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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesChildren Of The Market Place - Chapter 16
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Children Of The Market Place - Chapter 16 Post by :otto_jurscha Category :Long Stories Author :Edgar Lee Masters Date :May 2012 Read :1487

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Children Of The Market Place - Chapter 16


There was the law against Zoe taking this step, and against any one having any part in it. Still would it be known? I was content to wait for developments and meanwhile to put the whole thing behind me. Work helped me to do this.

I had Sarah's boy to interest me too. They had named him Amos. I had taken five twenty-dollar gold pieces and tied them in a package, bound them with a ribbon, and placed them in his tiny hand. I could not foresee the time when I should touch his hand on an occasion of very different import and with Zoe standing by. Zoe had made Amos some pretty little things and sent them by me. Sarah's only regret was that her grandmother could not see the boy. Her great happiness was wholly beautiful. And Reverdy seemed impressed with a greater dignity and a more gracious heart, if that were possible. I had found Mrs. Brown well adapted to my household. She liked the place; and the prospect was that she would be long in my service. Life was moving on.

I kept in touch with affairs in England and Europe through the London _Times_. I was also a subscriber to Greeley's _New Yorker_; and I did not slight the local paper, which belabored Douglas in proportion as he increased in popularity and power. I read many books as well.

For I felt the stir of a new age. I saw the North, the country around me, growing in wealth and dominance. I saw old despotisms giving way and new ones coming to take their place. The factory system was arising, due to machinery. Weaving and spinning processes had improved. The cry of women and children crowded in the factories of Pennsylvania began to be heard. The hours of toil were long. And if the whip descended upon the back of the negro in the South, the factory overseer in Philadelphia flogged the laborer who did not work enough to suit him, or who was tardy at the task. Women and children there were feeling the lash of the whip. Just now there was talk of a machine which would cut as much grain in a day as six men could cut with scythes. I ordered two of these machines for the next year, for I was farming more and more on a big scale. But what seemed most wonderful to me was an instrument now being talked about which sent messages by electricity. It was not perfected yet. It was treated with skepticism. But if it could be! If I could get a message from St. Louis, a distance of more than a hundred miles, in a few minutes or an hour!

Douglas came out to see me one night to tell me what was on his mind. He wanted to be the prosecuting attorney. Consider the straits of a young man who must make his way and get a place in the world! Is there anything more desperate at times? What was the law business in this community, divided, as it was, by eleven lawyers, shared in by visiting lawyers? Douglas had to live. Youth is forced to push ahead or be crushed. I know he has been accused of manipulation in having the law passed by which he could be appointed to the office and supplant a rival. Well, if he had not had the gifts and the energies to do such things, how could he have served the country and maintained himself? The next February before he was twenty-two, he was state's attorney for the district. No wonder that lesser men railed at him. But what one of them would not have done the same thing if he could?

And now I was seeing much of Dorothy. What did it mean? Was she only my friend? Reverdy, her brother, was my most intimate friend. Did she receive my attentions on account of the relations between him and me? If she knew anything about Zoe she never betrayed it to me. Surely she could not be in Jacksonville so long and be ignorant that Zoe was my half-sister. At last I decided to explore Dorothy's mind. I went at it forthrightly. Did she know that Zoe and I had the same father?

She had heard it. That was a common enough thing in the South; not common there, however, for a colored mother to be the wife of a white father. "I have suffered on account of this," said Dorothy. "You knew nothing about it and had nothing to do with it. It is too bad--too bad, Jimmy!"

There remained Zoe's misadventure. How could I approach that? But if Dorothy had heard of it would she continue to receive me? If she knew about it would not the present association of ideas bring it to mind and bespeak it to me by change of color or expression? I looked at Dorothy quizzically. I discovered nothing in her face. Then I began to think of the certain probability that some one had come to her breathing rumors upon her. So I said: "Promise me something, Dorothy. If any one ever tells you anything about me, say, for example, that I haven't been perfectly fair with Zoe in every way, and honorable as far as I know how to be, will you withhold belief until you give me a chance? Do you promise me that?" And Dorothy stretched her hand to me in a warm-hearted way. "You are Reverdy's friend, aren't you, and he is yours. Well, I promise you. But it isn't necessary, for it would have to be something that I could believe you capable of. Then Reverdy would have to believe it, and then I might have a mind of my own after all. Why, how could anyone say anything about you? You have been as good to Zoe as if she were as white as I."

And so Dorothy didn't know. I left the matter where it was. I could not go on. You see I was nineteen and Dorothy was eighteen and the year was 1834.

But Lamborn. I had made an enemy of him. Rather, he had turned himself into my enemy. He was running with a gang of rough fellows called the McCall boys. They drank and fought, using clubs or stones or knives. They were suspected of trying to rob the stage when it was driven by the poor wretch who had died of the cholera two summers before. That driver was noted for his courage, his ready use of the rifle; and he had frightened the marauders off, and had wounded one of them, who limped away until the trail of his blood was obscured.

Every time I came into town I was subjected to wolfish leers from some member of this gang. Evidently they had taken up Lamborn's cause. Something was preying upon him. He was drinking more heavily. Perhaps he was tormented with the thought that I knew his secret and abided some vengeance upon him. Perhaps his conscience tortured him. At any rate he had become a skulking figure of hatred, showing his teeth and snarling when he saw me and sidling away like a wolf. He had muttered curses as he hurried to one side. "Bloody Englishman" and the like were his remarks. Something told me to watch him, to watch the McCall boys. I began to take pains to guard my house in the country, sleeping always with my rifle by my side; and I had provided my men with rifles, instructing them to shoot if trespassers approached during suspicious hours or when warned away.

The autumn was the most delicious weather I had experienced since coming to America. Enough of the summer was carried over into October, and even November, to keep the days warm and full of sunlight, while the nights were clear and frosty, and always over this boundless prairie the far scattered stars. I had bought an astronomical chart and located the constellations, in which Zoe had joined me in increasing wonder. Then I had a taste of real hunting. Reverdy and I had gone to marshes a few miles away for wild geese and ducks; and we had come back loaded with game for ourselves and friends. There were many parties and what were called "shucking bees," where the company set to to assist the host in ridding the corn of its sheath; and quilting bees; and apple parings. These were occasions of festival, the local rituals of Dionysius. Earlier in the fall I had gone to a county fair and had seen the products of the field on display; and had studied the people: the tall angular gawks, the men carrying whips, the dust, the noise, the cheap fakirs and gamblers, the fights, the drunkenness, the women tired and perspiring carrying their babies and leading a brood. To me it was more like a cattle pen befogged with dust than an assemblage of human beings. And there was no happiness, no real joy; only barbaric breaking away from hard labor and the silence of the farms; only a reeling and a howling and a war dance; and only here and there a flash of breeding and fineness, and intelligent use of the occasion for sweeter joys and fuller life.

The winter came down; but I was better prepared for it than I was the year before. My house with its walls a foot thick of solid oak and tightly plastered against the penetrating winds kept out the cold. And my fireplaces built under my very eye threw a steady heat into the rooms. I was giving parties from time to time and attending them as well. Douglas always came. He was unfailingly the life of the party. He had reenforced his political successes with a genuine hold upon the hearts of the young people and the older people. He was attacked weekly by the Whig newspaper. But he was not without defense. Almost upon arriving at Jacksonville he had written a letter of praise to the editor of a newly started journal. The editor was greatly pleased at this spontaneous expression of interest and had become Douglas' friend and stanch champion. Ah! Douglas was only manipulating. He had written this letter to win a newspaper to his support. The wily schemer! "Genius has come into our midst," wrote the editor. "No one can doubt this who heard Mr. Douglas expound Democratic doctrine in his wonderful debate with John Wyatt. This country is richer for having attracted Douglas to it. He is here to stay. And he will be one of the great men of the country as President Jackson is now the greatest figure since Washington; and Illinois will send him forth as her son to speak and to act on the great questions that are already beginning to fill the minds of the people."

Douglas often came out to stay for the night or for a day or two. He had little law business, but his energies were always employed in shaping his powers toward a participation in the politics of the country. His superhuman energy was intensified by the fact that he had been deprived of an opportunity to educate himself. It was the gadfly that drove him forward with such restless industry. I could see that he had no patience for a detailed study of the law; that he might be ignorant of the technical steps to be taken in the collection of a promissory note, but he would know something about the resources of a treaty; that if he did not know how to settle the title to a farmer's field, he had considered ways to put at rest any claim of England to the territory of the Oregon. Yet he had to live as a lawyer before he could flourish as a statesman. And he had become the prosecuting attorney. His enemies said it was by a trick; that he had had the state law changed so that the legislature could appoint him state's attorney for the district of Jacksonville. The accusation proved too much. Douglas was not quite twenty-two when he reached this office. He had been in the state but two years, not quite that. How had such a youth first won the confidence of enough people who wished to give him this office and were able to do it; and then won the legislature to do the extraordinary thing of changing the law to give him the office, while at the same time supplanting a seasoned and experienced man in the place? How? Was every one corrupt, people and legislature? But it was February and he was the prosecuting attorney for the people.

He came out to see me, and we drank his health and fortune. It was on this occasion that Douglas talked to me with the greatest freedom about my own affairs. His frankness and sincerity, his friendship for me, relieved this broaching of my intimate interests of intrusiveness. I felt no inclination to resent it. He had glanced at Zoe who had come into the room once or twice, remarking that she was an unusual young woman. Then he said: "Your father must have been much of a man. I think his marriage worked upon his feelings ... and Zoe. Don't let this get on your imagination. You are handling it in the right way ... just go on. Let me warn you. The McCall gang is a desperate one. Do not on any account come to an issue with them. There are too many of them. They will sneak up upon you. They carry grudges ... and another thing, there's Lamborn ... as bad as the McCalls. He's been talking too, making threats against you. I tell you this for your own good. He has been boasting of Zoe's interest in him ... to speak euphemistically of the matter ... but just be careful." Whatever else he had in his mind he communicated it to me by the look of his speaking eyes, keen and blue. Then he arose and went.

Dorothy had returned to Nashville for the winter. She expected to take her place again in Reverdy's household in the spring. And we were writing. I had thought of proposing marriage to her the night before she left. But I could not bring myself to do so. I needed some one in my life. But I was just twenty, and Dorothy seemed so much more mature and wise than I. Then always there was this matter of Zoe. I lived in the expectation that something would come out of Zoe's misfortune; and if it did my name was bound to be connected with it. What would Dorothy say if in the midst of our engagement, if she engaged herself to me, the word should be brought to her that I was the father of Zoe's aborted child and that by some one, perhaps Mrs. Brown, Zoe had been saved the open shame of giving birth to the child and while an inmate of my house? I could see the probative force of these facts against me. This is what kept me from speaking to Dorothy on the subject of becoming my wife and having it settled before she went to Nashville. And then something happened that made my situation infinitely worse before it was any better.

The spring had come on early and I had much to do. I was buying machinery. The mowers that I had ordered were soon to be delivered and I had need to be in town almost daily. There were always loafers about the streets; and among them, not infrequently, the McCall boys or Lamborn. Reverdy had told me that Lamborn had been talking in the barber shop, saying that I was living in a state of adultery with my nigger sister. At the same time I knew, and Reverdy knew, that Lamborn was trying to get Zoe to meet him. He had sent her a note to that effect, which Zoe had turned over to me. Once he had accosted Zoe as she was coming from Reverdy's to join me at the courthouse preparatory to starting home. Reverdy thought that the fellow was eaten up with insane jealousy and had brought himself to the belief that I had taken Zoe from him, if he could be said ever to have had a right to her.

It is an April day and I have come into town and am rushing from place to place attending to many things. Reverdy has met me at the bank to tell me of another opportunity to buy a team of horses and some oxen; for we use the latter mostly to draw the plows that turn up the heavy sod of the prairie. Reverdy has just told me of Lamborn's threat to come to my farm and take Zoe: that when a girl was once his she was always his. He had said these things at the barber shop. Something came over me. I resolved that this intolerable state of affairs, of anxiety for Zoe, of misunderstanding for myself, of dread of the future, of a sort of brake on my life as of something holding me back and impeding my happiness and peace of mind ... all this had to end somehow and soon. I could not live and go on with things as they were.

We stepped from the bank. And there, not ten feet away, stood Lamborn. His mouth became a scrawl, he uttered a growl, he swayed with passion, he moved his hands at his side in a sort of twisting motion. And I thought: there are Zoe and Dorothy, and I may create a feud against me that will follow me for years ... yet this man must die. And I drew my pistol and fired ... Lamborn sank to the ground without a groan. Some of the McCall boys ran out. I fired at them. They fled. I walked forward a step or two. Then I asked Reverdy if he had seen Lamborn reach for his pistol. Reverdy had seen this. I had not. In fact, Lamborn did nothing of the sort. But if Reverdy saw this he could swear to it and help me. The excitement of the precise moment was now over. I felt weak and anxious. I wanted to see Douglas. As state's attorney he could help me. Douglas was soon on the scene. He had heard what I had done. I wanted to talk with him. He waved me off saying: "You must have counsel of your own. You must not talk to me. I would be compelled in the discharge of my duty to use against you anything you might tell me." With that he walked away.

He could not be my friend in this hour of need! What was I to do? Yes, there was Reverdy. But when it came to the matter of locking me up Douglas said: "If Mr. Clayton signs the bond ... make the bond $1000 ... don't lock him up. Get a coroner's jury."

There was not a member of this jury who had not been exposed to some of this vile talk about Zoe and me, in the general contagion of the village gossip. How should this examination be managed? Of course the single question, they told me, was the manner of Lamborn's meeting his death. But the coroner's jury had the power to bind me to the grand jury for an indictment, and that I wished to escape. Well, I had been threatened, to be sure. But why? If Lamborn wanted Zoe and I had her in my house and kept him from seeing her, was it for a good or a selfish reason? Were we not rivals for the same favor? Did one have her and one lose her? Had I killed Lamborn for jealousy, or in self-defense? The single fact that I had shot him stood against the background of all this gossip and village understanding, and was necessarily read into it for my undoing or my freedom.

There was the note that Lamborn had written Zoe! That proved that Lamborn was seeking her; but it might be used to prove that I resented his pursuit. And why? As Zoe's brother, or as her unnatural lover? My brain was in a whirl. I could not think for myself. I talked these subjects over with Reverdy and with Mr. Brooks, who was my counsel. All these things were done the day of the killing. The next morning, with the body of Lamborn lying in the room, I mounted the witness chair in my own behalf, after Reverdy had testified that he had seen Lamborn reach to his pocket, and that it was not until then that I drew my pistol and fired.

Was Douglas turned against me? He plunged into the matter of Zoe almost at once in his cross examination of me. And at last I told the whole story ... with but two exceptions: I did not produce Lamborn's note to Zoe and I did not tell of Zoe's illness and its cause; of returning from St. Louis and finding Zoe in tears, of what she had told me, of the embarrassment I then found myself in, of my perplexity, of my failure to invite Lamborn to my housewarming and the reason for it, of Lamborn's attitude toward me after that, his menacing looks, his growling insults when he saw me ... of all these things I told with full circumstantiality under the examination of the new state's attorney, and with the whole of the countryside looking on, Whigs and Democrats, and with the audience permeated with slavery and with slavery feeling, at least so far as the present case was concerned. What would Douglas now do? He rose and in his deep voice, with perfect command of himself, looking over the audience as if it was a great instrument whose keys he knew, he spoke these brief words: "Gentlemen, it makes no difference to me whether this girl is white or black; if you bind this young man over to the grand jury, I will do what I can to prevent an indictment; and if the grand jury indicts him I will do what I can to have him acquitted. This dead man here met his just fate."

The audience cheered. The jury acquitted me without leaving their seats. I walked a free man into the soft air of April. Douglas came out. His manner was changed. He spoke to me in freedom and in the old tone of friendship. "The boil is now open," he said. "The cut place will heal."

And he walked with me down the street followed by a cheering crowd. Douglas had won the people; and I was free!

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Children Of The Market Place - Chapter 17 Children Of The Market Place - Chapter 17

Children Of The Market Place - Chapter 17
CHAPTER XVIII began to see myself as boring through opposition with lowered head and indomitable will. I was strengthened by the fact that I had never swerved from my duty to Zoe. And now that the beast was out of the way who had caused her so much agony, my whole life seemed cleared. The McCall gang might cause me trouble, but they would need to come prepared, or to catch me off my guard. The opening up of the whole case had had a wholesome effect upon my reputation. The brotherly innocence of my relation to Zoe was the generally

Children Of The Market Place - Chapter 15 Children Of The Market Place - Chapter 15

Children Of The Market Place - Chapter 15
CHAPTER XVThe house was done. My furnishings were delivered. There were curtains to make, many feminine touches were needed to settle the rooms. Sarah did all that she could, but Dorothy Clayton had come. She was just a year younger than I, and of charming appearance and manner. We had become friends almost at once. She was with me daily, as we put the house in order for occupancy. Reverdy thought that Sarah must be apprised of what had happened to Zoe. She was terribly wounded and distressed. But she approved of my course in keeping Zoe with me. On my