“Certainly; you must have heard of him. First time I ever knew of his drifting so far north, as there are not many pickings up here. Have rather suspected he might be laying for Beaucaire, but the two haven’t touched a card coming down.”
“He is a gambler, then?”
“A thoroughbred; works between St. Louis and New Orleans. I can’t just figure out yet what he is doing up here. I asked him flat out, but he only laughed, and he isn’t the sort of man you get very friendly with, some say he has Indian blood in him, so I dropped it. He and the Judge seem pretty thick, and they may be playing in their rooms.”
“Have you ever told the planter who the other man is?”
“What, me, told him? Well, hardly; I’ve got troubles enough of my own. Beaucaire is of age, I reckon, and they tell me he is some poker player himself. The chances are he knows Kirby better than I do; besides I’ve run this river too long to interfere with my passengers. See you again before we leave; am going up now to have a talk with the Major.”
My eyes followed as he disappeared within the open gates, a squatty, strongly-built figure, the blue smoke from his pipe circling in a cloud above his head. Then I turned idly to gaze once again down the river, and observe the groups loitering below. I felt but slight interest in the conversation just exchanged, nor did the memory of it abide for long in my mind. I had not been close enough to observe Beaucaire, or glimpse his character, while the presence of a gambler on the boat was no such novelty in those days as to chain my attention. Indeed, these individuals were everywhere, a recognized institution, and, as Thockmorton had intimated, the planter himself was fully conversant with the game, and quite able to protect himself. Assuredly it was none of my affair, and yet a certain curiosity caused me to observe the movements of the two so long as they remained on deck. However, it was but a short while before both retired to the cabin, and then my gaze returned once more to the sullen sweep of water, while my thoughts drifted far away.
A soldier was within a few feet of me, and had spoken, before I was even aware of his approach.
I looked about quickly, recognizing the major’s orderly.
“Yes, Sanders, what is it?”
“Major Bliss requests, sir, that you report at his office at once.”
“Very well. Is he with Captain Thockmorton?”
“Not at present, sir; the captain has gone to the post-sutler’s.”
Wondering what might be desired of me, yet with no conception of the reality, I followed after the orderly through the stockade gate, and across the small parade ground toward the more pretentious structure occupied by the officers of the garrison.