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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Crisis - BOOK I - Volume 2 - Chapter IX. A Quiet Sunday in Locust Street
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The Crisis - BOOK I - Volume 2 - Chapter IX. A Quiet Sunday in Locust Street Post by :BMInvest Category :Long Stories Author :Winston Churchill Date :February 2011 Read :1165

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The Crisis - BOOK I - Volume 2 - Chapter IX. A Quiet Sunday in Locust Street

IF the truth were known where Virginia got the opinions which she
expressed so freely to her aunt and cousin, it was from Colonel Carvel
himself. The Colonel would rather have denounced the Dred Scott decision
than admit to Judge Whipple that one of the greatest weaknesses of the
South lay in her lack of mechanical and manufacturing ability. But he
had confessed as much in private to Captain Elijah Brent. The Colonel
would often sit for an hour or more, after supper, with his feet tucked
up on the mantel and his hat on the back of his head, buried in thought.
Then he would saunter slowly down to the Planters' House bar, which
served the purposes of a club in those days, in search of an argument
with other prominent citizens. The Colonel had his own particular chair
in his own particular corner, which was always vacated when he came in
at the door. And then he always had three fingers of the best Bourbon
whiskey, no more and no less, every evening.

He never met his bosom friend and pet antagonist at the Planters' House
bar. Judge Whipple, indeed, took his meals upstairs, but he never
descended,--it was generally supposed because of the strong slavery
atmosphere there. However, the Judge went periodically to his friend's
for a quiet Sunday dinner (so called in derision by St. Louisans), on
which occasions Virginia sat at the end of the table and endeavored to
pour water on the flames when they flared up too fiercely.

The Sunday following her ride to Bellegarde was the Judge's Sunday,
Certain tastes which she had inherited had hitherto provided her with
pleasurable sensations while these battles were in progress. More than
once had she scored a fair hit on the Judge for her father,--to the
mutual delight of both gentlemen. But to-day she dreaded being present
at the argument. Just why she dreaded it is a matter of feminine
psychology best left to the reader for solution.

The argument began, as usual, with the tearing apart limb by limb of the
unfortunate Franklin Pierce, by Judge Whipple.

"What a miserable exhibition in the eyes of the world," said the Judge.
"Franklin Pierce of New Hampshire" (he pronounced this name with infinite
scorn) "managed by Jefferson Davis of Mississippi!"

"And he was well managed, sir," said the Colonel.

"What a pliant tool of your Southern slaveholders! I hear that you are
to give him a plantation as a reward."

"No such thing, sir."

"He deserves it," continued the Judge, with conviction. "See the
magnificent forts he permitted Davis to build up in the South, the
arsenals he let him stock. The country does not realize this. But the
day will, come when they will execrate Pierce before Benedict Arnold,
sir. And look at the infamous Kansas-Nebraska act! That is the greatest
crime, and Douglas and Pierce the greatest criminals, of the century."

"Do have some more of that fried chicken, Judge," said Virginia.

Mr. Whipple helped himself fiercely, and the Colonel smiled.

"You should be satisfied now," said he. "Another Northern man is in the
White House."

"Buchanan!" roared the Judge, with his mouth full.

"Another traitor, sir. Another traitor worse than the first. He
swallows the Dred Scott decision, and smirks. What a blot on the history
of this Republic! O Lord!" cried Mr. Whipple, "what are we coming to?
A Northern man, he could gag and bind Kansas and force her into slavery
against the will of her citizens. He packs his Cabinet to support the
ruffians you send over the borders. The very governors he ships out
there, his henchmen, have their stomachs turned. Look at Walker, whom
they are plotting against in Washington. He can't stand the smell of
this Lecompton Constitution Buchanan is trying to jam down their throats.
Jefferson Davis would have troops there, to be sure that it goes through,
if he had his way. Can't you see how one sin leads to another, Carvel?
How slavery is rapidly demoralizing a free people?"

"It is because you won't let it alone where it belongs, sir," retorted
the Colonel. It was seldom that he showed any heat in his replies. He
talked slowly, and he had a way of stretching forth his hand to prevent
the more eager Judge from interrupting him.

"The welfare of the whole South, as matters now stand, sir, depends upon
slavery. Our plantations could not exist a day without slave labor. If
you abolished that institution, Judge Whipple, you would ruin millions of
your fellow-countrymen,--you would reduce sovereign states to a situation
of disgraceful dependence. And all, sir," now he raised his voice lest
the Judge break in, "all, sir, for the sake of a low breed that ain't fit
for freedom. You and I, who have the Magna Charta and the Declaration of
Independence behind us, who are descended from a race that has done
nothing but rule for ten centuries and more, may well establish a
Republic where the basis of stability is the self-control of the
individual--as long as men such as you and I form its citizens. Look at
the South Americans. How do Republics go there? And the minute you and
I let in niggers, who haven't any more self-control than dogs, on an
equal basis, with as much of a vote as you have,--niggers, sir, that have
lived like wild beasts in the depths of the jungle since the days of
Ham,--what's going to become of our Republic?"

"Education," cried the Judge.

But the word was snatched out of his mouth.

"Education isn't a matter of one generation. No, sir, nor two, nor
three, nor four. But of centuries."

"Sir," said the Judge, "I can point out negroes of intelligence and
learning."

"And I reckon you could teach some monkeys to talk English, and recite
the catechism, and sing emotional hymns, if you brought over a couple of
million from Africa," answered the Colonel, dryly, as he rose to put on
his hat and light a cigar.

It was his custom to offer a cigar to the Judge, who invariably refused,
and rubbed his nose with scornful violence.

Virginia, on the verge of leaving, stayed on, fascinated by the turn the
argument had taken.

"Your prejudice is hide-bound, sir," said Mr. Whipple.

"No, Whipple," said the Colonel, "when God washed off this wicked earth,
and started new, He saw fit to put the sons of Ham in subjection.
They're slaves of each other in Africa, and I reckon they're treated no
better than they are here. Abuses can't be helped in any system, sir,
though we are bettering them. Were the poor in London in the days of the
Edwards as well off as our niggers are to-day?"

The Judge snorted.

"A divine institution!" he shouted. "A black curse! Because the world
has been a wicked place of oppression since Noah's day, is that any
reason why it should so continue until the day of Judgment?"

The Colonel smiled, which was a sign that he was pleased with his
argument.

"Now, see here, Whipple," said he. "If we had any guarantee that you
would let us alone where we are, to manage our slaves and to cultivate
our plantations, there wouldn't be any trouble. But the country keeps
on growing and growing, and you're not content with half. You want
everything,--all the new states must abolish slavery. And after a while
you will overwhelm us, and ruin us, and make us paupers. Do you wonder
that we contend for our rights, tooth and nail? They are our rights."

"If it had not been for Virginia and Maryland and the South, this nation
would not be in existence."

The Colonel laughed.

"First rate, Jinny," he cried. "That's so."

But the Judge was in a revery. He probably had not heard her.

"The nation is going to the dogs," he said, mumbling rather to himself
than to the others. "We shall never prosper until the curse is shaken
off, or wiped out in blood. It clogs our progress. Our merchant marine,
of which we were so proud, has been annihilated by these continued
disturbances. But, sir," he cried, hammering his fist upon the table
until the glasses rang, "the party that is to save us was born at
Pittsburgh last year on Washington's birthday. The Republican Party,
sir."

"Shucks!" exclaimed Mr. Carvel, with amusement, "The Black Republican
Party, made up of old fools and young Anarchists, of Dutchmen and nigger-
worshippers. Why, Whipple, that party's a joke. Where's your leader?"

"In Illinois," was the quick response.

"What's his name?"

"Abraham Lincoln, sir," thundered Mr. Whipple. "And to my way of
thinking he has uttered a more significant phrase on the situation than
any of your Washington statesmen. 'This government,' said he to a friend
of mine, 'cannot exist half slave and half free.'"

So impressively did Mr. Whipple pronounce these words that Mr. Carvel
stirred uneasily, and in spite of himself, as though he were listening
to an oracle. He recovered instantly.

"He's a demagogue, seeking for striking phrases, sir. You're too
intelligent a man to be taken in by such as he."

"I tell you he is not, sir."

"I know him, sir," cried the Colonel, taking down his feet. "He's an
obscure lawyer. Poor white trash! Torn down poor! My friend Mr.
Richardson of Springfield tells me he is low down. He was born in a log
cabin, and spends most of his time in a drug-store telling stories that
you would not listen to, Judge Whipple."

"I would listen to anything he said," replied the Judge. "Poor white
trash, sir! The greatest men rise from the people. A demagogue!" Mr.
Whipple fairly shook with rage. "The nation doesn't know him yet. But
mark my words, the day will come when it will. He was ballotted for
Vice-President in the Philadelphia convention last year. Nobody paid
any attention to that. If the convention had heard him speak at
Bloomington, he would have been nominated instead of Fremont. If the
nation could have heard him, he would be President to-day instead of that
miserable Buchanan. I happened to be at Bloomington. And while the
idiots on the platform were drivelling, the people kept calling for
Lincoln. I had never heard of him then. I've never forgot him since.
He came ambling out of the back of the hall, a lanky, gawky looking man,
ridiculously ugly, sir. But the moment he opened his mouth he had us
spellbound. The language which your low-down lawyer used was that of a
God-sent prophet, sir. He had those Illinois bumpkins all worked up,--
the women crying, and some of the men, too. And mad! Good Lord, they
were mad--'We will say to the Southern disunionists,' he cried,--'we will
say to the Southern disunionists, we won't go out of the Union, and you
shan't.'"

There was a silence when the Judge finished. But presently Mr. Carvel
took a match. And he stood over the Judge in his favorite attitude,--
with his feet apart,--as he lighted another cigar.

"I reckon we're going to have war, Silas," said he, slowly; "but don't
you think that your Mr. Lincoln scares me into that belief. I don't
count his bluster worth a cent. No sirree! It's this youngster who
comes out here from Boston and buys a nigger with all the money he's got
in the world. And if he's an impetuous young fool; I'm no judge of men."

"Appleton Brice wasn't precisely impetuous," remarked Mr. Whipple. And
he smiled a little bitterly, as though the word had stirred a memory.

"I like that young fellow," Mr. Carvel continued. "It seems to be a kind
of fatality with me to get along with Yankees. I reckon there's a screw
loose somewhere, but Brice acted the man all the way through. He goa a
fall out of you, Silas, in your room, after the show. Where are you
going, Jinny?"

Virginia had risen, and she was standing very erects with a flush on her
face, waiting for her father to finish.

"To see Anne Brinsmade," she said. "Good-by, Uncle Silas."

She had called him so from childhood. Hers was the one voice that seemed
to soften him--it never failed. He turned to her now with a movement
that was almost gentle. "Virginia, I should like you to know my young
Yankee," said he.

"Thank you, Uncle Silas," said the girl, with dignity, "but I scarcely
think that he would care to know me. He feels so strongly."

"He feels no stronger than I do," replied the Judge.

"You have gotten used to me in eighteen years, and besides," she flashed,
"you never spent all the money you had in the world for a principle."

Mr. Whipple smiled as she went out of the door.

"I have spent pretty near all," he said. But more to himself than to the
Colonel.

That evening, some young people came in to tea, two of the four big
Catherwood boys, Anne Brinsmade and her brother Jack, Puss Russell and
Bert, and Eugenie Renault. But Virginia lost her temper. In an evil
moment Puss Russell started the subject of the young Yankee who had
deprived her of Hester. Puss was ably seconded by Jack Brinsmade, whose
reputation as a tormentor extended far back into his boyhood. In vain;
did Anne, the peacemaker, try to quench him, while the big Catherwoods
and Bert Russell laughed incessantly. No wonder that Virginia was angry.
She would not speak to Puss as that young lady bade her good night. And
the Colonel, coming home from an evening with Mr, Brinsmade, found his
daughter in an armchair, staring into the sitting-room fire. There was
no other light in the room Her chin was in her hand, and her lips were
pursed.

"Heigho!" said the Colonel, "what's the trouble now?"

"Nothing," said Virginia.

"Come," he insisted, "what have they been doing to my girl?"

"Pa!"

"Yes, honey."

"I don't want to go to balls all my life. I want to go to boarding-
school, and learn something. Emily is going to Monticello after
Christmas. Pa, will you let me?"

Mr. Carvel winced. He put an arm around her. He, thought of his lonely
widowerhood, of her whose place Virginia had taken.

"And what shall I do?" he said, trying to smile.

"It will only be for a little while. And Monticello isn't very far, Pa."

"Well, well, there is plenty of time to think it over between now and
January," he said. "And now I have a little favor to ask of you,
honey."

"Yes?" she said.

The Colonel took the other armchair, stretched his feet toward the blaze,
and stroked his goatee. He glanced covertly at his daughter's profile.
Twice he cleared hip throat.

"Jinny?"

"Yes, Pa" (without turning her head).

"Jinny, I was going to speak of this young. Brice. He's a stranger
here, and he comes of a good family, and--and I like him."

"And you wish me to invite him to my party," finished Virginia.

The Colonel started. "I reckon you guessed it," he said.

Virginia remained immovable. She did not answer at once. Then she said:

"Do you think, in bidding against me, that he behaved, like a gentleman?"

The Colonel blundered.

"Lord, Virginia," he said, "I thought you told the judge this afternoon
teat it was done out of principle."

Virginia ignored this. But she bit her lip

"He is like all Yankees, without one bit of consideration for a woman.
He knew I wanted Hester."

"What makes you imagine that he thought of you at all, my dear?" asked
her father, mildly, "He does not know you."

This time the Colonel scored certainly. The firelight saved Virginia.

"He overheard our conversation," she answered.

"I reckon that he wasn't worrying much about us. And besides, he was
trying to save Hester from Jennings."

"I thought that you said that it was to be my party, Pa," said Virginia,
irrelevantly.

The Colonel looked thoughtful, then he began to laugh.

"Haven't we enough Black Republican friends?" she asked.

"So you won't have him?" said the Colonel.

"I didn't say that I wouldn't have him," she answered.

The Colonel rose, and brushed the ashes from his goat.

"By Gum!" he said. "Women beat me."

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