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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Crisis - BOOK II - Volume 4 - Chapter VII. An Excursion
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The Crisis - BOOK II - Volume 4 - Chapter VII. An Excursion Post by :Roseman Category :Long Stories Author :Winston Churchill Date :February 2011 Read :2331

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The Crisis - BOOK II - Volume 4 - Chapter VII. An Excursion

I am going ahead two years. Two years during which a nation struggled
in agony with sickness, and even the great strength with which she was
endowed at birth was not equal to the task of throwing it off. In 1620
a Dutch ship had brought from Guinea to his Majesty's Colony of Virginia
the germs of that disease for which the Nation's blood was to be let so
freely. During these years signs of dissolution, of death, were not
wanting.

In the city by the Father of Waters where the races met, men and women
were born into the world, who were to die in ancient Cuba, who were to be
left fatherless in the struggle soon to come, who were to live to see new
monsters rise to gnaw at the vitals of the Republic, and to hear again
the cynical laugh of Europe. But they were also to see their country a
power in the world, perchance the greatest power. While Europe had
wrangled, the child of the West had grown into manhood and taken a seat
among the highest, to share with them the responsibilities of manhood.

Meanwhile, Stephen Brice had been given permission to practise law in the
sovereign state of Missouri. Stephen understood Judge Whipple better.
It cannot be said that he was intimate with that rather formidable
personage, although the Judge, being a man of habits, had formed that of
taking tea at least once a week with Mrs. Brice. Stephen had learned to
love the Judge, and he had never ceased to be grateful to him for a
knowledge of that man who had had the most influence upon his life,
--Abraham Lincoln.

For the seed, sowed in wisdom and self-denial, was bearing fruit. The
sound of gathering conventions was in the land, and the Freeport Heresy
was not for gotten.

We shall not mention the number of clients thronging to Mr. Whipple's
office to consult Mr. Brice. These things are humiliating. Some of
Stephen's income came from articles in the newspapers of that day.
What funny newspapers they were, the size of a blanket! No startling
headlines such as we see now, but a continued novel among the
advertisements on the front page and verses from some gifted lady of the
town, signed Electra. And often a story of pure love, but more
frequently of ghosts or other eerie phenomena taken from a magazine, or
an anecdote of a cat or a chicken. There were letters from citizens who
had the mania of print, bulletins of different ages from all parts of the
Union, clippings out of day-before-yesterday's newspaper of Chicago or
Cincinnati to three-weeks letters from San Francisco, come by the pony
post to Lexington and then down the swift Missouri. Of course, there was
news by telegraph, but that was precious as fine gold,--not to be lightly
read and cast aside.

In the autumn of '59, through the kindness of Mr. Brinsmade, Stephen had
gone on a steamboat up the river to a great convention in Iowa. On this
excursion was much of St. Louis's bluest blood. He widened his circle of
acquaintances, and spent much of his time walking the guards between Miss
Anne Brinsmade and Miss Puss Russell. Perhaps it is unfair to these
young ladies to repeat what they said about Stephen in the privacy of
their staterooms, gentle Anne remonstrating that they should not gossip,
and listening eagerly the while, and laughing at Miss Puss, whose mimicry
of Stephen's severe ways brought tears to her eyes.

Mr. Clarence Colfax was likewise on the boat, and passing Stephen on the
guards, bowed distantly. But once, on the return trip, when Stephen had
a writing pad on his knee, the young Southerner came up to him in his
frankest manner and with an expression of the gray eyes which was not to
be withstood.

"Making a case, Brice?" he said. "I hear you are the kind that cannot
be idle even on a holiday."

"Not as bad as all that," replied Stephen, smiling at him.

"Reckon you keep a diary, then," said Clarence, leaning against the rail.
He made a remarkably graceful figure, Stephen thought. He was tall, and
his movements had what might be called a commanding indolence. Stephen,
while he smiled, could not but admire the tone and gesture with which
Colfax bade a passing negro to get him a handkerchief from his cabin.
The alacrity of the black to do the errand was amusing enough. Stephen
well knew it had not been such if he wanted a handkerchief.

Stephen said it was not a diary. Mr. Colfax was too well bred to inquire
further; so he never found out that Mr. Brice was writing an account of
the Convention and the speechmaking for the Missouri Democrat.

"Brice," said the Southerner, "I want to apologize for things I've done
to you and said about you. I hated you for a long time after you beat me
out of Hester, and--" he hesitated.

Stephen looked up. For the first time he actually liked Colfax. He had
been long enough among Colfax's people to understand how difficult it was
for him to say the thing he wished.

"You may remember a night at my uncle's, Colonel Carvel's, on the
occasion of my cousin's birthday?"

"Yes," said Stephen, in surprise.

"Well," blurted Clarence, boyishly, "I was rude to you in my uncle's
house, and I have since been sorry."

"He held out his hand, and Stephen took it warmly.

"I was younger then, Mr. Colfax," he said, "and I didn't understand your
point of view as well as I do now. Not that I have changed my ideas,"
he added quickly, "but the notion of the girl's going South angered me.
I was bidding against the dealer rather than against you. Had I then
known Miss Carvel--" he stopped abruptly.

The winning expression died from the face of the other.

He turned away, and leaning across the rail, stared at the high bluffs,
red-bronzed by the autumn sun. A score of miles beyond that precipice
was a long low building of stone, surrounded by spreading trees,--the
school for young ladies, celebrated throughout the West, where our
mothers and grandmothers were taught,--Monticello. Hither Miss Virginia
Carvel had gone, some thirty days since, for her second winter.

Perhaps Stephen guessed the thought in the mind of his companion, for he
stared also. The music in the cabin came to an abrupt pause, and only
the tumbling of waters through the planks of the great wheels broke the
silence. They were both startled by laughter at their shoulders. There
stood Miss Russell, the picture of merriment, her arm locked in Anne
Brinsmade's.

"It is the hour when all devout worshippers turn towards the East," she
said. "The goddess is enshrined at Monticello."

Both young men, as they got to their feet, were crimson. Whereupon Miss
Russell laughed again. Anne, however, blushed for them. But this was
not the first time Miss Russell had gone too far. Young Mr. Colfax, with
the excess of manner which was his at such times, excused himself and
left abruptly. This to the further embarrassment of Stephen and Anne,
and the keener enjoyment of Miss Russell.

"Was I not right, Mr. Brice?" she demanded. "Why, you are even writing
verses to her!"

"I scarcely know Miss Carvel," he said, recovering. "And as for writing
verse--"

"You never did such a thing in your life! I can well believe it."

Miss Russell made a face in the direction Colfax had taken.

"He always acts like that when you mention her," she said.

"But you are so cruel, Puss," said Anne. "You can't blame him."

"Hairpins!" said Miss Russell.

"Isn't she to marry him?" said Stephen, in his natural voice.

He remembered his pronouns too late.

"That has been the way of the world ever since Adam and Eve," remarked
Puss. "I suppose you meant to ask: Mr. Brice, whether Clarence is to
marry Virginia Carvel."

Anne nudged her.

"My dear, what will Mr. Brice think of us?"

"Listen, Mr. Brice," Puss continued, undaunted. "I shall tell you some
gossip. Virginia was sent to Monticello, and went with her father to
Kentucky and Pennsylvania this summer, that she might be away from
Clarence. Colfax."

"Oh, Puss!" cried Anne.

Miss Russell paid not the slightest heed.

"Colonel Carvel is right," she went on. "I should do the same thing.
They are first cousins, and the Colonel doesn't like that. I am fond of
Clarence. But he isn't good for anything in the world except horse
racing and--and fighting. He wanted to help drive the Black Republican
emigrants out of Kansas, and his mother had to put a collar and chain on
him. He wanted to go filibustering with Walker, and she had to get down
on her knees. And yet," she cried, "if you Yankees push us as far as
war, Mr. Brice, just look out for him."

"But--" Anne interposed.

"Oh, I know what you are going to say,--that Clarence has money."

"Puss!" cried Anne, outraged. "How dare you!"

Miss Russell slipped an arm around her waist.

"Come, Anne," she said, "we mustn't interrupt the Senator any longer. He
is preparing his maiden speech."

That was the way in which Stephen got his nickname. It is scarcely
necessary to add that he wrote no more until he reached his little room
in the house on Olive Street.

They had passed Alton, and the black cloud that hung in the still autumn
air over the city was in sight. It was dusk when the 'Jackson' pushed
her nose into the levee, and the song of the negro stevedores rose from
below as they pulled the gang-plank on to the landing-stage. Stephen
stood apart on the hurricane deck, gazing at the dark line of sooty
warehouses. How many young men with their way to make have felt the same
as he did after some pleasant excursion. The presence of a tall form
beside him shook him from his revery, and he looked up to recognize the
benevolent face of Mr. Brinsmade.

"Mrs. Brice may be anxious, Stephen, at the late hour," said he. "My
carriage is here, and it will give me great pleasure to convey you to
your door."

Dear Mr. Brinsmade! He is in heaven now, and knows at last the good
he wrought upon earth. Of the many thoughtful charities which Stephen
received from him, this one sticks firmest in his remembrance: A
stranger, tired and lonely, and apart from the gay young men and women
who stepped from the boat, he had been sought out by this gentleman, to
whom had been given the divine gift of forgetting none.

"Oh, Puss," cried Anne, that evening, for Miss Russell had come to spend
the night, "how could you have talked to him so? He scarcely spoke on
the way up in the carriage. You have offended him."

"Why should I set him upon a pedestal?" said Puss, with a thread in her
mouth; "why should you all set him upon a pedestal? He is only a
Yankee," said Puss, tossing her head, "and not so very wonderful."

"I did not say he was wonderful," replied Anne, with dignity.

"But you girls think him so. Emily and Eugenie and Maude. He had better
marry Belle Cluyme. A great man, he may give some decision to that
family. Anne!"

"Yes."

"Shall I tell you a secret?"

"Yes," said Anne. She was human, and she was feminine.

"Then--Virginia Carvel is in love with him."

"With Mr. Brice!" cried astonished Anne. "She hates him!"

"She thinks she hates him," said Miss Russell, calmly.

Anne looked up at her companion admiringly. Her two heroines were Puss
and Virginia. Both had the same kind of daring, but in Puss the trait
had developed into a somewhat disagreeable outspokenness which made many
people dislike her. Her judgments were usually well founded, and her
prophecies had so often come to pass that Anne often believed in them for
no other reason.

"How do you know?" said Anne, incredulously.

"Do you remember that September, a year ago, when we were all out at
Glencoe, and Judge Whipple was ill, and Virginia sent us all away and
nursed him herself?"

"Yes," said Anne.

"And did you know that Mr. Brice had gone out, with letters, when the
Judge was better?"

"Yes," said Anne, breathless.

"It was a Saturday afternoon that he left, although they had begged him
to stay over Sunday. Virginia had written for me to come back, and I
arrived in the evening. I asked Easter where Jinny was, and I found
her--"

"You found her--?" said Anne.

Sitting alone in the summer-house over the river. Easter said she had
been there for two hours. And I have never known Jinny to be such
miserable company as she was that night."

"Did she mention Stephen?" asked Anne.

"No."

"But you did," said Anne, with conviction.

Miss Russell's reply was not as direct as usual.

"You know Virginia never confides unless she wants to," she said.

Anne considered.

"Virginia has scarcely seen him since then," she said. "You know that
I was her room-mate at Monticello last year, and I think I should have
discovered it."

"Did she speak of him?" demanded Miss Russell.

"Only when the subject was mentioned. I heard her repeat once what Judge
Whipple told her father of him; that he had a fine legal mind. He was
often in my letters from home, because they have taken Pa's house next
door, and because Pa likes them. I used to read those letters to Jinny,"
said Anne, "but she never expressed any desire to hear them."

"I, too, used to write Jinny about him," confessed Puss.

"Did she answer your letter?"

"No," replied Miss Puss,--"but that was just before the holidays, you
remember. And then the Colonel hurried her off to see her Pennsylvania
relatives, and I believe they went to Annapolis, too, where the Carvels
come from."

Stephen, sitting in the next house, writing out his account, little
dreamed that he was the subject of a conference in the third story front
of the Brinsmades'. Later, when the young ladies were asleep, he carried
his manuscript to the Democrat office, and delivered it into the hands of
his friend, the night editor, who was awaiting it.

Toward the end of that week, Miss Virginia Carvel was sitting with her
back to one of the great trees at Monticello reading a letter. Every
once in a while she tucked it under her cloak and glanced hastily around.
It was from Miss Anne Brinsmade.

"I have told you all about the excursion, my dear, and how we missed you.
You may remember" (ah, Anne, the guile there is in the best of us), "you
may remember Mr. Stephen Brice, whom we used to speak of. Pa and Ma take
a great interest in him, and Pa had him invited on the excursion. He is
more serious than ever, since he has become a full-fledged lawyer. But
he has a dry humor which comes out when you know him well, of which I did
not suspect him. His mother is the dearest lady I have ever known, so
quiet, so dignified, and so well bred. They come in to supper very
often. And the other night Mr. Brice told Pa so many things about the
people south of Market Street, the Germans, which he did not know; that
Pa was astonished. He told all about German history, and how they were
persecuted at home, and why they came here. Pa was surprised to hear
that many of them were University men, and that they were already
organizing to defend the Union. I heard Pa say, 'That is what Mr. Blair
meant when he assured me that we need not fear for the city.'

"Jinny dear, I ought not to have written you this, because you are for
Secession, and in your heart you think Pa a traitor, because he comes
from a slave state and has slaves of his own. But I shall not tear it
up.

"It is sad to think how rich Mrs. Brice lived in Boston, and what she has
had to come to. One servant and a little house, and no place to go to in
the summer, when they used to have such a large one. I often go in to
sew with her, but she has never once mentioned her past to me.

"Your father has no doubt sent you the Democrat with the account of the
Convention. It is the fullest published, by far, and was so much admired
that Pa asked the editor who wrote it. Who do you think, but Stephen
Brice! So now Pa knows why Mr. Brice hesitated when Pa asked him to go
up the river, and then consented. This is not the end. Yesterday, when
I went in to see Mrs. Brice, a new black silk was on her bed, and as long
as I live I shall never forget how sweet was her voice when she said,
'It is a surprise from my son, my dear. I did not expect ever to have
another.' Jinny, I just know he bought it with the money he got for the
article. That was what he was writing on the boat when Clarence Colfax
interrupted him. Puss accused him of writing verses to you."

At this point Miss Virginia Carvel stopped reading. Whether she had read
that part before, who shall say? But she took Anne's letter between her
fingers and tore it into bits and flung the bits into the wind, so that
they were tossed about and lost among the dead leaves under the great
trees. And when she reached her room, there was the hated Missouri
Democrat lying, still open, on her table. A little later a great black
piece of it came tossing out of the chimney above, to the affright of
little Miss Brown, teacher of Literature, who was walking in the grounds,
and who ran to the principal's room with the story that the chimney was
afire.

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