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Title: Peggy O'Neal
Author: Lewis, Alfred Henry
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Peggy O'Neal" ***

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PEGGY O’NEAL

By Alfred Henry Lewis

Illustrated By Henry Hutt

A. J. Drexel Biddle

1902


[Illustration: 0001]

[Illustration: 0007]

[Illustration: 0010]

[Illustration: 0011]


TO

MRS. A. J. DREXEL BIDDLE

THIS VOLUME

IS RESPECTFULLY INSCRIBED



PREFACE

Doubtless I shall tell this tale but poorly, since I have no skill
of writing or rhetoric and must, for the most part, proceed by blunt
sentences and short one-syllable words to the end that I be understood.
This record is worth while, I think, for it exhibits the growth of
favor for the Union within the General’s breast; and to be corollary
thereunto, his wrath against States Rights as a doctrine, together with
a hatred of Calhoun, its champion, and what other folk were found to
uphold the Vice-President’s hands in those ill courses of nullification
and separation and secession he laid down for national misguidance. I
myself had been with the General, war and peace, for thirty years
on end. He was like an elder brother to me, and I apprehended no man
better. And knowing him thus well--having his thought and feeling and
emotion of politics at my mental finger-ends--it is in my strong belief
that not until he came and made oath as chief magistrate, did he
conclude his position touching this claim of right on a state’s part
to nullify general law and strike her name from the roll of our common
sisterhood. I was with him, I say, when the seed of the General’s
determination to stand for a union, one and indivisible, was planted;
and I witnessed its quick upgrowing and broadening until it sheltered
and shadowed with wide safety the very integrity of the country. We
had arrived at a fork in the road; the ways were about to part. Calhoun
would have led us to the left where no man could be sure of national
continuance over night. But the General ruled; he was for the right
hand. By his iron courage, and the brisk, white clearness of his mental
lights, the General was to triumph. As descendant of such victory the
States were to be unified and secession beaten down. Nor shall that
hour find its morning in all time when the mighty excellences of the
General’s labors are not to have their evidence, and the tree he
planted bear into the hands of men its fruits upon the earth. He was a
tremendous mechanic of state, was General Jackson; and the world in
its construction will wear his hammer-marks with those of Cromwell and
Napoleon while the ages keep to their procession.

And yet, as may the Amazon have ultimate well-head in some rivulet as
thin as a thread, or a spring so little that a gourd might serve for its
exhaustion, so did the General come to select his place in this business
of upholding the Union against those who would pull it down, as
incident to bucklering a woman--poor and slight and feeble, she was;
the beautiful Peg O’Neal!--who for her loveliness was envied and for her
goodness was hated and for her origin as a tavern-keeper’s daughter was
contemned by those proud folk who named themselves the nation’s court of
fashion.

The General was a sentimentalist; justice and to do right were with
him instincts, and came not as grist ground coldly in the mills of
calculated selfishness and reason. Scotch-Irish he was in his strain;
but more Irish than the Irish and more Scotch than the Scotch, he in a
manner wonderful could in the same moment be cool and warm, and cautious
and headlong, and prudent and reckless, and close and frank--at once
a Fabius and a Scipio. In a glow of sentiment made molten hot by the
recent death of his wife--to him the Goddess of his worship--the General
would extend the power of his place and name to be a refuge for the
tearful, beautiful Peg, whom, as a child, his wife had known and loved,
and whom he now found evilly crushed beneath the social wheel. And in
a rush of feeling he rescues her and sets her high among the highest.
Still, while it owns its hot inception to impulse wholly Irish, this
rescue; the carrying out thereof, when now the General goes about it,
turns to be all Scotch in the cautious yet indomitable character of its
execution.

Also, for that the General is ardent and prone to mix private passion
with his public thought, he arrives at a hatred of nullification,
finding it a prime principle among those enemies whom he faces for the
sake of poor Peg O’Neal. It is the great fire kindled of a small thing,
this, the General’s war to sustain the Union against ones who already
searched for its life. He rides into the lists for a woman’s name, and
all unknowingly he bears the country’s future on the point of his spear.
And so comes this story; to the purpose and the hope that what in this
good way the General did, and why and how he did it, may not die and
disappear upon the memories of men.



PEGGY O’NEAL



CHAPTER I--THE LUSTROUS PEG O’NEAL

It was my fate, I will not say my misfortune--being too proud--to dwell
overmuch with camps and caucuses and transact more than stood best for
me of politics and war. These were my schools, and they sadly served to
make me coarse and turn me hard. Sometimes I think this pity, for I was
conceived, you are to notice, with no scanty promise of fineness to my
fiber.

Now I am moved to remember, and I might add almost to regret these
things, because I would like much at this pinch to color for you a right
picture of the fair, innocent, unfortunate Peg O’Neal. Yet how am I to
do this?--I, loaded of a sluggish fancy and a genius without touch! I am
no Apelles to paint an Aphrodite, no Phidias to carve a Venus; and for
that matter, Peg no Phryne to be model for such art. The best I might
draw would stand crude and cornerwise, since I own only to talents
whereof the graphic character is exhausted when they have laid out a
worm fence?

It is within the rim of the possible that you may feel for me, born as I
show you with the hands of all good power of description bound close and
fast by my sides. Perhaps, too, you yourself on occasion have been stung
of high impulse and fain would soar with a poem; and then, when you
stretched for flight, found no furnishment of wings. Most folk have
been thus crowded upon by exaltations, and were prey to thoughts for the
expression of which their lisping natures lacked facility. They had
the sinew but not the soul. There was verse in them, but with it no
presentation dress of word or ornament of rhyme. They caged a tune of
music in their hearts and failed of those notes asked for to announce
its melody.

Still, our Peg, for whom we toiled--the General and I--and intrigued and
made new friendships and broke old ones, and who was in her fortunes the
beginning of policies on the General’s part so lasting in importance to
the State, shall not go untold. I must make what effort lies in me
to give some notion of a beauty that claimed so much of potency in
equations of government solved of our times.

For myself, and I take no shame for it, I say freely that of the charges
laid against her by common tongue, I was convinced of her innocence by
the mere beauty of her face, just as the loveliness of that Greek girl
aforetime convinced the judges and wrought a verdict in her favor. There
be flowers so purely beautiful as to refuse and refute a stain; and such
a blossom was the lustrous Peg O’Neal.

I was first to meet with her at this time; and while I had not condemned
her in my thoughts--to condemn a woman is, for a man, the coward
part!--if I found myself possessed of views at all, they leaned to her
disfavor. I knew the General regarded Peg as a white soul suffering
wrong; but I also knew the General to be mercurial, and a blindly
passionate recruit when once enlisted. Besides, his own wife had been
throughout her life--and she most virtuous!--so lashed of slander, that
his blood was ever up and about the defence of any whose wailing wrongs
resembled her’s. The General’s attitudes were never the offshoots of
cold wisdom; he was one who believed the worst of a foe so soon as
it was told, and the best of a friend before ever it was told at all.
Wherefore I would not accept the General’s decision touching Peg, more
than I would take other conclusions from his hands.

My conservatism and just slowness cut, however, no figure, since, as I
tell you, with the moment I clapped eyes upon her, I changed to be her
knight--her champion; and thereafter I matched even the torrid General
in fire for her cause.

I was in talk with the General when news reached me of Peg waiting in
the parlor for a meeting. It was Jim who bore me word; he peered around
the corner of the door and with rolling’ eye as one who brings bad
tidings, beckoned me into the hallway.

“What is it?” I demanded impatiently.

I should tell you, perhaps, that Jim was more than twenty years my
senior, and nearing on to three score years and ten. This may explain
that attitude of mentor, not to say protector, of my morals which it was
his pleasure to hold towards me.

“What is it? Speak up!”

Jim shook his grizzled head, and his look was loaded of reproof.

“See yere, Marse Major,” said Jim; “dish yere aint Tennessee where
you-all kin do as you please. What you reckon now Marse Gen’ral would
gwine say to sech cat-an’-fiddle doin’s?”

“And now what’s wrong?” I inquired; humbly enough, for I was much
beneath Jim’s sway.

“Marse Major, lemme ask you,” said Jim, and with that he fixed me with
his old eye like an inquisitor; “lemme ask you: Does you-all send for to
meet a young lady?”

“Certainly not,” I replied. “Do you think I’ve come to Washington to
meet young ladies?” This last indignantly.

“How I know what you do?” retorted Jim, sullenly. “Ever see a hoss in a
new parstur? Ever see how he r’ar an’ pitch an’ buck-jump an’ kick up?
How I know what you do?”

“Get to the point,” I said, and I drew on a fierce expression, for I was
running low of patience.

“No use, Marse Major, for you to go dom’neerin’ with Jim,” and the
scoundrel shook his head admonishingly. “I’ll fotch up at d’ p’int fas’
enough. I tells dese yere niggahs about dis hotel that if any one
comes squanderin’ ‘round to see you-all, an’ speshul, if any of them
evil-minded women-folks comes ‘round, to let me know.”

“What do you mean with your evil-minded women-folks?”

“That’s all right, Marse Major; Jim aint heer’n d’ Bible read for mighty
likely sixty years an’ not know of them evil-minded womenfolks. King
Solomon, an’ him d’ wisest man, was mingled up in d’ midst of a whole
passel of’em. An’ so, when a minute back one of d’ house niggahs comes
up to me an’ lets on thar’s a young lady in d’ parlor who’s waitin’ for
you, I allows I’ll take a look, an’ try an’ rummage out what she wants.
With that, I kinder loiters into d’ parlor like I’m sent a urrent; an’
sho! Marse Major, if thar don’t sot a girl who’s that beautiful she’s
plumb reedic’lous.

“‘Be you-all wantin’ to meet d’ Marse Major?’ I says.

“She say, ‘Yes; I’m d’ wife of his friend, Mr. Eaton.’

“‘Mr. Eaton,’ I says, ‘who lives down south of Nashville at Franklin
Co’t House?’

“She say, ‘Yes; I’m Mrs. Eaton.’

“Course I knows dish yere aint so. An’ I’m partic’lar skeered about you,
besides, since she’s so handsome. It’s d’ beautiful ones makes all d’
trouble; a homely woman aint no more harm than squinch owls, that’s
Jim’s sperience. But nacherally, Marse Major, I don’t tell dish yere
girl she’s lyin’; I’m too well brought up. So I says:

“‘I’ve knowed Mr. Eaton since befo’ d’ las’ wah with d’ British what
Marse Gen’ral done whups at Noo Aw-leans; Mr. Eaton’s a kin to my Marse
Major. I’ve been down by his place a hun’red times at Franklin; an’ you
hyar me, honey! they aint been no mention about you bein’ his wife in
Tennessee.’

“She smile a bit at this--she’s seemin’ trifle sad like--an’ says: ‘Mr.
Eaton an’ me, we get married only ‘bout a month ago in Wash’ton.’ An’ so
she tell me ag’in to go fotch you; an’ arter sort o’ hesitatin’ ‘round
between a balk an’ a break-down for a while, settlin’ on d’ properest
move, I reckons mebbe I’d better come an’ tell you arter all.”

“It’s as well you did,” I said, turning back to the General’s door.

“That’s all right, Marse Major.” Jim called this after me in severe
tones. “I’m boun’ I’m gwine look arter you-all jes’ d’ same.” Then in a
wheedling voice: “Say, Marse Major, would you-all mind if I he’ps myse’f
to a dram outen d’ demijohn in your closet? What with all dish yere
talkin’ an’ frettin’ about you, Jim’s mouth is as dry as a kivered
bridge.”

“One, mind you; no more.” The General, in converse with a caller, was
considering Van Buren, and party lines and issues in New York. I would
have told him of Peg, and that I was about to see her, but the presence
of his visitor put it out of reach. On the whole, I decided, it would be
as well to meet Peg first and tell the General later. I interrupted, and
explained that I was going to the parlors for a moment; we would get to
his letters on my return.

“No hurry, Major, no hurry,” he replied; “I’m quite content to put them
off. I am already seized on by the spirit of laziness that pervades this
place, and which caused Randolph to say: ‘I never wind my watch whilst
in Washington, as I feel that all time spent here is wasted and thrown
away.’ It’s not quite that bad, perhaps; still, we’ll willingly put off
the letters until to-morrow.”

And now, since I am to tell you of Peg, I would that I possessed
somewhat the art of petticoats--a little polite skill for flounce and
farthingale--some shadow of a parlor or a boudoir grace.

Peg, then, was the truth itself for height and mould, and her pretty
hands and feet told of no tavern in their genesis, even though the lip
of envy did. I give you my first impression of her, earned eye to eye
and ear to voice. I say the latter because her voice was as honey and
wove conviction like a spell. She had your pansy face; a face regular
and ineffably good. And how any, even a woman and a rival, might
look her deep eyes through and doubt her, masters conjecture! Peg’s
hair--hanging in long curls about her neck and shoulders--was black;
fine as silk or cobwebs; black, yet with the gold-black of the black
Saxon. And her skin was snow and peach-blow. There was meditation, too,
in her wide brow; and her mouth, with teeth like milk, was both firm
and loving. Also, there was that in her atmosphere to bring brave men to
her. It was upon one in a moment that Peg, while tender to be hurt, was
hard to conquer; sensitive, she would feel her fate; yet she would face
it--face it with the faithful courage of an angel. But I’ll have done;
why furnish the fragments and queer splinters of a portrait I’m too
inaptly dull to offer as a whole!

Peg O’Neal came this day, and making herself known, gave me my first
sight of her in the drawing room of the Indian Queen. There was a look
about her, lonely, bitter and pathetic; a look that should belong with
one hunted, and who waits to be made sure of her friends. She gave me
her hand; white and soft and small and yielding--it was as though I
took hold on a lily. My heart went out to her before she spoke; as I’ve
confessed, I was warm for her cause on the instant.

Peg had read the cabinet list in the paper; I think, too, she foresaw
the woe and worry to become the tail of it more clearly than did either
the General or myself, or even the port-wine Duff Green. It was of that
she desired to talk; she would see the General; but first she would see
me.

This preference for myself before the General was a common custom into
which Peg readily stepped. All who knew the General, knew me for his
other self; and I will say, despite the inference of a boast, knew me
for his calmer and more prudent self.

Peg did not come to me until the afternoon, and before I go to the story
of our converse it would be as well to sketch a handful of incidents
which preceded her advent and which should be understood to teach one
the whole truth of this tale.

This Washington day I have on my mind’s edge, being the one next before
the day Peg came to me, was the fourteenth of February, St. Valentine’s
Day, albeit the latter has nothing of part herein. We had arrived, the
General and myself, on the tenth, and housed at the Indian Queen. This
tavern was not the tavern of old, when that O’Neal who was Peg’s
father prevailed as master, yet even under new control--and with a born
conservative like myself, the new is ever the defective--it was a first
hostel of the capital.

Our advent discovered a crust of ice and snow to our feet, and a mortal
sharpness in the air that was like a tonic. During those three or four
days since our coming, a thaw had befallen which left thoroughfares
a discouraging swale of mire, and made going about a foulest possible
employ. Withal, as though sponsor for the softening temperature, there
descended a fog--fairly a hash of misty rain that one might wash one’s
face in--and the air was as full of water as a sponge.

These were no true conditions for the General, with lungs never the
hardiest, and whose health was more than commonly broken by the blow
of his wife’s death. She was soundly, deeply sleeping in her grave in
Tennessee, and the new sods above her counted but twelve weeks for their
age, when we rode into Washington. She had heard the guns and the music
which told of her hero’s triumph; and then, heart-stricken of shafts
of slander aimed against her sinlessness by an opposition willing to
conquer with black means, she bowed her gentle head and passed. She
was not to multiply a White House honor by sharing it, and left her
lover-husband to go his presidential way alone unlighted of her eyes.

Those dark scenes at the Hermitage when the General’s angel went from
us, and storms of grief--so utter, so beyond repair!--fair beat upon him
to a point which all but laid him beneath the grass-roots to keep her
company, have neither part nor lot in this relation. They may be guessed
at, however; and the General came forth of them woe-worn and shaken,
and with the thought in his soul that she perished by the venom of his
enemies, who had struck at his fortunes by striking at her pure repute.

After his wife died I had been in the grip of sore concern for the
General. He was but a frail man at his best; he carried lead in his
shoulder and lead in his side--private bullets stopped in private wars,
truly, yet no less, perilous for that--and when on these, plus the angry
work and wrath of a campaign, was laid this funeral farther load, I say,
I trembled for the upcome.

Our way to Washington was to be by the Cumberland and the Ohio to
Pittsburg, and then overland through the mountains, and so along the
Potomac. All Tennessee seemed come to Nashville when we went aboard;
I helping the General--whose weakness was so great he must, despite
vanity, lean visibly on my support.

As he sank exhausted into a chair, and the boat backed off the levee, I
was in blackness for the gloom I felt. I believed he would not live
to see Washington, but fall by the way; I in no sort presupposed those
eight tremendous years when the White House would be to the common folk
as a temple, with him the idle of their adoration. I could not foresee
his marvelous two presidencies, and how, his name brightening with each
added sun and followed by every eye, he would retire again to privacy
and his Hermitage, the best beloved since the even day of Jefferson.

And now as I talk to you the tears start. He is dead as I write, and
gone long ago to join his heart in the grave and lie by the side of his
wife; and it comes strangely, even to myself that I, an old man,
and held as one hard and practical and cold, should be so moved of
retrospection. If it were to remember loss and sadness and decay, such
indeed might stand as reason for emotion. But my rearward glances find
only the glory of an ever-climbing, sky-kissed high success. Mayhap it
is the splendor and white gleam of it to bring the tears, as does the
glint of sunshine on the snow.

Yet it half shames my years, these drops of feeling. And for all that,
I well recall how Dale and Overton and Houston and Blair--no meek
souls, these!--were as much commoved when claimed of thoughts of General
Jackson;--such, for his friends, were the soft and softening spells and
powers of the man! The wet eyes of these, stern and rock-hewn, may save
me from the stain of doting weakness. But I loiter--I lose time when
there is none to lose--a wandering delay is the crime common of old age.

Our journey to Washington was disputed by applause at every foot; the
double banks of the Cumberland and the Ohio appeared to have become
alike the rendezvous of South and West and North. Bands brayed and
“committees” came aboard; a dozen times was the boat tied up and the
General borne ashore as on a wave to greet and be greeted of roaring
thousands who hailed him their Messiah of politics and one come for
their redemption. From the first our progress was hedged and canopied of
the never-ceasing shout, “Hurrah! for Jackson!” Night and day it was in
our ears, and our very sleep gave way and fled before it.

To say that through this I held no alarms for the General would be but
an idle picture of my feelings. Verily! I more than once found my heart
in my mouth lest the gusty multitude that struggled and fought to touch
his hand should kill him for mere kindness.

And yet he would thrive and be fat upon it, if such word by any padding
of hyperbole may be made to fit his slim meagerness. His gray eye would
light, his lean cheek show a color, his milky bristle of hair turn more
stiffly, jauntily spinous with each of these encounters. When I would
remonstrate and cite his sick weakness to forbid, he would shake his
head and smile--his closest journey to a laugh. Then he would say:

“Major, you don’t know me! These shoutings are as medicine in wine.
These people love me; I take strength from their hands; their applause
is my food and I live and grow heavy by it.”

And so this boisterousness of endorsement went on; and the General
reveled while I sat sour with terror lest from it he sicken and die,
stricken by the very evidences of his popularity. He was right and I was
wrong; he came from this general joy, which with every hour arose and
laid actual hands upon him, as one remade.

Some pages back I pitched upon the fourteenth as a day much in my mind,
and the fourth since we came upon the capital. I begin narration
properly with that day, regarding what has gone before as preliminary
and given for a clearer knowledge of that which is to follow as it
unfolds.

There were matters to take place upon the fourteenth which served to fix
it in my memory. The first was a mishap to the General himself.

For the rain and the mist and the mire, we that day found ourselves
much confined to the Indian Queen. This might be called no hardship of
loneliness since, despite the mud, all the world would pull on its boots
to visit us. The General, whose dyspepsia was dominant, had eaten only
a little rice. This he took at short intervals; yet such dwarf spoonfuls
were they, that in the end the aggregate was smallish, and he found
himself weakly languid as a reward.

The General had been to a casual reception below to meet official
folk--they were building hopes for themselves of what should follow
inauguration, still eighteen days away--and being done with them, and
uneasy with the weariness of their call, was returning to his room. At
the stair’s head he stumbled; as he fell he griped his side and gave a
smothered sob of pain.

I, who walked close behind, was well aware of what had chanced. The old
Dickenson wound was imperfectly healed, and a sharp wrench would tear it
and set it to inward hemorrhage. Swiftly I raised him, and since it was
no vast distance down the hall, nor he a mighty burden, carried him to
his chamber.

“Call Augustus,” he said, his voice pain-lowered to a whisper.

Placing a chair I gave him a mouthful of whisky by way of a stimulant.
Augustus was the black body-servant who had come with us from the
Hermitage. I knew what the summoning of Augustus argued, yet was
handless to interfere. The General when stricken--as he had been many
times--in the fashion I have named, was used to open a vein, and so
bleed himself comfortably till he felt relief. More than once I had
denounced such backwoods surgery as not only dangerous but revolting,
and wanting foundations of common sense. There was no logic for it,
I said; and it stood for the spirit of the preposterous when one bled
internally to bleed one’s self externally as remedy. As well might I
have spoken with the trees. The General made his stubborn laws and lived
them.

“There was a Frenchman,” observed the General on some occasion of my
remonstrance, “who said that at forty every man was either a fool or a
doctor. Now I am more than forty; and I’m no fool.”

Augustus, a tawny, handsome black, arrived in a hurry splendidly
promissory of zeal. Being deft of practice, he whipped a bandage
sharply tight about the General’s arm above the elbow--as starved as
a rake-handle, that arm, yet strong as hickory bough! Then the General
with his jackknife nicked a vein well down the lower arm, and proceeded
to bleed himself most contentedly and liberally, while Augustus held a
basin.

Following these horse-leech experiments, for so I scrupled not to brand
them, the General, wrapped in a dressing gown, was put to rest upon
a sofa. It would have been the bed; but it stood not yet three of the
afternoon, and it was a saying of the General’s that no man should take
to his bed by daylight until he came to die. On the lounge, and, as he
declared, much uplifted of health, Augustus and I left him, with the
whisky easily at hand in event of over-creeping faintness.

After the lapse of an hour I returned. There lay that upon me which, as
I saw the future, it was proper enough should be said to the General.
And since he was like to oppose my counsel, as folk commonly do what is
patent for their peace, sticking as stoutly for the seeds of trouble
as though they were indeed the seeds of righteousness, I reckoned aid
perhaps from his present weak, low state. He would lack somewhat his
vivacity, and might be drawn with less of struggle to my manner of
thought.

Thus abode the coil: It was the evening before when the General told
me how he would propose Eaton to be his Secretary of War, and asked
my view. I had withheld opinion at the time, my caution evoking a
dull flare of that heat-lightning of the General’s temper, which last
commodity was never deeply in abeyance. I would tell him later, I said;
and following a rumble of contempt on his part for the sluggishness
of my friendship for Eaton--for that gentleman and I for long had been
friends--the subject was for the moment at rest. Now was the time ripe
to dispute this question with him; so I bethought, as I wended towards
his door.

Coming to his chamber I tapped, and then pushed in without wait, as was
my wont. The windows were to the west where at this hour the sun should
have been; but such was the veil of fog without that the day seemed
already spent and sinking into twilight.

The great fire on the hearth--honest, crackling logs to feed it, since
the General would tolerate no less--set the room in a bloom of light
that came close to marking the candle that burned at his elbow a
profligacy. He had lifted himself from the sofa where Augustus and I
placed him, and was seated before a little table. On it, propped
against the _Vicar of Wakefield_, a book whereof he never tired, stood
a miniature of his wife. Throughout the day he wore this little painting
beneath his garments and hung about his neck by a black cord. His wife
had given it him in the old days and when their love was new. Each
night, when folk pray and con the Bible, he would have this picture
before him; and with it her hymn-book to read her favorite songs. This
was his devotion--his worship; it was as though he communed with her,
his Saint Rachel, on the work of the day and its duties. To the time of
his death he did this; and for whatever was good of his performing he
would lay it to these conferences, sweet at once and sad, when in the
dusk borderlands of day and night he met and talked with the soft shadow
of his heart’s own.

As I came into the room the General raised his eyes. They were
tear-brimmed and he made no shift to hide them.

“Major,” he said with trembling lip, gazing the while on the miniature,
“she strove to make me a Christian. I gave her my promise to become a
Christian. And so I shall when once I’m done with office and back again
at home. I would become one now, were it within the domain of what might
be. But who is he who could unite politics and Christ? I’m no hypocrite,
Major; you know that! You know what a politician is; you know what a
Christian should be. No man may be both, Major; no man may be both.”

“You are not a politician,” I retorted. “You are a president.”

This I got off with a gruff air of harshness, not, however, because it
drew a true distinction. I sought to call him from his present mood. The
General was unusual in so far that a best step towards comforting him
was to irritate him. In his breast he loved collision, and might even
leave mourning for a war.

“I am a president and not a politician!” This with a gather of scorn.
“And pray, when is a president not a politician?”

With a deprecatory gesture I dismissed the point.

“Let that remain,” I replied, “as a question wherewith to rack some
further moment. I came for another matter.” The General turned a
keen eye upon me. “You spoke of Eaton for your portfolio of war,” I
continued.

“Have you considered what objection might lodge against such course?”

“Go on,” he said.

“General, I misdoubt the wisdom of the step. I will make my word plain.
There is none to be more the friend of Eaton than myself, none to
respect him more. But, sir, you are aware of what folk say.”

“And what do folk say?” Anger stood red on the brow of the General as a
banner is flung from a battlement. “What do folk say?”

“You should consider coolly, General,” I went on. Ever cool myself, it
was for that the General valued my counsel. “You know this tale as well
as I. It has been told me more than once within four days. Light and
laughter-loving, the beautiful Peg O’Neal grows up, the daughter of this
very tavern that shelters us. She weds Timberlake, the purser. He is
here; then he is at sea. The girlish Peg is still a girl. She goes to
rout and ball; she is gay and high and does not mope and wear demure
half-weeds as good opinion holds one should whose love is on the sea
among the storms. There come whisper and nod and innuendo--the pot of
Washington scandal, they tell me, is made easily to boil. Then in the
Mediterranean Timberlake cuts his throat; and next, as one who makes
sure work, leaps overboard into fifty fathoms. The beautiful Peg does
not become distinguished for her grief. This, and the throat-cutting,
augment talk, and tongues wag doubly. Within the year thereafter, and
not two months ago, she and our friend Eaton are wed. Gossip gains a new
impulse; heads nod and there are wise leers. I put this to you, General,
with a rude coarseness almost ferocious; I do so for a purpose. I put it
as your enemies will put it when, should you call Eaton to your cabinet,
they seize on the story to your injury. It is not what you and I say or
believe; that is not the question. It is what will your enemies tell and
the world accept.”

While I was talking, the General filled a clay pipe; in tobacco he found
calm. Holding the pipe by its long reed stem he strode up and down,
puffing cloudily. The red faded on his forehead, but his eyes were
agate-hard. I saw it would be Eaton against argument. The General’s will
was set as hard and fast and cold as arctic ice.

Nor, to be fully honest, was I over-surprised or sensibly cast down;
I had fairly foreseen it all. You may question why, then, I made this
vigorous head; and Eaton my friend.

It is a proper curiosity. Freely, I am constrained, as I review the
past, to regard myself as sometimes the victim of self-foolery. On this
February evening with the General, I make no doubt but I thought I acted
wholly for his weal and peace. And yet I was clear before I spoke, how
my words would win to no effect, and Eaton for the cabinet it would be.
Thus, I now see that my impulse, indubitably, was one wholly of vanity;
as the friend privileged to frankness and who--as he said many times and
until I consented to the fact myself--more than any other had builded
him up to be a president, I would tell my mind, air my gifts of
prophecy, and arrange myself for a future wherein the General might say,
when the winds blew high, “You saw the tempest coming and you told me.”
 That, as I now see, was the very conceited, small, cheap reason of my
interference; although at the time I in no sort beheld it by that light,
but felt somewhat noble and high and as might a loyal friend.

The General for ten full minutes smoked up and down, I silent, and the
room otherwise still save for the tick-ticking of the clock. At last he
spoke smilingly and off to one side.

“You remember that sagacious doctor who was yesterday called from
Baltimore to amend me after my journey? ‘I’ll do anything you say,’
I told him, ‘save give up coffee and tobacco.’ ‘Then you’ll die,’ he
retorted, ‘since it is coffee and tobacco which are killing you.’ ‘Then
I’ll die,’ I replied, ‘since coffee and tobacco are all that are
left worth living for.’ He quit the place in a fury of heat, did that
doctor.”

The General grinned. There was another pause; then he swung back to my
Eaton warning, while his face again showed grave and firm.

“Sir, Mrs. Eaton--Peg, as we call her--is as spotless as a star. My wife
knew her, loved her.” His tone was tender, while his glance sought the
miniature where from the table it followed him up and down with its
eyes. “Timberlake’s habits were unfortunate; his suicide was due to
that. There was never a doubt of Peg in his soul; never a question of
her conduct. I know this; I do not guess. What!”--here his voice began
to rise with choler--“what! are we to guide by nameless slanders? Eaton
is my friend, honorable, high of mind, honorably married to the woman
he loves! I will not, by anything I do or fail to do, arm villification.
Into my cabinet he goes though every bow in hell be bent against it.”

Smash! went the General’s pipe upon the hearth. It was the manner of the
man when driven of anger. First and last he smashed pipes by the gross.

“That is not the song of it!” I stubbornly protested.

Then I put out what was true; that he should look at this thing from the
point of his presidency. There was the public interest; his faith to the
public must be dwelt on.

“If there be a faith to the public,” he retorted, “there is also a faith
to a friend. It is a widest rumor that Eaton is to be of my cabinet.
Folk are morally sure of it as much as folk may be of what sits in the
antechamber of time. Should he not be named, that fact will be held as
an endorsement of these slanders. It will destroy Eaton; worse, it
will destroy Peg. Do you counsel that? Must that be done in the name of
Public Good?” The General now was speaking in a cold, contained way for
all his late pipe-smashing, and you are not to infer, from any verbal
force displayed, a shouting anger. Wroth he was; but, nathe-less,
low-voiced and steady as with a kind of tranquility of fury. “Must my
friend be abased, insulted--must a sweet, true woman suffer harm for
that you say a public interest asks it? Sir, you speak folly and propose
disgrace. There can be no public good to come from private wrong. And if
it were so, still I should stand the same. I’ve suffered many tests for
the public you prate of; I’ve abode the death-chances of a hundred
battles; I’ve marched to the public’s wars when, spent and weak, I must
be lifted to the saddle; in no way have I spared or saved myself. But I
will spare my friend; I’ll save a woman’s honor; aye! spare and save
them though your public interest perish in their steads. You could name
no altar whereon I would make such sacrifices. The honor of a woman--to
safeguard her good fame--is the first duty of a man. It is before
friendship, before patriotism; it has precedence over things public or
private. What you offer spells ruin for a woman--ruin for Peg whom my
wife has loved and kissed! I will not do it. I say it again: Eaton for
the cabinet it should be though it were the last act of my life. More;
if I were capable of beginning my administration with treason to a
friend, I might surely look to conclude it with treason to the people.”

You are to know that the General made these long orations walking the
floor, and in a manner jerky and declamatory, though not loud. There
might be spaces of silence between sentences measured by two and three
steps; and much of the time his eye left me and he was like one who
debates with himself.

I ramble off his utterances somewhat in full; for I not only regard
the sentiments expressed as creditable to the General himself, but am
disposed to give you the truth of him as one who, while right oftener
than most men, and as set for justice as a pair of scales, on this as on
every other strong occasion did his thinking with his heart. Also, while
he never said the word, it ran in him like a torrent that his wife,
were she with him, would shield poor Peg at whatever vital cost; and of
itself that was equal to the sweeping down of reasons strong as oak or
adamant.

Who was the un-observer to say that familiarity breeds contempt? He
went wide of the truth; he should have said that familiarity breeds
self-confidence. Now I knew the General--I knew the windings of his
thought as one knows his way about a house. Folk called him a hero; he
was never so to me. And yet, more than any, I knew him to be even better
and braver and broader than was his fame in the worshiping mouths of
ones who uplifted him to be a god. No, the General and I neither looked
up nor looked down when we dealt with one another; we met ever on level
terms. He was president, or shortly would be; but what then? As he
himself said, “The presidency is a condition, not an attribute, as it
might be a malady or a fortune, an evil or a good. And if I am King are
you not Warwick?” This last was his way of phrasing it when, a year or
so later, I told him of some overheard amazement concerning the easy,
old-shoe terms on which I lived with him.

Such being our attitudes one to the other, the General’s oral
exaltations--while I identified them for honest and as from his soul’s
soul--struck on me as more florid than was called for by an interview,
private and commonplace, between us two. But it was the nature of him;
his surface could be made to toss like some tempest-bitten ocean, while
his steady depths were calm. This may explain, if it does not excuse,
that while he thus walked about, raging and eloquent, I listened with a
bit of impatience, helping myself meanwhile to a mouthful of whisky and
filling a pipe of my own.

“Say no more,” I observed, having advantage of a pause; “say no more.
Eaton you will have it, and Eaton it shall be. But, on the whole, do
you call it good to your Peg? Do you call it wise or friendly to put her
forth to be the target for every bolt of detraction?”

The General drew over to the fire and sat down. Slowly he poured himself
a glass of spirits, and then as slowly drank it off. For some moments he
smoked in silence.

“What with this wrong to my side, Major,” he said at last, “and the
blood I’ve let, and all on a pale diet of rice, I fear I’m not strong
enough to argue with you. Let us agree, then, that Eaton shall go in as
Secretary of War. As for Peg--poor little Peg!--why should she be safer
out than in? Moreover, a woman must have her courage as a man has his.
She must risk slander as he risks sword, and both must front their
enemies.” He had gone on with a mighty mildness; now he began to wave
his second pipe, and I looked to have it go into the fireplace with
every word. “You say that the Eatons will be assailed. Already they are
attacked; not for themselves, but for me. They were married in January;
none found fault until, with our coming, Eaton’s nearness to me was
remembered and the whisper of what I would do with him began to run
abroad. The Eatons are the victims of my feuds; it is I, through them,
who am stabbed at. Sir,”--smash! went the pipe and the General started
up--“sir, it is the work of Henry Clay--that creature of bargain and
corruption! You know his methods of the past campaign. What lie was too
vile to tell? What calumny too gross? Who so innocent as to escape his
malice? Why, sir! such as Clay and his crew would befoul Gehenna, and
Satan himself might shrink aside in shame from their companionship! Who
was sure from them and the poison of their mendacity? She died by
it”--here he pointed to the miniature. “Even the poor lost grave of my
mother was not sacred to such jackals. And now it is the Eatons--now it
is the pretty, harmless Peg! So let it be; they will find me ready. If I
feel joy for a presidency it is because it clothes my hands for their
annihilation.”

There was a rap at the door. Augustus opened it and announced: “General
Green.”

“Duff Green,” said the General, as though a new thought occurred. “I
think now for once, in a way I shall turn our rotund friend to partial
use.”

“And how will you compass that miracle?” I spoke rather in scorn than
curiosity since I owned to briefest admiration for the General’s caller.
“It will be a novelty to see your Duff Green of use.”

“Why then,” returned the General, “the benefit I propose from him is one
simple enough. I shall have him, in his paper, give this cabinet list to
the public. Once in print the thing is ended--the nails for that cabinet
building will be clinched.”

“And that is it,” cried I, in opposition. “Now to my notion it is
ever best to hold a question of this sort in abeyance until the latest
moment. Thereby you preserve for yourself room wherein to change your
plan.”

“One’s first aim is the surest,” responded the General. “Now I’ve never
known much good to come from this plan-changing of which you talk. Nor
do I believe in secrets. One should tell the people their business so
soon as ever that business is transacted. More folk are trapped and
slain with their own secrets than are saved by them. Besides one has no
right to lock a door between the people and their affairs. There go but
two keys with government, one for the treasury and the other for the
gaol, and every officer from path-master to President should be made to
study this lesson of the keys until he can repeat it.”

To this lecture I made no retort whether of comment, denial or
agreement. These abstractions delighted him; and in this instance I
too listened with pleasure, not so much because of the deep-sea wisdom
disclosed as for that tranquility of spirit after his tossing anger
against Clay, which their utterance would seem to bring him. As it stood
the General’s high temper had faded and his heat was much cooled away
when Duff Green appeared.



CHAPTER II--PORT WINE DUFF AND PIGEON-BREAST

Duff Green was a round, insincere, self-seeking, suave, smooth,
porpoise-body of a personage, small of eye, hair age-streaked, a port
wine voice, wide mouth, and nose of friendly hue. He had come to town
the year before, poor and modest, and bartered himself into possession
of the _Telegraph_, a leading journal of the capital. He prospered,
and prosperity had swollen him. Nor was he without some tincture of
shrewdness; for he owned the wit in the late elections to support the
General, and now would wax pompous and come forward because of it. I did
not like him, holding him selfish and withal weak; besides, his affable
complacency offended me.

The General would defend Duff Green, although I am sure he had
his measure from the start. The General, retorting to my charge of
selfishness and vanity, would say: “Of course, Duff’s selfish; that’s
why I enjoy him. I like selfish folk; they are easy to understand, easy
to start or stop. One has but to bait his trap with their interest and,
presto! there they are in the morning caught sharp and fast for his use.
And again, your selfish folk are content with much less than will
suffice your disinterested folk who truly love you.” This was one of the
General’s efforts at sarcasm, and delivered with the sly flicker of a
smile.

“But the smug vanity of Duff Green!” I would urge. “I could wish you
half so tremendous as he deems himself.”

“Fie! Major, fie!” would be the reply; “vanity is the powder in the gun,
the impulse that sends the bullet home. It is the sails of the ship and
the reason of motion to that hull of merit which might make no voyage
without. Vanity has won more battles than patriotism; wanting vanity,
Caesar would have crossed no Rubicon, and Napoleon would have begun, not
ended, with Waterloo.”

This fashion of bicker fell often forth between the General and myself;
indeed, we were in frequent disagreement, he being one who, while
holding notions of his own wisdom, was withal much imposed against by
pretences on the false parts of men whom I saw through as through a
ladder; and so I told him.

“Ah! excellent evening, Mr. President! excellent evening, Major--ah!”
 exclaimed Duff Green, his friendly nose aflame, and port wine tones,
satisfied and unctuous. Coming forward, he took first the General’s hand
and then mine. For all the warmth of his countenance, his hand had the
cold feel of a fish, and I did not, myself, insist on its retention
beyond the plain limits of politeness. “Excellent evening, Mr.
President,” he repeated, glowing the while, in anticipation doubtless of
public printing to come.

“You are not hard to suit for your evening, Duff,” returned the General,
whose fault it was to be on terms too common with many unworthy of the
honor. “Now, I call this the scandalous evening of a scandalous day. I
say ‘scandalous’ because muddy,” explained the General.

In the talk to follow it developed that the purpose of Duff Green’s
visit was no more noble than to just wring future patronage from
the General. Especially did our caller have his watery eye on the
governorship of Florida, a post, for its palms and orange groves
and flowers and summer seas, and mayhap the social life of St.
Augustine--aristocratic, and still on Spanish stilts--much quested; and
the reason of a deal of court paid the General by rich ones who,
having money, hungered for an opening to its display. Duff Green even
suggested, tentatively, the name of a certain wealthy thick-skull.
He said the notable in hand was a prime friend of Calhoun; that his
selection would be held vastly a compliment--a flower to his nose,
indeed!--by the Vice-President.

“Why, sir!” observed the General, whose familiarity diminished as
the place-hunting eagerness of the worthy Duff Green began to gain
expression; “why, sir, the man you tell of lacks brains. It cannot be;
say no more. We’ll find some safer way to flatter the Vice-President than
by periling public service in the hands of a weakling.”

“Weakling!” repeated Duff Green, while the friendly nose began to
bleach; “weakling! Mr. President, this gentleman--this friend of
Calhoun--is one of our richest people.”

“Why, I believe he did inherit a fortune,” responded the General
carelessly; “or perhaps a more proper phrasing would make the fortune
inherit him. But that is scant reason why he should mismanage a gravely
important trust. The governorship of Florida is not all citron groves
and mocking birds; there is responsible work to do; and the territory,
I tell you, shall not be wasted by a fool. But cheer up, Duff,”--the
visitor was looking blue and the hue of friendship had quite departed
his nose--“cheer thou up! Perchance we may yet discover some office
wherein your ambitious wittol of wealth--whom the Vice-President
loves!--may be great without being dangerous.”

Duff Green was no more urgent on the point of a Florida governorship. He
was not so dim but he saw his failure and accepted it with what grace he
might.

“I don’t know how the Vice-President may take it!” he murmured at the
close.

“As to that,” said the General, and his words fell with a suspicious
sharpness, as from one smelling to a threat; “as to that, the
Vice-President must sustain himself very patiently. I know those who
would hold other conduct on the Vice-President’s part as excessively
misplaced. They might even teach the Vice-President a similar
conclusion. You should tell him that; since I see you act by his request
and as his agent.”

Here the General looked hard at Duff Green. Already I caught a shadow
of those jealous differences to come between the General and
Calhoun--differences that would seem, for the separation of the White
House and the Vice-Presidency, constructed of the Constitution.
These offices never have agreed--never have been true friends in any
administration. It was the less important in this instance, since,
secretly and unknown to him, Calhoun for over a decade had been
the General’s enemy. On that February evening which Duff Green so
distinguished as “excellent” the General was by no means distant from
the fact’s discovery.

“You do wrong, Mr. President,” faltered Duff Green, his affable nose
as pale as paper now, “when you say I am Calhoun’s agent. The
Vice-President knows nothing of this. It was by accident I became aware
of his anxiety touching the Florida governorship. I give you my honor,
Mr. President; I give you my honor!”

“Let it pass; it’s of no mighty consequence.” Then impatiently, “Don’t
call me ‘Mr. President’ until I’m President. It will be bad enough after
inauguration, I take it.”

Here poor Duff Green was visibly disturbed. I said nothing to relieve
him. Indeed, I didn’t utter a dozen words while he remained; as I’ve
told you, I misliked Duff Green, with his face the color of a violin and
his airs of fussy consequence.

“But here, Duff,” resumed the General, coming himself to the rescue of
our visitor, who might be described as sinking for the third and last
time in the deep waters of his own confusion, “here, Duff, is something
I much desire you to do. It is a list of the cabinet as I intend its
construction on the hocks of my inaugural. There are reasons why it
should be printed; the Major”--here he indicated me, and with a dry note
in his voice which I understood--“approves the names and thinks they
should be given to the public. Get them in the next _Telegraph_. Here,
I’ll read them.” And the General reached for his horn-framed glasses and
began from a paper he’d taken from his pocket. “Van Buren, Secretary
of State; Ingham, the Treasury; Eaton, for the War Office.” I saw Duff
Green look sharply up. Somehow, while I found protest in his glance, I
could not believe the promised cabinet selection of Eaton unpleasant to
him. From that moment I knew him for no well-wisher of the General--to
be thus pleased with a prospect of hot water! The General drove ahead:
“Branch for the Navy; Berrien for the Department of Justice; and lastly,
Barry, Postmaster General. There you have it. New York, Pennsylvania,
Tennessee, North Carolina, Georgia, and Kentucky; the North, the West,
and the South--two each; and none for the Yankee East, since to that
hard region where men, to make them smart, are raised on foxes’ ears
and thistle tops, I owe no debts. There is the list. Let me see it in
print.” And the General placed the paper in Duff Green’s hands.

The General turned to fill his infallible pipe; he would have it ready
to shatter into smithereens should provocation come. Duff Green fingered
the folded paper with timid air while the General fished for a coal with
the little table tongs. For myself, I said nothing; since it was to
be done, it might as well see ink--that cabinet list. As the General
straightened his tall, slight form, his tobacco-lighting accomplished,
Duff Green, breathing pursily from a dash of trepidation, could not
forbear comment.

“I suppose you would like my thoughts on this list?” Duff Green took
care to give his supposition the rising turn of query.

“And why do you suppose so?” said the General, his tone something grim.

“Only because I supposed you’d like the thoughts of everybody.” Duff
Green fawned with his voice in a half-fright. It is ill to pester
a lion, being no lion-tamer. “I supposed you’d like the thoughts of
everybody,” he repeated.

“Quite right!” said the General, pretending return of sunshine. “And
what are your thoughts?”

“The list will be welcome,” he answered, gaining confidence from the
General’s mollified features; “the list will be welcome save in one
particular. The selection for your Secretary of War, Mr. President--”

Here Duff Green came to a stop, utterance wholly at a halt. Nor did I
blame him, for now the General gloomed in truly savage sort. The General
waved his pipe; but he did not break it. Probably he did not think Duff
Green worth a pipe.

“And what of Mr. Eaton?” demanded the General at last.

“It’s Mrs. Eaton,” gasped the other, while his fear shook him until he
quaked like a custard; “it’s Mrs. Eaton. Our society will not receive
her; that is, our ladies won’t. Mr. President, she’s a tavern-keeper’s
daughter--he kept this identical Indian Queen, as you must know.
Mrs. Eaton’s origin is too low for such station; and besides they
say--and--and--Mr. President, really, our ladies won’t receive her into
society.” Duff Green ran visibly aground and could go no further.

“Mark you this, Duff Green,” and the General’s eyes sparkled, while he
kept his voice in hand; “mark you this! If a ‘low origin’ be the
social argument, then I am minded of no palace as the habitat of my own
bringing up. But here I tell you: I’ve not come to the White House to be
ruled. Once I was set to the defence of New Orleans. The society of
that great city was against me, and I put society under martial law; a
society legislature was thereby shocked, and I dissolved it; a society
Frenchman murmured against this, and I marched him out of town with two
bayonets at his back; a society American denounced the expulsion, and
I clapped him in irons; a society judge issued a writ of release, and
I arrested him. Incidentally, I beat Pakenham and his English, and did
what I was sent to do. Now I’ve been ordered to Washington by the public
and given duties to perform. I look to find here conditions of sympathy
and friendship and support. If they be not here, I’ll construct them;
if, being here, they fail me, I’ll supply their places. Notably, should
I get up some morning to discover myself without a newspaper”--Duff
Green sweats now and pricks up his ears--“there shall one grow instantly
from the ground like any Jonah’s gourd. Your ladies will not receive
Mrs. Eaton whose ‘origin is low!’ And for that cogent reason Mr. Eaton
must not be Secretary of War! Man, have I been lifted to a presidency
to consult wives and gossips in picking my constitutional advisers? Go;
print that list--print it as I give it you;--go!”

The breath of the General’s indignation carried Duff Green into the
hall; and even when the door was closed behind him, I could follow by
ear as he fled towards the stair with a fat shuffle that told of terror.

“The man exhausts me,” said the General, as he refilled his pipe.

“I think I’ll write to Frank Blair.”

“Why?” and the General looked up.

“We should have him ready to start a Jackson paper in Washington when
Duff Green deserts.”

When I turned out on the next morning I found the fogs and mists of the
day before departed and blown aside, and a bright sky overhead. There
was no frost; but on the contrary a fine spring promise in the air that
smelled in one’s nostril like the breath of budding trees. The roads,
too, were more in the way of reform, and here and there a dry spot
showed in profert of what would be. Altogether it was quite an April
rather than a February morning. I finished shaving and dressing and
called Jim to brush my coat. A hostler before he became a valet, Jim was
used to accompany these brush-labors with an aspiration like unto the
escape of steam; a sound held sovereign by him for giving a horse’s coat
a gloss, and therefore good for mine. I had gone forth in an earlier day
to break Jim of these stable tricks, but, making no headway, wisely gave
it up, and Jim hissed on unchecked. There be things your African won’t
learn; there be things he will learn; and effort to suppress in the one
direction or excite enterprise in the other, is thrown away. Aware on
these points, I had taken years before the bridle of restraint off Jim,
and to give him his due he went the better with his head free.

When brushed to fit Jim’s notion of the spic and span, I settled my chin
in my black stock and went to call upon the General. I would know how
he held himself on the back of his bleedings and his wraths against Duff
Green.

I found him over a bowl of coffee and with a pipe going; he had been up
and breakfasted an hour before. Also, he had gotten letters to please
him and was in top spirits.

I recall looking at him as I entered his chamber, and thinking, as I
noted his quick, game-cock air, full of life and resolution, how little
he seemed that invalid who but the evening before was opening veins and
lying ill with old wounds. The difference would have amazed any save
myself, who had seen too much of him to be now astonished. The
General could pull himself together like a watch-spring. Moreover, he
fed on sensation, and a glow at his heart’s roots was better for
him than a meal of victuals. I’ve borne witness as he rode into the
wilderness to conquer Weatherford and his Creeks, with a month-old
bullet in his shoulder and its fellow in his arm. He was so feeble and
nigh death that he must be handed to his saddle like a sack of bran, and
each hour the surgeons must bathe him over with sugar-of-lead water to
keep life in his body. And yet, from the outset, and on bad food
and with the ground for his bed, he began to mend. The man lived on
sensation, I say, like a babe on milk. He would walk up and down a line
of battle and be as drunk on rifle smoke as any other on brandy.

When I came into his room I found the General--pipe and coffee for the
moment in retirement--to his own evident satisfaction, but in a rusty
raven voice I fear, humming _The Star Spangled Banner_. His eyes were
closed. He was sitting by the fire, beating out the time of the music
with pipe held like a baton in his claw-like hand, wearing meanwhile
much the air of your critic at an opera. His notes slipped frequently
into quavers, and there was constant struggle to keep from lapsing into
the savage minor key.

“You make grewsome music for a bright morning, General,” said I; “it
sounds dolefully like a wail.”

“That’s a majestic tune, Major,” he replied, opening his eyes. “It never
fails to stir me, and would bear comparison with _Old Hundred_, albeit
one tells of religion and the other of patriotism. After all, what
should be the separation between true patriotism and true religion?”

“Last evening,” I retorted, “you fell upon me hip and thigh because I
said you were not a politician but a president; you would have it that
the two were synonyms for each other. Also, you declared that no
one might be both a politician and a Christian. Now you talk of no
separation between patriotism and religion. General, you go to bed in
one frame and get, up in another; you are not consistent.”

“I’ll not quarrel with you,” said he, “though to say, as you would seem
to, that a president and a patriot are ever the same, is begging the
question and a far shot from the truth. I still stick for it, however,
that _The Star Spangled Banner_ comes close to religion in its
influence; I’ve heard it given while the big guns were speaking at the
front, and I may tell you, sir, it brought water to my eyes.”

I could well believe this, for the General was as soon to shed tears as
a woman; and withal so readily excited that on least occasion his hand
would shake like a leaf in a ripple of wind. He said the latter was from
coffee and tobacco and not from natural nervousness. He was half right
and half wrong. This tremble of the hands was the vibration of that
mighty machinery of the man when the belts were thrown on for utter
action. However, this is all aside the story.

The promulgation in Duff Green’s valued imprint of the General’s designs
had made a stir, I warrant you. The capital community seized on the list
of coming cabineteers with wondrous relish. Delighted day by day
over the tattle of office, the local public sat up, one and all,
and chattered of the printed names like unto a coop of catbirds.
Particularly, I might add, were the Eatons tossed from tongue to tongue;
folk took sides, and some assailed while others defended, and
no little heat found generation. The General admired the buzz and
clash--for his ears were open and he heard of it--being as fond of
storms as a petrel; and for myself, I was well enough pleased. It was
prior to my interview with Peg, you are to remember, and I not yet her
partisan; I half hoped those resentful clamors against the Eatons would
stay the General at the eleventh hour.

“It’s not yet too late,” said I, “to have White for the war portfolio
and leave Eaton in his Senate seat. I repeat, there’s the country to
think of.”

The General was blandly immovable. Said he, “I have told you how it’s
a war on me as much as a war on Peg. They fight really against me; they
attack her good name in their criminal strategy. Besides, Major, you
do the country insult.” Here he gave me a smile. “The country is larger
than you would admit and not to be easily shaken or over-set. Nor are
you and I of such import as we think. The worst that both of us might
do of public evil would hardly serve to rock the boat. And though the
common interest should dip gunwale a trifle, to this side or to that,
are we to throw overboard a girl on an argument of trimming ship? I say
to you for the last time, I’m no such mariner.”

The latter sentences were vivid of spirit, and it was clear the General
had given the Eatons a deal of consideration since the night before,
with the result of stiffening his first determination.

“You’ll find more folk than myself,” I observed at last, “to differ with
concerning this business. I do not believe the town is like to sit down
quietly with the arrangement.”

“We will cross that river,” said he, “when we come to it. But why,
Major, should you and I continue whirling flails over this old straw?
It was between us most thoroughly threshed last evening. I think you
are right about the town, however, and that’s why I’m waiting now in my
apartment. Mud or no mud, I would else be in the saddle for a morning
ride. I’m in momentary hope of visitation by a delegation of society
Redsticks, who, I understand, connive a descent upon me. They propose
at the coming pow-wow to demand my Eaton intentions, and to make protest
against them should their most worshipful fancy disapprove.” The term
“Redsticks,” which the General employed, was a kind of border slang
and the name given to the Creek hostiles in Weatherford’s war. “You must
stand to my back, Major, when the enemy arrives.” This, with a glance
of humor which showed the General as not attaching vast emphasis to the
invasion or what might grow from it.

“I will abide the shock of your Redsticks’ charge,” I said, smiling with
him, “unless they bring a reserve of women to the field. With the first
dire swish of warlike crinoline I shall abandon you to the fate you’ve
invited. I have stood to odds; but my courage is not proof against an
angry woman.”

The General beamed in his droll fashion and, shifting our ground of
talk, said he had letters to write and needed my help. It may as well be
known, for soon or late it is bound to escape into notice, that I wrote
most of the General’s letters. He was a perilous hand with a pen, and no
more a speller than a poet.

But there would be no letters written that day; for when we were in the
very act and article of beginning, Augustus came in with a card.

“Ah! Colonel Towson, U. S. A.,” read the General. “Show him up.” This
last to Augustus. “The Redsticks would seem to have dwindled to one,”
 observed the General, turning to me. “This Colonel Towson was to be
their spokesman. Now he comes alone. He is a very brave or a very
ignorant man.” And the General sniffed dangerously, and yet in manner
comic, as recognizing the elements of a farce.

Colonel Towson, I must needs say, was a poor feature of a man, with
a trivial face in which the great expression was a noble opinion of
himself. He was of the cavalry, as I judged by the facings on his
regimentals, for our visitor appeared in full uniform, and for part
of his regalia dragged a clattering saber and wore fierce spurs to his
heels. Plainly he was one of your egregious fops; and his breast was
trussed outward and upward with the fullness of a pigeon’s by dint
of some vain contrivance inside his garments. As he brought his heels
together, and stood with a deal of splendor just inside the door, the
General ran him over with questioning eye that took in everything from
the wax on his moustache to the gilt on his spurs.

“What do you want, sir?” demanded the General, as blunt as a hammer.

“I am Colonel Towson, Mr. President; the paymaster of the forces.”

Pigeon-breast spoke in high, affected tones, and would clip his words
and slur his “r’s” in a mincing fashion beyond imitation.

“Of what forces?”

The voice was calculated to plant dismay in the other’s youthful ears.
I was aware how the General’s ferocity was assumed, and that deep in
his throat he was laughing. I should have laughed myself, but managed
instead to establish a firm gravity.

“Of the army, Mr. President.”

The high tone began to squeak from agitation. And no marvel! The
General’s frown was enough to abash a lion.

“Are you come to me on duty?”

“No, sir, Mr. President, I--”

“Then why do you wear your side arms?” The General could throw an
expression into his face before which a hostile council of red Indians
had been known to shrink and turn gray beneath the paints wherewith they
were tallowed. The hapless Pigeon-breast was shaking in the shadow
of one of the General’s most hateful looks. When the other made no
response, the General resumed:

“Note this, sir; I am not in the habit of being terrorized by the
military forces of the nation. Never again presume to come into my
presence armed and spurred, unless required by the regulations.”

“I’ll retire, Mr. President, and change my apparel.”

This was feebly piped, and poor Pigeon-breast came nigh to wrinkling his
coat in attempts to bow conciliation and apology.

“State your errand, sir, now you are here,” commanded the General. “I’ve
no time for two visits from you.”

Pigeon-breast took what confidence he might from the General’s brusque
permission, and drew from his cuff a memorandum; as it were, the heads of
a speech. Clearing his throat and collecting himself, he began what may
have been a most lucid and eloquent discourse. Its effect was lost in
the delivery, however; for what with the high thin tones, and what with
the orator’s lady-like affectations, neither the General nor myself
could make more of it than of the laughter of a loon. For his own
careless part, I don’t think the General paid even slight attention. If
Pigeon-breast were uttering thunder, then it was summer thunder and high
and harmless, far above his head; he minded it no more than the scraping
of a fiddle at a tavern dance. In the midst, Pigeon-breast was made to
halt. The General waved his hand as demanding silence..

“We will shorten this. For whom do you come to me?”

“I was asked to see you on behalf of Mrs. Calhoun and the ladies of
Washington.”

The General glanced in my direction. Of course we well understood that
the mighty purpose of Pigeon-breast was to protest against Eaton’s
selection. Indeed, we had caught enough of his oratory to teach us that
much. Moreover, Pigeon-breast had at one stage read aloud the article
from Duff Green’s paper as the reason of his coming, and received the
General’s word that the list therein set forth was authorized.

But we had caught no word of Mrs. Calhoun, and her name, when it did
fall, came as a surprise. The Vice-President’s wife was the head of
capital fashion--the stately queen of the little court. Both she and her
husband, however, had called on the Eatons just following their wedding;
and now to discover the lady in the enemy’s van owned a sinister as
well as unexpected side. It looked like a change of front, and much
sustained the General’s surmise that this was to be a war on him rather
than the Eatons; that its purpose was politics while its source was a
plot.

“Did I not tell you that here was an intrigue?” asked the General. I
continued blowing my tobacco smoke in silence by the fire. Then, with
utter suavity, the General returned to Pigeon-breast. “I must treat
the messenger with politeness because of his fair principals. Let me
understand: You come from ‘Mrs. Calhoun and the ladies of Washington’?”

Pigeon-breast bowed as profoundly as he might with his armor on and
gasped assent.

“And their objections are to Mr. Eaton in the cabinet--really to Mrs.
Eaton?”

Another bow and gasp from the bold Pigeon-breast.

“Sir, give my compliments to ‘Mrs. Calhoun and the ladies of
Washington.’ Say I much regret that I must disregard their wishes. Say,
also, they do grave wrong, a wrong greater than mere injustice, to one
who in all that stands best is their equal. Being ladies, they should
receive her as one of themselves; being women, they should feel for
her as an innocent maligned; being Christians, they should come to her
succor as one borne upon by troubles. These would be graceful courses,
and make for the glory of ‘Mrs. Calhoun and the ladies of Washington.’
On the point of their protest, however, describe me as saying that Mr.
Eaton will be of my cabinet; I shall tender him the portfolio of war and
he has signified his readiness to accept. I do not know what this may
imply socially; I do not decide that, but leave it to the better and
more experienced tastes of ‘Mrs. Calhoun and the ladies of Washington.’
Also, you are to do me this favor, sir.”

Pigeon-breast, who was flattered by the General’s long harangue, and
inclined to congratulate himself over a polite finale to what as an
interview at one moment was stricken of a storm, here aroused himself
smartly.

“Believe me, Mr. President, any favor in my power.”

Pigeon-breast touched his brow with prodigious military _eclat_, and
then slapped his leg with his hand like cracking off a pistol.

“Why, then, the favor is simple. Tell every enemy of mine, and
especially every friend of Henry Clay, my decision touching Mr. Eaton.
I want the news to travel fast and far. My friends will sustain Mr.
Eaton; and as for my foes, it shall go hard but I discover ways to deal
with them. You may depart, sir.”

Pigeon-breast saluted with flattered chin in air, and went his way, and
presently we heard his saber on its jingling journey down the stair.

“I do not understand that word about the Calhouns,” observed the
General, when we were alone. “The Calhouns have already visited the
Eatons and professed friendship. As for myself, I’ve supposed Calhoun my
supporter. And why should he be otherwise?” The General shook his head
as one puzzled. “We must, I fear, count as against us more than Henry
Clay and his rogues of Bargain and Corruption. Well, so be it; a fight
is like a frolic in so far that ‘the more, the merrier,’ as a proverb,
applies with equal force to both.”.

Now that Pigeon-breast was gone, and we being alone, I remonstrated with
the General for that he had entertained our caller and submitted to his
anti-Eaton speech. I said it disparaged his dignity; that he had already
listened to Duff Green, which was bad enough, but now he must stand with
half-patient ear while yon clanking popinjay reeled off his high-pitched
opposition and that of those befeathered dames whom he professed to
represent. It was a poor beginning for a president.

“Why, sir,” retorted the General, “you, yourself, are wont to hector me
at will; I may not buy a coat without you finding fault. Major, I fear
me you are the proud one. To be sure, I stoop when I listen to such as
Duff and our martial visitor just here. But you must know what Franklin
said of stooping: ‘The world is like a tunnel, dark and low of roof.
He who stoops a little as he passes through will save himself many a
thump.’”

“Oh, if it were to be,” said I, “an argument of saw and proverb and
slips of dried wisdom, I might quote you not a few and redden your ears.
What I say is, you sacrifice dignity; you know it full well at that.”

The General laughed. “But I had my reasons, Major. I sent him whom you
term ‘Pigeon-breast’ forth to be a poultice to this Eaton inflammation.
I want to draw it to a head. Duff Green wouldn’t do; he’d keep our talk
to himself, since my harshness hurt his self-love, and he’s too vain
to tell a tale against himself. And again, he would be made silent with
thoughts of my possible resentment. With Pigeon-breast the cards fall
differently. Did you not remark how well I flattered? At the outset he
was afraid of me. In the end I packed his timidity in cotton-batting
and sang it to sleep; I rocked his cradle and warmed his milk for him.
I called up his pride and made him my messenger. He will tell the Eaton
story to all, and give me as his authority; that is what I seek. It is
a business that will be the sooner over by setting folk’s mouths to the
quarrel at once. And we should make it short for Peg’s sake. Poor Peg;
it’s her tavern origin that kindles patrician wrath, and it is their
aristocratic method to blow calumny upon her. Slander, Major,”--here the
General donned his manner of philosopher--“slander, Major, is as much
the resource of your true aristocrat as poison of your Turk.”



CHAPTER III--PEG’S MEETING WITH THE MAJOR

Before, in this relation, I go to that meeting with Peg whereof I made
account in the commencement of my story, it would be proper, I think,
to notice a singular personality; one who, in intermittent fashion, will
run in and out of my history like a needle through cloth. His sewing,
however, will be of the friendliest, for he was as loyal to the General
as any soul who breathed.

Mordecai Noah, was the man’s name. The General possessed a good previous
acquaintance with him, although, as in the gentle instance of Peg, I was
now to meet him for the earliest time.

Noah was a writer of plays, and an editor; moreover, he was a gentleman
of substance and celebration in New York City, where his paper did
stout service for the General the hot autumn before. Noah also had been
America’s envoy to the Barbary States during the years of Madison. A
Hebrew of purest strain, Noah was of the Tribe of Judah and the House of
David, and the wiseacres of his race told his lineage, and that he was
descended of David in a right line, and would be a present King of
the Jews were it not that the latter owned neither country nor throne.
However this may have been--and indeed a true accuracy for such
ancestral cliff-climbing seems incredible, when any little slip would
spoil the whole--Noah was of culture and quiet penetration; withal
cunning and fertile to a degree. Also, I found his courage to be the
steadiest; he would fight with slight reason, and had in a duel
some twenty years before, with the first fire, killed one Cantor, a
flamboyant person--the world might well spare him--on the Charleston
racetrack, respectably at ten paces. I incline to grant space favorable
to Noah; for he played his part with an integrity as fine as his
intelligence, while his own modesty, coupled with that vulgar dislike
of Jews by ones who otherwise might have named him in the annals of that
day, has operated to obscure his name.

The General told me of Noah somewhat at length on this morning, and just
following the marching away of Pigeon-breast. He said he had sent for
him, and that any moment might bring his footfall to the door.

As he dwelt on Noah and his characteristics, I was struck by a word. It
is worth record as a sidelight on his own nature.

The General showed gusto and a lipsmacking interest in Noah’s duel with
the man Cantor, and ran out every detail as one runs out a trail. I
could not forbear comment.

“How is it,” said I, “you so dote on strife?”

“I don’t dote on strife. But when it comes to that, Major, war is as
natural as peace.”

“If it were so,” I returned, “still your admiration is entirely for war.
You do not love peace.”

“I don’t love war so much as warriors,” he contended. “I understand your
war man; and I do not fear him. Besides, your honest soul of battles
may be made a best friend. I feel the rankle of a Benton bullet in
my shoulder as we talk together; and yet to-day a Benton faces my
detractors on the floor of the Senate. I say again, I love the natural
warrior; I comprehend him and he gives me no feeling of fear.”

“Do you tell me you can be a prey to fear?” I put the query as an
element of dispute. His reply was the word that surprised me.

“Fear?” and the General repeated the word with a sight of earnestness.
“Sir, I fear folk who won’t fight; I fear preachers, Quakers. They are a
most dangerous gentry to run crosswise with.”

When Noah arrived, I was still sitting with the General. Noah was a
sharp, nimble man of middle size and years, and physically as deft and
sure of movement as a mountain goat. He took hold of my hand on being
presented by the General, and I observed how he had an iron steadiness
of grip. I liked that; I am, myself, of prodigious thews and as strong
of arm as any canebrake bear, and when folk shake hands with me, a blush
of emphasis is to my humor. I like to know that I’ve hold on somebody
and that somebody has hold on me. As I looked in Noah’s face, I was
struck with the contradiction of his black eyes, and hair red as the
fur of a fox. On the whole, I felt pleased to know that Noah was the
General’s true friend; no one would have cared for his enmity.

“I feel as though you were an old acquaintance,” said Noah, and his face
lighted as I’ve observed a sudden splash of sunshine to light a deep
wood. “The General has named you so often in his letters, and spoken of
you so much in what interviews I’ve enjoyed with him, that you are to me
no stranger.”

“And I’ve heard frequently and much of you,” I replied.

We from that moment were as thoroughly near to one another as though
neighbors for a decade. It was a strange concession of my nature, for
men come slowly upon terms of confidence with me, and my suspicions are
known for their restlessness.

“This is my thought, Noah,” said the General; “this is why I summoned
you. Blessed is he to whom one is not driven with explanations, and who
intuitively comprehends. You are that man, Noah.” The General’s vivid
manner was a delight to me. “There’s the Eaton affair--you read
my scheme of a cabinet in the paper. There’s to be a war upon the
Eatons--upon me. Already I hear a dull rumble as the opposition takes
its artillery into position. I would know what this means. Is it a
frill-and-ruffle wrath alone and confined to our ladies? Or does it go
deeper and plant its tap-root in a plot? You know what I should say.
Four years pass as swiftly as four clouds; and Henry Clay would still
hanker for a presidency. These Bargain and Corruption wolves will hunt
my administration for every foot of the way, and strive to drag it down.
You gather my notion, Noah. Discover all you can; back-track this Eaton
trouble--it’s but just started and the trail is short--and bring me sure
word, not only of those who foment it, but of the position held towards
it by both Clay and Calhoun. Of the hatred of the former I’m certain,
and that he’ll strike at me with foulest blow. Calhoun, elected to the
vice-presidency by my side, I would have leaned on confidently; but a
word has been said--the Major heard it--that nurtures doubt. Let me
learn all there is of this tangle with what dispatch you may. My own
belief goes to it that, when all is said, search will discover Clay to
be the sole, lone bug under the chip, and Calhoun--and put it the worst
way--but an indifferent looker-on.”

Noah paid wordless attention until the General was through. Then he
spoke. “General,” said Noah, “I had already heard much when you sent for
me. Your portfolio purposes have not been a secret well kept. Also, it
has been abroad as gossip for almost a week, this ill talk of the Eatons;
this morning’s publication simply served to give it volume. Thus far,
and personally, Henry Clay has had naught to do with it; his friends,
however, have been prompt to lift up the cry. You are right, too, when
you regard the rage of these wolves as threatening you. They would,
as you declare, tear down your administration. They will leave nothing
untried. They will hang on your flanks through the defiles and in the
thickets of society; and it is thus they will seek to harass you by
means of the Eatons. They reckon no slight help to their plans, General,
through your high temper; I say this for no end of irritation, but to
put you on guard with yourself.”

Noah would have gone forth at once, but the General held him in speech
about Van Buren, who as present Governor of New York must resign his
Albany position to assume place as the General’s premier.

Noah, who lived Van Buren’s right hand of power in his own region, was
full to the brim with him, and I, who had yet to be introduced to the
little Knickerbocker, sat absorbed of his description. The General had
met Van Buren a dozen times or more; but in any sense of intimacy he was
as ignorant of his future secretary as was I myself. We therefore gave
fullest heed to Noah, who talked well, being one able to take you a man
to pieces as though he were a clock, and show in detail his wheels and
particular springs, and point you to the pendulum of motive for every
hour he struck.

We were in mid-swing of talk when I was called. It was none other than
Jim, to bring me that information--threatening, he deemed it--of the
beautiful Peg who waited my coming below.

As I was going, the door standing open, one in coat of clerical finish
presented himself without announcement, and rapped modestly on the door
frame. I had had experience of his flock and knew him by his feathers.
Plainly, he was a solicitor of subscriptions for some amiable charity.
The book in his hand spoke loudly for my surmise.

My doubt, had one been entertained, would have found dissipation by the
words of the General, as, harsh and strident, they overtook me on my
way.

“No, sir,” I heard him say; “no, sir! Not one splinter!--not one two-bit
piece! I shall begin as I mean to end. You people are not to send me out
of the White House, a pauper and a beggar, as you sent poor Jim Monroe.”

Doughtily resolved, oh General! hard without and soft within! Doughtily
resolved and weakly executed, when eight years later you are made to
borrow ten thousand dollars wherewith to pay your White House debts
before ever you wend homeward to your Hermitage!

After forty and when youth’s suppleness has fled, one’s fancy is as
prone to lapse into a stiff inertness as one’s joints. It came then to
pass, as I journeyed parlorward along the old-fashioned corridors and
stairways of the Indian Queen, that I in nowise was visited by any
glint of the possible beauty of Peg, nor yet of her honest injuries; but
rather, in half peevish fashion, I considered her a proposed incumbrance
to the General’s administration, in which I may be pardoned for
saying--I, who had been busy with trowel and plumb-line about the corner
stone and subsills of his whole career--I was smitten of an interest.
Truly, I had been Eaton’s friend; and had used him well, too. Also, I
was glad to have him take Peg to wife, since such was his fancy. But why
should she and he rise subsequently up to vex folk who were like to own
troubles more properly their own? That was the question I held acridly
under my tongue as I went onward to my meeting with Peg, and I fear some
blush of it showed in my face.

Over six feet and broad as a door, I doubtless towered forbiddingly
upon her imaginings when I came up to Peg; these and the cloud on my
forehead--for I am sure one darkened it--showed her to be both brave
and innocent when, without hesitation or holding back, she put forth
her hands to me. I’ve told somewhere how she gave me her hand; that was
wrong; she gave me both, and gave them with a full sweep of frankness,
that showed confident at once and sad, as though with the motion of it
she offered herself for my protection. She spoke no word; her little
hands lay in my great ones, and I felt within them the beat of a sharp,
small pulse as of one under strain and stress. Once, long before, I had
toiled upward with caitiff secrecy and captured a sleeping mother-pigeon
on her nest. The quick flutter of the bird’s heart beneath my fingers
was as this poor throbbing in Peg’s hands. I remember, also, I was
melted into the same sudden compassion for the pigeon that seized on me
for Peg.

“I came to you because you are the General’s old friend,” she said. Her
sweet, large eyes were swimming, and her voice began to break. Then she
put out an effort and brought herself to bay. “I’ve nothing to ask; not
much to say, neither. I know what the General would do; my husband
has told me. I know, too, what it will mean of slander and insult and
suffering. And yet--I’ve prayed upon it; prayed and again prayed!--I
must go forward. I can not, nay, I dare not become a bar across the path
of my husband; I dare not poison his success.”

All this time I had been holding to her hands, for I felt her great
beauty and it made me forget the name of time. Besides, this was no
common meeting, but rather the making of a league and covenant between
folk who were to be allies throughout a bitter strife. I think she
noticed my awkward and scarce polite retention of her fingers, for she
withdrew them, while a little flush of color painted itself in her face.
Still, she did not do this unkindly; and, I may say, there was nothing
of sentiment in my breast which cried for rebuke or tendered her aught
but honor.

“Pardon a freedom in one twice your years, but you are wondrous
beautiful.” These were my first words to Peg. “Mr. Eaton has come by
mighty fortune.”

“My beauty, as you call it,” said she, with just the shadow of a smile
that told more of pain than gladness, “has been no good ground to me
and borne me nettles for a crop. I had been happier for a wholesome
plainness.”

Then we settled to a better conversation; and the while her sweetness
was growing on me like a vine and I becoming more and more soundly her
partisan with every moment.

“My husband is much honored,” said she at one point, “and deems himself
advanced by what the General would offer. Also, he sees nothing of the
darkness into which I stare; he sees only the high station and the power
of it, and the way shines to his feet. But I know what society will
do; I have not been child and girl and woman in Washington without
experience of it. Folk will turn from me and ignore me and seek to blot
me out. If it were none save myself to be considered, I would abandon
the field; I would hunt seclusion, cultivate obscurity as if it were a
rose. But am I to become a drag on the man who loves me and gives me his
name? Am I to be fetters for his feet--a stumbling-block before him?”

“There is no need of this apprehension,” said I; “you should have a
higher spirit, since you are innocent.”

“Innocent, yes!” she cried, and her deep eyes glowed; “innocent, yes! As
heaven hears me, innocent!” Her manner dismayed me with what it unveiled
of suffering. Then in a lower tone, and with a kindle of that cynicism
to come upon folk who, working no evil and doing no wrong, are yet made
to find themselves fronted of adverse tides and blown against by winds
of cruelty, “Innocent, yes; but what relief comes then? I am young; many
are still children with my years. And, thanks to a tavern bringing
up,”--here was hardness now--“I have so seen into the world’s heart as to
know that it is better to be a rogue called honest, than honest and
called a rogue. That is true among men; I tell you it is doubly true
among women.”

To be open about it, I was shocked; not that what Peg said was either
foolish or untrue. But to be capable of such talk, and she with that
loving, patient mouth, showed how woeful must have been the lesson. But
it gave me none the less a deal of sureness for the level character of
her intellect, and I saw she carried within her head the rudiments of
sense.

“What is it you would ask of me?” said I, at last. “I can only promise
beforehand anything in my power.”

“I would ask nothing,” she replied, “save the assurance that you will be
my husband’s friend and mine. I see grief on its way as one sees a storm
creep up the sky. Oh!” she suddenly cried with a sparkle of tears, “my
husband! He must not be made ashamed for me! Rather than that, I would
die!”

Peg bowed her flower-like head and wept, I, sitting just across, doing
nothing, saying nothing; which conduct was wise on my part, albeit I
hadn’t the wit to see it at the time, and was simply daunted to silence
by a sorrow I knew not how to check. It was a tempest, truly, and swayed
and bent her like a willow in a wind. At last she overtook herself; she
smiled with all the brightness of nature, or the sun after a flurry of
rain.

“It will do me good,” she said; “and when the time comes I will be
braver than you now think.”

When Peg smiled she gave me a flash of white behind the full red of her
lips. Then I noticed a peculiar matter. She wanted the two teeth that,
one on each side of the middle teeth, should grow between the latter and
the eye teeth. When I say she wanted these, you are not to understand
she once owned them and that they were lost. These teeth had never been;
where six should have grown there were but four; and these, set evenly
and with dainty spaces between, took up the room, each claiming its just
share. The teeth were as white as rice, short and broad and strong, and
the eye teeth sharply pointed like those of a leopard. There gleamed,
too, a shimmer of ferocity about these teeth which called for all Peg’s
tenderness of mouth, aye! even that sadness which lurked in plaintive
shadows about the corners, to correct. And yet what struck one as a
blemish went on to be a source of fascination and grew into the little
lady’s chiefest charm--these separated sharp white leopard teeth of
Peg’s.

When I came into the room I was thinking on the hardships to the
General’s administration; now I regarded nothing save the perils of
Peg herself. With that on my soul I started, man-fashion, to talk
courageously.

“After all, what is there to cower from?” said I. “You know society, you
say; doubtless that is true. I confess I do not, since this is almost
my first visit to the town. But I know men, and of what else is society
compounded? Their heaviest frown, if one but think coolly and be sure of
one’s self, should not weigh down a feather.”

“Why, yes,” she cried, “you know men. But do you know women? Men are as
so many camp followers of society; it is the women who make the fighting
line. And oh! their shafts are tipped with venom!”

“It cannot be so bad,” I insisted. “So-called society, which must
take on somewhat the character of come-and-go with the ebb and flow of
administrations, begins with the White House, does it not?”

“We will do our best,” smiled Peg, without replying to my question.

Probably she comprehended the hopeless sort of my ignorance and the
uselessness of efforts to set forth to me the “Cabinet Circle,” the
“Senate Circle,” the “Supreme Court Circle,” and those dozen other
mysterious rings within rings, wheels within wheels, which the
complicated perfection of capital social life offers for the confusion
of folk.

“Unquestionably, the White House,” Peg went on, “is the citadel, the
great tower, and we can always retreat to that. We will do well enough;
but oh!”--here Peg laid her hand like a rose leaf on my arm--“you do not
understand, a man can not understand, what we shall go through.”

“Let us have stout hearts for all that,” said I. “It behooveth us to
be bold, since no victory, even over weakness, was ever constructed of
timidity. Besides, the foe may offer us its defeat by its own errors.
I recall, how once upon a time, certain Creeks whom the General was to
attack entrenched themselves, and all about felled trees and sharpened
the branches into points, the whole as defensive as any bristle of
bayonets. You, as thought these red engineers, would have deemed the
place impregnable, for no one might force his way through this _chevaux
de-frise_. But the General’s military eye unlocked the situation. The
sun-dried leaves and twigs were lying where they fell. An arrow, with
blazing tow tied to its shaft and shot from a safe two hundred yards
away, solved the problem. In a moment that precious defence was on fire;
and the enemy, driven forth by the heat and flame and smoke of it,
were met in the open and destroyed to a man. We may yet smoke these
society savages into a surrender by setting an honest torch to their
surroundings. One thing we can promise ourselves.” I remarked this in
conclusion. “Whatever else may fail, at the worst, you shall not go
wanting a revenge.”

“And that thought is sweet, too,” said she in return.

Peg’s leopard teeth were not without significance; that much I saw.
After all, her speech was to have been expected; for who will go further
afield for revenge than your flesh and blood true woman, still of
earth’s fires and not ready for the skies?

Peg told me a portion of her story; partly because it was natural she
should think that I, who had been a stranger to her, might justly want
such knowledge; but mostly, I believe, for that she had an instinct to
defend herself against what I might have preconceived to her disaster.
Dear child, she had small cause to fret herself on that score! I
remember she gave herself no little blame as the self-willed gardener
of those thorny sorrows among which she had walked and was still
sorrowfully to find her path. She would run on like this, as I recall:

“The first fault belonged with this tavern of an Indian Queen. I could
have been no older than eight when I knew how folk who came here,
Congressmen and officers of state and their ladies, looked upon us who
kept the place as but servants over servants, and took care not to
meet us on an equal footing with themselves. My father and mother were
disrated as mere tavern-keepers who sold their entertainment to any
and to all; and I, so soon as I came to discretion and an ability to
apprehend, found myself included in the ban thus set upon my people.
I’ve seen nurses skurry to carry their charges off from childish games
with me and the contamination of my baby contact. Later, in girlhood,
I’ve overheard mothers while they warned their daughters to avoid me,
and experienced the tilt-nosed airs of those same daughters who with
superior arts of insolence stung me like wasps. More often than once,
I’ve crept away to tears of shame because I was the daughter of a
tavern.

“But in the end it hardened me. I had a perverse, retaliatory temper. I
grew up beautiful, so folk told me; moreover, I knew it but too well by
the merest glance in a glass. With my beauty,”--Peg spoke of it in mixed
simplicity and sadness as though she recounted deformity--“I was wont to
fashion my revenge. My father--not a poor man, for while taverns may be
vulgar they maybe profitable--was ever ready to spend money on me; and I
had only to hint at a comb or a ribbon or a ring, to find the gewgaw
an hour after on my table. Good, poor man! my father, calm and careless
enough under his condition so far as it rested on himself, felt for my
humiliations, which now and again he could not fail to see, and sought
with trinketry and luxury of dress to repair the injury. Neither he nor
my mother spoke of what they both must have felt, that is our nosocial
condition, if one may so describe it; and for myself, I was too proud,
and too tenderly in love with them for their thousand kindnesses, to
bring it upon their notice.

“As I’ve said, I made my beauty the method of my revenge. I owned taste
as well as looks, and my wits were as deep and as quick and as bright as
my eyes. I’ve set many a wrinkle on many a fair brow by defeating it to
second place in that woman’s rivalry of looks.

“For these wars, where loveliness tilts against loveliness, my allies
were the men. Compliment for me was never silent on their lips. I was
the town’s toast as I grew up. This put the women to an opposite course.
As the men spoke of my beauty, the women shrugged their pure shoulders
and told of my boldness; and I must confess that in a native vivacity,
together with that rebellion of the spirit born of their attitude
towards me, I gave them endless evidence to go upon. I have lived my
life without an immorality or the shadow of one; I have done no wrong
wherewith to shame myself; but, reckless, careless, and with the frank
ignorance of innocence--and then, to be sure, because it made those
others angry--I was greedy of men’s praise, withal too free of speech
and eye, and thereby offered tongues eager to assail me the argument
required as material for their ill work. They, the women, wove for me
as bad a story as they might, and then wrapped it about me for a
reputation. How I loathed and hated them! those who, worsted of my
beauty, would tear me with calumny by way of reprisal!

“Now I must tell you, it was I who wearied first of that game where it
was beauty on the one side against icy stare, arched brow, and covert
innuendo on the other. No; my tongue would not have spared them--it was
never a patient member, that tongue!--but for such artillery, as you
would call it, my persecutors were out of reach. There is a gravity
of words; they descend and never climb; they must, like a stone, come
tumbling from above to do an injury. Wherefore these folk high up
were safe from me--safe from everything except my beauty; and since I
maintained myself without a stain upon my virtue, even my beauty wore
for them and theirs no real peril. Above, on the cliffs of society, they
rolled down tale and whisper against me like so many black stones;
in retort, though I might be beautiful and so madden them with the
possession of what they lacked, I from below could harm them nothing.
I think, too, some in pain of their own ugliness, envied and would have
changed places with me. They would not, had they known what I knew and
felt what I felt. My soul was in torment, and I grew never so callous
but the darts of their forked malignancy would pierce and pain.

“It was to avoid conditions which grew at last intolerable--for I
brooded when alone and magnified the evils of my position, turning
morbid the while--that I wedded Mr. Timberlake. I never loved him; I
took him to be a refuge rather than a husband, and my little life with
him was not a happy one. By no fault of his, however; I think he loved
me, and I know he did his best. I had nothing from him save kindness,
and when he died in the Mediterranean I doubt not he carried into the
other world a sincere regard for me.

“And I would have loved him if I could.” Peg waved her hand with an
accent of despair, and as one who had striven and failed beyond recall.
“But I could not--could not; strive as I might, love would not come. I
felt guilt to live with him; I was glad when he sailed away; and, God
help me! my sighs over his death were the sighs of one released from
bonds.”

Peg broke and cried like any child. You should understand, however, that
she was unjust to herself. What she said of her brooding aforetime to
the frontier of the morbid was over-true. And, supersensitive, proud,
her hope had wasted as her gloom grew; her griefs of girlhood, enlarged
many fold doubtless, as she herself suspected, by stress of her own
fancy sorrowing with a wound, had left solemn stamp upon her; and this
took far too often and unjustly the shape of self-blame. Beneath all,
and hidden deep within her breast, Peg carried small opinion of herself;
thought herself selfish, hard, shallow, and of no rich depth of heart.
She was wrong to the core; for her inner self was as beautiful as her
face. And yet, despite knowledge on her own part, and her friends’
assurances, in the ultimate recesses of her thoughts there existed
a torture-chamber; and therein she ever racked herself as the one
wrongdoer in what she had passed through. There was no driving her from
this; she was merciless against herself; and while none not the closest
might know, for in the presence of non-friends and strangers she showed
the iron fortitude of an Indian or a soldier, to myself and those with
whom she practiced no reserve these self-flagellations were much too
painfully plain.

I say, folk near to Peg were aware of this morbid lack of soul-vanity
and good regard for herself. There should be one exception counted, and
that, curious to tell, her own husband. Peg, for all he might be double
her age, and I think no very handsome man at that, I could see, when I
talked with her, loved Eaton as she loved her eyes or mothers love their
children. And yet, never to him did she show her true feeling; in his
presence she was the brave, gay, bright, strong, brilliant Peg, asking
in the fight which followed no quarter and granting none, she seemed to
the common world. It is curious, and presents a problem too involved for
my solution, that Peg should have guarded against the one she most loved
and shut the door upon discovery by him of her own wondrous self. Yet so
it was; it stood patent to me from the beginning that Eaton knew no more
of Peg than of her whom he never met.

In her morbid estimates of her worth it is possible she feared to grant
him too clear a view. She may have thought she would lose by it. The
reason, however, for this great secrecy coupled with great love--this
hiding from him for whom she would have died--I shall leave to be
searched for by those scientists of souls who are pleased to explain the
inexplicable. For myself, I confess I was baffled by it.

This, however, I will say; the fact that Peg could so practice upon
Eaton to his blindness gave me no high opinion of that gentleman. He
should have groped for her and grasped her, and found her out for the
loving, loyal, sorrowing heart she was; and that he did not, but went in
placid darkness of the treasure he held in his hands, content to have
it so, marked him for a lack of insight and want of sympathy which I’m
bound to say do not distinguish me. Such stolidity on the part of folk
has caused me more often than once to consider whether the angels, by
mere possession, may not at last find even heaven commonplace.

Still, it is none the less infuriating to witness so much beauty so
much thrown away! Indubitably, the economy of existence asks for pigs
as loudly as it asks for pearls, and to blame Eaton for failing in
appreciation of Peg is as apart from equity as would be the flogging
of a horse who sees no beauty in a moss-rose--and less, perhaps--not
present in a musty lock of hay. However, it is none the less infuriating
for that.

Mark you though, I would be guilty of no wrong to Eaton, nor establish
him on too low a level in your esteem. He was in the Senate from
Tennessee at the time, and of solid repute among his fellows. He was a
brave, dull, good-humored sort, who thought better, perhaps, of a bottle
than of a book--not to excess, you are to notice--and as a statesman, if
he put out no fires, he kindled none; though he did no good, at worst he
did no harm; and that, let me tell you, is a record somewhat better than
the average. I have been attacked and charged with a distaste of Eaton.
There are two words to go with that, and no one--and I challenge those
who knew us both--can put his finger on any ill of word or deed or
thought I ever aimed against him. Truly, I hunted not his company with
horn and horse and hound; but what then? I take it, I’m as free to pick
and choose for my intimates as any other. And I still declare what
was in my thoughts in those hours I tell of, that Eaton, sluggish and
something of a clod-head, and with a blurred, gray tone of fancy, was
unworthy such a woman, whose love for him, be it said, was when I
met her as boundless as the difficulty of accounting for its first
existence. I say again, and the last time, I hold no dislike for Eaton,
and more than once have done him good favors in days gone. That I shall
grant him no extensive mention in these pages means no more than that
he was but a supernumerary in the drama where of the General and Peg
carried the great parts. Eaton came on and off; but his lines were
few and brief and burned with no interest. There is little reason for
prodigious clamor over Eaton, and little there will be. But I am not to
be accused of unfairness to the man for that he dwelt with an angel and
was too thick to find it out.

Peg at last recalled herself from the dead Timberlake. She brushed away
her tears.

“These are all of them you are to see,” laughed Peg, stoutly, referring
to her tears. “I promise to shed no more. However, you may quiet alarm;
a woman’s tears are no such mighty matter.” I showed perturbation, I
suppose, and she would dissipate it.

Peg told me of her wedding with Eaton. She dwelt a deal on her love for
him; but since one consents to it as a sentiment, even though its cause
defy one’s search, there comes no call to extend the details in this
place.

It stood open to my eyes, however, as Peg talked, how no man was more
loved than Eaton. And when I looked upon the ardent girl and considered,
withal, the dull stolidity of the other, there would rise up pictures
from my roving past to be as allegories of Peg’s love. I would recall
how once I saw a vine, blossom-flecked and beautiful, flinging its green
tenderness across a hard insensate wall; and that was like Peg’s love.
Or it would come before me how I had known a mountain, sterile, seamed,
unlovely, where it heaved itself against the heavens, a repellant harsh
shoulder of stone. The June day, fresh and new and beautiful, would
blush in the east, and her first kiss was for that cold gray, rude,
old rock. That day at noon in her warm ripeness would rest upon it. Her
latest glance, as our day died in the west, was for it; and when the
valley and all about were dark, her last rays crowned it. And the vivid
day, with her love for that unregardful mountain, the rich day wasting
herself on the desert peak that would neither respond nor understand,
was as the marvel of Peg’s love.

It is all the mystery that never ends; woman in her love-reasons is not
to be fathomed nor made plain. The cry of her soul is to love rather
than to be loved; her happiness lives in what she gives, not what she
gets. This turns for the good fortunes of men; also, it offers the
frequent spectacle of a woman squandering herself--for squandering it
is--on one so unworthy that only the sorrow of it may serve to smother
the laughter that else might be evoked. However, I am not one to discuss
these things, being no analyst, but only a creature of bluff wits, too
clumsy for theories as subtle, not to say as brittle, as spun glass.
Wherefore, let us put aside Peg’s love and break off prosing. The more,
since I may otherwise give some value to a jest of the General’s--made
on that same day--who would have it I was at first sight half in love
with Peg myself. This was the General’s conception of humor ard owned no
other currency--I, being twice Peg’s age, and in the middle forties,
and not a trifle battered of feature by my years in the field. I was old
enough to be Peg’s father;--but when it comes to that, Eaton was quite
as old.

It was time to seek the General, I said. Peg and I had arrived at a
frank acquaintance, and we went together to the General’s room in good
opinion of ourselves, she the better by a new staunch friend, and I
prosperous with thoughts for her of a coming elevation consistent with
her graces of mind and person, and which should atone as much as might
be for what she had suffered heretofore. We decided that Peg should wear
a gay look, and harrow the General with no tears.

As we went along I was given to quite a novel enthusiasm, I recollect;
and it was the more strange since, while no pessimist, I never had found
celebration as one whose hope was wont to wander with the stars. I could
see the white days ahead for Peg; and albeit I fear their glory shone
not to her apprehension as it did to mine, and while they came slowly
as days shod with lead, dawn they did, as he shall witness who goes with
this history to the end.

My servant Jim was sent with a message to the General to give him the
word of Peg’s coming. During our talk in the parlor, Jim, be it said,
was never far to call. Obviously, Jim proposed for me no dangers of
bright eyes so far as remained with him to be my shield. He dodged in
and out of the room, now with this pretext and now with that, and when
I bade him repair to the General to say that Peg and I would visit him,
the gray old rogue was fair irresolute, and hung in the wind as though
he had but to turn his back on us and bring down every evil. I drove him
forth at last, and when Peg and I would tap on the General’s door our
black courier was just coming away.

While the General was greeting Peg--rather effusively for him, so I
thought--Jim, detaining me at the door, took the liberty of a private
word.

“Now you-all is yere, Marse Major,” observed Jim, and his manner was of
complaint and weariness, “an’ where Marse Gen’ral kin keep a eye on you,
I feels free an’ safe to go projectin’ ‘round about my own consarns.
I was boun’ I wouldn’t leave you alone, Marse Major, in d’ parlors; I
shore tells you it makes Jim draw long brefs an’ puts him to fear an’
tremblin’ lest every minute’s gwine to be his nex’, while any woman as
han’some as dish yere Missis Eaton is pesterin’ nigh. You-all can’t tell
what dey’ll do, or what you’ll do! Which Jim has knowed Love to up
an’ prounce on a man like a mink on a settin’ hen; an’ him jes’ merely
lookin’ at one of them sirens, as d’ good book calls’em. That’s d’ shore
enough fac’, Marse Major; an’ you-all oughter be mighty keerful an’ keep
Jim hoverin’ about d’ lan’scape at all sech meetin’s. It’s a heap safer,
that a-way; you hyar Jim!” At this point of warning Jim stopped like a
clock that has run down.

“You asked me if you might have one drink from the demijohn in my
closet,” I said. “Yassir, Marse Major, I does.”

“You took four, you scoundrel; you took at least four, as I can tell by
the mill-wheel clatter of your tongue.”

“On’y three, Marse Major; on’y three. An’ you don’t want to disrecollect
Marse Major, pore old Jim’s got a heap on his mind to make him thirsty.”

“I shall not disrecollect, as you call it, to lock my closet door. I
don’t propose, sir, to furnish you forty-year-old whisky to become the
inspiration of such crazy harangues as I’ve just listened to.”

My voice was stern, and the awful threat of locking the closet door took
vastly the heart out of Jim.

“Why, Marse Major,” he began apologetically, “Jim warn’t aimin’ to say
nothin’ to cumfusticate you; Jim was talkin’ for your good. I wouldn’t
go for to lock up that closet, Marse Major; how’s Jim gwine to get your
clothes to bresh? Besides, Jim’s done said his say, an’ arter this he’ll
nacherally go about as cat-foot an’ as wary an’ as quiet as a coon at
noon, that’s what Jim will. You has heard d’ las’ word from Jim, Marse
Major; d’ very las’ word. On’y don’t go for to lock that closet door;
if you does, most likely we’ll lose d’ key an’ it’s gwine to get in our
way.”

“Well, sir, we shall see,” I replied, severely. “One thing is certain;
I’m not to have my servant, at the age of seventy, make a drunken show
of himself. I’ll send you back to Tennessee, first.”

Jim departed, sensibly subdued.

With Peg and the General I found Eaton, who arrived while I was
receiving my lecture from the sapient Jim. We greeted each other with
warmth, and I could see that Peg felt this warmth and took a glow from
it. Dear girl! he was her all; she had friendship for those who were his
friends, love for those who loved him; and, twisting a commandment, Peg
would do unto others as they did unto him.

Eaton was a blond, ruddy man. As we released each other’s hands, he said:

“I’m here to offer my thanks to the General. I was speaking of this
cabinet matter to my colleague, White. He is greatly pleased. By the
way, General,”--here Eaton wheeled on the General--“my senate seat will
want an occupant. Why not prevail on our friend, the Major, to take it?”

“No, no!” responded the General, quickly and with a gay energy; “that
would never match my plans. The Major, or I much mistake, must go with
me to the White House. I could not carry on my administration unless I
found him quarreling at my elbow whenever I turned my head.”

“And if ‘carry on’ be the name of it, who is to carry on my farms?” I
asked.

This I put seriously; it stood much to the left hand of any programme of
mine, this making one of the General’s White House family.

“Who will carry on your farms?” repeated the General. “Why, then, who is
to carry on mine? Do you mean that you, who have put me here, are about
to desert me? Nonsense, man; there is no room in your body, big as
it is, for so gross a treason. If I stay, you stay; and that’s nailed
down.”

“And surely you wouldn’t abandon me?” said Peg, bringing her pretty face
something near to my shoulder. Then, low and pleading: “Me; with trouble
frowning?”

Who was there to stand up against both Peg and the General? I made no
breathless battle of it, you may guess.

“Major, I’ve been telling this child,” said the General, laying his thin
hand on Peg’s curly mop of hair, “how at our receptions she’ll light up
that great East Room with the bright face of her. We shall require all
the beauty we can muster, since the administration is like to go limping
in the business of looks. Van Buren and Barry are wifeless; and I’m told
Mrs. Ingham is forbiddingly hideous, with the voice of a henhawk. You
see, my child,” turning to Peg, “we build on you to save our day from
the sin of ugliness.”

Peg’s eyes danced, and she seemed to bask in prospects naught save
sunshine. She was far from that broken one of sobs and sorrows whose
hand I held a short half hour before. A great woman is ever a great
actress; Peg was proving it now; for with a face all light, her heart
was a heart of shadows, and heavy with the forebode of dark days
coming down. What a paradox is woman! Here was Peg, brave at once,
and fearful--afraid for her husband, while quick with courage for him,
finding her peril where she found her strength.

“We are living,” remarked Eaton, as he tucked Peg under his arm
preparatory to their departure, “we are living on the Georgetown side
of the President’s Square. General, we won’t, while you are in the White
House, have a far journey when we visit you. Major, you must call on
us.”

“Indeed, you must!” echoed Peg.

As the two took their leave, and the General, having bowed the little
lady to the door, sought his never-failing pipe, Jim reappeared, and
with a caution that bordered upon mystery put a penciled note in my
hand. It read:

“Mr. Noah presents his compliments to the Major; and will the Major
do Mr. Noah the honor to meet him immediately in the card room? It
is considered advisable by Mr. Noah to say nothing to the General
concerning this message.”

The note went into my pocket, the General, luckily involved with his
pipe, which for some stubbornness concealed within the stem refused to
draw, failing to notice. This was as should be, for the General was as
inquisitive and prompt with query as a girl. Even now he asked where I
was bound.

“I’ve had nothing to eat as yet,” I returned.

“That’s true; I had forgotten. Come back when you are finished; there’s
a deal to talk about. I shall need you to help me make up my mind.”

“Help you unmake it, you mean,” I replied.

There was an exchange of grins. I had exactly stated the case; and, as a
grave truth will on occasion, it struck our sense of the ridiculous. It
had been my work for years; it would be my work for the eight years yet
to come; this unmaking of the General’s mind.

On my way to the card room I asked Jim,

Peggy

O’Neal who was close behind, where he got the message.

“Marse Major, Jim done obtains it from that red-head Jew gentleman I
sees romancin’ ‘round yere this mornin’. An’ say, Marse Major; don’t
you-all reckon Jim better skuffle for your room an’ fotch your box of
pistols?”

“Pistols!” I exclaimed, stopping short; “what in the name of General
Jackson do I. want of pistols?”

“Oh, nothin’, Marse Major, jest nothin’,” said Jim, shifting uneasily on
his feet. “It’s simply one of them old-time Cumberland idees of Jim’s.
D’ fac’ is, Marse Major, Jim sort o’ allows from d’ signs how dish yere
red-head Jew gentleman’s gwine to have a fight.”



CHAPTER IV--THE JEW AND HIS SPANISH SWORD

Jim’s surmise of trouble on the brew set fire to my feet. At the door
of the card room I met Duff Green coming out--Duff of the Oporto nose. I
barely nodded; I could taste of insincerity and a suave false slyness on
the man as one smells secret fire in a house.

As I pushed into the card room, while it was well filled of folk, my
first glance revealed nothing to justify Jim’s fears. There was Noah,
truly; and sitting with him that Kentucky Yankee, the anxious Amos
Kendall. Isaac Hill, gray and thin, and limping with his club-foot,
was also about. These were the General’s friends; there was naught to
anticipate of a misunderstanding with Noah from them.

And for all that, Jim was right; calm as showed the surface, there ran
an undertow of conversation which flowed for storm. Jim, who lived long
among fighting men on fighting ground, had attained perhaps some
sharpened sense for the sign or sound of approaching strife, and could
foretell it while yet a mile away, Kendall was by Noah’s side, and Hill
had paused at his elbow; yet it was with neither of these he was
engaged. Against the corner of a mantelpiece, and two paces from Noah,
leaned a young man of dissolute look. His name, I learned, was Catron,
and he came from Port Tobacco, a small hamlet in the southern toe of
Maryland. Evidently, Catron was of an upper class in his country, as his
dress, and fine hands, smallish and unmarred of toil, would give a
signal. He had been drinking, but seemed more vicious than drunk.

Catron was doing the talking, and with a manner of itself an insult
seemed bent for altercation.

“Don’t cross the run of things,” warned Noah, in a whisper, as I marked
my advent by dropping a hand upon his shoulder; “I am glad you are come;
but don’t interfere. Affairs go famously.”

Willing to gain some insight of the trend of traffic, I paused behind
Noah’s chair.

“That I should cross words,” Catron was saying, “with a Jackson Jew does
not tell in favor of my respectability. It is what one must look for,
however, when the beggars of politics are promoted to the saddle.”

“Your epithet of ‘Jackson Jew,’” responded Noah, quietly, “I take for
myself, and am much flattered thereby. And you are also to remember
there are weapons other than words which one may cross with me whenever
one’s valor arouses to that pitch. Jew, yes! my ancestors were poets,
lawgivers--they read the stars, and collected the wisdom and the
learning of the world, when the slant-skulled fore-fathers of upstairs
I might indicate went clothed of sheepskin and club, ate their meat raw,
and saved their fire to pray to.”

All this flowed from Noah in tones modulate and sweet. I began to wonder
at my fair-haired friend; not unskilled in colloquy of this sort, it beat
upon me that Noah, himself, was wanting an encounter.

“If I were to own my way,” said Catron, paying no heed to Noah’s
intimation of a stone-age savagery as the state of his forebears. “If I
might have my way, I’d exclude every shoe-lace Jew from the country.”

“Doubtless; if you were to have but your own way,” purred Noah. “And
yet, observe the injustice you propose. The Jew is as much the American
as you. My father fought for this country; I have fought for it; the
Jews found and gave one-third of that money which won the Revolution.
The Jews wasted their treasure and their blood like water for
independence, while folk one wots of were filling the roles of Royalists
and upholding the hands of the King.”

There now fell out a deal of talk to little purpose, I thought, and I
was on the tip of telling Noah so, when someone from over my shoulder
flung a remark.

“You are he,” said this man--his name was Witherspoon, and he a Clay
Kentuckian--“you are he,” addressing Noah, “who had this country
stricken from the muster of Christian nations. You caused the Bey of
Tunis to make the decision.”

“I but caused the Bey to expound our constitution,” said Noah, looking
carelessly back at Witherspoon.

While I was turning these last remarks in my mind, and gnawing the
enigma they offered, Catron broke forth with a cataract of malediction
upon the General, and Noah and any and all who stood the former’s
supporters. It was a flood of abuse that told strongly for the ruffian’s
muddy powers.

“And now this precious Jackson of yours,”--these were Catron’s closing
words--“this murderer! this thief of other men’s wives! would insult the
decency of our capitol with a courtesan in his cabinet.”

“Meaning whom?” asked Noah, half rising.

Noah’s words had the fiber of triumph; he put his question as might he
who had trapped that result which he went seeking from the start.

“Who?” retorted the other; “who, save that Peg O’Neal who was as common
as the streets she walked.”

“You lie; you rogue and dog of Henry Clay, you lie!”

Noah fair spat out the words; it was as though they came freighted with
the venom of the viper.

Catron growled an oath and leaped towards Noah. He was met flush in the
face with a glass of whiskey which Noah in most casual fashion had just
poured. I had foreseen Noah’s purpose; I’d heard him say he drank no
spirits.

For the moment Catron was stopped, the bite and anguish of the alcohol
in his eyes making him as a blind man. As Noah threw the liquor, I
seized him by the wrist; so far it had been gentleman’s work; I did not
want him to spoil his position by throwing the glass.

“Don’t grip so hard,” warned Noah, making not the least of struggle;
“don’t grip so hard. I shall anon need this hand for what is in store;
that grasp like a hand-vise will weaken it for a sword, or shake it for
a pistol.”

Never was I more played upon and pleased than by the coolness of Noah,
who showed as steady, not to say indifferent, as he who acts a part in a
theater.

“I shall have your life for this!” screamed Catron, who, in the hands of
friends and still blind of the whiskey, was carried to another room.

When something like peace fell, I asked Noah to explain. I would
understand this violence; the more since it looked to be half-plan
on Noah’s part. Kendall and Hill were with us and made four for our
conversation.

“What is the riddle, then?” I said. “I got your note; what was it you
desired?”

“Nothing, save your presence,” he replied. “As you observe, I was
provoking a fight--not a most amiable attitude, I confess. But you will
hear my reasons. Since I saw you, I have found how there exists a clique
of bloods--they are of both the Clay and Calhoun parties--who go about
grossly assailing Mrs. Eaton. There is concert in their villainy; and
they relax themselves at intervals with threats of violence against any
who shall take Mrs. Eaton’s part. A duel--a prompt, sharp duel, with a
wound or two--is the best, in truth! the only way to stifle them.
There is nothing like steel or lead to teach such gentry mildness and a
Christian spirit.”

Noah laughed over the adjective.

“And have you put yourself forward,” I demanded, “as that master who is
to give these lessons of lead and steel?”

“What could be better?” returned Noah. “I am cold and steady, and not
apt for error. Again, I am of no such overt and particular emphasis in
the General’s designs as to link his name too much with this ruffle.
Since it is to be, I think I am excellently the hand for the work; and I
hold it fortunate I am here when I so dovetail with events.”

“And what is to come?” said I.

“Indubitably, a challenge,” broke in Kendall. “The Maryland Catrons
are of touchwood stock. They duel for their pleasure.” Then with an
inflection of warning. “This Catron will ask for swords!”

“Swords should do exceeding well,” remarked Noah. “It should go through
sharply, this affair, for the best moral effect on others of his
ill-tongued clan. With swords we might fight in a room, since they make
no noise. Let us meet at once. In an hour this Catron’s eyes will cease
to burn, and he’ll see the better for it.”

“But, mind you, Catron is a master of the sword,” said Kendall. “He had
the best teachers in Florence.”

“Should he show you my blood,” returned Noah, coldly, “I will avouch him
the best fencer of America.”

There would be a duel, so much I could tell. And yet the situation put
me to deepest thought. I was sorry for Peg’s name in it, too; that would
mean no end of talk.

“There is no end of talk as it stands,” argued Noah. “It were best to
make Mrs. Eaton’s fame the issue. I could have forced a quarrel on his
insults for that I was a Jew. But I hold it better as it is. Mrs. Eaton
was the one question worth duelling with such a bully about; but for
the duel to be of suppressive virtue, it is required to have the _casus
belli_ surely shown.”

Noah was profoundly right in these arguments; the next day’s sequel of
silence on the cautious parts of our anti-Eaton swashbucklers remarked
as much.

“You speak of this Catron as a bully,” commented Hill. “I know nothing
of your code, for it does not obtain in New Hampshire. But is a
gentleman bound to take notice of the vaporings of a bully--a mere
blackguard?”

“One may be a bully,” returned the steady Noah, “and none the less
patrician for that. Indeed, your prince oft takes his purple blood for
license. Who was Alcibiades but a bully-boy of Athens? Who have been the
bullies of London town, with their Mohocks and Hell Fire Clubs, but
the nobility and royal princes? No, believe me, sir;” and Noah’s lip
twitched sarcastically, “the bully’s blood is sometimes blue.”

It was settled that I should second the interests of Noah. At a first
blink, this arrangement might have the look of the General’s fat in the
fire, since we professed anxiety to keep his name clear of the muddle.
But there are two ends to a lane; our purpose was attained when the
General’s want of personal knowledge found demonstration. That plain, it
was next good to have it understood how the Jackson interest was at the
Noah shoulder. These reasons, and because I owned experience of such
arbitraments--for I had lived where pistols, barking at ten paces, were
rife enough--taught Noah his preference for me over Kendall and Hill,
who had seen fewer of these bickers, the latter none at all.

“They will be the challenging party,” I observed to Noah; “that gives us
the choice of arms.”

“Should Kendall be right,” said Noah, “as to the Florentine studies
of our friend, he will prefer swords. Suppose you concede swords on
condition he fight at once.”

Even while we conferred, there came Pigeon-breast, my friend of the
clanking saber and gold heels, to wait upon us. The sight of me as
sponsor for Noah caused Pigeon-breast a dubious start; possibly he
feared lest the General resent his presence as the avowed ally of the
enemy. Indeed poor Pigeon-breast expressed his thought.

“It is to be hoped,” faltered Pigeon-breast, in his high-pitched tenor,
“you will represent me, sir, in certain quarters you know of, as acting
solely for the honor of my friend. My personal position as to the
subject matter of the quarrel must not be deduced from that.”

I maintained myself with gravity, as folk about a litigation of honor
should; also, I set Pigeon-breast easy on risks and perils for himself.
In the matter of weapons Pigeon-breast fair fell upon my neck.

“It is for you to name weapons,” quoth Pigeon-breast. Then, with
hesitation: “If it meet your view, however, we for our side would
welcome swords.”

“And that is a highly improper remark, permit me to say.” My attitude
was purposely severe. It would throw Pigeon-breast into confusion.
“Since the choice is with us, it is neither graceful nor safe for you to
try to lead it.”

“Surely,” protested Pigeon-breast, “I meant no unfairness, no offence.
But with swords, sir, this might come quietly off in town. Should you
say pistols, it will mean Bladensburg; and the mud is girth deep.”

At the word “mud,” poor Pigeon-breast gazed upon his varnished boots and
bandbox regimentals with round eyes of apprehension. I took advantage
of Pigeon-breast’s solicitude and feminine terror of Bladensburg mire to
say that if we might have our men up at once, it would tell strongly
in favor of swords. Of course, my haste was to have the thing finished
before some waifword of it reached the General’s ear.

“Why, I believe an hour from now,” said Pigeon-breast, hopefully, “might
suit us extremely well. That would make it sharp noon. Shall we say noon?”

“And the ball room at Gadsby’s?” I returned. Having considered, I deemed
it best to be out of the Indian Queen with this clash.

Gadsby’s was to the taste of Pigeon-breast; it would serve admirably.
Also, Pigeon-breast would bring a brace of rapiers.

Thus was it adjusted between the militant Pigeon-breast and myself.
Pigeon-breast withdrew, giving me a most sweeping bow; but carefully
keeping his hand to himself, by which I saw that he was not unversed in
the etiquette of the field.

Returning to Noah, I laid before him our arrangements; incidentally, I
would get a morsel of food, since I had had none that morning, and my
stomach was much inclined to take this neglect in dudgeon.

Having a private parlor to ourselves, for Kendall and Hill would lunch
with me, I sent for what we craved and urged dispatch. The repast was
brought, and while we did it honor with knife and fork, Noah sipped a
thimbleful of sherry, saying he accepted it to quicken the eye and give
vigor and pliancy to the wrist.

As we lunched, Noah called for a messenger.

“Find Mr. Rivera,” said Noah; “bring him to me here.”

There was a question on my tongue; it covered the charge tossed over
my shoulder by the man, Witherspoon, that Noah had fixed the country’s
status as a nation of heathen among the powers of the earth.

“The statement is true,” said Noah; “the story is brief. It was during
the last war, and while I represented the country in Tunis. A Yankee
privateer, little but valiant, came into port towing a hulking English
merchantman, whereof, cutlass in hand, he had made prize. The Yankee
would have the merchantman condemned in the courts of Tunis, and sold.
The British minister objected; he recalled the Bey, before whom we both
appeared, to his treaty made with England. One clause precluded the use
of Tunis as a port of condemnation for English ships made prize in
wars between England and any other ‘Christian nation.’ The phrase was
‘Christian nation.’ There was no going about the treaty; it stood in
ink and sheepskin. Whereupon I read the learned Bey--himself a darkened
pagan--our constitution. I showed him we were not a ‘Christian nation,’
but admitted every creed or sect or sept or faith of men, Gentile or Jew
or Musselman, and all on common terms. It was impossible we should be a
‘Christian nation;’ the treaty with England did not in this instance tie
his hands. The Bey held with me; America was not a ‘Christian nation;’
the prize was condemned and sold. The Bey would receive one-fifth of the
proceeds of that sale; which may or may not have aided his wisdom to the
decision I’ve described. Still, it was a decision; and since it never
has been quarreled with or overturned, a heathen country we remain to
this day in the eye of international law.”

As Noah ended his scrap of history, a tall young man, square and heavy
of shoulders, and with every movement of his body as smoothly sure and
sinuous as the movements of a cat, appeared. He was that Rivera for whom
Noah had sent.

“Go to my rooms and bring me a pair of swords,” said Noah.

“The smallswords?” asked Rivera, with just a thought of interest.

“No; the Spanish swords.”

“Who is your armorer?” I asked of Noah when Rivera was gone.

This boy I had come across before. He had drawn himself upon my
attention by the panther grace and strength told of in his motions.
Large, long of limb, and heavy, there was yet a brisk lightness with him
to hold one like a spell.

“His name,” responded Noah, “is Rivera--Michael Rivera--and his blood
flows a fantastic, almost a formidable mixture. His mother was a maid of
my mother; an Irish lass she was, and came out of Tipperary. The father,
on the far other hand, was a Spanish Jew; by trade a bull-fighter, the
foremost toreador of Seville, where, when my family was visiting in
Spain, the impressionable Tipperary maiden lost her heart to him as he
flourished bloodily about the arena. They were married by the padre, for
Rivera senior, while pure Jew, was none the less pure Catholic; under
Spanish law he could have had no place among the bull-fighters else,
since in Spain it is not permitted to be cruel unless one first be
Christian. My protege, who goes for the swords, is the fruit of that
union; now, his parents being dead, and because he was born among my
people, he abides with me. He has a drowsy, honest soul--though hot
enough when moved--and he loves me. He would accept death for me like a
dog.”

“And what is his part with you?” asked Kendall. The tale of Rivera
interested us.

“No part,” responded Noah, “more than to go where I go, and come where
I come; to fetch and to carry and to do my word. He is well taught of
books; but owns ideas not at all, for he has no width nor current of
conjecture. Yet you are not to believe him a fool. He is silent, but
blithe to obey, and true as blade to hilt. I keep him for he would have
otherwise no support. If I turned him on the world, he could not make a
dollar--nor guard it if he should. In that fiscal particular, the Jew
in him has balked and broken down.” Noah laughed lightly. “The faithful
Rivera,” he went on, “has, however, certain advantages. There is
a compensation, an equilibrium, in nature. Rivera, slow of brain,
possesses the muscle-power of a Hercules; moreover, in those twin arts
of boxing and wrestling, it’s to be doubted if his over-lord exists.
Some day, in some moment of brutality--being now and again overtaken
of such--I shall have Rivera to England to beat Bendigo and Ward. The
prize-ring is his one opening for eminence. And I--as does the immortal
Byron, who has more pride of fisticuffs than verse--applaud the ring.”

While Noah talked, I was yielding him my meed of tacit admiration. Here
was a man, a creature of quills and ink, too, within minutes of meeting,
edge to edge, with one keen of his weapon, and a declared adept among
sword fighters. And clearly, the business was no more upon his spirit
than if the day bore no grim promise, but only smiles. It was more than
courage, it was the absolute absence of fear; he leaned back with his
sherry, and the little story of his young Spanish Irish-Jew, as though
hate were not at that same moment of time whetting a rapier with hope
against his life. His foreclaim of being cold and steady was not a boast
which wanted feet to stand upon.

Rivera came back, bearing the swords wrapped from casual eye in the
folds of a cloak. I drew one--a plain rapier or Spanish sword--and of as
superb temper as any to come from its birth-forge of Toledo.

“They are brothers, those swords,” said Noah; “there is none better. I
had them from the hands of that Bey who branded us as heathen, and so
fretted the friend of Henry Clay. And since, in a pastime such as we
go about, a fullest confidence in one’s weapon is important, you will
prefer these for me if the choice be given you.” This was spoken to me.

Rivera knelt down, and taking off his patron’s shoes, replaced them with
light fencing slippers, whereof the soles crackled with a fresh coat
of resin. Then came loose overshoes, meant to protect the others on the
road to Gads-by’s from intervening mud. Having done this, and saying not
a word whether of question or remark, the boy stood back as waiting the
next command. I was ever reckoned a judge of anything on two legs or
four, as became the best quartermaster the General ever had, and I’ve
yet to glimpse so perfect--so splendidly, so accurately perfect--an
example of the physical man as showed in this youth, with his brown
hair, brown eyes, dark skin, and round thick neck like the carved column
of some sculptor.

It was time to be off for Gadsby’s, no mighty journey, being just across
the street. As we were about departing, Noah called to Rivera, who
exhibited no more distrust of a finale than was present with the other,
and observed: “I shall be hungry on my return. Have a fowl and a flask
of wine set out for me in my own rooms.”

Rivera bowed as one who understands; and giving me the cloak to be still
a refuge for the Toledoes, watched us, as by a side door we got onto the
walk and headed for Gadsby’s over the way.

There were the four of us, Noah, Kendall, Hill, and myself, when we
came into that great room of Gadsby’s which was reserved for routs and
dancing. It was a large and lofty room with a gallery all about. We had
the place to ourselves for the moment; Pigeon-breast and his principal
were yet to arrive upon the scene.

Noah kicked off the overshoes, and stepped and scrubbed his feet against
the flooring boards. The experiment ended to his taste.

“The resin holds,” he remarked. Then glancing about the vast apartment,
he came back to me with a smile: “It’s like fighting in a 10-acre
field,” said he.

Pigeon-breast appeared by a far door. Besides his bully principal,
there were two others, for I had named the propriety of witnesses and
suggested the number. I crossed over and greeted Pigeon-breast, and then
led him aside.

“Is either of the gentlemen with you,” said I, “a surgeon?”

“Why, no,” returned Pigeon-breast, “the thing clean slipped my mind.”

“It might be well to send, then,” I said, “for I think he will be
wanted.”

Pigeon-breast spoke to the others, who, with Catron between them, had
continued near the door. Pigeon-breast, after a word, returned to me.

“There is a surgeon below,” he reported; “he will be with us like
winking, for he loves this kind of thing.”

“And now the swords,” I said. “We may as well transact preliminaries as
far as we can go while waiting.”

Pigeon-breast suggested we spin a coin, their weapons or ours. It fell
for ours; a good omen, I thought, albeit a look at Noah, where he gazed
carelessly from a window, face immovable as granite, gave encouragement
enough to declare war for a crown. I went over to tell him we had won
the use of our Toledoes.

“That sounds well,” he said. “I like good tools, especially when the
work demanded leans upon the fine.”

“You will not slay the man?” I asked.

“For the one matter of his life,” returned Noah, “he’s as safe as though
this dancing room were a church. Beyond that, however, I shall take such
measures with him that, for months, who sees him shall know what reward
is waiting on cowards who vilify a pure girl.”

Pigeon-breast signaled for a word. Taking me to a remote corner, he
argued that our duties required we discuss the possibility of apology.

“They must fight a little first,” I retorted. “There is no room between
epithets such as ‘rogue’ and ‘liar’ to squeeze in an explanation. These
folk must fight while both can hold out swords.”

This was not butcher’s taste; but I began to see with Noah, that the
mouths against us must be silenced,--at least the men. We would begin
with Catron; we would duel our way through the social register, if need
beckoned, to purchase that justice of silence for our Peg.

Poor Peg! she was not to lie helpless in every cur’s mouth, to be torn
at as most pleased his cruelty or best fattened his interest. The more
the situation ran before me, the more my breast took fire; I sustained
a strict face, however, engaged as I was upon the parade ground of honor
and in the service of a gentleman. Still, I said enough, and said it in
such fashion that Pigeon-breast, now a little nervous when the actual
steel was about to be drawn, saw nothing for it but to bring forward
his fellow. This, I admit, he managed in a genteel way; nor did Catron
either whiten or lag backward, but stepped to his place as might he who
is warm for vengeance. I did not like this Catron’s looks; surely
the creature was a blackguard with no right to name himself among
gentlefolk, only so far as one might lie within the accident of decent
birth. But he seemed stout enough of kidney, though that may have grown
with a belief in his infallible craft of the sword.

We gave our men their arms; and as, stripped to their shirts, they stood
apart, awaiting signal to engage, Noah put point to floor, and bearing
hard upon the hilt, bent his blade double. Abruptly lifting his hand,
the honest steel sprang straight, and the sword was tossed high in the
air. As it fell, with the clear, sureness of legerdemain, Noah caught
it by the hilt. It was no more than a flourish of the fencing school,
perhaps; but it served to hearten me mightily and to put me confident
of victory. Neither was it wanting in effect, I may suppose, on the
volatile Pigeon-breast and his man, Catron; I thought on their side it
made somewhat for a certain seriousness of face.

Speaking now of the battle, I must warn you of my inability to tell the
tale in nice and hair-line strokes. It was a notable fight, valorously
sustained and fairly made; but indubitably it did not remain in one
like myself--wholly ignorant of that fencing which pushes or stabs, and
admirable with a saber no farther than striking a downright blow with
the edge--to catch close work, and taste the merit of it. I have no more
of fencing than of Sanscrit, and remember no work, of my own of that
character beyond splitting an Indian’s head like a pumpkin in a skirmish
on the Tombigbee. I am strong of arm, and having the day before come
across the long hair of seven white women, murdered at Fort Mimms,
smoke-drying in the wigwams of a Creek village we sacked, I doubtless
smote upon that savage with uncommon violence.

When the pair engaged, there were preliminary moments employed in
feeling one another’s strength. The swords kept up an incessant thin
rasping, with an occasional singing note as they parted company
for thrust or parry. Even my uneducated vision observed from the
commencement how Noah held the better of it. His address was superior;
and I should say that, with a stiffer wrist, he was withal the more
falcon-like in assault, and readier of recovery.

Catron, by his brow of fury, meant death if he might only clothe his
point for it. That was not to be. On the heels of a desperate stroke--it
was fellow to a dozen that preceded it--which Noah foiled with blade
describing a circle no bigger than a curtain-ring, Catron’s flushed
cheek faded to ghastly gray. For the moment I thought him touched;
but no, it was but the sudden daunting conviction that he had met his
master. This, breaking on him like the boom of a death-bell, and how his
life stood now naked before one whom he had so provoked, ate the yolk
from his courage like a weasel.

Catron foresaw his downfall before we who looked on might tell. And if
I am to understand a gray, drawn face, then the news taught him the
bitterness of death itself.

In the opening exchanges, Catron attacked. He was in and out with a
hateful ferocity, thrusting and pressing, as one whose merest wish is
murder. Noah gave backward not at all, but stood like a wall, risking
all on eye and wrist. I could not catch the sleight of it, but again and
again, as Catron thrust, I could see the lead-colored blade glimmer by
Noah’s side with not an open inch to give away. As Noah told me later,
however, an inch in fencing is a wide margin.

Catron felt his strength slip from him; it was like the sands running
from an hour-glass. But the rogue’s heart summoned stoutness. Finding
himself going, Catron must crowd the strife to an end before it ended
him. He leaped back to get his distance; then without pause, and giving
a sort of bellowing, roaring cry that may have been a scheme for terror,
he sprang forward, sending on his point as straight as the stroke of a
serpent.

What befell was like the lightning’s flash; and no man’s gaze, however
trained to the trick of it, might follow. Noah did not parry, but stood
aside from the other’s point, which, passing, grazed his garments.
Noah’s point, in retort, entered Catron’s sword arm just above the
guard. I saw Noah hold his own hand high, and with point a bit lowered.
Noah ripped up his foe’s arm--split it like a mackerel!--from wrist to
shoulder.

[Illustration: 0142]

It was a gaping furrow of a wound; and the horrid shock of it, when
Noah’s steel caught in the shoulder bones, brought the wretched Catron
to the floor. The blood ran away in a crimson rivulet from the prostrate
one; and to tell the best and the worst of me, I’ve yet to look on
blood, or anything besides, which brought me so much of comfort and of
the sweetness of peace.

While the surgeon, needle and lint going, dealt with Catron, I conveyed
Noah to the end of the room. We must await the report of yon
fellow’s condition; we could not leave the field without consent of
Pigeon-breast--quite pale and stricken now, was Pigeon-breast, as he
stood watching while the bandages were wound.

Following a nod of the surgeon’s, Pigeon-breast came towards me. I met
him on his way.

“The thing is ended,” said Pigeon-breast; his voice came huskily, and in
a fashion faint. “The thing is at an end. My friend can not hold sword.”

“That is enough,” said I.

“One word, sir,” said Noah, coming forward, handkerchief all red where
he had been cleaning his blade; “you are to take notice: I from this day
shall seek out with challenge each man who speaks evil of Mrs. Eaton.
That creature who lies there, and whom, maugre his wound, I still
contemn for the rogue and fetch-dog of Henry Clay I painted him, may be
for warning.”

“But has Mrs. Eaton no husband to fight for her?” sputtered
Pigeon-breast, not relishing Noah’s attitude.

“Let that go by,” retorted Noah, sternly. “Your diplomacy shall not
reach. Again I tell you, he who shall assail Mrs. Eaton with word or
look, or who fails to please that lady with his conduct, replies to me.
I wounded this one; I shall slay the next.”

“What is this to be?” cried Pigeon-breast, appealing to me in a flutter
of spiteful fright. “Is it that we have a bravo?”

“A bravo whom you are like to encounter, sir,” I said, “unless you teach
your tongue some prudence--you and your tribe.”

“Sir, I would refuse to meet a bravo.”

“Sir, you would meet the bravo or meet me.” Then came a rush of temper
about my heart. I thought on poor Peg; and a great anger began to flame
in me. I glowered on the tinsel Pigeon-breast; then I thrust towards
him my huge bear-paw hands. Pigeon-breast considered them, and the hairy
wrists like pistons, with a kind of interest of dismay. “Sir,” said I,
“the first foul dog among you who shall so much as take the name of that
innocent one upon his lips, I’ll find him out, and with the ruth one
grants to rattlesnakes, I’ll kill him with these fingers.”

And so ended that blood letting which was meant to tie the tongue of
slander and in a measure did.

“I shall leave it to you,” observed Noah as we came away, “to place this
affair before the President in a right light. His is the only judgment
whose favor I would seek, and that, particularly, for that his name is
certain to figure in the story of this bicker whenever it is told. I
would not have him think I had rashly put him in peril of criticism.”

“There should be no alarm on that score,” I replied. “My word for it,
the General will endorse with his full name every step we have taken.”

On our return to the Indian Queen we found Rivera waiting, and a table
spread in Noah’s apartment as he had commanded. Rivera received the
Spanish swords, still wrapped in the concealing cloak. He drew forth of
its scabbard the blade which had armed Noah’s hand; it still carried
a stain or two of that Catron’s blood, and Rivera’s eye seemed to fire
with a sleepy satisfaction while he looked on it. Then he turned his
gaze on his patron in a manner of inquiry.

“No, he will live,” said Noah, as though in reply to a query put by his
protege; “it was not to kill him that we went across the way.”

At this news, Rivera took the Spanish swords and withdrew; and all with
the evident purpose of putting them in order against a next campaign.

“I think,” said I, as Noah drew up to the table--for it would seem that
his work had given his appetite an edge, not dulled it--“I think I shall
hunt up our friend the General. There is slight chance of any being
before me; and yet I would make sure to bring him the earliest word of
what has chanced.”

Both Hill and Kendall would be for leaving, also, and as we three arose
to go Noah filled a quartet of glasses with Burgundy. Offering one to
each, he said: “Let us drink to the defeat, ay! even to the death of
ones who would bear false witness against the innocent. May their best
fate be no better than the fate of him whom we met to-day.”



CHAPTER V--REVEREND CAMPBELL AND THE MAGPIE

It was as good as a study of character, the varying fashions wherein
those interested received the story of Noah’s clash with Catron. There
was nothing told of it in the paper, for the port wine Duff was wise
withal, and suppressed whatever of hunger may have possessed him to
print a palatable piece of news. The General might not approve such
type-freedoms; Eaton would doubtless distaste a notoriety of this hue
for Peg; indeed, there might be others of consequence whom it would
disturb. The port wine Duff carried a gulping appetite for public
printing; it might befall that to offend would get between the legs of
his anticipations and trip them up. Wherefore, neither Noah, Catron,
Pigeon-breast, nor myself, was granted the contemplation of his valor
by the pleasing light of ink; I, myself, did not consider this a
deprivation; nor did Noah; nor Catron, so far as one might hear. But the
chagrined Pigeon-breast bewailed it. He was quite crestfallen, and among
intimates talked of the call for a court journal which should, like a
similar imprint of St. James, delicately set forth the surprising deeds
of our nobility.

It was I who gave the tale of that ballroom fight at Gadsby’s to the
General. He took it coolly; granted it, in sooth, a more quiet reception
than I had hoped. The fair truth is, I was prepared for an explosion. I
was pleasantly fooled; the General could not have displayed less
temper had I related the breaking of a horse. And yet he made claim for
slimmest detail; question after question on his part prolonged narration
for an hour.

“It was the best that could be,” said the General, revolving the tangle
in his mind. “The great thing is to stop folk’s mouths; and a duel well
fought, and with the right individual, is, as Noah says, the way to
construct such condition. I’ve known the killing in proper form of one
man to remove a slander from the conversation of a whole county. Folk
let it fall of themselves and never took it up again.”

“This Catron,” said I, “was a noted fighter and had been out before.”

“Which is precisely,” responded the General, “what makes the work worth
while. Here was a berserk, celebrated as one most frothingly prompt for
blood. Now he is disposed of, it will tame your minor war-hawks. They’ll
not be half so ready; they may even surprise themselves with what they
will hereafter forbear in favor of keeping the peace.”

Eaton, strange to tell, was moved of anger against Peg’s champion.

“Sir,” said Eaton, bearing himself stiffly to Noah, “it is far to the
wrong side of the regular that you should defend my wife. That is my
privilege, sir; it does not rest with others.”

“And that is true,” returned Noah, politely; “but the situation was
unusual. It was of crying importance to get the thing off before the
President knew. Folk would criticise him sharply if he did not interfere
for peace. Besides, had you been brought into the business, your foes
would have torn your prospects to pieces with it. You must see, sir,
that however just your quarrel, you could not ride into the cabinet on
the back of a duel.”

“Sir, I can better be out of a cabinet,” said Eaton grimly, “than leave
my honor to the swords of other men.”

“You and I,” returned Noah, turning distant, “disagree extremely. I can
not charge myself with wrong. I should act my part again were occasion
to rise. You, however, are the judge of your own injuries. And I shall
be in town some time.”

“Sir, I am glad to be told so,” responded Eaton. “When I have more
considered, I may send a word to you.”

This wrong discourse I was ear-witness of, but in it bore no part. I was
so stung with anger against Eaton, for that he would act the boor, and
talk of calling folk out when he should be thanking them, I dared not
trust myself with a syllable. I would have spoken nothing pleasant for
Eaton, and that would be a wide flight from wise, and draw his horns
my way. We were both too near the General to talk of a difference that
would have broken everybody’s dish. Moreover, Noah owned the wit and the
wrist to very well care for his own fortunes.

“Why, the man is clean beside himself!” exclaimed the General, when he
learned of Eaton’s high heels. “What franchise could he pretend to for a
quarrel with Noah? Noah’s right to fight with whom he will, and for any
reason good to his own eyes and those of his adversary, is not to be
impeached. Eaton has surprised me out of bounds! For myself, I’d as soon
think of stepping between a man and his wife, as a man and his enemy.
Sir, there are relations which are sacred! Eaton’s great love for Peg
has blurred him; a husband is ever a bad judge of either his rights or
his wrongs. I’ll set Eaton to the properest view in this when we meet.”

The General was scandalized in the face of Eaton’s pose. But I did not
go with his theory of its being love for Peg. It was offspring rather of
a March-hare vanity that resented a good office for which it lacked the
generosity to be grateful.

It would seem, however, that the General read Eaton a right lesson, for
he made amends. He came blandly to Noah.

“I am told,” he said, “by one whose friendship and whose judgment I
never doubt, that I have behaved badly towards you. Permit me to offer
my apologies. Also, I am to thank you for your service against that
scoundrel.”

Noah took Eaton’s explanation in courtly spirit, and so the wrinkles
were made smooth. I was relieved, though not pleased; I would have found
no fault with Noah had he gone a ruder course.

“Where is this Catron?” asked Noah.

“As to that,” replied Eaton, “I think myself qualified to answer. I sent
to learn his condition, and with some purpose, so soon as he was able,
of taking him up where you let go of him. The word came back that he had
quit the town.”

It was Peg, however, who minded her debt to Noah. She went to him with
wet eyes, and, without word, took his sword hand in both of hers and
kissed it. Noah started back.

“That is too much,” he cried. “It is I who will be now in arrears to you
for the balance of my days.”

It stood the day but one following the affair of Gadsby’s, and I was
comfortably in my own room engaged about my letters. If I were to bide
with the General, and not immediately to see Nashville, then I must name
a manager and put my plantations in some kind of command. There were
to be missives from the General, also, and we had arranged to send them
west on the next day by hand of a special express. It would take him six
weeks, that horseman and his saddle-bags, with roads as they were, to
win to Tennessee; we were then at some fever, you will understand, to
have our mails concluded and riding on their way.

As I drove my quill rapidly across the pages, Jim was busy in the
adjoining bedroom, giving a polish to my boots. Jim cheered himself over
his labors with snatches of song.

As I wrote hard at my desk, I could hear him, in a most lugubrious
refrain:

          Thar’s a word to be uttered to d’rich man an’ his pride;

          (Which a man is frequent richest when it’s jest befo’ he died.)

          Thar’s a word to be uttered to d’hawg a-eatin’ truck;

          (Which a hawg is frequent fattest when it’s jest befo’ he’s stuck.)

“Cease that outlandish howling,” I commanded furiously.

“Shore, Marse Major!” said Jim, coming into the room where I sat, and
bringing one of my high horseman boots on his arm, polishing it the
while with unabated ardor; “shore, Marse Major! An’ yet, that’s a mighty
well liked song up an’ down d’Cumberland. Hit’s been made, that song is,
by Miss Polly Hines; little Miss Polly who lives over on d’Possom Trot.
She makes it all about a villyun who comes fo’closin’ ‘round her paw’s
betterments for what he owes that Dudleyville bank, an’ sellin’ ‘em off
at public vandoo. Marse Major, you-all oughter listen to d’res’ of that
roundelay; if you’d only hear it plumb through, Jim sort o’ reckons
you’d like it.”

I made no response, but kept on with my work. I was not to be moved of
ballads as Jim rendered them, even though vouched to be the offput of
that Sappho of the ‘Possom Trot.

Ten minutes went racing by and Jim reappeared in the door.

“Say, Marse Major, do you-all recollects that gentleman who comes
pesterin’ about for them subscriptions, an’ who d’Marse Gen’ral done
skeers off d’ time you an’ me is goin’ down to d’parlor to meet dish
yere Missis Eaton?”

“Well, what about him?”

“He’s been ‘round ag’in to-day. It’s this mornin’ whiles you is sleepin’,
an’ I runs up on him outside in d’hall, kind o’ ha’ntin’ about our door.
I say: ‘What you-all want?’ He say: ‘I want to see d’Marse Major.’ With
that I ups an’ admonishes him that you-all is soun’ asleep. ‘An’,’ I
says, ‘it don’t do to go keerlessly wakin’ d’Marse Major up. He’s got a
monstrous high temper, that a-way, d’ Marse Major has, an’ all you has
to do is rap on that door jes’ once, an’ he’ll nacherally come boilin’
outen bed, an’ be down on you like a failin’ star; that’s what he will.’
Then I tells him he can’t get no subscriptions from you no how; that you
is a heap sight worse than d’ Marse Gen’ral ‘bout ‘em. ‘You hyar me!’ I
expostulates; ‘you-all is simply barkin’ at a knot; thar aint no sign
of a raccoon up that tree at all. You-all might jes’ as well try to get
sugar-sap outen a swamp-beech as subscriptions outen d’Marse Major!’
Shore, that’s what Jim tell ‘um.”

“And for that, you miscreant, I’ll give him a hundred dollars when he
does come, to show him how little truth you tell.”

“Don’t go blazin’ off into a fandad, Marse Major,” said Jim,
reprovingly, “throwin’ your money away. Dish yere gentleman ‘sponds to
Jim, an’ allows he aint aimin’ at no subscriptions. But he do say he
want to see you; an’ so I tell him to be back ag’in in five hours. He’s
liable to come buttin’ in yere any minute now, as d’ time Jim sots is
done arriv’.”

As if for endorsement, a knock was heard at the door.

There were two to enter, a man and a woman. The man was huge of frame,
shambling, uncouth, with knobby joints and large uncertain feet; his
face flabby, sickly, with little greedy, shifty eyes, like the eyes of
swine; gross mouth, full lipped and coarse, and working and munching in
a full-fed way, engaging itself upon imaginary mouthfuls. The hands of
this individual were puffy, warty members, with palms as hot and wet and
soft as an August swamp, and, save for their temperature, much like the
belly of a toad to the feel. These hands were commonly in motion, making
plausible and deprecatory gestures. It was as though the world were a
cat and they would stroke its back by way of conciliation. Over all was
obsequiousness like a veil--my visitor seemed to sweat subserviency,
exhale abasement as an atmosphere. The woman, thin, and bird-faced, and
with beaky nose that looked as though the frost had pinched the neb, was
of the chattering, empty, magpie flock; she appeared as vulgar as
the man; albeit, not with his obsequiousness, since she affected the
girlish, and stood ready with giggle and gurgle and arch look, all of
which but poorly fitted with her sober fifty years. From an odor of
pulpits observable, I thought him a preacher; also, I took the woman to
be his wife.

The man--I will thus far defend him--was not, however, that subscription
person whom Jim remembered with the General.

“Dish yere’s d’gentleman who is done been teeterin’ ‘round our door this
mornin’,” said Jim, as he ushered the visitors.

“It is not the gentleman who called on the General,” I remarked.

“Well, what’s d’diffrunce, anyhow?” asked Jim with mighty unconcern.
“He’s a preacher, so it’s all d’same.”

“No difference, perhaps,” I returned, “except to make plain how little
you are to be relied on.”

“I s’ppose Jim’s as cap’ble of mistakes as anybody.” Here Jim lapsed
into the abused tone of one virtuous, and driven to the desperate by
ill-usage. “But I tells you-all, Marse Major; since you done locks up
that demijohn, Jim aint been d’same niggah. His mem’ry has sort o’
begun to bog down. No wonder Jim gets folks swapped ‘round foolish in his
mind.”

While these reproofs were going, my callers stood by the door, inviting
consideration with much bending of the body and bowing of the head.

“I am the Reverend Campbell,” began the man; “I am pastor of a precious
flock in this town. And this is Deborah, my beloved consort. I trust I
find all well and holy here, and the blessing of the Spirit upon this
place?”

Then the Reverend Campbell re-began his abject bowing, while his magpie
wife smirked and giggled sociably.

It had been long since I met folk who more repelled me. For the sake of
his cloth, however, and the real respect I bore it, I required myself to
assume a manner of cordiality. I asked the purpose of the visit.

“It was my privilege,” responded the Reverend Campbell, with a
meeting-house snuffle that certain divines adopt as a professional
manner of articulation, “I may say it was my inestimable privilege
some years back, to behold in the body of the church, during many of my
preachments, that mighty man of war, our coming president, and his sweet
lady; although she--for flesh is as grass--has since perished and passed
over to dwell among the blest.”

“Mrs. Jackson was my nearest, dearest friend,” simpered the awful magpie
wife, interrupting. “It was when General Jackson had a seat in the
senate. We were like loving sisters, Mrs. Jackson and I.”

This last I distrusted, but I did not say so.

“You are the General’s old preacher?” I said; the Reverend Campbell
meanwhile seesawing and bowing, and locking and unlocking his warty
fingers. “Have you been in to meet the General?”

“Not yet, good sir, not yet,” replied the Reverend Campbell. “That shall
be in good time. Since you abide on terms of intimacy with our coming
president, I deemed it prudent to first make myself known to you.
Knowing David, I would know Jonathan. There is a business--a piece of
sinful, worldly business--I would inquire of, a boon I would ask, and
ere I went to the transaction thereof, I held it sapient to call upon
you who will be so strong to bind or loose--so potent, as one might say,
in the coming dispensation of preferments.”

The Reverend Campbell--who should have been a mandarin for his
repulsiveness and talents to bow--kept up his bending, while the magpie
wife in vacuous vanity, beamed on like a tarnished sun. To put a stop
to the bowing, which began to grow on me nervously, I bade the pair be
seated. They would remain the longer, but I would save myself with less
of irritation.

“I do not come for myself,” observed the Reverend Campbell, snuffling,
and balancing uneasily on his chair’s edge. His wife had taken her seat
with more of confidence; spreading her skirts to advantage, and leaning
back as one certain of results. “No, it is by request of a beloved
brother in Christ, the Reverend Doctor Ely of Philadelphia. Our great
Chief Magistrate knows him and loves him well.”

Then the Reverend Campbell went on in pulpit tones to elaborate his
mission. It soon declared itself to be the old Duff Green errand of
office angling. Also, it was a coincidence something strange, I thought,
when the Reverend Campbell, following in the very footprints of the
wine colored Duff, spoke of the Florida Governorship, and named the same
wealthy zany for its occupation.

“He is a Pennsylvania Westfall,” concluded the Reverend Campbell, his
breath bated and his air impressed, “he is a Pennsylvania Westfall, and
extremely rich of this world’s goods. Doctor Ely desires this post for
him with all his heart; he believes, moreover, that his old friend, our
excellent president, who--and heaven be thanked!--is less than a scant
two weeks away from his inauguration, will be glad to pleasure him in
this regard. You might, sir, hint to that eminent statesman and soldier
how his friend, Doctor Ely, would profit by this selection, going, as
in that event he will, to St. Augustine, to be chaplain for the then
Governor Westfall.”

“And my husband, too, would be called to Dr. Ely’s place in
Philadelphia,” gurgled the magpie wife; “it’s a much richer church than
the one here.”

There, then, was the cat out of the bag; I had been guessing for some
moments in the dark, as to why the Reverend Campbell should so zealously
be fishing for office when he ought to be fishing for souls. The magpie
wife granted me a glint of his secret. It did not swell my fund of
respect for the Reverend Campbell, a fund nothing rotund as things
stood.

“You should see the General,” I said at last. “These are not my
affairs; I would not presume, wanting his invitation, to advise with
him concerning them. You should see him; or, if you will, you might wait
until Van Buren arrives.”

“Ah, yes; the coming Secretary of State,” remarked the Reverend
Campbell, while his thick lips munched unpleasantly. “Will Mr. Van Buren
make the Florida selection?”

I was driven to say I thought not; the General himself had been once
Governor of Florida; therefore, he might believe he was the one better
qualified to make such appointment.

Beholding the Reverend Campbell in the throes of doubt, tipping on
his chair, and looking with his black clothes not a little like a crow
hesitating on a fence-rail as to whether or no he will plump down among
the sprouting corn, I suggested,--to relieve myself, I fear--that now he
was come, he might better go in to the General and offer his request. I
entertained no thought of success for him; I had not forgotten the fate
in that connection of the pursy Duff--Duff of the ripe, ripe nose. But
I aimed at a riddance of the Reverend Campbell and his leering, bubbling
helpmeet; and I was not so loyal to the General as to prevent me from
earning my own release by betraying him into their talons.

“Do you deem it the part of sagacity,” said the Reverend Campbell,
following a thoughtful pause, “to crave this boon at once?”

“Sagacious? surely!” I would have given my word for anything to
work free of the Reverend Campbell and that magpie wife, the latter
gentlewoman being rusty of plume, strident, and of but a sorry favor
of face; to say nothing about her gigglings and chuck-lings; for that
vacant dame was like a parrot, with a running rattle of vocalisms, going
from gurgle to chirp, as an accompaniment to whatever was said by her
lord and master.

“Then let us repair to him,” said the Reverend Campbell, raising his
hands as if asking a benediction on me and my belongings; “let us hie
to him and unbosom ourselves, and may we find him in grace of spirit and
well of this mortal body.”

We discovered the General in his rooms. We found him in a rather merry
spirit for him. He was sitting by his fire, with Peg on a footstool at a
corner of the fireplace.

Hearing of the General’s diet of rice, Peg’s mother--she lived over to
the south, across that wooded strip, the Mall--holding herself to excel
in certain elixirs and cordials and draughts marvelous for maladies
stomachic, had sent to the General’s relief a bottle of medicine
warranted of transcendent merit, and in which dandelion flourished a
dominant element. The good lady would trust her drugs to none save
Peg; there she was, then, the fairest foot and hand ever to be sent on
porter’s work or to run an errand with a message.

The unexpected sight of Peg sent over me a wave of pleasure. I love
the beautiful, have an inborn joy of it, and who or what could be more
lovely than our Peg--Peg with her wildrose face?

The General glanced up through the tobacco smoke wherewith the rooms
were cloudy. Peg had said she loved smoke, and could stand to it like
a side of bacon. His look was of half-recognition as it settled upon my
company.

“The Reverend Campbell, is it not?” said he.

“The same, Mr. President,” returned the other, commencing again those
bowing motions which had so tortured my soul, his flabby cheeks
the while exuding a beady dew; “the same. And here is Deborah, my
well-beloved wife, Mr. President.”

The magpie one of rumpled feather gained indication by the Reverend
Campbell pointing to her with a bulbous forefinger that was somewhat
suffering about the nail for lack of care. The magpie one gave the usual
proof of her satisfaction with chirp and giggle.

“The last time I beheld you, Mr. President,” said the Reverend Campbell,
“you and your dear wife sat beneath my words.” The General flinched as
though a rude hand touched a wound. He gathered himself, however. “That
dear one, Mr. President, has gone from our midst. It is a chastening,
Mr. President. Whom the Lord loveth, He chasteneth. It is a loss, Mr.
President, but we must summon meekness of spirit. Blessed are the meek
in spirit, saith the singer, and they shall inherit the earth. Mr.
President, let us pray.”

The Reverend Campbell rolled forth the foregoing, and never halt or
pause; with the last word he was down upon his knees, expanding into a
gale of prayer.

It is not for me to pass upon such sacred petitions, but the Reverend
Campbell’s effort grated on my conscience as crude, and, if the term
be not improper, vulgar. The General, who was still in his chair, bowed
head in hand and sat silent throughout. He made neither sign nor sound;
and yet it must have galled him like musketry, that prayer.

It was when the Reverend Campbell stood again on his feet, and the
magpie one had rearranged her feathers, that their glances took in Peg
where she now stood near the fire. She was silent, collected, and her
calm look rested upon the Reverend Campbell and the magpie one. It was a
steady glance of unseeing indifference and unacquaintance, and as though
the pair were strangers to her.

Their actions, however, would smack of something nearer. No sooner did
they behold Peg, than with one impulse they started towards her, faces a
garden of smiles.

“Why, my dear Mrs. Eaton!” cried the magpie one.

“My dear, recovered lamb!” exclaimed the Reverend Campbell.

The two made for Peg with exuberant hands extended. Peg waved them off.

“You make a mistake,” said Peg. Her words took flight evenly and with
nothing of disturbance. “I do not know you.” Then, as the Reverend
Campbell and his magpie love seemed but half checked: “And I will not
know you.”

These closing words were vibrant of a nipping vigor, and Peg’s leopard
teeth came together with a click, and, as it were, for emphasis. Peg
turned to me:

“Will you take me to my carriage?”

With that, the General arose and cavaliered Peg to the door.

“Give my thanks to your good mother, child,” said the General, his fond
eye pleasant with the reflection of Peg’s pretty face; “tell her I shall
profit by her kindness. I feel half restored with merely having the
Dandelion Water on my shelf.”

Closing the door after us, the General returned to the Reverend Campbell
and his magpie love.

“There is no story with it.” Peg replied, when I put those queries the
situation suggested. “They are folk of treachery; that is it. They have
been my persecutors as much as any. And with more shame for them, since
they have pretended friendship for my family, and had support from my
father for year piled upon year.”

“And is that the whole of it?” I asked.

“Truly, it is, my best dear friend.” Peg held up her pansy face, and
offered me a cheerful look by way of proof. “Nor am I even a trifle
provoked. For all that, I would not permit them because they found
me with the good General, and with you”--she gave my arm a little
pressure--“and doubtless would offer some request, to put on a false
face, and so use me for their interest. I owe them no such tenderness.
Besides, since I’ve found real friends,”--Peg crowded to my side more
closely, and bent upon me her kind, unfathomed eyes, as though admitting
my protection,--“since I’ve found real friends, I’ve no room in my heart
for mocking imitations.” Peg laughed her witch-laugh now, and stepped on
more quickly. “Don’t let us talk of them,” she said, “don’t let us talk
of such hollow folk!”

Peg’s carriage stood at the curb. Indeed, she had but just arrived when,
as I piloted the Reverend Campbell and the magpie, I found her by the
General’s fire.

“Some day you must go with me to meet my mother,” said Peg; “I’ve
promised her.” Then, as I lifted her into the carriage, “Mercy! you
should practice for a lighter hand. I feel as one in the paws of a
bear.”

With a wave of her hand, she was off for the President’s Square where
her home stood; I, on my part, turned back to the General, walking
slowly, and seeing Peg’s gentle eyes before me all the way to his door.
Sweet Peg! had it been I, no tawdry ambition of politics would have
divided my heart with you; you would have reigned over it alone; we
would have left Washington to the vermin who devoured it, and made our
kingdom in lands of peace and truth!

It was not without relief I discovered that the Reverend Campbell, with
his magpie mate, was gone.

“Assuredly, no!” exclaimed the General, when I inquired whether the name
of Doctor Ely, and the petition preferred of the Reverend Campbell,
had re-colored his thoughts touching St. Augustine and the Florida
Governorship; “assuredly, no! He who has that place from me must be
emphatically two things--a man and a friend. The creature, Westfall,
is emphatically neither. I can not guess, however, in what this sudden
office-hunting excitement of our ghostly fathers finds its source. I
asked the Reverend Campbell, was this Westfall known to him. He said,
only by repute; that he urged the case at the request of Doctor Ely.”

Clearing him on that question of purpose, I told the General of Doctor
Ely’s arrangement to be a Governor’s chaplain in St. Augustine; and
how, in a moment of gurgling exaltation concerning what might be, that
unguarded magpie exposed the scheme of “calling” our Reverend Campbell
to Doctor Ely’s fat present pulpit, should it become vacant in favor of
palms and orange groves.

“And in that way runs the road!” exclaimed the General, full of leniency
and amusement. “The preachers are becoming better politicians every day.
Major, you and I must look to our lines, or some dominie may yet turn
our flanks.”

Then I gave the General what Peg had told of her attitude, like a
diminutive iceberg, towards the Reverend Campbell and his magpie
partner.

“They have done Peg no actual harm,” I said. “They passed her by one
day, like the Levites they were and are; and now she revenges herself.”

“One can always hear the savage stirring about in Peg,” commented the
General; “and I like her the better for it. I love your re-vegeful
soul--he who has a long knife, a long memory, and will go a long trail
to his feud.”

“And that is an excellent observe,” I said, teasing him a bit, “and you
a Christian and a president!”

“The observe, as you phrase it,” retorted the General, “is not only
excellent but earnest. Revenge is the fair counterpart of gratitude.
They are off the same bolt of cloth. Find me a soul for revenge, and
I’ll find you a soul to be grateful. What are revenge and gratitude,
when one goes to the final word, but just a man paying his debts?”

“Who is this Doctor Ely?” I asked. “The Reverend Campbell described him
as your friend.”

“Doctor Ely is no more than an acquaintance, and hardly that. I met him
years ago in Philadelphia; and I’ve heard him preach. He is a showy,
fashionable figure of man; not deep, yet musical and fluent. The women,
I remember, liked his discourses right well. There were a beat and a
march to his periods; and albeit, while he talked, the wise ones went to
sleep, others with music-boxes for minds, and who mistook sensation for
sense, sat bolt upright, feeling the liveliest delight.”

“I’ve met the latter sort,” I assented; “the gentry who prefer rhyme to
reason.”

“Somehow,” observed the General, following an interval of silence, “I
ever fear I’ll be unfair to your preachers. My inclination is to judge
them too harshly--estimate them below their worth. It has been ever the
fault of military men to do this, and, for myself, I would guard against
it.”

“And now will you explain what you are talking about?” I was in cold
earnest, for the General’s remorse over an injustice to preachers was
clean beyond me and _apropos_ of nothing.

My own thought galloped to it--for his wife taught him that softness,
being as devout as an abbess, herself--that for the dominies, as an
order or trade among men, he carried more of charity than any whom I
knew. More by far than I could boast, or cared to. “Why do you reproach
yourself about the preachers?”

“It was this Doctor Ely,” returned the General, “of whom I was thinking.
I was remembering certain severities of judgment towards him long ago.
I heard him preach, yet could give him no credit for sincerity. He
impressed me as one who looked often in the glass and seldom from the
window. He was friendly, affable, and, I think, honest; and yet I liked
him no more than I like that reverend cringer who was just now here. I
well recall saying to this Doctor Ely--probably I had him in my mind’s
eye at the time, and it hurt him, too--that he who was professionally
good would never be very good, nor he who was excellent for a salary
offer an example of the best excellence. It may be that my natural
distrust of preachers is, after all, nothing save my natural fear of
them. You have not forgotten how I told you I feared men of peace. That
is true; I fear folk who profess peace as a principle--your Quaker
and your preacher--as I fear and fall back before the inhuman, or as
children fear a ghost. It is all to be accounted for perhaps, in the
differing natures of folk. One man has a genius for peaceful while
another’s bent is for war, and each will misunderstand the other’s
motives. There can be little in common and less of trust between them,
since they will live as far apart as black and white. It is, I say,
quite natural--war and peace--wolf and sheep. I’ve no doubt, now,”
 concluded the General, a smile beginning to show, “that to your wolf on
the hill, your grazing sheep down in the valley is a mighty suspicious
character.”



CHAPTER VI--THE STORM GATHERS AGAINST PEG

Those next few weeks went by in a tumbling procession that was more
like mob violence than aught orderly or sequential. The town was overrun
of folk. It was a climbing case of everybody under foot--everybody
stepped on one, and, in compensation, one stepped on everybody.

Jim was driven to remark concerning the collecting tangle of humanity,
and the crush and crowd and jostle of it. The sage Jim was speaking to
his own defence, being indicted for some neglect of me.

“‘Pears like, Marse Major,” said Jim, soothingly, “you-all must jes’
wrastle along somehow until dish yere pop’lace begins to abrogate. I’m
doin’ d’ bes’ I knows how; but she shorely is a time for every ‘possum
to learn to hang by his own tail.”

“What do you mean by ‘abrogate?’” I was willing to be amused at the
expense of the erroneous Jim.

“You don’t tell me, Marse Major, that you-all don’t know what ‘abrogate’
means?”

Jim imitated astonishment. “Why, a thing abrogates when it beds itse’f
down--kind o’ quiles itse’f up like a moccasin snake.”

It was impressive, the throng in the streets--a multitude hungry for
office--a multitude it would ask a miracle to feed and fill. The whole
country was come to town, the place blazed with Jackson badges, every
face shone with victory. It was a pretorian band, and had borne its
beloved captain into power on its shields. It was present now for
jubilation and for spoil.

For myself, I surveyed the surging, shouting, unkempt thousands with
disfavor; the General liked and applauded them.

“They are as rightfully here,” said he, “as the smuggest, slyest rascal
of riches of them all. We are done with Adams and his Federal dogma,
‘The best dressed citizen is the best citizen.’ The day is the day of
democracy.”

“And very well,” said I; “democracy is my creed, too. But may it not
scrape its face with a razor? Would soap destroy it? I grow sick of a
democracy which finds no outlet for expression save cowhide boots all
mud, and standing on a damask chair in them.” The General snorted; next
to his dead Saint Rachel, he loved the herd.

Noah, who was much in my company these days, gave one of his cynic
shrugs.

“Major, doubtless you are a democrat,” observed Noah with a comic face.
“But you have been too much solitary, and you’ve forgotten the tenets
of our faith. You should recall yourself to that inscription on the
cornerstone of our temple: ‘The Mob giveth, the Mob taketh away, blessed
be the name of the Mob.’”

The weather was fine, and clear as a bell in the sky; but the frost
coming up from the ground made underfoot another sonnet altogether. With
bright air, and sun shining, still the roads weltered mere swamps, and
all so set and puddled of soft ooze they would have bogged a saddle
blanket. Carriages were out of the possible; but, save for crowds on the
sidewalks, folk a-foot did well enough.

The pretty Peg was each day to the Indian Queen to chat with us. I saw
so much of her, she grew on me like a habit.

Eaton for the war desk was known now to all, and, verbally at least,
acquiesced in. Noah’s slicing work with his Spanish sword had been
whispered industriously; scores went up to gaze on the broad blotches of
dull red where the rogue Catron’s blood had spread like paint; the arm
wide open from wrist to should der-joint--a very gutter of a wound!--was
dilated upon; and the result appeared in a wholesome caution on the
conversational parts of our enemies. Noah was still in town; and no male
at least came reckless enough to court the fate of Catron. Besides, the
buzz and talk of a new administration scraping its feet at the door and
lifting the latch of events would occupy the public mouth, and mention
of Peg, whether for good or bad, was crowded out of it. The future would
have been the better for peace had these conditions secured a longer
maintenance.

Among others, that Reverend Doctor Ely, for whom the equally Reverend
Campbell and the magpie one aforetime came upon the carpet, broke
rapturously into town. I say “broke,” since as a term it may best depict
the effusiveness of that descent upon the General. Twenty years before,
this Ely had met the General; their acquaintance had been as attenuated
as it might be and still bear up the name; and with that slender capital
the hopeful Doctor was present to make the most it.

Surely, I met the reverend man. He was a bald, brisk, worldly personage,
with a most noble appetite for the flesh-pots. He carefully sustained
himself the hypocrite in that last behalf, however, and to folk casual
he offered nothing beyond an appearance fervently religious. While with
us, he held forth in sundry local pulpits, and although I heard him not
myself, he was warmly eulogized by pious critics who knew what sermons
should be.

The worthy Doctor with a view to Florida dangled about the General. The
Reverend Campbell, and the magpie one, dangled about the worthy Doctor.
They were made to see, with the very finish of it, however, that by no
accident of concession would the General place their man, Westfall, in
the van of Florida affairs to set up mimic thrones in the Governor’s
Palace of St. Augustine.

The news was a blow to them; and the urgent trio were no Stoics to be
capable of excluding from their brows the chagrin they felt. They no
longer harrassed the General, however, which, when now a score of duties
pulled at him like horses, was no small desideratum.

Presumably as a last ditch wherein to perish, the Reverend Doctor Ely
came to me. I was no favorite of his, nor he of mine. To me he was not
a precious metal. Polished? yes--and yet only to remind one of brass. He
was, as I have said, of fashionable model; fond of his burgundy, and
his canvas-back; garbed fastidiously and in the mode; precisely that
character the General so accurately read those years before when he
suspected him as one less concerned for the fit of his conscience than
the fit of his coat.

When the Reverend Doctor encountered me, I cut him short. To do this,
let me tell you, I took my courage in my hands, for it is no child’s
play to thwart a dominie.

“You are one who holds fast for the doctrine of foreordination?” I asked
this like a catechist at his questions.

“I am,” returned the Reverend Doctor.

“And you believe that many are called while few are chosen?”

“I do.”

“And in original sin; and infant damnation; and how hell is paved with
children’s skulls?”

“I do. To what, however, does this move?”

“And the love of gold to be the root of evil?” I went on, disregarding
the question thrust at me; “and that it would be easier to pass a camel
through the needle’s eye than a rich man into heaven?”

“Sir, I insist on hearing the purpose of your surprising curiosity.”

“Why, then, it should all be huddled into this. Your Westfall, rich and
sinful, by what you say may be presumed to dwell in multiplied peril of
immortal shipwreck. And since such be your craft, and the trade you pick
up bread by, would it not come more seemly for yourself, and be for
this Westfall an effort more of grace, were you, instead of storming the
General with pleas for a Governorship which might prove but a worm
to gnaw him, to employ your self in bringing about the eternal safe
advantage of his soul?”

The Reverend Doctor withdrew, his dander much on furious end, and
shortly thereafter the tail of my eye caught a picture of him, as--heads
close together--he conferred whisperingly with the Reverend Campbell in
a corner of the longroom of the Indian Queen.

Since I could not think well, I was careful to think nothing at all of
these reverend office seekers. In that latter I dropped into error; they
were worthy serious respect. I should have borne it more upon my memory
how easy comes destruction, and that he who is incapable of building one
brick upon another may yet tear down the most stubborn best masonry of
man. I should have kept before me those powers for ill which arm the
meanest, and not have forgotten how the veriest vermin of a rat might
gnaw the canvas of a Rubens.

Remembering those ignoble ones that evening, I foolishly burst into
disparagement of the clergy as a class. The General was smart for
defence.

“Humbug!” quoth the General. “Because you have seen the inside of two,
you would have it you know them all. It were as wise if you declared
Washington to be a traitor for that Arnold would have sold West Point.
Every tub, even a pulpit tub, must stand upon its own bottom.”

I have told how dumb and dead lay vilification on the masculine lip,
and that no man so much as breathed against the fame of Peg. There was
notice on its way to show the women were unquelled.

It was the day before the General’s inauguration, and he over ears with
his address, reading and re-reading it, so as to give the periods a
best volume and voice, and endow them with that strutting majesty of
utterance his vanity conceived belonged in justice to their merit. He
would be by himself while thus rehearsing, for he took shame to vapor
up and down, and toss about before me, and swore that my presence,
glowering from a chair, would have daunted Cicero. I was glad enough to
leave him to himself, it being but poor sport to play at audience for a
bad orator; moreover, since the speech was written in my Nashville home
and wrangled over, as it proceeded, by the General and myself like dogs
over a bone, it would come to me as nothing new. And so the General
was left to plod about in his paragraphs much like a cow in a morass,
difficult and slow, and sinking to the hocks with every step. I could
catch the humming roar of him in my parlor, while he swaggered about his
rooms, singing out shrill and high in declamation, and reveling in the
figure he would cut.

While I was idly turning this weakness of the General to think himself
a Patrick Henry, when he had no more of eloquence or music than any
midnight owl, a nervous tap came on my panels. I was instantly on my
feet; the tap quite drove the General and his rhetoric out of my head.
By some instinct, or, mayhap, the tap itself was marked of agitation, I
not only recognized it for Peg, but knew she was in grief. I threw open
the door.

Peg stepped in; she was white to the lips; and this paleness of ivory
showed the more on her because of the great dark eyes and those midnight
shadows to dwell within her hair. Save for this pallor, however, she
seemed steady as a rock.

It was on the outside, though, for no sooner was I seated again than she
drifted down before my feet on the floor, and, with her head on my knee,
broke into a passion of sobbing. I let my hand, for sympathy, rest a
moment on her poor head, and when I thought she would have cried enough,
lifted her up and placed her in a chair.

“What is it?” I said. “I thought I was to see no more tears from you.”
 This I threw off in half sprightly tones to rally Peg.

“Nor shall you,” cried she, “but I was fair spent and beaten for want
of a good cry. And you should know”--she was giving me a trace of
brightness now--“that crying is so much like conversation, to cry alone
is like talking to one’s self. I can not go to my husband; and the
General, good and kind, is with it all too old and too great, and,
therefore, too much out of my reach. I’ve just you; and that’s how rich
I am for confidants. I’ve not a woman to be friend to me in all the
world; nor would I trust her if I had. I’ve just you; and so you are
like to see a deal of worry.”

“All that is mighty sweet,” I returned, “and every word a flower. And
yet, what is the wrong?”

“And simply nothing, after all,” she replied. “Only it’s so much more
horrible to see it with your eyes than hear it with your ears.” Peg put
a note into my hands. “It came through the post; and doubtless means no
more than the malevolence which was author to it.”

The note had no name; nothing to indicate its parentage. It read:

“Revenge is sweet! I have you in my power; and I shall burn you as
savages burn their victim at the stake. I pray that you live long to
extend my pleasure. Think not that you can escape me. I would not that
death nor any evil thing should take you out of my hand for half the
world.”

“The nameless devil!” I cried. “It is a woman’s hand of writ, though the
letters are made purposely big and sprawling. Have you any thought at
who she should be?”

“No,” returned Peg; “I can not so much as guess.”

Peg and I talked the question up and down, I asking and she answering,
and with the end we were where we started, that was nowhere at all. The
Reverend Campbell came into my conjecturings, he and his magpie mate;
but I did not mention them, for what would have been the use of
feathering Peg’s imagination with a surmise?

“But, in good truth, I came to you,” said Peg at the end, “not for any
hope of solving this. That would be frankly impossible. Rather I am here
to get a drink of your courage; for, faith! though I wear as brave a
face as I may, my own betimes runs something low. And now,”--Peg stood
up and gave me her dainty hand, mimicking the manner of a man--“and
now, my big comrade, having had my cry, and got my draught of courage,
I shall go back to the President’s Square; and there I shall forget the
whole story of this miserable letter. That is”--she had gone into the
hall and was closing the door now, with only a strip of her sweet face
looking in to me--“forget all except how I cried at your knee and was
very, very happy because you were good and kind and--let me cry.”

When the door was shut, I picked up the note which Peg had left and
placed it in the private locker of my desk. Then I sate me down and
thought revengefully on Peg’s wrongs, and the hatefulness of him who
should think her harm. But her dark, deep eyes were forever coming in to
look on me, and at the last I had a memory for nothing but her beauty;
and, elaborating thereon, I considered how beauty was in itself a
benediction implied of Providence, and a sermon; and then I got to
reading Burns; and I confess--however often I had spoken of them as so
much sweetened oatmeal--there arose in me a delight from those verses
as though they were the songs of birds. And throughout the whole, from
Peg’s crying at my feet until I’d put Burns away in his place, the drone
of the General, thundering on tariff, and finance, and standing armies,
and sinking funds, was in the air; and all futile, so I thought, and
dreary and workaday and commonplace.

Somehow, for all of Burns and my meditations, after Peg had left me, my
heart felt poor and robbed. Also, I turned less and less patient with
the General, humming at his coming speech like a great bee in a bottle.
At last I went in to him and gave him my tart opinion of his doings, for
all the world like an actor with a part to study, or some girl primping
and preparing for conquest before a glass.

“Have you so forgotten English,” I cried, “that you can not tell your
views to the people without first telling and re-telling them a score of
times to yourself?”

But the General was in a high mood and no more to be dealt with than a
tempest.

“Take your irritation out for a walk, sir,” said he. “Take a walk for
your nerves. Something has combed your fur wrong-wise; and I don’t think
it could have been politics. You prodigiously remind me of one in love,
and who has ear-patience for naught save the voice of his mistress.”

Out to walk I went; I did not think the General worth a retort. You
are not, however, to follow his hint, and lose and leave the plain
footprints of the fact. I was no more in love with Peg than was he; I
examined myself on that head and made myself particularly clear. Like
all men who are physically big and strong, and, moreover, like all men
border-born and taught that duty from the ground up of protecting ones
weaker than themselves, particularly women-folk and babes, I went as
naturally to Peg’s side in her troubles as ever went deer to drink. It
was in my nature and my lesson to do this. Sympathy is a plant to grow
most quickly on roughest soil; and folk of my shag-bark sort are ever
soonest on the ground, and stay the longest, when the cause is the
weeping cause of woman.

And there you have the explanation of my interest for Peg. The General,
himself, was just as headlong; his sympathies fair went about on tiptoe
in a constant search for weak ones in distress. Not humanity alone, but
animals; and I’ve seen him go forth into midnight sleet and ice--and
Death tearing at his lungs with a cough--to bring in a bleating lamb. It
was, then, but partisan sympathy, and not love in the bud, which I felt
for Peg; and I turned much fortified and quieter in my own thoughts,
when, following a rigid search of my breast, I made it out.

Noah, whom I ran across in the corridor, went with me for the walk. We
broke away northward across the city to be free of the crowds which came
and went about Gadsby’s and the Indian Queen. When we were more alone
and with the roads to ourselves, I told Noah of the nameless letter to
Peg.

“And that is a fine feather in the cap of Henry Clay,” I cried; “this
employment of nameless villains to write threats to a girl!”

“Now let me set you straight,” said Noah. “I’ve gone to the ends of
this foul work. It is not the Clay so much as the Calhoun interest which
furnishes the venom. The General is turned round; he believes it to be
Clay. I assure you, the enemy is a Calhoun coterie from South Carolina.”

“But what is their purpose?” I asked. “Calhoun is Vice-President; he
will preside over the Senate and be part of the administration. Why
should he seek to mar it?”

“Mark you, I do not say,” replied Noah, “that Calhoun, personally,
so much as hears of these wrongs done in his name. Your friends will
sometimes go farther in your cause than you will go for yourself. Let me
briefly tell you what I know. Calhoun would succeed the General for the
Presidency. He spins a web as fine as any spun of spiders. So curiously
has he brought his forces to bear, that of the six he will own three of
the General’s cabinet--Berrien, Branch, and Ingham. He wanted the war
office, and was craftily urging Hayne, of his own state, when the
General unconsciously brushed his plan aside with Eaton. Now the Calhoun
thought is to drive Eaton from the place; and to mock at Mrs. Eaton and
stain her with slanders is the Palmetto idea of a method. The more cruel
it is, the more likely to succeed; and the latter condones the
ignobility. These folk play for a White House; and the greater the stake
the less of scruple on the part of the players. Remember, too, these
children of evil have just begun; the attacks, as they proceed, will
mobilize a force. The women will be brought to their aid. We gagged the
men’s mouths with a duel; but who is to gag the women’s, and how will he
go upon the work?”

This news about Calhoun was nothing by way of surprise. I knew him to be
as ambitious as Lucifer; more, I was aware of him for no friend of the
General; I had learned that much two years before.

While it was within my knowledge, this enmity, I had not set it forth to
the General; the truth of it would have done him no good, and gotten
in the way. It would have served only to fire his wrath, and he was one
most unmanageable when angry.

Wherefore throughout the campaign, while the General and Calhoun were
running mates, I said no word of the latter’s secret feeling of envious
jealousy and hate, and the General went to the election in the dark,
believing the Vice-President to be among his staunchest friends.
Thinking now of Peg, I began to glimpse a day when the Calhoun rancors
would be worth the General’s knowledge.

“Assuming that Calhoun languishes to be President,” said I, “and
intrigues for that object, what do you say to the radical sort of his
States Rights position--going in for the right to nullify a general law,
and secede at will from the national circle, and all that? Would you
call Calhoun either politic or right to occupy those positions?

“And now for the ‘politic and right,’” responded Noah, “Calhoun must go
with the current. A statesman is a scientist of circumstances; he must
not fight wind and tide, but use them. In South Carolina, Nullification
and Secession are doctrines of a first respectability. One meets folk
daily who would sooner be respectable than right; and Calhoun may
well be one of these. No,” observed Noah in conclusion, speaking with
emphasis, “Calhoun must adopt his state, or his state will not adopt
him. He can not build himself for anything without his state; that is
the keystone, wanting which his arch of the future comes tumbling to the
ground.”

“Then you regard Calhoun as helpless, and that he could not, if he
would, rescue himself on a question of Nullification or Secession?”

“No; he’s as helpless as a fly in amber; he must go with his state or be
lost.”

“Do these proposals of a right to nullify and a right to secede, then,
strike so deep with their roots? I had not thought men cared so much for
tariff.”

“Sir,” replied Noah, “while present States Rights discussion circles
about tariff as argument most convenient, behind it, and as the grand
motive, lurks black slavery. A protest against tariff links many rich
merchants, not alone in Charleston, but in every great seaboard city
from Baltimore to Boston, to this doctrine. They would bring in goods
free. There be many among these, tugged upon by their pockets, who can
be brought to States Rights for a tariff argument, and who would turn
off in horror were the true black slavery reason advanced. There you
have the cunning of Calhoun.”

“Then you hold slavery to be the mainspring of States Rights as a
movement?”

“Absolutely,” and Noah’s tones left no doubt of his conviction. “Slavery
overshadows all. It is a question to yet shake the country in its soul.”

There was silence between us; we walked on, I, for my side, ruminating
the words of Noah. The more I considered them, the more they looked the
truth. Calhoun’s enmity I made no mouth about believing; indeed, as I’ve
set forth, it already had dwelt in my knowledge for long.

Getting back to what was presently being acted, I spoke of that cabinet
trio whom my companion had marked as of the clan and same family of
politics with Calhoun.

“Branch, Berrien, and Ingham,” repeated Noah, “are blood and bone with
Calhoun. If they drive out Eaton, there may come a fourth to strengthen
them. Four of a cabinet six! That would make a mighty beginning in any
hunting of the White House.”

“And what,” said I, remembering Peg, and my rage swelling, “what are we
to think of ones who would hunt a White House across the naked honor of
a woman?”

“What we are to think,” said Noah, with a toss of the hand, “will be the
least of their worry when once they succeed.”

“And that will never happen,” I returned. “I hold it between my palms
to defeat their best laid plan--their most darling chicane, as you shall
witness.”

“And so I hope,” said he. “Also, now you know as much as I, it is left
with you to warn the General and make bare to him Calhoun. You are the
right one to speak with him on that skittish topic.”

Inauguration as a ceremony came and departed, and I looked on the going
thereof as its most superlative feature. There were twenty thousand
people to hear the General’s address; and when he advanced to the
platform reared for him on the eastern front of the Capitol, the
multitude doffed hats and stood a most remarkable spectacle, the like of
which I’d never gazed on.

But the later horde in the White House defies expression! It was simple
loot and pillage, wanting bloodshed, and nothing carried away. The
cowhide throng, mud and mire to the boot-ears, climbed on sofas and
stood on chairs; they would catch a glimpse of their god at whatever
damask cost. When punch would have been brought for their entertainment,
they rushed upon the servants like red barbarians, struggling,
wrestling, the pails spilled out upon the floors. It was I who settled
the disorder, and I claim credit as for a stratagem which on other
fields might have saved a battle. I caused the drinkables to be quietly
withdrawn to the lawn, beyond the first hill and far to the south. Then
from a corner of the East Room I announced the fact with a loud voice.

It was as though my words bore a charm; in a twinkling the White House
proper approached desertion. Folk decent and civilized might again move
about, and quiet ones have peace. The mob never came back, for I made
it my duty that no lack of punch should occur on the lawn; there the
uproarious remained and drank, and at last--those who could walk--they
drifted away, each deviously to his habitat, and something akin to quiet
settled again about the eaves and rafters of the mansion.

The General put in most of the next day on a lounge, in nurse to
Augustus, recovering from the ordeal. It all but swept his life away as
in a freshet. However, he pulled through; and when in the evening I went
to ask about his condition, I found him with that little miniature of
his wife I’ve spoken of, and her hymn-book, wherewith he made his
daily church and said his prayers. What a soul would have been his for
cross-handles and chain-mail!--what a knight! so dauntless among men,
and withal so loyal with all his love to the dear lady of his heart. She
might die to others, but she would never die to him. His love would each
night search her out among the stars.

And now we settled down to our strange life. But since I use the word,
let me tell you in how short a period the strange becomes the common;
for I had not been a week in the White House, and in and out of its
great rooms, when all was as familiar and friendly to me as though I had
passed my days from boyhood within the four walls of it.

The General’s family, beyond himself and me, was made up of his nephew
Donalson, the latter’s wife, and the portrait-maker, Earl; not an
extensive circle, truly, and one to be soon contracted by the desertion
of two, as you shall presently hear.

We were still in process of that mild wrangle with our new abode which
must ever precede a last adjustment, when, like a clap of thunder from
a sky without a cloud, the General’s niece--she who was our Lady of
the White House--came upon him. There lowered something formidable
and gloomy in the mien of the young woman as she entered the room,
and because no towering force of character had distinguished her
theretofore, this cloudy something was the more to be observed. I should
have said, too, the social lines were already being set for and against
our pretty Peg, and this visit of the General’s niece was somewhat in
the nature of a blow from the enemy’s side.

“What is it, my dear?” asked the General, glancing up from his
conversation with me.

“Uncle,” she said, much in the manner of a starling which whistles a
tune that has been taught it, “Uncle, I am here to tell you that I can
not call upon Mrs. Eaton. I will receive her, since this is your house,
and you its master. But call on her in return, I can not.”

“Hoity toity!” quoth the General, “and now where did you learn these bad
manners?’

“It is my duty to myself, Uncle; there is not a lady in Washington,
beginning with Mrs. Calhoun and going down to the least among us, who
will call on Mrs. Eaton; therefore, I can not call on her.”

“Then you might better go back to Tennessee, my dear,” said the General.

And the niece and her husband went.

The word “Calhoun,” had not, however, escaped the General. It was
forever cropping up in manner and form most sinister, that word Calhoun;
and in the entire crusade of venom waged upon our Peg, it seemed on
the lips of everyone with whom the exigencies of the hour threw us into
speech, from the immortal Pigeon-breast to the General’s very niece.

“The Calhoun interest,” remarked the General, when his young
relative had retired in wrath to pack her trunks, “would appear to be
headquarters for the foe.”

The General said “foe” and meant it; for he was one whose eyes were in
his heart and saw ever his enemy in the enemy of his friend.

It was then I took occasion to lay out to the General in particular,
not alone the plan of Calhoun to seize a presidency; not alone
his leadership in that war of politics then mustering forces over
Nullification and a state’s right to secede, and which in the next
Congress gave birth to the debates between Webster and Hayne; but I
went a step beyond, and exhibited the hidden enmity of Calhoun which was
leveled at himself, and had hunted his destruction as far away as the
Seminole campaign, when Calhoun was in Monroe’s cabinet as Secretary of
War.

“It is true,” I declared; “at that time your only friend was Monroe.
Calhoun in the secret councils of the cabinet was warm to break your
sword.”

“How do you know that?” demanded the General, his eye making for heat.

“I read it in a letter from Governor Forsythe to Colonel Hamilton. If
that be not enough, I heard it from ex-President Monroe himself, when
last evening he was with us here to dinner. Moreover, I was made aware
of it two years ago on my trip to the Mississippi.”

“And why did I not hear of it before?”

“You have learned it in ample time for every interest you carry, whether
of your own or Peg’s.”

“That is true,” said the General, “that is quite true.” Then he mused
with bended brow. At last he burst forth: “I begin to see into the
Calhoun thoughts. He knows my rule, which we agreed on before we left
Nashville, that no member of my cabinet shall succeed me. That leaves
him but two rivals, Clay and Adams, for Crawford can never run again. He
has three adherents in my cabinet through whose aid he hopes to feather
the nest of his ambitions with patronage. He would destroy Eaton with
the thought of gaining a fourth. Meanwhile he will preside over the
Senate, and control legislation in favor of low tariff, if not a flat
level of free trade. Thus he trusts to break down Clay and Adams, who
are wedded to protection. Verily, a most noble, a most delicate bit of
chicane!” Here the General brooded for a long space. “I might admire
it,” he went on, “nay, I might even aid it on its high-stepping way,
were it not that he includes in his intrigue the destruction of a girl.
It is like a play, Major, and we must foil the villain and save
our beautiful Peg. Her name shall not be blown upon, though all the
presidencies for ten centuries to come depend upon it! Peg came spotless
among us; and from among us, spotless she shall depart; and that in the
teeth of all the Calhouns that ever came out of Carolina.”

The General smashed his clay pipe at this crisis, and by that token
I knew the thing to be already done. It was a way he had, this
pipe-breaking, of signing his bonds.

Peg lived catty-cornered across the President’s Square, and ran in and
out of the White House like one of the inmates. She liked the flowers,
and she liked the pictures, and was never tired of gazing at the latter
and smelling to the former. She was so much sunshine about the mansion,
not the lightest nor yet the least gloomy house in nature, but quite the
contrary.

One day a little scene occurred about which nothing of import clambered,
and yet I would give it here; for it pleases me when now I’m fallen in
the vale of years, and the General and Peg and those others who were my
friends are dead and gone from out my hands, to remember such frail
matters for their sweetness rather than their consequence; and truth to
say, they stay by me, too, with gentle clearness when events that were
of moment are clean faded from my mind.

Peg, then, was dragging me about by the hand--for she was as much the
romp as any child--and we journeyed from room to room, and from picture
to picture. We were standing in front of that portrait of Washington
which Dolly Madison once slashed from its frame to save from vandal
British.

“Come,” said Peg, tugging at my wrist with the two hands of her, “I’m
weary of these. Doubtless he was a wondrous fine gentleman”--pointing to
the painted figure of our first president--“and lived well aware of it,
himself, as one may know by the satisfied smirk of him. But show me some
other picture, one more beautiful and less grand--and not so satisfied
with itself, and respectable. All the folk I hate are respectable, and I
begin to loathe the word!”

“I can show you the most beautiful picture in the world,” I retorted;
and, whirling her by the shoulders, I stood her before a mirror.

Peg looked upon her kindly reflection for long in silence; then her eyes
filled up.

“It isn’t your compliments I cry for,” said Peg, breaking into a catchy
laugh; “but your tone is so queer with the sheer kindness of it, that I
am taken by the heart. You dear, true friend; you at least think good of
little Peg!” And with that, she came quite close, and turned her face in
wistful yet trusting fashion up to mine.

An hour later--and it was growth of this--I did a foolish action; and
yet no harm turned of it, but only a better friendship between myself
and the coxcomb Pigeon-breast. It fell forth when Peg was gone home, and
I alone near the north door of the big East Room, and none save myself
in the broad expanse of that mighty apartment. My soul was somewhat in
arms over Peg, for the wintry moan in her tones when she spoke of my
faith in her goodness was still working on me, and I would have bartered
ten years of my life to have had set before me some specific male of
my species who should avow himself Peg’s evil-thinker. My vengeance was
starving and wolfish, and I would have fed it with him.

While in this vein of fret and tumult, I caught the voice of Jim in the
hallway outside the door.

“Do I know d’Marse Major?” I heard Jim say, apparently in answer to the
question; “does Jim know d’Marse Major? Well, Jim should say likely;
for, you hyar me! Jim’s been all through him with a lantern. You-all may
tell them gambler-gentlemen somethin’ new about a ace of clubs; an ‘mebby
you could post Jim of somethin’ he aint heerd about corn whiskey; but
I don’t allow thar’s anythin’ mo’ for Jim to learn about d’Marse Major.
‘Cause why; ‘cause he’s Jim’s Marse Major, an’ I jes’ nacherally raise
him, I does, from a colt.”

When I stepped into the vestibule to answer to my own name, and put a
stop to the extravagances of Jim, I saw, to my astonishment, that the
caller was no less a personage than Pigeon-breast. Without pausing to
hear his mission, I took him by the arm and led him out upon the lawn.

Once there, however, I was sore put to it to show reason for my conduct,
of the rather extraordinary character of which one caught some glint in
the expression of amazement that made wide the eyes of Pigeon-breast and
all but set his mouth ajar.

Now the truth was, that anonymous letter to Peg, and which lay safe
locked in my desk, had ever stuck in my craw. I said it was a woman’s
hand of writing, but I was by no means sure. Knowing hardly a baker’s
dozen of folk in town, there were not many for my thoughts to run upon
in this scurvy business; and I had had it now and then on my mind--the
more since Pigeon-breast had broken into the trouble at an early hour as
the open ill-wisher of Peg--to call this fine gentleman’s attention
to the missive with a view to asking him was he its architect. In my
present frame of hunger to lay hands on a flesh and blood enemy of
Peg’s--one of my own rude sex--and I suppose because Pigeon-breast was
a foppish creature of scents and ribbons who might lean to feminine
methods of attack, I put the question to him. Fairly, I blurted it out,
and I fear with nothing of fineness or diplomacy.

“Me?” cried the outraged Pigeon-breast in a shrill treble through a
sense of injustice; “me?” he cried again, starting back a pace, perhaps
from savageries which looked out upon him from my eye, “never! On my
soul! to think of such a thing! Me write an anonymous letter! Why, sir,”
 and poor Pigeon-breast chirped forth the words like a mouse that has
been wronged, “why, sir, should a man say so, I’d have him to the field,
sir, and cut his throat.”

There was no doubt of it; the insulted Pigeon-breast was not the author
of that letter. No man might simulate his indignant excitement. I made
amends handsomely, and for the first time Pigeon-breast and I shook
hands. There was no harm in the creature save that he was a bandbox
fool.

It ran well towards evening when I went about in the conservatory
culling a basket of flowers for Peg. This I was wont to do each day,
since the blossoms went otherwise to waste; for the place was a mere
lair and nest of masculinity, with the General’s niece gone home, and
none about save the General and myself--and I might add Earl, but he had
no wit save for canvas and colors, and no thought except from morning
till night to paint the General’s portrait. The General and I were no
mighty consumers of nosegays; wherefore, as I’ve said, and to save the
flowers from loss, I was used each day to cut an armful of the best and
bravest and send them across to Peg’s, where they would give her smile
for smile and dare their beauties against her own from every corner.

While I was roving right and left among the blossoms, the General came
in with long strides. There was a kind of angry hurry to him, and he
carried a letter in his hand.

“Here is something to make you curse your kind,” cried he. Then, seeing
my flowers: “How now! how now! and when was Mars a gardener and has the
world turned girl! These should be thin days and bloodless, when the
starkest saber that ever rode on my bridle hand--he whom the Creeks
called the ‘Big Death’--loiters with woman’s wares and learns to twine a
posy.”

“They are for Peg,” said I, more nettled than I showed, for it struck me
he talked a deal about nothing at all.

“Oh, they are for Peg,” he repeated, his glance whimsical, yet narrow
and intent; “they are for Peg!” Then just as I was warming to the brink
of knowing what he would mean by that, he harked back suddenly to the
letter in his clutch. “Come with me. Here is a word from that very
Reverend Doctor Ely about your Peg, and we must concert steps to prove
him the false defamer that he is.”



CHAPTER VII--THE SECRETARY, SUAVE AS CREAM.

And now there comes beneath my hand the hard portion of this history,
the part which I most mislike and bear with least of patience. It is
the record written by the smug, false Doctor Ely to the General, wherein
with a particular past bearing, he piled up his scarlet charges. There
came a dozen counts, and as if it were an indictment; and in them no
slackness, but, instead, an evil confidence of statement plain and
clear, as one after another he cast those stones at Peg. Nor shall his
communication be set forth; I would not so offend against the whiteness
of Peg’s name, nor yet harass my own soul’s roots by giving a line of it
to types and presses. The more, since it was all a web of lies which sly
rogues wove for the shallow hand of this Ely; and not enough of truth in
it from top to bottom as should serve to make it respectable falsehood.
Sufficient that there were stories with Washington and again New York
as the theatres, and on these was based a brazen demand that Eaton be
dismissed the cabinet and Peg whipped from among women wherever virtue
had a name.

As the General read these things aloud I sat biting my nail in the
flaming impatience of my rage.

“And now what think you?” said he, when he was done.

“I think,” cried I, “that I shall ride at once for the caitiff ears of
him.”

The General, seeing my anger, turned to be mighty calm. It was a manner
of ours that when I was for a rage he would go the other way; I, on
my side and by way of requital, showed never so busy about methods
for peace as when the General was for sounding Boots and Saddles. So,
beholding me eating my fingers in a sort of blood-eagerness to come at
the throat of that Ely, the General would be for craft; and to demand
proof; and to go upon a litigation of the business among ourselves.

“And now you know,” said the General, with a bitterness in his mouth
like aloes, “why I fear preachers and your peace folk. Here is a false
tissue against a girl as white as an angel.”

“My soul for that!” I interjected.

“No one not of the cloth, and saved from men’s vengeance by his coat and
ruffle, would so dare. But now this Ely throws these lies in our laps,
and we must sit tied.”

“Yes,” I cried, “I see your meaning right well, and I would give my left
hand at the wrist joint could any gate be opened through which in honor
I might win to the miscreant’s heart.” Now the General read the letter
to himself; now he knitted his forehead into a snarl and brooded while
over against him I sat fury-stung.

“Two matters we are to agree on,” said the General at last. “We are not
to tell Peg.”

“No,” said I.

“Nor Eaton.”

Now, somehow, I in no fashion, not even the most shadowy, had had Eaton
on my slope of thought. It had seemed, in the confusion of wrath into
which this charge laid on poor Peg had stirred me, as though there were
just three folk in interest for our own side, being the General and Peg
and myself. The mention of Eaton struck on me in a strange, blistering
way, and was as much an iron in my soul as the slanders of that infamous
Ely himself. This came to be no more than a blur of my wits, however
it departed in a blink, and then a feeling somewhat of pleasure
succeeded to think Eaton would not be engaged in Peg’s defence.

“Peg shall not know,” repeated the General, as he who goes over a
manouvre in his mind, “Eaton shall not know. You and I will be enough;
and Noah; and mayhap Henry Lee, since I think, Major, you are not the
man to be trusted with a reply. You--like myself.--would overflow too
much, since you own a feeling too deep.”

There was sense in what the General advanced; I was in an ill frame
for cunning, and to be cool of quill with any specious or refutatory
letter-writing. I could have indited nothing that would not run into a
challenge with the first line; and, with the pulpit character of the foe
to be our answer, that would have been as so much raving madness.

“Let us” said the General, again taking up the scrawl, “examine this
precious scorpion’s nest in detail, and then we may know best how it
should be torn to pieces. This Ely does not make these charges by his
own knowledge, but declares how he believes in their truth on the word
of some ‘extremely honest individual’ of this town. This person would be
so much the viper he must needs hide and crawl under cover; for this Ely
also says ‘who asks his name withheld.’”

By this time I had myself in recovery and began to take a part in the
thinking.

“First, then,” said I, “is there any accusation carried which you,
yourself, should contradict?”

“There are two,” returned the General. “This Ely has it that my dear
wife knew Peg’s bad conduct and condemned her for it. That is false; my
wife spoke of Peg within a six-month; she loved her like her own child;
and, I well recall, she kissed Peg when last we left this place. Then,
too, Ely asserts how Timberlake was jealous of Eaton before he sailed
for the Mediterranean, hated him as Peg’s tempter, and would have slain
him. That, also, I should know to be a lie; for here,” and the General
crossed to a shelf and took down a rich Turkish tobacco pouch, “is a
tobacco pocket which Timberlake sent to Eaton with a letter asking him
to give it me when I arrived; and the letter bore date not ten days
before Timberlake died. There remain but two great delinquencies
alleged; the one here and the other in New York; and both are capable
of proof for either their truth or falsity.”

“And how shall we go about that proof?” I asked.

“As a primary step, then, let us have Noah with us.”

Noah came, and the General put the Ely letter into his dark, nervous
hands.

“The gentleman seems marvelously prompt,” said Noah, “to decide a
woman’s fame away on barest hearsay. Doubtless he is a good Christian,
but he would make a bad judge.”

“This is what you will do, Noah, if you love me,” said the General: “Go
to Philadelphia. Squeeze from this Ely the name of that reptile on whose
word he starts about this crime against innocence. Then press to
New York for the evidence needed to display the falsehood he tells
concerning Peg in that place.”

When Noah had gone forth, the General called in Henry Lee, who was a
secret, truthworthy man, and, dictating while Lee did the pen work,
proceeded to beat the Reverend Ely and his lies as folk beat carpets.
The General, when it was done, dismissing Lee, read to me his answer;
and I could not so much as add one word. It was as complete a retort,
and withal as slashing an arraignment of this Ely for his own cruel
part, as might be compassed with paper and ink. I listened; and I never
loved the General half so well before.

“And yet,” observed the General, when he had closed the reading and the
letter lay ready for the post, “this Ely is but the mask for some rogue
who hides behind him.”

There was no more to do now, save wait for Noah’s return. I had one
ordeal of the spirit, however; that was when Peg came next day. I so
yearned over her in pity, it marked itself in my face and she took
some dim account of it. She went away wrong in her hunting for a cause,
however.

“What has been the mischance?” said Peg, getting up and standing behind
my chair with a soft hand on each of my shoulders. “You’ve had poor news
from your farms?”

“A horse dead,” I replied. This was so far true as a word that the
letter telling me thereof had but just arrived, and lay open on my
table. “Only that a favorite horse has died,” I replied. “But he was one
of the General’s Truxton colts, and I but loth to lose him.”

It was a soon day thereafter, and we yet waiting for word of Noah, when
the General re-opened the affair of the Ely letter.

“The man Ely,” said he, thoughtfully, “has been practiced upon. The
Calhoun interest it was which stirred him to this. He would be clay
easily moulded for such a purpose, and peculiarly when the potters
employed upon him might promise somewhat for his ambition. As against
Eaton and Peg, the fellow would needs lack personal motive, since
he knows them not at all. He might find in his bosom, truly, a part
willingness to disturb me, because I broke the heart of his hope for a
Florida exaltation. Yet even with that to train his malignancy upon the
Eatons, it is clear he must be loaded, primed, and aimed by other hands.
Thus do I make the story of it: if Clay be out, as you declare, who
is there save Calhoun to put this Ely forward? Then, too, there is the
coincidence of method. Ely does there what the Calhoun folk do here.”

“Still,” I returned, for I believed in justice though to an enemy,
and would not condemn the Vice-President without some open sureness of
proof; “still, as Noah explained, these villainies might find act and
parcel in Calhoun’s interests, and that gentleman be as innocent of
personal part as next year’s babes.”

“Be that as it may,” retorted the General, “a man is responsible for his
dogs. Besides, it is too much to believe that Calhoun has no notice of
this war on the Eatons.”

“Oh, as to that,” I replied, “I think there is scant doubt. An important
movement in his destinies is not to continue for long in the dark, to a
keen sight like Calhoun’s. However, he might miss details.”

“He knows of these tales against Peg,” declared the General firmly, and
as though the question were solved and settled. “Also, by lifting his
finger he could end them in the mouths that give them words. When one
can do a thing and doesn’t do it, that is because one doesn’t want to do
it, but prefers things as they are. And there you have it. In the mean
courses against Peg your Vice-President is accessory. By the Eternal!”
 swore the General abruptly, beginning to walk about the floor, “but such
perfidy makes me to loathe the man! I should hate all that comes from
him, whether of policy or plan. For where a source is foul, the stream
will be unclean.”

There was now to enter upon the stage one who wrought strongly for Peg’s
defence. But he toiled better for himself, for at last he took the White
House by it; the General in a gust of kindness for what he did in Peg’s
pure favor making him his heir of politics and laying the presidency in
his hands with the death of his own second term. This personage, to be
so much the ally of Peg, and so fortunate for his own future, was none
other than that Van Buren who resigned his Governorship and traveled the
long way from Albany to become the General’s Secretary of State.

Heretofore I’ve made suggestion that the General’s knowledge of Van
Buren was nothing deep, but only narrow and of a surface sort. More;
the truth was that now when the General stood in the midst of this Eaton
trouble and saw a long strife ahead, he was by no sense secure for the
coming attitude of his premier, and went doubt-pricked as to whether or
no it would turn to be a friendly one. I could discern some feather of
these misgivings when one evening over our pipes we dwelt on Marcy and
Van Buren, these two being topmost spirits of our party in their state.

Marcy was a bold man, and strong with a burly force; as frank and
without fear too, as a soldier, and less the hypocrite than any of his
day. He had yet to say, from his seat in the Senate, “The politicians of
my state wear no masks of superior goodness and make no pretences. They
are content to preach what they practice. If they be defeated, they
expect to step down and out; if they triumph, they look to enjoy the
fruits of their victory. They see no harm in the aphorism, ‘To the
victor belongs the spoil of the enemy.’” Marcy, I say, had not yet
uttered these words in the Senate; but they dwelt with him as a
sentiment; he had given them expression in Duff Green’s paper; and,
since the General said nothing in negation, they were held to declare
the feelings of the administration.

Before this, I have written somewhere, have I not?--for old age can not
hold a memory, nor tell a lucid story step by step, but forever must
wander to the garrulous this-side-or-that, with topics alien to the task
in hand--how I caught some flash of the General’s uncertainty of Van
Buren and the pose that gentleman would take on? It fell in this kind. I
had asked then a question about Van Buren, and how he compared with his
fellow captain, Marcy. The General shook uncertain head.

“Van Buren may surprise us,” said he, “and show me wrong besides; but
this is what I think. You are to bear in mind, also, that his selection
to be at my cabinet right hand was not personal but political. Here is
how I hold him.” Now the General spoke with a thoughtful, measured flow
of speech, as though his eye were turned to introspection, and he read,
as one reads a page of print, his estimate of him whom he sought to
weigh. “Van Buren is essentially furtive, lurking, cat-like. He delights
in moonlight politics and follows the byways. He avoids the eye, is
seldom in the show ring, and, in making his excursions, sticks to the
lanes and keeps off the highways. Few men see, and fewer know, Van
Buren. He is sly rather than bold; chicanes rather than assails; and
when attacked he does not fight in that strifish sense of hard knocks.
He poisons the springs and streams and standing water; and then he falls
back into the hills. Van Buren does with snares what others do by blows;
traps while others hunt. And yet, in a feline way, he likes trouble. Set
out a bowl of milk and a bowl of blood, and turn your back. If sure
of unobservation, he will lap the blood. But if you stare at him, he
dissembles with the milk, purring with fervor sedulous. Ever secret, Van
Buren knows of no harder fate than mere discovery. His points of power
are his egotism, his skill for sly effort, his talent as a trader of
politics. Marcy is of another sort. Marcy is vigorous where Van Buren is
fine. If a band of music were to go by, Marcy would regard the bass drum
as the great instrument. Van Buren would prefer the piccolo. Marcy does
his war work with an axe. When any homicide of politics enforces
itself upon Van Buren he moves with sack and bowstring. He waits until
midnight, and then, with victim gagged and bagged and bound, drowns him
in the Bosphorus of party.”

Even as the General spoke, Van Buren was trudging up the street; for it
would appear that he had come into town the hour before, and now made
speed to pay his respects to the General.

While Van Buren was in talk with the General, our first greetings being
done, I strove to come by some true account of one who was like to make
for much weight in the scales. He was round, short, and by no means
superb or imposing. Standing between the General and myself, and both
of us above six feet, he seemed something stunted. There was a
quiet twinkle in his gray, intelligent eye that he drew from his
tavern-keeping sire of Kinderhook; the latter being of shrewd Dutch
stock, born to count pennies and to save them, and whose profits with
his inn found partial coinage in an education above bottles and taprooms
for his son. There hovered an oily peace about Van Buren; it showed on
him like painted color. I was not tremendously impressed of him, I grant
you; albeit, before all was done, I came to better learn him. The
man, for a best simile, was like so much quicksilver. Bright and of
surprising weight, he rolled away from a touch and never failed to
fit himself scrupulously and plausibly into every inequality which
the surface he rested on presented. He came to be, as you may think,
precisely the man for the General; since, while the one was as apt for
heat as Sahara, and as much the home of hurricanes, the other under
no stress was ever known to give or take offence. He would be without
quills, this Van Buren, and yet no porcupine in his rattling armor went
about more perfect to his own defence or so equal for the problem of his
own security.

Van Buren made no lengthy stay with us; there was a hand-shake, a talk
of a moment, a bow, and he was back to his quarters in the Indian Queen.

“And what do you say of him?” asked the General, when now his new
secretary was gone.

“Why, sir,” I replied, “I should call your story of the man a good one.
But he does not look so strong as you would make him.”

“Why, then,” returned the General, “neither does any other thing of
silk.” Then, after a pause: “Just as an insinuation is stronger than a
direct charge, so is Van Buren stronger than other men. I warrant you,
as we stand here with all our wisdom, he holds our measures more nearly
than we hold his.”

The General, you are to observe, and whether early or late, never said
a word to Van Buren of Peg and the villain forays against her fame;
the General was too proud for that. The defence of Peg seemed a thing
personal to his heart; with him it owned no place in politics or the
business of the state. Therefore, he would ask no man’s aid, and folk on
that quarrel might be neutral or pick their sides and go what ways they
would.

The General, I say, beheld nothing of politics in the question of his
defence of Peg; it was wholly the thing personal. He never realized,
what is clear to you and me, that everything was the thing personal with
him, and politics a thing most personal of all. Even now, since he had
found the Palmetto coterie to be among his enemies, and within short
weeks of the birth of his first rancor against Calhoun as one who had
sought to do him hidden harm while apeing friendship and aiming at his
betrayal with a kiss, he had commenced to nourish a steady wrath against
that statesman’s policies of Secession and States Rights. This latter he
was cultivating and feeding in all possible fashion.

One day I came upon him deep within Marshall’s definitions of treason as
declared in the trial of Aaron Burr.

“There’s the law for you,” he cried, with a note of exultation in his
tone, and thrusting the book at me with one hand while with the other
he marked the place; “there’s the law of treason so laid down that a
wayfaring man though a fool should not err therein. I shall get it pat
to my tongue; I may yet teach it to our Secessionists with a gibbet.”

I put this down to show the climbing of the General’s anger against
Calhoun; and how it began to spread and feel about to assail the
Vice-President in his acts and plans and sentiments and hopes. It was,
as he said aforetime, “We would foil the villain and save our pretty
Peg.”

You may rest sure I made no argument against his law studies; indeed, I
think treason a crime which the White House can not understand too well
nor hate too thoroughly, and I never thought so more than in those far
days when the General read Marshall and we carried forward our fight for
lovely Peg.

While the General spoke no word of the Eatons and their injuries to Van
Buren, the latter for a certainty was not long in town before he thereon
held converse with himself. I would be made wise of this by his coming
to me--it was our second encounter--and, with a manner suave as cream,
asking what to my thought would be a time fitting, and to the lady
convenient, for him to call upon our Peg.

“For you must know,” said he, spreading out his smooth hands and
regarding the backs of them, being, I think, a trick of his to cover an
inability to look one between the eyes, “for you must know, sir, since
my wife died, and with no daughter in my house to teach me, my society
learning has gone excessively to seed.”

It became my turn to say that society, I was told--for I carried no
personal knowledge thereof, having little genius for it--ran now to
broken ends and fragments, and would continue so throughout the
year. The social season, by word of such experienced parlor scouts as
Pigeon-breast, would not begin until New Year’s Day.

“However,” said I, in finale, “you may take it from me that the Eatons
will be blithe to receive you on any evening you should care to call.
There need be no formality; you may pull their latch-string at any hour
with every assurance of a welcome.”

“Can not you take me there this evening?” he asked, with a kind of
enthusiasm.

“I am only too pleased to be of service.”

The fair truth is I could have hugged the little secretary from gladness
for Peg.

That same night, when later I paid my usual visit to the General for a
friendly pipe and to finish the day in smoke before we went to bed, I
told him of Van Buren’s waiting on Peg. The pleasure the news gave him
fell across his face like sunlight. But he carried himself in ordinary
fashion.

“Why, sir,” said he, “I’m glad that he has been to see the Eatons.
Still, no less could have been looked for from a gentleman.”

“But he did better,” I said. “Never have I heard more delicate
compliment than he offered to Peg. He says she shall preside at his
house for those functions which belong with his position.”

“And that, since he has no wife, will be a vast convenience for him,”
 responded the General; “this pouring of his guests’ tea by our beautiful
Peg.”

The General would accept it as a matter of course, but I tell you the
tidings of that tea-pouring warmed the cockles of his heart. For myself,
I made no effort to hide my satisfaction.

“Is it not a strange thing,” said the General, after a bit, “how one’s
first impression will go astray? Who could be more true, or more wise,
or better bred or founded in whatever makes for the best in a man, than
our Van Buren? And yet I thought him sly, and with a hand for selfish
design. The man’s as simple as a child!”

“He tells me,” I remarked, “that your friend Hoyt of this region warned
him you did not like him, and how your great favorite was Calhoun.”

“Hoyt is a presumptuous fool,” returned the General, hotly. “I would not
give Van Buren’s finger for Calhoun. Why should he be favorite of mine
who foments treason, and schemes to split the nation like a billet of
wood!”

Peg was with me betimes next morning to jubilate with dancing pulses
over Van Buren to her house the night before.

“For can’t you see,” she cried, her cheeks red with the excitement that
crowed in her breast, “what a strategic point, as you sons of war
would term it,”--Peg was laughing here--“is your little, round, smooth
Secretary of State? He carries the grand legation folk in his wake. With
them, all ribbons and orders, and the army--for the latter will be bound
to us since we are the war department--our receptions should be a blaze
of glory and gold braid.”

Here Peg clapped her hands with the glee of it. It was an inspiration to
see her so gay.

“I am overcome of delight,” I said, mocking gravity, “to know that we
are like to gain so much of ornamentation.” Then, changing my tone: “But
of a truth, my little one, I shall forever love our State Secretary for
your sweet sake.”

“You brought him,” cried Peg. “What a watch-dog you are to me!” This
with sudden warmth. “That is the word, a watch-dog--a faithful watch-dog
with a great sleepless heart guarding its Peg! And you shall have a
collar.”

[Illustration: 0226]

With that, since I was sitting in my chair and so within her reach, the
minx crept up and threw her arms about my neck. It was simply play--the
exuberance of a born tomboy. And yet I was glad we were alone and no
General about, else I would have lived long ere I had heard the last of
it. The situation would have fitted like a glove with the General’s bent
of humor, and I should not have cared for his raillery.

Peg clung to my neck like a rose to an oak while I tried softly to
loosen her arms. I could not make head against her for fear of hurting
her.

“How do you like your collar, watchdog?” she cried, with a chuckle. “And
now the buckle--how do you like that?” Here she laid her velvet cheek
against my face. “So, watch-dog, you would slip your collar?” This,
banteringly. “There; you are free.” And Peg unlocked her arms and stood
back smiling, her small, white leopard teeth just showing, and her eyes
like diamonds. Then donning a satiric air: “Sir, you call yourself a
gentleman and a politician. You should know, then, there be two honors
no man may decline; the one is a presidency and the other is a--lady.”

With this smartness on her lips Peg broke into downright merriment. The
little witch was never so charming!

That evening I was sitting alone with the General; each of us silent and
within himself, wrapping his own fancies about him like a cloak. I know
not on what uplands of conjecture the General’s thoughts were grazing;
for myself, I was dwelling on Peg, for I could still feel that soft,
warm collar of her two arms clasping my neck.

It is trenching on the wondrous, too, how the sweet image of a woman
will train one’s soul for war. No sooner would I take Peg upon the
back of my meditations, than they straightway went plunging off to
her enemies, and to tire themselves with vain circlings of how best to
refute the malice of her foes and return upon their wicked heads the
most of cruelty. Commonly I might be held as one not beyond touch of
mercy, and indeed I have spared a painted Creek when he stood helpless.
But I doubt me if Peg’s foes, when by some sleight of fate they had
fallen within my power, would have found a least loophole of relief.
Of a verity! I think I might have looked long on their writhings ere my
heart was touched or my hands raised to stay their tortures.

While I sat in this blood-mood, and shedding in imagination the lives
of ones who would persecute our innocent, my glance was caught by the
General’s pistols lying near by on a table. They were of that long,
duelling breed belonging with the times, and the General kept them as
bright and new as he kept his honor.

“And why are those on parade?” I asked, pointing to the weapons.

“It is the day of the year,” said the General, and his steady voice
was low, “whereon I killed Dickenson. This is the one I used,” and he
stretched his long arm and offered it for my inspection. It had a ribbon
of black about the butt. “That is not for Dickenson,” he explained; “it
is for her.” Here he indicated that miniature of his wife from which
he would never be parted, where it rested on the mantel and looked down
upon us with the painted eyes.

“You speak in a queer way,” I said; “do you regret killing the man?”

“No,” he returned, half sadly; “I do not regret killing him.”

“Tell me of it,” I urged. “I was not about, and Overton went with you to
the field.”

The General never named his fight with Dickenson to others, but I was
sure he would tell the tale to me. In good truth, I had not asked for
it, save that, knowing him far better than I knew myself, I saw what
was in his manner to make me believe he would be the lighter after the
relation.

“Dickenson,” said the General, making no flourish of talk in explanation
of a readiness to describe adventures which some folk for the red ending
might have shrunk from; “Dickenson was the tool of a conspiracy made
against my life, and politics was at the bottom of it. I was too
popular; I was in the way; the grave was a place for me; thus argued
my enemies. And then they went about to draw in Dickenson to be their
cat’s-paw.

“Dickenson was young and vain, and withal willingly cruel enough to act
as my murderer for the illustration it would bring. He counted himself
safe, since he was reckoned the surest, quickest hand in all the world.
The man could shoot from the hip like a flash, and as accurately as one
might put one’s finger.

“Once the plan was laid, Dickenson took a sure course; he spoke evil of
my wife.” Here the General picked up the two pistols, a butt in either
hand, and looked first upon the one and then upon its fellow. “Following
my marriage, with every dollar I owned, I bought these pistols. They are
hair-triggers and a breath unhooks them. Also, they are sighted to shoot
as fine and as true as the moral law. I gave to their purchase my last
dollar, and devoted them to the destruction of what scoundrels should
vilify my wife. They have done their work and never failed me.

“Overton was to act my second, and we would fight in Kentucky, sixty
miles away. All day we traveled; the Dickenson party preceded us over
the same trail. At every squatter’s cabin the inmates would call us to
the wizard work of Dickenson. Here he shot the head from a fowl; there
he cut the string by which a gourd was hanging; now he drove a nail at
twenty paces. It was a trick to shake my nerve.

“We would fight in the early morning, each standing to a peg twelve
paces apart. Overton won the word and the pistols. I was dressed in a
black coat, loose and long, and with no white to show at the throat and
coax a bullet. We were given our places, I to my joy with my favorite
pistol.

“It was conceded by Overton and myself, as we went up and down the
business in advance, that Dickenson would kill me. Our hope was that I’d
last long enough to kill him--he, the defamer of my wife!

“The thought on our side was for me to brace myself and take Dickenson’s
fire. I could not rival him for quickness or for sureness. And the haste
of an attempt would waste and throw away my aim.

“We were put up, I say; the words were to be
‘Fire--one--two--three--stop!’ We might fire at any moment between
‘Fire!’ and ‘Stop!’ And Overton had the word. As I took my place I
slipped a bullet into my mouth. I would set my teeth on it to steady my
hand.

“Overton cried the word and began the count. With the word ‘Fire!’
Dickenson’s weapon flashed. I heard the roar of it, and felt the numb,
dull shock as the lead crashed into my side. But I sustained myself. I
was held on my feet by hate. I thought he had slain me, but with him out
of hell I would not rest in my grave.

“When I did not fall, but stood firm, Dickenson started back.

“‘My God, I have missed him!’ he cried.

“‘Step to your peg, sir,’ roared Overton, pausing in his count and
cocking a pistol; ‘step to your peg, or I’ll blow your head from your
body!’

“Dickenson stood again to his peg and turned his eyes from me; his face
was the color of tobacco ashes.

“Overton resumed his count. ‘One!’ ‘Click!’” My pistol caught at
half-cock. Overton paused and I re-cocked my pistol; Dickenson white
and firm to his peg--a man who had played his life away.

“‘Two!’ cried Overton.

“My pistol responded; the lead tore its way through the midst of
Dickenson’s body. He crippled slowly down on one knee; and then he
fell along on his face, and next turned over on his back with a sort of
twitching jerk. I never took my eyes from him.”

“And your wound,” said I, “was a serious one, I well know that.”

“My ribs were broken, while my boot was clogged with the blood which
ran down beneath my garments. The bullet I placed between my teeth was
crushed as flat as a two-bit piece.”

“It was hardy work,” said I, “bearing up and firing on the heels of such
a wound.”

“Sir, I was thinking on her”--glancing at the miniature. “I should have
killed that man though he had put his bullet through my heart.”

Here the General turned his face towards me; his eyes were shining with
the lambent orange glow one sees in the panther’s eyes at night.

There was silence, I still looking on the General. His nervous face was
twitching. Then the frown on his forehead gave way to quiet sadness.
Rising, he stood by the mantel and gazed for long, and tenderly, on the
miniature of his dead dear one.

“I have had many titles,” said he, and he spoke whisperingly and as
though talking with the picture; “I have had many titles, and the
greatest was the one ‘her husband.’ I have had honors;--I stand the
chief of the greatest nation in the greatest age the world has witnessed;
and I would give all to hold her hand one moment. They say there is a
heaven above us. It will be no heaven unless I meet her there.”

Now while I was in warmest sympathy with the General, his talk would
seem to fill me up with darkness. Also, I could feel the two hot arms
of Peg burning my neck. That story, too, of the Dickenson fight may be
supposed to have set in my nature that animal which lairs within each of
us, somewhat on truculent edge. Abruptly I burst forth:

“And it is a surprising thing,” cried I--ripping out an oath, the last
not common with me--“how Eaton abides Peg’s wrongs. He should have
killed a man or two by now.”

“Sir,” returned the General, coming from his reverie with a kind of
snap, “sir, no man since Catron has been known to speak a word. Besides,
my cabinet men can not go trooping off for Blandensburg at any price. It
is one of the drawbacks to a high position of state that it chops one’s
hands off at the elbow; duels are no longer a question.”

“I do not see it thus,” I retorted viciously. “You do not? Look on Aaron
Burr--deserted and old and poor, and dying in New York. He came down
from his vice-presidency to slay one who had maligned him for years. And
there is his reward.”

“What do I care for that?” cried I. “If it were for Peg, I should leave
a throne and perish poor, despised and all alone, but I would strangle
the throat that spoke her wrong.”

“Ah! if it were Peg!” And the General, now alert and wholly of this
world, gave me that narrow intent glance I resented among the flowers.

What might have been uttered next was cut short by a messenger on the
door. He brought word from Noah; he had just come to town, and since it
was turned late he would defer his call until the morning.

“Let’s have him with us now,” cried the General, briskly. “I shall not
sleep for hours; and you, I take it, will stay awake in such a cause?”

“I would stand sleepless guard for weeks if it were to defend Peg,” said
I.

“Think now and then, my friend, for your own defence.” The General said
this with a look both quizzical and grave. Then, without pausing: “Write
Noah a note in my name.” While I scribbled he walked to and fro. “I must
ever ask you to write for me, since I am so unfortunate as to deny a
proverb and be one whose sword was ever mightier than his pen.”

In the hall I discovered Jim, and told him to depart with our message to
the Indian Queen.

“‘Course I’ll nacherally go, Marse Major,” said Jim, “but I was jes’
waitin’ to see you-all, an’ ask how soon you reckons we’ll go caperin’
back to Tennessee.”

“Why,” I demanded, “what has made you so soon homesick?”

“It aint that, Marse Major,” and Jim gave to his words a melancholy
whine, “but we-all can’t stand d’pace yere. For a week Jim was as happy
an’ chirpy as a drunkard at a barbecue. But since you locks that closet
do’, Jim’s sort o’ been obleeged to buy whiskey for himse’f; an’ what
you think? They charge Jim five cents a drink for whiskey that don’t
cost two bits a gallon all along d’Cumberland! They’s shorely robbers;
an’ they jes’ nacherally takes Jim’s money off him so fas’ he cotch
cold.”

“Go on, you rogue!” said I. “Here is a Mexican dollar to bolster your
finances. We’re not yet bankrupt, Jim.”

Noah came to us spattered of travel, and with the high riding-boots he
wore on the road. I took a deal of pleasure for a buoyancy I observed in
him, since I read it as a sign of whitest promise. Nor was I to be cast
down from that hope.

“You are to know,” said Noah, turning to the General, “that I was two
days before your letter with the Reverend Ely. In the first of our
conversations he held his head loftily; in the end, he came something
under control. Your letter much dismayed him, and after that his courage
ran very thin indeed. Now he quite agrees he knew nothing, and was wrong
and false in all he wrote. I dragged him to New York with me. I have
Mrs. Eaton’s innocence here, in these papers.” Noah laid a sealed
package by the General’s elbow. They were from the Reverend Ely, as well
as from the folk of the hotel wherein that Ely said Peg lodged. “They
are oath-made; they prove Mrs. Eaton chaste as snow.”

“And how did you make conquest of this Ely?” questioned the General, his
eye gratified and spirit a mate for Noah’s.

“The power of the press, I should call it,” laughed Noah. “The ignoble
Ely hath a mighty distaste of unfriendly ink. And I’m an editor. That
was it,” went on Noah; “I showed him what might be done. He should stand
in the pillory of my types for the reasonless defamer he was. Then the
dog trembled and came my way with meekness, asking what he should do. I
answered much like the monks with the wild Clovis, ‘Bend thy neck, proud
Sicambrian; adore what thou hast burned, burn what thou hast adored!’
In short, I demanded a letter of retractory amends to the President; and
also that he name his fellow reptile, whose infamous word he claimed for
the truth of his scurrility.”

“And who is he?” demanded the General, as warm as ever I saw him.

By some virtue of telepathic sort, I read the answer before Noah uttered
it. And why had I not guessed before! The secret one so falsely in
the ear of the shallow Ely was none other than the unctious Reverend
Campbell.



CHAPTER VIII--THE MAD CAPRICIOUS PEG

Next morning the sun had not climbed over-high when the Reverend
Campbell, head down and secret eye aslant, came shuffling to call upon
the General. I caught the black shadow of him--for all the world like
the shadow of some vulture to sail between one and the sun--as the
drooping, furtive creature sidled through the hall. The General had sent
for him, for the General was not one to let the grass grow deep between
resolve and action.

“I will see the man alone, Major,” observed the General; “he might
complain, were you present, of a situation offering two against one and
planned to over-ride him.”

Such management was much to my appetite, since it would but serve to
boil my anger--this listening while the Reverend Rogue laid out his pack
of calumnies upon Peg. In good truth! I much misdoubt if I had withstood
my hands from him when under such honest provocation; and that, maugre
his black surtout and pulpit snuffle.

And yet it did not miss me as a feature hard to be read for its
significance, that now was the earliest time when the General had shown
himself so equitable as to think on “two against one” and fail to ask
my presence for his conferences. He had met folk for war and peace, and
they had come alone; I had been there, and no one spoke of over-riding.
However, the subject was not worth quizzing one’s self concerning;
the Reverend Campbell was come, the best thing about it being that the
General lived ample and to spare to arrest whatever of slander he should
bring us in his mouth, and put it to the death. The General could
track a lie as surely as ever he tracked Creek, and lived even more
inveterately its enemy.

Peg met the Reverend Campbell almost in the great front door, for she
was on her usual journey to consult with me about some trifling nothing.
When his sidelong glance encountered Peg’s, the rascal cowered and
seemed to turn more mean, if that were possible, than by nature belonged
with him. But he said no word; he did not so much as muster against her
one square look, but sinuously, and as a snake might, writhed himself
out of her path Peg, for herself, swept him with a chill, errant eye as
if he were some gutter-being, offensive though unknown.

“And what brings that bird of mal-omen to flutter about one’s door?--so
bright a morning, too!” This was Peg’s question on the Reverend Campbell
as she walked in to me and climbed to her customary chair at the left
hand of my desk. “What should you say, watch-dog, was his bad mission?
Is he a threat? Does he drag a danger after him? You must be alert if
you would make safe your little Peg.”

The tone of raillery which Peg adopted secured me; she had no surmise,
then, to the purpose of the Reverend Campbell.

“It’s quite sure,” I returned, evasively, “that our swart visitor would
be much uplifted were the General to relent and dispose of Florida
according to his wish.”

And now while Peg sits before the mirror of my memory with her sweet
face, as she on that far morning sat in the great leathern chair, let me
please my fond pencil with a word of her. There were so many expressions
of the unexpected to our Peg--for so I had grown to call her--one must
needs be describing and redescribing her with each new page one turns.
A born enchantress and a witch full-blown besides! it is the mere truth
that Peg bore upon me like a spell.

There was never woman to be Peg’s marrow for flash and spirit, and
beyond all to creep so tenderly near to one. And for a crown to that,
she was as wise as the serpent. There were moments when Socrates himself
might have listened to her and not lost his time.

And she could shift color like a chameleon. Behold her on some day of
social parade, or where she meets strangers or half acquaintances, and
she will be older by fifteen years than now when she plants her small
self in that armchair, and makes me turn my writing downward to talk
with her. Tender, wilful, pliant, wise, patient, petulant, true,
uncertain, sure, confiding and confusing, she offered contradictions
equal with the General. I would exhaust the roll-call of the adjectives
were I wholly to set forth this child-woman in the last of her frank
arts and sage simplicities.

Peg wore as many moods as a lake on a flawy day and where skies are
scud-swept. Now, with a cloud across the sun, she would be dull and
sad as lead. Then, with a gust of wind, she would wrinkle into waves of
temper. And next there would dawn a tranquil moment when, calm and clear
and deep and sweet, she shone on one like burnished silver.

Once, I recall, she sat in her big chair, steeped in a way of pensive
wordlessness. I had not heard her voice for an hour; nor she mine, for
I was fallen behind in my letters, and politics and president-making are
mighty gluttons of ink. Suddenly she broke in:

“Why are you so good to me--so much more than any other?”

“How should one fail of sympathy,” said I, giving my manner a light
turn, “for another so innocent and so ill-used?”

“And it’s just sympathy--all sympathy?” demanded Peg, resting her round
chin in her little shell of a palm. “Nothing but sympathy?”

“What else should it be?”

“I don’t know,” said Peg, shortly. Then she walked slowly across the
room and studied a picture. In a moment she gave a word to me over
her shoulder: “I may tell you this, Mr. Questioner. There is but one
question a man should put to a woman.”

Smiling on her jaunty petulances, I went forward with my writing; she to
pulling out the slides of a cabinet. This apartment, I should tell you,
was my private workshop of politics wherein I repaired and extended the
destinies of the General, and transacted his fame for him. There were a
world of history and one president--and say the least of it--constructed
in that room.

Peg came presently to my elbow, bringing a trinket of coral. It had been
my sister’s, and was my mother’s before that.

“Is it worth much money?” asked Peg.

“Nothing at all,” I returned.

“And yet you value it highly?”

“Very highly.”

“May I have it?”

It seemed shame to hesitate, and yet I did, while Peg stood with wistful
face.

“Why,” said I at last, “I meant it for the one I should love.”

“Oh, you meant it for her whom you would love! And do you look to see it
again after that? The coral is mine from this moment.”

With a swish of her skirts Peg was gone; and with her went the coral.

Peg betimes would lay out her campaign for the coming winter. It was
then she talked of Van Buren, “the good little secretary,” as Peg named
him. Van Buren went often to the Eatons; and on each of those kind
excursions he climbed ever higher with the General and with me.

“Not only,” said Peg, assuming a wise pucker of the brow as she
recounted how she should wage and win her social war, “not only shall I
preside for our good little secretary at dinners and receptions, but he
has brought to me the Viscount Vaughn, who is minister for the English,
and Baron Krudener, who is here, as you know, for the Russians; and
they, since they own no wives to help them, also have besought me to be
at the head of their legation functions. And with the White House back
of all, what then will Mrs. Calhoun and her followers do! Watch-dog we
have them routed!” Here Peg’s rich laugh would ring out for victory on
its way.

Peg, on another day, would shake her head with soft solemnity.

“I do so wish some one watched over me.” Peg spoke in contemplative
earnestness. “If I could find a fault in a best of husbands, it must be
that he doesn’t watch over me.”

“What idleness now claims your tongue?” said I, impatiently. “Was ever
such nonsense uttered! And the wives should all turn ospreys, too, I
take it, and haunt the upper air to watch their husbands?”

“No,” returned Peg, demurely reading the carpet, “no; a wife should
never watch her husband. What should you think of her who, dwelling in
a garden--a measureless garden of roses--went ever about with petticoats
tucked up, stick in hand, questing for some serpent? Who is she, to be
so daft as to refuse the fragrance of a thousand blossoms to find one
serpent and be stung by it?” Peg crowed high and long, deeming
herself a princess of chop-logic. “But a man should watch a woman,” she
concluded; “the woman wants him to.”

“And why?” said I, becoming curious.

“Because she likes to feel herself tethered by his vigilance.”

“But why?” I insisted. “Is not freedom dear to a woman?”

“Yes, but love is more dear. See what she gains when she barters only a
little freedom for a world of love.”

“I had not thought a woman set such store by jealousy--the green eye
turned against herself.”

“Jealousy--a man’s jealousy is but the counterpart of his love.”
 Peg lifted her clever head oracularly. “And, watch-dog, that reminds
me”--here she admonished me with upraised finger--“you are jealous of me!
Yes you are; you are jealous of my husband.”

“You are a confusing form of little girl!” I said, laughing in my turn;
“and most confusing when you jest.”

“Yes; when I jest.” This in a way of funny dryness. “Especially, when
I jest. Still, you are jealous; you watch me all the time. Do not look
frightened; I do not object to jealousy.” Peg finished in a mirthful
ripple.

“I would not see you walk into harm,” said I, meekly.

Perhaps I was thus meek because the small hectorer would stir up
confusion in my bosom; and she, cool, assured, mistress of situations it
was her merry humor to create.

“You would not see me walk into harm,” she repeated. “But you are
jealous of my husband. Is my husband ‘harm?’”

“Do you not complain for that he does not watch you?”

This I said desperately. It is not a hand’s-breadth behind a miracle how
a girl--and you a steady man of years, and twice her age--will wrap you
in perplexities like a parcel. It was so with me; the witch would wind
and unwind me as though I were a ball of knitting-yarn! She would darn
and patch her laughter with me!

“Watch-dog,” said Peg, severely, “watchdog, you know you are jealous!
And how long do you count it since I told you that jealously was but
love turned upside down?” This came off trippingly, and with superior
wave of wrist, as settling a thing beyond debate. Then with a tinge of
tenderness: “Watch-dog, being so trusted, what would you do for me?”

“I would be a slave for you,” said I, simply enough, “if it were to do
you good.”

“Qualification,” cried she, with a vicious stamp of her foot, “always
qualification!” Then mimicking me: “‘If it were to do me good.’
Good!--good!--what a desert of weariness in four letters! If I were to
discover some unnamed desolation, some barren waste, one arid, gray,
dry, dead--especially dead--I’d turn geographer and call it ‘Good.’”

Peg was quiet after this upheaval, which was with it all but a surface
impatience and nothing deep, and uttering never a word, gazed over
against the wall. On my side, I made no return; for I was grown used to
her whims, and knew they were not to be argued with. And most fatal of
all was agreement. A best course would be to reply nothing, whether
of denial or comment or endorsement, but let Peg talk her talk out
unrestrained.

However, catching the fashion of her with the fringe of my eye as I
went for more ink on my pen, and observing her face to seem over sad and
considerate, I spoke up to cheer her.

“And now what are your thoughts?” said I.

“I was just wanting to be a man, that’s all.” And Peg stared straight
ahead as though in a muse. Then starting up, and with a rush of
vivacity: “Heigh ho! and now if I were, I’ll wager I’d be as dull as the
others--as dull as you, watch-dog.” Then, changing the tune of it, but
keeping to her dash and fling: “So you would be my slave! Come, let me
mark you for my slave!”

Without warning, she seized my hand, and with her sharp leopard teeth
bit until the blood flowed. Then surveying her work, she kissed the
pin-prick of a wound with unction. When she raised her face, there was a
trickle of blood on her lip and chin.

Walking to a mirror with a careless, flinging step, Peg glanced her face
over, and I thought with relish.

“See if there do not come a pretty white mark when it heals.” This she
told me in an arch manner, and with chin on shoulder, and the fleck of
blood on her chin. “Now if I but dared,” she went on, returning to the
glass, “I would wear that blood always and never wash it away. But the
world! the world!--ah, the world! One must wash one’s face for the world
although one owes the world nothing.”

Peg, now in a climax of bubbling spirits, and pouring a spoonful of
water on her handkerchief, washed off the spots of red, transferring
them to her tiny square of cambric. This she contemplated with a sort of
surprised delight, as tendering a new idea.

“I need never wash that, at any rate,” said she. Then with her glancing
eyes on me: “You will wear my mark now;--Peg’s mark for her slave!--who
would do her good.”

The next moment she went singing across the lawn for her home, leaving
me to think on the caprices of our radiant, reckless, blooming, madcap
Peg. All this by the way, however; now to return to our day of the
Reverend Campbell’s call upon the General.

Peg was still curled in her big armchair when, following his interview
with the General, the Reverend Campbell left the mansion. It was she
who told his departure to me where I wrought at my desk. Peg caught a
flutter of him through the large window.

“Oh!” cried Peg, “there goes our Reverend Raven.”

Looking up from where I worked, I beheld the Reverend Campbell making
speed out of the grounds. In such hurry was he that he left the walk of
gravel, and to save a corner would cut across the grass. The black-foot
creature slouched away for all mankind like unto some henroost fox of
the night whom daylight had surprised and who now went skulking for the
comforting safe darkness of his burrow.

“It is wonder,” said Peg, “what could induce the good General to
tolerate the presence of our Reverend Raven for so long. What should be
the interest in his croakings?”

As Peg spoke, the General’s gaunt form appeared in the door. He was more
than half warm with an angry excitement. Without pause or first words of
greeting, he addressed himself to Peg.

“Child, where was Timberlake two years ago this summer?--where was he in
June?”

“Here in Washington,” returned Peg, her eyes full of wonder, as she
scanned the face of the General in quest of a clue to his sharp, unusual
curiosity. “He stayed here idle for four years before he last sailed.
He was seeking to adjust his accounts as purser for the frigate
_President_. His books were lost when the English captured the ship.
It was that to make all the trouble; the red-tape of the navy office
detained him here four years before it would accept his accounts. It was
during that period we were wed.” Peg’s voice, brisk at the start, fell
sorrowfully away towards the end.

“Then he was here in June two summers ago,” said the General, “and for
three years prior and almost one year after that time?”

“Yes,” said Peg.

“Now there!” cried the General, with a mixture of wrath and disgust;
“see what bald and easily confuted falsehood a fool moved of low malice
will tell! I could believe at times, when I’m brought face to face with
such mendacious simplicity, that liars are denied powers of reflection.”

“What is it all about?” asked Peg.

“Nothing, child, nothing,” returned the General. “Now run away home; I
want a word with your big playmate here.” Then in a softer manner: “No,
child, the Major and I are trying to do you a service, and please God! I
think we shall accomplish it.”

The whole kind attitude of the General towards Peg seemed ever that of a
father, and he was used to call her to him or dismiss her with no
shade of rudeness, truly, and yet with no more of ceremonies than
an affectionate parent might adopt. Peg never grudged obedience, and
received the General’s word as readily, and was withal as free of
affront at any suddenness, as should be a daughter who feels her place
assured.

When Peg was off for home, the General came and sat in the chair she had
vacated.

With the white thick brush of his end-wise hair, and the fierce eyes of
him, he made a portrait wide apart from that tender one the great chair
so lately framed.

“You are not to know,” quoth the General, without halting for my
question, “the whole foul story this creature has told me. It is bad
enough that I was made to give ear to it. The point lies here: If
Timberlake were with Peg in June two years ago, and for a year before,
this miserable tale falls to the ground as false. He makes its main
element to depend upon Timberlake’s absence--his charge of iniquity
against Peg holds only by that. The Reverend Serpent’s hinge to swing
his vilification on is the absence of Timberlake. And you heard her
declare how Timberlake was here.”

“Does this snake, as you rightly term him, give you his story as of a
knowledge of his own?”

“No; he hides behind the words of two women; a mother and daughter,
named Craven. They pretend to base their slanders on what they allege
was told them by the husband and father, a Doctor Craven--dead, he is,
these ten months.”

“And that is mighty convenient,” said I, “for the Reverend Campbell and
his fellow ophidians--this retreat to the word of one who dwells dead
and dumb beneath six feet of earth.”

“That is their coward strategy,” commented the General, furiously.
“However, my thought is to ask Noah to visit these women and question
them before the Reverend Campbell collects the wit to tell of his
talk with me. I may have alarmed the man, for I was now and then not
altogether calm.”

I was driven to smile at this; so much concession of a want of calmness
on the General’s part would mean that he had fumed up and down like a
tiger. The scuttling eagerness of the Reverend Campbell to be clear of
the place was not without a cause. There beat some reason in his heels.

“I asked him,” said the General, “why he did not tell this story in the
beginning. He explained that he hesitated to approach me with it; he
related it to Doctor Ely, who pretended to close terms with me. Then I
demanded why this Ely had not told me by word of mouth? Why should he
leave with that lie in his stomach, and then write it and send it by
post? He said that when it came to the test, Doctor Ely was afraid of
me. Fear, fear, that was the assassin excuse of him, and the reason for
striking at a woman in the dark! Why, I would not believe the sun was
shining on the words of such coward rogues!”

It was settled that I should make company for Noah when he saw the
Cravens.

“But don’t interfere for a word, Major,” exhorted the General, with a
world of earnestness. “You do right well when the quarry is a bear or
the enemy no more subtile than an Indian. But now the foe is a woman,
you might better fall to the rear and leave leadership to Noah. You are
monstrous ignorant of woman.”

The Cravens lived no breathless distance up Georgetown way. Not far from
their doorstep, Noah and I encountered the Reverend Campbell, who seemed
shaken by the meeting.

“Nothing could be better,” cried Noah, cheerfully, claiming the Reverend
Campbell’s arm. “You shall present the Major and myself to the ladies.
And please permit me to do the talking; you may have your turn at the
conversation when we leave.”

The two women were bilious, lime-faced folk, and the daughter notably
ugly. I was something stiff, I fear; but Noah, when introduced by the
Reverend Campbell, showed as balmy as a day in May. He swept the pair
with rapid glance and then turned to the daughter.

“I shall pitch upon the one I deem the more manageable,” said Noah, on
our journey to the house, “and when I commence to talk with her, you
engage with the other.”

Having this hint in my mind, when Noah began to address the daughter I
favored the mother with a word or two on safe topics, principally the
weather and the condition of the roads. For all that, I could tell how
the mother, like myself, had her ears laid back to catch the words of
the others. Her suspicions were upon us from the start, even with the
guaranty of the Reverend Campbell’s company. As for that perturbed
animal, he looked only upon the floor, saying never a syllable, and
rubbing one warty hand with the other in a composite of doubt and
trepidation. The tragic wrath of the General still sang in the
hare-hearted creature’s head.

“We are being shown about by our reverend friend,” I heard Noah say;
“we were asked to make a few calls with him and meet the better folk.
We were too glad, I assure you; I grow vastly weary of nobody save the
politicians and nothing better to talk of than politics.”

To say that I was startled at these gay, glib fictions on the lips of my
companion would fall behind the fact; I was amazed. But I also had the
General’s command to leave leadership to Noah, and so stood mute. I let
my gaze go for a moment to the Reverend Campbell to come by some thought
of how he took the trend of Noah’s surprising discourse. I saw naught
beyond the top of his head, as, bowed forward in his chair, he appeared
to study his toes, meanwhile twiddling and rubbing his nobby fingers.

As for the women, they knew no argument of fact or otherwise for
distrusting Noah’s statements. I should have before explained that
neither possessed the least of glimmer as to our identity or nearness to
the General. Indeed, they lived ignorant, we found later, of the letters
of that Ely ill-using Peg’s name, and of the Reverend Campbell’s visit
to the General paid that morning. Thus, it fell about that the daughter
sailed off with Noah on a current of conversation in the dark, and the
mother just as blind.

“And so,” Noah went on, “you are a copyist in the Department of
Justice.” This from her explanation and his notice of a stain of
ink near her finger-nail, for this daughter was an untidy slut.
“The Department of Justice!” repeated Noah. “And there is something
consistent in your employment in such a field, since Justice is a
woman--and blind.” This last quip under his breath. “I am a close friend
with Judge Berrien, the Attorney General, who heads your department. The
great tie to unite us is our love for Calhoun.”

“Are you a friend of the Vice-President?” asked the daughter, her
interest a little kindled.

“Perhaps partisan would be the truer word,” replied Noah. “I trust a
good day will come when we are to drop the ‘Vice’ to his title and
find him at home in the White House. And you, I suppose, meet many of
Calhoun’s adherents in your Department of Justice?”

“Numbers, indeed,” assented the daughter, while the mother bent an
intent ear, trying to discover the drift.

By this time I could well make out how neither of these women was of
vigorous intelligence. A malignant spirit, and a ripe aptness for evil
to others. I could read in their vinegar faces and the fault-finding
gather to their brows; but no power of thought, nor yet much cunning.
I leaned back now, inquisitive as to Noah’s methods and to note their
results.

Noah led the talk up and down the town. He made it cover several years,
for the Cravens were not newcomers in the place. At last he considered
the navy and mentioned Timberlake. Had the young lady known the
handsome purser Timberlake? The young lady had known the handsome purser
Timberlake. A forbidding scowl contorted her features as she said this.

“Oh, I beg a thousand pardons!” cried Noah. He had caught the scowl. “I
fear the mention of the handsome Timberlake is not agreeable. But he cut
his throat, and there’s the proper villain end of him.”

The butt-end cruelty of Noah’s manner I was sure possessed a purpose,
for commonly he was one of your most guarded of folk. While I had
this in thought, it did not lessen my dismay when the daughter fell to
weeping with her face in her hands, and all in frantic kind. Sobbing,
she left the room.

“An affair of the heart?” cooed Noah, sympathetically, to the mother,
while the Reverend Campbell fidgeted visibly.

“Sir,” said the mother, loftily, “you touched her rudely. Mr.
Timberlake was paying my daughter marked attentions, and ones not to be
misunderstood, when he was stolen from her side and trapped to the altar
by that wanton, Peg O’Neal.”

“Sorry, I assure you,” murmured Noah, apologetically. “Sorry I so
blundered against your daughter’s sensibilities. Please recall her,
madam, if only to hear me ask forgiveness.”

The daughter, whose emotion was of the briefest, returned, with nose
reddened and look more bilious than before. Noah became profuse in his
regrets, and severely characterized his own awkwardness.

“Nor are you to have blame for your feeling,” said he, addressing the
daughter and as a finish to his self-reproaches. “Your mother has
done us the honor to confide the once nearness of the handsome purser
Timberlake to you. And that hideous woman who stole him away! I do not
marvel you hate her. I could teach you to write her such a letter as
should be a revenge; for I know one of her secrets, the very name of
which would crush her like a falling tree.”

It was to me a thing astounding how neither of these women resented the
raw freedom of Noah’s words. On the contrary, they went with him, making
no question of the propriety of such talk on the tongue of a stranger.
They would appear not to have been crossed by such a thought, for, so to
phrase it, they fell in with Noah, and, as if it were, hand in hand.

At the word “secrets,” both women sat bolt upright and questioned Noah
with tongue and eye. What was this hidden sin of that siren, Peg O’Neal?
They panted for a fullest tale of it.

“Nay, then,” remonstrated Noah, “it was but a slip. I said I could teach
you how to write a letter that should strike her to the soul. But of
what avail? Timberlake is dead; his grave is the Mediterranean.”

“But she lives,” hissed the daughter. “Tell me that secret concerning
her, and I shall call you my best friend.” Truly, the bilious maiden had
a taste for vengeance as pointed as a thorn.

“Why, then,” returned Noah, hesitating with invented reluctance, “there
is no reason why I should not humor your wishes. Take your pen, and I’ll
dictate that letter I have in my mind.”

The bilious one wheeled about to a writing table which stood by her
side, and while the rest of us sat silent--for the mother and myself had
long before surrendered our semblance of conversation, and the unhappy
dominie still pored upon the floor--Noah began with finger on forehead
as one who cudgels memory.

“Write her this,” said Noah. “Revenge is sweet! I have you in my power;
and I shall burn you as savages burn their victim at the stake. Think
not that you can escape me. I would not that death nor any evil thing
should take you out of my hand for half the world.” When Noah began this
evil dictation, the lime-faced one took down his opening words with
greedy pen. As he proceeded, she first hesitated, and then with
blanched, scared face, whirled herself upon him. Her pen fell to the
floor, while her hands shook in a gust of fear. At the close she gasped:

“You have read my letter!”

“I have, indeed,” returned Noah. “I have repeated word for word your
atrocious threats to a lady whom we will not name.” It was verity; with
a memory like unto wax, Noah had recalled with every faithfulness of
word and mark that menacing epistle Peg brought to me, and which was
then under my private lock and key. “Yes, you wrote that letter,”
 repeated Noah. “And you,” coming round on the Reverend Campbell, who
writhed as one in the jaws of wretchedness, unable to make a plan or
frame a sentence; “and you, sir, were privy to it.”

“Our dear sister”--he could not lay aside his snuffle even now--“our
dear sister did indeed tell me she had sent such a note.”

“You mix your tenses, sir,” retorted Noah, savagely. “She told you
before it was dispatched, and you read it.”

* “My dear gentlemen,” broke in the mother, in mighty agitation, “he put
that letter in the post himself. Oh, gentlemen, spare my poor daughter!”
 With that the mother put her arm about the-younger harpy, where, like
some frightened thing of sin that can escape no farther, she waited as
one frozen.

“Your daughter, madam,” replied Noah, quietly enough, “lies in no peril,
although by the law there be punishments for ones who thus misuse the
post. But there remains another question. You have put a lie against
that lady of the letter into the mouth of our reverend friend. He has
retold it to many; this morning he told it to the President. The tale
proves itself untrue upon its face, and that is the one merit of it. It
was a dangerous falsehood to tell, and”--here Noah looked towards the
unhappy Reverend Campbell, who, as though fascinated by the other’s
baleful eye, lifted up his visage,’ with its ugly array of munching
mouth and flabby unhealthfulness--“and a still more dangerous falsehood
to repeat.”

“What do you require of us, gentlemen?” asked the frightened
mother-harpy.

“Nothing, save tongues of peace,” cried Noah. “It is too much to suppose
that her friends will rest quiet while you foully tear a good woman to
shreds. Tie up your tongues, you three, and the thing rests. Let another
word escape, and a torch shall be found to burn you out like any other
nest of adders.” The Reverend Campbell made no return to this warning
thrown to him with the others. The scoundrel had the wisdom of silence
when words would work no benefit. Still, I could trace a hunger for
retaliation writhing beneath the coarse snake’s skin of him.

“I think we have locked three evil mouths to-day,” observed Noah, as we
were about our return. “It is the less important, perhaps, since already
a whole flock of these lies has been uncaged in the town.”

“It is never unimportant,” I returned, “to identify an enemy. I am the
more relieved, too, since you cleared up the mystery of that written
menace. And yet I do not make out how you supposed it gained emanation
among these people.”

“I had no such thought in the beginning,” replied Noah. “I knew, as did
you, and with a glance, how our entertainers were nothing fine nor deep,
but of a harshest clay and of least intelligence. No more delicacy was
required than might do for driving pigs. At first I sought to develop
their whereabouts, and stormed the woods with my remarks. In that,
and on the sheer chance of it, I employed the name of Timberlake. The
daughter’s disturbed features were a cue. And you know the rest. The
digging up of the authorship of the letter was but the birth of a bold
guess. However, we’ve paralyzed that trio of tongues, which is excellent
as far as it goes. And we must beat out these fires wherever we find
them. Else they will spread, and may come to mean a conflagration that
shall burn some one to a cinder.”

“And going back for cause,” I said, my thought recurring to Peg, “I
still can not tell the hound purpose of this incessant, malignant
pursuit of our little girl.”

“Sir, they reason in this guise,” returned Noah. “As I’ve told you, the
great impulse springs from the adherents of Calhoun. They desire the
destruction of the President as a method of their man’s advancement.
They fear that the President will seek to succeed himself--there has
been illustrious example--or, in default of that, insist on selecting
his successor. They attack Mrs. Eaton in hope of its reaction against
the administration. Suppose, sir, they make her out to be vile, suppose
they show the administration as condoning and defending her vileness,
will they not have organized the women against us? Give Calhoun
the women of the country to be his allies, and he will go over the
administration like an avalanche.”

“But you”--now I spoke gingerly, for I would not hurt so true a friend
nor ruffle him with himself--“in your pretense of friendship for
Calhoun, and as well in other particulars, misled our harpy folk.”

“I but fought the devil with fire and snared liars with lies,” said he.
“These she-villains were not entitled to the truth. Only truthful folk
have a right to truth.”

When the General and I were together, I laid before him those ethics or
word-morals of Noah; he stoutly agreed with that diplomat.

“One is not always bound to tell the truth,” asserted the General.
“Would you tell a footpad whose gun was at your breast where you lodged
your money? In war, would you disclose your strengths or your plans to
the foe because he asked? Sir, truth is a property--a goods; to have
right to it one must possess title to it. The casual man, and the more
if he would work me harm, has as scant a right to search my head with
his questions as to search my pockets with his fingers. Take my word
for it, Major,”--this in high Delphic vein, for the General was growing
pleased with his argument--“take my word, sir; the right in the one is
the right in the other, and he who may lock a door may lie.”

“These harpies,” said I, commenting on what had befallen, “and the
Reverend Campbell have fair admitted their guilt.”

“Why, as to that, sir,” returned the General, “the falsity of the
story was never in doubt. But the prime thing is to smother out these
calumnies. It is not hard to see how this day has been well spent.”

In concord with what we had long before agreed, neither the General nor
I, by lisp or the lifting of an eyebrow, gave Peg a least intimation of
what had gone forward about her name and fame. And yet, she must have
divined her close interest, for in the early hours of the twilight she
came again to the General, saying she remembered books of account kept
by Timberlake’s own hand, which would demonstrate his whereabouts for
those four years. Her mother, Peg said, had these books in her house.

“Why, then,” said the General, “that should give us the best evidence.
Major, go you with the child to her mother’s and bring me those books.”

It was not the first call I had made on Peg’s mother, but this night the
garrulous old soul would so launch herself upon wide waters of gossip,
and never quit until she crossed them from shore to shore, that it
leaned towards ten of the clock when Peg and I, taking the road in our
hands, as say the Spaniards, went forth for our return.

The night was dark and still, and a moist promise of rain hung in the
air. Our way lay from the south, diagonally across the wooded patch
called the Mall. We were finding our path without trouble, Peg keeping
close and warm to my side, with a hand gripping my arm, and had gone
some distance when, in a way of dull faintness, a sound like the fall of
a stealthy foot on the grass overtook my ear. Peg heard it as soon as I.

“Are we dogged?” she asked. Peg showed no fear, but bit off her words in
a manner vicious and resentful.

“That we may soon know,” said I. Then I drew her in by a clump of bushes
where her white frock would be screened. “It should be a strange thing
if any save ourselves were going this road at such an hour.”

We had been but a moment hidden by the trees when a dark figure crouched
past us with furtive, hurrying step that made it plain he followed as a
spy. As he would have brushed by, I stretched out and seized him by the
shoulder. The creature screamed like a hare when the dogs snap her up.

Now I lugged him to the open, and, for all the night was moonless and no
stars because of clouds, it puzzled neither Peg nor myself to make out
the Reverend Campbell. The fellow hung in my hand like a rag, and beyond
that first shrill screech uttered not a word.

“What shall I do with him?” I asked, still holding him in my grasp like
something dead.

“Kill him!” cried Peg; “kill him with your great hands!” And then, while
I was dumb before the sudden murderous fury of her tones, Peg began to
plead the other way about. “Let him go free,” she said. “He’s not worth
punishment. And yet it is sure he was after us as a spy.”

“I think,” said I, “it would do no harm to throw him in yonder water.”

Now in that day a chain of baby lakes lay along this portion of the
Potomac fens, and one of these was glimmering on our near left hand. It
was not deep; but muddy and grown up to lilies, and the home, besides,
of certain sedate bullpouts and turtles and other stagnant fish that do
not care for currents but love dead waters. These, since bullpouts and
turtles be in no manner hysterical animals nor nervous, would not suffer
for any plumping of the spy into their midst; and, thus forming my
resolve, I was for posting to its execution. My captive still swung
limp and loose, for all the world as though he had fainted. I could not
believe this last, however, and in any event I would throw him in among
the lilies. If he were too far gone with fright to save his own life
from drowning, it would mean no more than that I must wade to him and
fish him ashore again.

Thus adjusted in my mind, I was on the brink of heaving him overboard,
when with a touch of protest Peg stayed my arm.

“No,” she cried, “let him go free.”

“But a moment gone,” I remonstrated, “and you were calling for murder
with all its inconveniences. Now you interpose to stop a mighty proper
punishment, for, I bethink me, it has been custom to duck spies in every
age.”

“Still, you must let him go,” cried Peg. “I will not have you touch
him.” And she seized my hand with her little fingers.

With that I threw the caitiff creature on the grass; whereupon he rolled
to his knees and extended his palms towards Peg. There was something to
roil me in the attitude, and to end that I pushed him over with my foot.

“Be off,” I cried. “And you are to thank this lady for your dry clothes.
You had been splashing among the lily-pads except for her.”

Without retort, he scrambled to his soles and was gone like some foul
shadow. His absence, of itself, relieved me, for the sight of him was
like a blot.

“He would not resist, and so I made you let him go,” said Peg.

“You would have it safe for cowards,” I returned.

“It wasn’t for that creature!” exclaimed Peg. She seemed to scorn me
for a dullard. “No; it was for you. I would not have such a memory--you,
punishing an unresisting beast!”

We were for a second time on our way, Peg now holding my arm with her
two hands and laying her cheek against it like a child. I could tell by
that how this bushwhacking rogue had fluttered her not a little. At last
she lifted her face, and I could, even in the pitch darkness, catch the
deep glow of her eyes.

“And after all, for what should you think he spied upon us? What should
he hope to find?”

“Indeed, that is beyond me,” I replied.

“But the very wicked are often very foolish too.”

“To follow so right a character as yourself, watch-dog, is for a spy to
waste his strength.” Peg spoke in a droll way of laughter.

“Why, then, I may say I emulate the virtuous Drusus, who commanded the
architect to so build his house that all who would might behold every
act of his life.” I must tell you I had studied the classics in my
youth, and would like at times to flourish with a scrap or two. I was no
pedant to show off my learning, only a tag or two from Ovid or Horace on
occasion, and just enough to suggest what a deal I had forgot.

“And your Drusus would so live as to hide nothing.” Peg was still
stifling a laugh. “How very admirable! And what was the end of your
memorable Drusus?”

“As to that,” I retorted, puzzled and put about by the satirical toss
she gave to her queries, “as to that, I believe the people stoned him to
death.”

“Ah, the poor people! His awful goodness, I suppose, drove them to
frenzy.” Peg’s voice was mocking sympathy. Then, with a great abruptness
of anger, and throwing away my arm: “Do you know what I think of your
precious Drusus? I think he was a hypocrite, and a canting prig who
earned his fate; and if he have followers they should taste the same
destiny for a sniveling conceit that teaches them a holiness above
their neighbors.” This Peg flung at me like a spoiled child; and then,
stepping smartly, she went on alone, I following in silence a yard or
more to the rear.



CHAPTER IX--THE GENERAL SELECTS HIS SUCCESSOR.

Now fell across us the sultry summer; sometimes with rain, and steamy
mud to follow; and then with stretches of a burning dryness when the
dust curled aloft on the impertinent lip of the wind to fill folk’s eyes
and faces. There came, too, the shadow of impending calamity to rest
upon us, for the General’s health began to flag, and it would look for a
while as though he had been marked by death itself. The malady was never
understood by me, and I think the doctor lived no better off; but, as
near as one might guess, it arose from the bogs and reeking marshes
fringing the river on our south, and on which, morning and evening, I’ve
seen the damps and miasmas lying white and thick as a flock of wool--a
sight to shake the strongest.

The General was indeed ill, and with face turning to be wan while his
haggard eye grew ever more bright and hollow. He lost greatly the use
of his legs; those members being swollen to a preposterous size, and his
feet dropsical, so that he could not be said to walk but only hobble.
He must be supported, leaning commonly on my arm, though sometimes Peg’s
pretty shoulder was his crutch; for she was with him very constant,
reading to him, or passing him a glass, or cheering him with her talk of
flippant nothings.

With his usual bitterness of resolution the General would each day be up
and dressed, and pass the hours on a lounge which Augustus prepared, and
where he might lie and through the open casement command a prospect of
the distant Arlington hills.

To such a lowness did the General sink that his death was waited for,
and the doctor who attended him--and did no good--felt driven to give
him the name of it.

“For one who is in so high a place,” said the doctor, “must needs have
weighty concerns to be put in order; and therefore of all folk he should
be shown his end in time.”

This was gospel true enough as an abstraction, but in the case of the
General that doctor should have known how his business was to cure, and
not stand prating of death. Of this I informed him in such wise that he
was at once for leaving the house and never coming back. The loss might
have been easily measured had he done so.

It was the General himself who told me he was to die; and it stood
a marvel, the good patience and sympathy wherewith he went upon the
information. One would have supposed it was of my death he talked.

“And in the bottom of it,” said he, in conclusion, “I have the chance
of meeting her”--pointing to his wife’s picture--“and that chance alone
would make twenty deaths worth trying. For when we come to the end of
it, Major, the heaven they talk of may be true.” This last with a manner
of reverie as when hope upholds conviction leaning to a fall.

As best it could, my nature fought against a belief that the General
would die; but his own word overpowered me. The fear of it, when he told
the news, went through me like a spear. Or it was as if a stone were
rolled upon my heart.

Sick folk, for a rule, are impatient and sharply cross with those about,
even with their best beloved. But the General would be the opposite, and
was never more tolerant than now when he lay ill; and this kindness made
it a privilege and a pleasure to be near him, and not a burden to be
borne.

Peg, as I have written, was much with him--fresh and sweet as a cluster
of violets, about a sick room she was worth her weight in drugs. And the
General and she had never so full a space for acquaintance before, and
so each day he came to know Peg better and to love her more.

There existed throughout this summer a kind of truce in the crusade
against Peg; the Reverend Ely had turned to be as mute as an oyster,
while the Reverend Campbell and those harpies whom Noah so confounded
were not only silent but deeply out of sight. There was neither sign nor
rumor to come from them.

The books of account which Peg and I brought away from her mother’s on
the night when we were dogged, showed all Peg claimed. For the June her
detractors spoke of in their lyings, and for three years before and well
nigh a twelvemonth to follow, Timberlake was in town, and, after his
wedding, constantly with Peg until he sailed. There was left no ground
for argument, and that tale, as fatuous as it was wicked, fell, knocked
on its sinful head.

As for the lurking Reverend Campbell himself, I caught sight of him but
once. This was accident, and the pleasure of the shortest, for he dodged
around a corner like the wind; and although--through an idleness of mind
to see him going--I made speed to be at his point of disappearance, he,
so to say, had exhaled. Into what dark crevice he crawled to hide from
me I have no hint; but as if that street corner were a corner of the
universe and he spilled therefrom into the very abyss of eternity
itself, I never afterward caught the picture of his tallow cheeks and
festering, munching lips.

This peace for Peg was something due to, a desertion of the town; for
everybody--and women-folk especially--not tied by the leg to duties,
went seeking cool comfort by the ocean or on the mountains.

Eaton himself made one of those who went away; he would have had Peg
for company, but she urged--what was true, since the old lady had grown
frail and weakly--that she ought not to leave her mother for so long
a space. Eaton agreed with entire good humor to this, and so left Peg
behind, and never a qualm or mark of hesitation, while he sought his
ease by the sea.

Eaton from his own view-point might well spare Peg from his plans; he
was extremely a man’s man, and owning, withal, a hand for the bottle and
a mighty promptitude for cards, would the better amuse himself with no
wife to be a mortgage on his liberty.

Summer is for society what winter is to war; the forces lie all in
quarters, and beyond caring for their arms or practicing a drill against
the campaign day to dawn, there arises nothing to be called a movement.
Indeed, as I’ve explained, the women--who, as Peg would have it, are the
fighting line--for the most part were fled to beach and hill. The town
was in its sleep, and society would awaken it only with the advent of
the snows.

In the last there were still our three cabinet wives, that is, the
ladies Berrien, Branch, and Ingham, to be left about us. These would
soon depart; but by this claim or that, they had been brought to lag
behind when the great covey of their flounced fellows went whirring away
to be cool. Peg never had visited these folk, nor they her, and on those
few occasions when official exigency threw them together, the cabinet
three, who, like the General’s fleeting niece, were utterly beneath the
sway of the Vice-President’s wife--herself a woman of unquestioned place
and breeding, and a natural queen, besides,--took heed to hold aloof
from Peg. On her side, Peg passed them by or looked them through as
though they had not been, and, if I am to judge, came off from these
tiltings with prestige all undimmed.

It would have been as good as the play, were I not prey and spoil to so
much soreness in the business, to have watched those tacit joustings of
Peg with our old mailed warriors of the drawing rooms. The dauntless Peg
crossed glances with the most seasoned of her bad-wishers, and left them
ever the worse for those thrustings. If she were wounded, no one learned
the bleeding fact; and not even I should know. From the laugh to ring
true, and the fine spirit of her, I was fain to conclude that Peg, so
far from shrinking, joyed in such silken combats to take place among the
flowers and with the music of orchestras stirring the blood; and in the
last I am sure she did.

Berrien and Branch, and for that matter the clumsy Ingham, would with
an invariable politeness, nicely measured to a hair, greet Peg whenever
they met with her; and she would accept their courtesy in a cold way of
elevation and as though our cabinet gentlemen came of the general press
about whose very names she did not know and never would. On such lofty
terms a fair peace was maintained, and nothing to rancorously rise above
the majesty of a ripple to beat upon any one’s shore.

The General might have preferred a better cordiality, but he could make
no interference.

“If to step between a man and his enemy,” he would say, “is to invoke
a risk, how much more is he in danger who tampers with the feuds of
women?”

For one, I much agreed with him, and we both looked on, idle of hand and
tongue, while Peg met and foiled the “Redsticks,” as the General named
them.

Nor would Peg need our aid. I’ve seen no prouder, braver woman walk
across a room, or one of a more nimble faculty or fortitude more broadly
planted, than our Peg. My admiration spent its days to weave new wreaths
for her.

It was the doting Ingham--he of our Treasury--to be witless enough to
broach this business of feminine ice with Eaton. Ingham was a girthy
person, and one’s briefest consideration disclosed him for the vulgar
Pennsylvania paper-maker he was. Short and thick of body, with thick
legs, thick neck; even his tongue was thick, and his slow wits thickest
of all. Of Ingham I shall not forget Jim’s estimate.

“It aint for Jim,” said that worthy, “to go talkin’ sassy about no white
gentleman; but as for dish yere Mr. Ingham, thar’s a notion ag’in him
which goes gropin’ about through Jim like d’grace of heaven through a
camp meetin’. That Mr. Ingham is mean; he’s that mean if he owned a lake
he wouldn’t give a duck a drink. He’s jes’ about as pop’lar with Jim as
a wet dawg; an’ that’s d’mortual fac’.”

“You don’t appear to carry a high estimate of our Secretary of the
Treasury,” said I.

“‘Deed Jim don’t, Marse Major,” he replied. “An’ jes’ let Jim warn
you-all. You don’t want to disrecollect, Marse Major, that Jim’s a heap
sight older man than you be, an’ while Jim don’t deny he’s been gettin’
duller an’ duller ever since you locks up that demijohn, still it’s
mighty likely Jim’s wise an’ wary to a p’int where you-all oughter
listen.”

“Go on,” said I, “I’m listening.”

“Course you-all is listenin’,” agreed Jim; “of course you listens,
‘cause you has got listenin’ sense. That’s what Jim likes about you. Now
let Jim tell you, Marse Major; that Mr. Ingham’s plumb selfish. Jim can
see it in his eye. He’s all right whilst he’s haulin’ fodder for his own
stack, but you let your intrusrun ag’in his, an’ you hyar Jim! that Mr.
Ingham ‘ud burn your barn to boil his egg quicker than a mule can kick.”

Ingham took up the subject of their wives’ coldness with Eaton in an
unexpected fashion. I have heard that he was thus set in foolish motion
by a fear of trouble at ten paces with the war secretary, and would have
placated him and missed a bullet. He stood under no cloud of peril, but
that dove-like truth was yet to claim him. The General would have been
his shield; but Ingham, who regarded the General as chief among the
fire-eaters, would be the last to suspect the news.

It was on the kibes of a cabinet meeting when Ingham approached Eaton.

“Sir,” said Ingham, tugging nervously at his lapels, “sir, there is
something of strain between our ladies, about which, if you’ll permit, I
should like word with you.”

“Why, sir,” returned Eaton, seizing the initiative, “I perhaps should
tell you that I can not, in her social obligations, control my wife.
That, sir, let me say, is work beyond a gentleman. My wife must be her
own mistress; and while I know of no just cause why she should refuse to
receive or recognize Mrs. Ingham, I must still insist how the right to
do both lies wholly in her hands. Personally, I may deplore my wife’s
refusal of the acquaintance of Mrs. Ingham; however, I stand none the
less ready to give you any satisfaction you require.”

With this speech, Eaton bent his brows upon the other in such way of
iron menace that without a word our timid treasury gentleman clapped on
his hat and went pantingly in quest of safer company.

“Was it not a master-stroke?” exulted the General, when he related the
flurry. “Eaton had the hill of him in an instant; Napoleon himself could
not have exhibited a more military genius.”

The General, in his glee, would talk of nothing else throughout the
evening; but since I left him at an early hour I was not bored too much.
Eaton replied in a manner to his credit when one considers the fact of a
surprise; but there dwelt therein no reason for that long-drawn delight
in which the General indulged. I was so far fortunate, however, as to
soon quit him on that particular night, having work to look after, and
so escaped his enthusiasm. Any childishness of satisfaction for little
reason, by the General, obtruded offensively on my ideal of him, and I
would experience no more of it than I might; wherefore I went about my
affairs, leaving him in full song, celebrating the gallant cleverness
of Eaton, who, to my notion, instead of his smart speeches should have
pulled the Ingham nose.

While the General was sick on his lounge, and when Peg tired of reading,
she would fall to a review of the unremitting politeness bestowed upon
her by the suave Van Buren. One might read the pleasure of the General
over these tidings in his relaxed face and the heed he offered to each
detail. The word of how Van Buren had brought Vaughn of the English and
Krudener of the Russians--for these ministers were joint despots among
the legation folk and led them to what social fields they would--gave
the General peculiar satisfaction; and if there remained a door in his
affections which had not yet opened to the little Knickerbocker, Peg’s
recitals of the secretary’s steady yet delicately balanced goodness
threw it wide.

When the General and I were alone with our nightly pipes--albeit he at
the time would be in his bed for sickness--he made his little premier
the great burden of his conversation and was wont to find in him new
excellencies. Time and again he would quote Peg to me for virtues owned
of Van Buren and which he feared might otherwise elude my notice. It
was clear “the good little secretary”--Peg’s name--was become a first
favorite of the General; and to be frank, and for identical reasons, as
much should be said of me. I loved any who was good to Peg, and made
no bones of showing it. Wherefore, you are to conceive, there arose no
dispute between us; instead, we took turn and turn about in exalting our
secretary and teaching each other a higher account of the man.

Peg would set forth to the General--it amused him and he would question
her concerning such matters--how in this sort or in that, and always
in some way of trifles too small for the mind of a man to seize on, the
women who followed the social banner of the Vice-President’s wife would
strive to drive her into obscurity. And this was not wanting of stern
effect on the General. The name Calhoun found constant repetition in
these tales, and never to give the General delight. And there is this
to observe: while Peg spoke of Mrs. Calhoun, the General, for his side,
would be thinking only on the Vice-President, and at the end he held
even more hateful views of the Carolinian than of Henry Clay himself.
Surely, he came finally to be strung like a bow against him.

This vivacity of disfavor for Calhoun, however, may have had its story.
Clay was a foe beaten beyond question, powerless for further war.
Calhoun, on the other hand, was increasing in power; and, active in
design and searching for the future, stood forth as an enemy yet to be
conquered.

“The man is a would-be traitor,” said the General one day when speaking
with me of Calhoun and his lines of political resolve. “He should
consider, however; I may yet teach him a better patriotism.”

“He is for your destruction,” said I, “and has been since the Seminole
days.”

“Nothing is more plain than that,” said the General. “And yet, were he
or his people fibered of any decency, they would not, as an element of
assault on me, seek to make tatters of poor Peg. I can not see how they
bring themselves to that; for myself, I would not give hand to so vile a
ploy for all the world.”

“They would plunge you in for Peg’s defence,” I said, recalling Noah’s
explanation. “They hope to set the women of the land upon you as he who
gives countenance to one flagrant of her sins. That is their precious
intrigue; they, with their lies of Peg, would shake your power with
private home-loving folk whose firesides are clean and who base
themselves on chastity. There you have the whole crow-colored scheme of
them, with the black impulse which turns them against Peg.”

“If they shake me with the people,” said the General, “they should call
it the thirteenth labor of Hercules.”

“They should have punishment for all that,” cried I.

“Sir, they shall be punished,” retorted the General. “And as for
Calhoun, he most of all shall suffer. Mark you this: That man shall
never be president. More, he may yet win Gilderoy’s elevation at a
rope’s end.” This last in wrathful whisper like a warning of death.

There was spreading reason to talk on Calhoun and his policies. South
Carolina, ever arrogant, was moving to snap rebellious thumb and finger
in the National face. The legislature of that insolent commonwealth had
done its treason part; Nullification and its counterpart, Secession,
were already agreed on; men were being enrolled and arms collected,
while medals found Charleston coinage bearing the words, “John C.
Calhoun, First President of the Southern Confederacy.”

And the restless spirit to animate it all was no other than Calhoun
himself. He was then among his henchmen of the Palmettoes, directing
even the very phrases wherewith to deck their traitorous fulminations.
So much the General knew, not alone from what Peg read daily in the
papers, but by the weeded word of ones whom, safe and prudent, we
dispatched to find the truth.

And yet, in the last, I was sure Calhoun would never mean rebellion and
a severance of his state from the common bonds. On such terms he could
not succeed the General for the presidency, which was his invincible
ambition. What Calhoun hoped was, by a deafening din of threat on his
people’s part of secession and rebellion, and every whatnot of stark
treason besides, to browbeat the General to his will of Nullification;
and thus by the one stroke to so fix himself in the van of victorious
sentiment that no one might stay his march of White House conquest. And
in good truth, thus argued the General.

“But he should beware,” said the General. “Calhoun and his cohorts
shall not steal a march on the old soldier. They must not go too far.
A conspiracy to do treason exists, and Calhoun is at its head. But the
mere conspiracy is not enough. Marshall lays it down how folk can not
think treason, can not talk treason, and that treason to be treason must
be acted. There must be the overt act; and though it be but the act
of one, it attaches to every member of the conspiracy and becomes the
treason of all. If one man so much as snap a South Carolina flint, that
is an act to fall within the law, and the treason is the treason of
Calhoun. I say, he should take heed for himself; whether he know it or
no, the man walks among pitfalls.”

“But you should be prepared,” I said.

“We will go upon the work at once,” returned the General. “Winfield
Scott shall proceed to Charleston; the fleet shall convene in the bay;
Castle Pinckney shall have a hundred thousand stand of arms; and we will
write to our old Indian fighters, Crockett and Coffee and Houston and
Dale and Overton and the rest, to lie ready with one hundred
thousand riflemen in Tennessee and North Carolina to overwhelm these
rebellionists at the dropping of a handkerchief.”

This converse, I recall, came off one afternoon when the General was in
more healthful fettle than stood common during those days of fear
for his life. Peg sat with us; indeed, it was news she gave us from a
Charleston paper to bring down all this talk.

Peg, silent yet interested, listened while the General laid out his
purposes.

“And if the Vice-President were taken for treason, what then?” asked Peg
in a kind of innocence. “What would you do with him?”

“He shall hang, child,” and the General spoke slowly and with a granite
emphasis; “he shall hang as high as Haman! He shall be a lesson to
traitors for all time.”

It was then, and for the first time, as the General sank back spent, and
in his weakness almost consumed of his own fires, there broke on me
the whole peril of Calhoun. I knew the General too well to distrust the
execution of his rope-and-gibbet threat. I was the more confirmed when
that evening he would have me go about a score of letters ordering the
readiness of those ships and arms and men he had outlined. A cordon of
power was to be thrown about Calhoun and the ground beneath him mined
for his destruction.

Now if the General through this long summer grew to a better
acquaintance with Peg, the same also might be told of me. And hardly
a day was to dawn and die when in the unique turns and twists of her
manifold nature she would not come upon me in a novel light. She was
never to be twice the same, and my sluggish apprehension could scarce
keep pace with the changes of her.

For a specimen, then, of how she would stand against me over a wrong
claim, and her skill in its defence. One morning she had drawn me off to
the northward for a walk. The day was by no means sultry, and a breeze
was blowing and so induced a temperature which made the exercise a joy.
We were rambling through a deep valley--Peg and I--which was the home
of a brawling rivulet, and making a slow journey of it, since the way,
broken by boulders and sown with thickets in between, was something of
the roughest. While about this pleasant toil Peg broke forth:

“Do you see that vine?” Here she pointed to a creeper, luxuriant and
rich, which, failing of support to climb by, ran all about on the
ground. “That vine is like me. It needs a trellis--asks some tall and
strong tree to clasp and love and grow upon. Given a tree to touch the
heavens, that loving vine would climb upward to kiss the heavens with
her tree. Wanting her tree--poor vine!--she grovels about the ground.
That vine and I are the same.”

To this I offered no response, for I could not see how the matter called
for debate; and then her fancy was like unto a shooting star, and no one
might foresee its flight or prophesy its course. However, Peg did not
ask reply. Away she plunged in a new direction.

“Should one control his love, to send it here or there like a dog?”

“Why,” said I, “the thing is out of the question. One’s love is not a
creature of bit and bridle, to be guided as one guides a horse. I should
say that no one controls his love, but is controlled by it.”

“See there, now! A second Daniel!” cried Peg, with a little flicker of
derision. For all that, I could tell how she agreed with me. She went
on, “Then one is not to blame how one’s love wanders, since one has it
in no leading-string. Should one marry without love?”

“Of a verity! no,” I retorted. “It would be to cheat the other of every
chance of happiness.”

“If one be not to blame,” said Peg, in a wandering way of talk, “if
one be not to blame for the birth of one’s love, neither should one
be blamed for its death. And if one is not to marry without love, one
should not continue, the wife with the husband nor he with her, when
love has met its end. You yourself have shown me the wrong of that. Ah,
watch-dog! am I not right?”

“Now, in all my days,” said I, “I have not been made to talk so much on
love. The question is above me.”

“You said folk should not wed wanting love.” Peg paused to stamp her
foot at me in saucy vehemence. “If that be true, then folk should not
remain wedded wanting love. Do you not think, if a wife were to cease to
love her husband, she should leave him? Does she not owe him that duty?
And you have said, watch-dog, as you shall not forget, that her love,
too, is not her fault.”

“Still, I should deem it great pity,” said I, “were a wife to leave her
husband.”

“And that is mighty loyal to your friend,” cried Peg, in a hot spurt of
indignation. “Did not the General’s wife leave a husband for him?
It was well for both her and him they did not consult with you. She
might have been unhappy yet, and he never happy at all.” Then, gravely,
following a pause: “watch-dog, you are dull beyond description.”

When I reflected on my blind inference of criticism against the General,
and his wife in her grave, I was willing to concede as much. However, I
took refuge in saying nothing, waiting for my blunder to blow by.

After a moment, and as we walked in a wide grassy place side by side,
Peg took up my hand. Finding the round, white mark where the wound of
her leopard tooth had healed, she gazed on it a moment and sighed. Then,
before I could stay her, she kissed it.

“Peg’s mark!” she exclaimed, as though she conversed with her thoughts;
“Peg’s mark for her slave!” Then lifting up her eyes to mine: “I love
that mark; so much of you I love.” Then hiding a rogue of a smile which
began to creep about the corners of her mouth, for she would be amused,
it would seem, over the confusion into which her caress had thrown
me--“Tell me, slave, do you not wish now it were a great hideous scar to
overwhelm you?”

“And wherefore?” I asked. I could see how she meant to tease me with her
mockeries, and would give her no answer to go upon. “I regard that as a
very excellent scar as it is,” said I. “I would not have it larger for a
good deal.”

“Oh, believe me,” cried Peg, her nose to the sky in a moment: “I would
not make it larger for the world.”

With that, and wearing a mighty air of insult, she went about swiftly,
and never a syllable for good or ill could I bring from her until
we reached her house. At the gate she paused and offered me her old,
teasing look.

“Do you pray, watch-dog?” said she.

“I cannot make that boast,” I replied.

“You should begin at once,” she retorted. “You should pray for quickness
and a little wit.” Then, seeing me to rummage about in my thoughts for
a clue to this: “But have no fear, watch-dog; I shall never let the
General know how you condemned his wife.”

This gave me ease again, for then I caught her meaning. However, I
needed no such assurance, since I knew of none to own Peg’s tact, or one
less likely to go upon that error with the General she would pledge me
her word to avoid.

The summer was running into autumn and the General no better. There had
been good days and bad days, and for weeks on end we were made to swing
between hope and fear like a pendulum. And I believe he would have died,
too, if it had not been for Peg to tend upon his pillow like a daughter.
What a joy I had of the girl! My soul would fair reach out to take her
in its arms for that tireless affection wherewith she surrounded him.
While she could help, she was about him like an angel; when he turned
his head for a little rest, she would be with me in her big chair by my
desk.

And yet, when the days drew on themselves the coolness of October, and
one should have looked for him to mend, the General fell suddenly away
to the last flicker of his strength like a candle burning out. It was
then the doctor gave him that warning how his time was near, and put us
upon our guard to meet the worst. I may tell you my heart was as so much
wood under my ribs, and gloom dwelt in the house like a ghost.

It will have somewhat a foolish sound, but, as I live by bread I think
it was our Peg to save the General out from between the paws of death.
Not by her care, though that was above description, but rather with a
thought she one day laid upon him.

“Child, I shall surely die,” the General was saying. “I have thought so
more than once during my rough life; but this time is my first to really
know. Now I see that I shall die.”

Then he asked her to read a song from the hymn-book of his wife. “They
are always an ease to me,” he said.

Peg’s eyes were running tears, and she had her work cut out to smother
her sobs. For all that, she bore bravely up.

“You will not die,” cried Peg. “And I shall read you, instead of hymns,
how the Vice-President means to pull the country to pieces with
his Charleston plots. Will you die and make him president in your
stead--endow him with the power for his treasons?”

Peg told me how she had no design in saying this, and that Calhoun
was in her mouth no more than an exclamation. And yet had it been the
prescription of a whole college of doctors, it could not have exerted a
wholesomer effect.

The General had told me he would die; and I had stood in daily terror of
it; and yet neither had once fallen to consider--and this smacks of the
foolish for both of us--how his death would raise up Calhoun to take his
place. The truth is, I could never bring myself to plan or look beyond
the General’s death; my thought, however fear-spurred, would run no
farther than just his death; there it would stop nor budge a pace
beyond. The General’s death would seem the end of things, as it might be
a second deluge. And perhaps he, himself, fell into similar frame; only
with him it was but his building on that all-swallowing hope of meeting
with his Saint Rachel, never again to be parted. That crowded out all
else.

Letting conjecturings go adrift, however, the bald fact remains that it
was Peg, after all, who came first to make us take a thought in advance
and consider where the General’s going would place the country with
Calhoun. I remember how the General lay back on his pillow after Peg’s
outburst of warning; and next how his glance began to collect its
old-time fire.

“By the Eternal!”--this in a whisper--“I will not die and leave the
people helpless with those traitors. I must either live my term out, or
live till I hang Calhoun. The country must be safe before I go.”

From that moment he would not speak of dying, but only of getting
well and living; and each day he made visible stages towards a better
strength, and would sit up longer, and would demand that we do some
work. I can not say I witnessed these efforts without trembling; he
might break himself down to death’s door with this sudden load of labor.
But no, he would go on; and no harm to come of it, but only good, for
within the four weeks to follow Peg’s inspired exhortation--for I shall
ever think of her as one inspired of heaven to call the General back
from death--he could be looked on as a hale man, one sound and in a
plight of safety.

Also, his old fierceness began again to burn; he would bicker with me
viciously--a thing laid aside for months. It comes back to me how,
at the tail end of that sickness, his first words of opposition to
something I proposed fell on my ears like a concord of sweet sounds.
I could thank God in my heart to hear his anger, for now I knew he was
surely upon health’s own highroad. And so he was.

There came another thing of moment to find its cause in the General’s
illness, and that death it would threaten. The word had gone about the
town that the General was in his last throes, or nearly; and at that,
the thought giving a mean courage to the man, in the midst of this
bad news our port wine Duff Green came upon us with a long editorial
comparison of Calhoun with Van Buren, wherein the latter was lashed and
the other uplifted to the blue dome. The article was nothing strong or
well considered--a mere black thing of froth and poison!--and served no
purpose beyond marking Duff Green’s friendship in one quarter and his
enmity in another.

It was Peg, who had taken charge of our newspapers, to call our eyes to
the business.

Peg’s indignation ran high, for she was a tireless adherent of her “good
little secretary,” who would be her ally against Mrs. Calhoun.

“Listen to this wretch!” cried Peg, as with the paper in her little claw
she burst upon the General and me.

Thereupon she gave us the English of it, and being strung with anger,
flourished it off with much spirit and effect.

While the General bent quiet ear, his brow lowered and his own anger
began to run with Peg’s.

“The scoundrel speaks of Van Buren,” said the General, when Peg was
done; “but he means me. And so he applauds Calhoun! Then let him follow
his applause for his support.” Then, to me directly: “Did you not in the
beginning speak of calling Blair to found a paper? Write to him; bid him
come at once. This Duff Green has done enough for punishment, and we
will go about his destinies in ways not soon to be forgot.”

Within the hour, a word was on the road to Blair in Frankfort; a word
to become at once the death-warrant of Duff Green’s _Telegraph_ and the
reason of Blair’s _Globe_, which last, as the General once said, grew up
in a night like any Jonah’s gourd, to cast a long, important shadow in
affairs.

Duff Green, as if to observe the effect of his Calhoun-Van Buren shot,
would call upon the General. It was my guardian Jim who told me of that
visit.

“I was sort o’ knockin’ ‘round,” said Jim, “like a blind dog in a meat
shop, when dish yere Duff Green gentleman tells me to give you ‘Howdy!’
an’ say he’s waitin’ to see you-all.”

“Where is he?” I asked.

“He’s pervadin’ about d’big Eas’ Room,” returned Jim, “when I ‘bandons
him.”

Duff Green extended his fishy hand; but I did not see it, my eyes being
employed upon his face; and that with so cold an industry it served to
turn the violin red of it to apoplectic purple for uneasiness and rage.

“I offer you my hand, sir,” cried Duff.

“Sir,” said I, “in requital, I offer you a sentence of counsel. Be out
of that door, and do not enter it again until your friend Calhoun is
master in this house. But stay; I have another order for your ear. Do
not, by word or look or act, whether to me or to any man, make claim on
my acquaintance. I will not agree as to the measure of my resentment in
case you do.”

“Sir, is this an insult?”

“Sir, you will please yourself for a term.”

“And, sir,”--Duff Green’s voice quavered a trifle--“am I to consider
this the action of the president?”

“I think it would be wise to do so,” I retorted, “since you would seem
to stand even lower in his graces than you do in mine. I argue this
from a comparison of our remarks upon you.” I was enough the savage
to delight in harassing the pursy Duff and in diminishing his brow
of consequence. “I did but casually describe you--being idle at the
time--as a bloated spider, sucking patronage, and with a newspaper to be
your web, when he would correct me. ‘You do the dog a compliment,’ said
he. ‘Now, one might conceive of a spider that should be of some moment.
He whom we call Duff Green is no such thing. He is nothing; or at most
a vacuum, which is nothingness given a name--as it were, an im-ponderous
absence of overpowering unimportance.’”

“Them’s mighty fine words, Marse Major, you-all flings loose,” said Jim,
when Duff Green quit the field. Jim, whose care concerning me was only
equaled by his curiosity, stood, of course, in close attendance upon the
colloquy. “Yas-sir,” he continued, “them’s what Jim calls langwidge of
d’good ol’ Cumberland kind. That Duff Green gentleman shore misses it
a mile when he comes pawin’ ‘round for to ‘spute with you. Yes, indeed,
Marse Major, that’s whar he drap his water-million!”

When I repeated my interview with Duff to the General, together with
Jim’s comments of admiration, and we had had our laugh, the General
turned serious:

“Major,” said he, “I’ve been thinking. I may yet die, and the rule we
made that no one of my cabinet shall succeed me when my term is done
turns now to be no good rule. It strengthens Calhoun. Also, it is he to
set his dog of a Duff against Van Buren because the latter would buckler
Peg. I’m too much broken and too weak for talk, and I need not repeat
the reasons for such step. It’s on my heart, however, to set the ball in
motion for Van Buren to have this place when my term is done.”

“And how would you proceed?” said I. “For myself, nothing could be
better to my taste.”

“This is my notion,” said the General. “Let us write to Overton, setting
forth--with a cloud of other matter to be a cover--the presidential
fitness of Van Buren in his every line. This shall be a secret between
Overton and us. The letter will be wanted only in event of my death,
for while I live Calhoun shall never have the White House. If I die, why
there’s my name to it for Van Buren against the world. And let me tell
you, sir, I much mistake my place with the people if my dead word be not
of greater weight with them, aye! if it do not move them far beyond any
potency to be latent in the living name Calhoun.”

We made no pause about it, the General and I, and as soon as saddle-bags
might carry, Overton received the missive which the General had
described. It was never wanted, for the General did not die; but there
it lay in the hands of Overton, and the word-for-word blood brother
to it in my own, ready like a grim reserve to take his place in battle
against Calhoun should the General be stricken down.

And thus, during our first summer and autumn, did the General and I,
with caution and wise concern, coil down and clear our political decks
for the great wars we knew were at hand. Defeat for our enemies; triumph
for our friends; those were our watchwords.

You may believe I went into November and looked winterward with a load
off my soul, when now the General’s health was come back; and with
it his temper to wrangle and clash with me; also his mighty heart was
restored, hot as Hecla and as volcanic, against those who, mongering
Nullification, would forge a Calhoun treason down among the rice fields.

As for Peg, there stood no limit to her satisfaction when the fight for
the General’s life was won, and he in fairer health than at any hour
since we came.

“And, child, it was you who saved me,” said the General, lifting up
Peg’s chin with his thin hand. “Do you think I shall forget that?”

Now the town began to regain its own, and folk came straggling in from
beach and hill and dale. Noah, too, was down from New York, he and his
graceful Hercules, Rivera; and, as the town filled, Peg’s spirits would
put on spurs, and she never was more blithe and high than now when we
drew close to that struggle of the drawing rooms wherein she so planned
to have a leading portion.

One day, however, she would seem not quite so gay as common, but with a
haze of thought about those eyes, which of late--with the General strong
and above the need of drugs--had danced and sparkled. Peg had brought me
a posy of flowers for my desk.

“Are they not beautiful?” she asked. “I love the flowers; so sweet, so
contented on their stems among the leaves! Are they not beautiful?”

“And how will I see flowers while you are in the place?” said I.

This was to cure her out of her sadness, which, for all her words about
the flowers, hung over her face like a mist.

“Now, see how well you said that!” cried Peg, brightening a little and
turning me her droll look. “Was it prepared? Was it spontaneous? Really,
slave, were you to go on like that for a year, or say for two, my hope
might revive over you.” This lightly, and to step off her tongue with
foot of air. Then, for my bewilderment beyond hope, she without warning
breaks into tears. And next, to be a cap-sheaf on my shocked amazement,
she gives me this at the door, to which she cries her way blindly: “My
husband will be home to-night!” And with that she leaves me helplessly
to wonder was there ever born upon this earth, to be a beautiful woman
and turn folk mad, such another confusing tangle as this Peg of ours!



CHAPTER X--THE MAJOR AND PEG AT CROSSES

Next morning I went straight into the midst of my correspondence and
began tossing it on my pen as husbandmen toss hay. There rang no unusual
call for this energy of ink, but the whole truth was that, flying like a
fugitive before pursuing thoughts of Peg--I may tell you they had a fine
dance about my pillow the night before!--I would make a refuge of my
work.

Long ago I had given up the hope of solving Peg in her vagaries. One
would never know where or when or how to lay hold on her, for she
came to one new and new each day. Wayward, erratic, now fierce and now
tender, now in laughter and now in tears, one might not count on her
moods in their direction more than on the flight of birds. The one
only thing one might be sure of concerning Peg was that one was sure of
nothing.

It was the thought of those tears for the home-coming of Eaton which
would storm me down and have me captive for all I might barricade with
pen and ink. What should they proclaim? That Peg was unhappy, truly,
since folk do not weep for mirth. In a way I was daunted of my honor as
I went about these thoughts; it seemed a trustless thing to dwell on Peg
and her wedded life. And I would fight against it; and still it pinned
and held me. In the last of it I was claimed by the conclusion that Peg
found existence grievously dark, for what else should be headwaters for
those tears? Also, I resolved that I would coldly look the question of
her grief in the face; it might turn the better for both of us to lay
hands upon its cause. I was given the more courage for this scrutiny
since I had not forgotten how Peg named me to be her only confidant;
that word put a trust upon me and made my question-asking a kind of
duty.

As thread by thread I lifted up the inquiry of Peg’s sorrow, the truth
would begin to make itself plain to me. Eaton was something gross, and
mayhap in his finer senses not unnumbed of the bowl. He could not value
Peg--she, a perfumed spirit thing of music and color and fire and light!
And Peg would feel his lack of appreciation; it would wring her heart,
stab her like a dagger. Verily, I came by a great freshness when now I
was on the right scent of it. This, it was, to lie at the root of her
meaning when she showed me that vine trailing its rich beauties along
the ground, instead of climbing, and said, “I am like that vine.” The
prone and earth-held soul of Eaton offered her no trellis.

And so Peg mourned her lost estate of love! And why should she not
mourn? she, thus swindled of a rightful destiny! Peg shone a thing of
beauty to deck a heaven with; and here was she fated to be the jewel in
the dulled head of a toad! Why should her sorrow find rebuke? Born to be
the reason of admiration and to feed on it as a flower feeds on the sun,
the irony of accident had flung her into this chill corner of neglect.
And her love was dying--starving away its life. Peg did not love Eaton;
the yoke galled her--yoking her as it did to one who, while perhaps
owning the affections, the integrity, the loyalty, owned also the low
unelevation of the brute. And for that, Peg would stay behind when Eaton
went away and weep to see him coming.

While, with some fondness for the argument--since it would make for
Peg’s exoneration--I was moving to these conclusions, it ran abruptly
over me how, during our first talk in the parlors of the Indian Queen,
Peg’s eyes would seem to swim in love for Eaton. I recalled her cry of
pain when she feared he might be shamed for her, and how she said she
would sooner die than that. Then, surely, Peg must have loved him; nor
had he changed since then.

These memories were sent to baffle me; but with a second thought the
fallacy of such deductions was laid bare. When, in the Indian Queen,
Peg would weep for love of Eaton, she was but the bride of a month.
She stood yet in the haze of the honeymoon, and had been given no frank
outline of her mate. Then he seemed what he should be, not what he was,
and Hope, not Truth, was painter to the picture.

Yes, it would walk before me right enough; Eaton had been a lover of
gold to become a husband of brass. Peg was as much wasted on him as
though one put a love verse from Herrick into the hands of a Seminole of
the Everglades. In his arms she was an error--a solecism--a crime--as it
might be, a lily on a muck-heap!

These thoughts so played the tyrant with me as to take the pen from
between my fingers; I could do no work, but only sit and stare from the
window while my mind ran away to Peg.

Then I resolved to call Peg over; she should adorn her throne at my
desk’s end; I would show her how, for all that cloudiness of sensibility
on the part of another, there still lived one on whom her sweet fineness
was not thrown away. I would dispatch her a note by Jim; I would crave
her help for my mails. This should bring her, and be a fair excuse
besides, since it was not the beginning of such requests. Peg had often
aided me to get my letters off.

Note in hand and ready, I stepped to the rear of the mansion to summon
Jim. I could hear his high, patronizing tones, evidently employed about
the instruction of the cook. The two were close by a rear door that
opened into the kitchen.

“Yassir,” I heard Jim say, “they has black bass in d’Cumberland, shoals
an’ shoals of’em. How much you reckon that one weigh?” Apparently they
had a Potomac fish between them to be the basis of discussion. “How much
that weigh? Five pounds? You hyar me, son, we uses that size fish for
bait back in Tennessee. Do Jim ever catch a bigger one? Say; if Jim
don’t catch a bass in d’ol’ Cumberland that’s bigger than a cow, then
Jim’ll jine d’church! It was a heap excitin’, cotchin’ that fish. He
grab d’hook; an’ then he jes’ nacherally split up an’ down d’river like
ol’ Satan was arter him for dinner; an’ then he done dives. That’s whar
he leads d’wrong kyard; for he bump his nose, blim! on d’rock bottom;
an’ it hurt him so he jes’ turn, an’ next he comes lippin’ up through
d’top of d’water an’ goes soarin’ off up into d’air for fifty foot.
That’s when Jim sees how big he is. When he gets up into d’atmosphere,
he sort o’ shuck himse’f, same as you-all sees a hen waller in d’dust;
an’, son, you could hear his scales rattle like shakin’ buckshot in a
bottle! An’ at d’same time, that bass lams loose a yell folk might
nacherally hear a mile, an’ which shorely sounds like d’squall of a soul
in torment. You hyar Jim! that bass--” At this, I broke in on the
revelations of our black Munchausen with my demands. As he turned, I
heard him call back:

“No, I don’t get him; he done bruk d’hook.”

Peg and I had been worthily busy with my letters for full ten minutes.
She was, for her, very quiet, almost indeed to the line of a grave
sadness, which after all should be the aftermath of those tears of the
day before.

If Peg were wordless, I, on my side, sat equally without conversation.
We made tongueless company; but for that very reason went with all the
more earnestness to the letters as though they were the seeds of this
silence.

“Well?” said Peg, with a suddenness, her hands in her lap. I stared.
“Well?” she repeated. Then, when I said nothing, she would elaborate a
bit. “Well, watch-dog, what would you have? You know these letters were
the merest pretext for me to come.”

“Why, then,” said I, made desperate because she snatched away my
disguise, “why, then, I was in a fret to look on you.”

“Was it that?”

“Sometimes I fear your husband does not wholly understand you.” It
took courage to go thus far; it marked a point mightily forward of any
attained to in former talks.

Peg gave me one of those fathomless looks, narrowing her brow
whimsically. My bluntness had not dashed her spirit, at any rate;
indeed, it would seem to have raised it.

“You fear my husband does not understand me?” repeated Peg. Now she
paused an endless while, her eyes reading mine like print. I could feel
her searching me for my last promise of expression. “You fear my husband
does not understand me. And is he to be the only one? Is it there the
roll-call ends? If that were true, I might sustain myself.” For all a
shadowy, vague piquancy of brow, Peg got this off wearily enough, and
I still prisoner to her eyes. Now, after a moment, her vivacity
would mount a little. “You are right,” she went on, “I am not much
understood.” A smile peeped from the dimple in her cheek. “What
would you think, watch-dog, were I to give thick folk lessons in
myself--expound myself to dunces as your pedagogue gives lessons in a
book?”

“The lessons you propose should be marvellously sweet,” said I. Then,
with some tincture of my better courage: “By my soul’s hope! I should be
sure to go to school for those lessons.”

“Ah! do you challenge me?” cried Peg. Now it would be the old Peg. “From
this hour you begin your studies. Life shall be a never-ending lesson,
and Peg the lesson.”

“And I a student most diligent.”

Peg came and stood close against my shoulder where I sat at the desk.
Her color and her brightness had returned to chase away the shadows.
With her fingers she parted my hair where the frosts of two score years
and four were beginning their blight. She made as though she considered
these ravages of silver.

Finally, she spoke to me in a way tenderly good.

“Watch-dog, watch-dog, you have eyes in your head and none in your wits.
You are a blind-wit, watch-dog, a blind-wit of no hope. And you would
study Peg? Teach I never so lucidly, study thou never so long, yet
shouldst thou never know Peg, but die in darkness of her.” Peg said this
with a kind of murmur of regret. Then, collecting direction: “How many
times has Peg been with you? And yet you have never seen her--never once
seen Peg. You do not see Peg now while she stands at your shoulder. You
are a blind-wit.”

“If I have not seen Peg,” said I, “and if I do not now see Peg, then at
the least my eyes have tasted visions above report.”

“Now you speak well,” quoth Peg, with an archness of pretended approval.

Here, surely, should be the old, true Peg. It was a delight to listen to
the bantering yet soft tones of her, like walking in the May woods with
their new green and the new blossoms painting the ground about one’s
feet.

“What have I seen, then?” I asked, going back a pace.

“What have you seen? A mirage, the mere mirage of Peg--her picture,
sketched on the skies of your ideal.” Then in a playful manner of
correction, as when a girl refuses a compliment: “You have looked
upward, watchdog, when you should have looked down. And now for your
first lesson. This is the text of it: Would you find a woman, keep your
eyes on the ground.”

For all Peg’s humor of gaiety, I could tell how she was under greatest
strain. Also, there ran an odd current of reproach throughout her words.
It was as though she saw faults in me.

“And now,” said I, seeking to focus complaint, “and now, what have I
done or said to hurt?”

Peg drew away from my shoulder. I could not see her face, but I felt her
spirit changing from cool to hot in the furnace of some thought. There
was silence for a moment.

“What have you done to hurt?” cried Peg, suddenly, breaking into a
wondrous wrath. “Oh, I could die with such a dullard! What have you
done? What is this just-now complaint you conceive against my husband?
He does not understand me, forsooth! You should consider yourself! What
have you done to hurt? You place me too high! You put me out of reach!
Oh, I know of no more dreadful fate than to be forever mistaken for
an angel!” That last came like the cry of a heart in torture. The next
moment Peg was gone and I left gasping.

Of what avail to think? As she had said, I was a blundering blind-wit,
and, by me at least, Peg would not be made out. I had declared how
Eaton owned a footless fancy which could not raise itself to realize a
goddess. And now, in my own high superiority, I had come bravely off!
I had been properly paid as one who is churl enough to give a woman a
compliment at the expense of her husband. Was I to suppose my goddess
would accept flattery at the cost of her self-respect? The goddess
from her furious pedestal had denounced me as one who planned for her
dishonor.

Congress was now come down upon us like a high wind. The town began to
rub its eyes free of those cobwebs of vacation slumbers; the taverns
took on a buzzing life, while the streets, lately so still and lonesome,
showed thickly sown of folk going here and there, for this reason of
legislation or that hunger of office, and with faces gay or sombre as
success was given or denied.

Noah was one to be denied. He had come to town somewhat in advance of
Congress. The General brought him quickly to the White House and made
him unpack his budget of gossip. How was Burr? How was Swartout? How
fared Hoyt? Thus ran off the General’s curiosity.

“All well, all prosperous,” responded Noah, “and the town itself growing
up to weeds of riches. The New York cry is, Money! They revise your
friend Crockett, and, for an aphorism, say, ‘Be sure you’re rich, then
go ahead.’”

The General would have it that Noah must take an office--a collectorship
or some such gear.

“The Senate would defeat my confirmation,” said Noah; “first for that
I’m a Jew; and next because of Catron.”

“And even so,” returned the General; “it is still worth while to
discover who would do that.”

Noah was right, and his name came up to be refused by one vote. Calhoun
from his place as president of the Senate proved as flint against Noah,
while his mouthpiece, Hayne, led the war on the floor. I have yet to
look on more anger than was the General’s when the news arrived.

“Heed it not,” said Noah, snapping his fingers. “I have still my
laughter, my newspaper, and my Spanish swords.”

“But the insult of it!” cried the General.

“To the cynic,” said Noah, lightly, “there can come no insult. Your
philosopher who laughs is safe against such whimsies. I shall long
remain both fat of pride and fat of purse for all a Senate may do. You
do not know me; I should have been a Diogenes and insulted Alexanders
from my tub.”

Calhoun and his coterie brought with them to town their great question
of Nullification. They worked on it incessantly and made a deal of
hubbub. Calhoun set forward his man, Hayne, to the exposition of this
policy of national disintegration. Hayne was met in that debate and
overthrown by the mighty Webster. The country echoed with the strife of
these Titans.

For himself, the General followed the argument, North against South,
word by word and step by step. He had the debate of each day written
off, and Peg would come over and read it to him while he smoked and
pondered and resolved.

About this time I must write down how I was made to feel rebuked and
neglected. Following that unguided reference to her husband, Peg would
seem to have deserted me. My eyes had little of her, and I heard her
voice still less; for while she was often in to gossip with the General,
or read those Senate speeches to him, she gave me only stray, cold
glances and monosyllables. She came no more to my workshop; and day
after day I sat alone while melancholy crept upon me like mosses over
stone. I was not so dense but I could tell how I had offended. Peg was
proud; she resented my suggestion that Eaton lacked appreciation; that
was why she flew upon me, beak and talon, and said it was I who lived in
darkness of her. I had been the wiser had I forgotten those tears of
hers so soon as they were dry, and withstood myself from meddling
opinions concerning her lot in life. Peg’s coldness was the proper
retort for my impertinence, and I must bear it even while it broke my
heart.

It would be the expected thing that I should turn cheerless and be cast
down when now Peg left me with my thoughts alone. I had grown so used
to her about me, and to hear the sweet laugh of her, that it was to miss
something out of my life when she took herself away. And yet it would
be egotism. Folk miss and for a while deplore what has become a piece of
their days--even chains and dungeons, so I’ve heard. Nor is this due to
any love save self-love. I have often considered, as folk shed tears on
a grave, how they wept for themselves and not for him who slept at their
feet. It was the merest selfishness of habit, this dejection because Peg
would desert me. Her absence would become custom in time, and then,
should’ she return, that coming doubtless would irk me just as much.

For all my wisdom, however, when now my starved eyes came only by stray,
sparse glimpses of Peg, as I beheld her now and again across in the
President’s Square, or when she went by my door on her visits to the
General, my spirit fell to be jaded and vastly lowered.

Had I known my way to go about it, I would have sought Peg out and
talked with her freely and in full of what had fallen to be our
differences. I would have acknowledged my error. But I saw no open gate
through which to come by such converse, and I feared with an attempt
to plunge bad into worse.

Once, indeed, my resolve was half hatched to gain some plain speech of
her. I lay in wait until, the day being fine, I had sight of her on a
rustic seat over across in the square. She was wrapped in a fur of some
sort--martin, I think--and, with this drawn high about the throat, it so
framed her face as to make her beautiful to the verge of witchcraft.

Seeing how she was near a path, I lounged out of door, and crossing the
road, would make as though to walk by her, casually, and for exercise
and air. It was my plan to greet Peg, and next drift into word with her
as in the old time. The old time! It was not days away, and yet it
seemed as distant as my cradle! I would drift into speech of her, I say,
and trust to fortune and my wit to bring down the explanation I believed
might solve a reconciliation for us. It was a stratagem sagacious
enough, but Peg granted me no chance of its test.

Before I could get to Peg, indeed, before I journeyed half the distance,
she arose, careless and contained, as though she had not observed
me--albeit I am sure she had--and would be moving for her own gate. At
this I half halted; and Peg, striking out into a rapid walk, was in a
moment the other side of her door. A little later I saw her standing by
a window.

[Illustration: 0323]

With Peg’s flight I was abashed; it was so sure she wished to dodge me.
Then a kind of anger took me in hand and I started towards her house. I
do not know what was my precise thought in this, or whether I would have
gone forward to lift the great knocker on the panel. As it fell forth,
however, Peg, on seeing me coming, whipped away from the window; with
that my heart would turn all to water and I faced sadly about.

Being abroad in the streets, I now went on to walk, and to clear my
bosom of that unhappiness which lay so heavy on it. I walked on and on,
with no clear purpose until the thing to strike my notice was how here
before me sprawled that vine which, on a summer day, Peg characterized
for its wanderings and said it was like her.

Why I should go seeking this vine is by no means plain; and yet I must
have owned to some hope of its succor, since I stood long to consider
it, and cast about with my eyes if, by any luck of nature, a stout true
tree stood at hand which might be given it for support. There was none;
the poor vine must live and die unwedded on the loveless ground.

Somehow it magnified my sorrow when I could learn no way to help Peg’s
vine. But so it abode; there it should lie until the end. And the vine
would seem to realize this, too; for it looked desolate, with leaves
frost-seared and discolored like perished hopes.

It can not be said that I was uplifted of my walk, and I returned home,
if the fact must out, more unhappy than on any day since I last looked
on the Cumberland. It is curious, also, that this woe of Peg’s coldness
towards me should precipitate itself in wrath upon the General. But thus
it did; for that innocent soldier had but to breathe Peg’s name as we
sat with our pipes that night, and all in a setting of conversation most
commonplace, when I was upon him like a panther, snarling demands and
clawing for replies, as to how much more time he expected me to steal
from my plantations to waste upon him and his affairs.

To give credit where credit is due, the General kept himself quite
steady under this unexpected fire, and refilled his pipe in confident,
unshaken peace.

“My explosive friend,” said the General, “I need make no better answer
than just to turn your question on yourself. You know full well you
would no more leave me than I would leave you. Those growls you give us
arise from a dyspepsia of the imagination. You’ll be as right as gold
after a night’s sleep.”

It was upon me a bit later, as I sat trying to do some letters, that
one secret of my gloom reposed in Peg’s great chair, spreading its
empty arms to my eyes each time I raised them from the page. It was that
mocking empty chair to stare my heart out of countenance and give accent
to its dreary emptiness.

On the impulse, I swooped as on an enemy and bore it to another room.
Then I felt better; and indeed it was a relief not to be longer taunted
of that chair, which would exult in being vacant and find a triumph by
flinging at me the absence of my Peg.

Now the General, while commonly as frank for talk as a cataract, could
be, when he preferred, as inscrutable as the tomb. It pleased him to
lock up his tongue over Nullification; and while I understood his pose,
and both Peg and Noah had heard him tell his thought on that pregnant
topic of state, together with his feeling for Calhoun, folk for a widest
part remained much in the dark. And it was often put and never answered,
this query of what the General’s course would be when the last grapple
came to hand. The agitators for Secession were no folk to put to sea
wanting chart, however crude, to display the shores and waters about
them. They resolved to arrive by some knowledge of the General’s temper
on this dogma of danger so near the Calhoun heart.

In quest of such news, a spy, or perhaps he should be called a
scout--the title is the more honorable--was dispatched to find and mark
the General’s position. The General and I were given a foreword by Noah
of our gentleman who would be thus upon a recon-noiter. He came in sight
one day, and fell upon our flank in this fashion.

It was an afternoon, crisp and clear; altogether a day proper for middle
autumn rather than the winter of any honest year. I had been out with
Noah and was about my return. As I came up the walk, the
General’s ramrod form--tall hat, dark garb, swinging his tasseled
walking-stick--emerged from the mansion’s front door.

“Turn with me for a short jaunt,” said he. “But first step down to the
stables. I must have a look to my horses. That clumsy rascal, Charlie,
let them run away, and aside from a strain to the horses and a hand’s
breadth of hide knocked off the nigh one’s shoulder, he broke the wheel
of the coach--my wife’s coach, Major; I wouldn’t have had it injured for
a world of coaches.”

This coach was one of the General’s treasures. Well I recall how it
was first brought up the Cumberland years before and rolled ashore at
Nashville.

“But it’s for her,” observed the General, as I suggested the slimness of
his purse in contrast with the cost of the vehicle; “it’s for her. She
shall have a proper carriage to ride in.”

“I am more concerned for the coach,” remarked the General, as we went
about the western corner of the mansion on our way towards the stables,
“then for the horses. If she were here now, her whole tender thought
would be of the latter.”

The injuries to the carriage were not grievous, and a look of pleased
relief filled the General’s eyes. The horses, too, had come well through
their unauthorized dash along the road, and a hostler, skillful of
horse-drugs, gave his word to cure them of every ill received with a
quart of wormwood and vinegar, and a spoonful of tar for the cuts.

“Beauties, eh?” said the General, as he admired the sleek gray-dappled
coats with hand and eye. “Beauties, they are indeed! And descended in
direct line from my great horse Truxton. You remember Truxton; that
never-beaten King of the Clover Bottom Course?”

Truxton would be recalled easily enough. The more, since it was that
fleet champion’s match with the renowned Ploughboy which in part opened
way to the savage duel with Dickenson.

Made sure of the safety of his carriage, the General and I turned
westward for a stroll. When we were gone no desperate distance, I was
all of a sudden shouted after in high-pitched tones, though amiable.
We faced about to settle the riddle of the interruption. The calls
were from one Rhetz, a member of the Calhoun inner circle. Being of a
friendly diplomacy, this Rhetz had maintained good relations with the
General and myself.

“Ah! here we have our friend Rhetz,” exclaimed the General. Rhetz was
yet some distance. While we waited the General made his comment. “He is
the one who should come from Calhoun; my silence on Nullification, as
Noah warned us, has made the Vice-President nervous, and he would feel
me out. I think, Major, and by your leave, I shall clear the business
up for them. Come, now, what say you? Let us run up our Union flag like
gallant, hearty fellows, you and me, and call on the fray. I think, too,
I’ll give them my views on Calhoun.”

“Would it be wise to declare open war on Calhoun?”

“He has for long waged secret war on me,” retorted the General. “No;
let us unmask ourselves and thereby unmask him. It will cripple him and
strengthen us, since the sole chance he has to harm me is to pretend to
be my friend. Moreover, a fierce openness now should serve somewhat to
hamstring the enemy’s campaign against Peg.”

“I was about to call on you,” said Rhetz, greetings over “and was told
at the door how you were somewhere for a stroll about the grounds.”

“What was your concern with me?” asked the General, his manner most
urbane.

“No concern at all,” responded the affable Rhetz, “no concern beyond
a friendly regard, Mr. President. I would call only to exhibit my
friendship.”

“And that should give me great pleasure,” said the General, casting a
comic side-look towards me. Then, with a plain purpose of helping the
scout to his discoveries: “And what of Congress? I suppose both House
and Senate still heave with the ground-swells of the Webster-Hayne
debate.”

“There is no end of cloakroom talk,” said Rhetz. “And, by the way, Mr.
President,”--here was a feeler--“there be folk, and your friends at
that, who wonder you are not openly with Calhoun and against Webster and
his Yankees for this principle of States Rights.” Rhetz followed
this last observe with a setting forth of argument bearing for the
Calhoun-Hayne contention.

“Beware of metaphysics,” observed the General dryly, turning his gray
look against Rhetz, as that rice-land sophist laid down one by one those
various refinements and abstractions wherewith the Palmetto gentry--the
Cal houns and the Butlers and the Pinckneys and the Haynes--were
blazing the path for Secession; “beware of metaphysics! No good comes of
splitting hairs. A rough-hewn honesty--a turgid frankness--should be the
better road.” The General walked on in silence fora brief space, Rhetz
also silent, feeling himself on the brink of some precipice of the
General’s temper, and in no sort eager for a fall. “Sir,” resumed the
General, “let me now set you an example; let me be most open with you,
not only for Nullification, but for your friend, Calhoun. First, then,
Calhoun is not trustworthy. Did he not for years teach me to believe he
was my friend with Monroe, when it was he of all that cabinet who
urged my court-martial for taking Florida and hanging Ambristie and
Arbuth-not? Calhoun was my enemy, sir; he is my enemy now. He would hide
the fact, but it is too late. When I tell you how Calhoun is my enemy,
would you still urge on me this prince of duplicity for a statesman
whose word is worth a following? Calhoun, for a plan or a principle, can
not be relied on. He is congenitally bad, and will propose nothing that
is true or high.” Here, as the General’s anger began to tower, he would
strike viciously at old weeds, dead and winter-bitten, which ranked the
path we traversed, cutting them down with his hickory stick as with
a saber; Rhetz still silent, without voice. “There lives but one more
trustless than Calhoun--that arch-rogue Clay. And my friends would show
amazement at my failure to be openly with Calhoun! Also, you say they
fear I may follow Webster and his Yankees. Sir, I know the Yankees; they
are a dour, hard brood, who to aid their interests might not scruple to
over-reach. I have yet to hear, however, they betray their friends, as
did Calhoun; I have still to know they would bargain the downfall of
their party, as did Clay. Judas would have done a no more ebon deed than
did that Kentucky renegade when he sold his soul to Adams for a place.
And now am I to take a great doctrine from such children of deceit?
Webster and his Yankees may be centered on themselves and selfish;
doubtless they are. But you may tell Calhoun that I prefer them as
companions of policy before such cozeners as himself and Clay.” The
General’s voice here rose like the far high scream of an osprey.

“Calm yourself, General,” I said, in tones which never failed to bring
him to himself. “There is scant need of informing all Washington City of
our opinions.”

The General had paused in his walk and taken off that high white
hat, deep girdled of a mourning-band. As he talked he beat this stiff
headgear with his cane until I quite trembled for its integrity.

“Calhoun,” went on the General, but with temper more in hand, “claims
for his state the right to annul the law--the right to secede from the
Union. Sir, if we were to walk by this doctrine of Nullification, the
Union would be like a bag open at both ends. No matter where or how you
picked it up the meal would all run out. Tell Calhoun that I shall tie
the bag and save the country.”

The General’s lean jaws at this last mention of Calhoun closed hard and
iron-fast like a trap, while his nose seemed more beaky and predatory.
Evidently he half scented Calhoun as a prey to come, and would be ready
to swoop on him.

“You would seem deeply to hate both Clay and Calhoun, Mr. President,”
 Rhetz suggested. Rhetz was somewhat feeble of voice; the General’s
outburst had taken his breath.

“And it is they rather than their doctrines I loathe,” said the General.
“They creep and crawl and sprawl in ambush, and strike at midnight. They
pretend friendship while plotting one’s destruction. I was born to make
war upon their tribe--war to the death.”

Rhetz made no protracted stay in such warm company. We did not hinder
his escape, and presently had the advantage of his back.

“I should like to see the Calhoun face,” said I, “when Rhetz lays out
his discoveries.”

“You observe how they try me,” cried the General, passionately, gazing
after the disappearing Rhetz. “You will witness it! But by the heavens
above us! I’ll uphold the law!”

“And now,” continued the General, when Rhetz was quite gone away,
“having been so vigorously free with the envoy, I must at once write
Calhoun a letter and say it all over again. I would have talked this to
Calhoun first of all, were I accurately the gentleman of honor; but then
he should not have stirred me with his spy.”

The General’s letter declaratory of the duplicity of Calhoun was written
and went to the Vice-President the next day. It repeated his words
to Rhetz so far as they were personal to Calhoun, and made a deal of
commotion, I warrant you. The missive exploded in the very heart of
Secession like a hand-grenade.

The General and I had turned now; we aimed to be home before dark, and
your midwinter day is not the longest of the year. The sun was still
an hour over the western trees, however, when we found ourselves in the
President’s Square. Supper would only come with sundown, since we still
adhered to our Tennessee customs.

Having moments to spare, we rested ourselves upon a bench which owned
a thick pine tree at its back. I was the more willing, for we were in
close view from Peg’s windows, and I half hoped the sight of the General
would lure her out to us. I was pining for a look into her face, and to
hear the voice of her, sweet as the full note of a harp.

“Do you know,” remarked my companion, “I never walk in this square but I
think on the day when the British burned the White House. They halted
in this very park and told off the squad of incendiaries and sent them
across. Mrs. Madison was about to give a dinner, and was fair driven
from the table by the bayonets of the English. I would I’d been here,”
 he concluded; “I’d have made it for those visitors another New Orleans.
The lady should have had her dinner if I’d been here.”

“The English are good soldiers,” I urged, paying little heed to him, for
my eyes were roving after some flutter of Peg’s skirts.

“They are marvellously puissant,” he retorted, “when they number two for
one of the enemy.” The General’s antipathy for the English was so great
he could never do them justice. “I carry some record of their gallantry
myself,” he continued, as he took off his hat and parted the bristling
hair where the rough welt of a saber-slash proved a refusal to blacken
English boots in the storm-torn years of the Revolution, when the
General was a boy of twelve. “That fixed my opinion of the English,” he
said, as he replaced his hat. “And can you believe it, that scar burned
like fire the day at New Orleans. Also, it has felt better ever since.”

“Say what you will of the British,” I insisted--I was turned obstinate
now, seeing no sign of Peg--“they make stubborn soldiers. Note what they
did with Napoleon.”

“It was not the English,” responded the General, with heat, “who
defeated Napoleon; it was Paris. He should have done with Paris what the
Russian did with Moscow--burned it, sir; burned it to the ground, and
thrown himself for his support upon the country. So I should have done,
and my country would have sustained me.”

The General had been a partisan of the Corsican a score of years before;
in the energy of his present defence, he arose from the seat and started
again for home. I more slowly followed, still hoping the possible
appearance of Peg.

As the General rounded a clump of bushes set near the path, he paused
abruptly.

“What’s this!” he exclaimed. The look of defiance for everything
English, which still made hard his face, changed to one of tenderness
and regard. “What’s this!” he repeated.

There lay a little negro child, well coated and warm, sound and fast
asleep for all the frost. The General thought no more on Napoleon, the
English, the treachery of Paris, or the disaster of Waterloo. He stooped
and gathered up the sleeping pickaninny in his arms.

“He is Augustus’ little boy,” he said. “He has tired himself with play.
Augustus should have better watch of the child such weather as this.
I’ll put a flea in his careless ear to that effect.”

Loaded with the small burden of the sleeping boy, the General led the
way across the grounds.

Now when I had ceased to hope for her, a light foot on the sod told me
how Peg was at hand. I verily believe the perverse witch to have been
behind a tree, or hidden of a shrub, and not a score of yards from us
during our whole halt in the square. I would have accosted her, but she
brushed by with a curt bending of the head and not a word, and joined
the General where that chieftain marched ahead with the pickaninny.
My heart sank, and I fell still farther to the rear, more lonely than
before Peg came.

It was ten minutes later, and when Peg, leaving the General, was on the
turn of setting forth for her own house. I was in my workshop, idle at
my desk, thoughtful with no thoughts, and my heart inexpressibly sad.

As Peg would have crossed my door, her glance swept the interior of the
room. With that, she came to a full stop. I looked up with an eagerness
to hear her speak; and thinking, too, that now she would come in, and we
two be the old kind friends again.

But instead of kindness, my glance gave me her face, cloudy and
threatening. Also, there were lamps of danger lighted in her eyes. What
new crime had I done? It was clear I stood guilty of some baseness;
I read that much in Peg’s frown, and the last poor spark of my hope
pinched out. Never again, whatever the temptation, would I condemn a
husband to his wife.

Peg swept into the room while I gazed on her without speaking. If for no
reason save one of politeness, I should have greeted her; but my manners
were quite driven out of my head with wondering what new eggs would here
be toasting on the spit for me.

“Where is my chair?” cried Peg, and with a voice as full of wrath as a
coal of fire. Then pointing to where her leathern chair was not: “Where
is my chair, I say?”

Stupidly, I looked over beyond my desk where her throne had been in
happy times; but I kept my teeth on my tongue, not willing to have the
risk of a word.

“I will have it back!” Peg went on, eye as vicious as a kestrel’s, “I
will have it instantly back!”

With every headlong dispatch I went after the chair, while Peg walked up
and down as might that leopard who should own those two sharp teeth,
the gleam of which just showed beneath the upper redness of her lip like
points of pearl. When the chair was restored, I turned to her and called
my courage to my shoulder.

“And now will you sit down?” said I.

“I will not sit there until I choose,” stormed Peg, still up and down.
Her cheek was flame, but with no laughing roguishness of fun; her eyes
shone like mirrors, but not from any interest of amusement. As she
went to and fro, leopard-like, she would have those eyes on me with a
questioning indignation.

“So you would thrust my chair out of your room?” said she.

Then, as I made no words on it, Peg after a space would for the second
time be about her departure, and I confess, for all my late thirst for
her presence, not a trifle to my relief. A leopard--even a leopard named
Peg--is no good company.

When Peg was by the door, she swung round on me. “I will not sit there
until I choose,” she cried again. “But you shall not touch my chair!
I will not have it banished!” With this, she went quite away, while I
stayed to look on the chair which had made the trouble, and now from
its old place would leer victoriously upon me, and mock with a more
insulting emptiness than ever, that doubly vacant heart of mine.



CHAPTER XI--THE GENERAL MAKES PROVERBS

In those few days next to follow Peg’s tantrum of the chair, like those
several to precede it, I was given no more than meager pictures of her.
I should perhaps beg forgiveness for the name “tantrum,” which is a
byword or term of slang, but search as I may, I find nothing so good
wherewith to tell the story of that rootless wrath of Peg’s. However, I
may say I was at care not to shift the chair again, but left it to stand
waiting for her in accord with her command.

Peg, on the next day after that tantrum, and on every day, would come
for her visit with the General; but each time she so crept by me,
whether by stealth or luck, that I lost notice of her advent, and knew
nothing of her presence until she went past my door when on her way for
home. She would create noise enough with her flight; setting her small
feet down in emphasis and sending a rustle along the hallway with the
swirl of her petticoats, so that I had ample time to raise my head and
be on guard for her. She would nod slightly as she caught my glance,
but ever sustained herself with that distance which she had seen fit to
construct between us.

When Peg flashed by my door--for, radiant as ever, and with the motion
of a meteor, “flashed” should be the description of it--I was bound
to observe how her look shot straight for her chair like an arrow. She
would be sure it was there, that chair; and I could tell how its absence
would have become the signal for crowning me with so warm a version of
her feelings that I shriveled like October leaves to simply think on
it. But I would meet no risk of the sort, since I did not entertain the
hardihood to invoke it.

I say the latter, because sooth it is, that half in anger, half in
thought to bring her in for a talk, I once had it on my mind to send
Peg’s chair again into exile. Indeed, I did put it out of the room. But
only for a moment; the wick of my courage burned dim, and I fell to
be in utmost haste to restore that leathern furnishment, breathing the
while in a quick, craven fashion of respiration, lest she surprise me
before the situation was repaired. Thus it stood; the chair and I in the
room, and both desolate, with Peg going each day by like a watchman on
his rounds, to glance in and be assured.

These conditions of separation between Peg and myself, as days went on,
would give me less and less of ease. I was forever carrying them on the
ridge of my thought, and they made an unhappy element in life’s skyline.
I stood the more in grief, since to be out with little Peg was like a
quarrel with a child; and then, moreover, the fault of it was mine, for
I overstepped an obvious line of right conduct when I went forth upon
Eaton’s disparagement. It was a fool’s work, besides; for I might have
known she would be sharp to notice and as sharply bound to resent; had
she not already warned me how I disfavored Eaton, and told me I was
jealous? She would say, truly, she did not care for that jealousy; but
that was mere laughter when her fancy was at merriest. Also, she had
told how I did not know her, and never would see her true self; I began
now to understand that she was right. And yet I would have her back, and
our old frank confidence returned; for Peg, as I tell you, was only
a child--a prankish girl when all was in, and it made no more for my
credit than for my peace that we should be at crosses.

It stands a thing strangest of all, how differently one will regard
another when the time is this or that. Peg, as I have written, would
seem ever to me the rompish child; for my thoughts of her were forged
and beaten out upon the stithy of those moments when, free and playful
and without restraint, she sat alone with me. By the same token! I
recall another score of moments where the stage was a drawing room and
strange folk framed the scene, and Peg, a beautiful woman of dignity and
grave reserve, would remind one of no child at all. But then she would
not be Peg to me; on such times when this proud, sufficient being made
me some sweeping, stately recognition, and as though I had known her
but a day, I have stood aside to wonder was she that playful leopard Peg
whose white mark I wore on my hand? Was it she to call me “slave” and
kiss the mark, or “watch-dog” and make me a collar with her arms? And
still I liked her thus. I was proud to see her proud; and my bosom would
swell to note how when Peg, fastidious, and with her highbred look,
stepped across a room, she seemed among the women gathered there--and
they the Vere de Veres--a greyhound among poodles, or rather the leopard
she was among a troop of tabbies. These be crude comparisons, surely;
yet there comes no other to so fit with my thoughts of rearward days
when Peg moved an empress in the midst of peasants, at once the envy and
despair of rivalry.

As I tell you, for all these exhibitions of commanding womanhood, Peg
would continue with me but a child; the image of such ballroom triumphs
were not to remain with me, while the real Peg, the true Peg, the
dear Peg of memory when alone, would ever be the laughing, mocking,
hectoring, teasing Peg on her leathern throne at my desk’s end. It is
the same with men; there come such words as play and work, and danger
and safety; and the man you saw on the battle-line, as stern and as
brave as Caesar, is that boy by yonder campfire who now laughs over
some tale of personal chicken-pillage when he fled before a mad old dame
armed of a pudding stick.

While Peg and I were on these long-range terms, I went more in hunt of
the General for his company’s sake and for conversation. I do not think
the General stood aware of Peg’s cold pose towards me, for, as I have
urged, he was no one to see such things; besides, Peg, who showed
herself no bad strategist, would be about me with the friendliness of
those days that were, whenever the General sat by to make a third. Peg
held the General in a best esteem; and then, too, she would be mindful
how lately he was ill and save for her tending might have died, and be
the last to vex him with thoughts of how two so near him and dear upon
his sentiment nourished a feud among themselves.

While the General missed the reason of my frequent visits, he no less
relished our talks; for a president, let me inform you, is a mighty idle
man, for all your sycophants and toadies of print would depict him as
a galley slave who breaks his heart against an oar of duty. A president
has little to do beyond fret and fume while affairs go crosswise to his
wishes; also, the General would have him to be a most tied and helpless
creature, besides.

“The presidency,” he would say, “when one goes to a last experiment, is
but another word for paralysis.”

“And is a president such a thing without hands?” I would ask, for it was
sure he thirsted to lecture.

“The office is so much bigger than the man,” he would reply, “that it
controls him, as a mountain might bear down the strongest were you to
load his back with one.”

“Now, I had thought a president to be of some consequence,” I would
retort, in a manner of vexing him. “At least I have known presidents to
think so.”

“And so thought I,” he would respond, “ten months ago and before
inauguration. Sir, a president is but the fly on the chariot wheel.
Being vain, the insect might flatter himself with a theory that he is
the reason of that dust and motion he observes. But the insect’s vanity
would be none the less in error. I say to you, a presidency is a thing
of bolts and bars and locks and fetters. What may a president do? He may
say this man shall keep office and that man shall not, and that would be
as important as if he said this rat shall go overboard and that rat stay
to roam the ship. The vermin fate of these, for black or white, would
neither affect a course nor pick those ports at which the vessel
touched.”

“But a president may veto a bill,” I would reply, “or make it a law with
his fist. He may bring down a war.”

“And yet he is no free agent when he does any of these,” he would
return. “He is pressed upon by one force or another, or mayhap a dozen
at once, and must go with conditions like a man in a landslide. As I
say, the office is so much bigger than the man that it transacts the
man, and not the man the office. It is as though one were made president
of the Potomac, or of a glacier. Could he take the one beyond its banks
with a war or stay the other in its progress with a veto? He might run
up a flag, order a bugle blown, fire a gun; but the river or the glacier
would be the last impressed. No, sir; were one made chief magistrate of
that snowstorm which now whitens the world outside, and set to rule its
flakes, he would be in as much control as when given a White House and
told that he is President.”

Mayhap it will interest should I offer a report of one of our
afternoons. It might go as specimen of all, for each was but a strolling
here and there of talk. Our discourse would be hit or miss, like a rag
carpet, and would fall foul of whatever caught the eye or stubbed the
toe of fancy at the moment.

On this day, and being weary with the sight of Peg’s empty chair, I went
down the hall to the General’s workroom and found him with his nose in
_Tristram Shandy_.’

“Do you like your author?” said I.

“Why, sir,” said the General, laying aside the book, “he is so grown up
to sedge of phrase and choked of word-weeds as to deny one either the
sight or the taste of the true stream of his story.”

“Walpole,” I returned, “said that reading _Tristram_ was to laugh a
moment and yawn an hour.”

“Then he had the better of me, since I have done nothing but yawn.”
 After a pause: “Peg gave me the book; it was my loyalty to the child
that sent me between its pages. And speaking of Peg: Do you still send
her the roses? I know you do, for I met your Jim on his way to her,
buried in blossoms and looking for all the world like the flower booth
in a village fair.” Here the General lazily reached for his pipe.

“And why should she not have the flowers?” I demanded, warmly.

“No reason under the sky, sir,” said he, giving me that old glance out
of the falcon eyes of him--to anger me, I suppose--“none under the sky!
Send our pretty Peg the roof off the house should she have a mind for
it.” Then, when now his pipe was going: “Was it not you to recommend a
round, squat, corpulent being named Curtis to be marshal for Tennessee?”

“I said he was a good man.”

“One might say as much of a pan of dough. The creature is absolutely
without motion; I tried him mentally and physically, so to speak; the
man is stagnant.”

“None the less a good man,” I contended. “To do nothing is at least to
do no harm.”

“Now, that is as may be,” retorted the General. “I will have nothing to
do with your motionless folk. They are always the worst folk of all. I
never have been in any crush of peril or concern where action was not
less hazardous than inaction, and to do the wrong thing far and away
better than to do nothing at all. Now, this fellow Curtis of yours would
not even talk. He had no more conversation than a catfish.”

“Silence is caution,” said I, dogmatically, also reaching down a pipe
from the mantel to keep the General in smoky countenance; “silence is
caution, and caution is ever a good thing.”

“Caution is a braggart,” returned the General, argumentatively, “to call
itself a virtue when it is more often a cover for cowardice. Caution has
lost more fights than rashness, you may take a soldier’s word for that.”

“That is in keeping with your other proverb, ‘Never overrate a foe.’
Those be the maxims to get folk killed!”

“And why not, so the folk be the enemy? I have beaten twice my strength
because they overrated me.”

“Still,” said I, stubbornly, “the crime of silence which you charge upon
this Curtis is no mighty delinquency. Words, as a rule, are a weakness;
and I think Curtis should be marshal.”

“Let him be marshal, then, and end it,” returned the General; “but I may
tell you, sir, that words are not a weakness, but a source of strength.”
 The General was an indomitable conversationist, and would not be
criticised. “The man who says the most, commonly knows the most, and
comes most often to succeed. Silent folk win only by accident, as he
shall see who retraces any of their victories to its birth.”

“And now what nonsense!” cried I. “What wise one said ‘Silence is
golden!’?”

“Some wise one who wanted the floor for himself, doubtless,” puffed the
General. “Talk is a cloak, and great talk a great cloak to hide
one’s movements. It is a common fallacy to suppose that one who talks
much--chatters, we will even call it--tells ever the truth. Now my
experience goes for it that a great talker is misleading you nine-tenths
of the time; heads one way while he talks another. I cannot be sure of
the plans or aims of a great talker. He would seem to point so many ways
at once. Your tongue-tied fellow I read easily. When I once know where
he is, and then remember where he would be, I will readily foresee for
you the trail he means to travel.”

“Calhoun is a silent man.”

“And Calhoun is a defeated man; his one chance is my death, which I
have no mind shall happen. Calhoun is a silent, but not a secret man. He
hides nothing, and can hide nothing by a still tongue. Who does not know
how he is for Nullification and must live or die by it?”

“And you,” said I, “have decided it shall be the latter.”

“If Calhoun had not assailed me, and, more, if he had not included Peg’s
destruction in his plans--as a soldier might burn a beautiful suburb for
an element of his assault on a city--Calhoun and I would have come
by some agreement. I like the man; but you see he has no gift to be
popular. He makes war on me, which is the least popular thing he could
do and then, to prick me on for bitterest resolution and a strife to the
death, he sets his dogs to baying Peg. Also, let us not forget how he
would drag down Van Buren because he is Peg’s friend and mine. Sir, you
and I will one day make Van Buren president for that.”

“And you have written Calhoun that letter to be notice of your hate.”

“It ties him hand and foot,” said the General. “Were Calhoun Samson,
that letter shears his locks. He will publish it, and make every friend
I have his enemy.”

“And you are enough loved by the people to make that a most formidable
condition for Calhoun.”

You are to observe that now when I would find the General idle and
with an itch for talk, I trolled him along as folk troll pickerel. It
relieved him to thus unbuckle; more, it helped him form his plans, for
so he said himself.

“I am ten fold more loved than Calhoun,” responded the General.
“Calhoun, as I’ve said, has no gift to be popular. He talks _to_ folk;
I talk _with_ them. Sir, between those words, _with_ and _to_, dwells the
whole art of popularity.”

“Your popularity is growth of your work in the field.”

“My being a soldier, had much to do with its beginning. Man is a
fighting animal and loves a fighter. Particularly if he win. Now, were
I to advise one to a short cut for public favor, I would say, ‘Be a
soldier and win.’”

“Especially ‘win,’” I returned.

“By all means add the ‘win’ and emphasize it. That is my rede: Be sure
to win. No one is made to explain a victory, no one tries a conqueror;
the error of all errors is the black error of defeat.”

“And yet a good man may lose.”

“Sir, the best man may lose. But you are to consider: When he loses, the
public owes him nothing. A farmer toils like a slave; a drought kills
his crops; is he paid for the corn he does not raise? The public owes
the successful soldier for that profit it takes from his sword; and
the public pays its debts. I won at the Horseshoe, at Pensacola, at
New Orleans; and the public pays me with a White House. Had I lost my
battles, I would have been cashiered a score of times. Calhoun would
have succeeded with his scheme to court-martial me in the Seminole days,
save that I was armored of my victories. I would never agree to less
than victory, and that stubbornness for triumph has even defeated
enemies I did not know I had.”

“You have had vast success,” said I, judgmatically, “when one remembers
the blindness of your prejudices, and how you will help this one or hurt
that one for a no better reason than love or hate. There is your defect;
I have often wished that to your honesty and ardor you added the just
fairness of Jefferson.”

“Jefferson!” This with a snort: “I am a fairer--a more just man than was
Jefferson! He was just to his enemies and unjust to his friends. Now, I
am strong enough to do justice by a friend. It hurts no man with me that
he has been the friend of Andrew Jackson.”

“But you can not do justice by a foe. You are all for a foe’s
destruction.”

“I am all for a foe’s defeat. And defeat of a foe is justice to a foe.
‘Woe to the vanquished!’ said Brennus, and the barbarian was right.
Being in the field, your business is to conquer.”

“You talk like a philosopher,” said I, “but you never feel like one.
Here: I will show you your prejudice in the face! Give me now your
estimate of Clay--of Webster--of Hayne--of Calhoun--of Randolph!”

“You think my portraits will be red and black and flame-color.” The
General spoke cunningly. I saw how he had gone sentry over his feeling,
and now I looked for a mild story of those whom I had named. “Webster,
mentally, is strong,” said he, “and willing, like a horse. But, like a
horse, he can not harness himself to a load. There should be those about
to hook the traces and in a measure guide him for his haulings. Compared
with Hayne, whose mentality is slim and graceful as is an elm, Webster
is the oak. He is bigger and stronger without being so beautiful.
Besides, Hayne is indolent, and would sooner drift all day than pull an
oar an hour. That is the reason why Calhoun, who has currents, sweeps
Hayne along for Nullification. Calhoun is simply a good man gone wrong;
and, for that he was bred narrowly and as an aristocrat, he loses time
over his dignity. Also, he does not keep in touch with the detail of his
destinies, but leaves too much to underlings. Thus he is put into the
position of him who attacks a woman--an act without defence, and one
most perilous; and, being in, Calhoun lacks that force needed for his
extrication. Randolph is built like a spear, with his anger the head and
his intelligence to be the shaft of it. He has no morality of thought,
and his one virtue is his contempt for Clay. Randolph was born to be
beaten, since he was born to make a science of hatred and become a
specialist of reprisal. Clay is altogether another story. The man is
mean beyond expression. He would be perilous, but he wants in courage.
He has appetites but no principles; he can attain to a conclusion but
not to a conviction. He owns no depth of mind; he is brilliant in a
sheeny, shimmery way, and, being of no integrity, is no more to be laid
hold on, mind you! and held to anything, than so much water.”

“And would you say,” cried I, “that Clay has no convictions?”

“No more than has a mirror! Sir, the man will acquiesce, and show you
whatever is set before him like a looking-glass. There is his conviction
for you! It is each time some other man’s conviction and wholly outside
of Clay. Remove it from before him; look then into your burnished
statesman, and where is his conviction? Why, sir, when Clay sold himself
to Adams, did it not prove what I say?”

The General reeled off these views with, for him, a mighty conservatism
that was a surprise to me; for knowing his headlong, not to say
trenchant, sort, I looked to have him go about his carvings of the
portraits of ones inimical to him with a knife. He would have obliged me,
too; but he observed my thought, and turned cautious to disappoint me.
I must concede, he weighed up these gentry fairly well--he squarely
hit them off or I’m the more mistaken. He was too lenient with Calhoun;
Calhoun might have called off those slanders against Peg which found
voice for his advancement; when he failed of that he became their
sponsor.

When I went again to my own lair of labor, I found Noah waiting. I had
grown to delight in our cool gentleman of the red hair, the jet eyes,
and the sharp Spanish swords.

“And now,” said I, and greeting my visitor, “how runs the world away?”

“There are things talked about our taverns,” said Noah, “and the
corridors of Congress, whereof it might be proper the President should
hear. The more, since the conversations have him for their motive.”

“Let us journey down the hall and tell him,” said I.

“No,” returned Noah; “you may enlighten him later, since there comes no
call for hurry. I dislike to dodge in and out or play hide and seek
with a president; it is not seemly. And the fact that our friend would
tolerate, and might even encourage the familiarity on my personal part,
offer best reasons why I should avoid it.”

“You make yourself too modest,” said I.

None the less I was touched to admiration with this decent sense of the
proprieties on Noah’s part. It stood a pity it found imitation by so
few.

“What is it to be, then?” I asked.

“You need not be told,” said Noah, “how the President’s note to the
Vice-President, added to Rhetz’s report of the White House views
on Nullification, Secession, and kindred hangman topics, has made
a flutter. Your Palmetto folk who plot for Nullification fear the
President. Being so far right, they then step aside for error; they fall
to fond imaginings that, for all his violence of phrase to Rhetz, the
President, in return, fears them. They believe, were he to count their
power, he would not dare them to any last-ditch opposition. Then, too,
the leaders are not wholly satisfied with the Rhetz returns. Thus
a situation is framed where some stronger light on the President’s
intentions, together with the true news of those lengths to which he
stands ready to go, and whether an ultimate resort would call for
rifles and then the gallows, is deeply to be desired. And these tavern
conversations and talks of the corridors have for their object the
President’s development along the lines exhibited.”

“And this is highly the natural thing,” said I. “Have our anxious ones
invented any trap wherewith to catch that word they seek?”

“They will search for it in this wise,” said Noah; “thus canters the
plan: They look to a day far ahead, but it will be with them in
time. They have settled on Jefferson’s birthday to make a test of the
President and discover what he would do should South Carolina,
with Calhoun, abrogate a tariff and defy government in the port of
Charleston. The occasion will be in honor of the Man of Monticello.
Jefferson’s memory and its graceful illustration will serve as the
cause, ostensible, of that banquet; really, the affair is to be twisted
for Nullification. There will come a score of toasts; and each to exalt
the state at the cost of the nation, and argue treason holy. The
speeches will follow of a piece with the toasts. Calhoun and his cohorts
will crowd the tables; applause will be extant for every sentiment of
disunion; in short, they devise a States Rights gathering where
Nullification and the rebellious spawn of it shall gain a broad
endorsement.”

“And where does the General come into their machinations?”

“The President will be invited to attend. Should he come, he will be
given the Chair’s right hand. The Calhoun folk will read his face while
their toasts of treason are flaunted. They will ask him for a sentiment.
They believe that his courses to come, as he designs them, can not fail
to find disclosure. They hope to gain the measure of his apprehensions.
When they once have the pattern of the President’s hopes and fears, and
learn his timid limits, they think those boundaries of safety beyond
which Nullification must not push will be determined.”

“Now, if these schemers,” I cried, “own no capital save the General’s
timidity, they are indeed in bankrupt case.”

“They build on sand,” said Noah. “But that fact of sand is precisely
what they do not know. However, the President may teach then? with what
light he sees fit. Should he decide to prolong their night of doubt, he
has but to stay away.”

“And how would our black gentry construe his absence?”

“Assuredly they would incline to believe he was afraid.”

“Why, then,” cried I, “it might be difficult to say that the General
will or will not attend a gathering of treason scheduled more than three
months away. There is this to be recalled, however; the General has done
few things because he was afraid.”

“But it is well,” returned Noah, “to have the President aware of what
is in store. He will own the larger space for preparation. The gathering
will continue a sort of secret for six weeks to come; nor is the traitor
color thereof to be shown until a glass-and-bottle stage. When courage
is high and caution fled, rebellion will be unpacked. You observe how
surprise is arranged for. There will be hawks’ eyes to catch the trend
of presidential thought concerning it. There lies open the whole plot
for you.”

“And many thanks,” said I. “Your warning, as you remark, has the mighty
merit of being early. Rest secure the General will profit by it; he may
even contrive some counter reason for amazement that shall become to our
folk of Secession the very mother of dismay.”

When, now, Noah was about to go, he came back from the door with a new
thought.

“This on Rivera’s word,” said he. “The boy, however, is to be trusted
when he tells merely what he sees and hears, and is not asked to
think. There would seem to be a rough Maryland brood to hang about the
tap-rooms--as many as ten, all told. They belong, so to say it, with
that Catron whom we think of now and then for the pleasure he gave us at
Gadsby’s. Catron, somewhat the worse of his sword-arm, is also in town.
These ruffians use your name and mine, and never in a way of praise.
Should you go about the roads of nights, carry an ear for ones to come
up behind. Also, walk warily where corners are dark.”

“And you?” said I, laughing at the comic twist with which Noah
ornamented his counsel; “and you? Have you gone upon precautions?”

“No more than you see,” said Noah, bringing to light a knife of peculiar
make. “I have no great burden of respect for just one man, however
urgent his irritation or its reason. But a horde, and the members to be
of midnight, hangdog sort, arouses the latent prudence of my race, and I
comfort my nervousness with toys like this.” Here the queer knife made a
flourish.

I took the weapon from his hand. It was one of those new knives called
a bowie, and the first in my fingers. There was a buckhorn haft, and the
9-inch blade showed thick at the back with plenty of steel. This gave it
weight, and it balanced in one’s hand like a hatchet, and all sanguine
and hopeful to the feel.

“It is a Maryland conception,” said Noah, “and therefore a most fitting
rebuke to what thugs shall come out of that commonwealth on a mission
for one’s disaster.” Then, reclaiming the bowie: “The courage of a race
appears in the length of its weapons. The shorter the weapon the hardier
the strain Now, whoever devised that knife had a Norse heart in him;
his instinct was to go close in to his enemy, and comeback covered with
blood.”

“And do you believe,” said I, “those fellows of whom Rivera tells were
brought here by that Catron to work a revenge for him?”

“They are here by favor of his money, truly,” responded Noah, “as Rivera
overheard them say. And for that revenge you speak of, it will be long
ere Catron works one for himself in person, since his arm has turned
dead in deference to my rapier. He could not so much as point a pistol
with it.”

These words of Catron and his ruffians did not dwell with me seriously;
they were the sooner thrust out of mind because the General, not
a moment behind Noah’s going, came into my room. On hearing of the
latter’s visit, he was active at first to call him back. But on another
thought, he gave that up; full of a new notion of concern to Peg, he
would have my view of it.

“Now I have a decided humor,” observed the General, throwing himself
into Peg’s chair--which was consistent enough since he came upon Peg’s
good--“I have grown to a decided humor that Peg shall rout these carpet
Red-sticks who would conspire for her defeat. The more, perhaps,
since the chief--if that be fit title for a lady--is wife of our
Vice-President, and moving, as she sees it, for his interest of politics
against me. Peg must and shall triumph; to lose--aside from what we
might personally feel--would spell nothing short of her destruction. And
a war, mark you, which combed a country of its last of life, would mean
no more for any individual.”

“Why then,” I said, “you can not be more deeply set on Peg’s success
than I.”

“Of a truth, no!” retorted the General, with his shrewd grin; “do not
imagine I had a doubt of it. But here is what I have been turning in
my head for a question. The White House, socially, they tell me, is of
immense consequence. Now, I have decided to endow Peg with this coign
of vantage to be an aid for her plans. For myself, I shall follow Peg’s
flag; I shall implicitly take her commands. She shall hold the White
House for her reserve; or have it on either wing; or she may head a
charge with it.”

“And do you think to surprise me with this?” I returned. “I knew how you
would thus conduct yourself from the beginning.”

“I am glad to have been so flattered in your thoughts,” said the
General, dryly. “I may take it you forestalled my action by considering
what should be your own. However, now that we are come by these sage
decisions to put Peg in control of us, I hold it excellent to have
her over and learn her views. Perchance, after all, she may mislike
us--these, her volunteers--and give us our dismissals.”

“Shall I send word for her?” I asked. Mighty ready was I for any reason
that should bring Peg walking our way.

“It is what I would propose,” said he. “The sooner Peg knows of these,
her troops, the sooner she can sketch her line of battle. Send your Jim;
he has doubtless learned the way to Peg’s on those rose errands.”

The General’s humor would court a risk of being overtaxed with a too
much concern for those roses to Peg. Some day I might ask him to observe
as much, and to seek newer reason for his jesting. There is such a
word as threadbare, but in conjunction with my floral sendings to
Peg, which--and properly--still went on, and his endless references
thereunto, the General would appear to live in ignorance of it. However,
I did not proceed for his enlightenment at this time, but put it off to
a more sour leisure and a cloudier day.

Jim was sitting near a hall window, ruefully considering the snow
through the pane. Jim’s tropic blood would shrink from winter, and, as
though in sympathy with what were probably his feelings, he crooned in a
most dismal vein:

               “Rain come wet me, sun come dry me,

               Take keer, white man, don’t come nigh

                        me.”

“Is that another of those inspirations of Polly Hines of the ‘Possum
Trot?” I asked.

“Why, no, Marse Major,” said Jim, “It’s a good ol’ Cumberland ditty jes’
d’same. Jim sings ‘em when he’s thinkin’ of d’folks in Tennessee. It
sort o’ he’ps Jim to see ‘em. Thar’s times when, if Jim sings long
enough, d’folks back thar nacherally seems to rise right up befo’ Jim.”

“Those are surely advantages,” said I, “and if I thought it might bring
me such fortune, I would strike up a tune for myself. Since you appear
to be in touch with them, tell me what is going on among our people at
home.”

Jim, with his own color and on a capital made up of a dried snake’s
head, the smoke-cured cud of a cow, and the several feet of a
rabbit--“a graveyard rabbit, cotched in d’dark of d’moon,” was Jim’s
description--set up, you should understand, for a seer. In a compliant
spirit of fun, I was wont to countenance Jim in these weird assumptions.

“Tell me what they do in Tennessee,” I repeated.

“Jim’s afeerd to try, Marse Major,” said Jim, shaking his head as one
who distrusts his powers. “You-all can see yourse’f, that camped yere as
we-all be, millions an’ millions of miles away, tellin’ what goes on
in Tennessee aint easy. Under d’most fav’ble conditions, it’s what Jim
would call a long shot an’ a limb in d’way. An’ you hyar Jim! thar aint
been no fav’ble conditions cirklin’ round him since ever you turns d’key
on that demijohn. Jim aint got over thinkin’ you-all acts plumb hasty
about that demijohn, Marse Major.”

“Well, perhaps I did,” said I, “and so far as a dollar will go”--here I
tossed Jim a Mexican--“towards repairing the injury, I am ready to make
amends. Meanwhile you are to take this note where you take the flowers.”

Jim’s confidence in Peg had long ago been established, and he was
no more ploughed of those fears which arose to furrow him during our
earlier days at the Indian Queen. He promptly took my note--one which
employed the General’s name--and with it the Mexican coin, and went
about his errand.

“It’s monstrous remark’ble, Marse Major,” said Jim, as he pocketed the
silver, “how money does ‘liven an’ limber a man up. Now that dollar
shore makes Jim feel as spry as a gray squirrel; it mos’ certainly do!”

I was not without my alarms for Peg’s coming; but when she tripped in
upon the General and myself, it was as balm to my bruised nature to
feel on her part some quick leniency towards me, and a certain tacit
sweetness--somewhat sorrowful, but none the less good--to which I had
been alien since the day I laid those witless strictures upon Eaton for
that he was conceived without a soul. This gentle attitude of Peg’s came
upon me like summer weather, touching everything with sunshine, and the
hour took on a sudden pleasant value. Peg could not fail to see the
change; and even the General would be aware of that improvement.

“Now you must have brought June in your apron,” said the General,
playing with Peg. “In any event, you have thawed our frigid friend
here. He has been frozen for days, and now you see his face glows like
harvest-home.”

“If that be true,” laughed Peg--quite her old beautiful laugh, too,
and not a laugh contrived solely for the General, but with a share for
me--“if that be true, I must show more pains to come often, and not make
my stay so short as has been my wont. I did not know that I was such a
blessing.”

The General would make Peg have her old chair by my desk, which showed
me--and I wondered over it not a little--how he was observant beyond
what I had supposed, to be thus sharp on that small point of where
Peg would sit when in confab with me. When Peg was throned in her old
place--and, to my eyes, she filled the room with a kind of glory--the
General drew up his own chair so as to put us three to be the corners of
a triangle.

“We have brought you here,” quoth the General, giving his face a droll
expression by which one might tell him to be in a frame of amiable
lightness, “we have brought you here, the good, thawed Major and I, to
make a despot of you. We draw towards New Year’s Day, when our society
Redsticks will start upon the warpath. We desire to put ourselves and
our White House, and all we have besides, in your hands. You have but
to publish your orders, and lo! we carry them out. Being now set to
rule over us, the Major--and I perceive with joy he is quite warmed
through--would crave your commands for him. As for myself, you have had
only to lift your finger to dispose of half my kingdom since ever that
day when I lay dying and you revived me with the name of Calhoun.”

When he said this, the General beamed on Peg in his tolerant, paternal
fashion, while for my side I sat silent, yet the happiest one of all,
since I was growing sure and more sure with every moment how my Peg of
the old days had of a truth come back. I would not stop to query how or
why; it was enough to have it so, and the music that went singing in
my heart with this white surprise of joy was near to betraying me into
humming a tune--a burst of harmony, had I been weakly guilty of it,
which the General would have made the material of his mirth for so long
a term it would weary him who sought to measure it.

“And I am to order you and your White House up and down in my campaign?”
 cried Peg, sparkling forth.

“Have I not told you how you are to be a despot?”

“And I may have a dinner, a reception, or a dance, or what I will--the
carpets up in the East Room, if I choose?”

“Your word shall be as Aladdin magic among us, your very hint a law.”

“Well, then,” cried Peg, whose smile was a bright comrade for the
General’s, “well, then, now that I am clothed of this high estate, I
must not begin by being rash. Let me consider!” And with that Peg put
her little hand to her brow with such another air of jaunty profundity I
would have clinked down a fortune to have had her on canvas just as she
sat--Peg, in the great chair that but an hour gone was mocking me as
my most hateful enemy, and which now would be the friendliest thing in
life.



CHAPTER XII--HOW PEG WOULD WEAR THE CORAL.

This is how I shall do,” said Peg at last, and after the General and I
had waited upon her small profundity for some space; “this shall be my
plan. We will have the White House for a reserve, then. The day for our
cabinet folk to receive their friends will be Tuesday--the procession
begins with the first Tuesday to follow New Year’s Day. Our good little
Secretary of State has suggested, inasmuch as I am to preside for him,
that his house and mine be open only on alternate cabinet days. In
short, we will receive together. On one Tuesday he will be at my house;
on the next, when my house is closed, I will take stand in his drawing
room and receive our guests for him. You know, too, how I am to be the
head for what functions occur at the British and Russian legations and
act as Lady of the Mansion for our friends, the Viscount Vaughn and
Baron Krudener. Thus I begin with a double reception in my house for the
good little secretary and myself; then at Krudener’s; then at the good
little secretary’s; and then with the English. After that, we commence
again at my own home.”

“And when do you march my White House upon this desperate field?”
 demanded the General, with much gaiety of mien. Peg’s vivacious recount
of how she should move her social troops delighted him no little. “In
what manner will I be made of use?”

“Why, then,” said Peg, “after the reception at the English house if you
will, you may give me a dinner, with a dance in the big East Room?”
 This was spoken in manner dubious and with the lifting inflection of a
request. “Also, though it be much to ask, I could wish mightily for
you to come in person to my reception. It would be a most convincing
initial.”

“And you doubt my coming?” asked the General, beamingly.

“It would be most unusual for a president,” said Peg, shaking warning
head. “The gossips would scarce survive the shock of it.”

“My life,” observed the General, in a most satisfied way, “has been made
up of shocks to other folk.”

“But you must consider,” urged Peg, “how your appearance in any one’s
house would be held a letting down of your dignity. Indeed, in austere
quarters, where the regular is as a god, it would be regarded for a no
slight rent in your robes.”

“And yet, child, I shall come.” This the General offered in a manner
indescribably good. “I have been no man of precedent in my time; I care
little for what was, but much for what is presently right. I shall come
to your reception; more, I’ll stay until you give me leave to go. If to
be in the house of my friend, or to show him courtesy who has shown
me only favor and good service--if that be to establish a rent in my
presidency, I’ll even promise to have it a thing of rags and patches
before ever I am done.”

“Then you will come!” exclaimed Peg. “Now shall we go bravely through!
For, you are to know, so much of social concession or countenance is
born of nothing save fear of loss or hope of place, that the herd will
collect, bowing and smiling and shining like the sun, wherever you are
known to be.”

“These be, truly, most satisfying maps you draw,” remarked the General,
quizzically, “and yet I do not see how we are to tell when victory is
ours. Now, in war the enemy surrenders or runs away.”

“In the _salons_,” said Peg, laughing at the General’s quaint twists,
“triumph turns to the mere question of numbers added to quality.
It is a matter of ‘Who?’ and ‘How many?--a count of carriages to your
gate. But the query of quality is uppermost. Now, your presence at my
house will outweigh the world, should it be so foolish as to gather
itself together against us in the camps of the foe.”

“Then you are indeed very safe,” said the General, “since I shall be
with you as I’ve said. Also, you are to have your dinner and that East
Room ball to follow, on what day you lay the finger of your pretty
preference. Even though I lacked the reason of my affection, I still
could do no less for so beautiful an enemy of Calhoun. But you spoke
of Van Buren. How did our round little friend go about his proposals
of those joint receptions? I have a curiosity as to that argument which
should lead him to this kindly wisdom; for, let me remind you, it is a
stratagem worthy of a Caesar, and one, besides, to smell most humanly
of what is honest and staunch, this phrasing of a situation where your
ill-wishers must become his ill-wishers and his friends take on terms of
friendship for you. How did Van Buren go upon that proposition, child?”

“In the oddest way, then,” smiled Peg. “He said that because we were
both of tavern origin, with sires to keep houses of call, and since
there might come proud folk to frown upon us for that, it were a wisest
thing, and one to make for the ease of them and us, to hold ever our
receptions in common. Folk then might come, or stay away, and all with
a prodigious saving of effort, whether of compliment or insult, to every
one concerned. But, of course,” said Peg, at the close, her eye a bit
wet, “it was only his goodness to do this.”

“Now, I believe nothing of that sort,” declared the General, stoutly.
“Child, I do not know by what paths you descend to this modest esteem
of yourself, but it in nowise shakes the fact that, with the last of it,
you grace and illustrate and honor the best room you enter or the best
arm to lean on in the land.”

Thus spoke the gallant General from his heart; and to me it was like
milk and honey to only hear him. In the finish he turned his eyes my
way.

“And where be your words in this council?” demanded the General. “Have
you lost the will to speak?”

Now, I had kept myself mighty quiet since Peg was come back to her
throne. For one thing, the simple sight of her, and she friendly,
was enough to overflow my cup of happiness; moreover, I owned to some
lurking fear of Peg, and imagined how I had but to open my mouth to set
her anger again on edge. At any rate, no stone could have said less than
did I while Peg and the General held this long parley of the drawing
rooms. When now, however, the General aimed at me direct, I was bound to
make return.

“Have you no advice for us, then?” repeated the General. “It is not
usual for you to so neglect my welfare. Here you permit me to talk ten
minutes without once telling me fully and wholly just what I should do.”
 All this in tones of jesting: “Now you would seem willing that I, and
our little girl, too, should go unguided to destruction rather than
unstrap your wisdom in our cause. Sir, do you call that the truth of a
friend?”

“Perhaps I have no good eyes for these trails,” said I. “Your reception
perils and how to foil them are things I have not studied. I would but
lose you your course were I to lead you.”

“Mighty diffident,” quoth the General, “and most suddenly abject! And
no good eyes, say you? Why, then, you could see a church by daylight, I
take it! At the least, you might cheer folk on who propose such deeds of
carpet daring as do our little Peg and I.”

With what further raillery the General might have entertained himself I
came not to know, for word was brought to him, at this nick, of ones who
awaited his coming in the cabinet room. As he went away he called back
to Peg, where she still abode in her leathern chair:

“Then it is settled and made. I shall be at your reception, to the
grinding shock of gossips and the disorder of my presidential robes;
also, you are to dine and dance in the White House whenever you sweetly
will.”

“Where should have lodged more kindness for me than I now find here?”
 cried Peg, when the General was quite gone forth of the room. Then
raising her warm eyes to mine where I sat wondering, now cold, now hot,
would she go, or would she stay to talk with me, she gazed upon me with
a steady, friendly look, which, for all it lacked of distance or any
spirit of resentment, yet bred within me a feeling of confusion. I knew
not how to meet it, and I could find no word to say. “And now,” said
Peg, after a pause, but very kindly, “let us have a fair moment of
friendship. No,” she went on, stopping me with her hand as I was
beginning to stumble forward upon an apology for my ill words against
Eaton, “no; let me talk. You have no genius of explanation; you would
speak only to worsen things. Besides, you dwell in the same darkness now
you ever did.”

“And it was to say that,” I interjected, for I was bound to some remark,
“I started to speak. It was to tell you how I had no close knowledge of
your husband and owned no right of information to criticise him.”

“Watch-dog!” cried Peg, motioning with little hands for silence,
“watch-dog, will you have done?”

There was something of pain and reproach in this to stop me as though I
had been planet-struck. Nor could I determine Peg’s feeling, nor catch
the color of it in a least of shade. For the most, I felt amazement, and
was set back by the plain agitation of her, an agitation greater than
was to have been looked for in one who came solely to pardon me those
trespasses against good decent taste.

Peg called herself together with a shake of the head that had for one
piquant effect the whipping of her shock of curls about her face, and
leaving them a tangle to fall forward on her shoulders.

“Hear me,” went on Peg, brightening, and peering out on me in an arch
way through her curls; “you are guilty of no wrong save the wrong of
incredible dullness. Therefore you are to offer no defence. Even your
dullness should have been a virtue in my eyes, since it spoke only of
your honor, and told of the lofty place I hold in your regard.” Now I
could see how Peg was at least accepting all I had said, and not one
part only, and would give me credit for a compliment to herself, while
she refused my strictures upon Eaton. “Observe, then; I have resolved we
two shall be good friends. Better friends than before, because better
to understand one another. And our trouble was my fault, too, not yours.
Nor had I one right foot to go upon.”

“Now, that is the maddest charity of error!” cried I.

“It is not, I say,” returned Peg, her eyes beginning to shine with the
first flavor of my opposition. “I say it is not. You had done nothing,
said nothing; while I--why, then I hated you for having eyes of lead.
But we will amend that.” Here Peg turned pleasantly brisk. “We have been
too much abroad with mistakes. We have made you too old and me too young
in our dealings. There shall be a change, and you and I hereafter are to
consider ourselves as folk of even years, each with the other. It is but
right, watchdog, for though you have no learning on that point, it is
none the less true that a woman of twenty-two is very old and very
wise, while a man of forty-four is for his youth and guilelessness, or I
should have said dullness, a creature insupportable. Yes, watch-dog,
for your ignorance you are insupportable; but I forgive you, since it
is your only defect.” And here Peg recovered her old gay smile, and with
that my heart came home again to peace.

“Well,” I said, when Peg would let me be heard, “I make no secret that
I am over happy with this new prospect of your friendship. It was night
while I thought you would not forgive me my offence.”

“Say no more of it,” cried Peg, sharply, putting her fingers in her
ears. At the same time I caught the milky shine of her leopard teeth.
“Say no more, or I shall go back to my anger as a refuge. Speak of
something else! Why did you turn my chair out of door?--my poor chair
that had done no harm!” Peg caressed the arms of it with her palms as
though it were alive and could know and feel her petting. “You did it
because you hated me.”

“No, forsooth!” I protested. “Now if I had only hated you it might have
stayed till the fall of doom. But I could not bear the leering, mocking
look of it, and me deserted; it would seem ever to brew for me a cup of
loneliness. And so for that I thrust it from the room.”

“Why, then! and that was it!” cried Peg. “There you see, now, I can be a
fool as well as you.”

“But why did you avoid me?” I asked, in my turn. “Surely, even for my
dull clumsiness, there was need of no such hard reproof. Come, now, why
did you stay away? And why did you run from me when I went across to the
square that day to beg a word from you?”

“Because I hated you,” returned Peg, with a self-satisfied air. “I hate
you now, watchdog, when I pause and think. You had made me suffer, and
I thought to see you suffer in return. And really, watch-dog, you did
suffer; and it pleased me much.”

“I had not thought you were made with such a palate for revenge,”
 said I, a bit stricken with these words of cruelty. “And yet, if it so
pleasure you to give me pain, why then, go on.”

“Don’t, watch-dog, don’t,” returned Peg, in a voice whimsically between
crying and laughing. “Only a little more of that and you shall have
my tears. But can’t you see how your suffering was a most tender
compliment? I declare to you that when I would go by your door, the look
of grief to weigh upon your brow was better to me than a smile. The mere
memory of it would keep my heart warm throughout a winter’s day.”

“It must indeed be a topsy-turvy nature,” said I, “that finds its
pleasure in the woe of friends.”

“No recriminations, watch-dog,” retorted Petif, in a high vein. “If your
dullness have no limits, at the least my patience has. Now where did you
go when I avoided you in the square, and you were too much the coward to
lift the knocker of my door? Fie! such another fawn-heart does not roam
existence! Where did you go, I say?”

“Well, I would give that vine of yours a tree to clamber on and lift it
off the ground.”

“And did you,” demanded Peg, eagerly. “The gods ruled otherwise,” I
returned. “There was no tree to be near or possible for your vine;
it must live and die on the ground.” Peg sat quite still and never a
response. As I looked on her, somewhat with wonder, I concede, two great
drops welled from her eyes and fell down upon her hands.

“Now I would like to hear,” said Peg at last, her voice in a twitter of
pain, “does ever one get what one prays for in this world of ours? Would
there be such a word as contentment, now? However, I am glad, watchdog,
your good heart took you to my vine. But let it go; let it all go! Let
us be friends; and if the day can’t be for us all sunshine, let us own
as few clouds as we may. Now, we will forget the past, and start our
friendship out anew. We will bring nothing to remind us of days when I
was young and cunning and you were old and dull.”

At this, I involuntarily looked for the mark of Peg’s leopard tooth,
where, round and white, it stared up at me from my hand.

“Ah, yes!” said Peg, softly, “I had forgotten. There is that sign
between us that shall last through time. No, we can never forget.” Then,
after musing a moment: “But we may change the subject and say the worst
of it. You heard me lay out my reception purposes. What do you think of
my plans?”

“Tell me first one thing,” said I. “When it was so much pleasure to
behold me in grief for your absence, why, then, did you come back?” That
speech of Peg’s was like a dagger in my heart, and I would have her draw
it out with some kindness of explanation. “Why did you come back, then?”

“The mere sorrow of it brought me back, watch-dog,” said Peg, and her
words were music in my ear. “It came finally to where I would sooner
suffer than have you suffer. That is the woman nature of me. The sheer
truth is, I’ve been on my way back to you for days. When I followed you
in the square, it was with a full purpose of taking your arm and walking
with you as in the old time.”

“And why didn’t you?”

“Just as I would have done so, I was caught up in a little swirl of
hatred which carried me away from your side. It didn’t last the moment,
but by the time it was gone the chance had taken flight. There is one
thing I should tell you, however; at such a time you must not palter
with a woman.” Peg’s tones were uplifted to the pitch severe. “Do you
know what you should have done that day? You should have seized me by
the shoulder as you did that spy who dogged us; you should have stopped
me flush and full. Without excuse or explanation or pretense of remorse
for what had been, you should have made me take your arm. You might have
found, had you so willed it, that for all my high head I would follow
you like a dog.”

“Take you by the shoulder!” cried I, somewhat aroused to a spirit of
terror. “And that would have been polite, indeed, and the act of a true
gentleman! I can see myself seizing you by the shoulder!”

“For all that,” contended Peg, with much candor, “that is what you
should have done. Remember: in treating with a woman, while one _should_
be a gentleman--your word--one _must_ be a man. There is this, too,
about a woman with the man she would love. She likes warfare but she
does not want to win; victory would only embarass your woman. Her
instinct is rather for protection than to protect, and to find him on
whom she leans weaker than herself might alarm her love into flight. And
as for that politeness you tell of, it is an artifice, like a dress or a
house, and good only within a limit. There be occasions when politeness
to a man is a fair thing thrown away; also, there be occasions when
politeness to a woman is nothing better than a waste of justice.
Watch-dog, you should have pocketed the ‘gentleman’ for use on a languid
day; you should have been all ‘man.’ You should have seized me by the
shoulder; you should have made me go or stay, or talk or stand mute, as
you willed. It was for that”--and Peg gave me this gravely, like some
confidant Pythoness sure of her Apollo-inspired word--“it was for that,
watch-dog, you were made the stronger of us two.”

Now here was a pretty word of caution! It was as the General once said:
one had only to listen, and lo! one would hear ever the savage stirring
about in Peg.

“There is one thing whereof I was cheated,” said I, after a brief
silence, and seeking to give our talk a slighter, if not a direction of
more reason. “You were to give me lessons in yourself. I looked forward
to no little improvement from such good teaching, and when I was made to
go missing it I could feel a plain loss to myself.”

“And perhaps now,” observed Peg, with her half-merry glance, “I was
giving you a lesson in Peg for every moment of that frowning time.”
 Then, as if in reply to my look of bewilderment: “No, watch-dog I went
too fast in those threats to expound myself. You are in no sort prepared
for so tremendous a course of study.”

“Wherein do I lack now?”

“Why, you flounder in abyssmal ignorance of yourself. To study another
with a hope of light, one should first own some liberal knowledge of
one’s self. To have gone about to teach you that difficult lesson of
Peg, you, who are as unaware of yourself as any bush or tree or tuft of
grass, would have been as truly wise, and a task well worth one’s while,
as would be a discussion of Moore with that savage of the woods who has
yet to hear of the alphabet. However, we will rest content with you as
you are, oh, watch-dog! oh, slave of Peg, wearing her mark! The more,
for that your splendid ignorance of both yourself and me has to be its
characteristic, a white, high beauty like unto some snow-capped
peak--safe, too, since inaccessible. And now, because I have stayed
long; and because we are good friends again; and because we will
infallibly quarrel should I remain, I think, watch-dog, I shall go
home.”

And so Peg went away, singing a little song which was no song but like
the whistle of some thrush, leaving me in a calm of peace; nor did I
fail to remember how Peg’s tune, when she departed, was the earliest
music upon her lips since ever she would be in anger with me for those
ill opinions against Eaton.

There was no long time given me to think on Peg and her whims of temper,
black and white, for Noah was with me briskly on the tail of her going
away. Noah brought with him that Blair who had come in deference to
my note, to be the rival of Duff Green and organize the _Globe_ as a
death-stab to Duff’s _Telegraph_. I had met Blair before, and liked him;
most of all was he a favorite of the General, for his pen was fed of
fire and the heart of his friendship was like the loyal heart of a dog.
In person, Blair was a slender, sickly man, but with a great head on his
shoulders, and strange feverish eyes that shone like jewels. He was
not unlike the General; only the latter stood vastly taller, and, while
Blair was as some fire to blaze and sparkle and burn, the General would
be more that hurricane of wind, bridled of no man, sweeping flat as a
field of turnips everything to stand in the way.

“Here is a delicate question,” said Noah, with his grin of the cynic.
“The department folk will give our friend, Blair, no public printing;
it goes all to Duff. That should be stopped, since your public
advertising--I speak from my place as an editor--is for your newspaper
as the breath in its body.”

“And what would you propose by way of cure for that felon perversity of
our folk of the departments who will still send printing to the recreant
Duff?” This I put laughingly, to be abreast of the lightness of Noah.

“Surely,” said Blair, speaking with a kind of eagerness natural to him,
and which ran red-hot throughout all he did; “surely, the president
must make no personal interference. Were he to order printing out of
one paper and into another, the opposite side would use it for a club
against him to the last day of his career.”

“But there is a way,” said Noah. “We may have advantage of the mean
fears of our folk of place who are ever prompt to read a threat against
themselves. Such egotists do they grow to be that, following a decade of
office holding, it may not so much as thunder but your agitated desk-man
knows it at once for some plot of heaven’s hand to snatch him from his
pap.”

“How would you approach these fears with an appeal?” I asked.

“And there could be nothing easier,” quoth Noah, “while missing every
word that might look like an order from the White House. You have but
to issue a request, addressed to each who is in control of any least
of printing, to send to the president with every month a full report
of what advertisements he has dispensed and to what imprints. There you
have it in your claw; after such notice not one line will go to Duff,
but all to Blair. With the one stone you kill two birds; the _Telegraph_
is destroyed while the _Globe_ in its fortunes is made beyond a
chance.”

“Your mighty proper suggestion will be adopted,” said I. “The request
you speak of goes forth this very day.”

When Blair had departed the scene to look after the daily fortunes of
his paper, Noah and I, as was much and frequently our case, settled to
a mouthful of party gossip. We had not run far, however, when my Jim
appeared with a word from the General to meet him in his personal
workshop on some trivial concern.

“D’Marse Gen’ral trees Jim by d’winder,” said that worthy black man,
“an’ tells him to ask you-all, Marse Major, to come squanderin’ along
down to his room. He allows, d’Marse Gen’ral does, how he’s got letters
from home you might like to see.”

“And how is your ‘Marse Gen’ral’?” said Noah, for “the red-head Jew
gentleman,” as Jim ever referred to him, was fond of making Jim talk.
“How does your ‘Marse Gen’ral’ carry himself these winter days?”

“Mighty toler’ble an’ tranquil, thankee, sah!” replied Jim; “mighty
toler’ble an’ tranquil. Jim on’y wishes he himse’f was feelin’ half so
good. But Jim’s got a mis’ry in his back, an’ d’rheumatics in his
laigs an’ shoulders ontwell he can’t but jes’ make out to hobble ‘round.
Yassir; them rheumatics leaves Jim like a fly in a saucer of m’lasses;
he gets about plumb slow.”

Jim furnished a most doleful air to be the frame for this piece of news;
one might have thought him some flame-enveloped martyr.

“At any rate,” said Noah, in tones of greatest sympathy, “you are
fortunate, Jim, since now you are an invalid, in having such a kind,
forbearing master as your ‘Marse Major’ here.”

“D’Marse Major aint so mighty bad,” observed Jim, with the face of one
who considers deeply. “Course he has his spells. Thar’s times when he’s
sort o’ amiable, d’Marse Major is; an’ then Jim nacherally takes to him
like a honeysuckle to a front porch. Then thar’s other days when Jim
quits him an’ goes streakin’ it for d’tall grass. Them’s d’times when
d’Marse Major takes to t’arin’ about loose, an’ carryin’ all befo’ him
like a b’ar in a hawg-pen.”

Having disposed of the letter which had given the loquacious Jim that
delay required for these important disclosures, I put an end to them by
carrying Noah away to the General’s room. He would expostulate and hold
back; but I made him come with me on the plea of how the General had
asked to talk with him of that coming Nullification banquet to be held
at the Indian Queen.

“True, he has heard it from me,” said I, “but what then? You know how
folk are. He would hear it from you first-hand.”

While I was running over the General’s mails from Tennessee, that
eminent person and Noah waded forth into deep and animated converse.

“I am rather glad than otherwise,” said the General, lighting the while
the usual friendly pipe, “for that treason dinner our Calhoun clique
would plan. I shall go; should they ask it, I’ll even give them a toast.
I will light a torch for them; I would be the last to have it said I let
folk go blundering to a gibbet in the dark.”

“You recall,” remarked Noah, “how zealous were certain influences for
that Florida post, and how they would have it go to one Westfall?”

“The man Westfall,” retorted the General, “was an utter weakling. He
never would have done for such a place. The Florida governorship is of
consequence; its duties call for one of force. I have thought on a man
for it, but the time has not come. The present incumbent does fairly
well for an Adams selection.”

“That weakness of Westfall to which you refer,” said Noah, “was, I take
it, no slight merit in the minds of those who stood by the elbow of his
hope. It was a part of the Nullification scheme, the putting forward of
Westfall.”

“In what sort?” asked the General. “I know how Calhoun desired him, for
Duff Green told us so much when we were not a week in town.”

“Westfall’s success for the place would have linked to the
Vice-President the richest, strongest elements in Pennsylvania. Then
there is Florida itself--two-thirds Spanish and by no means in love with
the balance of this country. With a weak governor in St. Augustine, and
one who owed his crown to our Vice-President, what should be simpler, in
the event of secession in South Carolina, than to count on Floridian men
and money for the venture?”

“They will do as well without their Westfall,” commented the General.
“Mayhap they will do better, since had they succeeded for him, it
might hereafter have given their rashness inspiration, and turned them
gallows-ripe. One thing sure: let them once rebel against the law--let
them but rise in Calhoun’s state to the law’s defiance--and I will burn
them from the earth. They shall be destroyed root and stalk and standing
grass, with the reptiles that crawl between. Their leaders shall
swing for it so surely as my name is Jackson or there’s such a word as
‘President’ in the land.”

Here I come near to the first true social test to be put upon our Peg,
and that, you will know, was the reception which she would give as a
cabinet lady at her own home on the Georgetown side of the President’s
Square. And now, when I am driven by stress of this tale to furnish you
with a handful of hints or little twigs of description concerning the
business, I write as though with fetters on my wrists. It is because
I have no _salon_ learning, and was never taught your lessons of
chandeliers and wax-lights and orchestras and tables spread with
elegance and palms and flowers and folk brilliant on evening parade,
formidably engaged, each with a part like people in a play, in bringing
off one of those encounters where well dressed men and women meet to
crowd each other and call the trial a function. If it were to be a
battle or even some quiet-lying landscape with its stretch of river,
and a forest to fringe the banks, and mayhap a mountain chain with
its plushy dress of pines to the background, I might not come on so
haltingly. But this, as it were, is to lay a fence of stone--and that,
you are to witness, means a journey full of backaches--to be here piling
one word upon another for the story of a drawing-room three hours.

Van Buren was himself Peg’s partner for this reception--his own doors
closed, as Peg explains in rearward pages when she talks with the
General. It would be then, a double reception, and both the State and
the War Departments to stand thereof the social sponsors.

Word had crept abroad how the General himself planned a place among the
callers, and at the grave tidings Duff Green, in his paper, was driven
to extremes of frantic ink over the proposed lowering of the presidency
to cabinet levels, which latter the disturbed Duff would seem to think
were common, even if they were not bad.

“The White House,” cried Duff, in his shocked columns, “should not be
taken down from that high place of elevation in which our late president
was pleased to leave it.”

“Truly, an excellent thought!” observed the General, “to set Adams
before me for a model! Why, man! from his purchase of the rogue Clay
down to the last measure to meet the flourish of his pen and be made
a law thereby, I call it patriotism to turn my back on every position
Adams occupied, and the very essence of right to undo all he did. Me to
follow Adams! I should as soon think of emulating Billy Weatherford and
his Creeks.”

“But why stand over me,” said I, “with all this arm tossing and
threatening declamation? It is your Duff Green and not I who would thus
drive you to an Adams example.”

“Well,” said the General, somewhat subdued by this thought, “you at
least are here and I must vent myself on some one.”

While both the General and I lived in a deal of fog concerning such
coils, neither of us was torn of doubt as to the certainty of Peg’s
triumph. Vaughn and Krudener, for the favor of Van Buren, would lead up
the legation folk as bell-sheep lead a flock; the military element was
bound to Peg’s chariot-wheel by merest war department bonds; withal, the
General’s presence alone would mean a multitude, and that of gaudiest
feather, for it asked no skill of society to know how that same impulse
of self-interest was ever at work to move it, as much as might be said
of any conspiracy of roughest politics. The General as the present
source of things temporal would be courted; and to that sycophantish
end your swarming brood of courtiers would be found tagging at his back
though he were to make a sulphurous pilgrimage and seek the pit itself.

There came one thing, however, to rub my fur against the grain; but this
was of the week prior to our Tuesday of Peg’s reception. It is the great
marvel how it will ever be the slight affair to ruffle one. I have
known a rascal to crack off his pistol at me for a no better reason than
strong drink; and yet beyond a busy interest to stun him and prevent
a return of his experiment, and so settle safety in my favor, my bosom
went as rippleless of wrath as any millpond. On the other side, the idle
whistle of some fellow, and him outside the house and of no knowledge
even of my being, has sent me off on storms of rage.

This it was to nag me into irritation. There arrived one day a mighty
casket of jewels for Peg--diamonds and rubies they were, and ones a
princess might have worn with honor. They were a gift from Eaton; for
that secretary was notably rich and owned the treasure-chests of an
emperor.

Peg said naught of these trinkets, whether to the General or to me, nor
did she show them. But since they came in from New York, employing for
their safety certain armed guardians of express, the thing could be
called no secret. Moreover, Eaton himself would probably be the last
to smother the story of these chains and bracelets and brooches and
coronets and flashing whatnot, since for what else did he buy them save
self-love and to deck Peg out as one decks out a horse on gala days.
That man never loved Peg; it was a mark of sentiment beyond him. He
had a pride of her as of a gem or a picture, and wore her beauty as one
wears a decoration.

But he no more knew Peg, no more loved Peg, than cud-cattle know and
love the stars above their stolid heads. Her praise would ring sweet
to his ear, yes; her loveliness and the bright glory of her eyes would
lighten his face. Also, the moon will light you and shine again on the
face of that chance-hollowed mud-hole which the rains have filled and
the swine enjoyed.

It is but truth to say that my resentment of these jewels to Peg gave
me a pause of uneasiness. It was not the little fact of their existence
which bayed me; it was not that I went pricked as though by nettles
because of these gewgaws; that was not it. But why should I be pricked
at all? Other folk would bring diamonds to their wives or sweethearts,
and you meet none who owned to less excitement or a colder interest
thereover than myself. Why, then, should these stir my pulse and set my
anger to a trot? It were indeed a thing most passing strange, and one
whereof I was bound to find the bottom if I called myself an honest man.

The question of my anger for Peg’s jewels hung about me like lead, I
tell you; for to myself I made free confession of that wrath and would
hide nothing of it from my conscience. I was stout to drag myself to the
bar, and to sit in trial over my own heart. Was it love of Peg to move
me? The General had told me how I had been swept away in love for her
from the first; but that was his jest and the bantering humor of him at
the time. Was I in love with Peg? And if not, then wherefore fly to
arms for that Eaton would hang the common gifts of man to wife about her
charms and strive for her delight? That was the question I held before
my soul’s eyes and shook it for an answer.

In a trice the riddle was replied to; the reasons of my anger unrolled
before me like a scroll. It was not that I loved Peg; it was my certain
sureness how Eaton himself was master of no such true sentiment, nor
one worthy of the word. As I have said, he but held her--being below a
better thought--to adorn his vanity; he would wrap her in his riches in
the vulgarity of a boast. Peg was as the feather to his hat, the
jewel to his hilt; he trapped her in brilliants just as he drunk from
cut-glass. And knowing Peg as I knew her, and with a deep appreciation
of her worth, was it miracle, or must my heart be charged of crime,
because my brow would flush to see her thus abased and set to nurse so
gross a self-esteem? Besides, it fell as a blow upon one’s better taste,
since to embellish Peg with such earthenware was indeed to paint a lily
and gild gold.

It was true, I so much resented these jewels, and they so bit my feeling
in advance, that I went at wits’ end to fish forth some excuse for being
absent from that reception and thus avoid their tawdry splendors. But
when I moved the matter, the General was set like iron that I should go.

Were it the General alone to cross my temper for this, I should have
run over him, no doubt, and had my way for it. But next stood Peg in the
path. I no more than breathed a half-suggestion of possible conditions
to arise and keep me from the house, when she glowed on me with a look
so gently pleading that, without waiting for her to speak, I straightway
told her I would come.

“And I am glad, watch-dog,” said Peg, simply. “I could give myself no
reason, save a reason that would burn like fire, why you should stay
away.”

It should be noted, perhaps, that the magical tale of those gems ran in
and out of the mouth of gossip for prior days, and I doubt not a purpose
to look on them--for the feminine eye is caught with glitter like a
blackbird, which hollow fowl will think of nothing for a week on end
save how to steal a bit of broken glass--brought as many to Peg’s
reception as did the presence of the General.

And here, being now upon the brink, I fairly ask you what should be the
use of setting forth how the carriages rolled to the gate; and how Peg
stood like some flower beneath the light of a chandelier--for these
receptions were in the evening--with her “good little secretary” by her
side, welcoming the throngs to press forward in her honor? The Calhouns
were not there; and, indeed, the folk from the Vice-President’s own state
would be obviously absent. The other cabinet folk--that Calhoun trio,
the ladies Branch and Berrien and Ingham--did not appear; but then they
were upon certain similar receptions of their own.. However, there came
scores to have their places. There were the lion Webster, the courtly
Vaughn, Krudenerwith red heels to his shoes, red waistcoat, and earrings
to his ears, Noah with his black, dangerous eyes, and a high-caste
multitude, besides, from Senate and House and Supreme Court and
Legations, and those two score other lofty lairs of your utter capital
fashion. There arose the never-ceasing gride of carriages as they came
and went incessantly upon the frozen gravel; there crawled the endless
file of hand-shaking folk, the grave and the gay, the young and the old,
the beautiful and the ugly, the good and the bad--this last since there
stood no process of elimination to separate the sheep from the goats
where all who would might come. And Peg went through it with a sweet,
grave grace; and even surly Envy submitted to the verdict of a vast
success and one to fix Peg’s standing beyond distrust, and mark itself,
besides, as the hopeless Waterloo of her every last ill-wisher.

The General, bright of eye and unbending as a bayonet, was there early
to remain late.

“I have enlisted for the campaign,” said he, “and I shall stay while I
hear of one foe to be in the field.”

Never had I known him to look better, and the old-time deference
wherewith he would be about Peg so that all might see his regard for her
was like a page from chivalry.

And now I must tell a tale on myself, and show how this was to twist
into a happy hour for me and I be harrassed by no sordid hatefulness of
those jewels. I had, for my shame be it told, gone to my place in the
line of calling folk with a reluctance that bound my breast like a rope.
I could scarce breathe for it. The file moved slowly, but I held my head
high, and, being a tall man, looked easily over Peg and did not once
rest my eyes upon her.

I would escape the canker of those barbarous rubies and diamonds.

It was the tones of a woman, who had Peg by her hand, to rivet my
interest.

“Why! where now be those diamonds I heard so much about?” The voice was
of the empty tin-pan kind that tells of society and mighty little else.
“Where be those diamonds? Or was the story false?”

Then I heard Peg in cold retort to our she-savage and her coarse greed
to look on diamonds.

“Why, I believe I have a few handsful somewhere about the house,” said
Peg. “If it be those you are come to see, I shall have pleasure in
directing you to my maid.”

Now when quite close I bent my slow eyes upon our little Peg. There she
stood, a lamp of beauty! and never the sign of your diamonds or rubies
about her--nothing of ornament save a rose my Jim had brought, and the
little coral of my mother’s which Peg took from the cabinet on that
summer day. As she offered me her hand, she lifted up her face to mine.
She gave me no word but the red blood showed in her cheek a match for my
coral. Then her eyes fell; and next, with a heart full to foolishness of
a joy that was like a mystery, I passed on to walk the air and join the
General.

“Our victory was measureless,” declared the General, in the stiff manner
of him who makes report, when late that night he and I were about our
inevitable pipes in his room. The General would discuss Peg’s reception.
“Sir, it was absolute triumph. Do you know how Peg’s function compared
with those of the enemy? ‘Quantity and quality’ were her words; you
remember that. Do you know on those two points, how our affair compared
with those of Ingham and Berrien and Branch? You do not? Sir, you
surprise me, and you to be a soldier whom I myself taught! Why! how are
you to know when we win or lose if you keep no account of the fight?
‘Quantity and quality,’ mark you! that is the test.” The General was in
towering spirit and as exalted of brow as one might wish to see. It was
like the real war to him. “Now,” he went on, “I was of a mind to know
results; I took measures for a count of noses, and a list of your folk
who called at those four cabinet houses to-day. Sir, it may please you
to hear that on both proposals of ‘quality and quantity’ Peg and you and
I overpowered those Redsticks as ten would overpower one.”

The General smoked on in silent satisfaction; I said nothing, my mind
being wholly taken with my coral on Peg’s bosom, and never mark of
diamond or ruby for a blemish to the rich beauty of her neck and face
and the cataract of gold-black hair to fall about her shoulders.

“Peg is a grand girl!” mused the General. “It is pity, too; she should
have been a man and a soldier. And then the pure taste of her! You have
heard of a peck, more or less, of diamonds which Eaton brought on from
the North? I looked to see them wreathed about Peg’s neck or arms or
fingers or wherever heaven meant they should go. And, mind you! not a
trace of them. ‘Why,’ says our Peg, when I would question her, ‘they
were of such wondrous richness I thought it shame to wear them in my own
drawing room--and me no more than a girl--and set them against older,
better folk who would be my guests. It would have been to over-crow
them, and as though I sought to pamper vanity at their cost. Wherefore,
in compliment, I would not wear them, but put them all aside. Now, this
bit of coral is better, since more modest. It was from a sweetheart, and
is the one thing I love best of all the world.’ Was there not fineness
for you?” demanded the General. “Was there not magnanimity? What other
woman between the poles could have withstood her hands from those gems?
Or who, from mere kindness and to spare the women about her their own
envy, would have thrust them away to don that coral trifle in their
stead? A tavern’s daughter, forsooth! Why, such a spirit would give
a grace beyond her title to a duchess! I know of nothing more good or
noble to tell the silken nature of our little Peg.”



CHAPTER XIII--THE SON OF THE SPANISH BULL-FIGHTER

Peg’s war for social eminence would now move bravely. The tale of that
double reception with its polite throngs pushing forward    in honor of
her and her “good little secretary,” and the General’s presence thereat,
stately yet deferential, fluttered from lip to lip like some bright
bird. And, as such birds will, the farther it fluttered the brighter
it grew. I’ve told you how I own no warrant, whether of education or
natural trend, to descant on wax-lights and polished floors and satins;
but so far as I might trap the murmur of folk who should have such
matters of gossamer and music on their tongues’ ends, the most guarded
decision went to it that Peg’s position had become thereby as surely
fixed as the pole-star, and might with as much safety be observed and
steered by whenever any of your blind mariners of the drawing rooms
should lose a course or find himself in deep, strange waters.

Like a great captain who in the wake of victory makes speed to again
strike the enemy while yet the latter is disorganized and before he can
re-collect formation or even hope, Peg was next and swiftly in the field
with that dinner for her glory at the Russian legation, tendered by
the wily Baron Krudener--he of the earrings and the scarlet heels. The
Tartar, as the General called him, zealous for the favor of the General
and Van Buren, was keen to note how a civility done Peg would become a
key to the best good will of both. After Krudener’s, came the cabinet
reception at our “good little secretary’s,” where Peg would reign; and
since Van Buren lived but a half-dozen houses north from Peg’s, it was
hardly to step beyond her own door. Then followed the ball given by the
British with Peg in the place of esteem, and the Viscount Vaughn to lead
Peg forth in the first figure with his own diplomatic hand.

Who could have been more delighted than the General with this splendor
of _salon_ success now spread to our pretty Peg’s uninterrupted feet,
and that under the jaundiced eyes of her enemies? The General could not
be present at either the “good little secretary’s,” the Russian or the
English house; but he was indomitable to hear; and never exquisite, nor
macaroni, nor buck about London town, gave ear of warmer ardor to the
nightly annals of Mayfair than did the General to those stories of Peg’s
victories. Who were there and what they did and said, would be his
constant curiosity; and indeed he carried question-putting to the verge
of what stood foppish.

“But can’t you see, sir,” demanded the General, when I told him how his
heat to trace Peg’s skirts through every dance, or learn the calling
list of each reception, would jostle one’s better conception of him,
“can’t you see that with the world and the law as made, this is the
trial of Peg’s standing, and freighted of life or death?”

“No,” said I, full bluntly; “and if you will have my notion then, I call
these things mere antic matters of apeish trick and chatter, not worth a
man’s attention.”

“You are a barbarian,” retorted the General, oracularly. “These
functions--these dinners and dances and receptions--are trials by jury
where the repute of folk, peculiarly the repute of women folk, is passed
upon. The verdict in her favor means the world and all for Peg. It is
the law.”

“And if it be,” said I, “it is but a bad law and a cheap law, and one
whereat I should snap my fingers.”

“And yet, sir,” replied the General, “wondrous highly as you hold
yourself, you are not yet grown to be the world. It’s Peg’s happiness--a
matter of being within the pale, without which she would feel decided
against and spurned. And remember this, sir, while you flourish with
your defiances, that a bad law is none the less a law, with penalty
in nowise to be mollified because of that badness at which you rail.
Wherefore I deem, these drawing-room trinkets of a first weight in Peg’s
concerns; I shall know as much of them as I well may, and take my chance
of falling in your graces.”

After that, and somewhat in the broader manner of a jest, I would each
day lay out to the General whatever of polite gaities took place the
night before; and while I recited those present, and what they did or
said, or failed to do or say, and particularly when such relation told
for Peg, he would smoke, and listen, and exult, and on occasion comment
like unto any grandmother gossip who still enjoys by second hands those
scenes which long ago her years taught her to desert.

These exploits of waxed floors and dinner tables, while the General
might have neither art nor lot therein, drew me along with them--for all
I loved them not--like a magnet. For one thing, I would behold how Peg
fared; and then, the General would have me attend, to the purpose that
he be given their story.

It was at the Russian’s I was called on to witness the iron steadiness
of Peg--albeit I could have wished the Dutch jade, who offended, a man,
that I might pinch his neck. You must know, then, how the Minister
from the Netherlands was a bloated creature of beer and butter-tub
proportions--a Herr Huygens, he was; and Frau Huygens, his lady--save
the mark!--was as dropsical as he. The latter ungentlewoman would be
a waddling, duck-built cabbage thing of fifty years; and of no little
standing for a money-prudence and strict economy, since while as rich as
that commerce of gin by which her spouse had builded up their fortunes,
she owned celebration for but one frock--a most fantastic garment for
color and flounce like the garb of a clown in a kirmess.

At the Krudener dinner, your Frau Huygens, whose place was next to
Peg’s, would up and leave her chair immediately she was seated; and all
with a lofty face as of one insulted, and following a great looking of
Peg over through a spying glass.

Spurred by this rudeness, Krudener directed a servant to remove the
chair and plate and table furniture of that place. This was swiftly done;
and next, to show his own feeling of the insolence offered under his
roof, our Russian would have the plate and the rest, including the gilt
chair, broken to pieces in one corner of the apartment and thrown upon
the blaze in the vast fireplace.

“They have been used by that woman of canals and gin-casks,” explained
Krudener--under his exterior of quiet diplomacy and with his eye on Van
Buren, I could tell how the Muscovite was in a towering rage--“and I
have no servant so low he would now eat off that plate or sit in that
chair. Let them be destroyed, and with them the recollection of the
offence to our fair guest, which throughout my life I shall deplore.”
 With this Krudener bowed deeply to Peg.

“Since you say so much, Baron,” responded Peg, “I am driven to tell you
that you need have been to no disturbance. I should have remarked that
person’s going only for the relief it gave to be free of the nearness of
one so gross.”

This our pretty Peg got off in a way of relieved superiority that was
invincible; she lost nothing through the episode, but would gain ground
thereby for her bearing.

In my first ill-humor to see this reasonless slight put upon our Peg,
I looked about for the rotund Herr Huygens, with a view, I
suppose--although I remember no clear plan in my angry head at the
time--to have his opinion on the conduct of that wife, since he as her
lord would be responsible. He was not present, nor had he been; it was
as well, for I might have forgotten his sacred character as a Minister
and said or done that which should be a further and more depressing jolt
to the proprieties.

The General, when he learned of the business, was even warmer than
myself. He was all for having Van Buren give Herr Huygens his walking
papers, and would scarce listen to less. The “good little secretary,”
 with Peg, herself, to aid, won him from his mood to banish the Dutchman
and that offensive Frau. It bred a sharp alarm in the bosom of Herr
Huygens, for he would as soon lay down his life as his post of Minister,
over the proud eminence whereof he gloated much.

An incident more to be merry with, and one carrying within itself the
elements of fair reproof, came off in the house of the English.

By this time your drawing-room forces had greatly abandoned the
Vice-President’s wife and the ladies Berrien, Branch and Ingham,
to follow Peg. Among these, and glittering in the van, shone the
vainglorious Pigeon-breast. It was at the dance of the Viscount Vaughn
that Pigeon-breast, after deeply considering the butter on his bread,
made obviously and obsequiously up to Peg.

In his earlier advances I did not see the tinsel fellow or I might have
interposed to dash his good resolves; I was to first know of him in
these bright relations of friendship for our side when I gained a
glimpse of him across the wide ball room where, with Peg’s hand held
high, and maintaining a mighty respectful distance between them as
though Peg were majesty itself, he led her through one of those slow
dances--more, indeed, like a promenade than any dance--which had vogue
of that hour.

I waited with much irritation until the dance was to its end and Peg at
liberty. I remembered, however, in her defence, that Peg was not aware
of Pigeon-breast for one who had sought her harm. No one had told her
of that splendid long speech to the General when Pigeon-breast chose
to represent “Mrs. Calhoun and the ladies of Washington,” which latter
term, under the scorching fire of Peg’s successes, had dwindled to
a sour handful scarce equal to the task of filling a dinner table or
constructing a quadrille.

“Why should you dance,” said I, when now I had gotten Peg by herself
near a window, “why should you dance with such a coxcomb?”

“You mean,” returned Peg, “to tell me that he is no friend. As for that,
I’ve known him for an ill-wisher and, as far as his frail strength went,
an ill-doer, from the beginning.”

“And how would that news come to you?” said I. “Has the rogue said
anything?”

“Not so fierce, watch-dog, not so fierce!” whispered Peg. “Folk present
are not cognizant of your mastiff sort and might wonder to learn of it.
Wherefore, go quietly about me with your guardianship.” Peg would be
amused by the energy of my distaste of Pigeon-breast. “The ‘rogue’ has
said nothing. I knew he was my wrong-wisher from yourself.”

“Me?” cried I. “And how should you have had it from me when I have not
breathed of the popinjay’s existence?”

“How? Why, from your face, where I’ve been long wont to read much more
than your tongue has ever told.”

“What of my face, then?”

“And I have wished you might see it! Whoever it was to approach me, I
had but to watch your brow. Was your brow frank, open, friendly: he who
came was a friend. Did you lower and gloom hatefully: he was an enemy
who rapped at the gate. Now you gave this fop the look of a fiend when
one day he would pass us in the square. And so by the light, or rather
the twilight of your frown, I read him.”

“All exceeding clever,” said I, half made to laugh by the airy fashion
wherein Peg would toss this off, “all exceeding clever. But it brings
me with interest to my question, why, then, did you honor him with a
dance?”

“For the same reason,” said Peg, with a look of funny malice, “that an
Indian scalps his foe.”

“Now what should that mean?”

“Wait and see, oh watch-dog!”

It was a bit later when Peg was again by my side.

“Do you know why I am back with you?” she asked. “Well, aside from the
profound pleasure of your company, the more profound by contrast with
that of those vapid ones”--here she would include the ball room males
with a sweep of her round arm--“I thought I would scalp my enemy before
your eyes. You have a violent nature, watch-dog, and I reflected how the
exhibition might bring you joy. Since you do not dance, your time must
lie on your hands like iron; I would do somewhat to lighten it.”

Before I could ask Peg to unravel the intent of her long speech,
Pigeon-breast was pushing valourously our way.

“He comes for a second dance,” said Peg. “See, his name is next on my
card.”

“And call you that scalping?” cried I. “At that rate, every man in the
room will compete for your cruelty! Scalping, say you! I wish for the
simple humor of it, a Seminole might hear you.”

The truth was I had fallen into a dudgeon with Peg for her notion of
taking a trophy; she would confer heaven on this Pigeon-breast and call
it “scalping!”

“I believe,” observed Pigeon-breast, with his nose fairly to the floor,
so deeply would he bow, “I believe I will have the honor of another
dance”--here another bow as lowly louted as the first.

As Pigeon-breast resumed the perpendicular, he crooked his gallant arm
invitingly and would lead Peg to her place.

But Peg drew back, as much to my bewilderment as that of the
wonder-smitten Pigeon-breast himself, and with a manner coldly polite
said:

“There is a mistake, sir; I could have promised you no dance, since I do
not know you.”

“Mistake!” gasped Pigeon-breast.

“Mistake,” repeated Peg, with, if anything, an access of ice. “I never
before saw you; I could have put you down for no dance. One does not
dance with strangers.” Then to me: “Your arm, if you please.”

As I carried Peg away, Pigeon-breast was heard to inarticulately moan
and whine like a high wind in a keyhole. Later I beheld him desperately,
in the refreshment room, drinking strong waters with both hands and as
though he had a fish in his stomach.

“And now,” said I to Peg, as we moved away from the crushed
Pigeon-breast, “why were you so bitter? That empty fellow was not worth
so much. Besides, you have shamed him before the town; you hurt him to
the heart.”

“Hurt him to the vanity,” corrected Peg. “If it be true that
nothing dries more quickly than a woman’s tear--and it is true,
watch-dog--nothing cures more quickly than the hurt vanity of a man.
That dandy will anon be as gay as a peacock. However, I would punish
him. I have made him an Ishmael of the drawing-rooms; I have driven him
forth from us, and he cannot return to the others for his apostasy of
their cause is known. Did I not tell you, watch-dog, I was a revengeful
woman?”

Altogether, I might have wished our Peg had taken another course with
Pigeon-breast.

Thus to publicly drum him out of camp was a thought too hardy. However,
Pigeon-breast had wrought for what he received, and I think, too, Peg
was more moved by the audacious fun of the business than any darkling
taste to have a vengeance, for all her word.

The General, I am minded, was of my view; it was the frolic of the thing
to carry Peg away.

“Peg is young,” quoth the General, amiably; “our Peg is young. What
would you have? She shall be older one day and more upon dignity. What
shall more bound and frisk and play than your scapegrace kitten? And
yet what more gravely decorous than your cat? By Joshua’s horn! on the
whole, I’m glad your Pigeon-breast was brought up with a round turn.”

It was one afternoon when the General came to me with a request that I
seek out Noah at the Indian Queen and confer with him over the merits of
a gentleman who lusted to hold a certain office.

“This individual comes to me well spoken of,” said the General, “and
yet I would know more of him, and that from one who has no axe to be
grinded.”

While I made ready for my walk to the Indian Queen, the General
unpouched another piece of interesting news.

“By the way,” said he, “our Peg has settled on April as a time for that
dinner and ball. She would have had it sooner; but she does not now need
the White House for any direct aid to her arms. She will save it for the
close, and make the affair a sort of celebration.”

“It is a good thought,” said I. “It is wiser, since she has won her way
with what should be her own resources, not to subtract from that success
by any full blown movement of the White House upon the scene. Mean folk
would say she could not have come through without you to be her ally.”

“And that is my notion, too!” coincided the General. “Peg’s position is
complete; the White House now would but divide her glory. We will offer
her our East Room courtesies in April, and let it be for an old-time
Roman triumph as when a victor returns from war. Peg well deserves a
triumph; the Vice-Presidential coterie and all whom it might control
have moved heaven and earth for Peg’s disaster and pulled and hauled
like common sailor-folk on any rope to do her harm.”

“Does not April,” said I, “mark an unheard-of span for your social
season? I had thought it might end with Lent.”

“And so it would,” smiled the General, “if now we were only Federalists
like Adams, and remembered the Church of England as a guide. This,
however, is a Presbyterian administration; wherefore, we shall abide
none of your Lents, but drink and dance and dine as far into spring
flowers as we will.”

“Being the earliest instance,” added I, “when to drink and to dance and
to dine were called an evidence of Calvinism.”

Noah was pen-employed over certain wisdom which should find subsequent
exposition in his paper.

“There are large money influences,” remarked Noah, thoughtfully, when
we had talked a moment, “which have grown alluringly friendly about my
associate, Watson Webb. They are offering a loan to our paper of fifty
thousand dollars. You know”--this with his satirical air--“how papers
are ever in want of a loan. These money folk bank on that to win us;
perhaps, too, they find hope in my being a Jew.”

“And what would your associate do?” I asked.

“To be frank,” returned Noah, “he grants admiring ear to this song of
siren money. I think we shall part company--Webb and I.”

“And yet,” said I, with a bent for banter, “you are ever in one kind or
another laying emphasis on your Jewish readiness for gold. Now you see
it is the Jew who can not be moved, while our Gentile, with an eye to
the yellow chance, would not be found so sentimental.”

“For all that,” remarked Noah, “the Jew is a profound money hunter.
It is but natural he should be. That cupidity, or, if you prefer, that
gold-greed, has been through centuries developed as his one hope for
safety. In the oppressions which have borne upon him, and which in all
countries save this still bear him down, your Jew has found in money his
last cave of retreat. He might bulwark himself with riches. With others,
gold would mean luxury; with the Jew, it stood for life itself, and
to go wanting it was to be tooth and nail about the digging of his own
grave.”

“And it is your theory, then,” said I, “that the great need for gold
which for ages was to stare the Jew in the face, became the seed of that
genius, to gather which now the race is heir to?”

“Without question,” said Noah. “More; since the Jew has been safe of his
goods and his blood in this land of ours, and the rowels of that great
need no longer lance the flanks of effort and set it to the leap, we
rear a kind of Jew who owns no mighty care for money. I will find you
Jews in our midst who can still be hawks to swoop, but who have no hold
to keep. They will spend you their riches or give them away like water.
We shall yet rear an American Jew who has no skill to get money. Still,
going back to that first thought--for it is worrying my soul like a
dog--of those money influences busy with the enlistment of Webb, I am
free to say that even in his worst hour your Jew would never take a
bribe. He would sell neither his friend nor his principle; those were
never Jewish ways of money-finding.”

“Your Jew makes a stout patriot,” said I. “I could want no better
American than a Jew.”

“Why, then,” responded Noah, “there be none to whom America means so
much. You, being of the strain of Saxon-Dane, would have justice in
England, welcome in Russia, friendship in France. What would your Jew
meet? Your Jew loves America because he loves himself; he is a patriot
since he is a Jew.”

“And yet,” I protested, “it is no question of cool selfishness with your
Jew. He is as spontaneously the patriot as any other. Take Judah Touro:
whose money or whose blood was more at the beck of his country that
January day at New Orleans?”

“Why, yes, that is true,” said Noah. “But you should reflect:
patriotism, like every other emotion--if it be a mother’s love for her
child--has ever its first feet in selfishness. That would be the tale
of Jew or Gentile the wide world round. Selfishness seems but a rough,
unworthy root, but from it have flowered art, poetry, science, or what
you will. The lineage of each sentiment of beauty, whether it be the
tenderest charity or that self-sacrifice that lays down its life, begins
with selfishness--that mighty cornerstone of the world.”

“Beware of metaphysics,” said I. “That, at least, would be our
matter-of-fact General’s caution.”

“Who? the President?” Noah laughed. “I will let you in with a
secret. There is only one to be more the sentimentalist than your
‘matter-of-fact General,’ and that, my friend, is yourself. However,
keeping from the personal, I would still stand firm to it that
selfishness is the beginning of the virtues. Those better expressions,
charity and love, come by its cultivation just as the generous apple has
for its forebear that bitter, thorny, sour creature, the wild crab.
Now, your Jew has been vastly cultivated”--here came Noah’s look of
satire--“he has been ploughed by adversity and harrowed of oppression.
Thus farmed, your Jew will produce those Judah Touros you tell of. There
were mates for Touro throughout our years of revolution. There dwelt but
seven hundred families of Jews in this land when Concord and Lexington
and Bunker Hill fell forth. From Lexington until Cornwallis, those
Jews were busy with their ducats and their blood for freedom. They gave
millions. Old Haym Salomon alone gave six hundred thousand dollars He
was the richest of his day; he died copper poor to the obolary point
of groats and farthings. At his end he said: ‘I die broken and in the
talons of want; but I die happy since I have lived to see civil and
religious liberty established on this soil.’”

Rivera, broad of shoulder, mild of eye, here drew near and made a slight
motion, as one who points with his thumb, towards the tap-room of the
tavern. Noah would seem instantly to understand his wordless satellite.

“Come,” said Noah, eagerly, “I can show you those Catron thugs I warned
you against. It may serve you to know their faces.”

“I had forgotten to ask,” I returned. “Has any of them gone about to
molest you? I see you still safe.”

“It is because I am looked on,” returned Noah, lightly, “as a Jew most
perilous. Those Catron five minutes at Gadsby’s did me good service.
Also, since I love quiet, I would have gossip give wings to it how I
carry a knife. The truth is, these caitiff folk mistrust me as a trap of
death.”

There was a rude group gathered about a table in the bar. The members
were drinking rum from tin measures, and their vivid noses and features
much aflame would not have said the habit was one lately taken up.

“Those be our friends,” whispered Noah. “That animal with the
shoulders of a buffalo, the iron jaw, and no forehead to speak of, is a
prize-fighter of renown. He was brought over to be a counter-weight for
Rivera. I would wager, should they come together, that my man beats him
to a pumice.”

The light in Noah’s eyes showed no sloth of appetite for such a battle.

The rogues about the table were made uneasy by our presence. We looked
them up and down at no little length, Noah with an eye of rawest
insolence, enough of itself to draw resentment from an image. Noah
called Rivera from where he lounged against the doorpost and held
whispered converse with him touching the fellows, and all in a most
apparent way of insult. But beyond a wrathful growl one might not lure
them; they turned their shifty, evil eyes away, and hastily gulping the
rum, shuffled from the place.

“If those ruffians are come to town for a motive of trouble,” said I,
“why do not they go upon their mission? They have been weeks here. Has
this Catron so much money to waste?”

“Doubtless Catron has money enough,” replied Noah. “Like yourself,
however, I can not find reason for this stage-wait in the tragedy. I
have tempted them to a rupture with my eye a score of times, but their
conduct was always what you saw.”

Noah went with me to the General, to reply to the latter’s interest
concerning the ambitious one.

“He is wise and brave and true,” said Noah; “that is the worst I know of
him.”

“And that should be enough,” said the General, decisively. “What more
may one want than ‘wise and brave and true?’”

“Then you care only for the man,” said I, “and ask nothing of his
principles of politics?”

“Added to those cardinals,” laughed the General, “of ‘wise and brave and
true,’ one would need but the other virtue of being my friend. When you
say ‘principles of politics,’ Major, I should know what you mean. Still,
with a now and then Calhoun exception, I am free to say I care only
for your man and nothing for a measure. If it were an election, now, I
should vote for a good man on a bad platform rather than a bad man on a
good platform.”

“And why?” asked Noah. “For myself, I am not so sure.”

“You will turn sure,” replied the General, “if you but pause and recall
your own experience. Measures are like batteries aboard ship. It is ever
the man behind the measure, as it is the man behind the gun. If he be
‘wise and brave and true,’ good. If he be otherwise;--why, hang him and
have you another man.”

As I was returning alone to my workshop, I overheard the voices of Peg
and Jim within the room.

“An’ so, Miss Peg,” Jim was saying, “as soon as ever your mammy gives
Jim d’message an’ that mouthful of whiskey, Jim shore lights out for
you. Honey, Jim comes that fas’, Jim does, he jes’ natcherally leaves
things on both sides of d’road. Your mammy’s plumb sick, an’ thar aint
no sort o’ doubt of it. Plumbago is what Jim allows it is.”

“My mother is ill,” said Peg, when I came in. “I sent your Jim down to
get word from her. She wants me, and I would ask you to go with me to
her if I dared.”

“That should call for no desperate courage,” said I.

The deep snows had been melting for many days, and, while the ground was
now quite bare, it lay wet as a sponge, and the roads not to be thought
of for horses. Peg’s mother, however, lived but a little mile distant,
and our way would lie through woodland for the most, with paths to wind
in and out among the trees. These walks, being grassy, would do well
enough for folk afoot.

“We must walk,” said Peg, “and since that be the order, I must go back
for stronger boots to fend against this wet.”

When Peg returned from her own home and we would be setting forth, it
was six years off her age to merely see her. For what mud and water
we might meet, Peg had donned thick-soled, high-laced boots, and with
these, and skirts cut short to match her boots, Peg appeared not an hour
older than sixteen.

“You look like a schoolgirl,” said I, in comment. “You will be now more
than ever the child with me.”

“‘Tis a good uniform to walk in,” said Peg, “and to balk mire and
water.”

Peg’s mother was in no strait of weakened health more than stood proper
with her days. But she was grown peevish and with nerves on edge to see
her daughter; for since rout and dinner and reception made such claim on
Peg, she had not visited the good old lady as often as was her wont.

And now when we were there, the old mother would hear no soon word for
our departure; we must stay to supper; Peg should cook for us, she said.

It was not without surprise that I observed how this command to turn
herself a cook would fit with Peg’s temper like a glove. In the first,
Peg hung upon uncertainties; the paths were bad, there were mire and
pool. But when told that she should cook for me, her face brightened and
she was instantly moved to recall that a great moon would shine and so
put those night-dangers of pool and mire to rest.

So patent stood Peg’s satisfaction in her new duties that, as she would
heap and heap again my plate--scarce eating a morsel herself--I was
driven to ask reason.

“And you don’t know?” said Peg, pausing with a new-baked tin of
light-bread in her little hands--these latter white with flour. “It is
because this is the first natural woman thing I’ve done for months. You
may be very sure, watch-dog, whenever you see me bowing and scraping at
a reception, or dismissing some Pigeon-breast from my royal presence at
a ball, that I would give the stockings off my feet to be busy about a
fireplace instead, and cooking bread and meat for you. You see, I am so
much more the woman than the lady. There is my defect.”

“And was it that,” said I, attacking a second steak with the fury of a
farm-hand, while Peg glowed to see me dispatch it, “was it that to teach
you to warn me I must be a man rather than a gentleman when I dealt with
you?”

“Now I shouldn’t wonder,” replied Peg, going for more coffee.

This kitchen mood of Peg’s--and somehow I liked it as much as ever she
did--and her word for it how she preferred cookery to balls, set me to
put questions as we twined along our path among the trees on homeward
journey. The night, as Peg foretold when she so favored supper-getting,
was full of a white radiance that one might read print by, for the air
was as clear as glass and the moon both big and round.

“You were speaking as one weary,” said I, “of dance and reception, and
declared how you would sooner cook. Now that puts me in a fog; I should
have supposed you the happiest, as you should be the proudest, woman in
the world.”

“I said I would sooner cook for you,” said Peg. “You are uncouth enough
to forget that part. Or perhaps, now it was your timidity. I am proud
enough, doubtless; but why, watch-dog, should you think me happy?”

“Is it not reason enough,” returned I, “that you have stifled your
enemies, and stand on the last summit of our society?”

“I am happy only as it makes my friends happy,” returned Peg; “the good
General and yourself. I would not, for my own part, waste one moment on
it.”

“I can not understand,” said I. “That I should love nothing of
drawing-rooms does not amaze me; the day is on in middle life with
me and I’ve seen too much of grass and sky to now care for floors and
frescoes. But for a woman:--I should have said her joy would be there.”

“Watch-dog, I am too much the woman,” said Peg; “or, since you may
better understand, I’m too much the savage. I’ve climbed the social
mountain. I stand on its summit; there is nowhere higher. And yet what
will it all mean?”

“What will it not mean?” I asked.

“Watch-dog, I’ll tell you what it will not mean.” Peg spoke in a tone of
tired earnestness. “It will not mean sympathy or love or trust. Society,
as we’ve agreed, is like a mountain. And like a mountain, you find less
and less of vegetation as you climb--fewer of the green, good virtues
that stand so thickly rank in the poor valleys below. As you climb, it
would turn ever barer and colder; and at the last no virtues--nothing
but lichens and livid mosses. We are at the summit, watch-dog. And now
what find we other than the dead cold snow? You have told me I stand on
the social summit; you see I keep repeating. Do you know now what it is
in my heart to do? There lies no peril of a slip; I have too much the
sure foot of the ibex. Do you know what I am moved to do?--me on my high
snow social peak? Why, then, dash myself into that common valley far
below.”

“Now, that is not our Peg who speaks,” cried I, not a trifle put about
by Peg’s Alpine parables. “It is the talk of a tongue and means mere
wildness.”

“And that is it, watch-dog,” returned Peg, in a way of mourning. “I am
not tame; I am like the wild things that will not bear a cage. Now here;
see how strange I am. I do not like women; I will not trust one with a
word; I must watch myself to treat them with a fair face. Then I am all
to talk and go about with men. I should have been born one of those
Indian girls of whom you told me. A campfire and a petticoat of
buckskin, a wigwam and a husband--big and broad like you, watch-dog--to
fight and to hunt for me; that would be my dream.”

There arose a rough laugh, and if my ears were true, a rum-sodden laugh.
I turned my head, and there, a hundred yards to our rear, came rolling
and stumbling the drunken crew whom Noah had been at pains to show me
in the Indian Queen. Over my shoulder I watched them for a moment. They
were in sottish glee, and would shout, and now and then troll a bar or
two of some pot-house ballad.

My nature was on watch in a moment; I suspected how these ruffians would
be after us. We were in a lonely strip of trees, and no folk near the
spot but just ourselves--a safe theatre for villainy. I counted our
roaring drunkards; there were eleven, and among them I could pick out
the yard-wide shoulders of that gladiator to whom Noah had pointed.

Peg, as well as I, could see these creatures coming; but then she had
not my news, and would only know them for roysterers returning from some
drinking bout. I glanced at Peg; her face was bright and free, and
for all her late lamentations over society and its dead cold wastes of
proper snow, mighty wide awake and vivacious. I never beheld her more
brisk; in the white moonlight her picture shone out as clear as day.

Peg was on my right arm. I began to go more slowly so that those who
followed should overtake us, and to push a little off the path to the
right, for I would have Peg out of the midst of them when trouble fell.

As I would loiter and go with a slower foot, the eleven behind quickened
their step. They came on, roaring and jesting among themselves; not
together, but by twos and threes, and straggling along the path like
geese. I think it was their plan to push ahead of Peg and me and bar our
way; for they went lumbering and lurching by, making a rude joke to toss
from tongue to tongue, but no one to so much as look on us direct until
the last one came up. He would be lagging behind for a purpose, too,
since he was gone on no more than a yard ahead of Peg and myself when he
sings out to his fellows with an oath:

“D’ye see whom we have here? Why, here is our big lover and his light o’
love--no less!”

With that, stepping before Peg, I seized the scoundrel with my left
hand. It was his arm above the elbow I took hold on, and a soft snick
like a snapping of the clay stem of a pipe, and the grotesque way in
which the hand dangled, palm outward, showed me how I had broken the
bone.

The creature’s scream brought the others to his rescue. That was no
loss, for it would have been their plan from the first to return and
fall upon me. As they came on in a blundering file, whirling forth
oaths, I took the one in my hand with a grip about his middle. Heaving
him over my head, I dashed him at the others as they drew near. The
villain would do beautifully as a projectile, too, for he mowed down
three like a chain-shot, his boot making a fine gash in the face of one
of them.

On the point of going forward to meet the others, I was stayed by
a shout, loud and musical, yet much like the muffled roar of some
deep-lunged animal. Then came one from the the rear with the speed of an
arrow at top flight. In the moonlight I could tell him for Rivera the
son of that Spanish bull-fighter, running like a stag. He flashed by me;
and the next moment he struck one of the roughs with his fist. It was a
hammer-like blow, and that one who would stop it fell with the crash of
a tree.



CHAPTER XIV.--THE FEDERAL UNION: IT MUST BE PRESERVED.

Doubtless, since my very palms itched to be about that employment, I
would have had my hands on others of the rogue crew, but I was granted
no chance. Rivera poured himself against the scoundrels like a torrent.
Quick, catlike, springing in and out, he smote upon two of them as with
a poleaxe, and they went to the grass like folk of wood. The sound of
the blows came to my ears as clearly as the click of balls in a billiard
game. Beholding the thunderbolt work of Rivera, the others, losing
courage, and with a concert of curses and growling cries, turned tail
and ran.

There was one, however, of those who were yet upon their ignoble feet,
to save himself this disgrace. When the rest ran off crying among the
trees, this man would tarry; he was that wide-shouldered fighting man
who was thought to match Rivera. For reasons of his own, and perhaps
they were in a rude sort chivalric and to his credit, this fellow had
not rushed upon us with the others, but stood at some distance looking
on, arms folded across his chest. Now, when all were down or vanished in
the dark, he, with arms still folded, came slowly towards Rivera.

“Volks tells me, lad,” said the fighting man as, arms still at peace,
he paused within a few yards of Rivera, who would be coolly waiting
for him, “volks tells me as ‘ow you be summat of a boxer; and vor a
certainty, you does make beef of them coves in a vorkmanlike vay--you
does, upon my davy! But now, d’ye see, you settles vith me--me, Jim
Burns of W’itechapel.”

“Assuredly!” returned Rivera, and his deep tones, like the roll of an
organ, would carry the impression of one in wondrous good humor, “I
shall be most pleased to settle with you. See, you may take your time;
there is no hurry.”

The other, who seemed to have faith in the leisurely mood of Rivera,
softly doffed coat and waistcoat, and stood in his shirt of gray cloth,
trousers and shoes. Rivera similarly prepared himself; he would meet his
enemy in the same light costume.

“Best to turn up your trowsers, lad,” advised the fighting man, “as I
does. They may ‘inder your veet, else, in steppin’.”

When these improvements had been wrought, the fighting man’s thought
would double a new corner.

“And yet,” he remarked, complainingly, “w’at’s the bloomin’ use? ‘Ere’s
them coves all run away”--pointing to the last of the trio whom Rivera
had beaten down, as that unworthy staggered to his feet and lurched off
into the darkness--“an’ no purse nor nothink to vight for. I sees no
use, lad, in our puttin’ hup our ‘ands.” This last in a grieved tone.

“But you must fight,” remonstrated Rivera, in a sharp, eager fashion.
“You came to this town to beat me. Will you now let yourself be stopped
and never a blow? Are you afraid?”

“Me, afeerd?” retorted the fighting man, fiercely, his little eyes like
sparks. “W’y, lad! th’ cove doant stan’ in leather as I’m afeerd on.
Me, a fourteen stoner, leery? An’ of only one? Well, I likes that!” The
disgust of the fighting man was unmistakable.

It was a queer position, this waiting to be spectator of a fist duel
between these game-some ones, but I did not feel free to leave until the
thing should end. When the fighting man, arms crossed, came pacifically
up, I would have been for going forward to lay hold on him, but Rivera,
with a manner like a prayer and as he who seeks a favor for his soul,
besought me to withstay my hand.

“Don’t,” pleaded Rivera, but never taking his gaze from the man, “don’t;
he is mine.”

With that, giving over whatever of right I may have owned to the fellow,
I went to Peg where she stood on a little knoll among the deeper shadows
of the woods.

“I should take you to safety at once,” said I, in explanation of my
loitering lack of expedition, “but I would see Rivera through this.”

“I do not want to go,” replied Peg, gazing the while as with a kind of
fascination.

Peg’s face wore a flush of excitement; this I could tell even in the
shadows, and her words had a great ring of interest. I did not remark
on the strangeness of it, nor frame a rebuke for that she should love to
look on while gladiators fought. I, myself,--for I confess to a mighty
lust of strife,--was hot to see what might follow, and it came to me as
quite the thing that Peg should share my feeling. It was the savage in
her blood, as the General would have said; but, a trifle strung of the
fracas and with the wolf in me at full stretch, I felt no amazement, but
only sympathy for Peg’s sentiment.

As Peg and I stood considering the others in their words and motions,
Rivera pointed to a level, glady spot where no trees grew and the
moonlight came down in a white flood.

“That should be a fine place,” said Rivera to the fighting man, “for us
to try each other?”

“It does look a tidy bit of grass,” assented the fighting man.

As the two walked forward to this turfy spot of fairness it brought them
nearer to Peg and myself, and squarely under our eyes. It was as though
they set a stage, and would produce their drama of blows for us and in
such wise that we should not lose the least of it.

As the pair moved to the selected place, that moaning one whose arm
I had broken, and who, when the rest had fled, still lay in a fit of
fainting, so far recovered as to sit weakly up. But he could not yet
walk, being shaken and dizzy mayhap, and so he, too, would be a looker
on, albeit I do not think he was to see much, being taken with his own
woes and groaning over them.

“W’at a come-down is this!” exclaimed the fighting man, as he moved
into the center of the ground, “me, who should be champion, vighting
by moonlight in a vorest vith a mad Yankee! W’at a tale to tell in
W’itechapel!”

“I’m not a Yankee,” said Rivera, as if for the other’s consolation, I
thought, “I’m an Irish-Jew.”

“An Irish-Jew!” returned the other, with a note of admiration. “Now
that’s better, lad; Irish on Jew makes a bitter cross for the ring. But
all the same, it’s a shame vor me to be ‘ere millin’ by moonlight in
voreign parts, an’ never no purse nor ropes nor nothink, an’ no ‘igh
toby blokes to referee or even ‘old a vatch. An’ me, mind you, as should
be champion.”

“Why do you say that?” asked Rivera, in a hunger of boyish curiosity to
know how honorable the conquest was he went about. “Of what should you
be champion?”

“Hengland, lad, w’at else!” said the other. “It’s all on account of an
accident that I beant. I vights vith Big Tom Brown of Bridgenorth, I
does; an’ Tom, ‘e naps it on the bugle so ‘ard ‘e’s all vor bleedin’ to
death. An’ vith that, the beaks is vor puttin’ me on a transport to go
to New South Wales, when I moseys down to Bristol an’ goes aboard ship
an’ comes over ‘ere. If I could ‘ave stayed at ‘ome, I’d a-beat Bendigo
by now, an’ been the champion ‘stead of ‘e. ‘Owever, volks must do the
best vith w’at they has, so hup vith your mauleys, lad. Time!”

More than once I had seen our rough keel-boatmen of the Cumberland
indulge, when soaked of rum, in what they termed a “rough and tumble,”
 but this, when Rivera and the fighting man of Whitechapel stood up to
one another, was the first time I was to observe how ones trained
to fisticuffs expound the game. My keel-boatmen fought in a biting,
clawing, gouging, wildcat way that was a climax of brutality and blood.
This would not be the story of Rivera and his foe, for their labors were
as cleanly accurate as a cameo, while yet the blows they dealt would
have shaken an oak to its core.

As the fighting man of Whitechapel exclaimed “Time!” Rivera and he drew
cautiously over to one another. I could see how each kept his left hand
well forward and his left foot advanced to bear it company, while the
right foot was planted with firm squareness, and no spring nor give to
the knee, but the leg stiff to prop against a blow. The right arm would
be used, too, more as a guard to save the body, but with hand in reserve
clenched like iron to deal a finishing blow whenever the vanguard or
left hand had opened the way with the enemy.

Rivera and the fighting man sparred carefully and as folk who would test
each other. And yet, while there abode with each a wealth of care and
a saving determination to be sure of guards and parries, there was no
slowness. They paced about and before one another like two fighting
panthers, each as ready as leven-flash to have advantage of a weakness
in the other’s defence.

To me it was like a picture of motion, and a sense of delight coursed
in my veins. I was so held, too, I did not once cast my eyes on Peg, who
with her hand on my arm was crowded snug to my side and--as I remembered
later, when I would learn the reason of pain for it--leaning upon me
with all her slight weight. No, so rapt was my gaze for the moment that
I never once looked nor thought on Peg; and that, let me tell you, is a
deal to say, since such was our witch-child’s sweet hold on me I could
number you few moments which did not find her in the fond foreground of
my fancy.

Of the suddenest, the fighting man fell upon Rivera like a storm. But it
would be of no avail. The blows he dealt, Rivera caught upon his
forearm; and that with so careless a confidence it would appear to sting
the other. In the last of the melee the fighting man, stepping swiftly
near, struck a slashing, swinging blow that should have cracked a skull
had one gotten in the way. Rivera leaped back, light as a goat and as
sure. As the big fist swept harmlessly on its journey, Rivera laughed as
at a jest.

Our fighting man, however, would own to no turn for humor. The laugh
hurt him like the lash of a rawhide. Without pause or space, and with a
sharpness that stood a marvel in one so bulky, he repeated the smashing
swing, but with the other hand. Rivera did not spring backward; indeed,
he had no time, even had he carried the inclination. But it would be
all one with Noah’s protege, for he ducked his head like a wild fowl
who dives from the flash of a gun. Again the blow passed without scathe;
only, this time, over Rivera’s cunning head. The force of the swing half
turned the fighting man; with that, and not striking him, but, as though
in a spirit of derision, pushing with open hand, and at the same moment
locking, as wrestlers would say, the enemy’s ankle at the back with
his foot, Rivera tumbled our huge gentleman over on the grass. He fell
a-sprawl, but with no hurt to himself, and all as easy as delivering a
bale of goods at one’s door.

The fighting man got slowly to his feet. Then he looked on Rivera with
an eye of puzzled discontent.

“Be you playin’ vith me, lad?” said he at last. This in a manner of
injury.

Rivera made no retort other than his quiet laugh that told rather of
pleasure than amusement. Clearly, Rivera was in enjoyment’s very heart
and his cup would come to him crowned of high delight.

The fighting man went now and leaned against a tree to breathe himself.
Presently he spoke again; I could tell by the way of it how his regard
for Rivera had been augmented.

“‘Ow ‘eavy be you, lad?” he asked, his breath still coming in short,
deep puffs.

“One hundred and eighty-two,” said Rivera.

“An’ w’at would that be in stone?”

“Thirteen.”

“D’ye see now!” exclaimed the fighting man, dejectedly, “an’ that should
be my veight. Only I’m a stone above; but it’s fat an’ does me ‘arm. You
bees a ‘ard un, young master, an’ I doant know as ‘ow I can do vor you,
an’ me not trained. ‘Owever, I shall try all I knows. Time!”

For the second occasion the two stood forth against one another in the
middle of the moonlighted glade; and again the fighting man was the
aggressor. It would be still the same old tale; Rivera foiled him and
beat him back upon himself at every angle of his effort. It was like,
a tune to simply see Rivera for his eye and hand and foot worked all
together in a fashion of harmony like the notes in music.

But the dour end was on its way, and it fell upon the victim like
the bursting of a bomb. The fighting man had stepped a pace backward
following a rally in which he won nothing save chagrin. As he retreated,
Rivera would seem to swoop on him. It was a feint--an artifice; it had
for result, however, the drawing of the fighting man again upon Rivera.
Straight from his shoulder, and by way of retort or counter to the
feint, the fighting man sent his left hand for Rivera’s face. It would
be the situation wrought for. Rivera, with feet firm set, moved his
head aside so that the blow met nothing, but whistled across his left
shoulder. Then his left hand, arm as stiff as a bar of iron, met the
oncoming foe, carried forward with the momentum of his own wasted blow,
flush in the mouth. I heard the sound of it, and saw it jolt the other’s
head back as though he had run against the pole of a baggage wagon. The
vicious emphasis of it shook his senses in their source; before he could
rally, Rivera dealt him a smashing blow above the heart with his right
hand; it was a buffet like the kick of a pony and one that would have
splintered a rock!

The fighting man fell forward senseless on the grass; the moonlight
played across his face and tiny streams of blood were running thinly
from his nose and ears. He lay without motion or quiver, and, after
considering him a bit with all the warmth an artist might bestow upon
a masterpiece, Rivera turned loungingly to Peg and myself where we
were viewing proceedings from our knoll. There was a dancing light in
Rivera’s eyes such as comes to a child pleased of a new toy. As he stood
before us, a smile about his mouth, he stretched upward on his toes, and
raised his hands above his head, his vast chest arching and swelling
the while like a drum, and the muscles of his neck writhing until they
fairly burst the collar of his gray shirt and sent a button buzzing into
the darkness.

“He wasn’t fit,” said Rivera, recovering himself from the
muscle-stretching, and beaming amiably; “the fellow was not in
condition.” Here he indicated with a nod the prostrate fighting man,
still stunned and bleeding where he fell.

“Have you killed him?” said Peg, with a deep breath. The girl was drawn
as tense as harpstrings. “I hope he will not die.”

“Oh, no,” declared Rivera; “he will not die. In two minutes, or at the
most in ten, he will be well again. If he do not come to his wits in ten
minutes, I shall help him with water on his face.”

“We have to thank you,” said I; “you are a brave fellow to match
yourself against a horde.”

“I was told always to follow them,” said Rivera. “I have been at their
heels for weeks. But they would do nothing until to-night.” Rivera’s
manner when he related the long-drawn indolence of his quarry and
those weeks wherein they would “do nothing,” tasted of disappointment.
“However,”--this as though a wrong had been repaired,--“they got to work
at last, so after all it ends right.”

Now I walked across to my moaning one of the broken arm, who still sat
nursing his injuries.

“Why would you rob us?” I asked.

“Rob you?” he repeated between moans, and with a startled air. “No one
wanted to rob you.”

“You and your gang,” said I--for this was the story I meant to tell,
if made to tell one of the night’s turmoil--“you and your gang are
footpads. You would have robbed us. Should you be in the town to-morrow,
I will find you a place of bars and bolts.”

Certainly, these brawling creatures were not highwaymen, but only
ruffians whom that Catron had hired for I know not what particular
purpose of revenge. But the wretch’s exclamation, “Here is our big lover
and his light o’ love!” alarmed me for Peg. I would not have that tale
told to thus bring forth her name. It were better to drive these fellows
off and have an end of it. That was my thought in calling them footpads
and talking of attempts to take a purse.

The argument of robbery put a measure of life into the moaning one; he
got upon his feet and made ready to betake himself to scenes of better
safety.

“My arm is broken,” said he, whiningly, and as hoping I might feel a
sympathy.

“It should have been your neck, instead,” said I, in no wise
sympathetic. “And so it would, had I owned the forethought to have had
you by the throat rather than your arm. You might better depart, sirrah;
else I may yet wring round your head, for my spirit is hard laid siege
to by some such twisting impulse.”

That was enough; our moaning one made shift to get himself away through
the trees and with not a trifle of expedition.

“And now, what will you do?” I asked Rivera.

“Oh, I shall remain here,” replied Rivera, simply, “and wait for him to
return to his wits,” Here he pointed to his enemy. “He is a very bold,
strong man, and perhaps when he has recovered and rested he may want to
fight again.” This last sentence was vibrant of a dim hope.

Turning from me, Rivera brought a little snow-water in his hat from a
hollow where it had collected during the thaws and began to sprinkle
the face of his fighting friend from Whitechapel. Leaving him upon these
labors of grace and philanthropy--albeit I believe the thought uppermost
in his innocent heart was that the smitten one, when duly revived, might
declare for another battle--I again sought Peg. I went to her something
stricken of my conscience and uneasy with the fear of having neglected
my duties as her cavalier. I found her sitting upon the little knoll,
her foot drawn under her, and she nursing her right ankle in a marked
peculiar way.

“Was not Rivera grand!” exclaimed Peg, as I came up. “And you, too,
watch-dog: I shall never forget the picture of you”--Peg spoke in a
bubbling way and as though she overflowed of ecstasy--“as you flung that
crying creature in the faces of the others. It was a moment of nobility;
I shall never miss it from my memory.”

“And what has gone wrong with your foot?” said I, for from her crouching
position and the manner in which she would caress her ankle I was struck
with the fear of some disaster; nor was I wrong.

“It is my ankle,” said Peg, and I could notice how her brow was wrung
with the pain of it. “As I climbed upon this knoll in the first of it,
my foot turned under me. I did not observe until just now how sharp was
the injury.”

That was the story; Peg’s ankle, for all her strong high boots, had won
to a grievous wrench.

“Now that I’ve nothing else to think on,” said Peg, biting her lips to
smother a cry, “it gives me torture like a knife.”

“Your ankle,” said I, “is becoming swollen; and that in those
tight-laced boots, let me say, should mean a torment of the
inquisition.”

My years in the field had made me deft of strains and bruises and,
when need pressed, even broken bones and wounds more threatening. I
straightway knelt down before Peg and began with care to make loose her
footgear. What a little boot it was! “One and one-half” was the size, so
Peg told me. I slipped the boot off with mighty tenderness and put it in
the pocket of my coat.

“And I’m very proud of my small foot, watch-dog,” said Peg, a smile
struggling with the lines of pain which pinched the corners of her
mouth. “Yes, I am proud of my small foot. Why not? It came to me from
that same wareroom of nature where you got your great heart and that arm
of might, and where the good General found his honesty and his
courage. I’ve as much right to be proud of my foot as you folk of those
attributes of excellence I’ve named.”

Peg was striving to laugh down her pain with these compliments for her
foot; I could tell, moreover, that she was a far cry from success, for
her pretty argument ended in a halfsob as a pang more than commonly
severe crushed her poor ankle in its vise.

Gently I chafed Peg’s foot; and while that would do little good, it
served to soothe and modify the instant agony. Meanwhile I told her
how I would carry her home in my arms so soon as the first grief of the
sprain was chafed away.

“Carry me in your arms!” cried Peg.

“What else?” said I. “You can’t walk.”

So, then, Peg made no more demur; and presently, when her foot was well
enough, I lifted her and started through the woods. It would be no more
than just carrying a child; and since Peg put her arm about my neck, and
helped to keep her place, my own arms even failed of the full burden
of her. It was an easy task at any rate, and if you will be told it, a
sweet task, too; this walk with Peg held close, and her hair, which had
been caught up with a comb, to fall down and sweep across my throat
and face. I could taste a fragrance in that hair like a breath from the
Isles of Spice--a perfume that fair set my bosom in a flame.

It might have been the half of a mile that I carried Peg; however, I had
no knowledge of it, whether for the distance or the time, but only of a
bliss that was like a radiance, and a heart-willingness to go on and on
and on to the world’s end.

It was Peg herself who at last would bring me to my senses; for I
was pressing forward as void of speculation as a drunken man to march
through the crowded avenues of the town, Peg on my breast and my two
arms holding her tight like a treasure.

“Put me down, watch-dog,” whispered Peg, for her mouth was at the very
door of my ear, “put me down. I can stand well enough. Have me down, and
let us wait here until we can call a carriage. It would be a perplexing
sight to quiet folk were you to go striding through the streets with
such a burden.”

With a sigh to end so dear a toil, I had Peg down carefully; and there
she stood, and as she would say it, “like a chicken on one foot.” It
fell our luck that one of those carriages of public livery, whereof
there was plentiful store in the town, drove by about this time. I
called to it, and placing Peg therein, soon had her at her own door.

“I am mighty sorry for the sprain,” said I, as I lifted Peg from the
carriage.

“Are you?” quoth Peg, with an archness that would almost cloak the pain.
“Now is that gallant of you, watch-dog?” Then, making a mock of my words
and manner: “I am mighty glad for the sprain. Only, I could wish my
mother lived farther away. I never knew how close she was till now.”

As the winter wore into spring, the talk to swell and grow was of
Nullification. Calhoun’s state of South Carolina had laid aside
disguise, and while nothing worse than speeches, with now and then
a doughty resolution, were indulged in, these showed ever of that
rebellious sort that waited only to be turned into action to become
sufficient treason. The General sat brooding and watching the drift; his
plans of men and rifles and ships laid like a trap, and set to snap up
in the jaws of them the first traitor to be afoot for that secession the
Calhoun clique would claim was each state’s holy right. Altogether, the
days were on a strain, and hair turned white and folk went pale of the
cheek with the worry of the question “How will this ferment end?”

The one query of most concern related to the General. What would he do?
To what line would his resentment travel? Folk knew how he was against
Secession and States Rights and Nullification, or whatever the name
might be wherewith iniquitous rebellion pleased itself for the moment,
but would he treat these sins of politics as stark treason? Would he
fall back on courts and hangman’s ropes in dealing with them?

No one might tell. The General, after he made himself plain with that
Rhetz who came to spy out his resolves, would say no farther word. Ones
in interest might go wrong or go right; as for the General himself, he
would light no more lamps.

“Have I not told them what I will do?” cried the General. “Must I be
out of my bed o’ nights to tell them again? No; let these would-be
treason-mongers proceed as they see their way. Besides, to hang the
right man now may save the lives of later thousands.”

This was said for my ear alone; to no other would the General so much as
give one look of yea or nay.

While the General would be the sphinx over Nullification, prudent
rebellionists argued for a waiting strategy. There would dawn the
anniversary of Jefferson’s birthday; there would come that dinner at the
Indian Queen; the General’s conduct if not his words on that occasion
must surely tell his story of decision. Should he remain away, they
would know he feared to face them. Should he be present, they would try
him with toasts of treason and mark his manner under fire. They would
ask him for a sentiment; what he said or did in retort might give them
every needed glimpse. Decidedly, it was wise to wait; Secession would
keep; in the name of one’s neck and a rope, proceedings might better be
stayed until those toast experiments on the General were given a chance.

The General was well enough pleased with this uncertainty whereof he now
found himself the hub. He guarded his words, left every man to grope out
his own path for himself, and the days coursed on with the unanswered
question of the General’s determination in their mouths. Thus dwelt the
business on that day of April from the developments whereof so much was
to be hoped.

For the prior space of eight weeks or more the General had said little
to me of that banquet planned of nullifiers to uncover him on those
topics of perilous statecraft. Seeing his taste to be mysterious, I
would say nothing to the General, whether to ask a question or give a
hint of conduct, but left him to himself. I knew what he would do; and
for the detail of how he would go upon its execution, I was the more
willing to miss a forecast of it since I have a weakness for the unknown
and am as prone as any other to save up surprise for myself. Wherefore,
I would have the General make his own maps and design his own
ambuscades, and leave me in blindness of them. On that April morning I
owned no sure knowledge that the General would even attend the banquet,
to say naught of what he might do or say if ever he once were there.

It was the middle of the afternoon when the General looked into my
workshop, pipe in mouth, and said with a twinkle in his eye, a twinkle
that was both mirthful and hard: “Major, I take it you and I will go to
that dinner to-night?”

The General would put this as though it were a question; not because it
stood unsettled and unsaid as a thing resolved, but it was the way of
him when he would pay you a compliment to pretend a consultation, and
coax you into a council, hoping you would advise those things he was
already resolved upon like iron and which were often half performed.

For all I was aware of this talent on the General’s part to be polite,
and was certain, when he glanced in through my door, that both of us
would be of the band about those Indian Queen tables, I was quick to
humor his whim for the mysterious and undecided. I looked up as one who
turns a new proposal on the wheel of his thoughts.

“It is my idea,” said I at last, with the air of a man who likes the
notion’s flavor, “that your presence would work for good. I should say
we might better go. We may count the enemy, and that at least should be
something.”

“You are right,” returned the General. “We will go; and I think, too, it
might be good policy to let the foe count us.”

The Indian Queen was a crowded hostelry that night. The halls and
waiting rooms of the tavern were thronged of eminent ones. Some were
present to attend the Jefferson dinner; others casually for gossip and
to hear the news.

As the General and I would be going up the stair, my eye was caught by
the heavy shoulders and lion face of Webster coming down.

“There’s too much Secession in the wind for me,” remarked Webster, as
the General asked if he were going away.

“You did not leave the Senate for that,” responded the General. “If
Secession be here, it’s a reason for remaining.”

Webster shrugged his big shoulders and went on.

As I gazed at the group--waiting, they were, for the opening of the
banquet hall--I met many a great face. Among those about the stair-head
and in the rooms beyond were Colonel Johnson of Kentucky, tall of form,
grave of eye, he who slew Tecumseh; Benton, big, pompous, wise but
with a bottomless conceit; the lean Rufus Choate, eloquent and sound;
Corwin, round, humorous, with a face of ruddy fun; White, the dignified,
in the Senate from my own state of Tennessee; Hill, gray and lame, the
General’s friend in New Hampshire; Noah, my Hebrew with red hair; Van
Buren, Peg’s “good little secretary” of state; Vaughn, the British
minister; the quickeyed Amos Kendall, with Blair by his side; the
recreant Duff Green, now wholly for Calhoun; Calhoun himself, pale,
scholarly and fine; Huygens, that ministerial tubby personage,
gin-bleary and dull; Krudener, the Russian; Eaton, easy, florid,
urbane; Branch and Berrien and Barry and Ingham and the reckless Marcy.

The dinner was spread. The decorations were studied in their democracy.
Hundreds of candles from many-armed iron branches blazed about the plain
walls of the room and made the light of day. For the rest, the hall was
hung with flags. The stars and stripes, to be a centerpiece, was draped
about a portrait of Jefferson just to the rear of the place where Lee of
Virginia, who was to preside, would sit. Extending around the four sides
of the room were festooned the flags of the several states.

With peculiar ostentation, and next to the national colors, flowed the
banner of South Carolina, with its palmetto and rattlesnake--Calhoun’s
emblem.

“Do you see it?” said the General in a low tone, as we approached our
places, “do you see Calhoun’s flag? That serpent may rattle but it must
not strike.”

“And if it strike?”

“If it strike, it dies.”

Profusion and elegance were displayed in the arrangements, with none of
that long-drawn foolishness of courses so dear to Whigs and Federals and
other imitators of an English nobility. Black servants came and went
to shift one’s plate and knife, or to aid in carving at the call of a
guest. At hopeful intervals along the tables reposed huge sirloins and
smoking rounds of beef; there were quail pies and chickens fried and
turkeys roasted; there stood pies of venison and rabbit and pot-pies of
squirrels; soups and fishes and vegetables; boiled hams and giant dishes
of earthenware holding baked pork and beans; roast suckling pigs and
each with a crab-apple in its mouth. There were corn breads and
flour breads and pancakes rolled with jellies; sideboards upheld
puddings--Indian, rice and plum--quaking custards, and scores of kindred
dainties. Everywhere bristled ranks and double ranks of bottles and
decanters, and a widest range of drinks, from whisky to wine of the
cape, were at one’s call. There, too, stood wooden bowls of salads on
side tables, supported of weighty cheeses; and to close in the flanks
were pies, mince and pumpkin and apple, with final coffee, and slim long
pipes with tobacco of Trinidad for folk who would smoke.

Before we were seated, and while we stood to our places, the sentiment
was proposed:

“The memory of Thomas Jefferson.” The toast was drunk in silence; all
could agree on Jefferson; and then with clatter of knife and fork, the
thirsty clink of glasses, and the murmurous hum of conversation over
all, the work of the night commenced.

As the moments roved on, Nullification and Secession became so much the
open objects of many present, and were withal so loosely in the common
air, that sundry gentlemen--more timorous than loyal, perhaps--made
excuses and withdrew.

The General’s presence was a plain surprise to more than one; they could
not construe it. For himself, he carried it off as though his being
there were the most expected of possible things. The General sat on the
right hand of the presiding Lee. I was, myself, to the General’s right
hand. Opposite was Calhoun with that Calhoun triangle of the cabinet,
Berrien, Branch and Ingham. The quartet got on most beamingly. The
General, as we came up, rendered them a sweeping bow which they might
share among them.

“Calhoun,” whispered the General, indicating the Vice-President with a
nod, “is, you see, openly claiming his half of my cabinet. I’ll startle
him some day by making him a present of the three.”

An hour passed on; the banquet reached that glass-and-bottle stage which
Noah anticipated. There were a round score of regular toasts; each would
smell of secession, while the speeches were even more malodorous of that
villainy.

I, with a hundred others, was narrowly watching the General, and,
well as I knew him, I wondered at the calmness wherewith he maintained
himself. This man who had a genius for anger, who went head-free into
each debate, who offered you his last thoughts in an unrestricted stream
of talk, would now be as impassive as marble. The General, throughout
these wordy treasons of speech and toast, showed cold and stern and
master of a dignity that became both himself and the exalted character
of his station.

The hour was hurrying towards the late. Calhoun glanced across at the
General; there was a questioning uneasiness in his look. Evidently the
urgent moment was at hand.

Calhoun offered a slip of paper to Lee, presiding, and whispered a word.

“The Vice-President proposes a toast,” cried Lee.

There fell a stillness, laughter died and talk was hushed. The Chairman
read:

“‘_The Federal Union. Next to our liberty, the most dear. May we all
remember that it can only be preserved by respecting the rights of the
States, and distributing equally the benefits and the burden of the
Union_.’”

That stillness of death continued, marked and profound. Folk strained
and craned at both the General and Calhoun as do ones who would observe
the effect of a shot. There were eyes replete of interrogation, and if
one must have it truly told, defiance, to be peculiarly turned upon the
General.

For his part, the General never wore a loftier look. He scribbled a
quick line and gave it to the Chairman.

“The President offers a toast.” Then solemnly, as one who feels its
import:

’”_The Federal Union: It must be Preserved_.’”

The General’s glance was on Calhoun, as pointed as a sword. His eye was
fierce with a sort of gray fury like the eye of some fighting eagle.
Calhoun for a moment gave him look for look; then his glance fell, his
face whitened, he would seem to shrink and sear and wither before the
man of fire. It was as though he saw the future’s danger, or felt some
gallows prophecy thereof. In the end he sat like one under a blackness
of shadow.

The General it was who broke the spell. Pushing back, he arose, and
bowing to the Chairman who still sat with that toast of menace in his
hand he began moving towards the door. His head was lifted, and he
bore himself as should one who flings a gauntlet to the world. Openly,
obviously, defiantly, he set his heel on Secession’s head in the midst
of Secession’s champions.

Pausing, the General swept those present, letting his look of challenge
rest on each one in his turn. It was as though he questioned them:
“Where, now, is your courage?”

There was none to retort to him. Folk scented peril on him as cattle
smell in the wind the unborn storm.

“The Federal Union. It must be preserved.” The General, as though to
call a last attention, repeated his toast. Then, with burning eye laid
full upon Calhoun, and thinking, doubtless, on Overton and Crockett and
Houston and Dale and Coffee and those riflemen in hunting shirts and
leggings, and on the ships and Scott and Castle Pinckney, he added: “And
it shall be preserved.”

It was the moment pregnant and mighty; the moment when one man foiled
a plot to stampede history itself, and calmed and turned and drove the
herd of events in a right national direction for the Union and to fields
of quiet peace. Treason’s heart and Treason’s hand were palsied with
a toast of seven words, when now the words came wedded with the grim,
relentless courage that would die or make them true.

The galleries about the big room were filled with women looking on, Peg
among the others. When the General and I were again at the White House,
late as stood the hour, we found Peg waiting. I never saw a being more
given over to fire than was our Peg.

“Was he not noble?” cried Peg, when she would have me alone for a
moment. “Was he not grand? I would give my life if for one hour I might
be a man, and be a man like that.”

And yet for all the plain sureness of that toast, and the General’s
looks of decision which were sent to be its escort, the rebellionists
would ask a further sign. They sent the insinuating Rhetz to call upon
the General. That was the next morning.

The politic Rhetz presented himself, and the General met him with a
manner of studied distance. He would have the visitor to know how he
held him for no friend. This was meant to give the General’s words more
weight-, since the other would understand that he stood upon guard and
spoke nothing he did not intend to carry out.

“Mr. President,” said Rhetz, suavely deferential, “I go back to my home
to-morrow. Have you any message for your South Carolina friends?”

“Yes,” returned the General, with his cold eye on the questioner, “yes,
I have a message for my friends of South Carolina.” The words were
coming with a slow emphasis like a sentence of death. “Their state is a
part of the Union, and a part of the Union it shall remain. You may
tell them, if one South Carolina finger be raised in defiance of this
government, that I shall come down there; and once I’m there, I’ll hang
the first man I lay hands on to the first tree I can reach.”



CHAPTER XV--HOW PEG WAS SAVED FROM PEG.

Now when the General’s toast at that banquet in the Indian Queen had
gone abroad, it would have the effect of a warning, each man taking
it home. A mighty silence fell upon States Rights; the foxes of
Nullification found their dens, and were to be noticed for a sudden
absence from one’s eye and ear where but the day before with their
presence and their yelpings they would fill both.

It will have a strange look, but it was the General, himself, who of all
folk fostered a distrust of his course.

It was to Noah and me he one day told this. Noah mentioned the vast
silence of a voiceless conservatism which had fallen upon that movement
of Secession, late so reboant and rampant.

“And yet,” said the General, “the story of the country will at last show
me wrong.”

“Will you say how?” asked Noah. “Surely, you do not doubt the common
need of a union between the States, and one strong enough to defy the
caprice or the ambition of a clique?”

“My sentiment for the Union,” said the General, “has suffered no
modification, and it is because I stand for union and would die for
union, that I am not sure of the wisdom of that toast of mine. It would
have been better to stand aloof, and let Secession go the length of
treason. Had I held to such a course, perhaps as many as one hundred
might have answered for the crime with their lives. But the question
would have been settled; the dispute would have been made _res
adjudicata_ and the future forever freed of that struggle. Now the
serpent is only bruised, not killed; in years to follow yours and mine
it will revive in rebellion and may yet crush the country in its folds.”

“I can not think you are right,” said I, for I was having part in the
conversation with the others; “I am no judge, or you have closed the
door against this Nullification.”

“Ay!” responded the General, “closed but not locked the door. It should
have been barred with a gibbet. Folk are not taught by threats but by
example. Had I stayed myself until the leaders for Secession went so far
they were hanged for it, that would have meant the end. Now the business
is deferred; the country will yet be forced to fight a civil war and
wade knee-deep in blood to save itself.”

“Is it,” asked Noah, curiously, “is it now you first hold these views?”

“They are not new,” returned the General; “I owned them from the
beginning. But I lacked the hardihood to act on them. I grow old; I have
been in my hour the instrument by which so much blood has been shed that
in my grey age I shrink from more. That toast was devised to save myself
from spilling further blood; I was thinking on myself when I framed it
and not of those black ones who would do treason. Its great purpose was
to save me from becoming their executioner.”

“Now your feeling is mine too,” observed Noah, shaking a thoughtful
head. “The seed of the whole trouble is slavery; while that exists, the
certain chance of civil war stands open.”

“And how would one be rid of it?” demanded the General, passionately.
“Washington was against slavery, Jefferson was against it, Franklin was
against it, every great one whose trowel employed itself in laying the
foundations of our government was against it, and yet there to-day it
lives. They could not cope with slavery; how, then, shall we?”

“It existed in the North,” said Noah, “and it was wiped out.”

“The slaves were few in the North,” responded the General; “as chattels
they made but a slim fraction of that region’s riches. Moreover, slavery
did not pay a Northern profit. It is easy, when there is money loss,
to abandon the cause of that loss. But conditions within the present
boundaries of slavery show otherwise. The slave’s cost of keep is less,
his months of labor more in number, and he is not winter-killed with
maladies of the lungs. Moreover, your slave makes a fairer unit of
labor in rice savannahs and cotton fields, where a plantation carries
thousands of acres, than he did where land was more divided and a farm
of a hundred and sixty acres the common holding of a man. In short, the
slave spins that money profit for the South which was lacking in the
North. That fact of profit--the greed of men--will meet folk who would
free the slave and make you a mighty difference.”

“And still,” said Noah, “slavery should be stricken down.”

“To that I agree,” remarked the General, “but again I ask you, How?
Certain of our New England radicals, when they shout for Abolition, cry
‘Down with slavery!’ as lightly as one should say: ‘Marry! swallow a
strawberry.’ When a man is in the upper story of a burning house he does
not hurl himself from a window, he descends by the stair. Let us, when
now we be ablaze over slavery--for it is that, as you say, to lie at the
bottom of this whole movement of States Rights--let us grope cautiously
until we find the safe stairway of escape.”

“It is not so clear to my mind,” said I, for the spirit to lecture,
excited by example, began to move within me, “that slavery is so bad for
the blacks. One must have account for a difference of race. You would
not insist that a deer tear a prey with his teeth and howl on some
hill of midnight like a wolf. It has been the never-flagging mistake of
government to deal with the Indian as though he were white, and enforce
pale-face conditions upon him. It would be as rife of error to proceed
with the negro as though he were white or could work out a white man’s
destiny. Make the black man free, and I tell you he will be as helpless
as a ship ashore on the instant.”

“To better the black,” said the General, “is not my argument; I am
against slavery to better the white man. When I seek to destroy slavery,
it is the master I would free, and not the slave.”

Just what the General would intend by this last I had no opportunity
to discover, for the zealous Jim was heard at the door, ushering in our
Peg.

“Never mind, Miss Peg,” I could hear Jim say, in a way of patronizing
reassurance, and evidently in combat of some suggestion of Peg’s that
she would defer her appearance among us, “never mind about d’Marse Major
an’ d’Marse Gen’ral an’ that red-head Jew gentleman argufyin’. That
don’t count for nothin’; they’re allers at it, night an’ day, argufyin’
away like they aint got a minute to live, and nothin’ to never come of
it. Never mind ‘em, Miss Peg; you-all jes’ trapse right along in an’
declar’ your urrent.”

With Peg’s coming, Noah made polite expedition to retire; nothing one
might do or say would serve to keep him. He who could look a man in the
eye and stand knee to knee with him for life or death, feared a woman as
though she were a ghost and fled from the mere sight of her.

“I am somewhat abashed,” said Peg, “to think of the disturbance I have
caused, and that I drive away your visitor.” This to the General. “Why
did you not make him stay? I shall never forget my debt to him; and I’m
glad, too, he is so much your favorite.”

“Noah puts us all in his debt,” said the General. “To me he is the man
remarkable; fine, high, yet bold and quick, there will be no one to take
his place when he is gone.”

Peg’s purpose was to tell the General--for he had asked the question in
a little note that morning--how she should like the dinner and that East
Room dance he offered, on the next evening but one.

“Is not the time too short?” asked the General. “Forty-eight hours would
seem no mighty space for folk to make themselves prepared. They may own
other engagements.”

“There will be no engagements,” said Peg. “The season is quite at an
end; the Redsticks, as you christened them, closed their defeated doors
six weeks ago, and for our own side, we only continued our receptions
two weeks longer to show how we remained masters of the field. There
will stand nothing in the way; and as for space to be ready in, why,
then, folk don’t need hours, but only minutes, when the invitation is
from the White House.”

“Let us say the day following to-morrow, then,” said the General. “It
shall be for your victory, child, and to celebrate it. Also, since
the losers as well as the victors have proper place in a triumph, and,
again, because it will look like the olive branch and an expression of
peace, we will bid both friend and foe to this merrymaking, and mark it
with as wide a good feeling as our opponents will accept.”

Peg’s dinner, as dinners go, was a creature of magnificence, with Peg,
beautiful as a moss-rose, at the General’s right, and Dolly Madison’s
own silver--massy, and, as the women said, “gorgeous,”--to glisten on
the white napery. The General’s wide-flung invitations were as widely
accepted; and not alone the Van Burens and the Krudeners and the
Vaughns, but the Calhouns and the Berriens and the Branches, and all of
the sept of Nullification, were there, as though to put down any surmise
of sulky fear for themselves to be the offshoot of that conflict of the
toasts. Even the frivolous Pigeon-breast was with us undismayed; albeit
he practiced a forbearance touching Peg, and never once after the first
formalities so far forgot his caution as to be near enough to that
sparkling lady to court the awful hazard of her glance.

There came but one clash beneath my notice, and that would feed my
humor. Houston was just come into town, as rude and tangled a gentleman
in every politer technicality as the bears of his native woods. With
him for his table-mate he bore away the wife of Ingham of the Treasury.
Houston guarded his prize to her place with a ferocious backwoods
vigilance as though it were indeed the enemy’s country and they in peril
of some Indian ambuscade with each new room they entered. The lady, with
a tact as crude as Houston’s knowledge of the drawing-room, perceiving
the savageries of her protector, would be prompt to establish herself
as directress’ of his manners. Poor Houston suffered more than once the
humiliation of the lady’s counsel, given in a high, obvious voice, and
with the manner of one who corrects a novice dull to the confines of
despair.

The rupture befell over fish and when a portion of delicate pompano was
placed before the headlong Houston.

“That is not the fish fork,” cautioned the lady in a whisper so loud it
bred a smile on thirty faces either side of her; “that is not the fish
fork; here, take this.”

“By Satan’s hoofs, madam!” exclaimed the wrathful Houston, whose
long-stifled resentment would now be in the saddle, at the same time
brandishing the huge trident he had somehow gotten hold on; “by Satan’s
hoofs! keep your fish forks for whom you will. For myself, I’ll eat this
catfish with my saber if I have the mind.”

Later I heard the distempered lady confide to a neighbor how Houston was
“an untaught brute,” while that hurt hero told me on his word as a man
that for those several hours he was in her company, he had less of ease
than at the Horseshoe where he was given four wounds.

The East Room, when agile ones would dance was brilliant in white and
gold and crystal chandeliers, with floor of water-soaked oak so polished
it reflected the gay dresses like a looking-glass, and so slippery that
clumsy ones, like myself, went gingerly about it in terror for their
bones.

Peg was as glorious as a star, and to me never more lovely, albeit my
coral on her bosom may have had somewhat to do with that. And to see her
so bowed to and flattered was like a perfume; for it looked as though
the foe would forego those old-time tactics of distance and averted
gaze, and that a new word was abroad in Peg’s behalf. There came no one
to more emphasize his courtesy or show more attentive in what might do
Peg honor than the Vice-President himself, and with him were the members
of that cabinet triumvirate who had cast in their narrow lots with him.
Even the stately Mrs. Calhoun would be gracious in a far-off sort, while
the ladies Berrien and Branch relaxed from a former frigidity, and if
not torrid, were at all events of the temperate zone when the etiquette
of the floor would bring Peg and them in contact. As for the vigorous
Madam Ingham, she was so overcome of her labors in elevation of Houston
that following dinner she could do nothing but repose herself. However,
for so much as she remained in the picture, she beamed affably in a fat,
vermilion way, and her red face was like the setting sun.

The male Ingham, being in prodigious fettle, would fain waddle onto
the treacherous floor with Peg in his hand for a dance; for Ingham was
sensibly exalted of his valor since Eaton, whom he held in fear, was
not present, but off in Baltimore on some long-drawn duty about new
rifles--meant, I fear me, for Nullifiers, should their pot of treason
over-boil. I will say this of Ingham, however: for all his rotund
uncouthness, he went through that dance without falling down; a no small
feat I should call it, and one to give me relief, since for the while
it lasted I was held on tenter-hooks over Peg’s safety, and would hover
about ready to rush in and save her should affairs go badly between
Ingham and the glass-like floor.

There occurred one incident of harshness I could have wished left out.
It was when that Frau Huygens drew up to Peg and would greet her as
though there were no such name as Krudener and no such story as the
slight she cast on Peg in the Russian’s dining room. The gross Frau
Huygens was arrayed in her one garish frock of many colors, and which
her prudence to save money and buy no more frocks had made so well
known.

Frau Huygens, trained to the venture, doubtless, by her husband, who
still dwelt in fear of Van Buren and those passports which should
return him to the Hague, swept before Peg with the grace of a cabbage on
parade. When Peg, in response to her greeting, was silent and would only
look on her in a baffled manner, as though her memory were at bay, Frau
Huygens exclaimed, with a Dutch thickness of reproach which no one might
imitate with a pen:

“Madam, don’t you remember me?”

“Well, then,” said Peg, as one who makes every polite effort and yet
fails, “I remember your dress very well, but your face is strange to
me.”

With that I swooped on Peg and whisked her away, for I had a horror of
what might follow.

“And there,” cried Peg, with an unctuous gurgle, “was it not a best of
fortunes, watchdog, that she should give me that opportunity? Now we are
quits; and I think, too, I have her in my debt.”

There was nothing to be said to this, and

I made myself content with thoughts of how we were no worse off.

Late one afternoon when the hour was drawing towards the close of the
day, I had planted myself at a window and was looking across to the
President’s Square, and, since her gables were of necessity in the
corner of my eye, carrying Peg vaguely on my meditations. It had been a
still, windless day of the early spring, but, for all it stood so late
of the season, with a heaviness in the air that smelled of snow.

Now I am not one readily to be borne upon by imps in blue, and would
commonly give you the reason of my gloomy mood, if gloom I were a spoil
to. But this was the day odd for me, since I was pressed hard with a
sense of disaster and the feeling as of some threat in the air like a
knife, that I liked not at all and understood still less. What was it to
so hang upon me like a millstone or a sibyl-spoken prophecy of death? I
would try to laugh it down; but the smile I wrung from my unwilling lips
owned so much of bitterness that in mere defence I surrendered myself to
a pensive resignation instead, as being of two evils the lesser one, and
so paused for what blow might descend upon me. Some disaster pended, of
that my spirit went convinced; and I folded my hands and waited for the
future to announce its name.

While I was thus by the window it began to snow. It was of your
left-over storms which have been held captive in caverns of the clouds,
to at last escape and overtake the world a month or more behind the
proper time. There was no stir to the air, and the day went still and
moderate; and yet I never looked on such a fall of snow, with flakes big
and soft as a baby’s hands. Even as I gazed, the ground under my eyes
turned from a new spring green to white, while the trees across were
snow from roots to very finger-tips, and showed in milky fretwork
against the low dullness of the sky.

As I stood watching these white changes in the face of things--for
the spectacle would charm me like mesmerism and made me forget my
forebodes--the General laid a gentle hand upon my shoulder. This, too,
had its side to startle, for the General, while as tender as a woman,
was in nowise demonstrative, and not one to be patting your shoulder or
slapping your back.

In dim fashion those thin fingers would add themselves to that threat of
sadness, and stir a new alarm inside my bosom.

“What is it?” I asked, as though he solicited my notice to something
urgent or unusual; “what should it be now?”--my voice not firm but
tremulous.

The General looked on me with an affectionate, consolatory eye, and yet,
somehow, his glance would fit in ominously with my feeling. I could tell
how I stood at the point of bad tidings.

And at that he began far enough away, for his first words were of the
long ago.

“I was thinking,” said he, “of that time my horse was shot and pinned me
by the leg in the fight on the Tombigbee. Do you recall how you sprang
from your saddle and flung the dying horse aside as though you but
hefted a rabbit?”

“When it comes to that,” I returned, “I supposed that you as well as
your horse were shot down, and the fear gave me a flash of strength.”

The General was silent, his hand still on my shoulder. Then he began
again, musingly.

“We must ever be together, Major,” said he; “we must stay together to
the last. I shall die first; I am eighteen years nearer the grave than
you and shall go on ahead. It is you--I look to you for this--it is
you who must be by my side to close my eyes. We must never part; we are
lonely men and lonesome men, and shall make no new friends. We must be
for that the closer to each other.”

Now, even through my clouds, these words would strike me as lacking
object or coherency. What should be the matter? Was there some wrong
with him or with me? He had not spoken in this vein even when he lay in
the vale of death.

“Why,” said I, “there is no present need to talk on death, thank God!
Why should you talk on death?”

“It was not death but you, I had on my mind,” he replied. “I would never
be parted from you.”

“Nor shall you,” I declared; “although I should count the absence of
myself no loss to you or any one.”

This was not it; what would he be about?

“Well, let us put aside dole,” cried he, cheering himself with an
effort; “now folk would call us two fortunate, I warrant you, to be
looking from a White House window upon a world all ours. Come, we will
have a brisker view; I have great news for you, and news to make you
stare. Nor will I beat about the bush, but go to the heart at once. I am
about to dissolve my cabinet.”

“What!” I exclaimed, for here was a thing without a precedent.

“My cabinet is to dissolve. I have arranged for it. Van Buren will
tender his resignation as of his own desire; Eaton and Barry will follow
suit. If Calhoun’s three do not take the hint and act on so good an
example, then I will bring them to book with a demand. I will say that,
half of my cabinet being gone, I desire to sweep clean the site and rear
up in its place a new edifice of counsel.”

My thoughts were in a tumult, and the blood in me seemed seized of riot.
It was a strange thing, that from the moment the General’s hand fell
upon my shoulder it seemed to hold Peg before my eyes. And when he
talked it was as though he spoke her name with every word.

“Yes,” he went on, “Van Buren’s resignation will be in my hands
to-morrow; Eaton’s so soon as he returns from Baltimore, say in a week;
then Barry’s will come along in the wake of Eaton’s. I shall send
Van Buren Minister to England. He shall be Vice-President for my second
term, as you and I have planned, and President after that.”

“But Peg,” cried I, at last; “what will you do with Peg?”

The General would try to smile at this, but the effort was as futile as
had been my own. But he did not fence at me with any jesting reminder of
how Peg was no part of his cabinet; he met my thought squarely and would
make allowance for my feeling.

“It is most natural,” he returned, “that you should ask of Peg. We have
guarded our little girl too long--you and I--not to own her first in
our concern. Peg, then, shall go to Florida and be a queen. I shall give
Eaton that Governorship; we may yet need a firm hand in St. Augustine.
Is it not a good thought? Our Peg shall rule among those Spaniards; it
will almost be to have a throne and wear a crown. Does not that please
you, when now her station under kinder skies is to be so splendid and so
notably enhanced?”

From him I turned and paced the room; then from sadness my anger began
to swell, for I am one whose grief runs with the end of it into wrath.

“Tell me one thing,” cried I at last, pausing before the General. “Why
do you dissolve your cabinet?”

“Will it not lop off three arms of Calhoun’s power?” he asked. “Does it
not palsy Branch and Ingham and Berrien?”

“But is that the true reason?” I demanded.

“It is the one I shall let the world believe, it any rate.”

“That should be no answer,” I retorted, my heart like a furnace with the
rage that was coming over me. “Why do you palter? I have the right to
know. You have made your dozen poor jests upon me, and said I was in
love with Peg. Perhaps you would mean those jests. I tell you I do not
believe your word when you say it is a move against Calhoun. That is
mere glamour and fallacy and meant for blindness. It is no tale to tell
me as though I were some common gull. Give me your reason, then--the
true one. Does Eaton know he is to go?”

All this I reeled off, and gave the General no opening for an answer,
asking a dozen questions at once. But he sat quiet and with a friendly
patience, and his face spoke to me only of nearness and sympathy, and
never a shade of hurt for the rudeness I visited upon him. What a heart
of gold was his! He, who bore nothing from an enemy, would bear all at
the hands of a friend.

When I was run out of queries he began to take me up, beginning at the
end.

“Eaton knows,” said he; “he knew before he left for Baltimore. For him
the change will be a relief; his has been no bed of flowers, and in St.
Augustine his place and power, and last, not least, his peace, will gain
promotion.”

“Doubtless,” said I, in a high pitch of scorn, “he can there flaunt his
riches in the faces of the Dons, and show Peg’s beauty, and make a vast
display.”

“You interrupt me,” remarked the General. “However let me ask a
question: Why do you remind me how I’ve jested and mayhap made some idle
laugh between us, and as innocent as idle, over your feeling for the
little girl? Why do you put that to me?”

“Because,” said I, in a fury, “I think you break up your cabinet for
that. You will have it how Peg is in some peril of me; you would send
Peg to Florida on a pretense to make her safe from me. There you have
it. You see I can be the honester and the franker man. I pass you my
heart on a spear.”

The General arose from the chair into which he had flung himself, and
taking me by the two shoulders, would look on me squarely, while I in my
turn must gaze into his gray depths. I could see the tears stand in his
fine eyes.

“Let me tell you one thing,” said he. “I but repeat what you know as
well as I, when I say that should you harbor thought of Peg, or look
on her in lights other than as the wife of a friend, it would be black
disgrace to yourself and to me, and most of all to Peg. And do you think
I would not trust you? Man, I need no sentry over you save the sentry of
your own conscience, no guard other than the guard your honor sets. You
would do no wrong to Peg. It is not you I fear; on your faith I would
stake my soul’s hope of a meeting I look and long for after death. Will
you have my reason now for what I do? It is not to save Peg from you;
it is to save Peg from Peg, she goes to Florida. And to save our Peg I’d
break a dozen cabinets.”

It was now grown dark, and the silent storm swept down more whitely
dense than before. I threw a heavy military cloak about me and stepped
out into the night. I had no set purpose, no destination; but some sure
influence tugged at me, and then the house would seem to choke and its
heat to smother me; I wanted the darkness and the coolness and to be
alone. Was it some sweet power beckoning my heart, or merely a plain
instinct to save and recover myself, one that any hard-struck animal
might have had, to thus take me forth into the midst of the blinding
storm?

My journey through the gathering drifts was not pushed far when, under
one of the oil lamps that flanked the road and shed a sickly flare
through the thick-falling snow, I beheld a closed carriage drawn up. It
was one of those vehicles of hire common of the place, and beyond being
better than most, and with two powerful horses that would have looked
well hauling a gun in a battery, nothing to mark it. At first glance I
thought it had come by some mishap to running gear or axle-tree.

As I was for pushing by, quite heedless of the stalled carriage and
thinking only on my own broken heart, some one plucked me by the cloak.
Wheeling sharply, I saw it was the coachman who had leaped from his box
to interrupt me.

There would be no mistaking the massive shoulders and easy pose; it was
Rivera.

“What’s this?” said I. “When did you turn whip?”

Rivera gave me no words, but motioning towards the carriage, swung
again to his place with the reins. As he did so, there came a tap on the
glass.

Somewhat in a maze, I approached and flung open the door. In the dark
depths I made out the vague outlines of a woman.

“Get in.” It was Peg’s voice.

Without demur or question I took my place beside her and shut the door;
with that, Rivera cracking a thong over the sleepy horses to rouse them,
the carriage at a slow pace began moving Georgetown way.

“Hold me close to you,” whispered Peg, her low tones falling on my ears
like a cry of pain, “hold me close to you; I am cold.”



CHAPTER XVI.--LOVE’S FUNERAL IN THE SNOW.

As though in a dream I took Peg in under my great cloak, and having my
arm about her would now hold her close and warm to my side. Her ear was
over my heart as her face lay pressed against me, and I only hope she
could understand the story of that throbbing.

For myself I was in a mid-swirl of mere confusion, with my wits all
upside down, and no clear notion of what I did or why. The General’s
word of that Florida business, the cabinet to break and Peg to go away
from me, made it for the moment as though the floor of the world had
given way beneath my feet. It would provoke chaos and seem the end of
things.

It was never said of me, even by the least informed, that I would be
swayed in any kind or made to pause in what I went about by the counsel
of conventionality. I had lived a life half-bitted, and for the main
with bridle on my neck; the last I cared for were the frowns or the
smiles of folk. If it were a woman to talk against the teeth of my
fancy, I would turn my back on her; if a man, I had a way to gag his
tongue if it should be no better than the butt of my pistol. And yet,
however loose my habit or dull my knowledge of those matters, I did not
go without a fashion of cold shock on Peg’s behalf when I was so far my
own man again as to dwell on our position--we, plodding through the snow
and the darkness, locked in that carriage.

This mood of apprehension was so much in the upper-hand with me that
it came to be the impulse, and would suggest the topic I laid tongue to
when first I found my words. It was not without a mighty effort of the
will that I obliged myself to some steadiness of utterance. Then, and
not very craftily, I might observe, I, in the manner of one who
thinks aloud, and surely as much to myself as to Peg, gave vent to an
exclamation under my breath. Indeed, I would not have looked for Peg
to hear me, since her head--pretty ears and all--was buried beneath the
thick folds of my cloak.

“What if folk were to know!” I said.

Then came Peg’s voice like a half stifled murmur of despair.

“What should I care who knows?” cried she. “It is my heart’s funeral! My
heart is dead and we go upon its funeral in this snow!”

At that, without well heeding what I was about, and doubtless drawn to
it by the note of woe in Peg’s tones, I held her to my side even more
closely than before. Thus we remained for a long space in utter silence,
neither speaking a word, while the quiet storm stole down upon us and
the slow wheels forced their passage through the white cold levels of
the snow.

After a bit, Peg’s head, curls in a tangle and hood removed, was thrust
outside my cloak, which garment, however, she would continue to wrap
about her and hold with her hand.

“I would still be near to you,” she said, as though in explanation of
the cloak, “though I am no longer cold.”

The mere truth was, the night, while a choke and smother of snow, was
nothing chill, being bare freezing for a temperature and never a breath
of air to stir, and the inside of the big carriage as warm as many a
library. And yet, when I would first get in, I found Peg shivering as
with an ague. That was gone now and she more in control.

Peg would now be more mistress of herself and speak with a measure of
firmness.

“You have heard?” she asked.

“The General,” I returned, “has told me you are to go to Florida. But
how should you have been told? Or was it known to you for long?”

This latter I put a little viciously, for it struck me on the moment how
Peg might have been aware of this new destiny for days, and hidden it
from me. But no; she had come to her information but an hour before.
Even while the General with his hand on my rebellious shoulder gave me
the story of it, the letter which told the news to Peg was put within
her hands.

“It was to have been a secret,” said she, “and my husband would have
kept it until his return. But he will be detained beyond his plans; he
wrote me because of preparations I must make.”

While Peg said this, her face was held up towards mine, and even in the
vague lights, which were rather the ghosts of lights than any radiance
however dim, I could catch some whiteness of it.

Suddenly her head was in its old resting place over my heart, with the
cloak to again become its cover.

“Watch-dog,” whispered Peg, and I might tell how deeply she was stricken
by the quaver of her voice, as much as by a trembling that swept her as
a gust rumples the surface of a tarn; “watch-dog, I felt that I would
not live unless I saw you. Do you contemn me? Do you own shame for your
little friend? I could not help it; I sent for Rivera, and made him
fetch this carriage. We are alone--hidden from the world’s eyes. I have
torn a night from the hands of Time to be no one’s night save ours. I
waited by the lamp; my soul called to you and I knew you would come. I
would not send; I was sure you would be with me without that. I should
have died if I had not found you. Say that I did right, watch-dog. Say
that it was right! I only cry for your one word; what others will think
or say I care not, but I could not bear up against your anger! Say that
I did right; say it!--say that you are glad.”

“I will say it all and intend it all, my little one!” Here I stroked
Peg’s tangle of curls as one would pet a child.

My whole being was wrapped in a storm and my bosom caged a whirlwind.
I could be calm enough, apparently, and yet I was growing aware of that
tempest of spirit which shook me like an aspen. I had been dull--dull
to the point of crime; but now my wisdom would begin to sharpen and
brighten itself.

Still, I had so much coolness to call my own that I was glad of the fact
of Rivera. I remember thinking on that; for, with no more words than the
dumb, he was as secret as a mole and as honest, withal, and
single-hearted as a hound. There would be none to know; as Peg said, she
had torn a night from eternity to be ours and ours alone.

While these thoughts went tumbling down the steeps of my conjecturings,
I continued mechanically to caress Peg’s hair, and it felt like a web of
gossamer in my coarse fingers.

“Contemn you, child!” said I, and my voice was not much louder than had
been hers, and I bent down my head so that she might hear; “contemn
you! I would as soon impeach the snow outside, new given from the sky,
denouncing it for soot.”

Peg began to weep, and I could hear the sharp catching of her sobs.
Suddenly the moan came sighing up to me:

“Oh, if there were no such word as right or justice or duty, but only
love--just love!” Then with a quick backward twist of her form that was
like an impulse, and as replete of a swift grace as any suppleness of
that long ago leopard whereof she would so often make me think, Peg
turned herself in my arms, and with her own encircling my neck lay
crying on my bosom. I held her close--closer. I could tell the beating
of her heart, count the footfalls of her nature as though she were
parcel of myself. How I loved her! adored her!--my prone spirit would
fall on its knees to her for its Deity.

The while, too, and with my soul at these prayers, my candor would
arrest me for the traitor I was. Where should be that conscience the
General spoke on? Or where that honor which was to have been as a sentry
to check my strayings? That honor was recreant where love would take the
field against it; that conscience was so much apostate of the right
it would frame an argument of equity and claim superior liberty for
superior love, and be all for carrying Peg away. My boasted manhood was
a rope of sand!

Even now, as weary-white with years I tell this tale of dead and other
days, I yet wonder upon that discovery of myself. This was what I beheld:
I had loved Peg from the start; the General’s jest was sober truth. I
would worship her, and then cheat myself with lie and sophistry to hide
my villainy against my own detection. And now when the mask was fallen
and I stood face to face with the true image of my infamy, would I still
press forward to my sins? Or would I think on the good General, and the
pain and the foul stain for each of us which I was about to compass?

It was this to run in my mind, but all in a dimmest way to be imagined,
and as though it were a dream and nothing true. As bonds to stay me,
these thoughts came to be no more than packthreads; as props to uphold
me, trembling to a fall, they proved the merest, reeds to lean on. With
Peg cradled in my arms, her heart beating on my own, she filled out the
world for me and thrust all else beyond the frontier of my outmost hope
or fear. I wanted only Peg, would heed no other call, and whether it
were right or wrong or black or white I cared not. Caught fast in the
mills, I was wholly ground between Peg and my mighty love for her. In
a supreme egotism and the selfishness that goes wanting heart or
conscience, I would set torch to the skies before I gave her up.

It is the fair wellhead of amazement how a man is thus strange to
himself; how he will defeat his own best prophecy and be as opposite as
night and day to all he promised. Folk have never accounted me weak, and
I myself would have said I was a man of stone. I have been described for
one of resolution. I have spurred my horse across the front of beaten
troops, terror-whipped and in retreat. I’ve ridden against them, and
with word and point of sword forced them to a halt. I’ve wheeled them,
and, since they would not go without, driven them back like sheep; and
then, when they would be of a braver hope, taken their lead and whirled
them like lions upon the foe they lately fled from, and won a battle
with them. And now I, who was granite in the face of men, had only a
will of water for this girl who wept across my heart.

“Take me away!” she cried; “oh, take me away!”

Then it was my love swept down upon her like a strong wind. I take shame
to repeat what I said. Bluntly I would disregard all claims, forfeit
honor, forget the General and defy the rest; we would wander to new
regions, she and I, and set up our idol of blind love. Carried by my
soul’s wish, I would leave her nothing untold; I would bow down at her
feet and beg of her to come with me.

As I spoke, Peg would seem to turn more calm and comforted. She did not
withdraw from my arms, but rested in them like a child. And yet there
arose a sad steadfastness to wrap her about that was a check and a bar
to me.

“Watch-dog,” said Peg at last, and her manner was the manner of one who
grieves, “watch-dog, I am a wicked woman. I live my life backward, and
it would be as though I could not help or save myself. My feet take hold
on baseness, and my hands spin evil for those who do me good. My touch
is a darkness--a palsy--a death. Oh, why was I born!” Peg wailed; “why
was I sent to destroy the ones I love!”

Not a word would now come to me. I was silenced and sat like one
convicted, waiting sentence. But that cold thought still crept about my
heart like a snake. I would--I must have Peg; I would give my share in
God to make her mine!

“What should be the wrong in me?” Peg went on. “Knowing the right from
the left, I take ever the left hand turning; seeing good and evil, I
choose the bad, and there rises a black glory in my heart like a cloud
of pleasant sin to swallow up repentance. Oh, if I might only tame
myself to an appearance of right and be a hypocrite when I may not be a
saint!”

Peg was presently better restored to herself. In the very moment when
the gates of my soul would open to let it forth to her and I gave myself
into her hands to be fashioned by her as she would, Peg began to gather
steadiness. It was she to now think and speak and decide for both of
us; for myself, I was clean swept away. I was not to know this new
strength of Peg’s from her tones alone, or the trend of what she uttered;
I could feel her heart-throbs become firmer and more slow as she lay
in my arms, and it was in them I read the truth of her resolve.

“Watch-dog,” said Peg in a way most sweetly solemn, “I think nothing
of myself. If it were I alone to be unmade, I’d never leave your arms
again. Come weal, come woe, here would I bide, and while your arms were
round me the worst would change to be the best. But I will not see you
under the mire of men’s tongues. Dear one, you would die! You are one
whose life grows on his honor like a flower on its stem; disgrace would
cut you down and you would die. And yet, I am glad I love you; I am
glad I care nothing for myself. Let my fate be woven to me coarse as
sackcloth, harsh as nettles, yet will I exult while I draw its folds
about me. I will go on as a world would say I should; and if the way of
life lie steep, I’ll still climb on and think I toil for you; and if it
be stony and if it bruise my feet, I’ll say I suffer that to keep you
safe; I’ll make my grief my Eden and find in the endless woe of your
surrender a nobler, higher, more immortal transport than would have
owned me in your arms. And there will be another world!” Peg’s tones
swung low to my ear, and mystical. “Watch-dog, there he lives after
this.”

Peg was silent for a space, and would turn even and cool and in a way of
content. I, on my part, might neither say her yea nor nay, for I was in
the hollow of her hand like a pebble to be retained or cast by her into
the sea as she should conclude.

And somehow I was no longer in the dark. I loved her; and yet I knew Peg
was not to be for me; she had said the word; she would go and I would
stay; for all her soft beauty and that love for me which spoke in every
fiber of her being, the truth flowed in on me like a tide that in no way
might I change her or shape her or move her from her will. Against my
prayer and in the front of protest, I would be saved to myself and I
would lose her; she would do it all. What was it the General said? He
would save Peg from Peg? It was she who now would save me from both
herself and me when my love-sown madness was hot to make a wreck of all.

“Yes, watch-dog,” Peg continued dreamily, “there will come another
life.” Then of the suddenest twining her arms about my neck more tightly
still and until she clung there like a part of me, she cried out as
though her soul spoke: “Kiss me, sweetheart; kiss me, if it be but once.
This night at least is ours.”

It was she who would command. I grew drunken on her lips while my
thoughts would stray and stagger. I could know nothing, act nothing,
be nothing save as she would have me. Her hot arms were as the arms
of summer torrents to hurry me along; her lips were like the lips of
a whirlpool! It was a kiss--a kiss of the infinite--and would lay its
velvet touch upon the ultimate reason of existence.

And so Peg went away; and for my portion I took up my old life, which
now was as dark and chill and hollow as a cave.

Now what should there be more to tell? What matters it how secession
hid its head? or how Calhoun resigned his Vice-Presidency to later creep
back to a seat in that Senate where he had sat on high and ruled? or how
the General fought and slew the Bank? Who is there to care for the
story of the General’s re-election, when Van Buren came with him for the
second place? Who, I say, would bend the ear of interest to such tales
as those when now our Peg was gone?

The General never again took up with me that matter of his Cabinet and
its dissolution, and how he scattered it to save Peg from herself. One
evening, however, as he smoked and I sat bitter and listless, I plumped
a question at him.

“If it were to save Peg from Peg,” said I, “why did you defer so long?
Why did not you disperse your Cabinet months before? Or was it that you
failed to note Peg’s peril of herself till just before you acted?” This
last with a great sneer.

“It was plain to me from the beginning how Peg was won to you,” said he.

“Then, in the beginning why did not you act?”

“How could I? Peg was under fire for her fair repute. Had I broken up my
Cabinet, it would have been Peg’s death blow. Folk would have told how
it was for the war upon her and because she could not be defended. No, I
must give her time for triumph; that achieved, the rest might happen and
she be made secure in Florida. It was the one trail, and I followed it.”
 The General came over to my chair. “Old comrade,” said he with a world
of goodness in his manner, “if I have thrust a thorn in your heart,
forgive me. If friendship can cure, that thorn will be plucked away.”

On another day the General was in a temper for abstract philosophies. It
lay in a hot time of summer and his moods flowed lazily. His fancy would
run away to the topic of woman and her helplessness.

“Beautiful and sweet, she is,” he was saying, “and a blessing, too; but
the man must ever bear upon his mind her weakness, and be her buckler
even from herself. He must be on guard for both. For she is as a child,
and nowise deep nor fortified of any rooted strength. Your man, on the
other hand, while wanting those traits of beauty which shine forth in
woman like the stars at night, is withal safe enough. He is cold like
an iceberg, and like an iceberg he rides steadily throughout every gale
with nine-tenths of him beneath the sea. Your tempest can go no deeper
than the surface; it cannot search the ocean’s depths, and so the man
swims safely.”

Where the General would have brought up in these tongue-wanderings one
may only guess. He was never to finish, for in a flurry of irritation I
interrupted him.

“Now let me tell you one thing,” said I, wheeling on him with a sort
of venom; “to my mind, your man is a dullish fool of neither bones nor
brains, and your woman has nothing to fear from him.”

“What’s that?” cried the General, startled into letting fall his pipe;
“what do I hear you say?”

“And more,” I went on; “your man will do whatever your woman commands.
He will go or stay, or fetch or carry, or weep or laugh, or live or die
by the least breath of her lips. Your man is mere clay; your woman is
the potter to mould him and bake him and break him in form and fashion
and fragment as shall best flatter her caprice or most nicely match the
color of her fancy. For virtue, your man is a toad and your woman that
blossom by which he crouches. For power, your woman is the wind, while
your man is that poor scrap of nothing to be tossed thereon.”

“You are a cynic,” retorted the General with a snort, and after
surveying me for a moment with a warlike eye he sauntered away for
another pipe.

“Your woman must save herself,” cried I, as he went through the door.
“At all events, if she have nothing stronger than your man to lean on,
her case is lost and desolate indeed.”

“You-all is plumb kerrect, Marse Major,” said Jim, who as usual had been
listening with flattering interest while the General and I discussed;
“you-all is plumb right. Man an’ woman is jes’ like a candle; he’s
d’taller, she’s d’wick. D’Marse General is a pow’ful fine soger an’ all
that, but he shore don’t know enough ‘bout women folks to wad a gun.”

One day I got a little note from Peg. It was as though I held a sunbeam
in my fingers; I kissed it while my heart put up a prayer. Thus it ran:

“So, Watch-dog:--They have taken me and left you, and there be miles
between. Wherefore I feel very safe and very sad. It is all birds and
blossoms and trees and sunshine and bright days and sorrow here. I came
away in such a tumult of hurry I left many things behind. Most of them
I can do without, but I mislaid my love, and that grows to be a sore
distress. Here where I should need it I’m without it; there, where
mayhap it lies unregarded and uncared for, it can give me no good but
only pain. You may find it--my poor love!--since it should be something
close to you. It may be lying at your feet while you read this. Should
you come across it, even though you be in the art and press of president
making, don’t forget to lift it up and save it and keep it warm upon
your heart for sake of little Peg. But I must cure me of this abject
strain; I too much beg where I should give commands. For are you not my
slave? Look if the small white mark of vassalage be not upon your hand!
Do you find it? Yes? Read it, then, and re-read it with your heart! Do
you know the promise it would tell you? By the sign of that white mark
my tooth made, it is given that now or then, or here or there, or in
this life or in that, your Peg will yet lay hands of love upon her
slave.”

That was the last letter as it was the first--the last word from my lost
and vanished Peg. I have that letter by me as I write; it is yellow and
worn and stained and blistered as though with tears. That was my last
word from her, I say. And now when the winter of my days lies thick and
white and cold upon me, and those whom I loved are gone, while those to
come and go before me are strangers whose very names are strange, I wend
often to Peg’s grave. There where the great stone fits down above her,
and resting myself upon that stone--there, by the door of death, I
muse upon the past. I kiss the stone above Peg--cold it is, cold as my
age-chilled lips! And I think on the time that was, with its hot lights
to dazzle and blind and make drunk the heart with the red splendors of
them; and on the time that will be--a shadow-land of unformed wonders!
Then will my old eyes come to search among the wrinkles for that small
white mark on my hand which Peg’s loving leopard teeth ordained, and
I feel again that snowstorm kiss, while my hope, for a prayer, recites
Peg’s bond to yet lay hands of love upon her slave.

THE END.





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