Eben Holden a Tale of the North Country, Chapter 36

Chapter 36

Those were great days in mid autumn. The Republic was in grave peril of dissolution. Liberty that had hymned her birth in the last century now hymned her destiny in the voices of bard and orator. Crowds of men gathered in public squares, at bulletin boards, on street corners arguing, gesticulating, exclaiming and cursing. Cheering multitudes went up and down the city by night, with bands and torches, and there was such a howl of oratory and applause on the lower half of Manhattan Island that it gave the reporter no rest. William H. Seward, Charles Sumner, John A. Dix, Henry Ward Beecher and Charles O Connor were the giants of the stump. There was more violence and religious fervour in the political feeling of that time than had been mingled since '76. A sense of outrage was in the hearts of men. 'Honest Abe'Lincoln stood, as they took it, for their homes and their country, for human liberty and even for their God.

I remember coming into the counting-room late one evening. Loud voices had halted me as I passed the door. Mr Greeley stood back of the counter; a rather tall, wiry grey-headed man before it. Each was shaking a right fist under the other's nose. They were shouting loudly as they argued. The stranger was for war; Mr Greeley for waiting. The publisher of the Tribune stood beside the latter, smoking a pipe; a small man leaned over the counter at the stranger's elbow, putting in a word here and there; half a dozen people stood by, listening. Mr Greeley turned to his publisher in a moment.

'Rhoades,'said he, 'I wish ye d put these men out. They holler 'n yell, so I can't hear myself think.

Then there was a general laugh.

I learned to my surprise, when they had gone, that the tall man was William H. Seward, the other John A. DiL

Then one of those fevered days came the Prince of Wales - a Godsend, to allay passion with curiosity.

It was my duty to handle some of 'the latest news by magnetic telegraph , and help to get the plans and progress of the campaign at headquarters. The Printer, as they called Mr Greeley, was at his desk when I came in at noon, never leaving the office but for dinner, until past midnight, those days. And he made the Tribune a mighty power in the state. His faith in its efficacy was sublime, and every line went under his eye before it went to his readers. I remember a night when he called me to his office about twelve o clock. He was up to his knees in the rubbish of the day-newspapers that he had read and thrown upon the floor; his desk was littered with proofs.

'Go an'see the Prince o'Wales,'he said. (That interesting young man had arrived on the Harriet Lane that morning and ridden up Broadway between cheering hosts.) 'I've got a sketch of him here an'it's all twaddle. Tell us something new about him. If he's got a hole in his sock we ought to know it.

Mr Dana came in to see him while I was there.

'Look here, Dana,'said the Printer, in a rasping humour. 'By the gods of war! here's two colunms about that perfonnance at the Academy and only two sticks of the speech of Seward at St Paul. I ll have to get someone if go an'burn that theatre an'send the bill to me.

In the morning Mayor Wood introduced me to the Duke of Newcastle, who in turn presented me to the Prince of Wales - then a slim, blue-yed youngster of nineteen, as gentle mannered as any I have ever met. It was my unpleasant duty to keep as near as possible to the royal party in all the festivities of that week.

The ball, in the Prince's honour, at the Academy of Music, was one of the great social events of the century. No fair of vanity in the western hemisphere ever quite equalled it. The fashions of the French Court had taken the city, as had the Prince, by unconditional surrender. Not in the palace of Versailles could one have seen a more generous exposure of the charms of fair women. None were admitted without a low-cut bodice, and many came that had not the proper accessories. But it was the most brilliant company New York had ever seen.

Too many tickets had been distributed and soon 'there was an elbow on every rib and a heel on every toe , as Mr Greeley put it. Every miss and her mamma tiptoed for a view of the Prince and his party, who came in at ten, taking their seats on a dais at one side of the crowded floor. The Prince sat with his hands folded before him, like one in a reverie. Beside him were the Duke of Newcastle, a big, stern man, with an aggressive red beard; the blithe and sparkling Earl of St Germans, then Steward of the Royal Household; the curly Major Teasdale; the gay Bruce, a major-general, who behaved himself always like a lady. Suddenly the floor sank beneath the crowd of people, who retired in some disorder. Such a compression of crinoline was never seen as at that moment, when periphery pressed upon periphery, and held many a man captive in the cold embrace of steel and whalebone. The royal party retired to its rooms again and carpenters came in with saws and hammers. The floor repaired, an area was roped off for dancing - as much as could be spared. The Prince opened the dance with Mrs Governor Morgan, after which other ladies were honoured with his gallantry.

I saw Mrs Fuller in one of the boxes and made haste to speak with her. She had just landed, having left Hope to study a time in the Conservatory of Leipzig.

'Mrs Livingstone is with her,'said she, 'and they will return together inApril.

'Mrs Fuller, did she send any word to me?'I enquired anxiously. 'Did she give you no message?

'None,'she said coldly, 'except one to her mother and father, which I have sent in a letter to them.

I left her heavy hearted, went to the reporter's table and wrote my story, very badly I must admit, for I was cut deep with sadness. Then I came away and walked for hours, not caring whither. A great homesickness had come over me. I felt as if a talk with Uncle Eb or Elizabeth

Brower would have given me the comfort I needed. I walked rapidly through dark, deserted streets. A steeple clock was striking two, when I heard someone coming hurriedly on the walk behind me. I looked over my shoulder, but could not make him out in the darkness, and yet there was something familiar in the step. As he came near I felt his hand upon my shoulder.

'Better go home, Brower,'he said, as I recognised the voice of Trumbull. 'You ve been out a long time. Passed you before tonight.

'Why didn't you speak?

'You were preoccupied.

'Not keeping good hours yourself,'I said.

'Rather late,'he answered, 'but I am a walker, and I love the night. It is so still in this part of the town.

We were passing the Five Points.

'When do you sleep,'I enquired.

'Never sleep at night,'he said, 'unless uncommonly tired. Out every night more or less. Sleep two hours in the morning and two in the afternoon - that's all I require. Seen the hands o'that clock yonder on every hour of the night.

He pointed to a lighted dial in a near tower.

Stopping presently he looked down at a little waif asleep in a doorway, a bundle of evening papers under his arm. He lifted him tenderly.

'Here, boy,'he said, dropping corns in the pocket of the ragged little coat, 'I ll take those papers - you go home now.

We walked to the river, passing few save members of 'the force , who always gave Trumbull a cheery 'hello, Cap!'We passed wharves where the great sea horses lay stalled, with harnesses hung high above them, their noses nodding over our heads; we stood awhile looking up at the looming masts, the lights of the river craft.

'Guess I've done some good,'said he turning into Peck Slip. 'Saved two young women. Took 'em off the streets. Fine women now both of them - respectable, prosperous, and one is beautiful. Man who s got a mother, or a sister, can't help feeling sorry for such people.

We came up Frankfort to William Street where we shook hands and parted and I turned up Monkey Hill. I had made unexpected progress with Trumbull that night. He had never talked to me so freely before and somehow he had let me come nearer to hun than I had ever hoped to be. His company had lifted me out of the slough a little and my mind was on a better footing as I neared the chalet.

Riggs's shop was lighted - an unusual thing at so late an hour. Peering through the window I saw Riggs sleeping at his desk An old tin lantern sat near, its candle burning low, with a flaring flame, that threw a spray of light upon him as it rose and fell. Far back in the shop another light was burning dimly. I lifted the big iron latch and pushed the door open. Riggs did not move. I closed the door softly and went back into the gloom. The boy was also sound asleep in his chair. The lantern light flared and fell again as water leaps in a stopping fountain. As it dashed upon the face of Riggs I saw his eyes half-open. I went close to his chair. As I did so the light went out and smoke rose above the lantern with a rank odour.

'Riggs!'I called but he sat motionless and made no answer.

The moonlight came through the dusty window lighting his face and beard. I put my hand upon his brow and withdrew it quicidy. I was in the presence of death. I opened the door and called the sleeping boy. He rose out of his chair and came toward me rubbing his eyes.

'Your master is dead,'I whispered, 'go and call an officer.

Riggs's dream was over - he had waked at last. He was in port and I doubt not Annie and his mother were hailing him on the shore, for I knew now they had both died far back in that long dream of the old sailor.

My story of Riggs was now complete. It soon found a publisher because it was true.

'All good things are true in literature,'said the editor after he had read it. 'Be a servant of Truth always and you will be successful.'