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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesChildren Of The Market Place - Chapter 5
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Children Of The Market Place - Chapter 5 Post by :otto_jurscha Category :Long Stories Author :Edgar Lee Masters Date :May 2012 Read :1333

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Children Of The Market Place - Chapter 5

CHAPTER V

Buffalo, they told me, had about 15,000 people. I wished to see something of it before departing for the farther west. For should I ever come this way again? I started from the dock, but immediately found myself surrounded by runners and touters lauding the excellences of the boats to which they were attached. The harbor was full of steamboats competing for trade.... They rang bells, let off steam, whistled. Bands played. Negroes ran here and there, carrying freight and baggage. The air was vibrating with yells and profanity.... But I made my escape and walked through the town. It had broad streets, lovely squares, substantial and attractive buildings and residences. And there was Lake Erie, blue and fresh, rippling under the brilliant May sun. I had never seen anything remotely approximating Lake Erie.... "How large is it?" I inquired of a passerby. I was told that it was 60 miles wide and 250 miles long. Could it be true? Was there anything in all of Europe to equal it? I could not for the moment remember the extent of the Caspian Sea. And I stood in wonder and delight.

As I left the dock for my walk I had observed the name _Illinois on a boat that had all the appearances of being brand new. I walked leisurely toward the dock so as to avoid the touters as much as possible while I was overlooking the boat. I liked it, but would it take me to Chicago? The gangplank was lying on the dock and near it stood what seemed to me to be the captain and the pilot, around them touters and others. I edged around to the captain and asked him if the _Illinois would take me to Chicago. "In about an hour," he said with a laugh. Immediately I was besieged by the runners to help me on, to get my baggage, to serve me in all possible ways. I couldn't hire all of them. I chose one, who got my valise for me, and I went aboard.

It was a new boat, and this was its maiden trip. All the stewards, negroes, waiters were brisk and obliging, and bent on making the trip an event. The captain gave parties. He was a bluff, kindly man, who mingled much with favorite passengers. Wine flowed freely. The food was abundant and delicious. We had dances by moonlight on the deck. A band played at dinner and at night. The boat was distinguished for many quaint and interesting characters. I enjoyed it all, but made no friends. I did not understand this free and easy manner of life. The captain noted me, and asked if I was well placed and comfortable. Various people opened conversations with me. But I was shy, and I was English. I could not unbend. I did not desire to do so.

We docked at Erie and at Cleveland, both small places. We came to Detroit, the capital of Michigan. On the way some one pointed out the scene of Perry's victory over the hated British. We passed into Lake Huron.

Then later I was privileged to see Mackinac, an Indian trading post. I viewed the smoking wigwams from the deck of the _Illinois_. Here were the savages buying powder, blankets, and whisky. The squaws were selling beaded shoes. The shore was wooded and high.... I looked below into the crystalline depths of the water. I could see great fish swimming in the transparent calms, which mirrored the clouds, the forests, and the boats and canoes of the Indians.... We ran down to Green Bay, Wisconsin. Here too there were Indian traders.... We went on to Milwaukee. As there was no harbor here a small steamer came out to take us off. I went ashore with some others. A creek flowed from the land to the lake. But the town was nothing. Only a storehouse and a few wooden buildings. Soon we proceeded to Chicago. I was told that the northern boundary of Illinois had been pushed north, in order to give the state the southern shores of the great lake, with the idea of capturing a part of the emigration and trade of the East. This fact eventually influenced my life, and the history of the nation, as will be seen.

Chicago had been a trading post, and to an extent was yet. The population was less than 1000 people. There was a fort here, too, built in place of one which had been destroyed in a massacre by the Indians. There was much activity here, particularly in land speculation. Not a half mile from the place where we landed there was a forest where some Indians were camping. I heard that an Indian war was just over. The Black Hawks had been defeated and driven off. But some friendly remnants of other breeds were loitering about the town.

Carrying my valise, I began to look for a hotel for the night. Also, how and when was I to get to Jacksonville? A man came by. I hailed him and asked to be driven to a hotel. He walked with me north toward the river, past the fort and landed me at a hostelry built partly of logs and partly of frames. Surely this was not New York or Buffalo! As I came to the hotel I saw a man standing at the door, holding the bridle bits of an Indian pony. He came into the hotel soon, evidently after disposing of his charge. At that moment I was asking Mr. Wentworth, the hotel manager, how to get to Jacksonville. The man came forward and in the kindest of voices interrupted to tell me what the manager evidently could not. "I am going there myself to-morrow," he said. "You can ride behind. The pony can carry both of us." I looked at my new-found friend. He had deep blue eyes, a noble face, a musical and kindly voice. He looked like the people I had known in England. I was drawn to him at once in confidence and friendship. He went on to tell me later that he had been in the Black Hawk War; that he had been spending some time in Chicago trying to decide whether he would locate there or return to Jacksonville. He had been offered forty acres of land about a mile south of the river for the pony. But what good was the land? It was nothing but sand and scrub oaks. Unless the town grew and made the land valuable as building property, it would never be of value. For farming it was worthless. But around Jacksonville the soil was incomparably fertile and beautiful. He had decided, therefore, to return to Jacksonville. His eyes deepened. "You see that I am attached to that country." He smiled. "Yes, I must go back. Some one is waiting for me. You are heartily welcome to ride behind." How long would it take? A matter of five days. Meanwhile he had told me how to reach there independently: by stage to a place 90 miles south on the Illinois River, then by boat to a town on the river called Bath, then cross country to Jacksonville. I began to balance the respective disadvantages. "My name is Reverdy Clayton," he said, extending his hand in the most cordial way. I could not resist him. "My name is James Miles," I returned with some diffidence. "James Miles," he echoed. "James Miles ... there was a man of that name in Jacksonville, poor fellow ... now gone." "Perhaps he was my father ... did you know my father?" I felt a thrill go through me. Was this new-found acquaintance before me a friend of my father's? It turned out to be so. But why "poor fellow"?

Clayton was not over thirty-two, therefore my father's junior by some years. How well had they known each other? We went to dinner together. We were served with bacon and greens, strong coffee, apple pie. It was all very rough and strange. But Clayton told me many things. He knew the lawyer Brooks who had written me. Brooks was a reliable man. But when I pressed Clayton for details about my father he grew strangely reticent. I began to feel depressed, overcome by a foreboding of wonder.

After dinner we separated. Clayton had errands to do preparatory to leaving and I went forth to see the town. What a spectacle of undulating board sidewalks built over swales of sand, running from hillock to hillock! What shacks used for stores, trading offices, marts for real estate! Truly it was a place as if built in a night, relieved but little by buildings of a more substantial sort.... Drinking saloons were everywhere. I heard music and entered one of these resorts. There was a barroom in front and a dancing room in the rear. The place was filled with sailors, steamboat captains and pilots, traders, roisterers, clerks, hackmen, and undescribed characters. Women mingled with the men and drank with them. They dressed with conspicuous abandon, in loud colors. Their faces were rouged. They ran in and out of the dance room with escorts or without, stood at the bar for drinks, entwined their arms with those of the men. In the dance room a band was playing. A man with a tambourine added to the hilarity of the music. It was a wild spectacle, unlike anything I had ever seen. No one accosted me. I could feel a different spirit in the crowd from that I had seen on the boats or in New York. There was no talk of politics, negroes, force bills. They did not seem to know or to care about these things. It was a wild assemblage, but without meanness or malice. They were occupied solely with a spirit of carnival, of dancing, drinking, of talk about the arrival of the _Illinois_; about the price of land and the great future of Chicago. "It's as plain as day," said a man at the bar. "Here we are at the foot of the lake. The trade comes our way. The steamboats come here from the East. Look at the country! No such farm country in the world! Why, in twenty years this town will have a population of 20,000 people. It's bound to." How could it be? How could such a locality ever be the seat of a city? So far from the East. And nothing here but wastes of sand!

I left the place unnoticed and returned to the hotel. I sat down drearily enough. The feeling that I was far from home, far even from the civilization and the charm of New York came over me with depressing effect. I began to wish that Clayton would appear. I had not decided to accept his kindly offer. I must be off to-morrow. The air seemed oppressive. Was it so warm? I put my hand to my brow. It was hot. Perhaps I was not well. The trip I had just ended was after all wearisome. I had not slept well some nights. I sensed that I was fatigued. What would a ride of more than 200 miles on a pony do to me? But on the other hand I had the alternative of 90 miles by stage. For the first time I began to feel apprehension about the days ahead.

While I was thinking these matters over Clayton came in. He supplemented my doubts by telling me that if I was not used to riding, a journey of such length would make me lame; at least a little. I then decided that I would take the stage, and the boat. The next morning, promising to see me in Jacksonville and offering to befriend me in any way he could, Clayton bestrode his pony and was off. In an hour I was rolling in the stage toward the Illinois River....

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