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   Chapter 10 MIXED DUTIES

54-40 or Fight By Emerson Hough Characters: 7232

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


Most women will forgive a liberty, rather than a slight.

-Colton.

When I crossed the White House grounds and found my way to the spot where I had left my horse, I discovered my darky boy lying on his back, fast asleep under a tree, the bridle reins hooked over his upturned foot. I wakened him, took the reins and was about to mount, when at the moment I heard my name called.

Turning, I saw emerge from the door of Gautier's little café, across the street, the tall figure of an erstwhile friend of mine, Jack Dandridge, of Tennessee, credited with being the youngest member in the House of Representatives at Washington-and credited with little else.

Dandridge had been taken up by friends of Jackson and Polk and carried into Congress without much plan or objection on either side. Since his arrival at the capital he had been present at few roll-calls, and had voted on fewer measures. His life was given up in the main to one specialty, to-wit: the compounding of a certain beverage, invented by himself, the constituent parts of which were Bourbon whiskey, absinthe, square faced gin and a dash of eau de vie. This concoction, over which few shared his own personal enthusiasm, he had christened the Barn-Burner's Dream; although Mr. Dandridge himself was opposed to the tenets of the political party thus entitled-which, by the way, was to get its whimsical name, possibly from Dandridge himself, at the forthcoming Democratic convention of that year.

Jack Dandridge, it may be said, was originally possessed of a splendid constitution. Nearly six feet tall, his full and somewhat protruding eye was as yet only a trifle watery, his wide lip only a trifle loose, his strong figure only a trifle portly. Socially he had been well received in our city, and during his stay east of the mountains he had found occasion to lay desperate suit to the hand of none other than Miss Elisabeth Churchill. We had been rivals, although not enemies; for Jack, finding which way the wind sat for him, withdrew like a man, and cherished no ill will. When I saw him now, a sudden idea came to me, so that I crossed the street at his invitation.

"Come in," said he. "Come in with me, and have a Dream. I have just invented a new touch for it; I have, 'pon my word."

"Jack," I exclaimed, grasping him by the shoulder, "you are the man I want. You are the friend that I need-the very one."

"Certainly, certainly," he said; "but please do not disarrange my cravat. Sir, I move you the previous question. Will you have a Dream with me? I construct them now with three additional squirts of the absinthe." He locked his arm in mine.

"You may have a Dream," said I; "but for me, I need all my head to-day. In short, I need both our heads as well."

Jack was already rapping with the head of his cane upon the table, to call an attendant, but he turned to me. "What is the matter? Lady, this time?"

"Two of them."

"Indeed? One apiece, eh?"

"None apiece, perhaps. In any case, you lose."

"Then the names-or at least one?"

I flushed a bit in spite of myself. "You know Miss Elisabeth Churchill?"

He nodded gravely. "And about the other lady?"

"I can not tell you much about her," said I; "I have but little knowledge myself. I mean the Baroness von Ritz."

"Oh, ho!" Jack opened his eyes, and gave a long whistle. "State secrets, eh?"

I nodded, and looked him square in the eye.

"Well, why should you ask me to help you, then? Calhoun is none too good a friend of Mr. Polk, of my state. Calhoun is neither Whig nor Democrat. He does not know where he stands. If you train with h

im, why come to our camp for help?"

"Not that sort, jack," I answered. "The favor I ask is personal."

"Explain."

He sipped at the fiery drink, which by this time had been placed before him, his face brightening.

"I must be quick. I have in my possession-on the bureau in my little room at my quarters in Brown's Hotel-a slipper which the baroness gave me last night-a white satin slipper-"

Jack finished the remainder of his glass at a gulp. "Good God!" he remarked.

"Quite right," I retorted hotly. "Accuse me Anything you like! But go to my headquarters, get that slipper, go to this address with it"-I scrawled on a piece of paper and thrust it at him-"then get a carriage and hasten to Elmhurst drive, where it turns in at the road. Wait for me there, just before six."

He sat looking at me with amusement and amazement both upon his face, as I went on:

"Listen to what I am to do in the meantime. First I go post haste to Mr. Calhoun's office. Then I am to take his message, which will send me to Canada, to-night. After I have my orders I hurry back to Brown's and dress for my wedding."

The glass in his hand dropped to the floor in splinters.

"Your wedding?"

"Yes, Miss Elisabeth and I concluded this very morning not to wait. I would ask you to help me as my best man, if I dare."

"You do dare," said he. "You're all a-fluster. Go on; I'll get a parson-how'll Doctor Halford do?-and I'd take care of the license for you if I could-Gad! sorry it's not my own!"

"You are the finest fellow in the world, Jack. I have only one thing more to ask"-I pointed to the splintered glass upon the floor-"Don't get another."

"Of course not, of course not!" he expostulated. His voice was just a trifle thickened. We left now together for the license clerk, and I intrusted the proper document in my friend's hands. An instant later I was outside, mounted, and off for Calhoun's office at his residence in Georgetown.

At last, as for the fourth time I flung down the narrow walk and looked down the street, I saw his well-known form approaching. He walked slowly, somewhat stooped upon his cane. He raised a hand as I would have begun to speak. His customary reserve and dignity held me back.

"So you made it out well with the lady," he began.

"Yes," I answered, flushing. "Not so badly for the time that offered."

"A remarkable woman," he said. "Most remarkable!" Then he went on: "Now as to your own intended, I congratulate you. But I suggest that you keep Miss Elisabeth Churchill and the Baroness von Ritz pretty well separated, if that be possible."

"Sir," I stammered; "that certainly is my personal intent. But now, may I ask-"

"You start to Canada to-night," said Calhoun sharply-all softness gone from his voice.

"I can not well do that," I began. His hand tapped with decision.

"I have no time to choose another messenger," he said. "Time will not wait. You must not fail me. You will take the railway train at eight. You will be joined by Doctor Samuel Ward, who will give you a sealed paper, which will contain your instructions, and the proper moneys. He goes as far as Baltimore."

"You would be the better agent," he added presently, "if this love silliness were out of your head. It is not myself you are serving, and not my party. It is this country you are serving."

"But, sir-" I began.

His long thin hand was imperative. "Go on, then, with your wedding, if you will, and if you can; but see that you do not miss the train at eight!"

Half in a daze, I left him; nor did I see him again that day, nor for many after.

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