at table this evening—remember that! Let them take seats pell-mell—the devil take the hindmost—a fair field for every one, and favor to none! Seat them as nearly as possible as they should not be seated—and leave the rest to me. All these—indeed, all history and all the records—shall take me precisely as I am!"
An hour later Meriwether Lewis stood before his narrow mirror, well and handsomely clad, as was seeming with one of his family and his place—a tall and superb figure of young manhood, as proper a man as ever stood in buckled shoes in any country of the world.
The guests came presently, folk of many sorts. With Mr. Jefferson as President, the democracy of America had invaded Washington, taking more and more liberties, and it had many representatives on hand. With these came persons of rank of this and other lands, dignitaries, diplomats, officials, ministers of foreign powers. Carriages with outriders came trundling over the partially paved roads of the crude capital city. Footmen opened doors to gentlemen and ladies in full dress, wearing insignia of honor, displaying gems, orders, decorations, jewels, all the brilliant costumes of the European courts.
They came up the path to the door of the mansion where, to their amazement, they were met only by Mr. Jefferson's bowing old darky Ben, who ushered them in, helped them with their wraps and asked them to make themselves at home. And only old Henry, Mr. Jefferson's butler, bowed them in as they passed from the simple entrance hall into the anteroom which lay between the hall and the large dining-saloon.
The numbers increased rapidly. What at first was a general gathering became a crowd, then a mob. There was no assigned place for any, no presentation of one stranger to another. Friends could not find friends. Mutterings arose; crowding and jostling was not absent; here and there an angry word might have been heard. The policy of pell-mell was not working itself out in any happy social fashion.
Matters were at their worst when suddenly from his own apartments appeared the tall and well-composed figure of Mr. Jefferson's young secretary, social captain of matters at the Executive Mansion, and personal aide to the President. His quick glance caught sight of the gathering line of carriages; a second glance estimated the plight of those now jammed into the anteroom like so many cattle and evidently in distress.
In a distant corner of the room, crowded into some sort of refuge back of a huge davenport, stood a small group of persons in full official dress—a group evidently ill at ease and no longer in good humor. Meriwether Lewis made his way thither rapidly as he might.
"It is Mr. Minister Merry," said he, "and Mme. Merry." He bowed deeply. "Senor and Senora Yrujo, I bring you the respects of Mr. Jefferson. He will be with us presently."
"I had believed, sir—I understood," began Merry explosively, "that we were to meet here the President of the United States. Where, then, is his suite?"
"We have no suite, sir. I represent the President as his aide."
"My word!" murmured the mystified dignitary, turning to his lady, who stood, the picture of mute anger, at his side, the very aigrets on her ginger-colored hair trembling in her anger.
They turned once more to the Spanish minister, who, with his American wife, stood at hand. There ensued such shrugs and liftings of eyebrows as left full evidence of a discontent that none of the four attempted to suppress.
Meriwether Lewis saw and noted, but seemed not to note. Mr. Merry suddenly remembered him now as the young man he had encountered that morning, and turned with an attempt at greater civility.
"You will understand, sir, that I came supposing I was to appear in my official capacity. We were invited upon that basis. There was to have been a dinner, was there not—or am I mistaken of the hour? Is it not four in the afternoon?"
"You were quite right, Mr. Minister," said Meriwether Lewis. "You shall, of course, be presented to the President so soon as it shall please his convenience to join us. He has been occupied in many duties, and begs you will excuse him."
The dignity and courtesy of the young man were not without effect. Silence, at least, was his reward from the perturbed and indignant group of diplomats penned behind the davenport.
Matters stood thus when, at a time when scarce another soul could have been crowded into the anteroom, old Henry flung open the folding doors which he had closed.
"Mistah Thomas Jeffahson!" was his sole announcement.
There appeared in the doorway the tall, slightly stooped figure of the President of the United States, one of the greatest men of his own or of any day. He stood, gravely unconscious of himself, tranquilly looking out upon his gathered guests. He was still clad in the garb which he had worn throughout the day—the same in which he had climbed to the pigeon loft—the same in which he had labored during all these long hours.
His coat was still brown and wrinkled, hanging loosely on his long frame. His trousers were the stained velveteens of the morning; his waistcoat the same faded red; his hose the slack woolen pair that he had worn throughout the day. And upon his feet—horror of horrors!—he wore still his slippers, the same old carpet slippers, down at the heel, which had afforded him ease as he sat at his desk.
As Thomas Jefferson stood, he overtopped the men about him head and shoulders in physical stature, as he did in every other measure of a man.
Innocent or unconscious of his own appearance, his eye seeking for knowledge of his guests, he caught sight of the group behind the davenport. Rapidly making his way thither, he greeted each, offering his hand to be shaken, bowing deeply to the ladies; and so quickly passed on, leaving them almost as much mystified as before. Only Yrujo, the Spanish Minister, looked after him with any trace of recognition, for at this moment Meriwether Lewis was away, among other guests.
An instant later the curtained folding doors which separated the anteroom from the dining-saloon were thrown open. Mr. Jefferson passed in and took his place at the head of the table, casting not a single look toward any who were to join him there. There was no announcement; there was no pas, no precedence, no reserved place for any man, no announcement for any lady or gentleman, no servant to escort any to a place at table!
It had been worse, far worse, this extraordinary scene, had it not been for the swiftness and tact of the young man to whom so much was entrusted. Meriwether Lewis hastened here and there, weeding out those who could not convince him that they were invited to dine. He separated as best he might the socially elect from those not yet socially arrived, until at length he stood, almost the sole barrier against those who still crowded forward.
Here he was met once more by the party from behind the davenport.
"Tell me," demanded Mr. Merry, who—seeing that no other escort offered for her—had given his angry lady his own arm, "tell me, sir, where is the President? To whom shall I present the greetings of his British Majesty?"
"Yonder is the President of the United States, sir," said Meriwether Lewis. "He with whom you shook hands is the President. He stands at the head of his table, and you are welcome if you like. He asks you to enter."
Merry turned to his wife, and from her to the wife of the Spanish minister.
"Impossible!" said he. "I do not understand—it cannot be! That man—that extraordinary man in breeches and slippers yonder—it cannot be he asks us to sit at table with him! He cannot be the President of the United States!"
"None the less he is, Mr. Merry!" the secretary assured him.
"Good Heavens!" said the minister from Great Britain, as he passed on, half dazed.
By this time there remained but few seats, none at all toward the head of the table or about its middle portion. Toward the end of the room, farthest from the official host, a few chairs still stood vacant, because they had not been sought for. Thither, with faltering footsteps, ere even these opportunities should pass, stepped the minister from Great Britain and the minister from Spain, their ladies with them—none offering escort.
Well disposed to smile at his chief's audacious overturning of all social usage, yet not unadvised of the seriousness of all this, Meriwether Lewis handed the distinguished guests to their seats as best he might; and then left them as best he might.
At that time there were not six vacant places remaining at the long table. No one seemed to know how many had been invited to the banquet, or how many were expected—no one in the company seemed to know anyone else. It was indeed a pell-mell affair.
For once the American democracy was triumphant. But the leader of that democracy, the head of the new administration, the host at this official banquet, the President of the United States, Thomas Jefferson, stood quietly, serenely, looking out over the long table, entirely unconcerned with what he saw. If there was trouble, it was for others, not for him.
Those at table presently began to seat themselves, following the host's example. It was at this moment that the young captain of affairs turned once more toward the great doors, with the intention of closing them. Old Henry was having his own battles with the remaining audience in the anteroom, as he now brought forward two belated guests. Old Henry, be sure, knew them both; and—as a look at the sudden change of his features might have told—so did Mr. Jefferson's aide.
They advanced with dignity, these two—one a gentleman, not tall, but elegant, exquisitely clad in full-dress costume; a man whom you would have turned to examine a second time had you met him anywhere. Upon his arm was a young woman, also beautifully costumed, smiling, graceful, entirely at her ease. Many present knew the two—Aaron Burr, Vice-President of the United States; his daughter, Theodosia Burr Alston.
Mr. Burr passed within the great doors, turned and bowed deeply to his host, distant as he was across the crowded room. His daughter curtsied, also deeply. Their entry was dramatic. Then they stood, a somewhat stately picture, waiting for an instant while seemingly deciding their future course.
It was at this moment that Meriwether Lewis approached them, beckoning. He led them toward the few seats that still remained unoccupied, placed them near to the official visitors, whose ruffled feathers still remained unsmoothed, and then stood by them for an instant, intending to take his departure.
There was one remaining chair. It was at the side of Theodosia Alston. She herself looked up at him eagerly, and patted it with her hand. He seated himself at her side.
Thus at last was filled the pell-mell table of Mr. Thomas Jefferson. To this day no man knows whether all present had been invited, or whether all invited had opportunity to be present.
There were those—his enemies, men of the opposing political party, for the most part—who spoke ill of Mr. Jefferson, and charged that he showed hypocrisy in his pretense of democratic simplicity in official life. Yet others, even among his friends, criticised him severely for the affair of this afternoon—July 4, in the year of 1803. They said that his manners were inconsistent with the dignity of the highest official of this republic.
If any of this comment injured or offended Mr. Jefferson, he never gave a sign. He was born a gentleman as much as any, and was as fully acquainted with good social usage as any man of his day. His life had been spent in the best surroundings of his own country, and at the most polished courts of the Old World. To accuse him of ignorance or boorishness would have been absurd.
The fact was that his own resourceful brain had formed a definite plan. He wished to convey a certain rebuke—and with deadly accuracy he did convey that rebuke. It was at no enduring cost to his own fame.
If the pell-mell dinner was at first a thing inchoate, awkward, impossible, criticism halted when the actual service at table began. The chef at the White House had been brought to this country by Mr. Jefferson from Paris, and no better was known on this side the water.
So devoted was Mr. Jefferson known to be to the French style of cooking that no less a man than Patrick Henry, on the stump, had accused him of having "deserted the victuals of his country." His table was set and served with as much elegance as any at any foreign court. At the door of the city of Washington, even in the summer season, there was the best market of the world. As submitted by his chef de cuisine, Mr. Jefferson's menu was of no pell-mell sort. If we may credit it as handed down, it ran thus, in the old French of that day:
Huitres de Shinnecock, Saulce Tempete Olives du Luc Othon Marine a l'Huile Vierge Amandes et Cerneaux Sales Pot au Feu du Roy "Henriot" Croustade Mogador Truite de Ruisselet, Belle Meuniere Pommes en Fines Herbes Fricot de tendre Poulet en Coquemare, au Vieux Chanturgne Tourte de Ris de Veau, Financiere Baron de Pre Sale aux Primeurs Sorbet des Comtes de Champagne Dinde Sauvage flambee devant les Sarments de Vigne, flanquee d'Ortolans Aspic de Foie Gras Lucullus Salade des Nymphes a la Lamballe Asperges Chauldes enduites de Sauce Lombardienne Dessert et Fruits de la Reunion Fromage de Bique Cafe Arabe Larmes de Juliette
Whatever the wines served at the Executive Mansion may have been at later dates, those owned and used by President Jefferson were the best the world produced—vintages of rarity, selected as could have been done only by one of the nicest taste. Rumor had it that none other than Senor Yrujo, minister from Spain, recipient of many casks of the best vintages of his country that he might entertain with proper dignity, had seen fit to do a bit of merchandizing on his own account, to the end that Mr. Jefferson became the owner of certain of these rare casks.
In any event, the Spanish minister now showed no fear of the wines which came his way. Nor, for that matter, did the minister from Great Britain, nor the spouses of these twain. Mr. Burr, seated with their party, himself somewhat abstemious, none the less could not refrain from an interrogatory glance as he saw Merry halt a certain bottle or two at his own plate.
"Upon my word!" said the sturdy Briton, turning to him. "Such wine I never have tasted! I did not expect it here—served by a host in breeches and slippers! But never mind—it is wonderful!"
"There may be many things here you have not expected, your excellency," said Mr. Burr.
The Vice-President favored the little party at his left with one of his brilliant smiles. He had that strange faculty, admitted even by his enemies, of making another speak freely what he wished to hear, himself reticent the while.
The face of the English dignitary clouded again.
"I wish I could approve all else as I do the wine and the food; but I cannot understand. Here we sit, after being crowded like herrings in a box—myself, my lady here, and these others. Is this the placing his Majesty's minister should have at the President's table? Is this what we should demand here?"
"The indignity is to all of us alike," smiled Burr. "Mr. Jefferson believes in a great human democracy. I myself regret to state that I cannot quite go with him to the lengths he fancies."
"I shall report the entire matter to his Majesty's government!" said Mr. Merry, again helping himself to wine. "To be received here by a man in his stable clothes—so to meet us when we come formally to pay our call to this government—that is an insult! I fancy it to be a direct and intentional one."
"Insult is small word for it," broke in the irate Spanish minister, still further down the table. "I certainly shall report to my own government what has happened here—of that be very sure!"
"Give me leave, sir," continued Merry. "This republic, what is it? What has it done?"
"I ask as much," affirmed Yrujo. "A small war with your own country, Great Britain, sir—in which only your generosity held you back—that is all this country can claim. In the South, my people own the mouth of the great river—we own Florida—we own the province of Texas—all the Southern and Western lands. True, Louis XV—to save it from Great Britain, perhaps, sir"—he bowed to the British minister—"originally ceded Louisiana to our crown. True, also, my sovereign has ceded it again to France. But Spain still rules the South, just as Britain rules the middle country out beyond; and what is left? I snap my fingers at this republic!"
Senor Yrujo helped himself to a brimming glass of his own wine.
"I say that Western country is ours," he still insisted, warming to his oration now. "Suppose, under coercion, our sovereign did cede it to Napoleon, who claims it now? Does Spain not govern it still? Do we not collect the revenues? Is not the whole system of law enforced under the flag of Spain, all along the great river yonder? Possession, exploration, discovery—those are the rights under which territories are annexed. France has the title to that West, but we hold the land itself—we administer it. And never shall it go from under our flag, unless it be through the act of stronger foreign powers. Spain will fight!"
"Will Spain fight?" demanded a deep and melodious voice. It was that of Aaron Burr who spoke now, half in query, half in challenge. "Would Spain fight—and would Great Britain, if need were and the time came?"
He spoke to men heated with wine, smarting under social indignity, men owning a hurt personal vanity.
"Our past is proof enough," said Merry proudly.
Yrujo needed no more than a shrug.
"Divide and conquer?" Burr went on, looking at them, and raising an eyebrow in query.
They nodded, both of them. Burr looked around. His daughter and Meriwether Lewis were oblivious. He saw the young man's eyes, somber, deep, fixed on hers; saw her gazing in return, silent, troubled, fascinated.
One presumes that it was at this moment—at the instant when Aaron Burr, seeing the power his daughter held over young Meriwether Lewis, and the interest he held for her, turned to these foreign officials at his left—at that moment, let us say, the Burr conspiracy began.
"Divide that unknown country, the West, and how long would this republic endure?" said Aaron Burr.
The noise of the banquet now rose about them. Voices blended with laughter; the wine was passing; awkwardness and restraint had given way to good cheer. In a manner they were safe to talk.
"What?" demanded Aaron Burr once more. "Could a few francs transfer all that marvelous country from Spain to France? That were absurd. By what possible title could that region yonder ever come to this republic? It is still more absurd to think that. Civilization does not leap across great river valleys. It follows them. You have said rightly, Senor Yrujo. To my mind Great Britain has laid fair grasp upon the upper West; and Spain holds the lower West, with which our statesmen have interested themselves of late. By all the rights of conquest, discovery, and use, gentlemen, Great Britain's traders have gained for her flag all the territory which they have reached on their Western trading routes. I go with you that far."
Merry turned upon Burr suddenly a deep and estimating eye.
"I begin to see," said he, "that you are open to conviction, Mr. Burr."
"Not open to conviction," said Aaron Burr, "but already convinced!"
"What do you mean, Colonel Burr?" The Englishman bent toward him, frowning in intentness.
"I mean that perhaps I have something to say to you two gentlemen of the foreign courts which will be of interest and importance to you."
"Where, then, could we meet after this is over?"
The minister from Great Britain surely was not beyond close and ready estimate of events.
"At my residence, after this dinner," rejoined Aaron Burr instantly. His eye did not waver as it looked into the other's, but blazed with all the fire of his own soul. "Across the Alleghanies, along the great river, there is a land waiting, ready for strong men. Are we such men, gentlemen? And can we talk freely as such among ourselves?"
Their conversation, carried on in ordinary tones, had not been marked by any. Their brows, drawn sharp in sudden resolution, their glance each to the other, made their ratification of this extraordinary speech.