Public opinion, indeed, around Kennedy Square, was, if the truth be told, undergoing many and serious changes. For not only the duel but some other of the traditional customs dear to the old regime were falling into disrepute—especially the open sideboards, synonymous with the lavish hospitality of the best houses. While most of the older heads, brought up on the finer and rarer wines, knew to a glass the limit of their endurance, the younger bloods were constantly losing control of themselves, a fact which was causing the greatest anxiety among the mothers of Kennedy Square.
This growing antipathy had been hastened and solidified by another tragedy quite as widely discussed as the Cocheran and May duel—more so, in fact, since this particular victim of too many toddies had been the heir of one of the oldest residents about Kennedy Square—a brilliant young surgeon, self-exiled because of his habits, who had been thrown from his horse on the Indian frontier—an Iowa town, really—shattering his leg and making its amputation necessary. There being but one other man in the rough camp who had ever seen a knife used—and he but a student—the wounded surgeon had directed the amputation himself, even to the tying of the arteries and the bandages and splints. Only then did he collapse. The hero—and he was a hero to every one who knew of his coolness and pluck, in spite of his recognized weakness—had returned to his father’s house on Kennedy Square on crutches, there to consult some specialists, the leg still troubling him. As the cripple’s bedroom was at the top of the first flight of stairs, the steps of which—it being summer—were covered with China matting, he was obliged to drag himself up its incline whenever he was in want of something he must fetch himself. One of these necessities was a certain squat bottle like those which had graced the old sideboards. Half a dozen times a day would he adjust his crutches, their steel points preventing his slipping, and mount the stairs to his room, one step at a time.
Some months after, when the matting was taken up, the mother took her youngest boy—he was then fifteen—to the steps:
“Do you see the dents of your brother’s crutches?—count them. Every one was a nail in his coffin.” They were—for the invalid died that winter.
These marked changes in public opinion, imperceptible as they had been at first, were gradually paving the way, it may be said, for the dawn of that new order of things which only the wiser and more farsighted men—men like Richard Horn—were able to discern. While many of the old regime were willing to admit that the patriarchal life, with the negro as the worker and the master as the spender, had seen its best days, but few of them, at the period of these chronicles, realized that the genius of Morse, Hoe, and McCormick, and a dozen others, whose inventions were just beginning to be criticised, and often condemned, were really the chief factors in the making of a new