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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Crisis - BOOK I - Volume 1 - Chapter IV. Black Cattle
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The Crisis - BOOK I - Volume 1 - Chapter IV. Black Cattle Post by :fanjr Category :Long Stories Author :Winston Churchill Date :February 2011 Read :2098

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The Crisis - BOOK I - Volume 1 - Chapter IV. Black Cattle

Later that evening Stephen Brice was sitting by the open windows in his
mother's room, looking on the street-lights below.

"Well, my dear," asked the lady, at length, "what do you think of it

"They are kind people," he said.

"Yes, they are kind," she assented, with a sigh. "But they are not--they
are not from among our friends, Stephen."

"I thought that one of our reasons for coming West, mother," answered

His mother looked pained.

"Stephen, how can you! We came West in order that you might have more
chance for the career to which you are entitled. Our friends in Boston
were more than good."

He left the window and came and stood behind her chair, his hands clasped
playfully beneath her chin.

"Have you the exact date about you, mother?"

"What date, Stephen?"

"When I shall leave St. Louis for the United States Senate. And you must
not forget that there is a youth limit in our Constitution for senators."

Then the widow smiled,--a little sadly, perhaps. But still a wonderfully
sweet smile. And it made her strong face akin to all that was human and

"I believe that you have the subject of my first speech in that august
assembly. And, by the way, what was it?"

"It was on 'The Status of the Emigrant,'" she responded instantly,
thereby proving that she was his mother.

"And it touched the Rights of Privacy," he added, laughing, "which do not
seem to exist in St. Louis boarding-houses."

"In the eyes of your misguided profession, statesmen and authors and
emigrants and other public charges have no Rights of Privacy," said she.
"Mr. Longfellow told me once that they were to name a brand of flour for
him, and that he had no redress."

"Have you, too, been up before Miss Crane's Commission?" he asked, with
amused interest.

His mother laughed.

"Yes," she said quietly.

"They have some expert members," he continued. "This Mrs. Abner Reed
could be a shining light in any bar. I overheard a part of her cross-
examination. She--she had evidently studied our case--"

"My dear," answered Mrs. Brice, "I suppose they know all about us." She
was silent a moment, I had so hoped that they wouldn't. They lead the
same narrow life in this house that they did in their little New England
towns. They--they pity us, Stephen."


"I did not expect to find so many New Englanders here--I wish that Mr.
Whipple had directed us elsewhere-"

"He probably thought that we should feel at home among New Englanders. I
hope the Southerners will be more considerate. I believe they will," he

"They are very proud," said his mother. "A wonderful people,--born
aristocrats. You don't remember those Randolphs with whom we travelled
through England. They were with us at Hollingdean, Lord Northwell's
place. You were too small at the time. There was a young girl, Eleanor
Randolph, a beauty. I shall never forget the way she entered those
English drawing-rooms. They visited us once in Beacon Street,
afterwards. And I have heard that there are a great many good Southern
families here in St. Louis."

"You did not glean that from Judge Whipple's letter, mother," said
Stephen, mischievously.

"He was very frank in his letter," sighed Mrs. Brice.

"I imagine he is always frank, to put it delicately."

"Your father always spoke in praise of Silas Whipple, my dear. I have
heard him call him one of the ablest lawyers in the country. He won a
remarkable case for Appleton here, and he once said that the Judge would
have sat on the Supreme Bench if he had not been pursued with such
relentlessness by rascally politicians."

"The Judge indulges in a little relentlessness now and then, himself. He
is not precisely what might be termed a mild man, if what we hear is

Mrs. Brice started.

"What have you heard?" she asked.

"Well, there was a gentleman on the steamboat who said that it took more
courage to enter the Judge's private office than to fight a Border
Ruffian. And another, a young lawyer, who declared that he would rather
face a wild cat than ask Whipple a question on the new code. And yet he
said that the Judge knew more law than any man in the West. And lastly,
there is a polished gentleman named Hopper here from Massachusetts who
enlightened me a little more."

Stephen paused and bit his tongue. He saw that she was distressed by
these things. Heaven knows that she had borne enough trouble in the last
few months.

"Come, mother," he said gently, "you should know how to take my jokes by
this time. I didn't mean it. I am sure the Judge is a good man,--one of
those aggressive good men who make enemies. I have but a single piece of
guilt to accuse him of."

"And what is that?" asked the widow.

"The cunning forethought which he is showing in wishing to have it said
that a certain Senator and Judge Brice was trained in his office."

"Stephen--you goose!" she said.

Her eye wandered around the room,--Widow Crane's best bedroom. It was
dimly lighted by an extremely ugly lamp. The hideous stuffy bed curtains
and the more hideous imitation marble mantel were the two objects that
held her glance. There was no change in her calm demeanor. But Stephen,
who knew his mother, felt that her little elation over her arrival had
ebbed, Neither would confess dejection to the other.

"I--even I--" said Stephen, tapping his chest, "have at least made the
acquaintance of one prominent citizen, Mr. Eliphalet D. Hopper.
According to Mr. Dickens, he is a true American gentleman, for he chews
tobacco. He has been in St. Louis five years, is now assistant manager
of the largest dry goods house, and still lives in one of Miss Crane's
four-dollar rooms. I think we may safely say that he will be a
millionaire before I am a senator."

He paused.

"And mother?"

"Yes, dear."

He put his hands in his pockets and walked over to the window.

"I think that it would be better if I did the same thing."

"What do you mean, my son--"

"If I went to work,--started sweeping out a store, I mean. See here,
mother, you've sacrificed enough for me already. After paying father's
debts, we've come out here with only a few thousand dollars, and the nine
hundred I saved out of this year's Law School allowance. What shall we
do when that is gone? The honorable legal profession, as my friend
reminded me to-night, is not the swiftest road to millions."

With a mother's discernment she guessed the agitation, he was striving to
hide; she knew that he had been gathering courage for this moment for
months. And she knew that he was renouncing thus lightly, for her sake
an ambition he had had from his school days.

Widow passed her hand over her brow. It was a space before she answered

"My son," she said, let us never speak of this again:

"It was your father's dearest wish that you should become a lawyer and--
and his wishes are sacred God will take care of us."

She rose and kissed him good-night.

"Remember, my dear, when you go to Judge Whipple in the morning, remember
his kindness, and--."

"And keep my temper. I shall, mother,"

A while later he stole gently back into her room again. She was on her
knees by the walnut bedstead.

At nine the next manning Stephen left Miss Crane's, girded for the
struggle with the redoubtable Silas Whipple. He was not afraid, but a
poor young man as an applicant to a notorious dragon is not likely to be
bandied with velvet, even though the animal had been a friend of his
father. Dragons as a rule have had a hard rime in their youths, and
believe in others having a hard time.

To a young man, who as his father's heir in Boston had been the subject
of marked consideration by his elders, the situation was keenly
distasteful. But it had to be gone through. So presently, after
inquiry, he came to the open square where the new Court House stood,
the dome of which was indicated by a mass of staging, and one wing
still to be completed. Across from the building, on Market Street, and
in the middle of the block, what had once been a golden hand pointed up a
narrow dusty stairway.

Here was a sign, "Law office of Silas Whipple."

Stephen climbed the stairs, and arrived at a ground glass door, on which
the sign was repeated. Behind that door was the future: so he opened it
fearfully, with an impulse to throw his arm above his head. But he was
struck dumb on beholding, instead of a dragon, a good-natured young man
who smiled a broad welcome. The reaction was as great as though one
entered a dragon's den, armed to the teeth, to find a St. Bernard doing
the honors.

Stephen's heart went out to this young man,--after that organ had jumped
back into its place. This keeper of the dragon looked the part. Even
the long black coat which custom then decreed could not hide the bone and
sinew under it. The young man had a broad forehead, placid Dresden-blue
eyes, flaxen hair, and the German coloring. Across one of his high
cheek-bones was a great jagged scar which seemed to add distinction to
his appearance. That caught Stephen's eye, and held it. He wondered
whether it were the result of an encounter with the Judge.

"You wish to see Mr. Whipple?" he asked, in the accents of an educated

"Yes," said Stephen, "if he isn't busy."

"He is out," said the other, with just a suspicion of a 'd' in the word.
"You know he is much occupied now, fighting election frauds. You read
the papers?"

"I am a stranger here," said Stephen.

"Ach!" exclaimed the German, "now I know you, Mr. Brice. The young one
from Boston the Judge spoke of. But you did not tell him of your

"I did not wish to bother him," Stephen replied, smiling.

"My name is Richter--Carl Richter, sir."

The pressure of Mr. Richter's big hands warmed Stephen as nothing else
had since he had come West. He was moved to return it with a little more
fervor than he usually showed. And he felt, whatever the Judge might be,
that he had a powerful friend near at hand--Mr. Richter's welcome came
near being an embrace.

"Sit down, Mr. Brice," he said; "mild weather for November, eh? The Judge
will be here in an hour."

Stephen looked around him: at the dusty books on the shelves, and the
still dustier books heaped on Mr. Richter's big table; at the cuspidors;
at the engravings of Washington and Webster; at the window in the jog
which looked out on the court-house square; and finally at another
ground-glass door on which was printed:



This, then, was the den,--the arena in which was to take place a
memorable interview. But the thought of waiting an hour for the dragon
to appear was disquieting. Stephen remembered that he had something over
nine hundred dollars in his pocket (which he had saved out of his last
year's allowance at the Law School). So he asked Mr. Richter, who was
dusting off a chair, to direct him to the nearest bank.

"Why, certainly," said he; "Mr. Brinsmade's bank on Chestnut Street." He
took Stephen to the window and pointed across the square. "I am sorry I
cannot go with you," he added, "but the Judge's negro, Shadrach, is out,
and I must stay in the office. I will give you a note to Mr. Brinsmade."

"His negro!" exclaimed Stephen. "Why, I thought that Mr. Whipple was an

Mr. Richter laughed.

"The man is free," said he. "The Judge pays him wages."

Stephen thanked his new friend for the note to the bank president, and
went slowly down the stairs. To be keyed up to a battle-pitch, and then
to have the battle deferred, is a trial of flesh and spirit.

As he reached the pavement, he saw people gathering in front of the wide
entrance of the Court House opposite, and perched on the copings. He
hesitated, curious. Then he walked slowly toward the place, and
buttoning his coat, pushed through the loafers and passers-by dallying
on the outskirts of the crowd. There, in the bright November sunlight,
a sight met his eyes which turned him sick and dizzy.

Against the walls and pillars of the building, already grimy with soot,
crouched a score of miserable human beings waiting to be sold at auction.
Mr. Lynch's slave pen had been disgorged that morning. Old and young,
husband and wife,--the moment was come for all and each. How hard the
stones and what more pitiless than the gaze of their fellow-creatures in
the crowd below! O friends, we who live in peace and plenty amongst our
families, how little do we realize the terror and the misery and the dumb
heart-aches of those days! Stephen thought with agony of seeing his own
mother sold before his eyes, and the building in front of him was lifted
from its foundation and rocked even as shall the temples on the judgment

The oily auctioneer was inviting the people to pinch the wares. Men came
forward to feel the creatures and look into their mouths, and one brute,
unshaven and with filthy linen, snatched a child from its mother's lap
Stephen shuddered with the sharpest pain he had ever known. An ocean-
wide tempest arose in his breast, Samson's strength to break the pillars
of the temple to slay these men with his bare hands. Seven generations
of stern life and thought had their focus here in him,--from Oliver
Cromwell to John Brown.

Stephen was far from prepared for the storm that raged within him. He
had not been brought up an Abolitionist--far from it. Nor had his
father's friends--who were deemed at that time the best people in Boston
--been Abolitionists. Only three years before, when Boston had been
aflame over the delivery of the fugitive Anthony Burns, Stephen had gone
out of curiosity to the meeting at Faneuil Hall. How well he remembered
his father's indignation when he confessed it, and in his anger Mr. Brice
had called Phillips and Parker "agitators." But his father, nor his
father's friends in Boston had never been brought face to face with this
hideous traffic.

Hark! Was that the sing-song voice of the auctioneer He was selling the
cattle. High and low, caressing an menacing, he teased and exhorted them
to buy. The were bidding, yes, for the possession of souls, bidding in
the currency of the Great Republic. And between the eager shouts came a
moan of sheer despair. What was the attendant doing now? He was tearing
two of then: from a last embrace.

Three--four were sold while Stephen was in a dream

Then came a lull, a hitch, and the crowd began to chatter gayly. But the
misery in front of him held Stephen in a spell. Figures stood out from
the group. A white-haired patriarch, with eyes raised to the sky; a
flat-breasted woman whose child was gone, whose weakness made her
valueless. Then two girls were pushed forth, one a quadroon of great
beauty, to be fingered. Stephen turned his face away,--to behold Mr.
Eliphalet Hopper looking calmly on.

"Wal, Mr. Brice, this is an interesting show now, ain't it? Something we
don't have. I generally stop here to take a look when I'm passing." And
he spat tobacco juice on the coping.

Stephen came to his senses.

"And you are from New England?" he said.

Mr. Hopper laughed.

"Tarnation!" said he, "you get used to it. When I came here, I was a
sort of an Abolitionist. But after you've lived here awhile you get to
know that niggers ain't fit for freedom."

Silence from Stephen.

"Likely gal, that beauty," Eliphalet continued unrepressed. "There's a
well-known New Orleans dealer named Jenkins after her. I callate she'll
go down river."

"I reckon you're right, Mistah," a man with a matted beard chimed in, and
added with a wink: "She'll find it pleasant enough--fer a while. Some of
those other niggers will go too, and they'd rather go to hell. They do
treat 'em nefarious down thah on the wholesale plantations. Household
niggers! there ain't none better off than them. But seven years in a
cotton swamp,--seven years it takes, that's all, Mistah."

Stephen moved away. He felt that to stay near the man was to be tempted
to murder. He moved away, and just then the auctioneer yelled,

"Gentlemen," he cried, "I have heah two sisters, the prope'ty of the late
Mistah Robe't Benbow, of St. Louis, as fine a pair of wenches as was ever
offe'd to the public from these heah steps--"

"Speak for the handsome gal," cried a wag.

"Sell off the cart hoss fust," said another.

The auctioneer turned to the darker sister:

"Sal ain't much on looks, gentlemen," he said, "but she's the best nigger
for work Mistah Benbow had." He seized her arm and squeezed it, while
the girl flinched and drew back. "She's solid, gentlemen, and sound as a
dollar, and she kin sew and cook. Twenty-two years old. What am I bid?"

Much to the auctioneer's disgust, Sal was bought in for four hundred
dollars, the interest in the beautiful sister having made the crowd
impatient. Stephen, sick at heart, turned to leave. Halfway to the
corner he met a little elderly man who was the color of a dried gourd.
And just as Stephen passed him, this man was overtaken by an old negress,
with tears streaming down her face, who seized the threadbare hem of his
coat. Stephen paused involuntarily.

"Well, Nancy," said the little man, "we had marvellous luck. I was able
to buy your daughter for you with less than the amount of your savings."

"T'ank you, Mistah Cantah," wailed the poor woman, "t'ank you, suh.
Praised be de name ob de Lawd. He gib me Sal again. Oh, Mistah Cantah"
(the agony in that cry), "is you gwineter stan' heah an' see her sister
Hester sol' to--to--oh, ma little Chile! De little Chile dat I nussed,
dat I raised up in God's 'ligion. Mistah Cantah, save her, suh, f'om dat
wicked life o' sin. De Lawd Jesus'll rewa'd you, suh. Dis ole woman'll
wuk fo' you twell de flesh drops off'n her fingers, suh."

And had he not held her, she would have gone down on her knees on the
stone flagging before him. Her suffering was stamped on the little man's
face--and it seemed to Stephen that this was but one trial more which
adversity had brought to Mr. Canter.

"Nancy," he answered (how often, and to how many, must he have had to say
the same thing), "I haven't the money, Nancy. Would to God that I had,

She had sunk down on the bricks. But she had not fainted. It was not so
merciful as that. It was Stephen who lifted her, and helped her to the
coping, where she sat with her bandanna awry.

Stephen was not of a descent to do things upon impulse. But the tale was
told in after days that one of his first actions in St. Louis was of this
nature. The waters stored for ages in the four great lakes, given the
opportunity, rush over Niagara Falls into Ontario.

"Take the woman away," said Stephen, in a low voice, "and I will buy the
girl,--if I can."

The little man looked up, dazed.

"Give me your card,--your address. I will buy the girl, if I can, and
set her free."

He fumbled in his pocket and drew out a dirty piece of pasteboard. It
read: "R. Canter, Second Hand Furniture, 20 Second Street." And still
he stared at Stephen, as one who gazes upon a mystery. A few curious
pedestrians had stopped in front of them.

"Get her away, if you can, for God's sake," said Stephen again. And he
strode off toward the people at the auction. He was trembling. In his
eagerness to reach a place of vantage before the girl was sold, he pushed
roughly into the crowd.

But suddenly he was brought up short by the blocky body of Mr. Hopper,
who grunted with the force of the impact.

"Gosh," said that gentleman, "but you are inters'ted. They ain't begun
to sell her yet--he's waitin' for somebody. Callatin' to buy her?" asked
Mr. Hopper, with genial humor.

Stephen took a deep breath. If he knocked Mr. Hopper down, he certainly
could not buy her. And it was a relief to know that the sale had not

As for Eliphalet, he was beginning to like young Brice. He approved of
any man from Boston who was not too squeamish to take pleasure in a
little affair of this kind.

As for Stephen, Mr. Hopper brought him back to earth. He ceased
trembling, and began to think.

"Tarnation!" said Eliphalet. "There's my boss, Colonel Carvel across the
street. Guess I'd better move on. But what d'ye think of him for a real
Southern gentleman?"

"The young dandy is his nephew, Clarence Colfax. He callates to own this
town." Eliphalet was speaking leisurely, as usual, while preparing to
move. "That's Virginia Carvel, in red. Any gals down Boston-way to beat
her? Guess you won't find many as proud."

He departed. And Stephen glanced absently at the group. They were
picking their way over the muddy crossing toward him. Was it possible
that these people were coming to a slave auction? Surely not. And yet
here they were on the pavement at his very side.

She wore a long Talma of crimson cashmere, and her face was in that most
seductive of frames, a scoop bonnet of dark green velvet, For a fleeting
second her eyes met his, and then her lashes fell. But he was aware,
when he had turned away, that she was looking at him again. He grew
uneasy. He wondered whether his appearance betrayed his purpose, or made
a question of his sanity.

Sanity! Yes, probably he was insane from her point of view. A sudden
anger shook him that she should be there calmly watching such a scene.

Just then there was a hush among the crowd. The beautiful slave-girl was
seized roughly by the man in charge and thrust forward, half fainting,
into view. Stephen winced. But unconsciously he turned, to see the
effect upon Virginia Carvel.

Thank God! There were tears upon her lashes.

Here was the rasp of the auctioneer's voice:--

"Gentlemen, I reckon there ain't never been offered to bidders such an
opportunity as this heah. Look at her well, gentlemen. I ask you, ain't
she a splendid creature?"

Colonel Carvel, in annoyance, started to move on. "Come Jinny," he said,
"I had no business to bring you aver."

But Virginia caught his arm. "Pa," she cried, "it's Mr. Benbow's
Hester. Don't go, dear. Buy her for me You know that I always wanted
her. Please!"

The Colonel halted, irresolute, and pulled his goatee Young Colfax
stepped in between them.

"I'll buy her for you, Jinny. Mother promised you a present, you know,
and you shall have her."

Virginia had calmed.

"Do buy her, one of you," was all she said

"You may do the bidding, Clarence," said the Colonel, "and we'll settle
the ownership afterward." Taking Virginia's arm, he escorted her across
the street.

Stephen was left in a quandary. Here was a home for the girl, and a good
one. Why should me spend the money which meant so much to him. He saw
the man Jenkin elbowing to the front. And yet--suppose Mr. Colfax did
not get her? He had promised to buy her if he could, and to set her

Stephen had made up his mind: He shouldered his way after Jenkins,

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