Today’s post contains a scene or two from my novel Strong Hearts. That is one of my works in progress; a historical fiction I’ve already spoken of, with several prominent historical figures (Meriwether Lewis, William Clark and his wife Julia) and several other individuals you may have read about in history books, but to clarify, the last I’ll mention is Frederick Bates, who is the gubernatorial secretary of Governor Meriwether Lewis (who presides of the Louisiana Territory). Enjoy!Photo [left] credit: U.S. Postal Service stamp from 2004.
[The spring of 1808]
Governor Lewis’s tasks in his office consumed the other part of his time, and overall, he had been quite harried. Bates seemed to take pleasure in confronting him, regarding the Indians, and there was always a contemptuous gleam in his eye, a tinge of irony in his voice that made Lewis want to give him a righteous knock on that thin mouth, as it constantly hinted at a smirk. But the duties at hand always allowed for evenings spent with fetes held amongst society, and Governor Lewis found himself the center of them; as before, he stood out as cynosure to all eyes. The daughters of the townsmen, scarce as they were, smiled amongst themselves; for Governor Lewis was young, and drew all eyes to his figure almost instinctively. For when Meriwether Lewis entered a hall, he did not go unnoticed. Both his slender height and the broadness of shoulder indicated strength, and above chiseled features there showed a thick, dark mane, some of which hung down over his pale brow in a forelock, the rest hung low on his neck and shoulders—such was the outward appearance of Lewis, which accounted for his vitality and renown of bearing. The laughing belles of St. Louis sought him out as a prime figure, one to be revered, admired, respected and above all, pursued. Everyone in the town swarmed about him, gladdened that such a man walked in their midst.
However, Lewis had indeed devoted himself to his office: establishing courts and reviewing records to clear up the conflicts of land-titles, and incessant other cares which daily presented themselves anew to the governor. Though he appeared at public events, he was identified at the banquets, called upon to give toasts, a speech, a tribute to the host, and the honor of his attendance at the leading men’s homes was appreciated by all. And through it all, Lewis could not wholly find the time he spent at work satisfactory, nor could they measure up to the days of yore, a party of men at his back, the mountainside before him, the horns blasting at sunrise and the long rambles in the flourishing country of the west. Some days, when he thought of this, he became overcome by the melancholies, which happened upon him in the wake of growing disappointment with his new post.
Lewis came the day of the Clarks arrival, having broken from a day of riding to and from round the territory. William Clark and his Julia arrived in a carriage with the Clark family crest upon its black, cedar door.
“You found a fine, suitable place here, Merry,” said Clark to his friend, as he stood with Julia in the crook of his arm on the front path of the house. Lewis stood beside them, his sensitive mouth twitching. He waited for Clark to say something—a word of approval and gratitude. It came soon enough, and Julia, though she had been accustomed to finer things, looked most pleased. Lewis could barely conceal his delight—that ecstasy that rarely swelled within him these days, as he found little penchant in the many jobs required of him.
The sun beat down upon them and they walked inside. When standing in the front hall, Julia turned about after canvassing the room, and said to Lewis earnestly, “You were very kind, Merry, to find a home for us while we were away.”
Lewis bowed and smiled. “Of course, Judy.”
“Do you dare call me by that name—the name which my husband mistakes me to have?” Julia laughed. She looked very sweet, standing there beside her husband, no more than a girl with her bonnet tied on her brown curls with a bright ribbon, eyes full of bright light.
Lewis gazed upon her for a long, pensive moment. Emotion rose in him, plaintive emotion and envy that he withheld desperately. It became painfully caustic each time he looked upon William Clark and his wife.
But Clark had begun to chortle at his wife’s bantering. “Ah—yes, Judith—my Judith. We must call you Judy…it has become custom since I named a river for you.”
Lewis moved to the nearest door with a long, hurried stride. “Now—now I shall take you about and show you the place.”
“Yes, yes. Of course. Lead on, Merry.”
The governor showed the Clarks about the home, from the parlor to the garden, and once finished, he listened to their exclamations of approval. “You are to have the larger of the bedrooms,” he said to Clark at last, when their converse lulled. “I have chosen a smaller one for myself, on the west side; ‘tis on a different wing.”
Clark at once showed a sign of discomfort in his face, which confused Lewis, especially when he cocked a brow. Julia stared at the two men. “What is this?” she stopped herself, her face growing rosy. But Lewis read unmistakable bemusement in her soft, brown eyes.
Heat crept up along his neck and jaw, and he knew he had reddened, as he stood before the couple, trying to collect himself enough speak. Julia had not been informed. She would not like the prospect of her husband’s bachelor friend staying with them. But obviously her politeness kept her from saying anything. Lewis at last managed to explain. “Oh—forgive me,” he faltered. One could not fail to sense the awkwardness hanging about the room like an approaching storm. Lewis felt it keenly. He swallowed and continued hoarsely, “But I took liberty to propose a living arrangement, to your husband, Judy…”
Julia remained silent, and Clark came to Lewis’s aid. “We thought it would be a suitable arrangement—an agreeable fancy, the three of us. Isn’t it, dear?”
“I—I wished you would have informed me,” said Julia slowly. Her voice had become very cool, divested of color and warmth. “But—if you both find it suitable—I shan’t object—‘tis agreeable, I think—but—” she glanced at Clark, her forehead wrinkling. A taut little smile appeared on her lips.
“Of course—‘tis all well enough,” Julia at last concluded. Her complexion remained flushed, as she turned and hastened outside to direct the servants as they brought in the trunks.
“She does not take to it,” said Lewis moodily, once she had gone.
“Only natural—women wish to be conferred. You must not think that…she could not happily regard your joining us in our home.”
“But I know—I am an intrusion—to you and her—an intrusion that I do not wish to be…”
“No, no, Merry!” cried William Clark. A vein stood out on his temple that had gone a deep shade of red. He impatiently seized Lewis’s shoulder and met his eyes straight on. “It shall all turn out now. Let us not begin with this…”
Lewis knew his mouth had become a grim line. He had pursed it, till the skin of his lips became white, and his narrow face darkened intensely. The day had gone sour, in his eyes. How fast it had been divested of cheerfulness, peace and mirth. Clark held his shoulder in an iron clasp; yet, Lewis broke away from it and gave a feeble smile. He did not want to fight with his friend, good old Will. Quick to anger yet always ready to soothe—that steady, jovial soul with his laugh always bubbling up in his throat—Will Clark now stayed him with his flaming blue eyes, imploring, yet challenging.
Clark suddenly broke into a grin, a subtle one, yes, but the tense moment passed with rapidity and he laughed. “We have begun anew,” he said, “I the general, you governor—fine posts, ain’t they, Merry? Haven’t we people at our command, heads in a territory with influence? ‘Tis a handsome fortune—we are fortunate men. Providence has given us boons, we are the young heroes. Shan’t we use all of this to our very best?” He spoke lightly, and his laugh gave way to an infectious thing, which Lewis could not resist. He chuckled softly.
“Indeed, we are fortunate. But you, Will, you have a title and a wife; for what more could a man ask?”
© R. E. Williams
The next excerpt is from later in the novel: I like to do scene sketches, so the following conversation takes place in the summer of 1809, the next year, when Lewis’s life is in a steady decline, and tension has reached a breaking point between the governor and Secretary Bates (Frederick Bates is a dreadful man, I may add) due to rumors the secretary is spreading about Lewis in the town of St. Louis and that he purposes to reach Lewis’s superiors in the Federal City (Washington D.C.). Why? Because, in my opinion, and in the opinion of many other historians, Bates envied Lewis’s governorship, desiring it for himself, and believed that the militant former leader of the Corps of Discovery did not belong in such a place of governmental leadership.Please comment any questions as follow up of this post: such as was Bates’ opinion correct? I will do my best to answer satisfyingly.
The room fell deathly silent, hostility permeating every part of the hall. No one spoke—all the laughter and gaiety of the banquet had suddenly vanished, with the new presence of Meriwether Lewis, who had entered the lodge. His grave visage indicated that he sensed the aura—forsooth, he did distinctly—yet maintained an outward decorum to his host, who he greeted first and then continued. His eyes fell upon Frederick Bates, who sat in a party of some of the town’s leading men, and among others several agents and officers all possessing the same, uncomfortable expression. Lewis smiled slightly at this circle, with forced geniality, and advanced, meaning to draw himself a seat. This he did by sheer willpower, perceiving that he would do so in a step to bring some concord between himself and Bates.
But Bates—with his small, ruthless eyes filled with an internal rage and coldness—rose promptly when Lewis sat . . . and departed swiftly from the room, to the next hall. The meaning in this was patent—inexplicably patent. Lewis grew very pale, and taut. He walked hastily from the room, in a dangerous humor. At any moment the fatal spark could ignite and send him in Bates’ direction, bent upon violence. But he reached an empty study and called for his servant, yet scarcely controlled—only scarcely—and in vibrating tones he commanded the Creole to summon General William Clark.
“Oui, sir.” The Creole left with hurried pace.
Clark presently appeared in the doorway, his expression of both expectancy and concern. “Yes, Merry?”
Lewis turned to him with abruptness. “Bates!” he said in a loud, hoarse whisper. “That accursed man—that accursed little man and his pretention . . .”
“What has happened?” asked Clark coolly.
“Happened!?” Lewis nearly shouted. He closed his lips abruptly, folding his arms to hide his shaking hands, and did not speak for several moments as he endeavored to compose himself. At last he tried again. “I took measures to restore at least some harmony betwixt my secretary and myself, Will. I took strong measures,” and he spoke this with much emphasis. “It is vital that our relation is mended. But he has made this an impossibility.”
Lewis broke off here and walked swiftly across the room to stand before Clark, and at short range the general perceived such angst and fury written upon his friend’s mien which merely increased his worry. And he could not help but notice Lewis’s hands which shook as one would in the clutches of palsy. He frowned but waited for the governor to continue
“He has slighted my efforts at goodwill with such blatancy that I feel it is finished, and he has humiliated me before the town. It is finished.”
Thus ending, Lewis turned about and neared the window, apparently restless, and exceedingly pale. Clark then resolved to attempt, on Lewis’s behalf, to restore any accord between Frederick Bates and the governor. But he had a sense that it had already been frayed beyond restoration.
“No!” The small man turned on his heel abruptly, breathing hard as though greatly excited in being. “No! The governor has told me to take my own course and I will step a high and proud path. He has injured me, and he must undo that injury.”
William Clark gazed at Frederick Bates for a long, silent moment, his broad forehead knitted with ponderous disquiet, yet scarcely palpable for his composure in the face of Bates’ strident outburst.
“Is it such an unpardonable matter,” he asked quietly, turning towards the window, “That you determine so firmly to sever yourself from Governor Lewis?”
“I have endured enough,” Bates whispered from between clenched teeth. His wide eyes were scintillatingly blazing; features drawn and lividly hued, both hands gripping his doffed hat with such fierceness that they might have damaged it badly beyond further use. “I have endured enough of that arrogant, reckless man who is no more fit to hold the title of governor than a boy—Governor Lewis? Ah!” he cried passionately, “I will no longer subject myself to his abuses of my efforts and repute—my well-meant counsel and aid as his secretary. He endeavors to undo me, to humiliate me before this country and I will have no more of it. Speak to him if you will, but he and I cannot work in unison. ‘Tis an impossible exertion that I shall never endure a day longer!”
© R. E. Williams