I pass the story of the banquet at Fort Vancouver, because it is unpleasant to recite the difficulties of a kindly host who finds himself with jarring elements at his board. Precisely this was the situation of white-haired Doctor McLaughlin of Fort Vancouver. It was an incongruous assembly in the first place. The officers of the British Navy attended in the splendor of their uniforms, glittering in braid and gold. Even Doctor McLaughlin made brave display, as was his wont, in his regalia of dark blue cloth and shining buttons—his noble features and long, snow-white hair making him the most lordly figure of them all. As for us Americans, lean and brown, with hands hardened by toil, our wardrobes scattered over a thousand miles of trail, buckskin tunics made our coats, and moccasins our boots. I have seen some noble gentlemen so clad in my day.
We Americans were forced to listen to many toasts at that little frontier banquet entirely to our disliking. We heard from Captain Parke that “the Columbia belonged to Great Britain as much as the Thames”; that Great Britain’s guns “could blow all the Americans off the map”; that her fleet at Puget Sound waited but for the signal to “hoist the British flag over all the coast from Mexico to Russia” Yet Doctor McLaughlin, kindly and gentle as always, better advised than any one there on the intricacies of the situation now in hand, only smiled and protested and explained.
For myself, I passed only as plain settler. No one knew my errand in the country, and I took pains, though my blood boiled, as did that of our other Americans present at that board, to keep a silent tongue in my head. If this were joint occupancy, I for one was ready to say it was time to make an end of it. But how might that be done? At least the proceedings of the evening gave no answer.
It was, as may be supposed, late in the night when our somewhat discordant banqueting party broke up. We were all housed, as was the hospitable fashion of the country, in the scattered log buildings which nearly always hedge in a western fur-trading post. The quarters assigned me lay across the open space, or what might be called the parade ground of Fort Vancouver, flanked by Doctor McLaughlin’s four little cannon.
As I made my way home, stumbling among the stumps in the dark, I passed many semi-drunken Indians and voyageurs, to whom special liberty had been accorded in view of the occasion, all of them now engaged in singing the praises of the “King George” men as against the “Bostons.” I talked now and again with some of our own brown and silent border men, farmers from the Willamette, none of them any too happy, all of them sullen and ready for trouble in any form. We agreed among us that absolute quiet and freedom from any expression of irritation was our safest plan. “Wait till next fall’s wagon trains come in!” That was the expression of our new governor, Mr. Applegate; and I fancy it found an echo in the opinions of most of the Americans. By snowfall, as we believed, the balance of power would be all upon our side, and our swift-moving rifles would outweigh all their anchored cannon.