Fencing thus, neither sure of his adversary, they now made their way to one of the larger saloons, which ordinarily was devoted to those who preferred to smoke, mayhap to chew, perhaps even to do worse; for the door leading to the bar-room of the boat was near at hand. A darky boy stood grinning, arranging a table, offering cards and tobacco in a tempting tray. The two drew up leisurely to the table, and presently were joined by the gentlemen whom Dunwody had mentioned. For the time, then, as two of the four reflected, there was a truce, a compromise.
They made a group not uninteresting as they gathered about the table in the deck saloon. The youngest of the four received the deference generally accorded the uniform he wore, and returned the regard due age and station in the civilian world. For the moment rid of one annoying question, he was quite his better self, and added his quota in the preliminary badinage of the game. Across the table from him sat Judge Henry Clayton of New Madrid, a tall and slender gentleman with silky white mustaches and imperial, gentle of speech, kindly of countenance, and with soft, white hands, whose long fingers now idly raised and let fall some of the parti-colored tokens of the game.
[Illustration: They made a group not uninteresting.]
At Clayton’s side, Dunwody, younger, larger and more powerful, made something of a contrast. Both these gentlemen had removed their coats and hung them across the backs of chairs, evidently intending a serious session. In this procedure the last of the party now followed suit,—the Honorable William Jones, state senator from Belmont, Missouri. Seating himself, the latter now in turn began shuffling a pack between fingers short, puffy, freckled and experienced. His stooped shoulders thrust forward a beardless round face, whose permanently arched eyebrows seemed to ask a continuous question, his short, dark hair receded from a high forehead, and a thick mid-body betokened alike middle age and easy living. A planter of the back country, and a politician, his capital was a certain native shrewdness and little else. Of course, in company such as this, and at such a day, the conversation must drift toward the ever fruitful topic of slavery.
“No, sir,” began the Honorable William Jones, indulging himself in the luxury of tobacco as he addressed his companions, “there ain’t no doubt about it. Us Southerners orto take all that new country west of the Missoury, clean acrost to the Pacific.”
The older gentleman smiled at him. “You forget California,” said he. “She is already in, and free by her own vote.”
“An’ a crime aginst the natural rights of the South! Sir, the institution of slavery is as old as history. It is as old as the first settlement of agricultural man upon one piece of ground. It’s as old as the idea of sovereignty itself.”