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Steamers at St. Louis on the Mississippi (1875) (From the New York Public Library)



Jim was slipping into another world. It scared him. He was feeling so comfortable in Galena.

Whenever he found himself being lulled, Eliza forced her way into his thoughts. She was a

reminder of the way things were in St. Louis. He missed her. He missed not having a woman to

visit in the evenings. But Eliza was fast becoming an ephemeral mist, losing her flesh and blood

and turning into a far away signpost of another reality. A memory of another place. But a

memory he did not want to let go free.

The men in the camp knew about Eliza and other women who waited for them in small towns

outside of large cities. Some nights were harder than others living without them. The men

would keep the fires going longer then. They would stretch and yawn in their bedrolls as they

described their women’s hands and hearts. On these sentimental nights, their conversations were

devoid of coarse vulgarities.

Jim and Pierre talked about Eliza and Red Moon. They masked their real need for these women.

Did they know what it was?

They needed to need these women. That’s all.

“I miss Eliza,” Jim said. “Like a man must miss his wife.”

“So why don’t you marry her,” asked Pierre, who still had not been granted permission by Red

Moon’s family to take her as his wife. Several months had gone by.

“I will. I will. It hasn’t been the right time up to now.”

“Take my advice. Marry her while she’s still around.”

The flames of the campfire danced sinuous shadows all around the men. Jim and Pierre

bellyached a long while before they extended their hands to each other as a goodnight.

Goodbyes were soon to come. The original mining party had begun to break up in May, or

Planting Moon, as it was known among the Indians. One-year contracts drew to an end as new

men landed in Galena as replacements. Some men signed on for another year. Jim was not

ready to do that or go straight home. So, he hung on a few more months and managed to earn

seven hundred dollars before leaving in August during the Moon When the Geese Shed Their

Feathers. He arranged to travel by keelboat and by land several days to the river port of Natchez.

He planned to board the steamboat Calhoun for a pleasure trip to New Orleans before returning

to St. Louis.

The time to leave came quickly. Jim was sad to part from his friends, Blue Corn Harvest,

Spotted Calf and Pierre. But he consoled himself with the thought that he would meet them

again. Jim left Galena feeling strong and independent. He was excited about taking a holiday in

a strange city and seeing old friends at home.

Jim traveled days without passing a lake or a stream or even a puddle. He smelled like a swamp

when he reached the river and he was a sight! His clothes clung to him; his hair was matted; and

his nails were dirty. He wore a green beaded leather pouch that Chief Lots of Stars had given

him and soft, calfskin moccasins that were a gift from Blue Corn Harvest.

Jim’s foreign look excited the other passengers. He had been somewhere else and would have a

cache of stories to tell. Captain Henry Glover welcomed Jim aboard the impressive steamer

Calhoun, which measured one hundred and forty-eight feet and weighed four hundred tons. Her

two decks rose high above the water with two chimneys on either side of her boxy pilothouse.

Jim recalled that people nicknamed steamboats “floating wedding cakes” because of the

resemblance. A sidewheel on either side, powered by its own horizontal engine on the first deck,

dipped into the brown waters of the Mississippi.

At least one hundred people took passage on the vessel. All one hundred and the friends and

family of those who had just boarded there celebrated the evening before leaving. They drank

and danced and caroused. Jim loved it. Just like home. There were lots of women, most of

them taken and all of them white. They were off limits to Jim. They did not know Jim or his

family, and saw only his unusual dress and brown skin. However, they did enjoy taking Jim in

with their eyes as he enjoyed them.

Jim slept the first day of the river journey. When he awoke, he ate a fine meal and strolled on

the upper deck. He relished traveling on a boat for which he had no responsibility.

The Calhoun arrived at New Orleans to a cheering crowd of hundreds. The passengers waved

from the second deck. Some women blew kisses. From a distance, Jim gazed at one woman

after the other, who dressed with a panache he had not seen in St. Louis. Most wore fancy hats

whose crowns, feathers and baubles towered above the heads of the welcoming parties.

Pierre had recommended a hotel for Jim, one which would not accept blacks as guests but would

mulattoes, especially mulattoes with well-padded pocketbooks. The manager of the King Louis

XIV Hotel did not blink an eye as Jim signed the register and paid his bill one week in advance.

Jim thought that he would stay about two weeks. His room was ornately decorated. Several

stuffed sofas with gold painted frames occupied it. Paintings of rolling French landscapes hung

on the pink walls. The bed was large with a soft mattress under a rolled-up mosquito net. A

curved glass vase of flowers stood on the dresser but because the room was insufferably hot, the

flowers had wilted. Tiny white and yellow petals had fallen around the vase.

Jim put his bag down and left to walk around the French-styled city. It was late afternoon on

quiet streets and not any cooler outside. The air stood absolutely still. Mosquitos buzzed about

Jim’s head. He swatted and walked, swatted and walked. Hell! That’s what it seemed like. The

humidity stole Jim’s concentration. He did not see the elaborate grillwork of the houses set back

from the sidewalk. He did not see the bordellos. He did, however, see a fantastic woman.

Dressed in a frothy, white dress cut low enough to show off firm breasts, she walked under a

white, lacy parasol on the other side of the street coming toward him. Carefully coifed, her long,

curly hair was arranged in dark tendrils over her small forehead and swept high in an intricate

style. Her beauty and elegance dumfounded Jim. How could he meet her? He had to meet her.

Just as they were to pass each other and Jim about to panic, the young woman beckoned Jim with

a curled finger of her right hand. As quickly as she extended the invitation, she withdrew her

hand and returned it to her side. It would have taken a steady, interested eye to have noticed the

communication. Jim noticed. How understated, he thought. She must be well bred. He crossed

over and, though he did not know the subtleties of social intercourse in the Louisianan city, he

followed behind her without speaking. The feathery hairs at the nape of her long neck

intoxicated him. She led him to the bottom of the wooden steps. They climbed them and walked

into a tastefully decorated house. Two three-foot-tall glazed jars stood at either side of the door.

They held purple plumes that touched Jim’s shoulders as he brushed by. She took him through

rooms filled with finely cut crystal, well-crafted furniture lined with plush cushions, large, gilt

framed mirrors and clay sculpted pieces of naked men and women indulging in erotic pleasures.

“Are you thirsty,” she asked, without breaking her stride.

Her voice sounded deep and rich, quite unlike what he had expected, but compelling nonetheless.

“No,” answered Jim, as anxious as she seemed to come to an end of the house tour.

She crossed the threshold of a room that led into no others and turned around to face Jim. For

the first time, he could study her frontal view close up. High cheekbones, thin eyebrows, an

aquiline nose and luscious, full lips, she looked like no woman he had ever seen. Her yellowish

brown skin set off her white dress. Her breasts sat upright, tempting Jim. His eyes rested on


“You like,” she asked.

Shocked by her bluntness, Jim stumbled over his appreciation of her. His questions about who

she was and what she did were answered. She began to loosen the ribbon between her breasts

that held the garment together. It fell away revealing a scanty satin slip whose thin straps she

slid off her smooth shoulders.

“Beautiful,” Jim gasped.

He approached her, placed his hands on her shoulders and bent over slightly to suck on her right,

purplish brown nipple. She pulled him down to his knees. He picked up her dress and let it

down over himself. He played with her in the utmost privacy. Her knees buckled and the two

lovers tousled on a thick, shaggy rug. They made love there and again on her queen-sized bed

under a canopy and inside a net.

“You are happy,” she asked, after they had finished.

“Very,” answered Jim.

She was too. But Jim did not ask. So she did not say. Such a handsome, tender and passionate

man, she thought. Who was he? He must be a traveler. She had never seen him before. She

was glad she had gotten to him before some greedy, common whore had.

“What is your name,” Jim asked.

“Aria,” she said, with a slow, grand sweep of an arm. Her fingers were long and slender; her

nails were stubby and tinged a yellow tone. Her hands looked scrubbed as if she did manual


“Your surname,” he asked.

“Only Aria,” she said. “And you?”

“Jim Beckwourth,” he said.

“Beckwourth. Is that a slave name or a family name?”

“A family name. My father’s name,” he answered half truthfully.

Their names contributed the total of what they learned about each other outside of lovemaking.

Aria was a mystery to Jim. What was her real name? Why was she working as a courtesan? He

forgot his questions when Aria touched him in a way that meant she wanted him again.

Jim lost track of time in the room clouded with pure lust. It was suffocatingly hot, but neither

noticed. After each session, Aria cooled Jim’s body with a soft, wet cloth. It was delicious.

Aria modeled her flimsy Parisian nightgowns and silk robes for Jim. She fed him fresh bread

and poured him good wines. She talked about artistic movements with Jim.

Aria treated Jim Beckwourth like a king.

It must have been two days later when Jim woke up with chills and fever. He thought, at first,

that it was an expression of momentary ecstasy. However, the symptoms persisted. Yellow

fever, Aria diagnosed. Jim hated to admit sickness at any time and especially when he was

having this much fun. But there was no denying this malady. Before Jim fell into delirium, he

asked Aria to take care of him. His instincts assured him that she could be trusted. Aria

promised to nurse him but added that she would have to work in another room. Jim asked her

not to work. It would spoil his memory of her. He said that he would pay for the work she lost.

He would pay for the fantasy of being the only one.

And he would be. Aria’s true work was not sex. Art was her passion, not men or money. Aria

was a sculptor. She worked in the early morning every day. For this reason, she usually did not

allow customers to spend the night. Most did not protest. Aria’s refinement was her allure.

Many men fantasized that she was the wife or mistress of a prominent French gentleman and that

she sneaked to meet them.

Aria left her bed for Jim’s side. She called in a doctor who confirmed that Jim had been bitten

by a disease-infecting mosquito. Jim floated in and out of consciousness at erratic intervals. He

did not know when he was dreaming or when he was sleeping. He did not talk much in any


Jim would have to ride out the fever, the doctor said. He was strong; he could do it. Aria bathed

him in alcohol, held glasses of water up to his parched mouth and prayed that he would get well

soon. In three days, he broke the fever. He was still weak but felt well enough to travel. Aria

dissuaded him. She reasoned that he would bring on a relapse and she liked caring for him. Aria

also needed a holiday from ofttimes indelicate men. Jim stayed on another week. Then he said

goodbye to Aria, left the extravagant sum of two hundred dollars on the night table and booked

passage on the same Calhoun leaving the following day.

As the ship floated north on the Mississippi away from the steamy city, Jim thought how happy

he was to be alive.


Jim slept a good deal on the way home. He was still seriously ill. He lost his sense of time and

missed meals. No sooner had he closed his eyes at New Orleans than he opened them in St.


The young adventurer’s friends and family did not know exactly when he would return. He had

sent three letters with a fellow worker who left the camp in summertime, or Yellow Grass. The

missives were addressed to his father, John Hierophant and Eliza. All said that he planned to

come home in late summer. Jim did not know whether someone would be at the docks to meet

him. The arrival of a steamboat, with its passenger list of sophisticated travelers, was a major

social event. Businesses shut down. Everyone liked to meet the steamer.

People usually saw someone they knew, or someone who knew someone they knew, debarking

the vessel. So chances were good that a sibling or friend of Jim’s would be waiting for him.

Jim mustered the strength to wash, dress and walk off the Calhoun unaided. The entire

Beckwourth family waited at the front of the crowd. Thank God, Jim prayed. Matilda

dominated the coterie as she was as tall as her father and taller than any other Beckwourth. She

rushed to hold Jim first.

“Jim, we’ve been meeting every boat that’s come in for months,” Matilda exaggerated. “We’re

so happy you’re home.”

“Don’t you look like you’ve been away. You look like an Indian,” Jennings teased, pulling on

Jim’s hair which fell to the middle of his back. “It becomes you.”

“Mr. James Pierson Beckwourth, sir,” said his older brother, Randolph, in a playful, mock tone

as he saluted and then held him.

“Jim, Jim, Jim,” said the adoring youngest sister, Louise, as she squeezed herself between Jim

and another sister.

All his twelve brothers and sisters made a fuss over him. They started to walk toward the

carriage. Jim was thankful that he would be sitting soon. His pride would not let him tell his

family that he was sick with yellow fever. If he had sustained a fighting wound or even if he had

been injured in a mining accident, he would not have been as reticent. Indeed, he would have

been proud. However, as it was, he was suffering from a disease caused from the bite of a tiny

insect. Jim was embarrassed.

It was a long and arduous task getting to the carriage. Jim saw classmates from Mr. Niel’s

Academy. He saw Michael, Smiley and yes, John, had come, and others, not to mention the

headmaster himself. Customers from Mr. Casner’s shop said that they had missed him and that

Casner had too. Neighboring families to Beckwourth’s Settlement welcomed Jim with inspiring

words. They said that he was a man now, no doubt about that, and a man to be admired. The

only person Jim noticed not in the crowd was Eliza. He did not understand her absence. Portia

had forbidden her daughter to meet the boy who left town without saying goodbye. She thought

it improper for her daughter to run down to the river and bid him welcome. It was Jim’s place to

visit and apologize.

Jim, however, had plenty of well-wishers there at the pier who distracted him from Eliza. These

people were awed by him. He was a celebrity. It took courage to go off for more than a year to

a strange place. To travel by steamboat was impressive in itself. It was only two years ago in

1817 that the first one had docked at St. Louis. People Jim did not even know touched him or

shook his hand respectfully.

When the Beckwourths climbed into the carriage, the greeters had taken their toll on the

convalescent. He slept all the way home.

“Master Jim is here! Master Jim is here,” shouted the servants at the end of the journey.

Jim collected himself. He wiped the sleep out of his eyes and straightened up.

“Boat trip tired you out, Jim,” Jennings asked.

“Yes, Father.”

“Just the same, Dr. Ambrose is coming tomorrow to examine you,” Matilda said, in her motherly

way. “You’ve been away from civilization for more than a year. Goodness knows how you’ve

been eating and sleeping.”

“They piled out of the carriage to another hearty, though organized, reception. All thirty of the

servants assembled outside the house and applauded Jim as he stepped down. He formally

acknowledged them individually. One woman named Violet, the same age as Jim, welcomed

him on bended knee while cuffing him with muffled curses. Jim did not look at her as he passed

by. The snub was only noticeable if one knew to look for it. The other servants knew to look.

“Rest up for this evening, Jim,” Jennings said. “We’re having a large dinner party. We’ve

invited family, friends and important people from town. We’re all looking forward to hearing

about your adventures.”

Jim knew that he should sleep. However, he loved the adulation he could only absorb if he

stayed awake. He went upstairs to the room he once shared with Randolph. While unpacking,

his body made the choice for him. He fell asleep amidst his clothes on the bed. Matilda woke

him for dinner. He told her that he had yellow fever. She had guessed it already and promised to

keep his secret until the next day. Willpower fuelled Jim through dinner at which he was the

guest of honor. He dazzled his family and as many friends with his stories about life at Galena.

“It’s too bad some of these people, like Blue Corn Harvest and Pierre, don’t visit St. Louis,”

Jennings said, from where he sat at one head of the long, rectangular table.

“I know, Father. I’d like that, too. You never know, maybe that will happen someday. But tell

me, what’s been going on here in St. Louis,” Jim asked, from the opposite end of the table.

John Hierophant, Jim’s old friend sitting next to Jim with his fiancée, Christine, rushed to answer

the question.

“St. Louis is changing. We’re becoming a center of manufacturing. The bank has made loans to

three individuals who are operating tobacco processing factories. We’ve also seen a few

manufacturing plants of red and white lead pigments open up. And tanneries. They’re young

plants but they’re doing well, even with the depression the United States has been suffering since

last year.”

“How can that be,” Jim asked.

“Our economy is tied very closely to the Mississippi and western exploration and trade,” said

General William Henry Ashley, a title he had earned when building Missouri’s militia. The

forty-year-old Ashley, also from Virginia, had dabbled in real estate, gunpowder manufacturing

and helping to open St. Louis’s bank. His most recent endeavour was the Rocky Mountain Fur


“The steamboat is an ideal transport for furs and other goods that we acquire out West,” Ashley

continued. “Our gateway to the West status is starting to pay off. There’s money to be made

and an easier way to do it. Why, a ship propelled by steam made it across the Atlantic in June!”

“It was amazing,” Matilda said, seated on her father’s right. Savannah was the name of the ship.

It took five weeks to travel from Georgia to Liverpool. But although the ship was large – it had

thirty-two staterooms – it carried no passengers. They day will come when people will have no

fear of crossing the Atlantic in a steamboat.”

Others at the table agreed with her.

“Tell me, sister,” Jim asked. “What’s the news from across the Atlantic?”

“I’m reading a new book by Walter Scott called Ivanhoe.”

“I thought that Scott wrote poetry,” Jim said.

“He does--he did,” Matilda stumbled. “But he also wrote Waverly five years ago. It was his

first novel. As a matter of fact, he signs Ivanhoe as “By the author of Waverly.” But everyone

knows it’s Walter Scott’s work.”

“Tell us about it,” Jim said. “When does it take place?”

“I haven’t gotten very far. I just got the book last week from the publishing house of James

Ballantyne in Scotland, and I haven’t had the time to devote to it. But I have read the first

chapter. It takes place during the reign of Richard I. It begins with a conversation in the woods

between a thrall and a jester.”

“A thrall? What is that,” Jim asked.

“A slave,” Matilda said.

The guests froze. They stopped breathing. A hush enveloped the table like a mist. Jennings

stepped in to remedy what could have become an evening spoilt by a reminder of his children’s

inferior legal standing or lack of it.

“What about the museum? Didn’t a splendid museum open in Madrid called the Prado,” he

asked Matilda, pronouncing it “pray dough”.

Everyone was relieved to be able to laugh.

“No, Father. It’s the Prado,” Matilda said, giving the word its softer and proper pronunciation.

“It’s been under construction for thirty-four years. King Ferdinand VII is exhibiting all the

paintings and sculpture collected by Spanish monarchs since a long time ago. I’d love to see

them and the museum itself!”

“Maybe one day, Princess,” Jennings said, through a veil of guilt. “Let’s retire from the table.

Gentlemen, please escort your partners to the sitting room so that we may meet in the drawing


Jennings stood and took Matilda’s arm. Jim also stood and took Louise’s arm. The other men

rose and followed suit. They left the dining room suitably supped and entertained.

It was while Jim sipped brandy with the other men when he experienced a sudden flush that

could not be attributed to the drink. His fever had returned. Fortunately, he had told his stories

so fully and colourfully at dinner that he was not called upon to elaborate in the drawing room.


Map of the Missouri Compromise of 1820, one year later (From the New York Public Library)


The men’s conversation dwelled on the possibility of Missouri becoming a state in the United

States. Alabama recently had gained approval to enter the Union as the twenty-second state. The

Missouri territorial legislature probably would vote to request admittance as a slave state, so

that slavery would be legal. Slavery was a widespread practice there. However, federal

politicians realized the potential conflict over slavery and, therefore, kept a delicate balance of

free and slave states. The lawmaking Senate, after all, consisted of two senators from each state.

Requesting admittance as a slave state might bog down Missouri’s proposal in controversy.

Alabama would join the Union as a slave state. East of the Mississippi, it was impossible to

avoid discussion of slavery on a personal or political level. For more than one reason, Jim

finished out the evening quietly in a sweat.

After all the company had left and Jim’s brothers and sisters had gone to their rooms, Jennings

extended his right hand to Jim and said sincerely:

“I’m proud to be your father!”

“Thank you, Father,” Jim said, shaking his father’s hand and thinking that his ruse of being

healthy was well worth it.

The family slept soundly. The house was quiet, except for the word “thrall”, which the walls

whispered to Jim all night long.

Dr. Henry Ambrose visited the following afternoon. A curly, gray haired, good-natured man, he

was the family doctor. He had not examined Jim in years, not since Jim entered the academy in

St. Louis. He wanted his earful of adventures too which he got along with a confession of

illness. But Jim could do no wrong. Everyone thought it admirable that he had carried off his

first day so well. The doctor gave Matilda instructions to keep Jim quiet. Jim obeyed, happily


Friends and acquaintances stopped by. Jim relished receiving company intrigued with the

minutest detail about the Sacs, mining and Galena. The more questions he answered, the more

he realized how dramatically different life was there. Jim ensconced himself on his favorite

downy couch in the drawing room as he entertained. Matilda waited on him.

Eliza got word that Jim was recuperating from a horrendous tropical disease. She talked her

mother into allowing her to see him. She took pains to ready herself for the visit. She achieved

the desired effect of an innocent beauty dressed in pink cotton.

When the petite, sixteen-year-old Eliza entered the drawing room, her smooth skin and fiery hair

looked perfect to Jim. She looked perfect. She was perfect.

Jim had lost twelve pounds due to the illness and his changed life in camp. He was pale and not

as exuberant as before. However, he had not lost his charm.

“I am not worthy to kiss your cheek leaving town as I did without seeing you,” Jim said, while

standing feebly to greet her. He had heard that she and her mother were upset about it. “But my

sweet, I could not. I was in such trouble. I didn’t want to get you involved. Please forgive me.”

Eliza did not even give the impression of mulling over the apology. She walked toward him


“Yes, silly. I forgive you,” in an understanding wifely way.

Then Jim kissed her cheek. They sat next to each other, held hands and talked.

“Did you miss me,” Eliza asked.

“Yes, I did,” her beau said. “I was lonely much of the time.”

Jim told her about Galena and his life there. She told him about her plan to study for the

teachers’ examination on her own. It would take about one year. She planned to teach with her


“You and I, we’ve lost more than a year,” Eliza said.

“We’ve gained more than a year,” Jim said.

And that’s where they left it. Why mar their reunion with an argument that neither would win,

they both reasoned silently.

Eliza stayed for dinner. Everyone was glad to see her. Sitting at the table, she imagined herself

part of the family in a short time.

“We’ve missed you,” Jennings said. “It’s awful that you should deprive us of your company

because Jim wasn’t here. We never tire of you. Please don’t make yourself a stranger, and my

regards to your mother. How is she? I haven’t seen her either.”

“She’s quite well,” Eliza said.

“I’m sorry she didn’t choose to come along with you,” he said. “I fear that Mrs. Shepheard and I

left some uneven edges when we all had dinner at her house. I’d like to straighten them out.”

“There’s nothing to straighten out, Mr. Beckwourth,” Eliza said, sweetly. “Jim is home. Soon

we’ll be together forever.”

“I love you, Eliza,” Jim said, earnestly. “I will always love you.”

No one could say anything after this public confession at the dinner table. They all turned to

eating heartily, all except Eliza who dined on Jim’s tender words.

Life was promising for Jim. He had his family and friends and Eliza. He had money. Day by

day, he was regaining his health. Everyday, he silently hoped that his father would free him.

Instead, the yoke around his neck tightened. The comfort of his father’s home became

oppressive. He choked on the regular meals, winced when the servants addressed him as

“Master”, and cursed the world when another slave day creaked by. He was his father’s well-

kept slave; he was his father’s property, no different from a few acres of land.

People kept asking how he was going to spend his life. Fortunately, he had found a purpose to

which he could commit himself. He had found his mission, his direction, his road that would

keep him within the tenuous boundaries of sanity. He answered people with questions about his

future that he would travel more broadly into the mountains. He kept his ears open for news of

expeditions to the Far West. There was no arguing with him. No one did. Most were

impressed. Eliza, however, became morosely submissive to Jim’s wishes. She knew she could

not talk him out of leaving; he knew he could not talk her into approving. He said he had to see

the Far West; she said she would miss him terribly. Surely, she thought, the image of her

suffering alone, the prospect of being without her again and the love that would go wasted would

change Jim’s mind. She thought wrong.

General Ashley stopped by Beckwourth’s Settlement in September to invite Jim on a beaver-

trapping expedition of his fledgling Rocky Mountain Fur Company. He and his partner, Major

Andrew Henry, had advertised in the newspaper for one hundred able-bodied men to ascend the

Missouri to its source where they would work for one, two or three years. They actually wanted

thirty men. With Jim, they got twenty-nine.

Before Jim left on October 11, he served as best man at John’s wedding to Miss Christine

Hawthorne, daughter of Gregory and Marian Hawthorne, of St. Louis. Passion red roses and

pure white lilies scented St. Boniface’s ever so delicately. The bride and bridegroom glowed as

they walked, separately, down the aisle. After the ceremony, the two walked out victoriously. It

was a perfect match, everyone said as they trailed behind.

The reception was held in the same hall where town meetings were kept so as to accommodate

the two hundred invited guests. Jim gazed up at the dais where the bride and groom kissed

starchily. He fantasized trading places with John and taking his place beside Christine, his

position at the bank and his high standing in town. He pondered the swap of Miss Eliza

Shepheard, who sat proudly beside him at one of the twenty-five round tables, for Miss Christine

Hawthorne in her delicate, porcelain color; Miss Christine Hawthorne in her impenetrable, ivory

skin; Miss Christine Hawthorne, now Mrs. John Hierophant, his successful friend’s wife.

Christine was further evidence of John’s path of good fortune. She came from a respected,

wealthy merchant family. Her contemporaries thought her quiet and kind, and she believed

easily in the principle of justice because it had been done to her.

As Jim daydreamed about marriage with Christine, the nine-piece string chamber ensemble on a

raised platform in the center of the hall began playing a waltz. Jim did not hear it, he was so

absorbed in thought.

“Jim,” Eliza said. “Why do you taunt me so? You know that we love waltzes. Let’s dance

before it finishes.”

“Pardon me,” Jim said, coming out of his daze. “Oh yes. Of course, let’s dance.”

He stood up, walked behind Eliza’s chair and pulled it from the table for her. Then he took her

birdlike arm and escorted her to the dance floor which circled the ensemble. Jim and Eliza and

fifteen other handsome couples danced round and round between the musicians and the seated

guests. Now Jim thought about fame as a mountain man. Eliza swirled around in her sky blue

taffeta. Her tiny head was pressed against Jim’s strong chest. She already felt esteemed just to

be at the reception. It was a mark of her success. She was engaged to the right man.

“Oh, Jim, isn’t this wonderful,” Eliza gasped.

“Isn’t what wonderful?”

“The reception! The music! The dancing! The people,” she said, astonished that Jim should

have to ask.

“Yes, yes. Wonderful,” he answered absentmindedly.

He closed his eyes and envisioned purple mountains that kissed the sky. There were no people in

his dream, no Eliza, no Christine and no John.


#NewOrleans #steamboat #freestate #slavestate

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