~Part Six~

I took off at once to promote my book—as any author does! In fact that is why, Dear Reader, you have come to find me upon the aft deck of the steamer Guiding Star, a sea-worthy vessel if I ever I have seen one! We expect to dock in New York harbor in a little less than three weeks' time with a brief stopover in St. Thomas.

[He draws out a silence of indeterminate length, as though knowing his Dear Reader deserves some kind of explanation and withholding it is the only power he has left him. His buoyancy seems to somehow harden, almost imperceptibly.]


Why in God's great name did I get involved in another such adventure? As I mentioned earlier, adventures into the Absurd lead to absurd dilemmas—as I have learned in spades.

Well, Dear Reader, perhaps it is news to you, but there was a War.

In the Mexican War, 13,000 Americans died, though only about 1,700 from actual casualties sustained in battle. The rest were picked off by disease, mostly malaria or yellow fever. Some contracted such virulent, extraordinary cases of the latter that their eyes actually bled.

In the American Civil War, well over 600,000 Americans died.

Henry Clay, the Great Compromiser, died in 1852, the same year my son who bears his name was born. His death may be noted not so much as a single mortality but as a thing Charlotte once told me about called a "mass extinction"—it was the end of a definitive historical epoch.

Henry Clay was also rare among great men history looks back on well in that almost the instant he died, his accomplishments were rudely discarded—and by both halves of the country, no less!

In the Great Triumvirate, Daniel Webster was the North; John C. Calhoun was the South; and Henry Clay was the West—the Frontier. That was why he mattered most, both to me personally and to the nation at large. Yet, when he was discarded, I saw the South take up more of his positions than my native land's politicians did. Ohio in but a few decades had gone from the beating heart of the Frontier to a turgid, bureaucratic, cash-crop cow, devoid of all the civic dynamism and spirit I had known as a child.

To top it off, it sent to the Senate the "Ohio Icicle" himself, John Sherman, brother of the general and Republican, to boot.