Publication date: October 1997 in hardcover
Copyright © 1997 by Harry Turtledove
Use of this excerpt from How Few Remain by Harry Turtledove may be made only for purposes of promoting the book, with no changes, editing, or additions whatsoever and must be accompanied by the following copyright notice: Copyright © 1997 by Harry Turtledove.
Chapter One: 1881
Buffalo bones littered the prairie south of Fort Dodge, Kansas. Colonel George Custer gave them only the briefest glance. They seemed as natural a part of the landscape as had the buffalo themselves a decade before. Custer had killed his share of buffalo and more. Now he was after more dangerous game.
He raised the Springfield carbine to his shoulder and fired at one of the Kiowas fleeing before him. The Indian, one of the rearmost of Satanta's raiding party, did not fall.
Custer loaded another cartridge into the carbine's breech and fired again. Again, the shot was useless. The Kiowa turned on his pony for a Parthian shot. Fire and smoke belched from the muzzle of his rifle. The bullet kicked up a puff of dust ten or fifteen yards in front of Custer.
He fired again, and so did the Kiowa. The Indian's Tredegar Works carbine, a close copy of the British Martini-Henry, had about the same performance as his own weapon. Both men missed once more. The Kiowa gave all his attention back to riding, bending low over his pony's neck and coaxing from the animal every bit of speed it had.
"They're gaining on us, the blackhearted savages!" Custer shouted to his troopers, inhibited in language by the pledge his wife, Libbie, had finally succeeded in extracting from him.
"Let me and a couple of the other boys with the fastest horses get out ahead of the troop and make 'em fight us till the rest of you can catch up," his brother suggested.
"No, Tom. Wouldn't work, I'm afraid. They wouldn't fight--they'd just scatter like a covey of quail."
"Damned cowards," Major Tom Custer growled. He was a younger, less flamboyant version of his brother, but no less ferocious in the field. "They bushwhack our farmers, then they run. If they want to come up into Kansas, let 'em fight like men once they're here."
"They don't much want to fight," Custer said. "All they want to do is kill and burn and loot. That's easier, safer, and more profitable, too."
"Give me the Sioux any day, up in Minnesota and Dakota and Wyoming," Tom Custer said. "They fought hard, and only a few of them ran away into Canada once we'd licked them."
"And the Canadians disarmed the ones who did," Custer added. "I'll be--dashed if I like the Canadians, mind you, but they play the game the way it's supposed to be played."
"It's cricket," Tom said, and Custer nodded. His younger brother pointed south. "We aren't going to catch them on our side of the line, Autie."
"I can see that." George Custer scowled--at fate, not at the family nickname. After a moment, the scowl became a fierce grin. "All right, by jingo, maybe we won't catch them on our side of the line. We'll just have to catch them on theirs."
Tom looked startled. "Are you sure?"
"You'd best believe I'm sure." The excitement of the pursuit ran through Custer in a hot tide. Whatever consequences came from extending the pursuit, he'd worry about them later. Now all he wanted to do was teach the Kiowas a lesson even that sneaky old devil Satanta wouldn't forget any time soon. He shouted over to the regimental bugler: "Blow Pursuit."
"Sir?" the bugler said, as surprised as Tom Custer had been. Then he grinned. "Yes, sir!" He raised the bugle to his lips. The bold and martial notes rang out across the plain. The men of the Fifth Cavalry Regiment needed a moment to grasp what that call implied. Then they howled like wolves. Some of them waved their broad-brimmed black felt hats in the air.
From long experience, the Kiowas understood U.S. horn calls as well as any cavalry trooper. Their heads went up, as if they were game fear-ing it would be flushed from cover. That's what they are, all right, Custer thought.
As often happened, Tom's thoughts ran in the same track as his own. "They won't duck back into their lair this time," his younger brother said. Now that the decision was made, Tom was all for it.
They pounded past a farmhouse the Kiowas had burned in a raid a couple of years earlier. Custer recognized those ruins; they meant he was less than a mile from the border with the Indian Territory. Up ahead, the Kiowas squeezed still more from their ponies. Custer smiled savagely. That might get them over the line, but even those tough animals would start wearing down soon. "And then," he told the wind blowing tears from his eyes, "then they're mine, sure as McClellan belonged to Lee twenty years ago."
He fired again at the Kiowas, and shouted in exultation as one of them slid from his horse's back and thudded to the ground, where, after rolling a couple of times, he lay still. "Good shot," his brother said. "Hell of a good shot."
"We've got 'em now," Custer said. The first Kiowas had to be over the line. He didn't care. "We won't let 'em get away. Every last redskin in that band is ours." How his men cheered!
And then all of Custer's ferocious joy turned to ashes. Tom pointed off to the east, from which direction a squadron of cavalry was approaching at a fast trot. All the Kiowas were over the line by then. They reined in, whooping in their incomprehensible language. They knew they were safe.
Custer knew it, too. Chasing the Kiowas into Indian Territory, punishing them, and then riding back into Kansas with no one but the Indians the wiser, was one thing. Doing it under the watchful eyes of that other cavalry squadron was something else again. Hating those horsemen, hating himself, Custer held his hand high to halt his men. They stopped on the Kansas side of the line.
The approaching cavalrymen wore hats and blouses of a cut not much different from those of Custer's troopers. Theirs, though, were gray, not the various shades of blue the U.S. cavalry used. And a couple of their officers, Custer saw, were in the new dirt-brown uniforms the Confederate States had adopted from the British. The limeys called that color khaki; to the Rebs, it was butternut.
One of those Confederate officers rode toward Custer, waving as he moved forward. Custer waved back: come ahead. The Rebel captain proved to be a fresh-faced fellow in his twenties; he would have been wearing short pants during the War of Secession. Seeing him made Custer feel every one of his forty-one years.
"Good mornin' to you, Colonel," the captain drawled, nodding in a way that looked friendly enough. "You weren't planning on riding over the international border by any chance, were you?"
"If I was, you'll never prove it, Captain--" Custer tried for cool detachment. What came out was a frustrated snarl.
By the way the Confederate cavalryman smiled, he heard that frustration--heard it and relished it. He bowed in the saddle. The Rebs were always polite as cats ... and always ready to claw, too. "I'm Jethro Weathers, Colonel," he said. "And you're right--I'll never prove it. But you and the United States would have been embarrassed if I'd come along half an hour later and found your men inside the territory of the Confederate States."
He sounded disappointed he and his troopers hadn't caught Custer in flagrante delicto. Custer's frustration boiled into fury: "If your government would keep those murdering redskinned savages on your side of the border, we wouldn't want to go over yonder"--he waved south, into Indian Territory--"and give 'em what they deserve."
"Why, Colonel," Captain Weathers said, amusement in his voice, "I have no proof at all those Kiowas ever entered the territory of the United States. As far as I can see, you were leading an unprovoked punitive expedition into a foreign country. Richmond would see things the same way, I'm sure. So would London. So would Paris."
Tom Custer spoke up: "There's a dead Kiowa, maybe half a mile north of here."
That didn't faze Weathers a bit: "For all I know, you've already been into the Confederate States, murdered the poor fellow, and then hauled him back into the USA to justify raiding Confederate soil."
A flush spread up Custer's face; his ears went hot at the sheer effrontery of that. "You--dashed Rebs will pay one day for giving the redskins guns and letting them come up and raid white men's farms whenever it strikes their fancy."
"This is our territory, Colonel," Captain Weathers said, amused no more. "We shall defend it against the incursion of a foreign power--by which I mean the United States. And you have no call--none, sir, none whatever--to get up on your high horse and tell me what my country ought and ought not to be doing, especially since the United States harbor swarms of Comanches in New Mexico and turn them loose against west Texas whenever it strikes your fancy."
"We didn't start that until those outrages in Kansas grew too oppressive to ignore," Custer answered. "Why, on this very raid--this raid you have the gall to deny--the savages made two white women minister to their animal lusts, then cut their throats and worked other dreadful indignities upon their bare and abused bodies."
"You think the Comanches don't do that in Texas?" Captain Weathers returned. "And the way I heard it, Colonel, they started doing it there first."
Custer scowled. "We killed off the buffalo to deny the Kiowas a livelihood, and you gave them cattle to take up the slack."
"The Comanches are herding cattle these days, too." Weathers made as if to go back to his troopers, who waited inside Confederate territory. "I see no point to continuing this discussion. Good day, sir."
"Wait," Custer said, and the Confederate captain, polite still, waited. Breathing heavily, Custer went on, "When our two nations separated, I had a great deal of sympathy and friendship for many of the men who found high rank in the Army of the Confederate States. I hoped and believed that, even though we were two, we could share this continent in peace."
"And so we have," Jethro Weathers said. "There is no war between my country and yours, Colonel."
"Not now," Custer agreed. "Not yet. But you will force one upon us if you continue with this arrogant policy of yours here in the West. The irritations will grow too great, and then--"
"Don't speak to me of arrogance," Weathers broke in. "Don't speak to me of irritation, not when you Yankees have finally gone and put another one of those God-damned Black Republicans in the White House."
"Blaine's only been in office a month, but he's already shown he's not nearly so bad as Lincoln was," Custer answered, "and he's not your business anyhow, any more than Longstreet's ours."
"Blaine talks big," the Confederate captain answered. "People who talk big get to thinking they can act big. You talked about war, Colonel. If your James G. Blaine thinks you Yankees can lick us now when you couldn't do it twenty years ago, he'd better think twice. And if you think you can ride over the line into Indian Territory whenever it strikes your fancy, you'd better think twice, too, Colonel."
When Weathers moved to ride back to his squadron this time, Custer said not a word. He stared after the Indians whom Weathers' timely arrival had saved. His right hand folded into a fist inside its leather gauntlet. He pounded it down on his thigh, hard, once, twice, three times. His lips shaped a silent word. It might have been dash. It might not.
As the train rattled west through the darkness over the Colorado prairie, the porter came down the aisle of the Pullman car. "Make you bed up, sir?" he asked in English with some foreign accent: Russian, maybe, or Yiddish.
Abraham Lincoln looked up from the speech he'd been writing. Slowly, deliberately, he capped his pen and put it in his pocket. "Yes, thank you," he said. He rose slowly and deliberately, too, but his lumbago gave a twinge even so. As best he could, he ignored the pain. It came with being an old man.
Moving with swift efficiency, the porter let down the hinged seat back, laid a mattress on the bed thus created, and made it up in the blink of an eye. "Here you are, sir," he said, drawing the curtain around the berth to give Lincoln the chance to change into his nightshirt in something close to privacy.
"I thank you," Lincoln said, and tipped him a dime. The porter pocketed it with a polite word of thanks and went on to prepare the next berth. Looking down at the bed, Lincoln let out a rueful chuckle. The Pullman attendant had been too efficient. Lincoln bent down and undid the sheet and blanket at the foot of the mattress. Pullman berths weren't made for men of his inches. He put on his nightclothes, got into bed, and turned off the gas lamp by which he had been writing.
The rattling, jouncing ride and the thin, lumpy mattress bothered him only a little. He was used to them, and he remembered worse. When he'd gone from Illinois to Washington after being elected president, Pullmans hadn't been invented. He'd traveled the whole way sitting upright in a hard seat. And when, four years later, the voters had turned him out of office for failing to hold the Union together, he'd gone back to Illinois the same way.
Ridden out of town on the rails, he thought, and laughed a little. He twisted, trying to find a position somewhere close to comfortable. If a spring didn't dig into the small of his back, another one poked him in the shoulder. That was how life worked: if you gained somewhere, you lost some- where else.
He twisted again. There--that was better. He'd had a lot of experience on the railroads, these sixteen years since failing of reelection. "Once you get the taste for politics," he murmured in the darkness, "everything else is tame."
He'd thought he would quietly return to the law career he'd left to go to the White House. And so he had, for a little while. But the appetite for struggle at the highest level he'd got in Washington had stayed with him. Afterwards, legal briefs and pleadings weren't enough to satisfy.
He yawned, then grimaced. The way the Democrats had fawned on the Southern Confederacy grated on him, too. And so he'd started speechifying, all across the country, doing what he could to make people see that, even if the war was lost, the struggle continued. "I always was good on the stump," he muttered. "I even did some good, I daresay."
Some good. The United States had eventually emancipated the thousands of slaves still living within their borders. The Confederate States held their millions in bondage to this day. And a lot of Republicans, nowadays, sounded more and more like Democrats in their efforts to put the party's sorry past behind them and get themselves elected. A lot of Republicans, these days, didn't want the albatross of Lincoln around their necks.
He yawned again, twisted one more time, and fell asleep, only to be rudely awakened half an hour later when the train hissed and screeched to a stop at some tiny prairie town. He was used to that, too, even if he couldn't do anything about it. Before long, he was asleep once more.
He woke again, some time in the middle of the night. This time, he swung down out of his berth. Once a man got past his Biblical threescore-and-ten, his flesh reminded him of its imperfections more often than it had in his younger days.
Sliding the curtain aside, he walked down the aisle of the sleeper car, past the snores and grunts coming from behind other curtains, to the washroom at the far end of the car. He used the necessary, then pumped the handle of the tin sink to get himself a glass of water. He drank it down, wiped his chin on the sleeve of his nightshirt, and set the glass by the sink for the next man who would want it.
Up the aisle he came. Someone was getting down from an upper berth, and almost stepped on his toes. "Careful, friend," Lincoln said quietly. The man's face went through two separate stages of surprise: first that he hadn't seen anyone nearby, and then at whose feet he'd almost abused.
"Damned old Black Republican fool," he said, also in a near-whisper: he was polite to his fellow passengers, if not to the former president. Without giving Lincoln a chance to reply, he stalked down the aisle.
Lincoln shrugged and finished the short journey back to his own berth. That sort of thing happened to him at least once on every train he took. Had he let it bother him, he would have had to give up politics and become as much a hermit as Robinson Crusoe.
He got back into bed. The upper berth above his was empty. He sighed as he struggled for comfort again. Mary had been difficult all the years of their marriage, and especially in the years since he'd left the White House, but he missed her all the same. He'd got over the typhoid they'd caught in St. Louis four or five years before. She hadn't.
The next thing he knew, daylight was stealing through the curtains. His back ached a little, but he'd had a pretty good night--better than most he spent rolling from one town to the next, that was certain.
He got dressed, used the necessary again, and was back in his berth when the day porter came by. "And the top o' the mornin' to you, sir," he said. Lincoln had no trouble placing his accent. "Will you be wanting a proper seat the now, 'stead o' your bedding and all?"
"That I will." A natural mimic, Lincoln needed an effort of will not to copy the porter's brogue. After he tipped the fellow, he asked, "How much longer until we get into Denver?"
"Nobbut another two, three hours," the porter answered. Lincoln sighed; he was supposed to have arrived at sunrise, not mid-morning. Well, no doubt the people waiting for him knew of the distant relationship between scheduled and actual arrival times.
"Time enough for breakfast, then," he said.
"Indeed and there is, sir, and to spare," the porter agreed.
Lincoln went back to the dining car. He did appreciate the bellows arrangements the railroads were using between carriages these days. Going from car to car on a jolting train had been a dangerous business even a handful of years before. More than a few people had slipped and fallen to their death, and a cinder in the eye or a face full of soot was only to be expected.
After ham and eggs and rolls and coffee, the world looked a more cheerful place. He was leaving behind the prairie now, going up toward the mountains. The locomotive labored over the upgrades and then, as if relieved, sped down the other side of each rise. Watching trees and boulders flying past was exhilarating, even if Lincoln knew how many accidents happened on such downgrades.
At last, nearer three hours late than two, the train pulled into Denver. The depot was small and dilapidated. A broad stretch of empty ground on the other side of the tracks would, Lincoln had heard, be a fancy new station one day. At the moment, and for the foreseeable future, it was just empty ground. Wildflowers and weeds splashed it with color.
"Denver!" the conductor shouted, as he had for every hamlet along the way to the biggest city in the heart of the West. "All out for Denver!"
Lincoln put his speech in a leather valise, got up, grabbed his bulky carpetbag, and made his way out of the Pullman car. After a couple of days on the train, solid ground felt shaky under his feet, as it was said to do for sailors just off their ships. He set his stovepipe firmly on his head and looked around.
Amid the usual scenes on a railway-station platform--families greeting loved ones with cries of joy, bankers greeting capitalists with louder (if perhaps less sincere) cries of joy--Lincoln spotted a couple of rugged fellows who had the look of miners dressed up in their best, and probably only, suits. Even before they started moving purposefully through the crowd toward him, he had them pegged for the men he was to meet.
"Mr. McMahan and Mr. Cavanaugh, I presume?" he said, setting down the carpetbag so he could extend his right hand.
"That's right, Mr. Lincoln," said one of them, who wore a ginger-colored mustache. "I'm Joe McMahan; you can call Cavanaugh here Fred." His grip was hard and firm.
"Long as you don't call me late to supper," Cavanaugh said agreeably. He was a couple of inches taller than McMahan, with a scar on his chin that looked as if it had come from a knife fight. Both men were altogether unselfconscious about the revolvers on their right hips. Lincoln had been in the West a good many times, and was used to that.
"Come on, sir," McMahan said. "Here, let me take that." He picked up the carpetbag. "We'll get you to the hotel, let you freshen up some and get yourself a tad more shut-eye, too, if that's what you want. These here trains, they're all very fine, but a body can't hardly sleep on 'em."
"They're better than they used to be," Lincoln said. "I was thinking that last night, when the porter made up my berth. But you're right--they're not all they might be."
"Come on, then," McMahan repeated. "Amos has the buggy waiting for us."
As they walked out of the station, they passed a beggar, a middle-aged fellow with a gray-streaked beard who had both legs gone above the knee. Lincoln fumbled in his pockets till he found a quarter, which he tossed into the tin cup on the floor beside the man.
"I thank you for your kind--" the beggar began in a singsong way. Then his eyes--eyes that had seen a lot of pain, and, by the rheumy look in them, a lot of whiskey, too--widened as he recognized his benefactor. He reached into the cup, took out the quarter, and threw it at Lincoln. It hit him in the chest and fell to the ground with a clink. "God damn you, you son of a bitch, I don't want any charity from you," the legless man snarled. "Wasn't for you, I'd be up and walking, not living out my days like this."
Fred Cavanaugh took Lincoln by the arm and hurried him along. "Don't take no notice of Teddy there," he said, the beggar's curses following them. "He gets some popskull in him, he don't know what the hell he's talkin' about."
"Oh, he knows well enough." Lincoln's mouth was a tight, hard line. "I've heard that tune before, many times. The men who suffered so much in the War of Secession blame me for it. They have the right, I think. I blame myself, too, though that's little enough consolation for them."
Amos, the buggy driver, was cut from the same mold as Cavanaugh and McMahan. The horses clopped up the street. Mud kicked up from their hooves and the wheels of the buggy. For all the wealth that had come out of the mines nearby, Denver boasted not a single paved road. Streams of water ran in the gutters. Trees shaded the residential blocks. Most of the houses--and the public buildings, too--were of either bright red brick or the local yellow stone, which gave the town a pleasingly colorful look.
Miners in collarless shirts and blue-dyed dungarees mingled on the streets with businessmen who would not have been out of place in Chicago or New York. No, after a moment, Lincoln revised that opinion: some of the businessmen went armed, too.
When he remarked on that, Joe McMahan's mouth twisted in bitterness. "A man has more'n what he deserves and don't see fit to share it with his pals who ain't got so much, Mr. Lincoln, he's a fool if he don't reckon they're liable to try and equalize the wealth whether he likes it or not."
"True enough," Lincoln said. "So true, it may tear our country apart again one day. Slave labor comes in more forms than that which still persists in the Confederate States."
Amos shifted a wad of tobacco into his cheek, spat, and said, "Damn straight it does. That's why we brung you out here--to talk about that."
"I know." Lincoln went back to watching the street scenes. Miner, merchant, banker--you could tell so much about a man's class and wealth by how he dressed. Women were sometimes harder to gauge. Who was poor and who was not gave him no trouble. But if a woman dressed as if she'd come from the pages of Leslie's Illustrated Weekly but painted her face like a strumpet, was she a strumpet or the wife of some newly rich mining nabob? In Denver, that was less obvious than it would have been farther east, where cosmetics were prima facie evidence a woman was fast. The rules were different here, and no wonder, for a woman could go--and several had gone--straight from strumpet to nabob's wife.
In its ornate pretentiousness, the Htel Metropole matched anything anywhere in the country. "Here you go, Mr. Lincoln," Fred Cavanaugh said. "You'll be right comfortable here, get yourself all good and ready for your speech tonight. You'd best believe a lot of folks want to hear what you've got to say about labor nowadays."
"Hear me they shall," Lincoln said. "What they do if they hear where I'm staying, though, may be something else again. Are they not liable to take me for one of the exploiters over whom they are concerned?"
"Mr. Lincoln, you won't find anybody in Colorado got a thing to say against living soft," Cavanaugh answered. "What riles folks is grinding other men's noses in the dirt to let a few live soft."
"I understand the distinction," Lincoln said. "As you remind me, the essential point is that so many in the United States, like virtually all the whites in the Confederacy, do not."
The Htel Metropole met every reasonable standard for soft living, and most of the unreasonable ones as well. After a hot bath in a galvanized tub at the end of the hall, after a couple of fried pork chops for lunch, Lincoln would have been happy enough to stretch out on the bed for a couple of hours, even if he would have had to sleep diagonally to keep from kicking the footboard. But the speech came first.
He was still polishing it, having altogether forgotten about supper, when Joe McMahan knocked on the door. "Come on, Mr. Lincoln," he said. "We've got ourselves a full house for you tonight."
The hall was not so elegant as the opera house near the Htel Metro- pole. It was, in fact, a dance hall with a podium hastily plunked by one wall. But, as McMahan had said, it was packed. From long practice guessing crowds, Lincoln figured more than a thousand men--miners and refinery workers, most of them, and farmers, with here and there a shopkeeper to leaven the mix--stood shoulder-to-shoulder, elbow-to-elbow, to hear what he had to say.
They cheered loud and long when McMahan introduced him. Most of them were young. Young men thought of him as labor's friend in a land where capital was king. Older men, like the beggar in the railway depot, still damned him for fighting, and most of all for losing, the War of Secession. I'd have been a hero if I won, he thought. And I'd have been a housewife, or more likely a homely old maid, if I'd been born a woman. So what?
He put on his spectacles and glanced down at the notes he'd written on the train and in the hotel. "A generation ago," he began, "I said a house divided against itself, half slave and half free, could not stand. And it did not stand, though its breaking was not in the manner I should have desired." He never made any bones about the past. It was there. Everyone knew it.
"The Confederate States continue all slave to this day," he said. "How the financiers in London and Paris smile on their plantations, their railroads, their ironworks! How capital floods into their land! And how much of it, my friends, how much drips down from the eaves of the rich men's man- sions to water the shacks where the Negroes live, scarcely better off than the brute beasts beside which they labor in the fields? You know the answer as well as I."
"To hell with the damn niggers," somebody called from the audience. "Talk about the white man!" Cries of agreement rose.
Lincoln held up a hand. "I am talking about the white man," he said. "You cannot part nor separate the two, not in the Southern Confederacy. For if the white laborer there dare go to his boss and speak the truth, which is that he has not got enough to live on, the boss will tell him, 'Live on it and like it, or I'll put a Negro in your place and you can learn to live on nothing.'
"And what of our United States, which were, if nothing else, left all free when the Rebels departed from the Union?" Lincoln went on. "Are we--are you--all free now? Do we--do you--enjoy the great and glorious blessings of liberty the Founding Fathers fondly imagined would be the birthright of every citizen of our Republic?
"Or are we returning to the unhappy condition in which we found ourselves in the years before the War of Secession? Do not our capitalists in New York, in Chicago, yes, and in Denver, look longingly at their Confederate brethren in Richmond, in Atlanta, in new and brawling Birmingham, and wish they could do as do those brethren?
"Are we not once more becoming a nation half slave, half free, my friends? Does not the capitalist eat bread gained by the sweat of your brows, as the slavemaster does by virtue--and there's a word turned on its ear!--of the labor of his Negroes?" Lincoln had to stop then, for the shouts that rose up were fierce and angry.
"You know your state, your condition," he continued when he could. "You know I tell you nothing but the truth. Time was in this country when a man would be hired labor one year, his own man the next, and hiring laborers to work for him the year after that. Such days, I fear, are over and done. On the railroads, in the mines, in the factories, one man's a magnate, and the rest toil for him. If you go to your boss and tell him you have not got enough to live on, the boss will tell you, 'Live on it and like it, or I'll put a Chinaman or an Italian or a Jew in your place and you can learn to live on nothing.'"
A low murmur came from his audience, more frightening in its way than the fury they had shown before. Fury didn't last. Now Lincoln was making them think. Thought was slower than anger to flower into action, but it was a hardy perennial. It did not bloom and die.
"What do we do about it, Abe?" shouted a miner still grimy from his long day of labor far below ground.
"What do we do?" Lincoln repeated. "The Democrats had their day, and a long day it was, from my time up until President Blaine's inauguration last month. Did they do a thing, a single solitary thing, to help the lot of the working man?" He smiled at the cries of No! before going on, "And Blaine, too, though the good Lord knows I wish him well, has railroad money in his pockets. How much labor can hope for from him, I do not know.
"But I know this, my friends: when the United States were a house divided before, they were divided, and did divide, along lines of geography. No such choice avails us now. The capitalists cannot secede as the slavemasters did. If we are not satisfied with our government and the way it treats its citizens, we have the revolutionary right and duty to overthrow it and substitute one that suits us better, as our forefathers did in the days of George III."
That brought a storm of applause. Men stomped on the floor, so that it shook under Lincoln's feet. Someone fired a pistol in the air, deafeningly loud in the closed hall. Lincoln held up both hands. Slowly, slowly, quiet crawled back. Into it, he said, "I do not advocate revolution. I pray it shall not be necessary. But if the old order will not yield to justice, it shall be swept aside. I do not threaten, any more than a man who says he sees a tornado coming. Folks can take shelter from it, or they can run out and play in it. That is up to them. You, friends, you are a tornado. What happens next is up to the capitalists." He stepped away from the podium.
Joe McMahan pumped his hand. "That was powerful stuff, Mr. Lincoln," he said. "Powerful stuff, yes indeed."
"For which I thank you," Lincoln said, raising his voice to be heard through the storm of noise that went on and on.
"Ask you something, Mr. Lincoln?" McMahan said. Lincoln nodded. McMahan leaned closer, so only the former president would hear. "You ever come across the writings of a fellow named Marx, Mr. Lincoln? Karl Marx?"
Lincoln smiled. "As a matter of fact, I have."
"Sam!" Clay Herndon spoke sharply. "Sam, you're wool-gathering again."
"The devil I am," Samuel Clemens replied, though his friend's comment did return his attention to the cramped office of the San Francisco Morning Call. "I was trying to come up with something for tomorrow's editorial, and I'm dry as the desert between the Great Salt Lake and Virginia City. I hate writing editorials, do you know that?"
"You have mentioned it a time or two." Now Herndon's voice was sly. That suited the reporter's face: he looked as if he had a fox for his maternal grandmother. His features were sharp and clever, his green eyes studied everything and respected nothing, and his rusty hair only added to the impression. Grinning, he sank his barb: "Or a hundred times or two."
"Still true," Clemens snapped, running a hand through his own unruly mop of red-brown hair. "Do you have any notion of the strain on a man's constitution, having to come up with so many column inches every day on demand?--and always something new, regardless of whether there's anything new to write about. If I had my Tennessee lands--"
Herndon rolled his eyes. "For God's sake, Sam, give me the lecture on editorials if you must, but spare me the Tennessee lands. They're stale as salt beef shipped round the Horn."
"You're a scoffer, that's what you are--nothing but a scoffer," Clemens said, half amused but still half annoyed, too. "Forty thousand acres of fine land, with God only knows how much timber and coal and iron, and maybe gold and silver, too, and all of it in my family."
"It's in another country these days," Clay Herndon reminded him. "The Confederate States have been a going concern for a long time now."
"Yes, a long time ago, and in another country--and besides, the wench is dead," Clemens said, scratching his mustache.
Herndon gave him a quizzical look. However clever the reporter was, he wouldn't have known Marlowe from a marlinspike. "The way you do go on," he said. "Let's us go on over to Martin's and get some dinner."
"Now you're talking." Clemens rose from his chair with enthusiasm and stuck his hat on his head. "Any excuse not to work is good enough for me. Weren't for this"--he patted the battered copy of the American Cyclopedia on his desk with a touch as tender as a lover's for his beloved--"I don't know how I'd ever manage to come out for something or against something every day of the year. As if any man needs so blamed many opinions, or has any business holding them! Wasting my sweetness on the morning air, that's what I'm doing."
Herndon pulled out his pocket watch. "As of right now, you're wasting your sweetness on the afternoon air, and you have been for the past ten minutes. Now let's get moving, before we can't find a place to sit down at Martin's."
Clemens followed his friend out onto the street. It was an April midday in San Francisco: not too warm, not too cold, the sun shining down from a clear but hazy sky. It might as easily have been August or November or February. To Clemens, who had grown up with real seasons, always seeming not far from spring remained strange after almost twenty years.
When he remarked on that, Herndon snorted. "You don't like it, go down to Fresno. It's always July there, and a desert July at that."
With a lamb chop, fried potatoes, and a shot of whiskey in front of Sam Clemens, life improved. He knocked back the shot and ordered another. When it came, he knocked it back, too, with the sour toast, "Here's to hard work every day."
Clay Herndon snorted again. "I've heard that one almost as often as the Tennessee lands, Sam. What the devil would you be doing if you weren't running the Morning Call?"
"Damned if I know," Clemens answered. "Writing stories, maybe, and broke. But who has time? When the big panic of '63 hit after we lost the war and hung on and on and on, the whole world turned upside down. I was damn lucky to have any sort of position, and I knew it. So I hung on like a limpet on a harbor rock. If I ever get ahead of the game--" He laughed. "About as likely as the Mormons giving up their extra wives, I expect."
Herndon had a couple of shots of whiskey in him, too. "Suppose you weren't a newspaperman? What would you do then?"
"I've tried mining--I was almost rich once, which is every bit as fine as almost being in love--and I was a Mississippi River pilot. If I wanted to take that up again, I'd have to take Confederate citizenship with it."
"Why not?" Herndon said. "Then you could have yourself another go at those Tennessee lands."
"No, thank you." Briefly, Clemens had served in a Confederate regiment operating--or rather, bungling--in Missouri, which remained one of the United States, not least because most Confederate troops there had been similarly inept. He didn't admit to that; few in the USA who had ever had anything to do with the other side admitted it these days. After a moment, he went on. "Their record isn't what you'd call good--more like what you'd call a skunk at a picnic."
Herndon laughed. "You do come up with 'em, Sam. Got to hand it to you. Maybe you ought to try writing yourself a book after all. People would buy it, I expect."
"Maybe," Clemens said, which meant no. "Don't see a lot of authors living off the fat of the land, do you? Besides, it may have taken me a while to cipher out what steady work was about, but I've got it down solid now. I lived on promises when I was a miner. I was a boy then, pretty much. I'm not a boy any more."
"All right, all right." Herndon held up a placatory hand. He looked at his plate, as if astonished the beefsteak he'd ordered had disappeared. His shot glass was empty, too. "You want one more for the road?"
"Not if I intend to get any work done this afternoon. You want to listen to me snore at my desk, that's another matter." Clemens got to his feet. He set a quarter and a small, shiny gold dollar on the table. Herndon laid down a dollar and a half. They left Martin's--a splendid place, for anyone who could afford to eat there--and walked back to the Morning Call office.
Edgar Leary, one of the junior reporters, waved a flimsy sheet of telegraph paper in their faces when they got in. He was almost hopping with excitement. "Look at this! Look at this!" He had crumbs in his sparse black beard; he brought his dinner to the Morning Call in a sack. "Didn't come in five minutes ago, or I'm a Chinaman."
"If you'll stop fanning me with it, I will have a look," Clemens said. When Leary still waved the wire around, Sam snatched it out of his hand. "Give me that, dammit." He turned it right side up and read it. The more he read, the higher his bushy eyebrows climbed. Once he'd finished, he passed it to Clay Herndon, saying, "Looks like I've got something for the editorial after all."
Herndon quickly skimmed the telegraphic report. His lips shaped a soundless whistle. "This here is more than something to feed you an edito-rial, Sam. This here could be trouble."
"Don't I know it," Clemens said. "But I can't do the first thing about the trouble, and I can do something about the editorial. So I'll do that, and I'll let the rest of the world get into trouble. You ever notice how it's real good about taking care of that whether anybody wants it to or not?"
He pulled a cigar from a waistcoat pocket, bit off the end, scraped a match against the sole of his shoe, lighted the cigar, and tossed the match into a shiny brass cuspidor stained here and there with errant expectorations. Then he went over to his desk and pulled out the George F. Cram Atlas of the World. He flipped through it till he found the page he needed.
His finger traced a line. Herndon and Leary were looking over his shoulder, one to the right, the other to the left. Herndon whistled again. "This is going to be big trouble," he said. "Bigger than I thought."
"That's a fact." Clemens slammed the atlas closed with a noise like a rifle shot. Behind him, Edgar Leary jumped. "Hell of a big mess." He spoke with somber anticipation. "But I don't have to worry about what I'm going to write this afternoon, so I'm as happy as Peeping Tom in Honolulu, if half of what they say about the Sandwich Islands is true."
He inked a pen and began to write.
If the wires are not liars--and of course experience has made us all familiar with Messrs. Western and Union's solemn vow that only the truth shall be permitted to pass over their telegraphic lines, and with the vigilance with which they guard them from every falsehood; of course experience has done such a thing, we say, for under our grand and glorious Constitution anyone may say what he pleases--if this is so, then it seems that His Mexican Majesty Maximilian has been persuaded to sell his northwestern provinces of Chihuahua and Sonora to the Confederate States for the sum of three millions of dollars.
This is remarkable news on several counts, which is how lawyers speak of indictments. First and foremost, superficially, is the feeling of astonishment arising in the bosoms of those who are familiar in the least with the aforesaid provinces at learning that anyone, save possibly Old Scratch in contemplation of expanding the infernal regions due to present overcrowding, should want to purchase them at any price, let alone for such a munificent sum.
But, as the fellow said after sitting on a needle, there is more to this than meets the eye. Consider, friends. Mexico's principal export, aside from the Mexicans whose charm pervades our Golden State, is, not to put too fine a point on it--that being the needle's business, after all--debt. She owes money to Britain, she owes money to France, she owes money to Germany, she owes money to Russia--no mean feat, that--and she is prevented from owing money to the Kingdom of Poland only by that Kingdom's extinction before she was born.
Being a weak country in debt to a strong one--or to a slew of strong ones--is in these enlightened times the quickest recipe known for making gunboats flock like buzzards to one's shores, as the Turkish khedives will assure Maximilian if only he will ask them. Time was when the United States held up the Monroe Doctrine to shield the Americas from European monarchs, bill collectors, and other riffraff, but the Doctrine these days is as dead as its maker, shot through the heart in the War of Secession.
So the Empire of Mexico needs cash on hand if it is to go on being the Empire of Mexico, or at least the abridged edition thereof. Thus from Maximilian's point of view the sale of Chihuahua and Sonora makes a deal of sense, but he is apparently going ahead and doing it anyhow. The question remaining before the house is why the Confederate States would want to buy the two provinces, no matter how avidly he might want to sell them.
Owning Texas, the Confederacy would already seem to have in its possession a sufficiency--indeed, even an oversupply--of hot, worthless land for the next hundred years. Sonora, though, has one virtue Texas lacks--not that having a virtue Texas lacks is in itself any great marvel--it touches on the Gulf of California, while Chihuahua connects it to the rest of the CSA. With these new acquisitions, the Confederate States would extend, like the USA, from sea to shining sea, and, even more to the point, run a railroad from the same to the shining same. Is that worth three millions of dollars? Pete Longstreet seems to think so.
Yet to be seen is how the new administration in Washington will view this transaction. There can be no doubt that any of the previ-ous governments--if by that the reader will forgive our stretching a point--would do no more than passively acquiesce to the sale, in much the same manner as the bull acquiesces to the knife that makes him into a steer. Richmond, London, Paris, and Ottawa form a formidable stall in which the United States are held.
But will James G. Blaine, having been elected on a platform that consisted largely of snorting and pawing the ground, now have to show the world it was nothing but humbug and hokum? Even if it was humbug and hokum, will he dare admit it, knowing that if he should confess to weakness, even weakness genuinely and manifestly in existence, he will become a laughingstock and an object of contempt not only in foreign capitals but in the eyes of the exasperated millions who sent him to the White House to make America strong and proud again and will with equal avidity send him home with a tin can tied to his tail if he bollixes the job?
Our view of the matter is that caution is likelier to be necessary than to be, while our hope is that, for once, our well-known editorial omniscience is found wanting.
Sighing, Clemens set down the pen and shook his wrist to get the cramp out of it. "I want to buy me one of those type-writing machines they're starting to sell," he said.
"Good idea," Clay Herndon said. "They can't weigh much more than a hundred pounds. Just the thing to take along to listen to the mayor, or to cover a fire: that'd be even better."
"They're the coming thing, so you can laugh all you like," Clemens told him. "Besides, if I had one, the compositors would be able to read the copy I give 'em."
"Now you're talking--that's a whole different business." Herndon got up from his desk and ambled over to Sam. "I never have any trouble--well, never much--reading your writing. You were really scratching away there. What did you come up with?"
Wordlessly, Clemens passed him the sheets. Herndon had a lot of political savvy, or maybe just a keen eye for where the bodies were buried-- assuming those two didn't amount to the same thing. If he was thinking along the same lines as Clemens ...
He didn't say anything till he was through. Then, with a slow nod, he handed the editorial back. "That's strong stuff," he said, "but you're spot on. When I first saw the wire, I thought about the ports on the Pacific, but I didn't worry about the railroad the Rebs'll need to do anything with the ports they get."
"What about Blaine?" Sam asked.
"I'm with you there, too," Herndon answered. "If he lies down for this, nobody will take him seriously afterwards. But I'm damned if I know how much he can do to stop it. What do you think's going to happen, Sam?"
"Me?" Clemens said. "I think there's going to be a war."
General Thomas Jackson left his War Department office in Mechanic's Hall, mounted his horse, and rode east past Capitol Square toward the president's residence on Shockoe Hill--some from his generation still thought of it as the Confederate White House, though younger men tried to forget the CSA had ever been connected to the USA. Richmond brawled around him. Coaches clattered over cobblestones, Negro footmen in fancy livery standing stiff as statues at their rear. Teamsters driving wagons filled with grain or iron or tobacco or cotton cursed the men who drove the coaches for refusing to yield the right of way. On the sidewalk, lawyers and sawyers and ladies with slaves holding parasols to shield their delicate complexions from the springtime sun danced an elaborate minuet of precedence.
A middle-aged fellow who walked with a limp tipped his homburg in Jackson's direction and called out, "Stonewall!"
Jackson gravely returned the salutation. It rang out again, shortly thereafter. Again, he touched a hand to the brim of his own hat. Somber pride filled him. Not only his peers but also the common people remembered and appreciated what he'd done in the War of Secession. In a world where memory was fleeting and gratitude even more so, that was no small thing.
An iron fence surrounded the grounds of the presidential mansion. At the gateway, guards in the fancy new butternut uniforms stiffened to attention. "General Jackson, sir!" they exclaimed in unison. Their salutes were as identical as if they'd been manufactured in succession at the same stamping mill.
Conscientiously, Jackson returned the salutes. No doubt the guards were good soldiers, and would fight bravely if the need ever came. When he measured them against the scrawny wildcats he'd led during the War of Secession, though, he found them wanting. He was honest enough to wonder whether the fault lay in them or in himself. He'd turned fifty-seven earlier in the year, and the past had a way of looking better and the present worse the older he got.
He rode up to the entrance to the president's home. A couple of slaves hurried forward. One of them held his horse's head while he dismounted, then tied the animal to a cast-iron hitching post in front of the building. Jackson tossed him a five-cent piece. The slave caught the tiny silver coin out of the air with a word of thanks.
Tied close by was the two-horse team of a landau with which he was not familiar. The driver, a white man, sat in the carriage reading a newspaper and waiting for his master to emerge. That he was white gave Jackson a clue about who his passenger might be, especially when coupled with the unfamiliar carriage.
And, sure enough, out of the president's residence came John Hay, looking stylish if a little funereal in a black sack suit. The new minister from the United States was a strikingly handsome man of about fifty, his brown hair and beard frosted with gray. His nod was stiff, tightly controlled. "Good day, General," he said, voice polite but frosty.
"Your Excellency," Jackson said in much the same tones. As a young man, Hay had served as Abe Lincoln's secretary. That in itself made him an object of suspicion in the Confederate States, but it also made him one of the few Republicans with any executive experience whatever. Jackson hoped the latter was the reason U.S. President Blaine had appointed him minister to the CSA. If not, the appointment came perilously close to an insult.
Hay had bushy, expressive eyebrows. They twitched now. He said, "I should not be surprised, General Jackson, if we were seeing President Longstreet on the same business."
"Oh? What business is that?" Jackson thought Hay likely right, but had no intention of showing it. The less the enemy--and anyone in Richmond who did not think the United States an enemy was a fool--knew, the better.
"You know perfectly well what business," Hay returned, now with a touch of asperity: "the business of Chihuahua and Sonora."
He was, of course, correct: an enemy he might be, and a Black Republican (synonymous terms, as far as the Confederacy was concerned), but not a fool. Jackson said, "I cannot see how a private transaction between the Empire of Mexico and the Confederate States of America becomes a matter about which the United States need concern themselves."
"Don't be disingenuous," Hay said sharply. "President Longstreet spent the last two hours soft-soaping me, and I'm tired of it. If you don't see how adding several hundred miles to our common border concerns us, sir, then you don't deserve those wreathed stars on your collar." Giving Jackson no chance to reply, he climbed up into the landau. The Negro who had helped the Confederate general undid the horses. The driver set down his paper and flicked the reins. Iron tires clattering, the wagon rolled away.
Jackson did not turn his head to watch it go. Diplomacy was not his concern, not directly: he dealt only with its failures. Back straight, stride steady, he walked up the stairs into the presidential mansion.
G. Moxley Sorrel, Longstreet's chief of staff, greeted him just inside the door. "Good morning, General Jackson," he said, his tone almost as wary as Hay's had been.
"Good morning." Jackson tried to keep all expression from his own voice.
"The president will see you in a moment." Sorrel put what Jackson reckoned undue stress on the second word. The chief of staff had served Longstreet since the early days of the War of Secession, and had served through the time when Longstreet and Jackson, as corps commanders under Lee, were to some degree rivals as well as comrades. Over the years, Jackson had seen that Longstreet never forgot a rivalry--and what Longstreet remembered, Moxley Sorrel remembered, too.
Having little small talk in him, Jackson simply stood silent till Sorrel led him into President Longstreet's office. "Mr. President," Jackson said then, saluting.
"Sit down, General; sit down, please." James Longstreet waved him into an overstuffed armchair upholstered in flowered maroon velvet. Despite the soft cushions, Jackson sat as rigidly erect as if on a stool. Longstreet was used to that, and did not remark on it. He did ask, "Shall I have a nigger fetch you some coffee?"
"No, thank you, sir." As was his way, Jackson came straight to the point: "I met Mr. Hay as I was arriving here. If his manner be of any moment, the United States will take a hard line toward our new Mexican acquisitions."
"I believe you are correct in that," Longstreet answered. He scratched his chin. His salt-and-pepper beard spilled halfway down his chest. He was a few years older than Jackson. Though he had put on more flesh than the general-in-chief of the Confederate States, he also remained strong and vigorous. "The Black Republicans continue to resent us merely for existing; that we thrive is a burr under their tails. I wish Tilden had been reelected-- he would have raised no unseemly fuss. But the world is as we find it, not as we wish it."
"The world is as God wills." Jackson declared what was to him obvious.
"Of course--but understanding His will is our province," Longstreet said. That could have been contradiction in the guise of agreement, at which the president was adept. Before Jackson could be sure, Longstreet went on, "And Chihuahua and Sonora are our provinces, by God, and by God we shall keep them whether the United States approve or not."
"Very good, Mr. President!" Having no compromise in his own soul, Jackson admired steadfastness in others.
"I have also sent communications to this effect to our friends in London and Paris," Longstreet said.
"That was excellently done, I am sure," Jackson said. "Their assistance was welcome during the War of Secession, and I trust they shall be as eager to see the United States taken down a peg now as they were then."
"General, their assistance during the war was more than merely necessary," Longstreet said heavily. "It was the sine qua non without which the Confederate States should not be a free and independent republic today."
Jackson frowned. "I don't know about that, Your Excellency. I am of the opinion that the Army of Northern Virginia had a certain small something to do with that independence." He paused a moment, a tableau vivant of animated thought. "The battle of Camp Hill for some reason comes to mind."
Longstreet smiled at Jackson's seldom-shown playfulness. "Camp Hill was necessary, General, necessary, but, I believe, not sufficient. Without the brave work our soldiers did, England and France should never have been in position to recognize our independence and force acceptance of that independence on the Lincoln regime."
"Which is what I said, is it not?" Jackson rumbled.
But the president of the CSA shook his head. "No, not quite. You will remember, sir, I had rather more to do with the military commissioners of the United States than did you as we hammered out the terms under which each side should withdraw from the territory of the other."
"Yes, I remember that," Jackson said. "I never claimed to be any sort of diplomatist, and General Lee was not one to assign a man to a place in which he did not fit." Jackson saw that as a small barb aimed at Longstreet, who was so slippery, he might have ended up a Black Republican had he lived in the United States rather than the Confederacy. Being slippery, though, Longstreet probably took it as a compliment. Jackson asked the next question: "What of it, sir?"
"This of it: every last Yankee officer with whom I spoke swore up and down on a stack of Bibles as tall as he was that Lincoln never would have given up the fight if he'd only been fighting against us," Longstreet said. "The man was a fanatic--still is a fanatic, going up and down in the USA like Satan in the book of Job, stirring up trouble wherever he travels. The only thing that convinced him the United States were licked--the only thing, General--was the intervention of England and France on our behalf. Absent that, he aimed to keep on no matter what we did."
"He would have done better had he had generals as convinced of the righteousness of his cause as he was himself," Jackson remarked. "As well for us he did not."
"As well for us indeed." Longstreet nodded his big, leonine head. "That, however, is not the point. The point is that the English and French, by virtue of the service they rendered us, and by virtue of the services they may render us in the future, have a strong and definite claim upon our attention."
"Wait." Jackson had not lied when he said he was no diplomat; he needed a while to fathom matters that were immediately obvious to a man like Longstreet. But, as in his days of teaching optics, acoustics, and astronomy at the Virginia Military Institute, unrelenting study let him work out what he did not grasp at once. "You are saying, Your Excellency, are you not, that we are still beholden to our allies and must take their wishes into account in formulating our policy?"
"Yes, I am saying that. I wish I weren't, but I am," Longstreet replied. Jackson started to say something; the president held up a hand to stop him. "Now you wait, sir, until you have answered this question: does the prospect of taking on the United States over the Mexican provinces alone and unaided have any great appeal to you?"
"It could be done," Jackson said at once.
"I do not deny that for an instant, but it is not the question I put to you," Longstreet said. "What I asked was, has the prospect any great appeal to you? Would you sooner we war against the USA by ourselves, or in the company of two leading European powers?"
"The latter, certainly," Jackson admitted. "The United States have always outweighed us. We have more men and far more factories now than I ever dreamt we should, but they continue to outweigh us. If ever they found leaders and morale to match their resources, they would become a formidable foe."
"This is also my view of the situation." Longstreet drummed his fingers on the desk in front of him. "And Blaine, like Lincoln, has no sense of moderation when it comes to our country. If he so chooses, as I think he may, he can whip them up into a frenzy against us in short order. This concerns me. What also concerns me is the price London and Paris have put on a renewal of their alliance with us. The necessity for weighing one of those concerns against the other is the reason I asked to see you here today."
"A price for continued friendship? What price could the British and French require for doing what is obviously in their interest anyhow?" By asking the question, he proved his want of diplomacy to Longstreet and, a moment later, to himself. "Oh," he said. "They intend to try to lever us into abandoning our peculiar institution."
"There you have it, sure enough," Longstreet agreed. "Both the British and French ministers make it abundantly clear that their governments shall not aid us in any prospective struggle against the United States unless we agree in advance to undertake emancipation no later than a year after the end of hostilities. They are acting in concert on this matter, and appear firmly determined to follow their words with deeds, or rather, with the lack of deeds we should otherwise expect."
"Let them," Jackson growled, as angry as if Britain and France were enemies, not the best friends the Confederate States had. "Let them. We'll whip the Yankees, and after that we'll do whatever else needs doing, too."
"I assure you, General, I admire your spirit from the bottom of my heart," Longstreet said. "If we are assured of success in a conflict against the USA over Chihuahua and Sonora, please tell me so, and tell me plainly."
Jackson hesitated--and was lost. "In war, Your Excellency, especially war against a larger power, nothing is assured, as I said before. I am confident, however, that God, having given us this land of ours to do with as we will, does not intend to withdraw His gift from our hands."
"That, I fear, is not enough." Longstreet let out a long sigh. "You have no conception, General, to what degree slavery has become an albatross round our necks in all our intercourse, diplomatic and commercial, with foreign powers. The explanations, the difficulties, the resentments grow worse year by year. We and the Empire of Brazil are the only remaining slaveholding nations, and even the Brazilians have begun a program of gradual emancipation for the Negroes they hold in servitude."
"Mr. President, if we are right, what foreigners have to say about us matters not at all, and I believe we are right," Jackson said stubbornly. "I believe, as I have always believed, that God Himself ordained our system as the best one practicable for the relationship between the white and Negro races. Changing it now at foreigners' insistence would be as much a betrayal as changing it at the Black Republicans' insistence twenty years ago."
"I understand this perspective, General, and, believe me, I am personally in sympathy with it," Longstreet said. When a politician, which was what the president of the CSA had long since become, said he was personally in sympathy with something, Jackson had learned, he meant the opposite. And, sure enough, Longstreet went on, "Other considerations, however, compel me to take a broader view of the question."
"What circumstances could possibly be more important than acting in accordance with God's will as we understand it?" Jackson demanded.
"Being certain we do understand it," Longstreet answered. "If we fight the United States alone and are defeated, is it not likely that the victors would seek to impose emancipation and even, to the degree they can effect it, Negro dominance upon us, to weaken us as much as possible?"
Jackson grunted. He had never considered the aftermath of a Confederate defeat. Victory was the only consideration that had ever crossed his mind. Reluctantly, he gave President Longstreet credit for subtlety.
Longstreet said, "Can we successfully fight the United States without their coasts' being blockaded, a task far beyond the power of our navy alone? Can we fight them without pressure from Canada to make them divide their forces and efforts instead of concentrating solely against us? If you tell me we are as certain, or even nearly as certain, of success without our friends as with them, defying their wishes makes better sense."
"I think, as I have said, we can win without them," Jackson said, but he was too honest not to add, "With them, though, the odds improve."
"My thought exactly," Longstreet said, beaming, jollying him toward acquiescence. "And if we emancipate the Negro de jure of our own free will, we shall surely be spared the difficulties that would ensue if, as the result of some misfortune, we were compelled to emancipate him de facto."
There was some truth--perhaps a lot of truth--in that. Jackson had to recognize it. Longstreet made him think of a fast-talking hoaxer, selling Florida seaside real estate under water twenty-two hours out of every twenty-four. But the president had been elected to make decisions of this sort. "I am a soldier, Your Excellency," Jackson said. "If this be your decision, I shall of course conduct myself in conformity to it."
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