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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Crisis - BOOK II - Volume 4 - Chapter XV. Mutterings
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The Crisis - BOOK II - Volume 4 - Chapter XV. Mutterings Post by :crazy Category :Long Stories Author :Winston Churchill Date :February 2011 Read :3067

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The Crisis - BOOK II - Volume 4 - Chapter XV. Mutterings

Early in the next year, 1861,--that red year in the Calendar of our
history,--several gentlemen met secretly in the dingy counting-room of a
prominent citizen to consider how the state of Missouri might be saved to
the Union. One of these gentlemen was Judge Whipple, another, Mr.
Brinsmade; and another a masterly and fearless lawyer who afterward
became a general, and who shall be mentioned in these pages as the
Leader. By his dash and boldness and statesmanlike grasp of a black
situation St. Louis was snatched from the very bosom of secession.

Alas, that chronicles may not stretch so as to embrace all great men of
a time. There is Captain Nathaniel Lyon,--name with the fateful ring.
Nathaniel Lyon, with the wild red hair and blue eye, born and bred a
soldier, ordered to St. Louis, and become subordinate to a wavering
officer of ordnance. Lyon was one who brooked no trifling. He had the
face of a man who knows his mind and intention; the quick speech and
action which go with this. Red tape made by the reel to bind him, he
broke. Courts-martial had no terrors for him. He proved the ablest of
lieutenants to the strong civilian who was the Leader. Both were the men
of the occasion. If God had willed that the South should win, there
would have been no occasion.

Even as Judge Whipple had said, the time was come for all men to decide.
Out of the way, all hopes of compromises that benumbed Washington. No
Constitutional Unionists, no Douglas Democrats, no Republicans now.

All must work to save the ship. The speech-making was not done with yet.
Partisanship must be overcome, and patriotism instilled in its place.
One day Stephen Brice saw the Leader go into Judge Whipple's room, and
presently he was sent for. After that he was heard of in various out-of-
the-way neighborhoods, exhorting all men to forget their quarrels and
uphold the flag.

The Leader himself knew not night from day in his toil,--in organizing,
conciliating, compelling when necessary. Letters passed between him and
Springfield. And, after that solemn inauguration, between him and
Washington. It was an open secret that the Governor of Missouri held out
his arms to Jefferson Davis, just elected President of the new Southern
Confederacy. It soon became plain to the feeblest brain what the Leader
and his friends had perceived long before, that the Governor intended to
use the militia (purged of Yankee sympathizers) to save the state for the
South.

The Government Arsenal, with its stores of arms and ammunition, was the
prize. This building and its grounds lay to the south of the City,
overlooking the river. It was in command of a doubting major of
ordnance; the corps of officers of Jefferson Barracks hard by was mottled
with secession. Trade was still. The Mississippi below was practically
closed. In all the South, Pickens and Sumter alone stood stanch to the
flag. A general, wearing the uniform of the army of the United States,
surrendered the whole state of Texas.

The St. Louis Arsenal was next in succession, and the little band of
regulars at the Barracks was powerless to save it. What could the Leader
and Captain Lyon do without troops? That was the question that rang in
Stephen's head, and in the heads of many others. For, if President
Lincoln sent troops to St. Louis, that would precipitate the trouble.
And the President had other uses for the handful in the army.

There came a rain-sodden night when a mysterious message arrived at the
little house in Olive Street. Both anxiety and pride were in Mrs.
Brice's eyes as they followed her son out of the door. At Twelfth Street
two men were lounging on the corners, each of whom glanced at him
listessly as he passed. He went up a dark and narrow stair into a
lighted hall with shrouded windows. Men with sober faces were forming
line on the sawdust of the floors. The Leader was there giving military
orders in a low voice. That marked the beginning of the aggressive Union
movement.

Stephen, standing apart at the entrance, remarked that many of the men
were Germans. Indeed, he spied his friend Tiefel there, and presently
Richter came from the ranks to greet him.

"My friend," he said, "you are made second lieutenant of our company, the
Black Jaegers."

"But I have never drilled in my life," said Stephen.

"Never mind. Come and see the Leader."

The Leader, smiling a little, put a vigorous stop to his protestations,
and told him to buy a tactics. The next man Stephen saw was big Tom
Catherwood, who blushed to the line of his hair as he returned Stephen's
grip.

"Tom, what does this mean?" He asked.

"Well," said Tom, embarrassed, "a fellow has got to do what he think's
right."

"And your family?" asked Stephen.

A spasm crossed Tom's face.

"I reckon they'll disown me, Stephen, when they find it out."

Richter walked home as far as Stephen's house. He was to take the Fifth
Street car for South St. Louis. And they talked of Tom's courage, and of
the broad and secret military organization the Leader had planned that
night. But Stephen did not sleep till the dawn. Was he doing right?
Could he afford to risk his life in the war that was coming, and leave
his mother dependent upon charity?

It was shortly after this that Stephen paid his last visit for many a
long day upon Miss Puss Russell. It was a Sunday afternoon, and Puss was
entertaining, as usual, a whole parlor-full of young men, whose leanings
and sympathies Stephen divined while taking off his coat in the hall.
Then he heard Miss Russell cry:

"I believe that they are drilling those nasty Dutch hirelings in secret."

"I am sure they are," said George Catherwood. "One of the halls is on
Twelfth Street, and they have sentries posted out so that you can't get
near them. Pa has an idea that Tom goes there. And he told him that if
he ever got evidence of it, he'd show him the door."

"Do you really think that Tom is with the Yankees?" asked Jack Brinsmade.

"Tom's a fool," said George, with emphasis, "but he isn't a coward. He'd
just as soon tell Pa to-morrow that he was drilling if the Yankee leaders
wished it known."

"Virginia will never speak to him again," said Eugenie, in an awed voice.

"Pooh!" said Puss, "Tom never had a chance with Jinny. Did he, George?
Clarence is in high favor now. Did you ever know any one to change so,
since this military business has begun? He acts like a colonel. I hear
that they are thinking of making him captain of a company of dragoons."

"They are," George answered. "And that is the company I intend to join."

"Well," began Puss, with her usual recklessness, "it's a good thing for
Clarence that all this is happening. I know somebody else--"

Poor Stephen in the hall knew not whether to stay or fly. An accident
decided the question. Emily Russell came down the stairs at that instant
and spoke to him. As the two entered the parlor, there was a hush
pregnant with many things unsaid. Puss's face was scarlet, but her hand
was cold as she held it out to him. For the first time in that house he
felt like an intruder. Jack Brinsmade bowed with great ceremony, and
took his departure. There was scarcely a distant cordiality in the
greeting of the other young men. And Puss, whose tongue was loosed
again, talked rapidly of entertainments to which Stephen either had not
been invited, or from which he had stayed away. The rest of the company
were almost moodily silent.

Profoundly depressed, Stephen sat straight in the velvet chair, awaiting
a seasonable time to bring his visit to a close.

This was to be the last, then, of his intercourse with a warmhearted and
lovable people. This was to be the end of his friendship with this
impetuous and generous girl who had done so much to brighten his life
since he had come to St: Louis. Henceforth this house would be shut to
him, and all others save Mr. Brinsmade's.

Presently, in one of the intervals of Miss Russell's feverish talk,
he rose to go. Dusk was gathering, and a deep and ominous silence
penetrated like the shadows into the tall room. No words came to him.
Impulsively, almost tearfully, Puss put her hand in his. Then she
pressed it unexpectedly, so that he had to gulp down a lump that was in
his throat. Just then a loud cry was heard from without, the men jumped
from their chairs, and something heavy dropped on the carpet.

Some ran to the window, others to the door. Directly across the street
was the house of Mr. Harmsworth, a noted Union man. One of the third
story windows was open, and out of it was pouring a mass of gray wood
smoke. George Catherwood was the first to speak.

"I hope it will burn down," he cried.

Stephen picked up the object on the floor, which had dropped from his
pocket, and handed it to him.

It was a revolver.

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