Democracy, An American Novel
by Henry Adams
First published anonymously, March 1880, and soon in various
unauthorized editions. It wasn't until the 1925 edition that Adams
was listed as author. Henry Adams remarked (ironically as usual),
"The wholesale piracy of Democracy was the single real triumph
of my life."--it was very popular, as readers tried to guess who the
author was and who the characters really were. Chapters XII and
XIII were originally misnumbered.
FOR reasons which many persons thought ridiculous, Mrs. Lightfoot
Lee decided to pass the winter in Washington. She was in excellent
health, but she said that the climate would do her good. In New York
she had troops of friends, but she suddenly became eager to see again
the very small number of those who lived on the Potomac. It was only
to her closest intimates that she honestly acknowledged herself to be
tortured by ennui. Since her husband's death, five years before, she
had lost her taste for New York society; she had felt no interest in
the price of stocks, and very little in the men who dealt in them; she
had become serious. What was it all worth, this wilderness of men and
women as monotonous as the brown stone houses they lived in? In her
despair she had resorted to desperate measures. She had read
philosophy in the original German, and the more she read, the more
she was disheartened that so much culture should lead to
After talking of Herbert Spencer for an entire evening with a very
literary transcendental commission-merchant, she could not see that
her time had been better employed than when in former days she had
passed it in flirting with a very agreeable young stock-broker;
indeed, there was an evident proof to the contrary, for the flirtation
might lead to something--had, in fact, led to marriage; while the
philosophy could lead to nothing, unless it were perhaps to another
evening of the same kind, because transcendental philosophers are
mostly elderly men, usually married, and, when engaged in business,
somewhat apt to be sleepy towards evening. Nevertheless Mrs. Lee did
her best to turn her study to practical use. She plunged into
philanthropy, visited prisons, inspected hospitals, read the
literature of pauperism and crime, saturated herself with the
statistics of vice, until her mind had nearly lost sight of virtue. At
last it rose in rebellion against her, and she came to the limit of
her strength. This path, too, seemed to lead nowhere. She declared
that she had lost the sense of duty, and that, so far as concerned
her, all the paupers and criminals in New York might henceforward rise
in their majesty and manage every railway on the continent. Why should
she care? What was the city to her? She could find nothing in it that
seemed to demand salvation. What gave peculiar sanctity to numbers?
Why were a million people, who all resembled each other, any way more
interesting than one person? What aspiration could she help to put
into the mind of this great million-armed monster that would make it
worth her love or respect? Religion? A thousand powerful churches were
doing their best, and she could see no chance for a new faith of which
she was to be the inspired prophet. Ambition? High popular ideals?
Passion for whatever is lofty and pure? The very words irritated her.
Was she not herself devoured by ambition, and was she not now eating
her heart out because she could find no one object worth a sacrifice?
Was it ambition--real ambition--or was it mere restlessness that
made Mrs. Lightfoot Lee so bitter against New York and Philadelphia,
Baltimore and Boston, American life in general and all life in
particular? What did she want? Not social position, for she herself
was an eminently respectable Philadelphian by birth; her father a
famous clergyman; and her husband had been equally irreproachable, a
descendant of one branch of the Virginia Lees, which had drifted to
New York in search of fortune, and had found it, or enough of it to
keep the young man there. His widow had her own place in society which
no one disputed. Though not brighter than her neighbours, the world
persisted in classing her among clever women; she had wealth, or at
least enough of itto give her all that money can give by way of
pleasure to a sensible woman in an American city; she had her house
and her carriage; she dressed well; her table was good, and her
furniture was never allowed to fall behind the latest standard of
decorative art. She had travelled in Europe, and after several visits,
covering some years of time, had retumed home, carrying in one hand,
as it were, a green-grey landscape, a remarkably pleasing specimen of
Corot, and in the other some bales of Persian and Syrian rugs and
embroideries, Japanese bronzes and porcelain. With this she declared
Europe to be exhausted, and she frankly avowed that she was American
to the tips of her fingers; she neither knew nor greatly cared whether
America or Europe were best to live in; she had no violent love for
either, and she had no objection to abusing both; but she meant to
get all that American life had to offer, good or bad, and to drink it
down to the dregs, fully determined that whatever there was in it she
would have, and that whatever could be made out of it she would
manufacture. "I know," said she, "that America produces petroleum and
pigs; I have seen both on the steamers; and I am told it produces
silver and gold. There is choice enough for any woman."
Yet, as has been already said, Mrs. Lee's first experience was not
a success. She soon declared that New York might represent the
petroleum or the pigs, but the gold of life was not to be discovered
there by her eyes.
Not but that there was variety enough; a variety of people,
occupations, aims, and thoughts; but that all these, after growing to
a certain height, stopped short. They found nothing to hold them up.
She knew, more or less intimately, a dozen men whose fortunes ranged
between one million and forty millions. What did they do with their
money? What could they do with it that was different from what other
men did? After all, it is absurd to spend more money than is enough to
satisfy all one's wants; it is vulgar to live in two houses in the
same street, and to drive six horses abreast. Yet, after setting aside
a certain income sufficient for all one's wants, what was to be done
with the rest? To let it accumulate was to own one's failure; Mrs.
Lee's great grievance was that it did accumulate, without changing or
improving the quality of its owners. To spend it in charity and public
works was doubtless praiseworthy, but was it wise? Mrs. Lee had read
enough political economy and pauper reports to be nearly convinced
that public work should be public duty, and that great benefactions do
harm as well as good.
And even supposing it spent on these objects, how could it do more
than increase and perpetuate that same kind of human nature which was
her great grievance? Her New York friends could not meet this question
except by falling back upon their native commonplaces, which she
recklessly trampled upon, averring that, much as she admired the
genius of the famous traveller, Mr. Gulliver, she never had been able,
since she became a widow, to accept the Brobdingnagian doctrine that
he who made two blades of grass grow where only one grew before
deserved better of mankind than the whole race of politicians. She
would not find fault with the philosopher had he required that the
grass should be of an improved quality; "but," said she, "I cannot
honestly pretend that I should be pleased to see two New York men
where I now see one; the idea is too ridiculous; more than one and a
half would be fatal to me."
Then came her Boston friends, who suggested that higher education
was precisely what she wanted; she should throw herself into a crusade
for universities and art-schools. Mrs. Lee turned upon them with a
sweet smile; "Do you know," said she, "that we have in New York
already the richest university in America, and that its only trouble
has always been that it can get no scholars even by paying for them?
Do you want me to go out into the streets and waylay boys? If the
heathen refuse to be converted, can you give me power over the stake
and the sword to compel them to come in? And suppose you can? Suppose
I march all the boys in Fifth Avenue down to the university and have
them all properly taught Greek and Latin, English literature, ethics,
and German philosophy. What then? You do it in Boston. Now tell me
honestly what comes of it. I suppose you have there a brilliant
society; numbers of poets, scholars, philosophers, statesmen, all up
and down Beacon Street. Your evenings must be sparkling. Your press
must scintillate. How is it that we New Yorkers never hear of it? We
don't go much into your society; but when we do, it doesn't seem so
very much better than our own. You are just like the rest of us. You
grow six inches high, and then you stop. Why will not somebody grow to
be a tree and cast a shadow?"
The average member of New York society, although not unused to
this contemptuous kind of treatment from his leaders, retaliated in
his blind, common-sense way. "What does the woman want?" he said. "Is
her head turned with the Tulieries and Marlborough House? Does she
think herself made for a throne? Why does she not lecture for women's
rights? Why not go on the stage? If she cannot be contented like other
people, what need is there for abusing us just because she feels
herself no taller than we are? What does she expect to get from her
sharp tongue? What does she know, any way?"
Mrs. Lee certainly knew very little. She had read voraciously and
promiscuously one subject after another. Ruskin and Taine had danced
merrily through her mind, hand in hand with Darwin and Stuart Mill,
Gustave Droz and Algernon Swinburne. She had even laboured over the
literature of her own country. She was perhaps, the only woman in New
York who knew something of American history. Certainly she could not
have repeated the list of Presidents in their order, but she knew that
the Constitution divided the goverument into Executive, Legislative,
and Judiciary; she was aware that the President, the Speaker, and the
Chief Justice were important personages, and instinctively she
wondered whether they might not solve her problem; whether they were
the shade trees which she saw in her dreams.
Here, then, was the explanation of her restlessness, discontent,
ambition,--call it what you will. It was the feeling of a passenger
on an ocean steamer whose mind will not give him rest until he has
been in the engine-room and talked with the engineer. She wanted to
see with her own eyes the action of primary forces; to touch with her
own hand the massive machinery of society; to measure with her own
mind the capacity of the motive power. She was bent upon getting to
the heart of the great American mystery of democracy and government.
She cared little where her pursuit might lead her, for she put no
extravagant value upon life, having already, as she said, exhausted at
least two lives, and being fairly hardened to insensibility in the
process. "To lose a husband and a baby," said she, "and keep one's
courage and reason, one must become very hard or very soft. I am now
pure steel. You may beat my heart with a trip-hammer and it will beat
the trip-hammer back again."
Perhaps after exhausting the political world she might try again
elsewhere; she did not pretend to say where she might then go, or
what she should do; but at present she meant to see what amusement
there might be in politics.
Her friends asked what kind of amusement she expected to find
among the illiterate swarm of ordinary people who in Washington
represented constituencies so dreary that in comparison New York was
a New Jerusalem, and Broad Street a grove of Academe. She replied that
if Washington society were so bad as this, she should have gained all
she wanted, for it would be a pleasure to return,--precisely the
feeling she longed for. In her own mind, however, she frowned on the
idea of seeking for men. What she wished to see, she thought, was the
clash of interests, the interests of forty millions of people and a
whole continent, centering at Washington; guided, restrained,
controlled, or unrestrained and uncontrollable, by men of ordinary
mould; the tremendous forces of government, and the machinery of
society, at work. What she wanted, was POWER.
Perhaps the force of the engine was a little confused in her mind
with that of the engineer, the power with the men who wielded it.
Perhaps the human interest of politics was after all what really
attracted her, and, however strongly she might deny it, the passion
for exercising power, for its own sake, might dazzle and mislead a
woman who had exhausted all the ordinary feminine resources. But why
speculate about her motives? The stage was before her, the curtain was
rising, the actors were ready to enter; she had only to go quietly on
among the supernumeraries and see how the play was acted and the stage
effects were produced; how the great tragedians mouthed, and the
ON the first of December, Mrs. Lee took the train for Washington,
and before five o'clock that evening she was entering her newly hired
house on Lafayette Square. She shrugged her shoulders with a mingled
expression of contempt and grief at the curious barbarism of the
curtains and the wall-papers, and her next two days were occupied with
a life-and-death struggle to get the mastery over her surroundings. In
this awful contest the interior of the doomed house suffered as though
a demon were in it; not a chair, not a mirror, not a carpet, was left
untouched, and in the midst of the worst confusion the new mistress
sat, calm as the statue of Andrew Jackson in the square under her
eyes, and issued her orders with as much decision as that hero had
ever shown. Towards the close of the second day, victory crowned her
forehead. A new era, a nobler conception of duty and existence, had
dawned upon that benighted and heathen residence. The wealth of Syria
and Persia was poured out upon the melancholy Wilton carpets;
embroidered comets and woven gold from Japan and Teheran depended from
and covered over every sad stuff-curtain; a strange medley of
sketches, paintings, fans, embroideries, and porcelain was hung,
nailed, pinned, or stuck against the wall; finally the domestic
altarpiece, the mystical Corot landscape, was hoisted to its place
over the parlour fire, and then all was over. The setting sun streamed
softly in at the windows, and peace reigned in that redeemed house and
in the heart of its mistress.
"I think it will do now, Sybil," said she, surveying the scene.
"It must," replied Sybil. "You haven't a plate or a fan or coloured
scarf left. You must send out and buy some of these old negro-women's
bandannas if you are going to cover anything else. What is the use? Do
you suppose any human being in Washington will like it? They will
think you demented."
"There is such a thing as self-respect," replied her sister,
Sybil--Miss Sybil Ross--was Madeleine Lee's sister. The keenest
psychologist could not have detected a single feature quality which
they had in common, and for that reason they were devoted friends.
Madeleine was thirty, Sybil twenty-four. Madeleine was indescribable;
Sybil was transparent. Madeleine was of medium height with a graceful
figure, a well-set head, and enough golden-brown hair to frame a face
full of varying expression. Her eyes were never for two consecutive
hours of the same shade, but were more often blue than grey. People
who envied her smile said that she cultivated a sense of humour in
order to show her teeth. Perhaps they were right; but there was no
doubt that her habit of talking with gesticulation would never have
grown upon her unless she had known that her hands were not only
beautiful but expressive. She dressed as skilfully as New York women
do, but in growing older she began to show symptoms of dangerous
unconventionality. She had been heard to express a low opinion of her
countrywomen who blindly fell down before the golden calf of Mr.
Worth, and she had even fought a battle of great severity, while it
lasted, with one of her best-dressed friends who had been invited--and
had gone--to Mr. Worth's afternoon tea-parties. The secret was that
Mrs. Lee had artistic tendencies, and unless they were checked in
time, there was no knowing what might be the consequence. But as yet
they had done no harm; indeed, they rather helped to give her that
sort of atmosphere which belongs only to certain women; as
indescribable as the afterglow; as impalpable as an Indian summer
mist; and non-existent except to people who feel rather than reason.
Sybil had none of it. The imagination gave up all attempts to soar
where she came. A more straightforward, downright, gay, sympathetic,
shallow, warm-hearted, sternly practical young woman has rarely
touched this planet. Her mind had room for neither grave-stones nor
guide-books; she could not have lived in the past or the future if
she had spent her days in churches and her nights in tombs. "She was
not clever, like Madeleine, thank Heaven." Madeleine was not an
orthodox member of the church; sermons bored her, and clergymen never
failed to irritate every nerve in her excitable system. Sybil was a
simple and devout worshipper at the ritualistic altar; she bent humbly
before the Paulist fathers. When she went to a ball she always had the
best partner in the room, and took it as a matter of course; but then,
she always prayed for one; somehow it strengthened her faith. Her
sister took care never to laugh at her on this score, or to shock her
religious opinions. "Time enough," said she, "for her to forget
religion when religion fails her." As for regular attendance at
church, Madeleine was able to reconcile their habits without trouble.
She herself had not entered a church for years; she said it gave her
unchristian feelings; but Sybil had a voice of excellent quality, well
trained and cultivated: Madeleine insisted that she should sing in the
choir, and by this little manoeuvre, the divergence of their paths was
made less evident. Madeleine did not sing, and therefore could not go
to church with Sybil. This outrageous fallacy seemed perfectly to
answer its purpose, and Sybil accepted it, in good faith, as a fair
working principle which explained itself.
Madeleine was sober in her tastes. She wasted no money. She made
She walked rather than drove, and wore neither diamonds nor
brocades. But the general impression she made was nevertheless one of
luxury. On the other hand, her sister had her dresses from Paris, and
wore them and her ornaments according to all the formulas; she was
good-naturedly correct, and bent her round white shoulders to whatever
burden the Parisian autocrat chose to put upon them. Madeleine never
interfered, and always paid the bills.
Before they had been ten days in Washington, they fell gently into
their place and were carried along without an effort on the stream of
Society was kind; there was no reason for its being otherwise. Mrs.
Lee and her sister had no enemies, held no offices, and did their
best to make themselves popular. Sybil had not passed summers at
Newport and winters in New York in vain; and neither her face nor her
figure, her voice nor her dancing, needed apology. Politics were not
her strong point. She was induced to go once to the Capitol and to sit
ten minutes in the gallery of the Senate. No one ever knew what her
impressions were; with feminine tact she managed not to betray herself
But, in truth, her notion of legislative bodies was vague, floating
between her experience at church and at the opera, so that the idea of
a performance of some kind was never out of her head. To her mind the
Senate was a place where people went to recite speeches, and she
naively assumed that the speeches were useful and had a purpose, but
as they did not interest her she never went again. This is a very
common conception of Congress; many Congressmen share it.
Her sister was more patient and bolder. She went to the Capitol
nearly every day for at least two weeks. At the end of that time her
interest began to flag, and she thought it better to read the debates
every morning in the Congressional Record. Finding this a laborious
and not always an instructive task, she began to skip the dull parts;
and in the absence of any exciting question, she at last resigned
herself to skipping the whole. Nevertheless she still had energy to
visit the Senate gallery occasionally when she was told that a
splendid orator was about to speak on a question of deep interest to
his country. She listened with a little disposition to admire, if she
could; and, whenever she could, she did admire. She said nothing, but
she listened sharply. She wanted to learn how the machinery of
government worked, and what was the quality of the men who controlled
it. One by one, she passed them through her crucibles, and tested them
by acids and by fire.
A few survived her tests and came out alive, though more or less
disfigured, where she had found impurities. Of the whole number, only
one retained under this process enough character to interest her.
In these early visits to Congress, Mrs. Lee sometimes had the
company of John Carrington, a Washington lawyer about forty years
old, who, by virtue of being a Virginian and a distant connection of
her husband, called himself a cousin, and took a tone of
semi-intimacy, which Mrs. Lee accepted because Carrington was a man
whom she liked, and because he was one whom life had treated hardly.
He was of that unfortunate generation in the south which began
existence with civil war, and he was perhaps the more unfortunate
because, like most educated Virginians of the old Washington school,
he had seen from the first that, whatever issue the war took, Virginia
and he must be ruined. At twenty-two he had gone into the rebel army
as a private and carried his musket modestly through a campaign or
two, after which he slowly rose to the rank of senior captain in his
regiment, and closed his services on the staff of a major-general,
always doing scrupulously enough what he conceived to be his duty, and
never doing it with enthusiasm. When the rebel armies surrendered, he
rode away to his family plantation--not a difficult thing to do, for
it was only a few miles from Appomatox--and at once began to study
law; then, leaving his mother and sisters to do what they could with
the worn-out plantation, he began the practice of law in Washington,
hoping thus to support himself and them. He had succeeded after a
fashion, and for the first time the future seemed not absolutely dark.
Mrs. Lee's house was an oasis to him, and he found himself, to his
surprise, aimost gay in her company. The gaiety was of a very qulet
kind, and Sybil, while friendly with him, averred that he was
certainly dull; but this dulness had a fascination for Madeleine, who,
having tasted many more kinds of the wine of life than Sybil, had
learned to value certain delicacies of age and flavour that were lost
upon younger and coarser palates. He talked rather slowly and almost
with effort, but he had something of the dignity--others call it
stiffness--of the old Virginia school, and twenty years of constant
responsibility and deferred hope had added a touch of care that
bordered closely on sadness. His great attraction was that he never
talked or seemed to think of himself. Mrs. Lee trusted in him by
instinct. "He is a type!" said she; "he is my idea of George
Washington at thirty."
One morning in December, Carrington entered Mrs. Lee's parlour
towards noon, and asked if she cared to visit the Capitol.
"You will have a chance of hearing to-day what may be the last
great speech of our greatest statesman," said he; "you should come."
"A splendid sample of our na-tive raw material, sir?" asked she,
fresh from a reading of Dickens, and his famous picture of American
"Precisely so," said Carrington; "the Prairie Giant of Peonia, the
Favourite Son of Illinois; the man who came within three votes of
getting the party nomination for the Presidency last spring, and was
only defeated because ten small intriguers are sharper than one big
one. The Honourable Silas P.
Ratcliffe, Senator from Illinois; he will be run for the Presidency
"What does the P. stand for?" asked Sybil.
"I don't remember ever to have heard his middle name," said
"Perhaps it is Peonia or Prairie; I can't say."
"He is the man whose appearance struck me so much when we were in
the Senate last week, is he not? A great, ponderous man, over six feet
high, very senatorial and dignified, with a large head and rather good
features?" inquired Mrs. Lee.
"The same," replied Carrington. "By all means hear him speak. He
is the stumbling-block of the new President, who is to be allowed no
peace unless he makes terms with Ratcliffe; and so every one thinks
that the Prairie Giant of Peonia will have the choice of the State or
Treasury Department. If he takes either it will be the Treasury, for
he is a desperate political manager, and will want the patronage for
the next national convention."
Mrs. Lee was delighted to hear the debate, and Carrington was
delighted to sit through it by her side, and to exchange running
comments with her on the speeches and the speakers.
"Have you ever met the Senator?" asked she.
"I have acted several times as counsel before his committees. He is
an excellent chairman, always attentive and generally civil."
"Where was he born?"
"The family is a New England one, and I believe respectable. He
came, I think, from some place in the Connecticut Valley, but whether
Vermont, New Hampshire, or Massachusetts, I don't know."
"Is he an educated man?"
"He got a kind of classical education at one of the country
I suspect he has as much education as is good for him. But he went
West very soon after leaving college, and being then young and fresh
from that hot-bed of abolition, he threw himself into the anti-slavery
movement m Illinois, and after a long struggle he rose with the wave.
He would not do the same thing now."
"He is older, more experienced, and not so wise. Besides, he has
no longer the time to wait. Can you see his eyes from here? I call
them Yankee eyes."
"Don't abuse the Yankees," said Mrs. Lee; "I am half Yankee
"Is that abuse? Do you mean to deny that they have eyes?"
"I concede that there may be eyes among them; but Virginians are
not fair judges of their expression."
"Cold eyes," he continued; "steel grey, rather small, not
unpleasant in good-humour, diabolic in a passion, but worst when a
little suspicious; then they watch you as though you were a young
rattle-snake, to be killed when convenient."
"Does he not look you in the face?"
"Yes; but not as though he liked you. His eyes only seem to ask the
possible uses you might be put to. Ah, the vice-president has given
him the floor; now we shall have it. Hard voice, is it not? like his
eyes. Hard manner, like his voice. Hard all through."
"What a pity he is so dreadfully senatorial!" said Mrs. Lee;
"otherwise I rather admire him."
"Now he is settling down to his work," continued Carrington. "See
how he dodges all the sharp issues. What a thing it is to be a
Yankee! What a genius the fellow has for leading a party! Do you see
how well it is all done? The new President flattered and conciliated,
the party united and given a strong lead. And now we shall see how the
President will deal with him. Ten to one on Ratcliffe. Come, there is
that stupid ass from Missouri getting up. Let us go."
As they passed down the steps and out into the Avenue, Mrs. Lee
turned to Carrington as though she had been reflecting deeply and had
at length reached a decision.
"Mr. Carrington," said she, "I want to know Senator Ratcliffe."
"You will meet him to-morrow evening," replied Carrington, "at
your senatorial dinner."
The Senator from New York, the Honourable Schuyler Clinton, was an
old admirer of Mrs. Lee, and his wife was a cousin of hers, more or
less distant. They had lost no time in honouring the letter of credit
she thus had upon them, and invited her and her sister to a solemn
dinner, as imposing as political dignity could make it. Mr.
Carrington, as a connection of hers, was one of the party, and almost
the only one among the twenty persons at table who had neither an
office, nor a title, nor a constituency.
Senator Clinton received Mrs. Lee and her sister with tender
enthusiasm, for they were attractive specimens of his constituents.
He pressed their hands and evidently restrained himself only by an
effort from embracing them, for the Senator had a marked regard for
pretty women, and had made love to every girl with any pretensions to
beauty that had appeared in the State of New York for fully half a
century. At the same time he whispered an apology in her ear; he
regretted so much that he was obliged to forego the pleasure of taking
her to dinner; Washington was the only city in America where this
could have happened, but it was a fact that ladies here were very
great stickiers for etiquette; on the other hand he had the sad
consolation that she would be the gainer, for he had allotted to her
Lord Skye, the British Minister, "a most agreeable man and not
married, as I have the misfortune to be;" and on the other side "I
have ventured to place Senator Ratcliffe, of Illinois, whose admirable
speech I saw you listening to with such rapt attention yesterday. I
thought you might like to know him. Did I do right?"
Madeleine assured him that he had divined her inmost wishes, and
he turned with even more warmth of affection to her sister: "As for
you, my dear--dear Sybil, what can I do to make your dinner
agreeable? If I give your sister a coronet, I am only sorry not to
have a diadem for you. But I have done everything in my power. The
first Secretary of the Russian Legation, Count Popoff, will take you
in; a charming young man, my dear Sybil; and on your other side I have
placed the Assistant Secretary of State, whom you know."
And so, after the due delay, the party settled themselves at the
dinner-table, and Mrs. Lee found Senator Ratcliffe's grey eyes
resting on her face for a moment as they sat down.
Lord Skye was very agreeable, and, at almost any other moment of
her life, Mrs. Lee would have liked nothing better than to talk with
him from the beginning to the end of her dinner. Tall, slender,
bald-headed, awkward, and stammering with his elaborate British
stammer whenever it suited his convenience to do so; a sharp observer
who had wit which he commonly concealed; a humourist who was satisfied
to laugh silently at his own humour; a diplomatist who used the mask
of frankness with great effect; Lord Skye was one of the most popular
men in Washington. Every one knew that he was a ruthless critic of
American manners, but he had the art to combine ridicule with
good-humour, and he was all the more popular accordingly. He was an
outspoken admirer of American women in everything except their voices,
and he did not even shrink from occasionally quizzing a little the
national peculiarities of his own countrywomen; a sure piece of
flattery to their American cousins. He would gladly have devoted
himself to Mrs. Lee, but decent civility required that he should pay
some attention to his hostess, and he was too good a diplomatist not
to be attentive to a hostess who was the wife of a Senator, and that
Senator the chairman of the committee of foreign relations.
The moment his head was turned, Mrs. Lee dashed at her Peonia
Giant, who was then consuming his fish, and wishing he understood why
the British Minister had worn no gloves, while he himself had
sacrificed his convictions by wearing the largest and whitest pair of
French kids that could be bought for money on Pennsylvania Avenue.
There was a little touch of mortification in the idea that he was not
quite at home among fashionable people, and at this instant he felt
that true happiness was only to be found among the simple and honest
sons and daughters of toil. A certain secret jealousy of the British
Minister is always lurking in the breast of every American Senator, if
he is truly democratic; for democracy, rightly understood, is the
government of the people, by the people, for the benefit of Senators,
and there is always a danger that the British Minister may not
understand this political principle as he should. Lord Skye had run
the risk of making two blunders; of offending the Senator from New
York by neglecting his wife, and the Senator from Illinois by
engrossing the attention of Mrs. Lee. A young Englishman would have
done both, but Lord Skye had studied the American constitution. The
wife of the Senator from New York now thought him most agreeable, and
at the same moment the Senator from Illinois awoke to the conviction
that after all, even in frivolous and fashionable circles, true
dignity is in no danger of neglect; an American Senator represents a
sovereign state; the great state of Illinois is as big as
England--with the convenient omission of Wales, Scotland, Ireland,
Canada, India, Australia, and a few other continents and islands; and
in short, it was perfectly clear that Lord Skye was not formidable to
him, even in light society; had not Mrs. Lee herself as good as said
that no position equaHed that of an American Senator?
In ten minutes Mrs. Lee had this devoted statesman at her feet. She
had not studied the Senate without a purpose. She had read with
unerring instinct one general characteristic of all Senators, a
boundless and guileless thirst for flattery, engendered by daily
draughts from political friends or dependents, then becoming a
necessity like a dram, and swallowed with a heavy smile of ineffable
content. A single glance at Mr. Ratcliffe's face showed Madeleine that
she need not be afraid of flattering too grossly; her own
self-respect, not his, was the only restraint upon her use of this
She opened upon him with an apparent simplicity and gravity, a
quiet repose of manner, and an evident consciousness of her own
strength, which meant that she was most dangerous.
"I heard your speech yesterday, Mr. Ratcliffe. I am glad to have a
chance of telling you how much I was impressed by it. It seemed to me
masterly. Do you not find that it has had a great effect?"
"I thank you, madam. I hope it will help to unite the party, but as
yet we have had no time to measure its results. That will require
several days more." The Senator spoke in his senatorial manner,
elaborate, condescending, and a little on his guard.
"Do you know," said Mrs. Lee, turning towards him as though he
were a valued friend, and looking deep into his eyes, "Do you know
that every one told me I should be shocked by the falling off in
political ability at Washington? I did not believe them, and since
hearing your speech I am sure they are mistaken. Do you yourself
think there is less ability in Congress than there used to be?"
"Well, madam, it is difficult to answer that question. Government
is not so easy now as it was formerly. There are different customs.
There are many men of fair abilities in public life; many more than
there used to be; and there is sharper criticism and more of it."
"Was I right in thinking that you have a strong resemblance to
Daniel Webster in your way of speaking? You come from the same
neighbourhood, do you not?"
Mrs. Lee here hit on Ratcliffe's weak point; the outline of his
head had, in fact, a certain resemblance to that of Webster, and he
prided himself upon it, and on a distant relationship to the
Expounder of the Constitution; he began to think that Mrs. Lee was a
very intelligent person. His modest admission of the resemblance gave
her the opportunity to talk of Webster 's oratory, and the
conversation soon spread to a discussion of the merits of Clay and
Calhoun. The Senator found that his neighbour--a fashionable New York
woman, exquisitely dressed, and with a voice and manner seductively
soft and gentle--had read the speeches of Webster and Calhoun. She did
not think it necessary to tell him that she had persuaded the honest
Carrington to bring her the volumes and to mark such passages as were
worth her reading; but she took care to lead the conversation, and she
criticised with some skill and more humour the weak points in
Websterian oratory, saying with a little laugh and a glance into his
"My judgment may not be worth much, Mr. Senator, but it does seem
to me that our fathers thought too much of themselves, and till you
teach me better I shall continue to think that the passage in your
speech of yesterday which began with, 'Our strength lies in this
twisted and tangled mass of isolated principles, the hair of the
half-sleeping giant of Party,' is both for language and imagery quite
equal to anything of Webster's."
The Senator from Illinois rose to this gaudy fly like a huge,
two-hundred-pound salmon; his white waistcoat gave out a mild silver
reflection as he slowly came to the surface and gorged the hook. He
made not even a plunge, not one perceptible effort to tear out the
barbed weapon, but, floating gently to her feet, allowed himself to be
landed as though it were a pleasure. Only miserable casuists will ask
whether this was fair play on Madeleine's part; whether flattery so
gross cost her conscience no twinge, and whether any woman can without
self-abasement be guilty of such shameless falsehood. She, however,
scorned the idea of falsehood. She would have defended herself by
saying that she had not so much praised Ratcliffe as depreciated
Webster, and that she was honest in her opinion of the old-fashioned
American oratory. But she could not deny that she had wilfully allowed
the Senator to draw conclusions very different from any she actually
held. She could not deny that she had intended to flatter him to the
extent necessary for her purpose, and that she was pleased at her
success. Before they rose from table the Senator had quite unbent
himself; he was talking naturally, shrewdly, and with some humour; he
had told her Illinois stories; spoken with extraordinary freedom about
his political situation; and expressed the wish to call upon Mrs.
Lee, if he could ever hope to find her at home.
"I am always at home on Sunday evenings," said she.
To her eyes he was the high-priest of American politics; he was
charged with the meaning of the mysteries, the clue to political
hieroglyphics. Through him she hoped to sound the depths of
statesmanship and to bring up from its oozy bed that pearl of which
she was in search; the mysterious gem which must lie hidden somewhere
in politics. She wanted to understand this man; to turn him inside
out; to experiment on him and use him as young physiologists use frogs
and kittens. If there was good or bad in him, she meant to find its
And he was a western widower of fifty; his quarters in Washington
were in gaunt boarding-house rooms, furnished only with public
documents and enlivened by western politicians and office-seekers. In
the summer he retired to a solitary, white framehouse with green
blinds, surrounded by a few feet of uncared-for grass and a white
fence; its interior more dreary still, with iron stoves, oil-cloth
carpets, cold white walls, and one large engraving of Abraham Lincoln
in the parlour; all in Peonia, Illinois! What equality was there
between these two combatants? what hope for him? what risk for her?
And yet Madeleine Lee had fully her match in Mr. Silas P. Ratcliffe.
MRS. Lee soon became popular. Her parlour was a favourite haunt of
certain men and women who had the art of finding its mistress at home;
an art which seemed not to be within the powers of everybody.
Carrington was apt to be there more often than any one else, so that
he was looked on as almost a part of the family, and if Madeleine
wanted a book from the library, or an extra man at her dinner-table,
Carrington was pretty certain to help her to the one or the other. Old
Baron Jacobi, the Bulgarian minister, fell madly in love with both
sisters, as he commonly did with every pretty face and neat figure. He
was a witty, cynical, broken-down Parisian roué, kept in Washington
for years past by his debts and his salary; always grumbling because
there was no opera, and mysteriously disappearing on visits to New
York; a voracious devourer of French and German literature, especially
of novels; a man who seemed to have met every noted or notorious
personage of the century, and whose mmd was a magazine of amusing
information; an excellent musical critic, who was not afraid to
criticise Sybil's singing; a connoisseur in bric-à-brac, who laughed
at Madeleine's display of odds and ends, and occasionally brought her
a Persian plate or a bit of embroidery, which he said was good and
would do her credit. This old sinner believed in everything that was
perverse and wicked, but he accepted the prejudices of Anglo-Saxon
society, and was too clever to obtrude his opinions upon others.
He would have married both sisters at once more willingly than
either alone, but as he feelingly said, "If I were forty years
younger, mademoiselle, you should not sing to me so calmly." His
friend Popoff, an intelligent, vivacious Russian, with very Calmuck
features, susceptible as a girl, and passionately fond of music, hung
over Sybil's piano by the hour; he brought Russian airs which he
taught her to sing, and, if the truth were known, he bored Madeleine
desperately, for she undertook to act the part of duenna to her
A very different visitor was Mr. C. C. French, a young member of
Congress from Connecticut, who aspired to act the part of the
educated gentleman in politics, and to purify the public tone. He had
reform principles and an unfortunately conceited maimer; he was rather
wealthy, rather clever, rather well-educated, rather honest, and
rather vulgar. His allegiance was divided between Mrs. Lee and her
sister, whom he infuriated by addressing as "Miss Sybil" with
patronising familiarity. He was particularly strong in what he called
"badinaige," and his playful but ungainly attempts at wit drove Mrs.
Lee beyond the bounds of patience. When in a solemn mood, he
talked as though he were practising for the ear of a college debating
society, and with a still worse effect on the patience; but with all
this he was useful, always bubbling with the latest political gossip,
and deeply interested in the fate of party stakes. Quite another sort
of person was Mr. Hartbeest Schneidekoupon, a citizen of Philadelphia,
though commonly resident in New York, where he had fallen a victim to
Sybil's charms, and made efforts to win her young affections by
instructing her in the mysteries of currency and protection, to both
which subjects he was devoted. To forward these two interests and to
watch over Miss Ross's welfare, he made periodical visits to
Washington, where he closeted himself with committee-men and gave
expensive dinners to members of Congress. Mr. Schneidekoupon was rich,
and about thirty years old, tall and thin, with bright eyes and smooth
face, elaborate manners and much loquacity. He had the reputation of
turning rapid intellectual somersaults, partly to amuse himself and
partly to startle society. At one moment he was artistic, and
discoursed scientifically about his own paintings; at another he was
literary, and wrote a book on "Noble Living," with a humanitarian
purpose; at another he was devoted to sport, rode a steeplechase,
played polo, and set up a four-in-hand; his last occupation was to
establish in Philadelphia the Protective Review, a periodical in the
interests of American industry, which he edited himself, as a
stepping-stone to Congress, the Cabinet, and the Presidency. At about
the same time he bought a yacht, and heavy bets were pending among his
sporting friends whether he would manage to sink first his Review or
his yacht. But he was an amiable and excellent fellow through all his
eccentricities, and he brought to Mrs. Lee the simple outpourings of
the amateur politician.
A much higher type of character was Mr. Nathan Gore, of
Massachusetts, a handsome man with a grey beard, a straight, sharply
cut nose, and a fine, penetrating eye; in his youth a successful poet
whose satires made a noise in their day, and are still remembered for
the pungency and wit of a few verses; then a deep student in Europe
for many years, until his famous "History of Spain in America" placed
him instantly at the head of American historians, and made him
minister at Madrid, where he remained four years to his entire
satisfaction, this being the nearest approach to a patent of nobility
and a government pension which the American citizen can attain. A
change of administration had reduced him to private life again, and
after some years of retirement he was now in Washington, willing to be
restored to his old mission. Every President thinks it respectable to
have at least one literary man in his pay, and Mr. Gore's prospects
were fair for obtaining his object, as he had the active support of a
majority of the Massachusetts delegation. He was abominably selfish,
colossally egoistic, and not a little vain; but he was shrewd; he
knew how to hold his tongue; he could flatter dexterously, and he had
learned to eschew satire. Only in confidence and among friends he
would still talk freely, but Mrs. Lee was not yet on those terms with
him. These were all men, and there was no want of women in Mrs.
Lee's parlour; but, after all, they are able to describe themselves
better than any poor novelist can describe them. Generally two
currents of conversation ran on together--one round Sybil, the other
"Mees Ross," said Count Popoff, leading in a handsome young
foreigner, "I have your permission to present to you my friend Count
Orsini, Secretary of the Italian Legation. Are you at home this
afternoon? Count Orsini sings also."
"We are charmed to see Count Orsini. It is well you came so late,
for I have this moment come in from making Cabinet calls. They were
so queer! I have been crying with laughter for an hour past." "Do you
find these calls amusing?" asked Popoff, gravely and diplomatically.
"Indeed I do! I went with Julia Schneidekoupon, you know, Madeleine;
the Schneidekoupons are descended from all the Kings of Israel, and
are prouder than Solomon in his glory. And when we got into the house
of some dreadful woman from Heaven knows where, imagine my feelings at
overhearing this conversation: 'What may be your family name, ma'am?'
'Schneidekoupon is my name,' replies Julia, very tall and straight.
'Have you any friends whom I should likely know?' 'I think not,' says
Julia, severely. 'Wal! I don't seem to remember of ever having heerd
the name. But I s'pose it's all right. I like to know who calls.' I
almost had hysterics when we got into the street, but Julia could not
see the joke at all."
Count Orsini was not quite sure that he himself saw the joke, so he
only smiled becomingly and showed his teeth. For simple, childlike
vanity and self-consciousness nothing equals an Italian Secretary of
Legation at twenty-five. Yet conscious that the effect of his personal
beauty would perhaps be diminished by permanent silence, he ventured
to murmur presently:
"Do you not find it very strange, this society in America?"
"Society!" laughed Sybil with gay contempt. "There are no snakes
in America, any more than in Norway."
"Snakes, mademoiselle!" repeated Orsini, with the doubtful
expression of one who is not quite certain whether he shall risk
walking on thin ice, and decides to go softly: "Snakes! Indeed they
would rather be doves I would call them."
A kind laugh from Sybil strengthened into conviction his hope that
he had made a joke in this unknown tongue. His face brightened, his
confidence returned; once or twice he softly repeated to himself: "Not
snakes; they would be doves!" But Mrs. Lee's sensitive ear had caught
Sybil's remark, and detected in it a certain tone of condescension
which was not to her taste.
The impassive countenances of these bland young Secretaries of
Legation seemed to acquiesce far too much as a matter of course in
the idea that there was no society except in the old world. She broke
into the conversation with an emphasis that fluttered the dove-cote:
"Society in America? Indeed there is society in America, and very
good society too; but it has a code of its own, and new-comers seldom
understand it. I will tell you what it is, Mr. Orsini, and you will
never be in danger of making any mistake. 'Society' in America means
all the honest, kindly-mannered, pleasant-voiced women, and all the
good, brave, unassuming men, between the Atlantic and the Pacific.
Each of these has a free pass in every city and village, 'good for
this generation only,' and it depends on each to make use of this pass
or not as it may happen to suit his or her fancy. To this rule there
are no exceptions, and those who say 'Abraham is our father' will
surely furnish food for that humour which is the staple product of our
The alarmed youths, who did not in the least understand the
meaning of this demonstration, looked on with a feeble attempt at
acquiescence, while Mrs.
Lee brandished her sugar-tongs in the act of transferring a lump of
sugar to her cup, quite unconscious of the slight absurdity of the
gesture, while Sybil stared in amazement, for it was not often that
her sister waved the stars and stripes so energetically. Whatever
their silent criticisms might be, however, Mrs. Lee was too much in
earnest to be conscious of them, or, indeed, to care for anything but
what she was saying. There was a moment's pause when she came to the
end of her speech, and then the thread of talk was quietly taken up
again where Sybil's incipient sneer had broken it.
Carrington came in. "What have you been doing at the Capitol?"
"Lobbying!" was the reply, given in the semi-serious tone of
"So soon, and Congress only two days old?" exclaimed Mrs. Lee.
"Madam," rejoined Carrington, with his quietest malice,
"Congressmen are like birds of the air, which are caught only by the
early worm." "Good afternoon, Mrs. Lee. Miss Sybil, how do you do
again? Which of these gentlemen's hearts are you feeding upon now?"
This was the refined style of Mr. French, indulging in what he was
pleased to term "badinaige." He, too, was on his way from the Capitol,
and had come in for a cup of tea and a little human society. Sybil
made a face which plainly expressed a longing to inflict on Mr. French
some grievous personal wrong, but she pretended not to hear. He sat
down by Madeleine, and asked, "Did you see Ratcliffe yesterday?"
"Yes," said Madeleine; "he was here last evening with Mr.
Carrington and one or two others."
"Did he say anything about politics?"
"Not a word. We talked mostly about books."
"Books! What does he know about books?"
"You must ask him."
"Well, this is the most ridiculous situation we are all in. No one
knows anything about the new President. You could take your oath that
everybody is in the dark. Ratcliffe says he knows as little as the
rest of us, but it can't be true; he is too old a politician not to
have wires in his hand; and only to-day one of the pages of the
Senate told my colleague Cutter that a letter sent off by him
yesterday was directed to Sam Grimes, of North Bend, who, as every
one knows, belongs to the President's particular crowd. --Why, Mr.
Schneidekoupon! How do you do? When did you come on?"
"Thank you; this morning," replied Mr. Schneidekoupon, just
entering the room. "So glad to see you again, Mrs. Lee. How do you
and your sister like Washington? Do you know I have brought Julia on
for a visit? I thought I should find her here.
"She has just gone. She has been all the afternoon with Sybil,
She says you want her here to lobby for you, Mr. Schneidekoupon.
Is it true?"
"So I did," replied he, with a laugh, "but she is precious little
use. So I've come to draft you into the service."
"Yes; you know we all expect Senator Ratcliffe to be Secretary of
the Treasury, and it is very important for us to keep him straight on
the currency and the tariff. So I have come on to establish more
intimate relations with him, as they say in diplomacy. I want to get
him to dine with me at Welckley's, but as I know he keeps very shy of
politics I thought my only chance was to make it a ladies' dinner, so
I brought on Julia. I shall try and get Mrs. Schuyler Clinton, and I
depend upon you and your sister to help Julia out."
"Me! at a lobby dinner! Is that proper?"
"Why not? You shall choose the guests."
"I never heard of such a thing; but it would certainly be amusing.
Sybil must not go, but I might." "Excuse me; Julia depends upon Miss
Ross, and will not go to table without her."
"Well," assented Mrs. Lee, hesitatingly, "perhaps if you get Mrs.
Clinton, and if your sister is there And who else?"
"Choose your own company."
"I know no one."
"Oh yes; here is French, not quite sound on the tariff, but good
for what we want just now. Then we can get Mr. Gore; he has his little
hatchet to grind too, and will be glad to help grind ours. We only
want two or three more, and I will have an extra man or so to fill
"Do ask the Speaker. I want to know him."
"I will, and Carrington, and my Pennsylvania Senator. That will do
Remember, Welckley's, Saturday at seven."
Meanwhile Sybil had been at the piano, and when she had sung for a
time, Orsini was induced to take her place, and show that it was
possible to sing without injury to one's beauty. Baron Jacobi came in
and found fault with them both. Little Miss Dare--commonly known among
her male friends as little Daredevil--who was always absorbed in some
flirtation with a Secretary of Legation, came in, quite unaware that
Popoff was present, and retired with him into a corner, while Orsini
and Jacobi bullied poor Sybil, and fought with each other at the
piano; everybody was talking with very little reference to any reply,
when at last Mrs. Lee drove them all out of the room: "We are quiet
people," said she, "and we dine at half-past six."
Senator Ratcliffe had not failed to make his Sunday evening call
Lee. Perhaps it was not strictly correct to say that they had
talked books all the evening, but whatever the conversation was, it
had only confirmed Mr. Ratcliffe's admiration for Mrs. Lee, who,
without intending to do so, had acted a more dangerous part than if
she had been the most accomplished of coquettes. Nothing could be
more fascinating to the weary politician in his solitude than the
repose of Mrs. Lee's parlour, and when Sybil sang for him one or two
simple airs--she said they were foreign hymns, the Senator being, or
being considered, orthodox--Mr. Ratcliffe's heart yearned toward the
charming girl quite with the sensations of a father, or even of an
His brother senators very soon began to remark that the Prairie
Giant had acquired a trick of looking up to the ladies' gallery. One
day Mr. Jonathan Andrews, the special correspondent of the New York
Sidereal System, a very friendly organ, approached Senator Schuyler
Clinton with a puzzled look on his face.
"Can you tell me," said he, "what has happened to Silas P.
Ratcliffe? Only a moment ago I was talking with him at his seat on a
very important subject, about which I must send his opinions off to
New York to-night, when, in the middle of a sentence, he stopped
short, got up without looking at me, and left the Senate Chamber, and
now I see him in the gallery talking with a lady whose face I don't
Senator Clinton slowly adjusted his gold eye-glasses and looked up
at the place indicated: "Ah! Mrs. Lightfoot Lee! I think I will say a
word to her myself;" and turning his back on the special
correspondent, he skipped away with youthful agility after the
Senator from Illinois.
"Devil!" muttered Mr. Andrews; "what has got into the old fools?"
and in a still less audible murmur as he looked up to Mrs. Lee, then
in close conversation with Ratcliffe: "Had I better make an item of
When young Mr. Schneidekoupon called upon Senator Ratcliffe to
invite him to the dinner at Welckley's, he found that gentleman
overwhelmed with work, as he averred, and very little disposed to
converse. No! he did not now go out to dinner. In the present
condition of the public business he found it impossible to spare the
time for such amusements. He regretted to decline Mr.
Schneidekoupon's civility, but there were imperative reasons why he
should abstain for the present from social entertainments; he had made
but one exception to his rule, and only at the pressing request of his
old friend Senator Clinton, and on a very special occasion.
Mr. Schneidekoupon was deeply vexed--the more, he said, because he
had meant to beg Mr. and Mrs. Clinton to be of the party, as well as a
very charming lady who rarely went into society, but who had almost
consented to come.
"Who is that?" inquired the Senator.
"A Mrs. Lightfoot Lee, of New York. Probably you do not know her
well enough to admire her as I do; but I think her quite the most
intelligent woman I ever met."
The Senator's cold eyes rested for a moment on the young man's
open face with a peculiar expression of distrust. Then he solemnly
said, in his deepest senatorial tones:
"My young friend, at my time of life men have other things to
occupy them than women, however intelligent they may be. Who else is
to be of your party?"
Mr. Schneidekoupon named his list.
"And for Saturday evening at seven, did you say?"
"Saturday at seven."
"I fear there is little chance of my attending, but I will not
absolutely decline. Perhaps when the moment arrives, I may find
myself able to be there. But do not count upon me--do not count upon
me. Good day, Mr.
Schneidekoupon was rather a simple-minded young man, who saw no
deeper than his neighbours into the secrets of the universe, and he
went off swearing roundly at "the infernal airs these senators give
themselves." He told Mrs.
Lee all the conversation, as indeed he was compelled to do under
penalty of bringing her to his party under false pretences.
"Just my luck," said he; "here I am forced to ask no end of people
to meet a man, who at the same time says he shall probably not come.
Why, under the stars, couldn't he say, like other people, whether he
was coming or not?
I've known dozens of senators, Mrs. Lee, and they're all like that.
They never think of any one but themselves."
Mrs. Lee smiled rather a forced smile, and soothed his wounded
feelings; she had no doubt the dinner would be very agreeable whether
the Senator were there or not; at any rate she would do all she could
to carry it off well, and Sybil should wear her newest dress. Still
she was a little grave, and Mr. Schneidekoupon could only declare that
she was a trump; that he had told Ratcliffe she was the cleverest
woman he ever met, and he might have added the most obliging, and
Ratcliffe had only looked at him as though he were a green ape. At all
which Mrs. Lee laughed good-naturedly, and sent him away as soon as
When he was gone, she walked up and down the room and thought. She
saw the meaning of Ratcliffe's sudden change in tone. She had no more
doubt of his coming to the dinner than she had of the reason why he
came. And was it possible that she was being drawn into something very
near a flirtation with a man twenty years her senior; a politician
from Illinois; a huge, ponderous, grey-eyed, bald senator, with a
Websterian head, who lived in Peonia? The idea was almost too absurd
to be credited; but on the whole the thing itself was rather amusing.
"I suppose senators can look out for themselves like other men," was
her final conclusion. She thought only of his danger, and she felt a
sort of compassion for him as she reflected on the possible
consequences of a great, absorbing love at his time of life.
Her conscience was a little uneasy; but of herself she never
thought. Yet it is a historical fact that elderly senators have had a
curious fascination for young and handsome women. Had they looked out
for themselves too? And which parties most needed to be looked after?
When Madeleine and her sister arrived at Welckley's 's the next
Saturday evening, they found poor Schneidekoupon in a temper very
unbecoming a host.
"He won't come! I told you he wouldn't come!" said he to
Madeleine, as he handed her into the house. "If I ever turn
communist, it will be for the fun of murdering a senator."
Madeleine consoled him gently, but he continued to use, behind Mr.
Clinton's back, language the most offensive and improper towards the
Senate, and at last, ringing the bell, he sharply ordered the head
waiter to serve dinner.
At that very moment the door opened, and Senator Ratcliffe's
stately figure appeared on the threshold. His eye instantly caught
Madeleine's, and she almost laughed aloud, for she saw that the
Senator was dressed with very unsenatorial neatness; that he had
actually a flower in his burton-hole and no gloves!
After the enthusiastic description which Schneidekoupon had given
Lee's charms, he could do no less than ask Senator Ratcliffe to
take her in to dinner, which he did without delay. Either this, or the
champagne, or some occult influence, had an extraordinary effect upon
him. He appeared ten years younger than usual; his face was
illuminated; his eyes glowed; he seemed bent on proving his kinship
to the immortal Webster by rivalling his convivial powers. He dashed
into the conversation; laughed, jested, and ridiculed; told stories in
Yankee and Western dialect; gave sharp little sketches of amusing
"Never was more surprised in my life," whispered Senator Krebs, of
Pennsylvania, across the table to Schneidekoupon. "Hadn't an idea that
Ratcliffe was so entertaining."
And Mr. Clinton, who sat by Madeleine on the other side, whispered
low into her ear: "I am afraid, my dear Mrs. Lee, that you are
responsible for this.
He never talks so to the Senate."
Nay, he even rose to a higher flight, and told the story of
President Lincoln's death-bed with a degree of feeling that brought
tears into their eyes. The other guests made no figure at all. The
Speaker consumed his solitary duck and his lonely champagne in a
corner without giving a sign.
Even Mr. Gore, who was not wont to hide his light under any kind
of extinguisher, made no attempt to claim the floor, and applauded
with enthusiasm the conversation of his opposite neighbour.
Ill-natured people might say that Mr. Gore saw in Senator Ratcliffe a
possible Secretary of State; be this as it may, he certainly said to
Mrs. Clinton, in an aside that was perfectly audible to every one at
the table: "How brilliant! what an original mind! what a sensation he
would make abroad!" And it was quite true, apart from the mere
momentary effect of dinner-table talk, that there was a certain
bigness about the man; a keen practical sagacity; a bold freedom of
self-assertion; a broad way of dealing with what he knew.
Carrington was the only person at table who looked on with a
perfectly cool head, and who criticised in a hostile spirit.
Carrington's impression of Ratcliffe was perhaps beginning to be
warped by a shade of jealousy, for he was in a peculiarly bad temper
this evening, and his irritation was not wholly concealed.
"If one only had any confidence in the man!" he muttered to
French, who sat by him.
This unlucky remark set French to thinking how he could draw
Ratcliffe out, and accordingly, with his usual happy manner,
combining self-conceit and high principles, he began to attack the
Senator with some "badinaige" on the delicate subject of Civil
Service Reform, a subject almost as dangerous in political
conversation at Washington as slavery itself in old days before the
war. French was a reformer, and lost no occasion of impressing his
views; but unluckily he was a very light weight, and his manner was a
little ridiculous, so that even Mrs. Lee, who was herself a warm
reformer, sometimes went over to the other side when he talked. No
sooner had he now shot his little arrow at the Senator, than that
astute man saw his opportunity, and promised himself the pleasure of
administering to Mr.
French punishment such as he knew would delight the company.
Reformer as Mrs. Lee was, and a little alarmed at the roughness of
Ratcliffe's treatment, she could not blame the Prairie Giant, as she
ought, who, after knocking poor French down, rolled him over and over
in the mud.
"Are you financier enough, Mr. French, to know what are the most
famous products of Connecticut?"
Mr. French modestly suggested that he thought its statesmen best
answered that description.
"No, sir! even there you're wrong. The showmen beat you on your
But every child in the union knows that the most famous products
of Connecticut are Yankee notions, nutmegs made of wood and clocks
that won't go. Now, your Civil Service Reform is just such another
Yankee notion; it's a wooden nutmeg; it's a clock with a show case and
sham works. And you know it! You are precisely the old-school
Connecticut peddler. You have gone about peddling your wooden nutmegs
until you have got yourself into Congress, and now you pull them out
of your pockets and not only want us to take them at your own price,
but you lecture us on our sins if we don't.
Well! we don't mind your doing that at home. Abuse us as much as
you like to your constituents. Get as many votes as you can. But
don't electioneer here, because we know you intimately, and we've all
been a little in the wooden nutmeg business ourselves."
Senator Clinton and Senator Krebs chuckied high approval over this
punishment of poor French, which was on the level of their idea of
wit. They were all in the nutmeg business, as Ratcliffe said. The
victim tried to make head against them; he protested that his nutmegs
were genuine; he sold no goods that he did not guarantee; and that
this particular article was actually guaranteed by the national
conventions of both political parties.
"Then what you want, Mr. French, is a common school education. You
need a little study of the alphabet. Or if you won't believe me, ask
my brother senators here what chance there is for your Reforms so long
as the American citizen is what he "You'll not get much comfort in my
State, Mr. French," growled the senator from Pennsylvania, with a
sneer; "suppose you come and try."
"Well, well!" said the benevolent Mr. Schuyler Clinton, gleaming
benignantly through his gold spectacles; "don't be too hard on
French. He means well.
Perhaps he's not very wise, but he does good. I know more about it
than any of you, and I don't deny that the thing is all bad. Only, as
Mr. Ratcliffe says, the difficulty is in the people, not in us. Go to
work on them, French, and let us alone."
French repented of his attack, and contented himself by muttering
to Carrington: "What a set of damned old reprobates they are!"
"They are right, though, in one thing," was Carrington's reply:
"their advice is good. Never ask one of them to reform anything; if
you do, you will be reformed yourself."
The dinner ended as brilliantly as it began, and Schneidekoupon
was delighted with his success. He had made himself particularly
agreeable to Sybil by confiding in her all his hopes and fears about
the tariff and the finances. When the ladies left the table, Ratcliffe
could not stay for a cigar; he must get back to his rooms, where he
knew several men were waiting for him; he would take his leave of the
ladies and hurry away. But when the gentlemen came up nearly an hour
afterwards they found Ratcliffe still taking his leave of the ladies,
who were delighted at his entertaining conversation; and when at last
he really departed, he said to Mrs. Lee, as though it were quite a
matter of course: "You are at home as usual to-morrow evening?"
Madeleine smiled, bowed, and he went his way.
As the two sisters drove home that night, Madeleine was unusually
Sybil yawned convulsively and then apologized:
"Mr. Schneidekoupon is very nice and good-natured, but a whole
evening of him goes a long way; and that horrid Senator Krebs would
not say a word, and drank a great deal too much wine, though it
couldn't make him any more stupid than he is. I don't think I care for
senators." Then, wearily, after a pause: "Well, Maude, I do hope
you've got what you wanted. I'm sure you must have had politics
enough. Haven't you got to the heart of your great American mystery
"Pretty near it, I think," said Madeleine, half to herself.
SUNDAY evening was stormy, and some enthusiasm was required to
make one face its perils for the sake of society. Nevertheless, a few
intimates made their appearance as usual at Mrs. Lee's. The faithful
Popoff was there, and Miss Dare also ran in to pass an hour with her
dear Sybil; but as she passed the whole evening in a corner with
Popoff. she must have been disappointed in her object. Carrington
came, and Baron Jacobi. Schneidekoupon and his sister dined with Mrs.
Lee, and remained after dinner, while Sybil and Julia Schneidekoupon
compared conclusions about Washington society. The happy idea also
occurred to Mr. Gore that, inasmuch as Mrs. Lee's house was but a step
from his hotel, he might as well take the chance of amusement there as
the certainty of solitude in his rooms. Finally, Senator Ratcliffe
duly made his appearance, and, having established himself with a cup
of tea by Madeleine's side, was soon left to enjoy a quiet talk with
her, the rest of the party by common consent occupying themselves with
each other. Under cover of the murmur of conversation in the room, Mr.
Ratcliffe quickiy became confidential.
"I came to suggest that, if you want to hear an interesting debate,
you should come up to the Senate to-morrow. I am told that Garrard,
of Louisiana, means to attack my last speech, and I shall probably in
that case have to answer him. With you for a critic I shall speak
"Am I such an amiable critic?" asked Madeleine.
"I never heard that amiable critics were the best," said he;
"justice is the soul of good criticism, and it is only justice that I
ask and expect from you."
"What good does this speaking do?" inquired she. "Are you any
nearer the end of your difficulties by means of your speeches?"
"I hardly know yet. Just now we are in dead water; but this can't
In fact, I am not afraid to tell you, though of course you will not
repeat it to any human being, that we have taken measures to force an
Certain gentlemen, myself among the rest, have written letters
meant for the President's eye, though not addressed directly to him,
and intended to draw out an expression of some sort that will show us
what to expect."
"Oh!" laughed Madeleine, "I knew about that a week ago."
"About your letter to Sam Grimes, of North Bend."
"What have you heard about my letter to Sam Grimes, of North
ejaculated Ratcliffe, a little abruptly.
"Oh, you do not know how admirably I have organised my secret
service bureau," said she. "Representative Cutter cross-questioned
one of the Senate pages, and obliged him to confess that he had
received from you a letter to be posted, which letter was addressed
to Mr. Grimes, of North Bend."
"And, of course, he told this to French, and French told you," said
Ratcliffe; "I see. If I had known this I would not have let French
off so gently last night, for I prefer to tell you my own story
without his embellishments. But it was my fault. I should not have
trusted a page.
Nothing is a secret here long. But one thing that Mr. Cutter did
not find out was that several other gentlemen wrote letters at the
same time, for the same purpose. Your friend, Mr. Clinton, wrote;
Krebs wrote; and one or two members."
"I suppose I must not ask what you said?"
"You may. We agreed that it was best to be very mild and
conciliatory, and to urge the President only to give us some
indication of his intentions, in order that we might not run counter
to them. I drew a strong picture of the effect of the present
situation on the party, and hinted that I had no personal wishes to
"And what do you think will be the result?"
"I think we shall somehow manage to straighten things out," said
"The difficulty is only that the new President has little
experience, and is suspicious. He thinks we shall intrigue to tie his
hands, and he means to tie ours in advance. I don't know him
personally, but those who do, and who are fair judges, say that,
though rather narrow and obstinate, he is honest enough, and will come
round. I have no doubt I could settle it all with him in an hour's
talk, but it is out of the question for me to go to him unless I am
asked, and to ask me to come would be itself a settlement."
"What, then, is the danger you fear?"
"That he will offend all the important party leaders in order to
conciliate unimportant ones, perhaps sentimental ones, like your
friend French; that he will make foolish appointments without taking
advice. By the way, have you seen French to-day?"
"No," replied Madeleine; "I think he must be sore at your treatment
of him last evening. You were very rude to him."
"Not a bit," said Ratcliffe; "these reformers need it. His attack
on me was meant for a challenge. I saw it in his manner.
"But is reform really so impossible as you describe it? Is it quite
"Reform such as he wants is utterly hopeless, and not even
Mrs. Lee, with much earnestness of manner, still pressed her
"Surely something can be done to check corruption. Are we for ever
to be at the mercy of thieves and ruffians? Is a respectable
government impossible in a democracy?"
Her warmth attracted Jacobi's attention, and he spoke across the
room. "What is that you say, Mrs. Lee? What is it about corruption?"
All the gentlemen began to listen and gather about them.
"I am asking Senator Ratcliffe," said she, "what is to become of us
if corruption is allowed to go unchecked."
"And may I venture to ask permission to hear Mr. Ratcliffe's
reply?" asked the baron.
"My reply," said Ratcliffe, "is that no representative government
can long be much better or much worse than the society it represents.
Purify society and you purify the government. But try to purify the
government artificially and you only aggravate failure."
"A very statesmanlike reply," said Baron Jacobi, with a formal
bow, but his tone had a shade of mockery. Carrington, who had
listened with a darkening face, suddenly turned to the baron and
asked him what conclusion he drew from the reply.
"Ah!" exclaimed the baron, with his wickedest leer, "what for is
my conclusion good? You Americans believe yourselves to be excepted
from the operation of general laws. You care not for experience. I
have lived seventy-five years, and all that time in the midst of
corruption. I am corrupt myself, only I do have courage to proclaim
it, and you others have it not. Rome, Paris, Vienna, Petersburg,
London, all are corrupt; only Washington is pure! Well, I declare to
you that in all my experience I have found no society which has had
elements of corruption like the United States. The children in the
street are corrupt, and know how to cheat me.
The cities are all corrupt, and also the towns and the counties and
the States' legislatures and the judges. Everywhere men betray trusts
both public and private, steal money, run away with public funds. Only
in the Senate men take no money. And you gentlemen in the Senate very
well declare that your great United States, which is the head of the
civilized world, can never learn anything from the example of corrupt
Europe. You are right--quite right! The great United States needs not
an example. I do much regret that I have not yet one hundred years to
live. If I could then come back to this city, I should find myself
very content--much more than now. I am always content where there is
much corruption, and ma parole d'honneur!"
broke out the old man with fire and gesture, "the United States
will then be more corrupt than Rome under Caligula; more corrupt than
the Church under Leo X.; more corrupt than France under the Regent!"
As the baron closed his little harangue, which he delivered
directly at the senator sitting underneath him, he had the
satisfaction to see that every one was silent and listening with deep
attention. He seemed to enjoy annoying the senator, and he had the
satisfaction of seeing that the senator was visibly annoyed. Ratcliffe
looked sternly at the baron and said, with some curtness, that he saw
no reason to accept such conclusions.
Conversation flagged, and all except the baron were relieved when
Sybil, at Schneidekoupon's request, sat down at the piano to sing
what she called a hymn. So soon as the song was over, Ratcliffe, who
seemed to have been curiously thrown off his balance by Jacobi's
harangue, pleaded urgent duties at his rooms, and retired. The others
soon afterwards went off in a body, leaving only Carrington and Gore,
who had seated himself by Madeleine, and was at once dragged by her
into a discussion of the subject which perplexed her, and for the
moment threw over her mind a net of irresistible fascination.
"The baron discomfited the senator," said Gore, with a certain
"Why did Ratcliffe let himself be trampled upon in that manner?"
"I wish you would explain why," replied Mrs. Lee; "tell me, Mr.
Gore--you who represent cultivation and literary taste
hereabouts--please tell me what to think about Baron Jacobi's speech.
Who and what is to be believed? Mr.
Ratcliffe seems honest and wise. Is he a corruptionist? He believes
in the people, or says he does. Is he telling the truth or not?"
Gore was too experienced in politics to be caught in such a trap as
this. He evaded the question. "Mr. Ratcliffe has a practical piece of
work to do; his business is to make laws and advise the President; he
does it extremely well. We have no other equally good practical
politician; it is unfair to require him to be a crusader besides."
"No!" interposed Carrington, curtly; "but he need not obstruct
crusades. He need not talk virtue and oppose the punishment of vice."
"He is a shrewd practical politician," replied Gore, "and he feels
first the weak side of any proposed political tactics."
With a sigh of despair Madeleine went on: "Who, then, is right?
How can we all be right? Half of our wise men declare that the world
is going straight to perdition; the other half that it is fast
becoming perfect. Both cannot be right. There is only one thing in
life," she went on, laughing, "that I must and will have before I die.
I must know whether America is right or wrong. Just now this question
is a very practical one, for I really want to know whether to believe
in Mr. Ratcliffe. If I throw him overboard, everything must go, for he
is only a specimen."
"Why not believe in Mr. Ratcliffe?" said Gore; "I believe in him
myself, and am not afraid to say so."
Carrington, to whom Ratcliffe now began to represent the spirit of
evil, interposed here, and observed that he imagined Mr. Gore had
other guides besides, and steadier ones than Ratcliffe, to believe
in; while Madeleine, with a certain feminine perspicacity, struck at
a much weaker point in Mr.
Gore's armour, and asked point-blank whether he believed also in
what Ratcliffe represented: "Do you yourself think democracy the best
government, and universal suffrage a success?"
Mr. Gore saw himself pinned to the wall, and he turned at bay with
almost the energy of despair:
"These are matters about which I rarely talk in society; they are
like the doctrine of a personal God; of a future life; of revealed
religion; subjects which one naturally reserves for private
reflection. But since you ask for my political creed, you shall have
it. I only condition that it shall be for you alone, never to be
repeated or quoted as mine. I believe in democracy. I accept it. I
will faithfully serve and defend it. I believe in it because it
appears to me the inevitable consequence of what has gone before it.
Democracy asserts the fact that the masses are now raised to a
higher intelligence than formerly. All our civilisation aims at this
mark. We want to do what we can to help it. I myself want to see the
result. I grant it is an experiment, but it is the only direction
society can take that is worth its taking; the only conception of its
duty large enough to satisfy its instincts; the only result that is
worth an effort or a risk. Every other possible step is backward, and
I do not care to repeat the past. I am glad to see society grapple
with issues in which no one can afford to be neutral."
"And supposing your experiment fails," said Mrs. Lee; "suppose
society destroys itself with universal suffrage, corruption, and
"I wish, Mrs. Lee, you would visit the Observatory with me some
evening, and look at Sirius. Did you ever make the acquaintance of a
fixed star? I believe astronomers reckon about twenty millions of them
in sight, and an infinite possibility of invisible millions, each one
of which is a sun, like ours, and may have satellites like our planet.
Suppose you see one of these fixed stars suddenly increase in
brightness, and are told that a satellite has fallen into it and is
burning up, its career finished, its capacities exhausted? Curious,
is it not; but what does it matter? Just as much as the burning up of
a moth at your candle."
Madeleine shuddered a little. "I cannot get to the height of your
philosophy," said she. "You are wandering among the infinites, and I
"Not at all! But I have faith; not perhaps in the old dogmas, but
in the new ones; faith in human nature; faith in science; faith in the
survival of the fittest. Let us be true to our time, Mrs. Lee! If our
age is to be beaten, let us die in the ranks. If it is to be
victorious, let us be first to lead the column. Anyway, let us not be
skulkers or grumblers. There! have I repeated my catechism correctly?
You would have it! Now oblige me by forgetting it. I should lose my
character at home if it got out. Good night!"
Mrs. Lee duly appeared at the Capitol the next day, as she could
not but do after Senator Ratcliffe's pointed request. She went alone,
for Sybil had positively refused to go near the Capitol again, and
Madeleine thought that on the whole this was not an occasion for
enrolling Carrington in her service. But Ratcliffe did not speak. The
debate was unexpectedly postponed.
He joined Mrs. Lee in the gallery, however, sat with her as long as
she would allow, and became still more confidential, telling her that
he had received the expected reply from Grimes, of North Bend, and
that it had enclosed a letter written by the President-elect to Mr.
Grimes in regard to the advances made by Mr. Ratcliffe and his
"It is not a handsome letter," said he; "indeed, a part of it is
positively insulting. I would like to read you one extract from it,
and hear your opinion as to how it should be treated." Taking the
letter from his pocket, he sought out the passage, and read as
follows: "'I cannot lose sight, too, of the consideration that these
three Senators' (he means Clinton, Krebs, and me) are popularly
considered to be the most influential members of that so-called
senatorial ring, which has acquired such general notoriety. While I
shall always receive their communications with all due respect, I
must continue to exercise complete freedom of action in consulting
other political advisers as well as these, and I must in all cases
make it my first object to follow the wishes of the people, not always
most truly represented by their nominal representatives.' What say you
to that precious piece of presidential manners?"
"At least I like his courage," said Mrs. Lee.
"Courage is one thing; common sense is another. This letter is a
studied insult. He has knocked me off the track once. He means to do
it again. It is a declaration of war. What ought I to do?"
"Whatever is most for the public good." said Madeleine, gravely.
Ratcliffe looked into her face with such undisguised delight--there
was so little possibility of mistaking or ignoring the expression of
his eyes, that she shrank back with a certain shock. She was not
prepared for so open a demonstration. He hardened his features at
once, and went on:
"But what is most for the public good?"
"That you know better than I," said Madeleine; "only one thing is
clear to me. If you let yourself be ruled by your private feelings,
you will make a greater mistake than he. Now I must go, for I have
visits to make. The next time I come, Mr. Ratcliffe, you must keep
your word better."
When they next met, Ratcliffe read to her a part of his reply to
Mr. Grimes, which ran thus: "It is the lot of every party leader to
suffer from attacks and to commit errors. It is true, as the President
says, that I have been no exception to this law. Believing as I do
that great results can only be accomplished by great parties, I have
uniformly yielded my own personal opinions where they have failed to
obtain general assent. I shall continue to follow this course, and the
President may with perfect confidence count upon my disinterested
support of all party measures, even though I may not be consulted in
Mrs. Lee listened attentively, and then said: "Have you never
refused to go with your party?"
"Never!" was Ratcliffe's firm reply.
Madeleine still more thoughtfully inquired again: "Is nothing more
powerful than party allegiance?"
"Nothing, except national allegiance," replied Ratcliffe, still
TO tie a prominent statesman to her train and to lead him about
like a tame bear, is for a young and vivacious woman a more certain
amusement than to tie herself to him and to be dragged about like an
Indian squaw. This fact was Madeleine Lee's first great political
discovery in Washington, and it was worth to her all the German
philosophy she had ever read, with even a complete edition of Herbert
Spencer's works into the bargain. There could be no doubt that the
honours and dignities of a public career were no fair consideration
for its pains. She made a little daily task for herself of reading in
succession the lives and letters of the American Presidents, and of
their wives, when she could find that there was a trace of the
latter's existence. What a melancholy spectacle it was, from George
Washington down to the last incumbent; what vexations, what
disappointments, what grievous mistakes, what very objectionable
manners! Not one of them, who had aimed at high purpose, but had been
thwarted, beaten, and habitually insulted! What a gloom lay on the
features of those famous chieftains, Calhoun, Clay, and Webster; what
varied expression of defeat and unsatisfied desire; what a sense of
self-importance and senatorial magniloquence; what a craving for
flattery; what despair at the sentence of fate! And what did they
amount to, after all?
They were practical men, these! they had no great problems of
thought to settle, no questions that rose above the ordinary rules of
common morals and homely duty. How they had managed to befog the
subject! What elaborate show-structures they had built up, with no
result but to obscure the horizon! Would not the country have done
better without them? Could it have done worse? What deeper abyss could
have opened under the nation's feet, than that to whose verge they
Madeleine's mind wearied with the monotony of the story. She
discussed the subject with Ratcliffe, who told her frankly that the
pleasure of politics lay in the possession of power. He agreed that
the country would do very well without him. "But here I am," said he,
"and here I mean to stay." He had very little sympathy for thin
moralising, and a statesmanlike contempt for philosophical politics.
He loved power, and he meant to be President.
That was enough.
Sometimes the tragic and sometimes the comic side was uppermost in
her mind, and sometimes she did not herself know whether to cry or to
Washington more than any other city in the world swarms with
simple-minded exhibitions of human nature; men and women curiously
out of place, whom it would be cruel to ridicule and ridiculous to
weep over. The sadder exhibitions are fortunately seldom seen by
respectable people; only the little social accidents come under their
eyes. One evening Mrs. Lee went to the President's first evening
reception. As Sybil flatly refused to face the crowd, and Carrington
mildly said that he feared he was not sufficiently reconstructed to
appear at home in that august presence, Mrs. Lee accepted Mr. French
for an escort, and walked across the Square with him to join the
throng that was pouring into the doors of the White House. They took
their places in the line of citizens and were at last able to enter
the reception-room. There Madeleine found herself before two seemingly
mechanical figures, which mlght be wood or wax, for any sign they
showed of life. These two figures were the President and his wife;
they stood stiff and awkward by the door, both their faces stripped of
every sign of intelligence, while the right hands of both extended
themselves to the column of visitors with the mechanical action of toy
dolls. Mrs. Lee for a moment began to laugh, but the laugh died on her
lips. To the President and his wife this was clearly no laughing
matter. There they stood, automata, representatives of the society
which streamed past them. Madeleine seized Mr. French by the arm.
"Take me somewhere at once," said she, "where I can look at it.
Here! in the corner. I had no conception how shocking it was!"
Mr. French supposed she was thinking of the queer-looking men and
women who were swarming through the rooms, and he made, after his own
delicate notion of humour, some uncouth jests on those who passed by.
Mrs. Lee, however, was in no humour to explain or even to listen. She
stopped him short:--
"There, Mr. French! Now go away and leave me. I want to be alone
for half an hour. Please come for me then." And there she stood, with
her eyes fixed on the President and his wife, while the endless stream
of humanity passed them, shaking hands.
What a strange and solemn spectacle it was, and how the deadly
fascination of it burned the image in upon her mind! What a horrid
warning to ambition!
And in all that crowd there was no one besides herself who felt the
mockery of this exhibition. To all the others this task was a regular
part of the President's duty, and there was nothing ridiculous about
it. They thought it a democratic institution, this droll a ping of
monarchical forms. To them the deadly dulness of the show was as
natural and proper as ever to the courtiers of the Philips and
Charleses seemed the ceremonies of the Escurial. To her it had the
effect of a nightmare, or of an opium-eater's vision, She felt a
sudden conviction that this was to be the end of American society;
its realisation and dream at once. She groaned in spirit.
"Yes! at last I have reached the end! We shall grow to be wax
images, and our talk will be like the squeaking of toy dolls. We
shall all wander round and round the earth and shake hands. No one
will have any object in this world, and there will be no other. It is
worse than anything in the 'Inferno.' What an awful vision of
Suddenly, as through a mist, she saw the melancholy face of Lord
Skye approaching. He came to her side, and his voice recalled her to
"Does it amuse you, this sort of thing?" he asked in a vague way.
"We take our amusement sadly, after the manner of our people," she
replied; "but it certainly interests me."
They stood for a time in silence, watching the slowly eddying
dance of Democracy, until he resumed:
"Whom do you take that man to be--the long, lean one, with a long
woman on each arm?"
"That man," she replied, "I take to be a Washington
department-clerk, or perhaps a member of Congress from Iowa, with a
wife and wife's sister. Do they shock your nobility?"
He looked at her with comical resignation. "You mean to tell me
that they are quite as good as dowager-countesses. I grant it. My
aristocratic spirit is broken, Mrs. Lee. I will even ask them to
dinner if you bid me, and if you will come to meet them. But the last
time I asked a member of Congress to dine, he sent me back a note in
pencil on my own envelope that he would bring two of his friends with
him, very respectable constituents from Yahoo city, or some such
place; nature's noblemen, he said."
"You should have welcomed them."
"I did. I wanted to see two of nature's noblemen, and I knew they
would probably be pleasanter company than their representative. They
came; very respectable persons, one with a blue necktie, the other
with a red one: both had diamond pins in their shirts, and were
carefully brushed in respect to their hair. They said nothing, ate
little, drank less, and were much better behaved than I am. When they
went away, they unanimously asked me to stay with them when I visited
"You will not want guests if you always do that."
"I don't know. I think it was pure ignorance on their part. They
knew no better, and they seemed modest enough. My only complaint was
that I could get nothing out of them. I wonder whether their wives
would have been more amusing."
"Would they be so in England, Lord Skye?"
He looked down at her with half-shut eyes, and drawled: "You know
"Hardly at all."
"Then let us discuss some less serious subject."
"Willingly. I have waited for you to explain to me why you have
to-night an expression of such melancholy."
"Is that quite friendly, Mrs. Lee? Do I really look melancholy?"
"Unutterably, as I feel. I am consumed with curiosity to know the
The British minister coolly took a complete survey of the whole
room, ending with a prolonged stare at the President and his wife,
who were still mechanically shaking hands; then he looked back into
her face, and said never a word.
She insisted: "I must have this riddle answered. It suffocates me.
I should not be sad at seeing these same people at work or at play, if
they ever do play; or in a church or a lecture-room. Why do they
weigh on me like a horrid phantom here?"
"I see no riddle, Mrs. Lee. You have answered your own question;
they are neither at work nor at play."
"Then please take me home at once. I shall have hysterics. The
sight of those two suffering images at the door is too mournful to be
borne. I am dizzy with looking at these stalking figures. I don't
believe they're real.
I wish the house would take fire. I want an earthquake. I wish
some one would pinch the President, or pull his wife's hair."
Mrs. Lee did not repeat the experiment of visiting the White
House, and indeed for some time afterwards she spoke with little
enthusiasm of the presidential office. To Senator Ratcliffe she
expressed her opinions strongly. The Senator tried in vain to argue
that the people had a right to call upon their chief magistrate, and
that he was bound to receive them; this being so, there was no less
objectionable way of proceeding than the one which had been chosen.
"Who gave the people any such right?" asked Mrs.
Lee. "Where does it come from? What do they want it for? You know
better, Mr. Ratcliffe! Our chief magistrate is a citizen like any one
else. What puts it into his foolish head to cease being a citizen and
to ape royalty?
Our governors never make themselves ridiculous. Why cannot the
wretched being content himself with living like the rest of us, and
minding his own business? Does he know what a figure of fun he is?"
And Mrs. Lee went so far as to declare that she would like to be the
President's wife only to put an end to this folly; nothing should ever
induce her to go through such a performance; and if the public did not
approve of this, Congress might impeach her, and remove her from
office; all she demanded was the right to be heard before the Senate
in her own defence.
Nevertheless, there was a very general impression in Washington
Lee would like nothing better than to be in the White House. Known
to comparatively few people, and rarely discussing even with them the
subjects which deeply interested her, Madeleine passed for a clever,
intriguing woman who had her own objects to gain. True it is, beyond
peradventure, that all residents of Washington may be assumed to be in
office or candidates for office; unless they avow their object, they
are guilty of an attempt--and a stupid one--to deceive; yet there is a
small class of apparent exceptions destined at last to fall within the
rule. Mrs. Lee was properly assumed to be a candidate for office. To
the Washingtonians it was a matter of course that Mrs. Lee should
marry Silas P. Ratcliffe. That he should be glad to get a fashionable
and intelligent wife, with twenty or thirty thousand dollars a year,
was not surprising. That she should accept the first public man of the
day, with a flattering chance for the Presidency--a man still
comparatively young and not without good looks--was perfectly natural,
and in her undertaking she had the sympathy of all well-regulated
Washington women who were not possible rivals; for to them the
President's wife is of more consequence than the President; and,
indeed, if America only knew it, they are not very far from the truth.
Some there were, however, who did not assent to this good-natured
though worldly view of the proposed match. These ladies were severe
in their comments upon Mrs. Lee's conduct, and did not hesitate to
declare their opinion that she was the calmest and most ambitious minx
who had ever come within their observation. Unfortunately it happened
that the respectable and proper Mrs. Schuyler Clinton took this view
of the case, and made little attempt to conceal her opinion. She was
justly indignant at her cousin's gross worldliness, and possible
promotion in rank.
"If Madeleine Ross marries that coarse, horrid old Illinois
said she to her husband, "I never will forgive her so long as I
Mr. Clinton tried to excuse Madeleine, and even went so far as to
suggest that the difference of age was no greater than in their own
case; but his wife trampled ruthlessly on his argument.
"At any rate," said she, "I never came to Washington as a widow on
purpose to set my cap for the first candidate for the Presidency, and
I never made a public spectacle of my indecent eagerness in the very
galleries of the Senate; and Mrs. Lee ought to be ashamed of herself.
She is a cold-blooded, heartless, unfeminine cat."
Little Victoria Dare, who babbled like the winds and streams, with
utter indifference as to what she said or whom she addressed, used to
bring choice bits of this gossip to Mrs. Lee. She always affected a
little stammer when she said anything uncommonly impudent, and put on
a manner of languid simplicity. She felt keenly the satisfaction of
seeing Madeleine charged with her own besetting sins. For years all
Washington had agreed that Victoria was little better than one of the
wicked; she had done nothing but violate every rule of propriety and
scandalise every well-regulated family in the city, and there was no
good in her. Yet it could not be denied that Victoria was amusing, and
had a sort of irregular fascination; consequently she was universally
tolerated. To see Mrs. Lee thrust down to her own level was an unmixed
pleasure to her, and she carefully repeated to Madeleine the choice
bits of dialogue which she picked up in her wanderings.
"Your cousin, Mrs. Clinton, says you are a ca-ca-cat, Mrs. Lee."
"I don't believe it, Victoria. Mrs. Clinton never said anything of
"Mrs. Marston says it is because you have caught a ra-ra-rat, and
Senator Clinton was only a m-m-mouse!"
Naturally all this unexpected publicity irritated Mrs. Lee not a
little, especially when short and vague paragraphs, soon followed by
longer and more positive ones, in regard to Senator Ratcliffe's
matrimonial prospects, began to appear in newspapers, along with
descriptions of herself from the pens of enterprising female
correspondents for the press, who had never so much as seen her. At
the first sight of one of these newspaper articles, Madeleine fairly
cried with mortification and anger. She wanted to leave Washington the
next day, and she hated the very thought of Ratcliffe. There was
something in the newspaper style so inscrutably vulgar, something so
inexplicably revolting to the sense of feminine decency, that she
shrank under it as though it were a poisonous spider. But after the
first acute shame had passed, her temper was roused, and she vowed
that she would pursue her own path just as she had begun, without
regard to all the malignity and vulgarity in the wide United States.
She did not care to marry Senator Ratcliffe; she liked his society and
was flattered by his confidence; she rather hoped to prevent him from
ever making a formal offer, and if not, she would at least push it
off to the last possible moment; but she was not to be frightened
from marrying him by any amount of spitefulness or gossip, and she
did not mean to refuse him except for stronger reasons than these. She
even went so far in her desperate courage as to laugh at her cousin,
Clinton, whose venerable husband she allowed and even encouraged
to pay her such public attention and to express sentiments of such
youthful ardour as she well knew would inflame and exasperate the
excellent lady his wife.
Carrington was the person most unpleasantly affected by the course
which this affair had taken. He could no longer conceal from himself
the fact that he was as much m love as a dignified Virginian could be.
With him, at all events, she had shown no coquetry, nor had she ever
either flattered or encouraged him. But Carrington, m his solitary
struggle against fate, had found her a warm friend; always ready to
assist where assistance was needed, generous with her money in any
cause which he was willing to vouch for, full of sympathy where
sympathy was more than money, and full of resource and suggestion
where money and sympathy failed. Carrington knew her better than she
knew herself. He selected her books; he brought the last speech or the
last report from the Capitol or the departments; he knew her doubts
and her vagaries, and as far as he understood them at all, helped her
to solve them.
Carrington was too modest, and perhaps too shy, to act the part of
a declared lover, and he was too proud to let it be thought that he
wanted to exchange his poverty for her wealth. But he was all the
more anxious when he saw the evident attraction which Ratcliffe's
strong will and unscrupulous energy exercised over her. He saw that
Ratcliffe was steadily pushing his advances; that he flattered all
Mrs. Lee's weaknesses by the confidence and deference with which he
treated her; and that in a very short time, Madeleine must either
marry him or find herself looked upon as a heartless coquette. He had
his own reasons for thinking ill of Senator Ratcliffe, and he meant to
prevent a marriage; but he had an enemy to deal with not easily driven
from the path, and quite capable of routing any number of rivals.
Ratcliffe was afraid of no one. He had not fought his own way in
life for nothing, and he knew all the value of a cold head and dogged
Nothing but this robust Americanism and his strong will carried
him safely through the snares and pitfalls of Mrs. Lee's society,
where rivals and enemies beset him on every hand. He was little
better than a schoolboy, when he ventured on their ground, but when
he could draw them over upon his own territory of practical life he
rarely failed to trample on his assailants.
It was this practical sense and cool will that won over Mrs. Lee,
who was woman enough to assume that all the graces were well enough
employed in decorating her, and it was enough if the other sex felt
her superiority. Men were valuable only in proportion to their
strength and their appreciation of women. If the senator had only been
strong enough always to control his temper, he would have done very
well, but his temper was under a great strain in these times, and his
incessant effort to control it in politics made him less watchful in
private life. Mrs. Lee's tacit assumption of superior refinement
irritated him, and sometimes made him show his teeth like a bull-dog,
at the cost of receiving from Mrs. Lee a quick stroke in return such
as a well-bred tortoise-shell cat administers to check
over-familiarity; innocent to the eye, but drawing blood. One evening
when he was more than commonly out of sorts, after sitting some time
in moody silence, he roused himself, and, taking up a book that lay on
her table, he glanced at its title and turned over the leaves. It
happened by ill luck to be a volume of Darwin that Mrs. Lee had just
borrowed from the library of Congress.
"Do you understand this sort of thing?" asked the Senator abruptly,
in a tone that suggested a sneer.
"Not very well," replied Mrs. Lee, rather curtly.
"Why do you want to understand it?" persisted the Senator. "What
good will it do you?"
"Perhaps it will teach us to be modest," answered Madeleine, quite
equal to the occasion.
"Because it says we descend from monkeys?" rejoined the Senator,
"Do you think you are descended from monkeys?"
"Why not?" said Madeleine.
"Why not?" repeated Ratcliffe, laughing harshly. "I don't like the
connection. Do you mean to introduce your distant relations into
"They would bring more amusement into it than most of its present
rejoined Mrs. Lee, with a gentle smile that threatened mischief.
But Ratcliffe would not be warned; on the contrary, the only effect
Lee's defiance was to exasperate his ill-temper, and whenever he
lost his temper he became senatorial and Websterian. "Such books," he
began, "disgrace our civilization; they degrade and stultify our
divine nature; they are only suited for Asiatic despotisms where men
are reduced to the level of brutes; that they should be accepted by a
man like Baron Jacobi, I can understand; he and his masters have
nothing to do in the world but to trample on human rights. Mr.
Carrington, of course, would approve those ideas; he believes in the
divine doctrine of flogging negroes; but that you, who profess
philanthropy and free principles, should go with them, is astonishing;
it is incredible; it is unworthy of you."
"You are very hard on the monkeys," replied Madeleine, rather
sternly, when the Senator's oration was ended. "The monkeys never did
you any harm; they are not in public life; they are not even voters;
if they were, you would be enthusiastic about their intelligence and
virtue. After all, we ought to be grateful to them, for what would men
do in this melancholy world if they had not inherited gaiety from the
monkeys--as well as oratory."
Ratcliffe, to do him justice, took punishment well, at least when
it came from Mrs. Lee's hands, and his occasional outbursts of
insubordination were sure to be followed by improved discipline; but
if he allowed Mrs. Lee to correct his faults, he had no notion of
letting himself be instructed by her friends, and he lost no chance
of telling them so. But to do this was not always enough. Whether it
were that he had few ideas outside of his own experience, or that he
would not trust himself on doubtful ground, he seemed compelled to
bring every discussion down to his own level. Madeleine puzzled
herself in vain to find out whether he did this because he knew no
better, or because he meant to cover his own ignorance.
"The Baron has amused me very much with his account of Bucharest
Mrs. Lee would say: "I had no idea it was so gay."
"I would like to show him our society in Peonia," was Ratcliffe's
reply; "he would find a very brilliant circle there of nature's true
"The Baron says their politicians are precious sharp chaps," added
"Oh, there are politicians in Bulgaria, are there?" asked the
Senator, whose ideas of the Roumanian and Bulgarian neighbourhood
were vague, and who had a general notion that all such people lived in
tents, wore sheepskins with the wool inside, and ate curds: "Oh, they
have politicians there! I would like to see them try their sharpness
in the west."
"Really!" said Mrs. Lee. "Think of Attila and his hordes running an
"Anyhow," cried French with a loud laugh, "the Baron said that a
set of bigger political scoundrels than his friends couldn't be found
in all Illinois."
"Did he say that?" exclaimed Ratcliffe angrily.
"Didn't he, Mrs. Lee? but I don't believe it; do you? What's your
candid opinion, Ratcliffe? What you don't know about Illinois
politics isn't worth knowing; do you really think those Bulgrascals
couldn't run an Illinois state convention?"
Ratcliffe did not like to be chaffed, especially on this subject,
but he could not resent French's liberty which was only a moderate
return for the wooden nutmeg. To get the conversation away from
Europe, from literature, from art, was his great object, and chaff
was a way of escape.
Carrington was very well aware that the weak side of the Senator
lay in his blind ignorance of morals. He flattered himself that Mrs.
Lee must see this and be shocked by it sooner or later, so that
nothing more was necessary than to let Ratcliffe expose himself.
Without talking very much, Carrington always aimed at drawing him
out. He soon found, however, that Ratcliffe understood such tactics
perfectly, and instead of injuring, he rather improved his position.
At times the man's audacity was startling, and even when Carrington
thought him hopelessly entangled, he would sweep away all the hunter's
nets with a sheer effort of strength, and walk off bolder and more
dangerous than ever.
When Mrs. Lee pressed him too closely, he frankly admitted her
"What you say is in great part true. There is much in politics that
disgusts and disheartens; much that is coarse and bad. I grant you
there is dishonesty and corruption. We must try to make the amount as
small as possible."
"You should be able to tell Mrs. Lee how she must go to work,"
said Carrington; "you have had experience. I have heard, it seems to
me, that you were once driven to very hard measures against
Ratcliffe looked ill-pleased at this compliment, and gave
Carrington one of his cold glances that meant mischief. But he took
up the challenge on the spot:--
"Yes, I was, and am very sorry for it. The story is this, Mrs. Lee;
and it is well-known to every man, woman, and child in the State of
Illinois, so that I have no reason for softening it. In the worst days
of the war there was almost a certainty that my State would be carried
by the peace party, by fraud, as we thought, although, fraud or not,
we were bound to save it. Had Illinois been lost then, we should
certainly have lost the Presidential election, and with it probably
the Union. At any rate, I believed the fate of the war to depend on
the result. I was then Governor, and upon me the responsibility
rested. We had entire control of the northern counties and of their
returns. We ordered the returning officers in a certain number of
counties to make no returns until they heard from us, and when we had
received the votes of all the southern counties and learned the
precise number of votes we needed to give us a majority, we
telegraphed to our northern returning officers to make the vote of
their districts such and such, thereby overbalancing the adverse
returns and giving the State to us.
This was done, and as I am now senator I have a right to suppose
that what I did was approved. I am not proud of the transaction, but
I would do it again, and worse than that, if I thought it would save
this country from disunion. But of course I did not expect Mr.
Carrington to approve it. I believe he was then carrying out his
reform principles by bearing arms against the government."
"Yes!" said Carrington drily; "you got the better of me, too. Like
the old Scotchman, you didn't care who made the people's wars
provided you made its ballots.
Carrington had missed his point. The man who has committed a
murder for his country, is a patriot and not an assassin, even when
he receives a seat in the Senate as his share of the plunder. Women
cannot be expected to go behind the motives of that patriot who saves
his country and his election in times of revolution.
Carrington's hostility to Ratcliffe was, however, mild, when
compared with that felt by old Baron Jacobi. Why the baron should
have taken so violent a prejudice it is not easy to explain, but a
diplomatist and a senator are natural enemies, and Jacobi, as an
avowed admirer of Mrs. Lee, found Ratcliffe in his way. This
prejudiced and immoral old diplomatist despised and loathed an
American senator as the type which, to his bleared European eyes,
combined the utmost pragmatical self-assurance and overbearing temper
with the narrowest education and the meanest personal experience that
ever existed in any considerable government. As Baron Jacobi's country
had no special relations with that of the United States, and its
Legation at Washington was a mere job to create a place for Jacobi to
fill, he had no occasion to disguise his personal antipathies, and he
considered himself in some degree as having a mission to express that
diplomatic contempt for the Senate which his colleagues, if they felt
it, were obliged to conceal. He performed his duties with
conscientious precision. He never missed an opportunity to thrust the
sharp point of his dialectic rapier through the joints of the clumsy
and hide-bound senatorial self-esteem. He delighted in skilfully
exposing to Madeleine's eyes some new side of Ratcliffe's ignorance.
His conversation at such times sparkled with historical allusions,
quotations in half a dozen different languages, references to
well-known facts which an old man's memory could not recall with
precision in all their details, but with which the Honourable Senator
was familiarly acquainted, and which he could readily supply. And his
Voltairian face leered politely as he listened to Ratcliffe's reply,
which showed invariable ignorance of common literature, art, and
history. The climax of his triumph came one evening when Ratcliffe
unluckily, tempted by some allusion to Molière which he thought he
understood, made reference to the unfortunate influence of that great
man on the religious opinions of his time. Jacobi, by a flash of
inspiration, divined that he had confused Molière with Voltaire, and
assuming a manner of extreme suavity, he put his victim on the rack,
and tortured him with affected explanations and interrogations, until
Madeleine was in a manner forced to interrupt and end the scene. But
even when the senator was not to be lured into a trap, he could not
escape assault. The baron in such a case would cross the lines and
attack him on his own ground, as on one occasion, when Ratcliffe was
defending his doctrine of party allegiance, Jacobi silenced him by
sneering somewhat thus:
"Your principle is quite correct, Mr. Senator. I, too, like
yourself, was once a good party man: my party was that of the Church;
I was ultramontane.
Your party system is one of your thefts from our Church; your
National Convention is our OEcumenic Council; you abdicate reason, as
we do, before its decisions; and you yourself, Mr. Ratcliffe, you are
a Cardinal. They are able men, those cardinals; I have known many;
they were our best friends, but they were not reformers. Are you a
reformer, Mr. Senator?"
Ratcliffe grew to dread and hate the old man, but all his ordinary
tactics were powerless against this impenetrable eighteenth century
cynic. If he resorted to his Congressional practise of browbeating and
dogmatism, the Baron only smiled and turned his back, or made some
remark in French which galled his enemy all the more, because, while
he did not understand it, he knew well that Madeleine did, and that
she tried to repress her smile.
Ratcliffe's grey eyes grew colder and stonier than ever as he
gradually perceived that Baron Jacobi was carrying on a set scheme
with malignant ingenuity, to drive him out of Madeleine's house, and
he swore a terrible oath that he would not be beaten by that
monkey-faced foreigner. On the other hand Jacobi had little hope of
success: "What can an old man do?" said he with perfect sincerity to
Carrington; "If I were forty years younger, that great oaf should not
have his own way. Ah! I wish I were young again and we were in
Vienna!" From which it was rightly inferred by Carrington that the
venerable diplomatist would, if such acts were still in fashion, have
coolly insulted the Senator, and put a bullet through his heart.
IN February the weather became warmer and summer-like. In Virginia
there comes often at this season a deceptive gleam of summer, slipping
in between heavy storm-clouds of sleet and snow; days and sometimes
weeks when the temperature is like June; when the earliest plants
begin to show their hardy flowers, and when the bare branches of the
forest trees alone protest against the conduct of the seasons. Then
men and women are languid; life seems, as in Italy, sensuous and
glowing with colour; one is conscious of walking in an atmosphere that
is warm, palpable, radiant with possibilities; a delicate haze hangs
over Arlington, and softens even the harsh white glare of the Capitol;
the struggle of existence seems to abate; Lent throws its calm shadow
over society; and youthful diplomatists, unconscious of their danger,
are lured into asking foolish girls to marry them; the blood thaws in
the heart and flows out into the veins, like the rills of sparkling
water that trickle from every lump of ice or snow, as though all the
ice and snow on earth, and all the hardness of heart, all the heresy
and schism, all the works of the devil, had yielded to the force of
love and to the fresh warmth of innocent, lamb-like, confiding
virtue. In such a world there should be no guile--but there is a great
deal of it notwithstanding. Indeed, at no other season is there so
much. This is the moment when the two whited sepulchres at either end
of the Avenue reek with the thick atmosphere of bargain and sale. The
old is going; the new is coming. Wealth, office, power are at auction.
Who bids highest? who hates with most venom? who intrigues with most
skill? who has done the dirtiest, the meanest, the darkest, and the
most, political work? He shall have his reward.
Senator Ratcliffe was absorbed and ill at ease. A swarm of
applicants for office dogged his steps and beleaguered his rooms in
quest of his endorsement of their paper characters. The new President
was to arrive on Monday. Intrigues and combinations, of which the
Senator was the soul, were all alive, awaiting this arrival. Newspaper
correspondents pestered him with questions. Brother senators called
him to conferences. His mind was pre-occupied with his own interests.
One might have supposed that, at this instant, nothing could have
drawn him away from the political gaming-table, and yet when Mrs. Lee
remarked that she was going to Mount Vernon on Saturday with a little
party, including the British Minister and an Irish gentleman staying
as a guest at the British Legation, the Senator surprised her by
expressing a strong wish to join them. He explained that, as the
political lead was no longer in his hands, the chances were nine in
ten that if he stirred at all he should make a blunder; that his
friends expected him to do something when, in fact, nothing could be
done; that every preparation had already been made, and that for him
to go on an excursion to Mount Vernon, at this moment, with the
British Minister, was, on the whole, about the best use he could make
of his time, since it would hide him for one day at least.
Lord Skye had fallen into the habit of consulting Mrs. Lee when
his own social resources were low, and it was she who had suggested
this party to Mount Vernon, with Carrington for a guide and Mr. Gore
for variety, to occupy the time of the Irish friend whom Lord Skye was
This gentleman, who bore the title of Dunbeg, was a dilapidated
peer, neither wealthy nor famous. Lord Skye brought him to call on
Mrs. Lee, and in some sort put him under her care. He was young, not
ill-looking, quite intelligent, rather too fond of facts, and not
quick at humour. He was given to smiling in a deprecatory way, and
when he talked, he was either absent or excited; he made vague
blunders, and then smiled in deprecation of offence, or his words
blocked their own path in their rush. Perhaps his manner was a little
ridiculous, but he had a good heart, a good head, and a title. He
found favour in the eyes of Sybil and Victoria Dare, who declined to
admit other women to the party, although they offered no objection to
Ratcliffe's admission. As for Lord Dunbeg, he was an enthusiastic
admirer of General Washington, and, as he privately intimated, eager
to study phases of American society. He was delighted to go with a
small party, and Miss Dare secretly promised herself that she would
show him a phase.
The morning was warm, the sky soft, the little steamer lay at the
quiet wharf with a few negroes lazily watching her preparations for
Carrington, with Mrs. Lee and the young ladies, arrived first, and
stood leaning against the rail, waiting the arrival of their
companions. Then came Mr. Gore, neatly attired and gloved, with a
light spring overcoat; for Mr.
Gore was very careful of his personal appearance, and not a little
vain of his good looks. Then a pretty woman, with blue eyes and
blonde hair, dressed in black, and leading a little girl by the hand,
came on board, and Carrington went to shake hands with her. On his
return to Mrs. Lee's side, she asked about his new acquaintance, and
he replied with a half-laugh, as though he were not proud of her, that
she was a client, a pretty widow, well known in Washington. "Any one
at the Capitol would tell you all about her.
She was the wife of a noted lobbyist, who died about two years
Congressmen can refuse nothing to a pretty face, and she was their
idea of feminine perfection. Yet she is a silly little woman, too.
Her husband died after a very short illness, and, to my great
surprise, made me executor under his will. I think he had an idea
that he could trust me with his papers, which were important and
compromising, for he seems to have had no time to go over them and
destroy what were best out of the way. So, you see, I am left with his
widow and child to look after. Luckily, they are well provided for."
"Still you have not told me her name." "Her name is Baker--Mrs.
Sam Baker. But they are casting off, and Mr.
Ratcliffe will be left behind. I'll ask the captain to wait." About
a dozen passengers had arrived, among them the two Earls, with a
footman carrying a promising lunch-basket, and the planks were
actually hauled in when a carriage dashed up to the whatf, and Mr.
Ratcliffe leaped out and hurried on board. "Off with you as quick as
you can!" said he to the negro-hands, and in another moment the little
steamer had begun her journey, pounding the muddy waters of the
Potomac and sending up its small column of smoke as though it were a
newly invented incense-burner approaching the temple of the national
deity. Ratcliffe explained in great glee how he had barely managed to
escape his visitors by telling them that the British Minister was
waiting for him, and that he would be back again presently. "If they
had known where I was going," said he, "you would have seen the boat
swamped with office-seekers. Illinois alone would have brought you to
a watery grave." He was in high spirits, bent upon enjoying his
holiday, and as they passed the arsenal with its solitary sentry, and
the navy-yard, with its one unseaworthy wooden war-steamer, he pointed
out these evidences of national grandeur to Lord Skye, threatening, as
the last terror of diplomacy, to send him home in an American frigate.
They were thus indulging in senatorial humour on one side of the boat,
while Sybil and Victoria, with the aid of Mr. Gore and Carrington,
were improving Lord Dunbeg's mind on the other.
Miss Dare, finding for herself at last a convenient seat where she
could repose and be mistress of the situation, put on a more than
usually demure expression and waited with gravity until her noble
neighbour should give her an opportunity to show those powers which,
as she believed, would supply a phase in his existence. Miss Dare was
one of those young persons, sometimes to be found in America, who seem
to have no object in life, and while apparently devoted to men, care
nothing about them, but find happiness only in violating rules; she
made no parade of whatever virtues she had, and her chief pleasure was
to make fun of all the world and herself.
"What a noble river!" remarked Lord Dunbeg, as the boat passed out
upon the wide stream; "I suppose you often sail on it?"
"I never was here in my life till now," replied the untruthful Miss
Dare; "we don't think much of it; it s too small; we're used to so
much larger rivers."
"I am afraid you would not like our English rivers then; they are
mere brooks compared with this."
"Are they indeed?" said Victoria, with an appearance of vague
surprise; "how curious! I don't think I care to be an Englishwoman
then. I could not live without big rivers."
Lord Dunbeg stared, and hinted that this was almost unreasonable.
"Unless I were a Countess!" continued Victoria, meditatively,
looking at Alexandria, and paying no attention to his lordship; "I
think I could manage if I were a C-c-countess. It is such a pretty
"Duchess is commonly thought a prettier one," stammered Dunbeg,
much embarrassed. The young man was not used to chaff from women.
"I should be satisfied with Countess. It sounds well. I am
surprised that you don't like it." Dunbeg looked about him uneasily
for some means of escape but he was barred in. "I should think you
would feel an awful responsibility in selecting a Countess. How do you
Lord Dunbeg nervously joined in the general laughter as Sybil
"Oh, Victoria!" but Miss Dare continued without a smile or any
elevation of her monotonous voice:
"Now, Sybil, don't interrupt me, please. I am deeply interested in
Lord Dunbeg's conversation. He understands that my interest is purely
scientific, but my happiness requires that I should know how
Countesses are selected.
Lord Dunbeg, how would you recommend a friend to choose a
Lord Dunbeg began to be amused by her impudence, and he even tried
to lay down for her satisfaction one or two rules for selecting
Countesses, but long before he had invented his first rule, Victoria
had darted off to a new subject.
"Which would you rather be, Lord Dunbeg? an Earl or George
"George Washington, certainly," was the Earl's courteous though
rather bewildered reply.
"Really?" she asked with a languid affectation of surprise; "it is
awfully kind of you to say so, but of course you can't mean it.
"Indeed I do mean it."
"Is it possible? I never should have thought it."
"Why not, Miss Dare?"
"You have not the air of wishing to be George Washington."
"May I again ask, why not?"
"Certainly. Did you ever see George Washington?"
"Of course not. He died fifty years before I was born."
"I thought so. You see you don't know him. Now, will you give us
an idea of what you imagine General Washington to have looked like?"
Dunbeg gave accordingly a flattering description of General
Washington, compounded of Stuart's portrait and Greenough's statue of
Olympian Jove with Washington's features, in the Capitol Square. Miss
Dare listened with an expression of superiority not unmlxed with
patience, and then she enlightened him as follows:
"All you have been saying is perfect stuff--excuse the vulgarity of
the expression. When I am a Countess I will correct my language. The
truth is that General Washington was a raw-boned country farmer, very
hard-featured, very awkward, very illiterate and very dull; very bad
tempered, very profane, and generally tipsy after dinner."
"You shock me, Miss Dare!" exclaimed Dunbeg.
"Oh! I know all about General Washington. My grandfather knew him
intimately, and often stayed at Mount Vernon for weeks together. You
must not believe what you read, and not a word of what Mr. Carrington
He is a Virginian and will tell you no end of fine stories and not
a syllable of truth in one of them. We are all patriotic about
Washington and like to hide his faults. If I weren't quite sure you
would never repeat it, I would not tell you this. The truth is that
even when George Washington was a small boy, his temper was so
violent that no one could do anything with him. He once cut down all
his father's fruit-trees in a fit of passion, and then, just because
they wanted to flog him, he threatened to brain his father with the
hatchet. His aged wife suffered agonies from him. My grandfather
often told me how he had seen the General pinch and swear at her till
the poor creature left the room in tears; and how once at Mount Vernon
he saw Washington, when quite an old man, suddenly rush at an
unoffending visitor, and chase him off the place, beating him all the
time over the head with a great stick with knots in it, and all just
because he heard the poor man stammer; he never could abide
Carrington and Gore burst into shouts of laughter over this
description of the Father of his country, but Victoria continued in
her gentle drawl to enlighten Lord Dunbeg in regard to other subjects
with information equally mendacious, until he decided that she was
quite the most eccentric person he had ever met. The boat arrived at
Mount Vernon while she was still engaged in a description of the
society and manners of America, and especially of the rules which made
an offer of marriage necessary. According to her, Lord Dunbeg was in
imminent peril; gentlemen, and especially foreigners, were expected,
in all the States south of the Potomac, to offer themselves to at
least one young lady in every city: "and I had only yesterday," said
Victoria, "a letter from a lovely girl in North Carolina, a dear
friend of mine, who wrote me that she was right put out because her
brothers had called on a young English visitor with shot guns, and she
was afraid he wouldn't recover, and, after all, she says she should
have refused him."
Meanwhile Madeleine, on the other side of the boat, undisturbed by
the laughter that surrounded Miss Dare, chatted soberly and seriously
with Lord Skye and Senator Ratcliffe. Lord Skye, too, a little
intoxicated by the brilliancy of the morning, broke out into
admiration of the noble river, and accused Americans of not
appreciating the beauties of their own country.
"Your national mind," said he, "has no eyelids. It requires a broad
glare and a beaten road. It prefers shadows which you can cut out
with a knife. It doesn't know the beauty of this Virginia winter
Mrs. Lee resented the charge. America, she maintained, had not
worn her feelings threadbare like Europe. She had still her story to
tell; she was waiting for her Burns and Scott, her Wordsworth and
Byron, her Hogarth and Turner. "You want peaches in spring," said
she. "Give us our thousand years of summer, and then complain, if you
please, that our peach is not as mellow as yours. Even our voices may
be soft then," she added, with a significant look at Lord Skye.
"We are at a disadvantage in arguing with Mrs. Lee," said he to
Ratcliffe; "when she ends as counsel, she begins as witness. The
famous Duchess of Devonshire's lips were not half as convincing as
Mrs. Lee's voice."
Ratcliffe listened carefully, assenting whenever he saw that Mrs.
Lee wished it. He wished he understood precisely what tones and
half-tones, colours and harmonies, were.
They arrived and strolled up the sunny path. At the tomb they
halted, as all good Americans do, and Mr. Gore, in a tone of subdued
sorrow, delivered a short address--
"It might be much worse if they improved it," he said, surveying
its proportions with the æsthetic eye of a cultured Bostonian. "As it
stands, this tomb is a simple misfortune which might befall any of
us; we should not grieve over it too much. What would our feelings be
if a Congressional committee reconstructed it of white marble with
Gothic pepper-pots, and gilded it inside on machine-moulded stucco!"
Madeleine, however, insisted that the tomb, as it stood, was the
only restless spot about the quiet landscape, and that it
contradicted all her ideas about repose in the grave. Ratcliffe
wondered what she meant.
They passed on, wandering across the lawn, and through the house.
Their eyes, weary of the harsh colours and forms of the city, took
pleasure in the worn wainscots and the stained walls. Some of the
rooms were still occupied; fires were burning in the wide
fire-places. All were tolerably furnished, and there was no
uncomfortable sense of repair or newness. They mounted the stairs,
and Mrs. Lee fairly laughed when she was shown the room in which
General Washington slept, and where he died.
Carrington smiled too. "Our old Virginia houses were mostly like
this," said he; "suites of great halls below, and these gaunt barracks
above. The Virginia house was a sort of hotel. When there was a race
or a wedding, or a dance, and the house was full, they thought nothing
of packing half a dozen people in one room, and if the room was large,
they stretched a sheet a cross to separate the men from the women. As
for toilet, those were not the mornings of cold baths. With our
ancestors a little washing went a long way."
"Do you still live so in Virginia?" asked Madeleine.
"Oh no, it is quite gone. We live now like other country people,
and try to pay our debts, which that generation never did. They lived
from hand to mouth. They kept a stable-full of horses. The young men
were always riding about the country, betting on horse-races,
gambling, drinking, fighting, and making love. No one knew exactly
what he was worth until the crash came about fifty years ago, and the
whole thing ran out."
"Just what happened in Ireland!" said Lord Dunbeg, much interested
and full of his article in the Quarterly; "the resemblance is perfect,
even down to the houses."
Mrs. Lee asked Carrington bluntly whether he regretted the
destruction of this old social arrangement.
"One can't help regretting," said he, "whatever it was that
produced George Washington, and a crowd of other men like him. But I
think we might produce the men still if we had the same field for
"And would you bring the old society back again if you could?"
"What for? It could not hold itself up. General Washington himself
could not save it. Before he died he had lost his hold on Virginia,
and his power was gone."
The party for a while separated, and Mrs. Lee found herself alone
in the great drawing-room. Presently the blonde Mrs. Baker entered,
with her child, who ran about making more noise than Mrs. Washington
would have permitted.
Madeleine, who had the usual feminine love of children, called the
girl to her and pointed out the shepherds and shepherdesses carved on
the white Italian marble of the fireplace; she invented a little story
about them to amuse the child, while the mother stood by and at the
end thanked the story-teller with more enthusiasm than seemed called
for. Mrs. Lee did not fancy her effusive manner, or her complexion,
and was glad when Dunbeg appeared at the doorway.
"How do you like General Washington at home?" asked she.
"Really, I assure you I feel quite at home myself," replied Dunbeg,
with a more beaming smile than ever. "I am sure General Washington
was an Irishman.
I know it from the look of the place. I mean to look it up and
write an article about it."
"Then if you have disposed of him," said Madeleine, "I think we
will have luncheon, and I have taken the liberty to order it to be
There a table had been improvised, and Miss Dare was inspecting
the lunch, and making comments upon Lord Skye's cuisine and cellar.
"I hope it is very dry champagne," said she, "the taste for sweet
champagne is quite awfully shocking."
The young woman knew no more about dry and sweet champagne than of
the wine of Ulysses, except that she drank both with equal
satisfaction, but she was mimicking a Secretary of the British
Legation who had provided her with supper at her last evening party.
Lord Skye begged her to try it, which she did, and with great gravity
remarked that it was about five per cent. she presumed. This, too, was
caught from her Secretary, though she knew no more what it meant than
if she had been a parrot.
The luncheon was very lively and very good. When it was over, the
gentlemen were allowed to smoke, and conversation fell into a sober
strain, which at last threatened to become serious.
"You want half-tones!" said Madeleine to Lord Skye: "are there not
half-tones enough to suit you on the walls of this house?"
Lord Skye suggested that this was probably owing to the fact that
Washington, belonging, as he did, to the universe, was in his taste
an exception to local rules.
"Is not the sense of rest here captivating?" she continued. "Look
at that quaint garden, and this ragged lawn, and the great river in
front, and the superannuated fort beyond the river! Everything is
peaceful, even down to the poor old General's little bed-room. One
would like to lie down in it and sleep a century or two. And yet that
dreadful Capitol and its office-seekers are only ten miles off."
"No! that is more than I can bear!" broke in Miss Victoria in a
stage whisper, "that dreadful Capitol! Why, not one of us would be
here without that dreadful Capitol! except, perhaps, myself."
"You would appear very well as Mrs. Washington, Victoria."
"Miss Dare has been so very obliging as to give us her views of
General Washington's character this morning," said Dunbeg, "but I
have not yet had time to ask Mr. Carrington for his."
"Whatever Miss Dare says is valuable," replied Carrington, "but
her strong point is facts."
"Never flatter! Mr. Carrington," drawled Miss Dare; "I do not need
it, and it does not become your style. Tell me, Lord Dunbeg, is not
Mr. Carrington a little your idea of General Washington restored to
us in his prime?"
"After your account of General Washington, Miss Dare, how can I
agree with you?"
"After all," said Lord Skye, "I think we must agree that Miss Dare
is in the main right about the charms of Mount Vernon. Even Mrs. Lee,
on the way up, agreed that the General, who is the only permanent
resident here, has the air of being confoundedly bored in his tomb. I
don't myself love your dreadful Capitol yonder, but I prefer it to a
bucolic life here. And I account in this way for my want of enthusiasm
for your great General. He liked no kind of life but this. He seems to
have been greater in the character of a home-sick Virginia planter
than as General or President. I forgive him his inordinate dulness,
for he was not a diplomatist and it was not his business to lie, but
he might once in a way have forgotten Mount Vernon."
Dunbeg here burst in with an excited protest; all his words seemed
to shove each other aside in their haste to escape first. "All our
greatest Englishmen have been home-sick country squires. I am a
home-sick country squire myself."
"How interesting!" said Miss Dare under her breath.
Mr. Gore here joined in: "It is all very well for you gentlemen to
measure General Washington according to your own private twelve-inch
carpenter's rule. But what will you say to us New Englanders who never
were country gentlemen at all, and never had any liking for Virginia?
What did Washington ever do for us? He never even pretended to like
us. He never was more than barely civil to us. I'm not finding fault
with him; everybody knows that he never cared for anything but Mount
Vernon. For all that, we idolize him. To us he is Morality, Justice,
Duty, Truth; half a dozen Roman gods with capital letters. He is
austere, solitary, grand; he ought to be deified. I hardly feel easy,
eating, drinking, smoking here on his portico without his permission,
taking liberties with his house, criticising his bedrooms in his
absence. Suppose I heard his horse now trotting up on the other side,
and he suddenly appeared at this door and looked at us. I should
abandon you to his indignation. I should run away and hide myself on
the steamer. The mere thought unmans me."
Ratcliffe seemed amused at Gore's half-serious notions. "You
recall to me,"
said he, "my own feelings when I was a boy and was made by my
father to learn the Farewell Address by heart. In those days General
Washington was a sort of American Jehovah. But the West is a poor
school for Reverence. Since coming to Congress I have learned more
about General Washington, and have been surprised to find what a
narrow base his reputation rests on. A fair military officer, who made
many blunders, and who never had more men than would make a full
army-corps under his command, he got an enormous reputation in Europe
because he did not make himself king, as though he ever had a chance
of doing it. A respectable, painstaking President, he was treated by
the Opposition with an amount of deference that would have made
government easy to a baby, but it worried him to death. His official
papers are fairly done, and contain good average sense such as a
hundred thousand men in the United States would now write. I suspect
that half of his attachment to this spot rose from his consciousness
of inferior powers and his dread of responsibility. This government
can show to-day a dozen men of equal abilities, but we don't deify
them. What I most wonder at in him is not his military or political
genius at all, for I doubt whether he had much, but a curious Yankee
shrewdness in money matters. He thought himself a very rich man, yet
he never spent a dollar foolishly. He was almost the only Virginian I
ever heard of, in public life, who did not die insolvent."
During this long speech, Carrington glanced across at Madeleine,
and caught her eye. Ratcliffe's criticism was not to her taste.
Carrington could see that she thought it unworthy of him, and he knew
that it would irritate her.
"I will lay a little trap for Mr. Ratcliffe," thought he to
himself; "we will see whether he gets out of it." So Carrington began,
and all listened closely, for, as a Virginian, he was supposed to know
much about the subject, and his family had been deep in the
confidence of Washington himself.
"The neighbours hereabout had for many years, and may have still,
some curious stories about General Washington's closeness in money
matters. They said he never bought anything by weight but he had it
weighed over again, nor by tale but he had it counted, and if the
weight or number were not exact, he sent it back. Once, during his
absence, his steward had a room plastered, and paid the plasterer's
bill. On the General's return, he measured the room, and found that
the plasterer had charged fifteen shillings too much. Meanwhile the
man had died, and the General made a claim of fifteen shillings on his
estate, which was paid. Again, one of his tenants brought him the
rent. The exact change of fourpence was required.
The man tendered a dollar, and asked the General to credit him
with the balance against the next year's rent. The General refused
and made him ride nine miles to Alexandria and back for the
fourpence. On the other hand, he sent to a shoemaker in Alexandria to
come and measure him for shoes. The man returned word that he did not
go to any one's house to take measures, and the General mounted his
horse and rode the nine miles to him. One of his rules was to pay at
taverns the same sum for his servants' meals as for his own. An
inn-keeper brought him a bill of three-and-ninepence for his own
breakfast, and three shillings for his servant. He insisted upon
adding the extra ninepence, as he did not doubt that the servant had
eaten as much as he. What do you say to these anecdotes? Was this
meanness or not?"
Ratcliffe was amused. "The stories are new to me," he said. "It is
just as I thought. These are signs of a man who thinks much of
trifles; one who fusses over small matters. We don't do things in
that way now that we no longer have to get crops from granite, as
they used to do in New Hampshire when I was a boy."
Carrington replied that it was unlucky for Virginians that they had
not done things in that way then: if they had, they would not have
gone to the dogs.
Gore shook his head seriously; "Did I not tell you so?" said he.
"Was not this man an abstract virtue? I give you my word I stand in
awe before him, and I feel ashamed to pry into these details of his
life. What is it to us how he thought proper to apply his principles
to nightcaps and feather dusters? We are not his body servants, and
we care nothing about his infirmities. It is enough for us to know
that he carried his rules of virtue down to a pin's point, and that we
ought, one and all, to be on our knees before his tomb."
Dunbeg, pondering deeply, at length asked Carrington whether all
this did not make rather a clumsy politician of the father of his
"Mr. Ratcliffe knows more about politics than I. Ask him," said
"Washington was no politician at all, as we understand the word,"
replied Ratcliffe abruptly. "He stood outside of politics. The thing
couldn't be done to-day. The people don't like that sort of royal
"I don't understand!" said Mrs. Lee. "Why could you not do it
"Because I should make a fool of myself;" replied Ratcliffe,
pleased to think that Mrs. Lee should put him on a level with
Washington. She had only meant to ask why the thing could not be
done, and this little touch of Ratcliffe's vanity was inimitable.
"Mr. Ratcliffe means that Washington was too respectable for our
This was deliberately meant to irritate Ratcliffe, and it did so
all the more because Mrs. Lee turned to Carrington, and said, with
"Was he then the only honest public man we ever had?"
"Oh no!" replied Carrington cheerfully; "there have been one or
"If the rest of our Presidents had been like him," said Gore, "we
should have had fewer ugly blots on our short history."
Ratcliffe was exasperated at Carrington's habit of drawing
discussion to this point. He felt the remark as a personal insult, and
he knew it to be intended. "Public men," he broke out, "cannot be
dressing themselves to-day in Washington's old clothes. If Washington
were President now, he would have to learn our ways or lose his next
election. Only fools and theorists imagine that our society can be
handled with gloves or long poles. One must make one's self a part of
it. If virtue won't answer our purpose, we must use vice, or our
opponents will put us out of office, and this was as true in
Washington's day as it is now, and always will be."
"Come," said Lord Skye, who was beginning to fear an open quarrel;
"the conversation verges on treason, and I am accredited to this
government. Why not examine the grounds?"
A kind of natural sympathy led Lord Dunbeg to wander by the side
of Miss Dare through the quaint old garden. His mind being much
occupied by the effort of stowing away the impressions he had just
received, he was more than usually absent in his manner, and this
want of attention irritated the young lady. She made some comments on
flowers; she invented some new species with startling names; she asked
whether these were known in Ireland; but Lord Dunbeg was for the
moment so vague in his answers that she saw her case was perilous.
"Here is an old sun-dial. Do you have sun-dials in Ireland, Lord
"Yes; oh, certainly! What! sun-dials? Oh, yes! I assure you there
are a great many sun-dials in Ireland, Miss Dare."
"I am so glad. But I suppose they are only for ornament. Here it is
just the other way. Look at this one! they all behave like that. The
wear and tear of our sun is too much for them; they don't last. My
uncle, who has a place at Long Branch, had five sun-dials in ten
"How very odd! But really now, Miss Dare, I don't see how a
sun--dial could wear out."
"Don't you? How strange! Don't you see, they get soaked with
sunshine so that they can't hold shadow. It's like me, you know. I
have such a good time all the time that I can't be unhappy. Do you
ever read the Burlington Hawkeye, Lord Dunbeg?"
"I don't remember; I think not. Is it an American serial?" gasped
Dunbeg, trying hard to keep pace with Miss Dare in her reckless
dashes across country.
"No, not serial at all!" replied Virginia; "but I am afraid you
would find it very hard reading. I shouldn't try."
"Do you read it much, Miss Dare?"
"Oh, always! I am not really as light as I seem. But then I have an
advantage over you because I know the language."
By this time Dunbeg was awake again, and Miss Dare, satisfied with
her success, allowed herself to become more reasonable, until a slight
shade of sentiment began to flicker about their path.
The scattered party, however, soon had to unite again. The boat
rang its bell for return, they filed down the paths and settled
themselves in their old places. As they steamed away, Mrs. Lee
watched the sunny hill-side and the peaceful house above, until she
could see them no more, and the longer she looked, the less she was
pleased with herself. Was it true, as Victoria Dare said, that she
could not live in so pure an air? Did she really need the denser fumes
of the city? Was she, unknown to herself; gradually becoming tainted
with the life about her? or was Ratcliffe right in accepting the good
and the bad together, and in being of his time since he was in it? Why
was it, she said bitterly to herself; that everything Washington
touched, he purified, even down to the associations of his house?
and why is it that everything we touch seems soiled? Why do I feel
unclean when I look at Mount Vernon? In spite of Mr. Ratcliffe, is it
not better to be a child and to cry for the moon and stars?
The little Baker girl came up to her where she stood, and began
playing with her parasol.
"Who is your little friend?" asked Ratcliffe.
Mrs. Lee rather vaguely replied that she was the daughter of that
pretty woman in black; she believed her name was Baker.
"Baker, did you say?" repeated Ratcliffe.
"Baker--Mrs. Sam Baker; at least so Mr. Carrington told me; he
said she was a client of his."
In fact Ratcliffe soon saw Carrington go up to her and remain by
her side during the rest of the trip. Ratcliffe watched them sharply
and grew more and more absorbed in his own thoughts as the boat drew
nearer and nearer the shore.
Carrington was in high spirits. He thought he had played his cards
with unusual success. Even Miss Dare deigned to acknowledge his
charms that day.
She declared herself to be the moral image of Martha Washington,
and she started a discussion whether Carrington or Lord Dunbeg would
best suit her in the rôle of the General.
"Mr. Carrington is exemplary," she said, "but oh, what joy to be
Martha Washington and a Countess too!"
WHEN he reached his rooms that afternoon, Senator Ratcliffe found
there, as he expected, a choice company of friends and admirers, who
had beguiled their leisure hours since noon by cursing him in every
variety of profane language that experience could suggest and
impatience stimulate. On his part, had he consulted his own feelings
only, he would then and there have turned them out, and locked the
doors behind them. So far as silent maledictions were concerned, no
profanity of theirs could hold its own against the intensity and
deliberation with which, as he found himself approaching his own door,
he expressed between his teeth his views in respect to their eternal
interests. Nothing could be less suited to his present humour than the
society which awaited him in his rooms. He groaned in spirit as he sat
down at his writing-table and looked about him. Dozens of
office-seekers were besieging the house; men whose patriotic services
in the last election called loudly for recognition from a grateful
They brought their applications to the Senator with an entreaty
that he would endorse and take charge of them. Several members and
senators who felt that Ratcliffe had no reason for existence except
to fight their battle for patronage, were lounging about his room,
reading newspapers, or beguiling their time with tobacco in various
forms; at long intervals making dull remarks, as though they were more
weary than their constituents of the atmosphere that surrounds the
grandest government the sun ever shone upon.
Several newspaper correspondents, eager to barter their news for
Ratcliffe's hints or suggestions, appeared from time to time on the
scene, and, dropping into a chair by Ratcliffe's desk, whispered with
him in mysterious tones.
Thus the Senator worked on, hour after hour, mechanically doing
what was required of him, signing papers without reading them,
answering remarks without hearing them, hardly looking up from his
desk, and appearing immersed in labour. This was his protection
against curiosity and garrulity.
The pretence of work was the curtain he drew between himself and
Behind this curtain his mental operations went on, undisturbed by
what was about him, while he heard all that was said, and said little
or nothing himself. His followers respected this privacy, and left him
alone. He was their prophet, and had a right to seclusion. He was
their chieftain, and while he sat in his monosyllabic solitude, his
ragged tail reclined in various attitudes about him, and occasionally
one man spoke, or another swore. Newspapers and tobacco were their
resource in periods of absolute silence.
A shade of depression rested on the faces and the voices of Clan
Ratcliffe that evening, as is not unusual with forces on the eve of
battle. Their remarks came at longer intervals, and were more
pointless and random than usual. There was a want of elasticity in
their bearing and tone, partly coming from sympathy with the evident
depression of their chief; partly from the portents of the time. The
President was to arrive within forty-eight hours, and as yet there was
no sign that he properly appreciated their services; there were signs
only too unmistakeable that he was painfully misled and deluded, that
his countenance was turned wholly in another direction, and that all
their sacrifices were counted as worthless. There was reason to
believe that he came with a deliberate purpose of making war upon
Ratcliffe and breaking him down; of refusing to bestow patronage on
them, and of bestowing it wherever it would injure them most deeply.
At the thought that their honestly earned harvest of foreign missions
and consulates, department-bureaus, custom-house and revenue offices,
postmasterships, Indian agencies, and army and navy contracts, might
now be wrung from their grasp by the selfish greed of a mere
accidental intruder--a man whom nobody wanted and every one
ridiculed--their natures rebelled, and they felt that such things must
not be; that there could be no more hope for democratic government if
such things were possible. At this point they invariably became
excited, lost their equanimity, and swore. Then they fell back on
their faith in Ratcliffe: if any man could pull them through, he
could; after all, the President must first reckon with him, and he was
an uncommon tough customer to tackle.
Perhaps, however, even their faith in Ratcliffe might have been
shaken, could they at that moment have looked into his mind and
understood what was passing there. Ratcliffe was a man vastly their
superior, and he knew it. He lived in a world of his own and had
instincts of refinement. Whenever his affairs went unfavourably, these
instincts revived, and for the time swept all his nature with them. He
was now filled with disgust and cynical contempt for every form of
politics. During long years he had done his best for his party; he had
sold himself to the devil, coined his heart's blood, toiled with a
dogged persistence that no day-labourer ever conceived; and all for
what? To be rejected as its candidate; to be put under the harrow of a
small Indiana farmer who made no secret of the intention to "corral"
him, and, as he elegantly expressed it, to "take his hide and tallow."
Ratcliffe had no great fear of losing his hide, but he felt aggrieved
that he should be called upon to defend it, and that this should be
the result of twenty years' devotion. Like most men in the same place,
he did not stop to cast up both columns of his account with the party,
nor to ask himself the question that lay at the heart of his
grievance: How far had he served his party and how far himself? He was
in no humour for self-analysis: this requires more repose of mind than
he could then command. As for the President, from whom he had not
heard a whisper since the insolent letter to Grimes, which he had
taken care not to show, the Senator felt only a strong impulse to
teach him better sense and better manners. But as for political life,
the events of the last six months were calculated to make any man
doubt its value. He was quite out of sympathy with it. He hated the
sight of his tobacco-chewing, newspaper-reading satellites, with
their hats tipped at every angle except the right one, and their feet
everywhere except on the floor. Their conversation bored him and
their presence was a nuisance. He would not submit to this slavery
longer. He would have given his Senatorship for a civilized house
like Mrs. Lee's, with a woman like Mrs. Lee at its head, and twenty
thousand a year for life. He smiled his only smile that evening when
he thought how rapidly she would rout every man Jack of his political
following out of her parlours, and how meekly they would submit to
banishment into a back-office with an oil-cloth carpet and two cane
He felt that Mrs. Lee was more necessary to him than the
Presidency itself; he could not go on without her; he needed human
companionship; some Christian comfort for his old age; some avenue of
communication with that social world, which made his present
surroundings look cold and foul; some touch of that refinement of mind
and morals beside which his own seemed coarse. He felt unutterably
lonely. He wished Mrs. Lee had asked him home to dinner; but Mrs. Lee
had gone to bed with a headache. He should not see her again for a
week. Then his mind turned back upon their morning at Mount Vernon,
and bethinking himself of Mrs. Sam Baker, he took a sheet of
note-paper, and wrote a line to Wilson Keen, Esq., at Georgetown,
requesting him to call, if possible, the next morning towards one
o'clock at the Senator's rooms on a matter of business. Wilson Keen
was chief of the Secret Service Bureau in the Treasury Department,
and, as the depositary of all secrets, was often called upon for
assistance which he was very good-natured in furnishing to senators,
especially if they were likely to be Secretaries of the Treasury.
This note despatched, Mr. Ratcliffe fell back into his reflective
mood, which led him apparently into still lower depths of discontent
until, with a muttered oath, he swore he could "stand no more of
this," and, suddenly rising, he informed his visitors that he was
sorry to leave them, but he felt rather poorly and was going to bed;
and to bed he went, while his guests departed, each as his business or
desires might point him, some to drink whiskey and some to repose.
On Sunday morning Mr. Ratcliffe, as usual, went to church. He
always attended morning service--at the Methodist Episcopal
Church--not wholly on the ground of religious conviction, but because
a large number of his constituents were church-going people and he
would not willingly shock their principles so long as he needed their
votes. In church, he kept his eyes closely fixed upon the clergyman,
and at the end of the sermon he could say with truth that he had not
heard a word of it, although the respectable minister was gratified by
the attention his discourse had received from the Senator from
Illinois, an attention all the more praiseworthy because of the
engrossing public cares which must at that moment have distracted the
Senator's mind. In this last idea, the minister was right. Mr.
Ratcliffe's mind was greatly distracted by public cares, and one of
his strongest reasons for going to church at all was that he might get
an hour or two of undisturbed reflection. During the entire service he
was absorbed in carrying on a series of imaginary conversations with
the new President. He brought up in succession every form of
proposition which the President might make to him; every trap which
could be laid for him; every sort of treatment he might expect, so
that he could not be taken by surprise, and his frank, simple nature
could never be at a loss. One object, however, long escaped him.
Supposing, what was more than probable, that the President's
opposition to Ratcliffe's declared friends made it impossible to
force any of them into office; it would then be necessary to try some
new man, not obnoxious to the President, as a candidate for the
Cabinet. Who should this be? Ratcliffe pondered long and deeply,
searching out a man who combined the most powerful interests, with the
fewest enmities. This subject was still uppermost at the moment when
service ended. Ratcliffe pondered over it as he walked back to his
rooms. Not until he reached his own door did he come to a conclusion:
Carson would do; Carson of Pennsylvania; the President had
probably never heard of him.
Mr. Wilson Keen was waiting the Senator's return, a heavy man with
a square face, and good-natured, active blue eyes; a man of few words
and those well-considered. The interview was brief. After apologising
for breaking in upon Sunday with business, Mr. Ratcliffe excused
himself on the ground that so little time was left before the close of
the session. A bill now before one of his Committees, on which a
report must soon be made, involved matters to which it was believed
that the late Samuel Baker, formerly a well-known lobby-agent in
Washington, held the only clue. He being dead, Mr. Ratcliffe wished to
know whether he had left any papers behind him, and in whose hands
these papers were, or whether any partner or associate of his was
acquainted with his affairs.
Mr. Keen made a note of the request, merely remarking that he had
been very well acquainted with Baker, and also a little with his
wife, who was supposed to know his affairs as well as he knew them
himself; and who was still in Washington. He thought he could bring
the information in a day or two. As he then rose to go, Mr. Ratcliffe
added that entire secrecy was necessary, as the interests involved in
obstructing the search were considerable, and it was not well to wake
them up. Mr. Keen assented and went his way.
All this was natural enough and entirely proper, at least so far as
appeared on the surface. Had Mr. Keen been so curious in other
people's affairs as to look for the particular legislative measure
which lay at the bottom of Mr.
Ratcliffe's inquiries, he might have searched among the papers of
Congress a very long time and found himself greatly puzzled at last.
In fact there was no measure of the kind. The whole story was a
fiction. Mr. Ratcliffe had scarcely thought of Baker since his death,
until the day before, when he had seen his widow on the Mount Vernon
steamer and had found her in relations with Carrington. Something in
Carrington's habitual attitude and manner towards himself had long
struck him as peculiar, and this connection with Mrs. Baker had
suggested to the Senator the idea that it might be well to have an eye
on both. Mrs. Baker was a silly woman, as he knew, and there were old
transactions between Ratcliffe and Baker of which she might be
informed, but which Ratcliffe had no wish to see brought within Mrs.
Lee's ken. As for the fiction invented to set Keen in motion, it was
an innocent one. It harmed nobody. Ratcliffe selected this particular
method of inquiry because it was the easiest, safest, and most
effectual. If he were always to wait until he could afford to tell the
precise truth, business would very soon be at a standstill, and his
career at an end.
This little matter disposed of; the Senator from Illinois passed
his afternoon in calling upon some of his brother senators, and the
first of those whom he honoured with a visit was Mr. Krebs, of
Pennsylvania. There were many reasons which now made the co-operation
of that high-minded statesman essential to Mr. Ratcliffe. The
strongest of them was that the Pennsylvania delegation in Congress was
well disciplined and could be used with peculiar advantage for
purposes of "pressure." Ratcliffe's success in his contest with the
new President depended on the amount of "pressure" he could employ. To
keep himself in the background, and to fling over the head of the raw
Chief Magistrate a web of intertwined influences, any one of which
alone would be useless, but which taken together were not to be broken
through; to revive the lost art of the Roman retiarius, who from a
safe distance threw his net over his adversary, before attacking with
the dagger; this was Ratcliffe's intention and towards this he had
been directing all his manipulation for weeks past. How much
bargaining and how many promises he found it necessary to make, was
known to himself alone. About this time Mrs. Lee was a little
surprised to find Mr. Gore speaking with entire confidence of having
Ratcliffe's support in his application for the Spanish mission, for
she had rather imagined that Gore was not a favourite with Ratcliffe.
She noticed too that Schneidekoupon had come back again and spoke
mysteriously of interviews with Ratcliffe; of attempts to unite the
interests of New York and Pennsylvania; and his countenance took on a
dark and dramatic expression as he proclaimed that no sacrifice of the
principle of protection should be tolerated. Schneidekoupon
disappeared as suddenly as he came, and from Sybil's innocent
complaints of his spirits and temper, Mrs. Lee jumped to the
conclusion that Mr. Ratcliffe, Mr. Clinton, and Mr.
Krebs had for the moment combined to sit heavily upon poor
Schneidekoupon, and to remove his disturbing influence from the
scene, at least until other men should get what they wanted. These
were merely the trifling incidents that fell within Mrs. Lee's
observation. She felt an atmosphere of bargain and intrigue, but she
could only imagine how far it extended. Even Carrington, when she
spoke to him about it, only laughed and shook his head:
"Those matters are private, my dear Mrs. Lee; you and I are not
meant to know such things."
This Sunday afternoon Mr. Ratcliffe's object was to arrange the
little manoeuvre about Carson of Pennsylvania, which had disturbed
him in church.
His efforts were crowned with success. Krebs accepted Carson and
promised to bring him forward at ten minutes' notice, should the
Ratcliffe was a great statesman. The smoothness of his
manipulation was marvellous. No other man in politics, indeed no
other man who had ever been in politics in this country, could--his
admirers said--have brought together so many hostile interests and
made so fantastic a combination. Some men went so far as to maintain
that he would "rope in the President himself before the old man had
time to swap knives with him." The beauty of his work consisted in the
skill with which he evaded questions of principle. As he wisely said,
the issue now involved was not one of principle but of power.
The fate of that noble party to which they all belonged, and which
had a record that could never be forgotten, depended on their letting
principle alone. Their principle must be the want of principles. There
were indeed individuals who said in reply that Ratcliffe had made
promises which never could be carried out, and there were almost
superhuman elements of discord in the combination, but as Ratcliffe
shrewdly rejoined, he only wanted it to last a week, and he guessed
his promises would hold it up for that time.
Such was the situation when on Monday afternoon the
President-elect arrived in Washington, and the comedy began. The new
President was, almost as much as Abraham Lincoln or Franklin Pierce,
an unknown quantity in political mathematics. In the national
convention of the party, nine months before, after some dozens of
fruitless ballots in which Ratcliffe wanted but three votes of a
majority, his opponents had done what he was now doing; they had laid
aside their principles and set up for their candidate a plain Indiana
farmer, whose political experience was limited to stump-speaking in
his native State, and to one term as Governor. They had pitched upon
him, not because they thought him competent, but because they hoped by
doing so to detach Indiana from Ratcliffe's following, and they were
so successful that within fifteen minutes Ratcliffe's friends were
routed, and the Presidency had fallen upon this new political Buddha.
He had begun his career as a stone-cutter in a quarry, and was, not
unreasonably, proud of the fact. During the campaign this incident
had, of course, filled a large space in the public mind, or, more
exactly, in the public eye. "The Stone-cutter of the Wabash," he was
sometimes called; at others "the Hoosier Quarryman," but his favourite
appellation was "Old Granite," although this last endearing name,
owing to an unfortunate similarity of sound, was seized upon by his
opponents, and distorted into "Old Granny." He had been painted on
many thousand yards of cotton sheeting, either with a terrific
sledge-hammer, smashing the skulls (which figured as paving-stones) of
his political opponents, or splitting by gigantic blows a huge rock
typical of the opposing party. His opponents in their turn had paraded
illuminations representing the Quarryman in the garb of a
State's-prison convict breaking the heads of Ratcliffe and other
well-known political leaders with a very feeble hammer, or as "Old
Granny" in pauper's rags, hopelessly repairing with the same heads the
impossible roads which typified the ill-conditioned and miry ways of
his party. But these violations of decency and good sense were
universally reproved by the virtuous; and it was remarked with
satisfaction that the purest and most highly cultivated newspaper
editors on his side, without excepting those of Boston itself; agreed
with one voice that the Stone-cutter was a noble type of man, perhaps
the very noblest that had appeared to adorn this country since the
That he was honest, all admitted; that is to say, all who voted for
This is a general characteristic of all new presidents. He himself
took great pride in his home-spun honesty, which is a quality
peculiar to nature's noblemen. Owing nothing, as he conceived, to
politicians, but sympathising through every fibre of his unselfish
nature with the impulses and aspirations of the people, he affirmed
it to be his first duty to protect the people from those vultures, as
he called them, those wolves in sheep's clothing, those harpies,
those hyenas, the politicians; epithets which, as generally
interpreted, meant Ratcliffe and Ratcliffe's friends.
His cardinal principle in politics was hostility to Ratcliffe, yet
he was not vindictive. He came to Washington determined to be the
Father of his country; to gain a proud immortality and a re-election.
Upon this gentleman Ratcliffe had let loose all the forms of
which could be set in motion either in or out of Washington. From
the moment when he had left his humble cottage in Southern Indiana,
he had been captured by Ratcliffe's friends, and smothered in
demonstrations of affection. They had never allowed him to suggest the
possibility of ill-feeling. They had assumed as a matter of course
that the most cordial attachment existed between him and his party. On
his arrival in Washington they systematically cut him off from contact
with any influences but their own. This was not a very difficult thing
to do, for great as he was, he liked to be told of his greatness, and
they made him feel himself a colossus. Even the few personal friends
in his company were manipulated with the utmost care, and their
weaknesses put to use before they had been in Washington a single day.
Not that Ratcliffe had anything to do with all this underhand and
grovelling intrigue. Mr. Ratcliffe was a man of dignity and
self-respect, who left details to his subordinates. He waited calmly
until the President, recovered from the fatigues of his journey,
should begin to feel the effect of a Washington atmosphere. Then on
Wednesday morning, Mr. Ratcliffe left his rooms an hour earlier than
usual on his way to the Senate, and called at the President's Hotel:
he was ushered into a large apartment in which the new Chief
Magistrate was holding court, although at sight of Ratcliffe, the
other visitors edged away or took their hats and left the room. The
President proved to be a hard-featured man of sixty, with a hooked
nose and thin, straight, iron-gray hair. His voice was rougher than
his features and he received Ratcliffe awkwardly. He had suffered
since his departure from Indiana. Out there it had seemed a mere
flea-bite, as he expressed it, to brush Ratcliffe aside, but in
Washington the thing was somehow different.
Even his own Indiana friends looked grave when he talked of it,
and shook their heads. They advised him to be cautious and gain time;
to lead Ratcliffe on, and if possible to throw on him the
responsibility of a quarrel. He was, therefore, like a brown bear
undergoing the process of taming; very ill-tempered, very rough, and
at the same time very much bewildered and a little frightened.
Ratcliffe sat ten minutes with him, and obtained information in
regard to pains which the President had suffered during the previous
night, in consequence, as he believed, of an over-indulgence in fresh
lobster, a luxury in which he had found a diversion from the cares of
state. So soon as this matter was explained and condoled upon,
Ratcliffe rose and took leave.
Every device known to politicians was now in full play against the
Hoosier Quarryman. State delegations with contradictory requests were
poured in upon him, among which that of Massachusetts presented as its
only prayer the appointment of Mr. Gore to the Spanish mission.
Difficulties were invented to embarrass and worry him. False leads
were suggested, and false information carefully mingled with true. A
wild dance was kept up under his eyes from daylight to midnight, until
his brain reeled with the effort to follow it. Means were also found
to convert one of his personal, confidential friends, who had come
with him from Indiana and who had more brains or less principle than
the others; from him every word of the President was brought directly
to Ratcliffe's ear.
Early on Friday morning, Mr. Thomas Lord, a rival of the late
Samuel Baker, and heir to his triumphs, appeared in Ratcliffe's rooms
while the Senator was consuming his lonely egg and chop. Mr. Lord had
been chosen to take general charge of the presidential party and to
direct all matters connected with Ratcliffe's interests. Some people
might consider this the work of a spy; he looked on it as a public
duty. He reported that "Old Granny" had at last shown signs of
weakness. Late the previous evening when, according to his custom, he
was smoking his pipe in company with his kitchen-cabinet of followers,
he had again fallen upon the subject of Ratcliffe, and with a volley
of oaths had sworn that he would show him his place yet, and that he
meant to offer him a seat in the Cabinet that would make him "sicker
than a stuck hog." From this remark and some explanatory hints that
followed, it seemed that the Quarryman had abandoned his scheme of
putting Ratcliffe to immediate political death, and had now undertaken
to invite him into a Cabinet which was to be specially constructed to
thwart and humiliate him.
The President, it appeared, warmly applauded the remark of one
counsellor, that Ratcliffe was safer in the Cabinet than in the
Senate, and that it would be easy to kick him out when the time came.
Ratcliffe smiled grimly as Mr. Lord, with much clever mimicry,
described the President's peculiarities of language and manner, but
he said nothing and waited for the event. The same evening came a
note from the President's private secretary requesting his
attendance, if possible, to-morrow, Saturday morning, at ten o'clock.
The note was curt and cool. Ratcliffe merely sent back word that he
would come, and felt a little regret that the President should not
know enough etiquette to understand that this verbal answer was
intended as a hint to improve his manners. He did come accordingly,
and found the President looking blacker than before. This time there
was no avoiding of tender subjects. The President meant to show
Ratcliffe by the decision of his course, that he was master of the
situation. He broke at once into the middle of the matter: "I sent for
said he, "to consult with you about my Cabinet. Here is a list of
the gentlemen I intend to invite into it. You will see that I have got
you down for the Treasury. Will you look at the list and say what you
think of it?"
Ratcliffe took the paper, but laid it at once on the table without
looking at it. "I can have no objection," said he, "to any Cabinet
you may appoint, provided I am not included in it. My wish is to
remain where I am. There I can serve your administration better than
in the Cabinet."
"Then you refuse?" growled the President.
"By no means. I only decline to offer any advice or even to hear
the names of my proposed colleagues until it is decided that my
services are necessary. If they are, I shall accept without caring
with whom I serve."
The President glared at him with an uneasy look. What was to be
He wanted time to think, but Ratcliffe was there and must be
disposed of. He involuntarily became more civil: "Mr. Ratcliffe, your
refusal would knock everything on the head. I thought that matter was
all fixed. What more can I do?"
But Ratcliffe had no mind to let the President out of his clutches
so easily, and a long conversation followed, during which he forced
his antagonist into the position of urging him to take the Treasury in
order to prevent some undefined but portentous mischief in the Senate.
All that could be agreed upon was that Ratcliffe should give a
positive answer within two days, and on that agreement he took his
As he passed through the corridor, a number of gentlemen were
waiting for interviews with the President, and among them was the
whole Pennsylvania delegation, "ready for biz," as Mr. Tom Lord
remarked, with a wink.
Ratcliffe drew Krebs aside and they exchanged a few words as he
Ten minutes afterwards the delegation was admitted, and some of
its members were a little surprised to hear their spokesman, Senator
Krebs, press with extreme earnestness and in their names, the
appointment of Josiah B. Carson to a place in the Cabinet, when they
had been given to understand that they came to recommend Jared
Caldwell as postmaster of Philadelphia. But Pennsylvania is a great
and virtuous State, whose representatives have entire confidence in
their chief. Not one of them so much as winked.
The dance of democracy round the President now began again with
wilder energy. Ratcliffe launched his last bolts. His two-days' delay
was a mere cover for bringing new influences to bear. He needed no
delay. He wanted no time for reflection. The President had undertaken
to put him on the horns of a dilemma; either to force him into a
hostile and treacherous Cabinet, or to throw on him the blame of a
refusal and a quarrel. He meant to embrace one of the horns and to
impale the President on it, and he felt perfect confidence in his own
success. He meant to accept the Treasury and he was ready to back
himself with a heavy wager to get the government entirely into his own
hands within six weeks. His contempt for the Hoosier Stone-cutter was
unbounded, and his confidence in himself more absolute than ever.
Busy as he was, the Senator made his appearance the next evening
Lee's, and finding her alone with Sybil, who was occupied with her
own little devices, Ratcliffe told Madeleine the story of his week's
He did not dwell on his exploits. On the contrary he quite ignored
those elaborate arrangements which had taken from the President his
power of volition. His picture presented himself; solitary and
unprotected, in the character of that honest beast who was invited to
dine with the lion and saw that all the footmarks of his predecessors
led into the lion's cave, and none away from it. He described in
humorous detail his interviews with the Indiana lion, and the
particulars of the surfeit of lobster as given in the President's
dialect; he even repeated to her the story told him by Mr. Tom Lord,
without omitting oaths or gestures; he told her how matters stood at
the moment, and how the President had laid a trap for him which he
could not escape; he must either enter a Cabinet constructed on
purpose to thwart him and with the certainty of ignominious dismissal
at the first opportunity, or he must refuse an offer of friendship
which would throw on him the blame of a quarrel, and enable the
President to charge all future difficulties to the account of
Ratcliffe's "insatiable ambition." "And now, Mrs. Lee," he continued,
with increasing seriousness of tone; "I want your advice; what shall I
Even this half revelation of the meanness which distorted politics;
this one-sided view of human nature in its naked deformity playing
pranks with the interests of forty million people, disgusted and
depressed Madeleine's mind. Ratclife spared her nothing except the
exposure of his own moral sores. He carefully called her attention to
every leprous taint upon his neighbours' persons, to every rag in
their foul clothing, to every slimy and fetid pool that lay beside
their path. It was his way of bringing his own qualities into relief.
He meant that she should go hand in hand with him through the
brimstone lake, and the more repulsive it seemed to her, the more
overwhelming would his superiority become. He meant to destroy those
doubts of his character which Carrington was so carefully fostering,
to rouse her sympathy, to stimulate her feminine sense of
When he asked this question she looked up at him with an
expression of indignant pride, as she spoke:
"I say again, Mr. Ratcliffe, what I said once before. Do whatever
is most for the public good."
"And what is most for the public good?"
Madeleine half opened her mouth to reply, then hesitated, and
stared silently into the fire before her. What was indeed most for
the public good?
Where did the public good enter at all into this maze of personal
intrigue, this wilderness of stunted natures where no straight road
was to be found, but only the tortuous and aimless tracks of beasts
and things that crawl?
Where was she to look for a principle to guide, an ideal to set up
and to point at?
Ratcliffe resumed his appeal, and his manner was more serious than
"I am hard pressed, Mrs. Lee. My enemies encompass me about. They
mean to ruin me. I honestly wish to do my duty. You once said that
personal considerations should have no weight. Very well! throw them
away! And now tell me what I should do."
For the first time, Mrs. Lee began to feel his power. He was
simple, straightforward, earnest. His words moved her. How should she
imagine that he was playing upon her sensitive nature precisely as he
played upon the President's coarse one, and that this heavy western
politician had the instincts of a wild Indian in their sharpness and
quickness of perception; that he divined her character and read it as
he read the faces and tones of thousands from day to day? She was
uneasy under his eye. She began a sentence, hesitated in the middle,
and broke down. She lost her command of thought, and sat dumb-founded.
He had to draw her out of the confusion he had himself made.
"I see your meaning in your face. You say that I should accept the
duty and disregard the consequences."
"I don't know," said Madeleine, hesitatingly; "Yes, I think that
would be my feeling."
"And when I fall a sacrifice to that man's envy and intrigue, what
will you think then, Mrs. Lee? Will you not join the rest of the
world and say that I overreached myself; and walked into this trap
with my eyes open, and for my own objects? Do you think I shall ever
be thought better of; for getting caught here? I don't parade high
moral views like our friend French. I won't cant about virtue. But I
do claim that in my public life I have tried to do right. Will you do
me the justice to think so?"
Madeleine still struggled to prevent herself from being drawn into
indefinite promises of sympathy with this man. She would keep him at
arm's length whatever her sympathies might be. She would not pledge
herself to espouse his cause. She turned upon him with an effort, and
said that her thoughts, now or at any time, were folly and nonsense,
and that the consciousness of right-doing was the only reward any
public man had a right to expect.
"And yet you are a hard critic, Mrs. Lee. If your thoughts are what
you say, your words are not. You judge with the judgment of abstract
principles, and you wield the bolts of divine justice. You look on and
condemn, but you refuse to acquit. When I come to you on the verge of
what is likely to be the fatal plunge of my life, and ask you only for
some clue to the moral principle that ought to guide me, you look on
and say that virtue is its own reward. And you do not even say where
"I confess my sins," said Madeleine, meekly and despondently;
"life is more complicated than I thought."
"I shall be guided by your advice," said Ratcliffe; "I shall walk
into that den of wild beasts, since you think I ought. But I shall
hold you to your responsibility. You cannot refuse to see me through
dangers you have helped to bring me into."
"No, no!" cried Madeleine, earnestly; "no responsibility. You ask
more than I can give."
Ratcliffe looked at her a moment with a troubled and careworn
face. His eyes seemed deep sunk in their dark circles, and his voice
was pathetic in its intensity. "Duty is duty, for you as well as for
me. I have a right to the help of all pure minds. You have no right
to refuse it. How can you reject your own responsibility and hold me
Almost as he spoke, he rose and took his departure, leaving her no
time to do more than murmur again her ineffectual protest. After he
was gone, Mrs.
Lee sat long, with her eyes fixed on the fire, reflecting upon what
he had said. Her mind was bewildered by the new suggestions which
Ratcliffe had thrown out. What woman of thirty, with aspirations for
the infinite, could resist an attack like this? What woman with a soul
could see before her the most powerful public man of her time,
appealing--with a face furrowed by anxieties, and a voice vibrating
with only half-suppressed affection--to her for counsel and sympathy,
without yielding some response? and what woman could have helped
bowing her head to that rebuke of her over-confident judgment, coming
as it did from one who in the same breath appealed to that judgment as
final? Ratcliffe, too, had a curious instinct for human weaknesses. No
magnetic needle was ever truer than his finger when he touched the
vulnerable spot in an opponent's mind. Mrs. Lee was not to be reached
by an appeal to religious sentiment, to ambition, or to affection.
Any such appeal would have fallen flat on her ears and destroyed
its own hopes. But she was a woman to the very last drop of her
blood. She could not be induced to love Ratcliffe, but she might be
deluded into sacrificing herself for him. She atoned for want of
devotion to God, by devotion to man.
She had a woman's natural tendency towards asceticism,
self-extinction, self-abnegation. All through life she had made
painful efforts to understand and follow out her duty. Ratcliffe knew
her weak point when he attacked her from this side. Like all great
orators and advocates, he was an actor; the more effective because of
a certain dignified air that forbade familiarity.
He had appealed to her sympathy, her sense of right and of duty, to
her courage, her loyalty, her whole higher nature; and while he made
this appeal he felt more than half convinced that he was all he
pretended to be, and that he really had a right to her devotion. What
wonder that she in her turn was more than half inclined to admit that
right. She knew him now better than Carrington or Jacobi knew him.
Surely a man who spoke as he spoke, had noble instincts and lofty
aims? Was not his career a thousand times more important than hers? If
he, in his isolation and his cares, needed her assistance, had she an
excuse for refusing it? What was there in her aimless and useless life
which made it so precious that she could not afford to fling it into
the gutter, if need be, on the bare chance of enriching some fuller
OF all titles ever assumed by prince or potentate, the proudest is
that of the Roman pontiffs: "Servus servorum Dei"--"Servant of the
servants of God."
In former days it was not admitted that the devil's servants could
by right have any share in government. They were to be shut out,
punished, exiled, maimed, and burned. The devil has no servants now;
only the people have servants. There may be some mistake about a
doctrine which makes the wicked, when a majority, the mouthpiece of
God against the virtuous, but the hopes of mankind are staked on it;
and if the weak in faith sometimes quail when they see humanity
floating in a shoreless ocean, on this plank, which experience and
religion long since condemned as rotten, mistake or not, men have thus
far floated better by its aid, than the popes ever did with their
prettier principle; so that it will be a long time yet before society
Whether the new President and his chief rival, Mr. Silas P.
Ratcliffe, were or were not servants of the servants of God, is not
material here. Servants they were to some one. No doubt many of those
who call themselves servants of the people are no better than wolves
in sheep's clothing, or asses in lions' skins. One may see scores of
them any day in the Capitol when Congress is in session, making noisy
demonstrations, or more usefully doing nothing. A wiser generation
will employ them in manual labour; as it is, they serve only
themselves. But there are two officers, at least, whose service is
real--the President and his Secretary of the Treasury. The Hoosier
Quarryman had not been a week in Washington before he was heartily
home-sick for Indiana. No maid-of-all-work in a cheap boarding-house
was ever more harassed. Everyone conspired against him. His enemies
gave him no peace. All Washington was laughing at his blunders, and
ribald sheets, published on a Sunday, took delight in printing the new
Chief Magistrate's sayings and doings, chronicled with outrageous
humour, and placed by malicious hands where the President could not
but see them. He was sensitive to ridicule, and it mortified him to
the heart to find that remarks and acts, which to him seemed sensible
enough, should be capable of such perversion. Then he was overwhelmed
with public business. It came upon him in a deluge, and he now, in his
despair, no longer tried to control it. He let it pass over him like a
wave. His mind was muddied by the innumerable visitors to whom he had
to listen. But his greatest anxiety was the Inaugural Address which,
distracted as he was, he could not finish, although in another week it
must be delivered. He was nervous about his Cabinet; it seemed to him
that he could do nothing until he had disposed of Ratcliffe.
Already, thanks to the President's friends, Ratcliffe had become
indispensable; still an enemy, of course, but one whose hands must be
tied; a sort of Sampson, to be kept in bonds until the time came for
putting him out of the way, but in the meanwhile, to be utilized. This
point being settled, the President had in imagination begun to lean
upon him; for the last few days he had postponed everything till next
week, "when I get my Cabinet arranged;" which meant, when he got
Ratcliffe's assistance; and he fell into a panic whenever he thought
of the chance that Ratcliffe might refuse.
He was pacing his room impatiently on Monday mormng, an hour
before the time fixed for Ratcliffe's visit. His feelings still
fluctuated violently, and if he recognized the necessity of using
Ratcliffe, he was not the less determined to tie Ratcliffe's hands.
He must be made to come into a Cabinet where every other voice would
be against him. He must be prevented from having any patronage to
dispose of. He must be induced to accept these conditions at the
start. How present this to him in such a way as not to repel him at
once? All this was needless, if the President had only known it, but
he thought himself a profound statesman, and that his hand was guiding
the destinies of America to his own re-election. When at length, on
the stroke of ten o'clock, Ratcliffe entered the room, the President
turned to him with nervous eagerness, and almost before offering his
hand, said that he hoped Mr. Ratcliffe had come prepared to begin work
at once. The Senator replied that, if such was the President's decided
wish, he would offer no further opposition. Then the President drew
himself up in the attitude of an American Cato, and delivered a
prepared address, in which he said that he had chosen the members ot
his Cabinet with a careful regard to the public interests; that Mr.
Ratcliffe was essential to the combination; that he expected no
disagreement on principles, for there was but one principle which he
should consider fundamental, namely, that there should be no removals
from office except for cause; and that under these circumstances he
counted upon Mr. Ratcliffe's assistance as a matter of patriotic duty.
To all this Ratcliffe assented without a word of objection, and the
President, more convinced than ever of his own masterly
statesmanship, breathed more freely than for a week past. Within ten
minutes they were actively at work together, clearing away the mass of
The relief of the Quarryman surprised himself. Ratcliffe lifted the
weight of affairs from his shoulders with hardly an effort. He knew
everybody and everything. He took most of the President's visitors at
once into his own hands and dismissed them with great rapidity. He
knew what they wanted; he knew what recommendations were strong and
what were weak; who was to be treated with deference and who was to be
sent away abruptly; where a blunt refusal was safe, and where a pledge
was allowable. The President even trusted him with the unfinished
manuscript of the Inaugural Address, which Ratcliffe returned to him
the next day with such notes and suggestions as left nothing to be
done beyond copying them out in a fair hand. With all this, he proved
himself a very agreeable companion. He talked well and enlivened the
work; he was not a hard taskmaster, and when he saw that the President
was tired, he boldly asserted that there was no more business that
could not as well wait a day, and so took the weary Stone-cutter out
to drive for a couple of hours, and let him go peacefully to sleep in
the carriage. They dined together and Ratcliffe took care to send for
Tom Lord to amuse them, for Tom was a wit and a humourist, and kept
the President in a laugh. Mr. Lord ordered the dinner and chose the
wines. He could be coarse enough to suit even the President's palate,
and Ratcliffe was not behindhand. When the new Secretary went away at
ten o'clock that night, his chief; who was in high good humour with
his dinner, his champagne, and his conversation, swore with some
unnecessary granite oaths, that Ratcliffe was "a clever fellow
anyhow," and he was glad "that job was fixed."
The truth was that Ratcliffe had now precisely ten days before the
new Cabinet could be set in motion, and in these ten days he must
establish his authority over the President so firmly that nothing
could shake it. He was diligent in good works. Very soon the court
began to feel his hand. If a business letter or a written memorial
came in, the President found it easy to endorse: "Referred to the
Secretary of the Treasury." If a visitor wanted anything for himself
or another, the invariable reply came to be: "Just mention it to Mr.
Ratcliffe;" or, "I guess Ratcliffe will see to that."
Before long he even made jokes in a Catonian manner; jokes that
were not peculiarly witty, but somewhat gruff and boorish, yet
significant of a resigned and self-contented mind. One morning he
ordered Ratcliffe to take an iron-clad ship of war and attack the
Sioux in Montana, seeing that he was in charge of the army and navy
and Indians at once, and Jack of all trades; and again he told a naval
officer who wanted a court-martial that he had better get Ratcliffe to
sit on him for he was a whole court-martial by himself. That Ratcliffe
held his chief in no less contempt than before, was probable but not
certain, for he kept silence on the subject before the world, and
looked solemn whenever the President was mentioned.
Before three days were over, the President, with a little more than
his usual abruptness, suddenly asked him what he knew about this
fellow Carson, whom the Pennsylvanians were bothering him to put in
his Cabinet. Ratcliffe was guarded: he scarcely knew the man; Mr.
Carson was not in politics, he believed, but was pretty
respectable--for a Pennsylvanian. The President returned to the
subject several times; got out his list of Cabinet officers and
figured industriously upon it with a rather perplexed face; called
Ratcliffe to help him; and at last the "slate" was fairly broken, and
Ratcliffe's eyes gleamed when the President caused his list of
nominations to be sent to the Senate on the 5th March, and Josiah B.
Carson, of Pennsylvania, was promptly confirmed as Secretary of the
But his eyes gleamed still more humorously when, a few days
afterwards, the President gave him a long list of some two score
names, and asked him to find places for them. He assented
good-naturedly, with a remark that it might be necessary to make a
few removals to provide for these cases.
"Oh, well," said the President, "I guess there's just about as many
as that had ought to go out anyway. These are friends of mine; got to
be looked after. Just stuff 'em in somewhere."
Even he felt a little awkward about it, and, to do him justice,
this was the last that was heard about the fundamental rule of his
Removals were fast and furious, until all Indiana became easy in
circumstances. And it was not to be denied that, by one means or
another, Ratcliffe's friends did come into their fair share of the
Perhaps the President thought it best to wink at such use of the
Treasury patronage for the present, or was already a little overawed
by his Secretary.
Ratcliffe's work was done. The public had, with the help of some
clever intrigue, driven its servants into the traces. Even an Indiana
stone-cutter could be taught that his personal prejudices must yield
to the public service. What mischief the selfishness, the ambition,
or the ignorance of these men might do, was another matter. As the
affair stood, the President was the victim of his own schemes. It
remained to be seen whether, at some future day, Mr. Ratcliffe would
think it worth his while to strangle his chief by some quiet Eastern
intrigue, but the time had gone by when the President could make use
of either the bow-string or the axe upon him.
All this passed while Mrs. Lee was quietly puzzling her poor little
brain about her duty and her responsibility to Ratcliffe, who,
meanwhile, rarely failed to find himself on Sunday evenings by her
side in her parlour, where his rights were now so well established
that no one presumed to contest his seat, unless it were old Jacobi,
who from time to time reminded him that he was fallible and mortal.
Occasionally, though not often, Mr. Ratcliffe came at other times, as
when he persuaded Mrs. Lee to be present at the Inauguration, and to
call on the President's wife. Madeleine and Sybil went to the Capitol
and had the best places to see and hear the Inauguration, as well as a
cold March wind would allow. Mrs. Lee found fault with the ceremony;
it was of the earth, earthy, she said. An elderly western farmer, with
silver spectacles, new and glossy evening clothes, bony features, and
stiff; thin, gray hair, trying to address a large crowd of people,
under the drawbacks of a piercing wind and a cold in his head, was not
a hero. Sybil's mind was lost in wondering whether the President would
not soon die of pneumonia. Even this experience, however, was happy
when compared with that of the call upon the President's wife, after
which Madeleine decided to leave the new dynasty alone in future. The
lady, who was somewhat stout and coarse-featured, and whom Mrs. Lee
declared she wouldn't engage as a cook, showed qualities which, seen
under that fierce light which beats upon a throne, seemed ungracious.
Her antipathy to Ratcliffe was more violent than her husband's, and
was even more openly expressed, until the President was quite put out
of countenance by it. She extended her hostility to every one who
could be supposed to be Ratcliffe's friend, and the newspapers, as
well as private gossip, had marked out Mrs. Lee as one who, by an
alliance with Ratcliffe, was aiming at supplanting her own rule over
the White House.
Hence, when Mrs. Lightfoot Lee was announced, and the two sisters
were ushered into the presidential parlour, she put on a coldly
patronizing air, and in reply to Madeleine's hope that she found
Washington agreeable, she intimated that there was much in Washington
which struck her as awful wicked, especially the women; and, looking
at Sybil, she spoke of the style of dress in this city which she said
she meant to do what she could to put a stop to. She'd heard tell that
people sent to Paris for their gowns, just as though America wasn't
good enough to make one's clothes! Jacob (all Presidents' wives speak
of their husbands by their first names) had promised her to get a law
passed against it. In her town in Indiana, a young woman who was seen
on the street in such clothes wouldn't be spoken to. At these remarks,
made with an air and in a temper quite unmistakable, Madeleine became
exasperated beyond measure, and said that "Washington would be
pleased to see the President do something in regard to
dress-reform--or any other reform;" and with this allusion to the
President's ante-election reform speeches, Mrs. Lee turned her back
and left the room, followed by Sybil in convulsions of suppressed
laughter, which would not have been suppressed had she seen the face
of their hostess as the door shut behind them, and the energy with
which she shook her head and said: "See if I don't reform you yet,
Mrs. Lee gave Ratcliffe a lively account of this interview, and he
laughed nearly as convulsively as Sybil over it, though he tried to
pacify her by saying that the President's most intimate friends
openly declared his wife to be insane, and that he himself was the
person most afraid of her. But Mrs. Lee declared that the President
was as bad as his wife; that an equally good President and
President's wife could be picked up in any corner-grocery between the
Lakes and the Ohio; and that no inducement should ever make her go
near that coarse washerwoman again.
Ratcliffe did not attempt to change Mrs. Lee's opinion. Indeed he
knew better than any man how Presidents were made, and he had his own
opinions in regard to the process as well as the fabric produced.
Nothing Mrs. Lee could say now affected him. He threw off his
responsibility and she found it suddenly resting on her own shoulders.
When she spoke with indignation of the wholesale removals from office
with which the new administration marked its advent to power, he told
her the story of the President's fundamental principle, and asked her
what she would have him do. "He meant to tie my hands," said
Ratcliffe, "and to leave his own free, and I accepted the condition.
Can I resign now on such a ground as this?" And Madeleine was obliged
to agree that he could not. She had no means of knowing how many
removals he made in his own interest, or how far he had outwitted the
President at his own game. He stood before her a victim and a patriot.
Every step he had taken had been taken with her approval. He was now
in office to prevent what evil he could, not to be responsible for the
evil that was done; and he honestly assured her that much worse men
would come in when he went out, as the President would certainly take
good care that he did go out when the moment arrived.
Mrs. Lee had the chance now to carry out her scheme in coming to
Washington, for she was already deep in the mire of politics and
could see with every advantage how the great machine floundered
about, bespattering with mud even her own pure garments. Ratcliffe
himself, since entering the Treasury, had begun to talk with a sneer
of the way in which laws were made, and openly said that he wondered
how government got on at all. Yet he declared still that this
particular government was the highest expression of political thought.
Mrs. Lee stared at him and wondered whether he knew what thought was.
To her the government seemed to have less thought in it than one of
Sybil's gowns, for if they, like the government, were monstrously
costly, they were at least adapted to their purpose, the parts fitted
together, and they were neither awkward nor unwieldy.
There was nothing very encouraging in all this, but it was better
than New York. At least it gave her something to look at, and to
think about. Even Lord Dunbeg preached practical philanthropy to her
by the hour. Ratcliffe, too, was compelled to drag himself out of the
rut of machine politics, and to justify his right of admission to her
house. There Mr. French discoursed at great length, until the fourth
of March sent him home to Connecticut; and he brought more than one
intelligent member of Congress to Mrs. Lee's parlour. Underneath the
scum floating on the surface of politics, Madeleine felt that there
was a sort of healthy ocean current of honest purpose, which swept the
scum before it, and kept the mass pure.
This was enough to draw her on. She reconciled herself to
accepting the Ratcliffian morals, for she could see no choice. She
herself had approved every step she had seen him take. She could not
deny that there must be something wrong in a double standard of
morality, but where was it? Mr.
Ratcliffe seemed to her to be doing good work with as pure means
as he had at hand. He ought to be encouraged, not reviled. What was
she that she should stand in judgment?
Others watched her progress with less satisfaction. Mr. Nathan
Gore was one of these, for he came in one evening, looking much out
of temper, and, sitting down by her side he said he had come to bid
good-bye and to thank her for the kindness she had shown him; he was
to leave Washington the next morning. She too expressed her warm
regret, but added that she hoped he was only going in order to take
his passage to Madrid.
He shook his head. "I am going to take my passage," said he, "but
not to Madrid. The fates have cut that thread. The President does not
want my services, and I can't blame him, for if our situations were
reversed, I should certainly not want his. He has an Indiana friend,
who, I am told, wanted to be postmaster at Indianapolis, but as this
did not suit the politicians, he was bought off at the exorbitant
price of the Spanish mission. But I should have no chance even if he
were out of the way. The President does not approve of me. He objects
to the cut of my overcoat which is unfortunately an English one. He
also objects to the cut of my hair. I am afraid that his wife objects
to me because I am so happy as to be thought a friend of yours."
Madeleine could only acknowledge that Mr. Gore's case was a bad
one. "But after all," said she, "why should politicians be expected
to love you literary gentlemen who write history. Other criminal
classes are not expected to love their judges."
"No, but they have sense enough to fear them," replied Gore
vindictively; "not one politician living has the brains or the art to
defend his own cause. The ocean of history is foul with the carcases
of such statesmen, dead and forgotten except when some historian
fishes one of them up to gibbet it."
Mr. Gore was so much out of temper that after this piece of
extravagance he was forced to pause a moment to recover himself. Then
he went on:-- "You are perfectly right, and so is the President. I
have no business to be meddling in politics. It is not my place. The
next time you hear of me, I promise it shall not be as an
Then he rapidly changed the subject, saying that he hoped Mrs. Lee
was soon going northward again, and that they might meet at Newport.
"I don't know," replied Madeleine; "the spring is pleasant here,
and we shall stay till the warm weather, I think."
Mr. Gore looked grave. "And your politics!" said he; "are you
satisfied with what you have seen?"
"I have got so far as to lose the distinction between right and
wrong. Isn't that the first step in politics?"
Mr. Gore had no mind even for serious jesting. He broke out into a
long lecture which sounded like a chapter of some future history:
"But Mrs. Lee, is it possible that you don't see what a wrong path
you are on. If you want to know what the world is really doing to any
good purpose, pass a winter at Samarcand, at Timbuctoo, but not at
Washington. Be a bank-clerk, or a journeyman printer, but not a
Congressman. Here you will find nothing but wasted effort and clumsy
"Do you think it a pity for me to learn that?" asked Madeleine
when his long essay was ended.
"No!" replied Gore, hesitating; "not if you do learn it. But many
people never get so far, or only when too late. I shall be glad to
hear that you are mistress of it and have given up reforming
politics. The Spaniards have a proverb that smells of the stable, but
applies to people like you and me:
The man who washes his donkey's head, loses time and soap."
Gore took his leave before Madeleine had time to grasp all the
impudence of this last speech. Not until she was fairly in bed that
night did it suddenly flash on her mind that Mr. Gore had dared to
caricature her as wasting time and soap on Mr. Ratcliffe. At first
she was violently angry and then she laughed in spite of herself;
there was truth in the portrait. In secret, too, she was the less
offended because she half thought that it had depended only on
herself to make of Mr. Gore something more than a friend. If she had
overheard his parting words to Carrington, she would have had still
more reason to think that a little jealousy of Ratcliffe's success
sharpened the barb of Gore's enmity.
"Take care of Ratcliffe!" was his farewell; "he is a clever dog. He
has set his mark on Mrs. Lee. Look out that he doesn't walk off with
A little startled by this sudden confidence, Carrington could only
ask what he could do to prevent it.
"Cats that go ratting, don't wear gloves," replied Gore, who always
carried a Spanish proverb in his pocket. Carrington, after painful
reflection, could only guess that he wanted Ratcliffe's enemies to
show their claws. But how?
Mrs. Lee not long afterwards spoke to Ratcliffe of her regret at
Gore's disappointment and hinted at his disgust. Ratcliffe replied
that he had done what he could for Gore, and had introduced him to
the President, who, after seeing him, had sworn his usual granitic
oath that he would sooner send his nigger farm-hand Jake to Spain than
that man-milliner. "You know how I stand;" added Ratcliffe; "what more
could I do?" And Mrs. Lee's implied reproach was silenced.
If Gore was little pleased with Ratcliffe's conduct, poor
Schneidekoupon was still less so. He turned up again at Washington
not long after the Inauguration and had a private interview with the
Secretary of the Treasury.
What passed at it was known only to themselves, but, whatever it
was, Schneidekoupon's temper was none the better for it. From his
conversations with Sybil, it seemed that there was some question
about appointments in which his protectionist friends were
interested, and he talked very openly about Ratcliffe's want of good
faith, and how he had promised everything to everybody and had failed
to keep a single pledge; if Schneidekoupon's advice had been taken,
this wouldn't have happened. Mrs. Lee told Ratcliffe that
Schneidekoupon seemed out of temper, and asked the reason. He only
laughed and evaded the question, remarking that cattle of this kind
were always complaining unless they were allowed to run the whole
government; Schneidekoupon had nothing to grumble about; no one had
ever made any promises to him. But nevertheless Schneidekoupon
confided to Sybil his antipathy to Ratcliffe and solemnly begged her
not to let Mrs. Lee fall into his hands, to which Sybil answered
tartly that she only wished Mr.
Schneidekoupon would tell her how to help it.
The reformer French had also been one of Ratcliffe's backers in
the fight over the Treasury. He remained in Washington a few days
after the Inauguration, and then disappeared, leaving cards with
P.P.C. in the corner, at Mrs. Lee's door. Rumour said that he too was
disappointed, but he kept his own counsel, and, if he really wanted
the mission to Belgium, he contented himself with waiting for it. A
respectable stage-coach proprietor from Oregon got the place.
As for Jacobi, who was not disappointed, and who had nothing to
ask for, he was bitterest of all. He formally offered his
congratulations to Ratcliffe on his appointment. This little scene
occurred in Mrs. Lee's parlour. The old Baron, with his most suave
manner, and his most Voltairean leer, said that in all his
experience, and he had seen a great many court intrigues, he had
never seen anything better managed than that about the Treasury.
Ratcliffe was furiously angry, and told the Baron outright that
foreign ministers who insulted the governments to which they were
accredited ran a risk of being sent home.
"Ce serait toujours un pis aller," said Jacobi, seating himself
with calmness in Ratcliffe's favourite chair by Mrs. Lee's side.
Madeleine, alarmed as she was, could not help interposing, and
hastily asked whether that remark was translatable.
"Ah!" said the Baron; "I can do nothing with your language. You
would only say that it was a choice of evils, to go, or to stay."
"We might translate it by saying: 'One may go farther and fare
rejoined Madeleine; and so the storm blew over for the time, and
Ratcliffe sulkily let the subject drop. Nevertheless the two men
never met in Mrs.
Lee's parlour without her dreading a personal altercation. Little
by little, what with Jacobi's sarcasms and Ratcliffe's roughness, they
nearly ceased to speak, and glared at each other like quarrelsome
dogs. Madeleine was driven to all kinds of expedients to keep the
peace, yet at the same time she could not but be greatly amused by
their behaviour, and as their hatred of each other only stimulated
their devotion to her, she was content to hold an even balance
Nor were these all the awkward consequences of Ratcliffe's
attentions. Now that he was distinctly recognized as an intimate
friend of Mrs. Lee's, and possibly her future husband, no one
ventured any longer to attack him in her presence, but nevertheless
she was conscious in a thousand ways that the atmosphere became more
and more dense under the shadow of the Secretary of the Treasury. In
spite of herself she sometimes felt uneasy, as though there were
conspiracy in the air. One March afternoon she was sitting by her
fire, with an English Review in her hand, trying to read the last
Symposium on the sympathies of Eternal Punishment, when her servant
brought in a card, and Mrs. Lee had barely time to read the name of
Mrs. Samuel Baker when that lady followed the servant into the room,
forcing the countersign in so effective style that for once Madeleine
was fairly disconcerted. Her manner when thus intruded upon, was cool,
but in this case, on Carrington's account, she tried to smile
courteously and asked her visitor to sit down, which Mrs. Baker was
doing without an invitation, very soon putting her hostess entirely at
her ease. She was, when seen without her veil, a showy woman verging
on forty, decidedly large, tall, over-dressed even in mourning, and
with a complexion rather fresher than nature had made it.
There was a geniality in her address, savouring of easy Washington
ways, a fruitiness of smile, and a rich southern accent, that
explained on the spot her success in the lobby. She looked about her
with fine self-possession, and approved Mrs. Lee's surroundings with a
cordiality so different from the northern stinginess of praise, that
Madeleine was rather pleased than offended. Yet when her eye rested on
the Corot, Madeleine's only pride, she was evidently perplexed, and
resorted to eye-glasses, in order, as it seemed, to gain time for
reflection. But she was not to be disconcerted even by Corot's
"How pretty! Japanese, isn't it? Sea-weeds seen through a fog. I
went to an auction yesterday, and do you know I bought a tea-pot with
a picture just like that."
Madeleine inquired with extreme interest about the auction, but
after learning all that Mrs. Baker had to tell, she was on the point
of being reduced to silence, when she bethought herself to mention
Baker brightened up at once, if she could be said to brighten where
there was no sign of dimness:
"Dear Mr. Carrington! Isn't he sweet? I think he's a delicious man.
I don't know what I should do without him. Since poor Mr. Baker left
me, we have been together all the time. You know my poor husband left
directions that all his papers should be burned, and though I would
not say so unless you were such a friend of Mr. Carrington's, I reckon
it's just as well for some people that he did. I never could tell you
what quantities of papers Mr.
Carrington and I have put in the fire; and we read them all too."
Madeleine asked whether this was not dull work.
"Oh, dear, no! You see I know all about it, and told Mr. Carrington
the story of every paper as we went on. It was quite amusing, I
Mrs. Lee then boldly said she had got from Mr. Carrington an idea
Baker was a very skilful diplomatist.
"Diplomatist!" echoed the widow with her genial laugh; "Well! it
was as much that as anything, but there's not many diplomatists'
wives in this city ever did as much work as I used to do. Why, I knew
half the members of Congress intimately, and all of them by sight. I
knew where they came from and what they liked best. I could get round
the greater part of them, sooner or later."
Mrs. Lee asked what she did with all this knowledge. Mrs. Baker
shook her pink-and-white countenance, and almost paralysed her
opposite neighbour by a sort of Grande Duchesse wink:
"Oh, my dear! you are new here. If you had seen Washington in
war-times and for a few years afterwards, you wouldn't ask that. We
had more congressional business than all the other agents put
together. Every one came to us then, to get his bill through, or his
appropriation watched. We were hard at work all the time. You see,
one can't keep the run of three hundred men without some trouble. My
husband used to make lists of them in books with a history of each man
and all he could learn about him, but I carried it all in my head."
"Do you mean that you could get them all to vote as you pleased?"
"Well! we got our bills through," replied Mrs. Baker.
"But how did you do it? did they take bribes?"
"Some of them did. Some of them liked suppers and cards and
theatres and all sorts of things. Some of them could be led, and some
had to be driven like Paddy's pig who thought he was going the other
way. Some of them had wives who could talk to them, and some--hadn't,"
said Mrs. Baker, with a queer intonation in her abrupt ending.
"But surely," said Mrs. Lee, "many of them must have been above--I
mean, they must have had nothing to get hold of; so that you could
Mrs. Baker laughed cheerfully and remarked that they were very
much of a muchness.
"But I can't understand how you did it," urged Madeleine; "now,
how would you have gone to work to get a respectable senator's
vote--a man like Mr.
Ratcliffe, for instance?"
"Ratcliffe!" repeated Mrs. Baker with a slight elevation of voice
that gave way to a patronising laugh. "Oh, my dear! don't mention
names. I should get into trouble. Senator Ratcliffe was a good friend
of my husband's. I guess Mr. Carrington could have told you that. But
you see, what we generally wanted was all right enough. We had to know
where our bills were, and jog people's elbows to get them reported in
time. Sometimes we had to convince them that our bill was a proper
one, and they ought to vote for it. Only now and then, when there was
a great deal of money and the vote was close, we had to find out what
votes were worth. It was mostly dining and talking, calling them out
into the lobby or asking them to supper. I wish I could tell you
things I have seen, but I don't dare. It wouldn't be safe. I've told
you already more than I ever said to any one else; but then you are so
intimate with Mr. Carrington, that I always think of you as an old
Thus Mrs. Baker rippled on, while Mrs. Lee listened with more and
more doubt and disgust. The woman was showy, handsome in a coarse
style, and perfectly presentable. Mrs. Lee had seen Duchesses as
vulgar. She knew more about the practical working of government than
Mrs. Lee could ever expect or hope to know. Why then draw back from
this interesting lobbyist with such babyish repulsion?
When, after a long, and, as she declared, a most charming call,
Mrs. Baker wended her way elsewhere and Madeleine had given the
strictest order that she should never be admitted again, Carrington
entered, and Madeleine showed him Mrs. Baker's card and gave a lively
account of the interview.
"What shall I do with the woman?" she asked; "must I return her
card?" But Carrington declined to offer advice on this interesting
point. "And she says that Mr. Ratcliffe was a friend of her husband's
and that you could tell me about that."
"Did she say so?" remarked Carrington vaguely.
"Yes! and that she knew every one's weak points and could get all
Carrington expressed no surprise, and so evidently preferred to
change the subject, that Mrs. Lee desisted and said no more.
But she determined to try the same experiment on Mr. Ratcliffe,
and chose the very next chance that offered. In her most indifferent
manner she remarked that Mrs. Sam Baker had called upon her and had
initiated her into the mysteries of the lobby till she had become
quite ambitious to start on that career.
"She said you were a friend of her husband's," added Madeleine
Ratcliffe's face betrayed no sign.
"If you believe what those people tell you," said he drily, "you
will be wiser than the Queen of Sheba."
WHENEVER a man reaches the top of the political ladder, his
enemies unite to pull him down. His friends become critical and
exacting. Among the many dangers of this sort which now threatened
Ratcliffe, there was one that, had he known it, might have made him
more uneasy than any of those which were the work of senators and
congressmen. Carrington entered into an alliance, offensive and
defensive, with Sybil. It came about in this wise. Sybil was fond of
riding. and occasionally, when Carrington could spare the time, he
went as her guide and protector in these country excursions; for every
Virginian, however out at elbows, has a horse, as he has shoes or a
In a thoughtless moment Carrington had been drawn into a promise
that he would take Sybil to Arlington. The promise was one that he did
not hurry to keep, for there were reasons which made a visit to
Arlington anything but a pleasure to him; but Sybil would listen to no
excuses, and so it came about that, one lovely March morning, when the
shrubs and the trees in the square before the house were just
beginning, under the warmer sun, to show signs of their coming
wantonness, Sybil stood at the open window waiting for him, while her
new Kentucky horse before the door showed what he thought of the delay
by curving his neck, tossing his head, and pawing the pavement.
Carrington was late and kept her waiting so long, that the
mignonette and geraniums, which adorned the window, suffered for his
slowness, and the curtain tassels showed signs of wilful damage.
Nevertheless he arrived at length, and they set out together, choosing
the streets least enlivened by horse-cars and provision-carts, until
they had crept through the great metropolis of Georgetown and come
upon the bridge which crosses the noble river just where its bold
banks open out to clasp the city of Washington in their easy embrace.
Then reaching the Virginia side they cantered gaily up the
laurel-margined road, with glimpses of woody defiles, each carrying
its trickling stream and rich in promise of summer flowers, while from
point to point they caught glorious glimpses of the distant city and
river. They passed the small military station on the heights, still
dignified by the name of fort, though Sybil silently wondered how a
fort was possible without fortifications, and complained that there
was nothing more warlike than a "nursery of telegraph poles." The day
was blue and gold; everything smiled and sparkled in the crisp
freshness of the morning. Sybil was in bounding spirits. and not at
all pleased to find that her companion became moody and abstracted as
they went on. "Poor Mr. Carrington!" thought she to herself, "he is so
nice; but when he puts on that solemn air, one might as well go to
sleep. I am quite certain no nice woman will ever marry him if he
looks like that;" and her practical mind ran off among all the girls
of her acquaintance, in search of one who would put up with
Carrington's melancholy face. She knew his devotion to her sister,
but had long ago rejected this as a hopeless chance. There was a
simplicity about Sybil's way of dealing with life, which had its own
charm. She never troubled herself about the impossible or the
unthinkable. She had feelings, and was rather quick in her sympathies
and sorrows, but she was equally quick in getting over them, and she
expected other people to do likewise. Madeleine dissected her own
feelings and was always wondering whether they were real or not; she
had a habit of taking off her mental clothing, as she might take off a
dress, and looking at it as though it belonged to some one else, and
as though sensations were manufactured like clothes. This seems to be
one of the easier ways of deadening sorrow, as though the mind could
teach itself to lop off its feelers. Sybil particularly disliked this
self-inspection. In the first place she did not understand it, and in
the second her mind was all feelers, and amputation was death. She
could no more analyse a feeling than doubt its existence, both which
were habits of her sister.
How was Sybil to know what was passing in Carrington's mind? He
was thinking of nothing in which she supposed herself interested. He
was troubled with memories of civil war and of associations still
earlier, belonging to an age already vanishing or vanished; but what
could she know about civil war who had been almost an infant at the
time? At this moment, she happened to be interested in the baffle of
Waterloo, for she was reading "Vanity Fair," and had cried as she
ought for poor little Emmy, when her husband, George Osborne, lay dead
on the field there, with a bullet through his heart. But how was she
to know that here, only a few rods before her, lay scores and hundreds
of George Osbornes, or his betters, and in their graves the love and
hope of many Emmys, not creatures of the imagination, but flesh and
blood, like herself? To her, there was no more in those associations
which made Carrington groan in the silence of his thoughts, than if he
had been old Kaspar, and she the little Wilhelmine. What was a skull
more or less to her? What concern had she in the famous victory?
Yet even Sybil was startled as she rode through the gate and found
herself suddenly met by the long white ranks of head-stones,
stretching up and down the hill-sides by thousands, in order of
baffle; as though Cadmus had reversed his myth, and had sown living
men, to come up dragons' teeth. She drew in her horse with a shiver
and a sudden impulse to cry. Here was something new to her. This was
war--wounds, disease, death. She dropped her voice and with a look
almost as serious as Carrington's, asked what all these graves meant.
When Carrington told her, she began for the first time to catch some
dim notion why his face was not quite as gay as her own. Even now this
idea was not very precise, for he said little about himself, but at
least she grappled with the fact that he had actually, year after
year, carried arms against these men who lay at her feet and who had
given their lives for her cause. It suddenly occurred to her as a new
thought that perhaps he himself might have killed one of them with his
own hand. There was a strange shock in this idea. She felt that
Carrington was further from her. He gained dignity in his rebel
isolation. She wanted to ask him how he could have been a traitor, and
she did not dare. Carrington a traitor!
Carrington killing her friends! The idea was too large to grasp.
She fell back on the simpler task of wondering how he had looked in
his rebel uniform.
They rode slowly round to the door of the house and dismounted,
after he had with some difficulty found a man to hold their horses.
From the heavy brick porch they looked across the superb river to the
raw and incoherent ugliness of the city, idealised into dreamy beauty
by the atmosphere, and the soft background of purple hills behind.
Opposite them, with its crude "thus saith the law" stamped on white
dome and fortress-like walls, rose the Capitol.
Carrington stood with her a short time while they looked at the
view; then said he would rather not go into the house himself, and
sat down on the steps while she strolled alone through the rooms.
These were bare and gaunt, so that she, with her feminine sense of
fitness, of course considered what she would do to make them
habitable. She had a neat fancy for furniture, and distributed her
tones and half tones and bits of colour freely about the walls and
ceilings, with a high-backed chair here, a spindle-legged sofa there,
and a claw-footed table in the centre, until her eye was caught by a
very dirty deal desk, on which stood an open book, with an inkstand
and some pens. On the leaf she read the last entry: "Eli M. Grow and
lady, Thermopyle Centre." Not even the graves outside had brought the
horrors of war so near.
What a scourge it was! This respectable family turned out of such
a lovely house, and all the pretty old furniture swept away before a
horde of coarse invaders "with ladies." Did the hosts of Attila write
their names on visiting books in the temple of Vesta and the house of
Sallust? What a new terror they would have added to the name of the
scourge of God! Sybil returned to the portico and sat down by
Carrington on the steps.
"How awfully sad it is!" said she; "I suppose the house was
prettily furnished when the Lees lived here? Did you ever see it
Sybil was not very profound, but she had sympathy, and at this
moment Carrington felt sorely in need of comfort. He wanted some one
to share his feelings, and he turned towards her hungry for
"The Lees were old family friends of mine," said he. "I used to
stay here when I was a boy, even as late as the spring of 1861. The
last time I sat here, it was with them. We were wild about disunion
and talked of nothing else. I have been trying to recall what was said
then. We never thought there would be war, and as for coercion, it
was nonsense. Coercion, indeed!
The idea was ridiculous. I thought so, too, though I was a Union
man and did not want the State to go out. But though I felt sure that
Virginia must suffer, I never thought we could be beaten. Yet now I am
sitting here a pardoned rebel, and the poor Lees are driven away and
their place is a grave-yard."
Sybil became at once absorbed in the Lees and asked many
questions, all which Carrington gladly answered. He told her how he
had admired and followed General Lee through the war. "We thought he
was to be our Washington, you know; and perhaps he had some such idea
himself;" and then, when Sybil wanted to hear about the baffles and
the fighting, he drew a rough map on the gravel path to show her how
the two lines had run, only a few miles away; then he told her how he
had carried his musket day after day over all this country, and where
he had seen his battles. Sybil had everything to learn; the story came
to her with all the animation of real life, for here under her eyes
were the graves of her own champions, and by her side was a rebel who
had stood under our fire at Malvern Hill and at South Mountain, and
who was telling her how men looked and what they thought in face of
death. She listened with breathless interest, and at last summoned
courage to ask in an awestruck tone whether Carrington had ever
killed any one himself. She was relieved, although a little
disappointed, when he said that he believed not; he hoped not; though
no private who has discharged a musket in baffle can be quite sure
where the bullet went. "I never tried to kill any one," said he,
"though they tried to kill me incessantly." Then Sybil begged to know
how they had tried to kill him, and he told her one or two of those
experiences, such as most soldiers have had, when he had been fired
upon and the balls had torn his clothes or drawn blood. Poor Sybil was
quite overcome, and found a deadly fascination in the horror. As they
sat together on the steps with the glorious view spread before them,
her attention was so closely fixed on his story that she saw neither
the view nor even the carriages of tourists who drove up, looked
about, and departed, envying Carrington his occupation with the lovely
She was in imagination rushing with him down the valley of
Virginia on the heels of our flying army, or gloomily toiling back to
the Potomac after the bloody days at Gettysburg, or watching the last
grand debâcle on the road from Richmond to Appomattox. They would have
sat there till sunset if Carrington had not at length insisted that
they must go, and then she rose slowly with a deep sigh and
As they rode away, Carrington, whose thoughts were not devoted to
his companion so entirely as they should have been, ventured to say
that he wished her sister had come with them, but he found that his
hint was not well received.
Sybil emphatically rejected the idea: "I'm very glad she didn't
come. If she had, you would have talked with her all the time, and I
should have been left to amuse myself. You would have been discussing
things, and I hate discussions. She would have been hunting for first
principles, and you would have been running about, trying to catch
some for her. Besides, she is coming herself some Sunday with that
tiresome Mr. Ratcliffe. I don't see what she finds in that man to
amuse her. Her taste is getting to be demoralised in Washington. Do
you know, Mr. Carrington, I'm not clever or serious, like Madeleine,
and I can't read laws, and hate politics, but I've more common sense
than she has, and she makes me cross with her. I understand now why
young widows are dangerous, and why they're bumed at their husband's
funerals in India. Not that I want to have Madeleine burned, for she's
a dear, good creature, and I love her better than anything in the
world; but she will certainly do herself some dreadful mischief one of
these days; she has the most extravagant notions about self-sacrifice
and duty; if she hadn't luckily thought of taking charge of me, she
would have done some awful thing long ago, and if I could only be a
little wicked, she would be quite happy all the rest of her life in
reforming me; but now she has got hold of that Mr. Ratcliffe, and he
is trying to make her think she can reform him, and if he does, it's
all up with us. Madeleine will just go and break her heart over that
odious, great, coarse brute, who only wants her money."
Sybil delivered this little oration with a degree of energy that
went to Carrington's heart. She did not often make such sustained
efforts, and it was clear that on this subject she had exhausted her
whole mind. Carrington was delighted, and urged her on. "I dislike
Mr. Ratcliffe as much as you do;--more perhaps. So does every one who
knows much about him. But we shall only make the matter worse if we
interfere. What can we do?"
"That is just what I tell everybody," resumed Sybil. "There is
Victoria Dare always telling me I ought to do something; and Mr.
Schneidekoupon too; just as though I could do anything. Madeleine has
done nothing but get into mischief here. Half the people think her
worldly and ambitious. Only last night that spiteful old woman, Mrs.
Clinton, said to me: 'Your sister is quite spoiled by Washington. She
is more wild for power than any human being I ever saw.' I was
dreadfully angry and told her she was quite mistaken--Madeleine was
not the least spoiled. But I couldn't say that she was not fond of
power, for she is; but not in the way Mrs. Clinton meant.
You should have seen her the other evening when Mr. Ratcliffe said
about some matter of public business that he would do whatever she
thought right; she spoke up quite sharply for her, with a scornful
little laugh, and said that he had better do what he thought right. He
looked for a moment almost angry, and muttered something about women's
being incomprehensible. He is always trying to tempt her with power.
She might have had long ago all the power he could give her, but I can
see, and he sees too, that she always keeps him at arm's length. He
doesn't like it, but he expects one of these days to find a bribe that
will answer. I wish we had never come to Washington. New York is so
much nicer and the people there are much more amusing; they dance ever
so much better and send one flowers all the time, and then they never
talk about first principles. Maude had her hospitals and paupers and
training school, and got along very well. It was so safe. But when I
say so to her, she only smiles in a patronising kind of way, and
tells me that I shall have as much of Newport as I want; just as
though I were a child, and not a woman of twenty-five. Poor Maude! I
can't stay with her if she marries Mr. Ratcliffe, and it would break
my heart to leave her with that man. Do you think he would beat her?
Does he drink? I would almost rather be beaten a little, if I cared
for a man, than be taken out to Peonia. Oh, Mr. Carrington! you are
our only hope. She will listen to you.
Don't let her marry that dreadful politician."
To all this pathetic appeal, some parts of which were as liffle
calculated to please Carrington as Ratcliffe himself, Carrington
answered that he was ready to do all in his power but that Sybil must
tell him when and how to act.
"Then, it's a bargain," said she; "whenever I want you, I shall
call on you for help, and you shall prevent the marriage."
"Alliance offensive and defensive," said he, laughing; "war to the
knife on Ratcliffe. We will have his scalp if necessary, but I rather
think he will soon commit hari-kari himself if we leave him alone."
"Madeleine will like him all the better if he does anything
replied Sybil, with great seriousness; "I wish there was more
Japanese bric-à-brac here, or any kind of old pots and pans to talk
about. A little art would be good for her. What a strange place this
is, and how people do stand on their heads in it! Nobody thinks like
anyone else. Victoria Dare says she is trying on principle not to be
good, because she wants to keep some new excitements for the next
world. I'm sure she practices as she preaches. Did you see her at Mrs.
Clinton's last night. She behaved more outrageously than ever. She sat
on the stairs all through supper, looking like a demure yellow cat
with two bouquets in her paws--and I know Lord Dunbeg sent one of
them;--and she actually let Mr. French feed her with ice-cream from a
spoon. She says she was showing Lord Dunbeg a phase, and that he is
going to put it into his article on American Manners and Customs in
the Quarterly, but I don't think it's nice, do you, Mr. Carrington? I
wish Madeleine had her to take care of. She would have enough to do
then, I can tell her."
And so, gently prattling, Miss Sybil returned to the city, her
alliance with Carrington completed; and it was a singular fact that
she never again called him dull. There was henceforward a look of
more positive pleasure and cordiality on her face when he made his
appearance wherever she might be; and the next time he suggested a
horseback excursion she instantly agreed to go, although aware that
she had promised a younger gentleman of the diplomatic body to be at
home that same afternoon, and the good fellow swore polyglot oaths on
being turned away from her door.
Mr. Ratcliffe knew nothing of this conspiracy against his peace
and prospects. Even if he had known it, he might only have laughed,
and pursued his own path without a second thought. Yet it was certain
that he did not think Carrington's enmity a thing to be overlooked,
and from the moment of his obtaining a clue to its cause, he had begun
to take precautions against it. Even in the middle of the contest for
the Treasury, he had found time to listen to Mr. Wilson Keens report
on the affairs of the late Samuel Baker.
Mr. Keen came to him with a copy of Baker's will and with
memoranda of remarks made by the unsuspecting Mrs. Baker; "from which
it appears," said he, "that Baker, having no time to put his affairs
in order, left special directions that his executors should carefully
destroy all papers that might be likely to compromise individuals."
"What is the executor's name?" interrupted Ratcliffe.
"The executor's name is--John Carrington," said Keen, methodically
referring to his copy of the will.
Ratcliffe's face was impassive, but the inevitable, "I knew it,"
almost sprang to his lips. He was rather pleased at the instinct
which had led him so directly to the right trail.
Keen went on to say that from Mrs. Baker's conversation it was
certain that the testator's directions had been carried out, and that
the great bulk of these papers had been burned.
"Then it will be useless to press the inquiry further," said
Ratcliffe; "I am much obliged to you for your assistance," and he
turned the conversation to the condition of Mr. Keen's bureau in the
The next time Ratcliffe saw Mrs. Lee, after his appointment to the
Treasury was confirmed, he asked her whether she did not think
Carrington very well suited for public service, and when she warmly
assented, he said it had occurred to him to offer the place of
Solicitor of the Treasury to Mr.
Carrington, for although the actual salary might not be very much
more than he earned by his private practice, the incidental
advantages to a Washington lawyer were considerable; and to the
Secretary it was especially necessary to have a solicitor in whom he
could place entire confidence. Mrs. Lee was pleased by this motion of
Ratcliffe's, the more because she had supposed that Ratcliffe had no
liking for Carrington. She doubted whether Carrington would accept the
place, but she hoped that it might modify his dislike for Ratcliffe,
and she agreed to sound him on the subject. There was something a
little compromising in thus allowing herself to appear as the
dispenser of Mr. Ratcliffe's patronage, but she dismissed this
objection on the ground that Carrington's interests were involved, and
that it was for him to judge whether he should take the place or not.
Perhaps the world would not be so charitable if the appointment were
made. What then? Mrs. Lee asked herself the question and did not feel
quite at ease.
So far as Carrington was concerned, she might have dismissed her
There was not a chance of his taking the place, as very soon
appeared. When she spoke to him on the subject, and repeated what
Ratcliffe had said, his face flushed, and he sat for some moments in
silence. He never thought very rapidly, but now the ideas seemed to
come so fast as to bewilder his mind.
The situation flashed before his eyes like electric sparks. His
first impression was that Ratcliffe wanted to buy him; to tie his
tongue; to make him run, like a fastened dog, under the waggon of the
Secretary of the Treasury. His second notion was that Ratcliffe
wanted to put Mrs. Lee under obligations, in order to win her regard;
and, again, that he wanted to raise himself in her esteem by posing as
a friend of honest administration and unassisted virtue. Then suddenly
it occurred to him that the scheme was to make him appear jealous and
vindictive; to put him in an attitude where any reason he might give
for declining would bear a look of meanness, and tend to separate him
from Mrs. Lee. Carrington was so absorbed by these thoughts, and his
mind worked so slowly, that he failed to hear one or two remarks
addressed to him by Mrs. Lee, who became a little alarmed, under the
impression that he was unexpectedly paralyzed.
When at length he heard her and attempted to frame an answer, his
embarrassment increased. He could only stammer that he was sorry to
be obliged to decline, but this office was one he could not undertake.
If Madeleine felt a little relieved by this decision, she did not
From her manner one might have supposed it to be her fondest wish
that Carrington should be Solicitor of the Treasury. She
cross-questioned him with obstinacy. Was not the offer a good one?
--and he was obliged to confess that it was. Were the duties such as
he could not perform? Not at all! there was nothing in the duties
which alarmed him. Did he object to it because of his southern
prejudices against the administration? Oh, no! he had no political
feeling to stand in his way. What, then, could be his reason for
Carrington resorted again to silence, until Mrs. Lee, a little
impatiently, asked whether it was possible that his personal dislike
to Racliffe could blind him so far as to make him reject so fair a
proposal. Carrington, finding himself more and more uncomfortable,
rose restlessly from his chair and paced the room. He felt that
Ratclife had fairly out-generaled him, and he was at his wits' end to
know what card he could play that would not lead directly into
Ratcliffe's trump suit. To refuse such an offer was hard enough at
best, for a man who wanted money and professional advancement as he
did, but to injure himself and help Ratcliffe by this refusal, was
abominably hard. Nevertheless, he was obliged to admit that he would
rather not take a position so directly under Ratcliffe's control.
Madeleine said no more, but he thought she looked annoyed, and he felt
himself in an intolerably painful situation. He was not certain that
she herself might not have had some share in proposing the plan, and
that his refusal might not have some mortifying consequences for her.
What must she think of him, then?
At this very moment he would have given his right arm for a word
of real affection from Mrs. Lee. He adored her. He would willingly
enough have damned himself for her. There was no sacrifice he would
not have made to bring her nearer to him. In his upright, quiet,
simple kind of way, he immolated himself before her. For months his
heart had ached with this hopeless passion. He recognized that it was
hopeless. He knew that she would never love him, and, to do her
justice, she never had given him reason to suppose that it was in her
power to love him, r any man. And here he stood, obliged to appear
ungrateful and prejudiced, mean and vindictive, in her eyes. He took
his seat again, looking so unutterably dejected, his patient face so
tragically mournful, that Madeleine, after a while, began to see the
absurd side of the matter, and presently burst into a laugh "Please do
not look so frightfully miserable!" said she; "I did not mean to make
you unhappy. After all, what does it matter? You have a perfect right
to refuse, and, for my part, I have not the least wish to see you
On this, Carrington brightened, and declared that if she thought
him right in declining, he cared for nothing else. It was only the
idea of hurting her feelings that weighed on his mind. But in saying
this, he spoke in a tone that implied a deeper feeling, and made Mrs.
Lee again look grave and sigh.
"Ah, Mr. Carrington," she said, "this world will not run as we
want. Do you suppose the time will ever come when every one will be
good and happy and do just what they ought? I thought this offer might
possibly take one anxiety off your shoulders. I am sorry now that I
let myself be led into making it."
Carrington could not answer her. He dared not trust his voice. He
rose to go, and as she held out her hand, he suddenly raised it to
his lips, and so left her. She sat for a moment with tears in her eyes
after he was gone. She thought she knew all that was in his mind, and
with a woman's readiness to explain every act of men by their
consuming passions for her own sex, she took it as a matter of course
that jealousy was the whole cause of Carrington's hostility to
Ratcliffe, and she pardoned it with charming alacrity. "Ten years ago,
I could have loved him," she thought to herself, and then, while she
was half smiling at the idea, suddenly another thought flashed upon
her, and she threw her hand up before her face as though some one had
struck her a blow. Carrington had reopened the old wound.
When Ratcliffe came to see her again, which he did very shortly
afterwards, glad of so good an excuse, she told him of Carrington's
refusal, adding only that he seemed unwilling to accept any position
that had a political character. Ratcliffe showed no sign of
displeasure; he only said, in a benignant tone, that he was sorry to
be unable to do something for so good a friend of hers; thus
establishing, at all events, his claim on her gratitude. As for
Carrington, the offer which Ratcliffe had made was not intended to be
accepted, and Carrington could not have more embarrassed the secretary
than by closing with it. Ratcliffe's object had been to settle for his
own satisfaction the question of Carrington's hostility, for he knew
the man well enough to feel sure that in any event he would act a
perfectly straightforward part. If he accepted, he would at least be
true to his chief. If he refused, as Ratcliffe expected, it would be a
proof that some means must be found of getting him out of the way. In
any case the offer was a new thread in the net that Mr. Ratcliffe
flattered himself he was rapidly winding about the affections and
ambitions of Mrs. Lee. Yet he had reasons of his own for thinking that
Carrington, more easily than any other man, could cut the meshes of
this net if he chose to do so, and therefore that it would be wiser to
postpone action until Carrington were disposed of.
Without a moment's delay he made inquiries as to all the vacant or
eligible offices in the gift of the government outside his own
department. Very few of these would answer his purpose. He wanted
some temporary law business that would for a time take its holder away
to a distance, say to Australia or Central Asia, the further the
better; it must be highly paid, and it must be given in such a way as
not to excite suspicion that Ratcliffe was concerned in the matter.
Such an office was not easily found. There is little law business in
Central Asia, and at this moment there was not enough to require a
special agent in Australia. Carrington could hardly be induced to lead
an expedition to the sources of the Nile in search of business merely
to please Mr. Ratcliffe, nor could the State Department offer
encouragement to a hope that government would pay the expenses of such
an expedition. The best that Ratcliffe could do was to select the
place of counsel to the Mexican claims-commission which was soon to
meet in the city of Mexico, and which would require about six months'
absence. By a little management he could contrive to get the counsel
sent away in advance of the commission, in order to work up a part of
the case on the spot. Ratcliffe acknowledged that Mexico was too
near, but he drily remarked to himself that if Carrington could get
back in time to dislodge him after he had once got a firm hold on
Mrs. Lee, he would never try to run another caucus.
The point once settled in his own mind, Ratcliffe, with his usual
rapidity of action, carried his scheme into effect. In this there was
little difficulty. He dropped in at the office of the Secretary of
State within eight-and-forty hours after his last conversation with
Mrs. Lee. During these early days of every new administration, the
absorbing business of government relates principally to appointments.
The Secretary of the Treasury was always ready to oblige his
colleagues in the Cabinet by taking care of their friends to any
reasonable extent. The Secretary of State was not less courteous. The
moment he understood that Mr. Ratcliffe had a strong wish to secure
the appointment of a certain person as counsel to the Mexican
claims-commission, the Secretary of State professed readiness to
gratify him, and when he heard who the proposed person was, the
suggestion was hailed with pleasure, for Carrington was well known and
much liked at the Department, and was indeed an excellent man for the
place. Ratcliffe hardly needed to promise an equivalent. The business
was arranged in ten minutes.
"I only need say," added Ratcliffe, "that if my agency in the
affair is known, Mr. Carrington will certainly refuse the place, for
he is one of your old-fashioned Virginia planters, proud as Lucifer,
and willing to accept nothing by way of favour. I will speak to your
Assistant Secretary about it, and the recommendation shall appear to
come from him."
The very next day Carrington received a private note from his old
friend, the Assistant Secretary of State, who was overjoyed to do him
The note asked him to call at the Department at his earliest
convenience. He went, and the Assistant Secretary announced that he
had recommended Carrington's appointment as counsel to the Mexican
claims-commission, and that the Secretary had approved the
recommendation. "We want a Southern man, a lawyer with a little
knowledge of international law, one who can go at once, and, above
all, an honest man. You fit the description to a hair; so pack your
trunk as soon as you like."
Carrington was startled. Coming as it did, this offer was not only
unobjectionable, but tempting. It was hard for him even to imagine a
reason for hesitation. From the first he felt that he must go, and yet
to go was the very last thing he wanted to do. That he should suspect
Ratcliffe to be at the bottom of this scheme of banishment was a
matter of course, and he instantly asked whether any influence had
been used in his favour; but the Assistant Secretary so stoutly
averred that the appointment was made on his recommendation alone, as
to block all further inquiry. Technically this assertion was exact,
and it made Carrington feel that it would be base ingratitude on his
part not to accept a favour so handsomely offered.
Yet he could not make up his mind to acceptance. He begged four
and twenty hours' delay, in order, as he said, to see whether he
could arrange his affairs for a six months' absence, although he knew
there would be no difficulty in his doing so. He went away and sat in
his office alone, gloomily wondering what he could do, although from
the first he saw that the situation was only too clear, and there
could not be the least dark corner of a doubt to crawl into. Six
months ago he would have jumped at this offer.
What had happened within six months to make it seem a disaster?
Mrs. Lee! There was the whole story. To go away now was to give up
Mrs. Lee, and probably to give her up to Ratcliffe. Carrington gnashed
his teeth when he thought how skilfully Ratcliffe was playing his
cards. The longer he reflected, the more certain he felt that
Ratcliffe was at the bottom of this scheme to get rid of him; and yet,
as he studied the situation, it occurred to him that after all it was
possible for Ratcliffe to make a blunder. This Illinois politician was
clever, and understood men; but a knowledge of men is a very different
thing from a knowledge of women. Carrington himself had no great
experience in the article of women, but he thought he knew more than
Ratcliffe, who was evidently relying most on his usual theory of
political corruption as applied to feminine weaknesses, and who was
only puzzled at finding how high a price Mrs. Lee set on herself. If
Ratcliffe were really at the bottom of the scheme for separating
Carrington from her, it could only be because he thought that six
months, or even six weeks, would be enough to answer his purpose. And
on reaching this point in his reflections, Carrington suddenly rose,
lit a cigar, and walked up and down his room steadily for the next
hour, with the air of a general arranging a plan of campaign, or a
lawyer anticipating his opponent's line of argument.
On one point his mind was made up. He would accept. If Ratcliffe
really had a hand in this move, he should be gratified. If he had
laid a trap, he should be caught in it. And when the evening came,
Carrington took his hat and walked off to call upon Mrs. Lee.
He found the sisters alone and quietly engaged in their
Madeleine was dramatically mending an open-work silk stocking, a
delicate and difficult task which required her whole mind. Sybil was
at the piano as usual, and for the first time since he had known her,
she rose when he came in, and, taking her work-basket, sat down to
share in the conversation. She meant to take her place as a woman,
henceforward. She was tired of playing girl. Mr. Carrington should see
that she was not a fool.
Carrington plunged at once into his subject, and announced the
offer made to him, at which Madeleine expressed delight, and asked
many questions. What was the pay? How soon must he go? How long should
he be away? Was there danger from the climate? and finally she added,
with a smile, "What am I to say to Mr. Ratcliffe if you accept this
offer after refusing his?" As for Sybil, she made one reproachful
exclamation: "Oh, Mr. Carrington!" and sank back into silence and
consternation. Her first experiment at taking a stand of her own in
the world was not encouraging. She felt betrayed.
Nor was Carrington gay. However modest a man may be, only an idiot
can forget himself entirely in pursuing the moon and the stars. In the
bottom of his soul, he had a lingering hope that when he told his
story, Madeleine might look up with a change of expression, a glance
of unpremeditated regard, a little suffusion of the eyes, a little
trembling of the voice. To see himself relegated to Mexico with such
cheerful alacrity by the woman he loved was not the experience he
would have chosen. He could not help feeling that his hopes were
disposed of, and he watched her with a painful sinking of the heart,
which did not lead to lightness of conversation. Madeleine herself
felt that her expressions needed to be qualified, and she tried to
correct her mistake. What should she do without a tutor? she said. He
must let her have a list of books to read while he was away: they were
themselves going north in the middle of May, and Carrington would be
back by the time they returned in December. After all, they should see
as little of him during the summer if he were in Virginia as if he
were in Mexico.
Carrington gloomily confessed that he was very unwilling to go;
that he wished the idea had never been suggested; that he should be
perfectly happy if for any reason the scheme broke down; but he gave
no explanation of his feeling, and Madeleine had too much tact to
press for one. She contented herself by arguing against it, and
talking as vivaciously as she could. Her heart really bled for him as
she saw his face grow more and more pathetic in its quiet expression
of disappointment. But what could she say or do? He sat till after ten
o'clock; he could not tear himself away. He felt that this was the end
of his pleasure in life; he dreaded the solitude of his thoughts. Mrs.
Lee's resources began to show signs of exhaustion. Long pauses
intervened between her remarks; and at length Carrington, with a
superhuman effort, apologized for inflicting himself upon her so
unmercifully. If she knew, he said, how he dreaded being alone, she
would forgive him. Then he rose to go, and, in taking leave, asked
Sybil if she was inclined to ride the next day; if so, he was at her
service. Sybil's face brightened as she accepted the invitation.
Mrs. Lee, a day or two afterwards, did mention Carrington's
appointment to Mr. Ratcliffe, and she told Carrington that the
Secretary certainly looked hurt and mortified, but showed it only by
almost instantly changing the subject.
THE next morning Carrington called at the Department and announced
his acceptance of the post. He was told that his instructions would be
ready in about a fortnight, and that he would be expected to start as
soon as he received them; in the meanwhile, he must devote himself to
the study of a mass of papers in the Department. There was no trifling
Carrington had to set himself vigorously to work. This did not,
however, prevent him from keeping his appointment with Sybil, and at
four o'clock they started together, passing out into the quiet shadows
of Rock Creek, and seeking still lanes through the woods where their
horses walked side by side, and they themselves could talk without the
risk of criticism from curious eyes. It was the afternoon of one of
those sultry and lowering spring days when life germinates rapidly,
but as yet gives no sign, except perhaps some new leaf or flower
pushing its soft head up against the dead leaves that have sheltered
it. The two riders had something of the same sensation, as though the
leafless woods and the laurel thickets, the warm, moist air and the
low clouds, were a protection and a soft shelter. Somewhat to
Carrington's surprise, he found that it was pleasant to have Sybil's
company. He felt towards her as to a sister--a favourite sister.
She at once attacked him for abandoning her and breaking his
treaty so lately made, and he tried to gain her sympathy by saying
that if she knew how much he was troubled, she would forgive him.
Then when Sybil asked whether he really must go and leave her without
any friend whom she could speak to, his feelings got the better of
him: he could not resist the temptation to confide all his troubles in
her, since there was no one else in whom he could confide. He told her
plainly that he was in love with her sister.
"You say that love is nonsense, Miss Ross. I tell you it is no such
For weeks and months it is a steady physical pain, an ache about
the heart, never leaving one, by night or by day; a long strain on
one's nerves like toothache or rheumatism, not intolerable at any one
instant, but exhausting by its steady drain on the strength. It is a
disease to be borne with patience, like any other nervous complaint,
and to be treated with counter-irritants. My trip to Mexico will be
good for it, but that is not the reason why I must go."
Then he told her all his private circumstances; the ruin which the
war had brought on him and his family; how, of his two brothers, one
had survived the war only to die at home, a mere wreck of disease,
privation, and wounds; the other had been shot by his side, and bled
slowly to death in his arms during the awful carnage in the
Wilderness; how his mother and two sisters were struggling for a bare
subsistence on a wretched Virginian farm, and how all his exertions
barely kept them from beggary.
"You have no conception of the poverty to which our southern women
are reduced since the war," said he; "they are many of them literally
without clothes or bread." The fee he should earn by going to Mexico
would double his income this year. Could he refuse? Had he a right to
refuse? And poor Carrington added, with a groan, that if he alone were
in question, he would sooner be shot than go.
Sybil listened with tears in her eyes. She never before had seen a
man show suffering. The misery she had known in life had been more or
less veiled to her and softened by falling on older and friendly
shoulders. She now got for the first time a clear view of Carrington,
apart from the quiet exterior in which the man was hidden. She felt
quite sure, by a sudden flash of feminine inspiration, that the
curious look of patient endurance on his face was the work of a single
night when he had held his brother in his arms, and knew that the
blood was draining drop by drop from his side, in the dense, tangled
woods, beyond the reach of help, hour after hour, till the voice
failed and the limbs grew stiff and cold. When he had finished his
story, she was afraid to speak. She did not know how to show her
sympathy, and she could not bear to seem unsympathetic. In her
embarrassment she fairly broke down and could only dry her eyes in
Having once got this weight of confidence off his mind, Carrington
felt comparatively gay and was ready to make the best of things. He
laughed at himself to drive away the tears of his pretty companion,
and obliged her to take a solemn pledge never to betray him. "Of
course your sister knows it all," he said; "but she must never know
that I told you, and I never would tell any one but you."
Sybil promised faithfully to keep his confidence to herself, and
she went on to defend her sister.
"You must not blame Madeleine," said she; "if you knew as well as
I do what she has been through, you would not think her cold. You do
know how suddenly her husband died, after only one day's illness, and
what a nice fellow he was. She was very fond of him, and his death
seemed to stun her. We hardly knew what to make of it, she was so
quiet and natural. Then just a week later her little child died of
diphtheria, suffering horribly, and she wild with despair because she
could not relieve it. After that, she was almost insane; indeed, I
have always thought she was quite insane for a time. I know she was
excessively violent and wanted to kill herself, and I never heard any
one rave as she did about religion and resignation and God. After a
few weeks she became quiet and stupid and went about like a machine;
and at last she got over it, but has never been what she was before.
You know she was a rather fast New York girl before she married, and
cared no more about politics and philanthropy than I do. It was a very
late thing, all this stuff. But she is not really hard, though she may
seem so. It is all on the surface. I always know when she is thinking
about her husband or child, because her face gets rigid; she looks
then as she used to look after her child died, as though she didn't
care what became of her and she would just as lieve kill herself as
not. I don't think she will ever let herself love any one again. She
has a horror of it. She is much more likely to go in for ambition, or
duty, or self-sacrifice."
They rode on for a while in silence, Carrington perplexed by the
problem how two harmless people such as Madeleine and he could have
been made by a beneficent Providence the sport of such cruel tortures;
and Sybil equally interested in thinking what sort of a brother-in-law
Carrington would make; on the whole, she thought she liked him better
as he was. The silence was only broken by Carrington's bringing the
conversation back to its starting-point: "Something must be done to
keep your sister out of Ratcliffe's power. I have thought about it
till I am tired. Can you make no suggestion?"
No! Sybil was helpless and dreadfully alarmed. Mr. Ratcliffe came
to the house as often as he could, and seemed to tell Madeleine
everything that was going on in politics, and ask her advice, and
Madeleine did not discourage him. "I do believe she likes it, and
thinks she can do some good by it. I don't dare speak to her about
it. She thinks me a child still, and treats me as though I were
fifteen. What can I do?"
Carrington said he had thought of speaking to Mrs. Lee himself,
but he did not know what to say, and if he offended her, he might
drive her directly into Ratcliffe's arms. But Sybil thought she would
not be offended if he went to work in the right way. "She will stand
more from you than from any one else. Tell her openly that you--that
you love her," said Sybil with a burst of desperate courage; "she
can't take offence at that; and then you can say almost anything."
Carrington looked at Sybil with more admiration than he had ever
expected to feel for her, and began to think that he might do worse
than to put himself under her orders. After all, she had some
practical sense, and what was more to the point, she was handsomer
than ever, as she sat erect on her horse, the rich colour rushing up
under the warm skin, at the impropriety of her speech. "You are
certainly right," said he; "after all, I have nothing to lose. Whether
she marries Ratcliffe or not, she will never marry me, I suppose."
This speech was a cowardly attempt to beg encouragement from
Sybil, and met with the fate it deserved, for Sybil, highly flattered
at Carrington's implied praise, and bold as a lioness now that it was
Carrington's fingers, and not her own, that were to go into the fire,
gave him on the spot a feminine view of the situation that did not
encourage his hopes. She plainly said that men seemed to take leave of
their senses as soon as women were concerned; for her part, she could
not understand what there was in any woman to make such a fuss about;
she thought most women were horrid; men were ever so much nicer; "and
as for Madeleine, whom all of you are ready to cut each other's
throats about, she's a dear, good sister, as good as gold, and I love
her with all my heart, but you wouldn't like her, any of you, if you
married her; she has always had her own way, and she could not help
taking it; she never could learn to take yours; both of you would be
unhappy in a week; and as for that old Mr. Ratcliffe, she would make
his life a burden--and I hope she will," concluded Sybil with a
spiteful little explosion of hatred.
Carrington could not help being amused by Sybil's way of dealing
with affairs of the heart. Emboldened by encouragement, she went on
to attack him pitilessly for going down on his knees before her
sister, "just as though you were not as good as she is," and openly
avowed that, if she were a man, she would at least have some pride.
Men like this kind of punishment.
Carrington did not attempt to defend himself; he even courted
Sybil's attack. They both enjoyed their ride through the bare woods,
by the rippling spring streams, under the languid breath of the moist
south wind. It was a small idyll, all the more pleasant because there
was gloom before and behind it. Sybil's irrepressible gaiety made
Carrington doubt whether, after all, life need be so serious a matter.
She had animal spirits in plenty, and it needed an effort for her to
keep them down, while Carrington's spirits were nearly exhausted after
twenty years of strain, and he required a greater effort to hold
himself up. There was every reason why he should be grateful to Sybil
for lending to him from her superfluity. He enjoyed being laughed at
by her. Suppose Madeleine Lee did refuse to marry him! What of it?
"Pooh!" said Sybil; "you men are all just alike. How can you be so
Madeleine and you would be intolerable together. Do find some one
who won't be solemn!"
They laid out their little plot against Madeleine and elaborated it
carefully, both as to what Carrington should say and how he should
say it, for Sybil asserted that men were too stupid to be trusted even
in making a declaration of love, and must be taught, like little
children to say their prayers. Carrington enjoyed being taught how to
make a declaration of love.
He did not ask where Sybil had learned so much about men's
stupidity. He thought perhaps Schneidekoupon could have thrown light
on the subject. At all events, they were so busily occupied with their
schemes and lessons, that they did not-reach home till Madeleine had
become anxious lest they had met with some accident. The long dusk had
become darkness before she heard the clatter of hoofs on the asphalt
pavement, and she went down to the door to scold them for their delay.
Sybil only laughed at her, and said it was all Mr. Carrington's fault:
he had lost his way, and she had been forced to find it for him.
Ten days more passed before their plan was carried into effect.
April had come. Carrington's work was completed and he was ready to
start on his journey. Then at last he appeared one evening at Mrs.
Lee's at the very moment when Sybil, as chance would have it, was
going out to pass an hour or two with her friend Victoria Dare a few
doors away. Carrington felt a little ashamed as she went. This kind of
conspiracy behind Mrs. Lee's back was not to his taste.
He resolutely sat down, and plunged at once into his subject. He
was almost ready to go, he said; he had nearly completed his work in
the Department, and he was assured that his instructions and papers
would be ready in two days more; he might not have another chance to
see Mrs. Lee so quietly again, and he wanted to take his leave now,
for this was what lay most heavily on his mind; he should have gone
willingly and gladly if it had not been for uneasiness about her; and
yet he had till now been afraid to speak openly on the subject. Here
he paused for a moment as though to invite some reply.
Madeleine laid down her work with a look of regret though not of
annoyance, and said frankly and instantly that he had been too good a
friend to allow of her taking offence at anything he could say; she
would not pretend to misunderstand him. "My affairs," she added with a
shade of bitterness, "seem to have become public property, and I would
rather have some voice in discussing them myself than to know they are
discussed behind my back."
This was a sharp thrust at the very outset, but Carrington turned
it aside and went quietly on:
"You are frank and loyal, as you always are. I will be so too. I
can't help being so. For months I have had no other pleasure than in
being near you.
For the first time in my life I have known what it is to forget my
own affairs in loving a woman who seems to me without a fault, and
for one solitary word from whom I would give all I have in life, and
Madeleine flushed and bent towards him with an earnestness of
manner that repeated itself in her tone.
"Mr. Carrington, I am the best friend you have on earth. One of
these days you will thank me with your whole soul for refusing to
listen to you now.
You do not know how much misery I am saving you. I have no heart
You want a young, fresh life to help yours; a gay, lively
temperament to enliven your despondency; some one still young enough
to absorb herself in you and make all her existence yours. I could not
do it. I can give you nothing. I have done my best to persuade myself
that some day I might begin life again with the old hopes and
feelings, but it is no use. The fire is burned out. If you married me,
you would destroy yourself You would wake up some day, and find the
universe dust and ashes."
Carrington listened in silence. He made no attempt to interrupt or
to contradict her. Only at the end he said with a little bitterness:
"My own life is worth so much to the world and to me, that I suppose
it would be wrong to risk it on such a venture; but I would risk it,
nevertheless, if you gave me the chance. Do you think me wicked for
tempting Providence? I do not mean to annoy you with entreaties. I
have a little pride left, and a great deal of respect for you. Yet I
think, in spite of all you have said or can say, that one disappointed
life may be as able to find happiness and repose in another, as to get
them by sucking the young life-blood of a fresh soul."
To this speech, which was unusually figurative for Carrington,
Mrs. Lee could find no ready answer. She could only reply that
Carrington's life was worth quite as much as his neighbour's, and
that it was worth so much to her, if not to himself, that she would
not let him wreck it.
Carrington went on: "Forgive my talking in this way. I do not mean
to complain. I shall always love you just as much, whether you care
for me or not, because you are the only woman I have ever met, or am
ever likely to meet, who seems to me perfect."
If this was Sybil's teaching, she had made the best of her time.
Carrington's tone and words pierced through all Mrs. Lee's armour
as though they were pointed with the most ingenious cruelty, and
designed to torture her. She felt hard and small before him. Life for
life, his had been, and was now, far less bright than hers, yet he was
her superior. He sat there, a true man, carrying his burden calmly,
quietly, without complaint, ready to face the next shock of life with
the same endurance he had shown against the rest. And he thought her
perfect! She felt humiliated that any brave man should say to her face
that he thought her perfect! She! perfect! In her contrition she was
half ready to go down at his feet and confess her sins; her hysterical
dread of sorrow and suffering, her narrow sympathies, her feeble
faith, her miserable selfishness, her abject cowardice. Every nerve in
her body tingled with shame when she thought what a miserable fraud
she was; what a mass of pretensions unfounded, of deceit ingrained.
She was ready to hide her face in her hands. She was disgusted,
outraged with her own image as she saw it, contrasted with
Carrington's single word: Perfect!
Nor was this the worst. Carrington was not the first man who had
thought her perfect. To hear this word suddenly used again, which had
never been uttered to her before except by lips now dead and gone,
made her brain reel. She seemed to hear her husband once more telling
her that she was perfect. Yet against this torture, she had a better
defence. She had long since hardened herself to bear these
recollections, and they steadied and strengthened her.
She had been called perfect before now, and what had come of it?
Two graves, and a broken life! She drew herself up with a face now
grown quite pale and rigid. In reply to Carrington, she said not a
word, but only shook her head slightly without looking at him.
He went on: "After all, it is not my own happiness I am thinking of
but yours. I never was vain enough to think that I was worth your
love, or that I could ever win it. Your happiness is another thing. I
care so much for that as to make me dread going away, for fear that
you may yet find yourself entangled in this wretched political life
here, when, perhaps if I stayed, I might be of some use."
"Do you really think, then, that I am going to fall a victim to Mr.
Ratcliffe?" asked Madeleine, with a cold smile.
"Why not?" replied Carrington, in a similar tone. "He can put
forward a strong claim to your sympathy and help, if not to your
love. He can offer you a great field of usefulness which you want. He
has been very faithful to you. Are you quite sure that even now you
can refuse him without his complaining that you have trifled with
"And are you quite sure," added Mrs. Lee, evasively, "that you
have not been judging him much too harshly? I think I know him better
than you. He has many good qualities, and some high ones. What harm
can he do me? Supposing even that he did succeed in persuading me that
my life could be best used in helping his, why should I be afraid of
"You and I," said Carrington, "are wide apart in our estimates of
Ratcliffe. To you, of course, he shows his best side. He is on his
good behaviour, and knows that any false step will ruin him. I see in
him only a coarse, selfish, unprincipled politician, who would either
drag you down to his own level, or, what is more likely, would very
soon disgust you and make your life a wretched self-immolation before
his vulgar ambition, or compel you to leave him. In either case you
would be the victim. You cannot afford to make another false start in
life. Reject me! I have not a word to say against it. But be on your
guard against giving your existence up to him."
"Why do you think so ill of Mr. Ratcliffe?" asked Madeleine; "he
always speaks highly of you. Do you know anything against him that
the world does not?"
"His public acts are enough to satisfy me," replied Carrington,
evading a part of the question. "You know that I have never had but
one opinion about him."
There was a pause in the conversation. Both parties felt that as
yet no good had come of it. At length Madeleine asked, "What would
you have me do? Is it a pledge you want that I will under no
circumstances marry Mr. Ratcliffe?"
"Certainly not," was the answer; "you know me better than to think
I would ask that. I only want you to take time and keep out of his
influence until your mind is fairly made up. A year hence I feel
certain that you will think of him as I do."
"Then you will allow me to marry him if I find that you are
mistaken," said Mrs. Lee, with a marked tone of sarcasm.
Carrington looked annoyed, but he answered quietly, "What I fear
is his influence here and now. What I would like to see you do is
this: go north a month earlier than you intended, and without giving
him time to act. If I were sure you were safely in Newport, I should
feel no anxiety."
"You seem to have as bad an opinion of Washington as Mr. Gore,"
said Madeleine, with a contemptuous smile. "He gave me the same
advice, though he was afraid to tell me why. I am not a child. I am
thirty years old, and have seen something of the world. I am not
afraid, like Mr. Gore, of Washington malaria, or, like you, of Mr.
Ratcliffe's influence. If I fall a victim I shall deserve my fate, and
certainly I shall have no cause to complain of my friends. They have
given me advice enough for a lifetime."
Carrington's face darkened with a deeper shade of regret. The turn
which the conversation had taken was precisely what he had expected,
and both Sybil and he had agreed that Madeleine would probably answer
just in this way.
Nevertheless, he could not but feel acutely the harm he was doing
to his own interests, and it was only by a sheer effort of the will
that he forced himself to a last and more earnest attack.
"I know it is an impertinence," he said; "I wish it were in my
power to show how much it costs me to offend you. This is the first
time you ever had occasion to be offended. If I were to yield to the
fear of your anger and were to hold my tongue now, and by any chance
you were to wreck your life on this rock, I should never forgive
myself the cowardice. I should always think I might have done
something to prevent it. This is probably the last time I shall have
the chance to talk openly with you, and I implore you to listen to me.
I want nothing for myself If I knew I should never see you again, I
would still say the same thing. Leave Washington! Leave it now!
--at once! --without giving more than twenty-four hours' notice!
Leave it without letting Mr. Ratcliffe see you again in private! Come
back next winter if you please, and then accept him if you think
proper. I only pray you to think long about it and decide when you are
Madeleine's eyes flashed, and she threw aside her embroidery with
an impatient gesture: "No! Mr. Carrington! I will not be dictated to!
I will carry out my own plans! I do not mean to marry Mr. Ratcliffe.
If I had meant it, I should have done it before now. But I will not
run away from him or from myself. It would be unladylike, undignified,
Carrington could say no more. He had come to the end of his
lesson. A long silence ensued and then he rose to go. "Are you angry
with me?" said she in a softer tone.
"I ought to ask that question," said he. "Can you forgive me? I am
afraid not. No man can say to a woman what I have said to you, and be
quite forgiven. You will never think of me again as you would have
done if I had not spoken. I knew that before I did it. As for me, I
can only go on with my old life. It is not gay, and will not be the
gayer for our talk to-night."
Madeleine relented a little: "Friendships like ours are not so
easily broken," she said. "Do not do me another injustice. You will
see me again before you go?"
He assented and bade good-night. Mrs. Lee, weary and disturbed in
mind, hastened to her room. "When Miss Sybil comes in, tell her that
I am not very well, and have gone to bed," were her instructions to
her maid, and Sybil thought she knew the cause of this headache.
But before Carrington's departure he had one more ride with Sybil,
and reported to her the result of the interview, at which both of
them confessed themselves much depressed. Carrington expressed some
hope that Madeleine meant, after a sort, to give a kind of pledge by
saying that she had no intention of marrying Mr. Ratcliffe, but Sybil
shook her head emphatically:
"How can a woman tell whether she is going to accept a man until
she is asked?" said she with entire confidence, as though she were
stating the simplest fact in the world. Carrington looked puzzled,
and ventured to ask whether women did not generally make up their
minds beforehand on such an interesting point; but Sybil overwhelmed
him with contempt: "What good will they do by making up their minds, I
should like to know? of course they would go and do the opposite.
Sensible women don't pretend to make up their minds, Mr. Carrington.
But you men are so stupid, and you can't understand in the least."
Carrington gave it up, and went back to his stale question: Could
Sybil suggest any other resource? and Sybil sadly confessed that she
could not. So far as she could see, they must trust to luck, and she
thought it was cruel tor Mr. Carrington to go away and leave her alone
without help. He had promised to prevent the marriage.
"One thing more I mean to do," said Carrington: "and here
everything will depend on your courage and nerve. You may depend upon
it that Mr. Ratcliffe will offer himself before you go north. He does
not suspect you of making trouble, and he will not think about you in
any way if you let him alone and keep quiet. When he does offer
himself you will know it; at least your sister will tell you if she
has accepted him. If she refuses him point blank, you will have
nothing to do but to keep her steady. If you see her hesitating, you
must break in at any cost, and use all your influence to stop her. Be
bold, then, and do your best. If everything fails and she still clings
to him, I must play my last card, or rather you must play it for me.
I shall leave with you a sealed letter which you are to give her if
everything else fails. Do it before she sees Ratcliffe a second time.
See that she reads it and, if necessary, make her read it, no matter
when or where. No one else must know that it exists, and you must
take as much care of it as though it were a diamond. You are not to
know what is in it; it must be a complete secret. Do you understand?"
Sybil thought she did, but her heart sank. "When shall you give me
this letter?" she asked.
"The evening before I start, when I come to bid good-bye; probably
next Sunday. This letter is our last hope. If, after reading that, she
does not give him up, you will have to pack your trunk, my dear
Sybil, and find a new home, for you can never live with them."
He had never before called her by her first name, and it pleased
her to hear it now, though she generally had a strong objection to
"Oh, I wish you were not going!" she exclaimed tearfully. "What
shall I do when you are gone?"
At this pitiful appeal, Carrington felt a sudden pang. He found
that he was not so old as he had thought. Certainly he had grown to
like her frank honesty and sound common sense, and he had at length
discovered that she was handsome, with a very pretty figure. Was it
not something like a flirtation he had been carrying on with this
young person for the last month? A glimmering of suspicion crossed
his mind, though he got rid of it as quickly as possible. For a man of
his age and sobriety to be in love with two sisters at once was
impossible; still more impossible that Sybil should care for him.
As for her, however, there was no doubt about the matter. She had
grown to depend upon him, and she did it with all the blind
confidence of youth. To lose him was a serious disaster. She had
never before felt the sensation, and she thought it most
disagreeable. Her youthful diplomatists and admirers could not at all
fill Carrington's place. They danced and chirruped cheerfully on the
hollow crust of society, but they were wholly useless when one
suddenly fell through and found oneself struggling in the darkness
and dangers beneath. Young women, too, are apt to be flattered by the
confidences of older men; they have a keen palate for whatever savours
of experience and adventure. For the first time in her life, Sybil had
found a man who gave some play to her imagination; one who had been a
rebel, and had grown used to the shocks of fate, so as to walk with
calmness into the face of death, and to command or obey with equal
indifference. She felt that he would tell her what to do when the
earthquake came, and would be at hand to consult, which is in a
woman's eyes the great object of men's existence, when trouble comes.
She suddenly conceived that Washington would be intolerable without
him, and that she should never get the courage to fight Mr. Ratcliffe
alone, or, if she did, she should make some fatal mistake.
They finished their ride very soberly. She began to show a new
interest in all that concerned him, and asked many questions about
his sisters and their plantation. She wanted to ask him whether she
could not do something to help them, but this seemed too awkward. On
his part he made her promise to write him faithfully all that took
place, and this request pleased her, though she knew his interest was
all on her sister's account.
The following Sunday evening when he came to bid good-bye, it was
still worse. There was no chance for private talk. Ratcliffe was
there, and several diplomatists, including old Jacobi, who had eyes
like a cat and saw every motion of one's face. Victoria Dare was on
the sofa, chattering with Lord Dunbeg; Sybil would rather have had any
ordinary illness, even to the extent of a light case of scarlet fever
or small-pox than let her know what was the matter. Carrington found
means to get Sybil into another room for a moment and to give her the
letter he had promised. Then he bade her good-bye, and in doing so he
reminded her of her promise to write, pressing her hand and looking
into her eyes with an earnestness that made her heart beat faster,
although she said to herself that his interest was all about her
sister; as it was--mostly. The thought did not raise her spirits, but
she went through with her performance like a heroine. Perhaps she was
a little pleased to see that he parted from Madeleine with much less
apparent feeling. One would have said that they were two good friends
who had no troublesome sentiment to worry them. But then every eye in
the room was watching this farewell, and speculating about it.
Ratcliffe looked on with particular interest and was a little
perplexed to account for this too fraternal cordiality. Could he have
made a miscalculation? or was there something behind? He himself
insisted upon shaking hands genially with Carrington and wished him a
pleasant journey and a successful one.
That night, for the first time since she was a child, Sybil
actually cried a little after she went to bed, although it is true
that her sentiment did not keep her awake. She felt lonely and weighed
down by a great responsibility.
For a day or two afterwards she was nervous and restless. She
would not ride, or make calls, or see guests. She tried to sing a
little, and found it tiresome. She went out and sat for hours in the
Square, where the spring sun was shining warm and bright on the
prancing horse of the great Andrew Jackson. She was a little cross,
too, and absent, and spoke so often about Carrington that at last
Madeleine was struck by sudden suspicion, and began to watch her with
Tuesday night, after this had gone on for two days, Sybil was in
Madeleine's room, where she often stayed to talk while her sister was
at her toilet.
This evening she threw herself listlessly on the couch, and within
five minutes again quoted Carrington. Madeleine turned from the glass
before which she was sitting, and looked her steadily in the face.
"Sybil," said she, "this is the twenty-fourth time you have
Carrington since we sat down to dinner. I have waited for the
round number to decide whether I should take any notice of it or not?
what does it mean, my child? Do you care for Mr. Carrington?"
"Oh, Maude!" exclaimed Sybil reproachfully, flushing so violently
that, even by that dim light, her sister could not but see it.
Mrs. Lee rose and, crossing the room, sat down by Sybil who was
lying on the couch and turned her face away. Madeleine put her arms
round her neck and kissed her.
"My poor--poor child!" said she pityingly. "I never dreamed of
this! What a fool I have been! How could I have been so thoughtless!
Tell me!" she added, with a little hesitation; "has he--does he care
"No! no!" cried Sybil, fairly breaking down into a burst of tears;
"no! he loves you! nobody but you! he never gave a thought to me. I
don't care for him so very much," she continued, drying her tears;
"only it seems so lonely now he is gone."
Mrs. Lee remained on the couch, with her arm round her sister's
neck, silent, gazing into vacancy, the picture of perplexity and
The situation was getting beyond her control.
IN the middle of April a sudden social excitement started the
indolent city of Washington to its feet. The Grand-Duke and Duchess
of Saxe-Baden-Hombourg arrived in America on a tour of pleasure, and
in due course came on to pay their respects to the Chief Magistrate of
the Union. The newspapers hastened to inform their readers that the
Grand-Duchess was a royal princess of England, and, in the want of any
other social event, every one who had any sense of what was due to his
or her own dignity, hastened to show this august couple the respect
which all republicans who have a large income derived from business,
feel for English royalty. New York gave a dinner, at which the most
insignificant person present was worth at least a million dollars, and
where the gentlemen who sat by the Princess entertained her for an
hour or two by a calculation of the aggregate capital represented. New
York also gave a ball at which the Princess appeared in an
ill-fitting black silk dress with mock lace and jet ornaments, among
several hundred toilets that proclaimed the refined republican
simplicity of their owners at a cost of various hundred thousand
dollars. After these hospitalities the Grand-ducal pair came on to
Washington, where they became guests of Lord Skye, or, more properly,
Lord Skye became their guest, for he seemed to consider that he handed
the Legation over to them, and he told Mrs. Lee, with true British
bluntness of speech, that they were a great bore and he wished they
had stayed in Saxe-Baden-Hombourg, or wherever they belonged, but as
they were here, he must be their lackey. Mrs. Lee was amused and a
little astonished at the candour with which he talked about them, and
she was instructed and improved by his dry account of the Princess,
who, it seemed, made herself disagreeable by her airs of royalty; who
had suffered dreadfully from the voyage; and who detested America and
everything American; but who was, not without some show of reason,
jealous of her husband, and endured endless sufferings, though with a
very bad grace, rather than lose sight of him.
Not only was Lord Skye obliged to turn the Legation into an hotel,
but in the full enthusiasm of his loyalty he felt himself called upon
to give a ball. It was, he said, the easiest way of paying off all his
debts at once, and if the Princess was good for nothing else, she
could be utilized as a show by way of "promoting the harmony of the
two great nations." In other words, Lord Skye meant to exhibit the
Princess for his own diplomatic benefit, and he did so. One would have
thought that at this season, when Congress had adjourned, Washington
would hardly have afforded society enough to fill a ball-room, but
this, instead of being a drawback, was an advantage. It permitted the
British Minister to issue invitations without limit. He asked not only
the President and his Cabinet, and the judges, and the army, and the
navy, and all the residents of Washington who had any claim to
consideration, but also all the senators, all the representatives in
Congress, all the governors of States with their staffs, if they had
any, all eminent citizens and their families throughout the Union and
Canada, and finally every private individual, from the North Pole to
the Isthmus of Panama, who had ever shown him a civility or was able
to control interest enough to ask for a card. The result was that
Baltimore promised to come in a body, and Philadelphia was equally
well-disposed; New York provided several scores of guests, and Boston
sent the governor and a delegation; even the well-known millionaire
who represented California in the United States Senate was irritated
because, his invitation having been timed to arrive just one day too
late, he was prevented from bringing his family across the continent
with a choice party in a director's car, to enjoy the smiles of
royalty in the halls of the British lion. It is astonishing what
efforts freemen will make in a just cause.
Lord Skye himself treated the whole affair with easy contempt. One
afternoon he strolled into Mrs. Lee's parlour and begged her to give
him a cup of tea.
He said he had got rid of his menagerie for a few hours by shunting
it off upon the German Legation, and he was by way of wanting a
little human society. Sybil, who was a great favourite with him,
entreated to be told all about the ball, but he insisted that he knew
no more than she did. A man from New York had taken possession of the
Legation, but what he would do with it was not within the foresight of
the wisest; trom the talk of the young members of his Legation, Lord
Skye gathered that the entire city was to be roofed in and forty
millions of people expected, but his own concern in the affair was
limited to the flowers he hoped to receive.
"All young and beautiful women," said he to Sybil, "are to send me
I prefer Jacqueminot roses, but will accept any handsome variety,
provided they are not wired. It is diplomatic etiquette that each
lady who sends me flowers shall reserve at least one dance for me.
You will please inscribe this at once upon your tablets, Miss Ross."
To Madeleine this ball was a godsend, for it came just in time to
divert Sybil's mind from its troubles. A week had now passed since
that revelation of Sybil's heart which had come like an earthquake
upon Mrs. Lee. Since then Sybil had been nervous and irritable, all
the more because she was conscious of being watched. She was in
secret ashamed of her own conduct, and inclined to be angry with
Carrington, as though he were responsible for her foolishness; but
she could not talk with Madeleine on the subject without discussing
Mr. Ratcliffe, and Carrington had expressly forbidden her to attack
Mr. Ratcliffe until it was clear that Ratcliffe had laid himself open
to attack. This reticence deceived poor Mrs. Lee, who saw in her
sister's moods only that unrequited attachment for which she held
herself solely to blame. Her gross negligence in allowing Sybil to be
improperly exposed to such a risk weighed heavily on her mind. With a
saint's capacity for self-torment, Madeleine wielded the scourge over
her own back until the blood came. She saw the roses rapidly fading
from Sybil's cheeks, and by the help of an active imagination she
discovered a hectic look and symptoms of a cough. She became fairly
morbid on the subject, and fretted herself into a fever, upon which
Sybil sent, on her own responsibility, for the medical man, and
Madeleine was obliged to dose herself with quinine. In fact, there was
much more reason for anxiety about her than for her anxiety about
Sybil, who, barring a little youthful nervousness in the face of
responsibility, was as healthy and comfortable a young woman as could
be shown in America, and whose sentiment never cost her five minutes'
sleep, although her appetite may have become a shade more exacting
than before. Madeleine was quick to notice this, and surprised her
cook by making daily and almost hourly demands for new and impossible
dishes, which she exhausted a library of cookery-books to discover.
Lord Skye's ball and Sybil's interest in it were a great relief to
Madeleine's mind, and she now turned her whole soul to frivolity.
Never, since she was seventeen, had she thought or talked so much
about a ball, as now about this ball to the Grand-Duchess. She wore
out her own brain in the effort to amuse Sybil. She took her to call
on the Princess; she would have taken her to call on the Grand Lama
had he come to Washington. She instigated her to order and send to
Lord Skye a mass of the handsomest roses New York could afford. She
set her at work on her dress several days before there was any
occasion for it, and this famous costume had to be taken out,
examined, criticised, and discussed with unending interest. She talked
about the dress, and the Princess, and the ball, till her tongue clove
to the roof of her mouth, and her brain refused to act. From morning
till night, for one entire week, she ate, drank, breathed, and dreamt
of the ball. Everything that love could suggest or labour carry out,
she did, to amuse and occupy her sister.
She knew that all this was only temporary and palliative, and that
more radical measures must be taken to secure Sybil's happiness. On
this subject she thought in secret until both head and heart ached.
One thing and one thing only was clear: if Sybil loved Carrington, she
should have him. How Madeleine expected to bring about this change of
heart in Carrington, was known only to herself. She regarded men as
creatures made for women to dispose of, and capable of being
transferred like checks, or baggage-labels, from one woman to another,
as desired. The only condition was that he should first be completely
disabused of the notion that he could dispose of himself. Mrs. Lee
never doubted that she could make Carrington fall in love with Sybil
provided she could place herself beyond his reach. At all events, come
what might, even though she had to accept the desperate alternative
offered by Mr. Ratcliffe, nothing should be allowed to interfere with
Sybil's happiness. And thus it was, that, for the first time, Mrs. Lee
began to ask herself whether it was not better to find the solution of
her perplexities in marriage.
Would she ever have been brought to this point without the violent
pressure of her sister's supposed interests? This is one of those
questions which wise men will not ask, because it is one which the
wisest man or woman cannot answer. Upon this theme, an army of
ingenious authors have exhausted their ingenuity in entertaining the
public, and their works are to be found at every book-stall. They have
decided that any woman will, under the right conditions, marry any man
at any time, provided her "higher nature" is properly appealed to.
Only with regret can a writer forbear to moralize on this subject.
"Beauty and the Beast," "Bluebeard," "Auld Robin Gray," have the
double charm to authors of being very pleasant to read, and still
easier to dilute with sentiment. But at least ten thousand modern
writers, with Lord Macaulay at their head, have so ravaged and
despoiled the region of fairy-stories and fables, that an allusion
even to the "Arabian Nights" is no longer decent. The capacity of
women to make unsuitable marriages must be considered as the
corner-stone of society.
Meanwhile the ball had, in truth, very nearly driven all thought of
Carrington out of Sybil's mind. The city filled again. The streets
swarmed with fashionable young men and women from the provinces of
New York, Philadelphia, and Boston, who gave Sybil abundance of
occupation. She received bulletins of the progress of affairs. The
President and his wife had consented to be present, out of their high
respect for Her Majesty the Queen and their desire to see and to be
seen. All the Cabinet would accompany the Chief Magistrate. The
diplomatic corps would appear in uniform; so, too, the officers of the
army and navy; the Governor-General of Canada was coming, with a
staff. Lord Skye remarked that the Governor-General was a flat.
The day of the ball was a day of anxiety to Sybil, although not on
account of Mr. Ratcliffe or of Mr. Carrington, who were of trifling
consequence compared with the serious problem now before her. The
responsibility of dressing both her sister and herself fell upon
Sybil, who was the real author of all Mrs. Lee's millinery triumphs
when they now occurred, except that Madeleine managed to put
character into whatever she wore, which Sybil repudiated on her own
account. On this day Sybil had reasons for special excitement. All
winter two new dresses, one especially a triumph of Mr.
Worth's art, had lain in state upstairs, and Sybil had waited in
vain for an occasion that should warrant the splendour of these
One afternoon in early June of the preceding summer, Mr. Worth had
received a letter on the part of the reigning favourite of the King of
Dahomey, directing him to create for her a ball-dress that should
annihilate and utterly destroy with jealousy and despair the hearts of
her seventy-five rivals; she was young and beautiful; expense was not
a consideration. Such were the words of her chamberlain. All that
night, the great genius of the nineteenth century tossed wakefully on
his bed revolving the problem in his mind. Visions of flesh-coloured
tints shot with blood-red perturbed his brain, but he fought against
and dismissed them; that combination would be commonplace in Dahomey.
When the first rays of sunlight showed him the reflection of his
careworn face in the plate-glass mirrored ceiling, he rose and, with
an impulse of despair, flung open the casements. There before his
blood-shot eyes lay the pure, still, new-born, radiant June morning.
With a cry of inspiration the great man leaned out of the casement and
rapidly caught the details of his new conception. Before ten o'clock
he was again at his bureau in Paris. An imperious order brought to his
private room every silk, satin, and gauze within the range of pale
pink, pale crocus, pale green, silver and azure. Then came chromatic
scales of colour; combinations meant to vulgarise the rainbow;
sinfonies and fugues; the twittering of birds and the great peace of
dewy nature; maidenhood in her awakening innocence; "The Dawn in
June." The Master rested content.
A week later came an order from Sybil, including "an entirely
original ball-dress,--unlike any other sent to America." Mr. Worth
pondered, hesitated; recalled Sybil's figure; the original pose of her
head; glanced anxiously at the map, and speculated whether the New
York Herald had a special correspondent at Dahomey; and at last, with
a generosity peculiar to great souls, he duplicated for "Miss S. Ross,
New York, U.S. America," the order for "L'Aube, Mois de Juin."
The Schneidekoupons and Mr. French, who had reappeared in
Washington, came to dine with Mrs. Lee on the evening of the ball,
and Julia Schneidekoupon sought in vain to discover what Sybil was
going to wear. "Be happy, my dear, in your ignorance!" said Sybil;
"the pangs of envy will rankle soon enough."
An hour later her room, except the fireplace, where a wood fire
was gently smouldering, became an altar of sacrifice to the Deity of
Dawn in June. Her bed, her low couch, her little tables, her chintz
arm-chairs, were covered with portions of the divinity, down to
slippers and handkerchief, gloves and bunches of fresh roses. When at
length, after a long effort, the work was complete, Mrs. Lee took a
last critical look at the result, and enjoyed a glow of satisfaction.
Young, happy, sparkling with consciousness of youth and beauty, Sybil
stood, Hebe Anadyomene, rising from the foam of soft creplisse which
swept back beneath the long train of pale, tender, pink silk, fainting
into breadths of delicate primrose, relieved here and there by facings
of June green--or was it the blue of early morning? --or both?
suggesting unutterable freshness. A modest hint from her maid that
"the girls," as women-servants call each other in American
households, would like to offer their share of incense at the shrine,
was amiably met, and they were allowed a glimpse of the divinity
before she was enveloped in wraps. An admiring group, huddled in the
doorway, murmured approval, from the leading "girl," who was the cook,
a coloured widow of some sixty winters, whose admiration was
irrepressible, down to a New England spinster whose Anabaptist
conscience wrestled with her instincts, and who, although disapproving
of "French folks," paid in her heart that secret homage to their gowns
and bonnets which her sterner lips refused. The applause of this
audience has, from generation to generation, cheered the hearts of
myriads of young women starting out on their little adventures, while
the domestic laurels flourish green and fresh for one half hour, until
they wither at the threshold of the ball-room.
Mrs. Lee toiled long and earnestly over her sister's toilet, for
had not she herself in her own day been the best-dressed girl in New
York?--at least, she held that opinion, and her old instincts came to
life again whenever Sybil was to be prepared for any great occasion.
Madeleine kissed her sister affectionately, and gave her unusual
praise when the "Dawn in June" was complete. Sybil was at this moment
the ideal of blooming youth, and Mrs. Lee almost dared to hope that
her heart was not permanently broken, and that she might yet survive
until Carrington could be brought back. Her own toilet was a much
shorter affair, but Sybil was impatient long before it was concluded;
the carriage was waiting, and she was obliged to disappoint her
household by coming down enveloped in her long opera-cloak, and
When at length the sisters entered the reception-room at the
British Legation, Lord Skye rebuked them for not having come early to
receive with him. His Lordship, with a huge riband across his breast,
and a star on his coat, condescended to express himself vigorously on
the subject of the "Dawn in June." Schneidekoupon, who was proud of
his easy use of the latest artistic jargon, looked with respect at
Mrs. Lee's silver-gray satin and its Venetian lace, the arrangement of
which had been conscientiously stolen from a picture in the Louvre,
and he murmured audibly, "Nocturne in silver-gray!"--then, turning to
Sybil--"and you? Of course! I see! A song without words!" Mr. French
came up and, in his most fascinating tones, exclaimed, "Why, Mrs. Lee,
you look real handsome to-night!" Jacobi, after a close scrutiny, said
that he took the liberty of an old man in telling them that they were
both dressed absolutely without fault. Even the Grand-Duke was struck
by Sybil, and made Lord Skye introduce him, after which ceremony he
terrified her by asking the pleasure of a waltz. She disappeared from
Madeleine's view, not to be brought back again until Dawn met dawn.
The ball was, as the newspapers declared, a brilliant success.
Every one who knows the city of Washington will recollect that, among
some scores of magnificent residences which our own and foreign
governments have built for the comfort of cabinet officers, judges,
diplomatists, vice-presidents, speakers, and senators, the British
Legation is by far the most impressive.
Combining in one harmonious whole the proportions of the Pitti
Palace with the decoration of the Casa d'Oro and the dome of an
Eastern Mosque, this architectural triumph offers extraordinary
resources for society. Further description is unnecessary, since
anyone may easily refer back to the New York newspapers of the
following morning, where accurate plans of the house on the ground
floor, will be found; while the illustrated newspapers of the same
week contain excellent sketches of the most pleasing scenic effects,
as well as of the ball-room and of the Princess smiling graciously
from her throne. The lady just behind the Princess on her left, is
Mrs. Lee, a poor likeness, but easily distinguishable from the fact
that the artist, for his own objects, has made her rather shorter, and
the Princess rather taller, than was strictly correct, just as he has
given the Princess a gracious smile, which was quite different from
her actual expression. In short, the artist is compelled to exhibit
the world rather as we would wish it to be, than as it was or is, or,
indeed, is like shortly to become. The strangest part of his picture
is, however, the fact that he actually did see Mrs. Lee where he has
put her, at the Princess's elbow, which was almost the last place in
the room where any one who knew Mrs. Lee would have looked for her.
The explanation of this curious accident shall be given
immediately, since the facts are not mentioned in the public reports
of the ball, which only said that, "close behind her Royal Highness
the Grand-Duchess, stood our charming and aristocratic countrywoman,
Mrs. Lightfoot Lee, who has made so great a sensation in Washington
this winter, and whose name public rumour has connected with that of
the Secretary of the Treasury. To her the Princess appeared to address
most of her conversation."
The show was a very pretty one, and on a pleasant April evening
there were many places less agreeable to be in than this. Much ground
outside had been roofed over, to make a ball-room, large as an
opera-house, with a daïs and a sofa in the centre of one long side,
and another daïs with a second sofa immediately opposite to it in the
centre of the other long side. Each daïs had a canopy of red velvet,
one bearing the Lion and the Unicorn, the other the American Eagle.
The Royal Standard was displayed above the Unicorn; the
Stars-and-Stripes, not quite so effectively, waved above the Eagle.
The Princess, being no longer quite a child, found gas trying to her
complexion, and compelled Lord Skye to illuminate her beauty by one
hundred thousand wax candies, more or less, which were arranged to be
becoming about the Grand-ducal throne, and to be showy and unbecoming
about the opposite institution across the way.
The exact facts were these. It had happened that the
Grand-Duchess, having been necessarily brought into contact with the
President, and particularly with his wife, during the past week, had
conceived for the latter an antipathy hardly to be expressed in words.
Her fixed determination was at any cost to keep the Presidential party
at a distance, and it was only after a stormy scene that the
Grand-Duke and Lord Skye succeeded in extorting her consent that the
President should take her to supper. Further than this she would not
go. She would not speak to "that woman," as she called the President's
wife, nor be in her neighbourhood. She would rather stay in her own
room all the evening, and she did not care in the least what the Queen
would think of it, for she was no subject of the Queen's. The case was
a hard one for Lord Skye, who was perplexed to know, from this point
of view, why he was entertaining the Princess at all; but, with the
help of the Grand-Duke and Lord Dunbeg, who was very active and smiled
deprecation with some success, he found a way out of it; and this was
the reason why there were two thrones in the ball-room, and why the
British throne was lighted with such careful reference to the
Princess's complexion. Lord Skye immolated himself in the usual effort
of British and American Ministers, to keep the two great powers apart.
He and the Grand-Duke and Lord Dunbeg acted as buffers with watchful
diligence, dexterity, and success. As one resource, Lord Skye had
bethought himself of Mrs. Lee, and he told the Princess the story of
Mrs. Lee's relations with the President's wife, a story which was no
secret in Washington, for, apart from Madeleine's own account, society
was left in no doubt of the light in which Mrs. Lee was regarded by
the mistress of the White House, whom Washington ladles were now in
the habit of drawing out on the subject of Mrs. Lee, and who always
rose to the bait with fresh vivacity, to the amusement and delight of
Victoria Dare and other mischief-makers.
"She will not trouble you so long as you can keep Mrs. Lee in your
neighbourhood," said Lord Skye, and the Princess accordingly seized
upon Mrs. Lee and brandished her, as though she were a charm against
the evil eye, in the face of the President's party. She made Mrs. Lee
take a place just behind her as though she were a lady-in-waiting. She
even graciously permitted her to sit down, so near that their chairs
touched. Whenever "that woman" was within sight, which was most of the
time, the Princess directed her conversation entirely to Mrs. Lee and
took care to make it evident. Even before the Presidential party had
arrived, Madeleine had fallen into the Princess's grasp, and when the
Princess went forward to receive the President and his wife, which she
did with a bow of stately and distant dignity, she dragged Madeleine
closely by her side. Mrs. Lee bowed too; she could not well help it;
but was cut dead for her pains, with a glare of contempt and hatred.
Lord Skye, who was acting as cavalier to the President's wife, was
panic-stricken, and hastened to march his democratic potentate away,
under pretence of showing her the decorations. He placed her at last
on her own throne, where he and the Grand-Duke relieved each other in
standing guard at intervals throughout the evening. When the Princess
followed with the President, she compelled her husband to take Mrs.
Lee on his arm and conduct her to the British throne, with no other
object than to exasperate the President's wife, who, from her elevated
platform, looked down upon the cortège with a scowl.
In all this affair Mrs. Lee was the principal sufferer. No one
could relieve her, and she was literally penned in as she sat. The
Princess kept up an incessant fire of small conversation, principally
complaint and fault-finding, which no one dared to interrupt. Mrs.
Lee was painfully bored, and after a time even the absurdity of the
thing ceased to amuse her.
She had, too, the ill-luck to make one or two remarks which
appealed to some hidden sense of humour in the Princess, who laughed
and, in the style of royal personages, gave her to understand that she
would like more amusement of the same sort. Of all things in life,
Mrs. Lee held this kind of court-service in contempt, for she was
something more than republican--a little communistic at heart, and her
only serious complaint of the President and his wife was that they
undertook to have a court and to ape monarchy.
She had no notion of admitting social superiority in any one,
President or Prince, and to be suddenly converted into a
lady-in-waiting to a small German Grand-Duchess, was a terrible blow.
But what was to be done? Lord Skye had drafted her into the service
and she could not decently refuse to help him when he came to her side
and told her, with his usual calm directness, what his difficulties
were, and how he counted upon her to help him out.
The same play went on at supper, where there was a
royal-presidential table, which held about two dozen guests, and the
two great ladies presiding, as far apart as they could be placed. The
Grand-Duke and Lord Skye, on either side of the President's wife, did
their duty like men, and were rewarded by receiving from her much
information about the domestic arrangements of the White House. The
President, however, who sat next the Princess at the opposite end, was
evidently depressed, owing partly to the fact that the Princess, in
defiance of all etiquette, had compelled Lord Dunbeg to take Mrs. Lee
to supper and to place her directly next the President. Madeleine
tried to escape, but was stopped by the Princess, who addressed her
across the President and in a decided tone asked her to sit precisely
Lee looked timidly at her neighbour, who made no sign, but ate his
supper in silence only broken by an occasional reply to a rare
remark. Mrs. Lee pitied him, and wondered what his wife would say
when they reached home. She caught Ratcliffe's eye down the table,
watching her with a smile; she tried to talk fluently with Dunbeg; but
not until supper was long over and two o'clock was at hand; not until
the Presidential party, under all the proper formalities, had taken
their leave of the Grand-ducal party; not until Lord Skye had escorted
them to their carriage and returned to say that they were gone, did
the Princess loose her hold upon Mrs. Lee and allow her to slip away
Meanwhile the ball had gone on after the manner of balls. As
Madeleine sat in her enforced grandeur she could watch all that
passed. She had seen Sybil whirling about with one man after another,
amid a swarm of dancers, enjoying herself to the utmost and
occasionally giving a nod and a smile to her sister as their eyes met.
There, too, was Victoria Dare, who never appeared flurried even when
waltzing with Lord Dunbeg, whose education as a dancer had been
neglected. The fact was now fully recognized that Victoria was
carrying on a systematic flirtation with Dunbeg, and had undertaken as
her latest duty the task of teaching him to waltz. His struggles and
her calmness in assisting them commanded respect. On the opposite side
of the room, by the republican throne, Mrs. Lee had watched Mr.
Ratcliffe standing by the President, who appeared unwilling to let him
out of arm's length and who seemed to make to him most of his few
remarks. Schneidekoupon and his sister were mixed in the throng,
dancing as though England had never countenanced the heresy of
free-trade. On the whole, Mrs. Lee was satisfied.
If her own sufferings were great, they were not without reward.
She studied all the women in the ball-room, and if there was one
prettier than Sybil, Madeleine's eyes could not discover her. If
there was a more perfect dress, Madeleine knew nothing of dressing.
On these points she felt the confidence of conviction. Her calm would
have been complete, had she felt quite sure that none of Sybil's
gaiety was superficial and that it would not be followed by reaction.
She watched nervously to see whether her face changed its gay
expression, and once she thought it became depressed, but this was
when the Grand-Duke came up to claim his waltz, and the look rapidly
passed away when they got upon the floor and his Highness began to
wheel round the room with a precision and momentum that would have
done honour to a regiment of Life Guards. He seemed pleased with his
experiment, for he was seen again and again careering over the floor
with Sybil until Mrs. Lee herself became nervous, for the Princess
After her release Madeleine lingered awhile in the ball-room to
speak with her sister and to receive congratulations. For half an
hour she was a greater belle than Sybil. A crowd of men clustered
about her, amused at the part she had played in the evening's
entertainment and full of compliments upon her promotion at Court.
Lord Skye himself found time to offer her his thanks in a more serious
tone than he generally affected. "You have suffered much," said he,
"and I am grateful." Madeleine laughed as she answered that her
sufferings had seemed nothing to her while she watched his. But at
last she became weary of the noise and glare of the ball-room, and,
accepting the arm of her excellent friend Count Popoff, she strolled
with him back to the house. There at last she sat down on a sofa in a
quiet window-recess where the light was less strong and where a
convenient laurel spread its leaves in front so as to make a bower
through which she could see the passers-by without being seen by them
except with an effort. Had she been a younger woman, this would have
been the spot for a flirtation, but Mrs. Lee never flirted, and the
idea of her flirting with Popoff would have seemed ludicrous to all
He did not sit down, but was leaning against the angle of the wall,
talking with her, when suddenly Mr. Ratcliffe appeared and took the
seat by her side with such deliberation and apparent sense of property
that Popoff incontinently turned and fled. No one knew where the
Secretary came from, or how he learned that she was there. He made no
explanation and she took care to ask for none. She gave him a
highly-coloured account of her evening's service as lady-in-waiting,
which he matched by that of his own trials as gentleman-usher to the
President, who, it seemed, had clung desperately to his old enemy in
the absence of any other rock to clutch at.
Ratcliffe looked the character of Prime Minister sufficiently well
at this moment. He would have held his own, at a pinch, in any Court,
not merely in Europe but in India or China, where dignity is still
expected of gentlemen.
Excepting for a certain coarse and animal expression about the
mouth, and an indefinable coldness in the eye, he was a handsome man
and still in his prime. Every one remarked how much he was improved
since entering the Cabinet. He had dropped his senatorial manner. His
clothes were no longer congressional, but those of a respectable man,
neat and decent. His shirts no longer protruded in the wrong places,
nor were his shirt-collars frayed or soiled. His hair did not stray
over his eyes, ears, and coat, like that of a Scotch terrier, but had
got itself cut. Having overheard Mrs. Lee express on one occasion her
opinion of people who did not take a cold bath every morning, he had
thought it best to adopt this reform, although he would not have had
it generally known, tot it savoured ot caste. He made an effort not to
be dictatorial and to forget that he had been the Prairie Giant, the
bully of the Senate. In short, what with Mrs. Lee's influence and what
with his emancipation from the Senate chamber with its code of bad
manners and worse morals, Mr. Ratcliffe was fast becoming a
respectable member of society whom a man who had never been in prison
or in politics might safely acknowledge as a friend.
Mr. Ratcliffe was now evidently bent upon being heard. After
charting for a time with some humour on the President's successes as
a man of fashion, he changed the subject to the merits of the
President as a statesman, and little by little as he spoke he became
serious and his voice sank into low and confidential tones. He
plainly said that the President's incapacity had now become notorious
among his followers; that it was only with difficulty his Cabinet and
friends could prevent him from making a fool of himself fifty times a
day; that all the party leaders who had occasion to deal with him were
so thoroughly disgusted that the Cabinet had to pass its time in
trying to pacify them; while this state of things lasted, Ratcliffe's
own influence must be paramount; he had good reason to know that if
the Presidential election were to take place this year, nothing could
prevent his nomination and election; even at three years' distance the
chances in his favour were at least two to one; and after this
exordium he went on in a low tone with increasing earnestness, while
Mrs. Lee sat motionless as the statue of Agrippina, her eyes fixed on
"I am not one of those who are happy in political life. I am a
politician because I cannot help myself; it is the trade I am fittest
for, and ambition is my resource to make it tolerable. In politics we
cannot keep our hands clean. I have done many things in my political
career that are not defensible. To act with entire honesty and
self-respect, one should always live in a pure atmosphere, and the
atmosphere of politics is impure.
Domestic life is the salvation of many public men, but I have for
many years been deprived of it. I have now come to that point where
increasing responsibilities and temptations make me require help. I
must have it. You alone can give it to me. You are kind, thoughtful,
conscientious, high-minded, cultivated, fitted better than any woman I
ever saw, for public duties. Your place is there. You belong among
those who exercise an influence beyond their time. I only ask you to
take the place which is yours."
This desperate appeal to Mrs. Lee's ambition was a calculated part
of Ratcliffe's scheme. He was well aware that he had marked high
game, and that in proportion to this height must be the power of his
lure. Nor was he embarrassed because Mrs. Lee sat still and pale with
her eyes fixed on the ground and her hands twisted together in her
lap. The eagle that soars highest must be longer in descending to the
ground than the sparrow or the partridge. Mrs. Lee had a thousand
things to think about in this brief time, and yet she found that she
could not think at all; a succession of mere images and fragments of
thought passed rapidly over her mind, and her will exercised no
control upon their order or their nature. One of these fleeting
reflections was that in all the offers of marriage she had ever heard,
this was the most unsentimental and businesslike. As for his appeal to
her ambition, it fell quite dead upon her ear, but a woman must be
more than a heroine who can listen to flattery so evidently sincere,
from a man who is pre-eminent among men, without being affected by it.
To her, however, the great and overpowering fact was that she found
herself unable to retreat or escape; her tactics were disconcerted,
her temporary barriers beaten down.
The offer was made. What should she do with it?
She had thought for months on this subject without being able to
form a decision; what hope was there that she should be able to
decide now, in a ball-room, at a minute's notice? When, as
occasionally happens, the conflicting sentiments, prejudices, and
passions of a lifetime are compressed into a single instant, they
sometimes overcharge the mind and it refuses to work. Mrs. Lee sat
still and let things take their course; a dangerous expedient, as
thousands of women have learned, for it leaves them at the mercy of
the strong will, bent upon mastery.
The music from the ball-room did not stop. Crowds of persons
passed by their retreat. Some glanced in, and not one of these felt a
doubt what was going on there. An unmistakeable atmosphere of mystery
and intensity surrounded tfle pair. Ratcliffe's eyes were fixed upon
Mrs. Lee, and hers on the ground. Neither seemed to speak or to stir.
Old Baron Jacobi, who never failed to see everything, saw this as he
went by, and ejaculated a foreign oath of frightful import. Victoria
Dare saw it and was devoured by curiosity to such a point as to be
hardly capable of containing herself.
After a silence which seemed interminable, Ratcliffe went on: "I
do not speak of my own feelings because I know that unless compelled
by a strong sense of duty, you will not be decided by any devotion of
mine. But I honestly say that I have learned to depend on you to a
degree I can hardly express; and when I think of what I should be
without you, life seems to me so intolerably dark that I am ready to
make any sacrifice, to accept any conditions that will keep you by my
Meanwhile Victoria Dare, although deeply interested in what Dunbeg
was telling her, had met Sybil and had stopped a single second to
whisper in her ear: "You had better look after your sister, in the
window, behind the laurel with Mr. Ratcliffe!" Sybil was on Lord
Skye's arm, enjoying herself amazingly, though the night was far gone,
but when she caught Victoria's words, the expression of her face
wholly changed. All the anxieties and terrors of the last fortnight,
came back upon it. She dragged Lord Skye across the hall and looked in
upon her sister. One glance was enough.
Desperately frightened but afraid to hesitate, she went directly up
to Madeleine who was still sitting like a statue, listening to
Ratcliffe's last words. As she hurriedly entered, Mrs. Lee, looking
up, caught sight of her pale face, and started from her seat.
"Are you ill, Sybil?" she exclaimed; "is anything the matter?"
"A little--fatigued," gasped Sybil; "I thought you might be ready
to go home."
"I am," cried Madeleine; "I am quite ready. Good evening, Mr.
Ratcliffe. I will see you to-morrow. Lord Skye, shall I take leave of
"The Princess retired half an hour ago," replied Lord Skye, who
saw the situation and was quite ready to help Sybil; "let me take you
to the dressing-room and order your carriage." Mr. Ratcliffe found
himself suddenly left alone, while Mrs. Lee hurried away, torn by
fresh anxieties. They had reached the dressing-room and were nearly
ready to go home, when Victora Dare suddenly dashed in upon them, with
an animation of manner very unusual in her, and, seizing Sybil by the
hand, drew her into an adjoining room and shut the door. "Can you keep
a secret?" said she abruptly.
"What!" said Sybil, looking at her with open-mouthed interest;
"you don't mean--are you really--tell me, quick!"
"Yes!" said Victoria relapsing into composure; "I am engaged!"
"To Lord Dunbeg?"
Victoria nodded, and Sybil, whose nerves were strung to the
highest pitch by excitement, flattery, fatigue, perplexity, and
terror, burst into a paroxysm of laughter, that startled even the calm
"Poor Lord Dunbeg! don't be hard on him, Victoria!" she gasped
when at last she found breath; "do you really mean to pass the rest
of your life in Ireland? Oh, how much you will teach them!"
"You forget, my dear," said Victoria, who had placidly enthroned
herself on the foot of a bed, "that I am not a pauper. I am told that
Dunbeg Castle is a romantic summer residence, and in the dull season
we shall of course go to London or somewhere. I shall be civil to you
when you come over. Don't you think a coronet will look well on me?"
Sybil burst again into laughter so irrepressible and prolonged that
it puzzled even poor Dunbeg, who was impatiently pacing the corridor
It alarmed Madeleine, who suddenly opened the door. Sybil
recovered herself, and, her eyes streaming with tears, presented
Victoria to her sister:
"Madeleine, allow me to introduce you to the Countess Dunbeg!"
But Mrs. Lee was much too anxious to feel any interest in Lady
Dunbeg. A sudden fear struck her that Sybil was going into hysterics
because Victoria's engagement recalled her own disappointment. She
hurried her sister away to the carriage.
THEY drove home in silence, Mrs. Lee disturbed with anxieties and
doubts, partly caused by her sister, partly by Mr. Ratcliffe; Sybil
divided between amusement at Victoria's conquest, and alarm at her own
boldness in meddling with her sister's affairs. Desperation, however,
was stronger than fear. She made up her mind that further suspense was
not to be endured; she would fight her baffle now before another hour
was lost; surely no time could be better. A few moments brought them
to their door. Mrs. Lee had told her maid not to wait for them, and
they were alone. The fire was still alive on Madeleine's hearth, and
she threw more wood upon it. Then she insisted that Sybil must go to
bed at once. But Sybil refused; she felt quite well, she said, and not
in the least sleepy; she had a great deal to talk about, and wanted to
get it off her mind. Nevertheless, her feminine regard for the "Dawn
in June" led her to postpone what she had to say until with
Madeleine's help she had laid the triumph of the ball carefully
aside; then, putting on her dressing-gown, and hastily plunging
Carrington's letter into her breast, like a concealed weapon, she
hurried back to Madeleine's room and established herself in a chair
before the fire. There, after a moment's pause, the two women began
their long-deferred trial of strength, in which the match was so
nearly equal as to make the result doubtful; for, if Madeleine were
much the cleverer, Sybil in this case knew much better what she
wanted, and had a clear idea how she meant to gain it, while
Madeleine, unsuspicious of attack, had no plan of defence at all.
"Madeleine," began Sybil, solemnly, and with a violent palpitation
of the heart, "I want you to tell me something."
"What is it, my child?" said Mrs. Lee, puzzled, and yet half ready
to see that there must be some connection between her sister's coming
question and the sudden illness at the ball, which had disappeared as
suddenly as it came.
"Do you mean to marry Mr. Ratcliffe?"
Poor Mrs. Lee was quite disconcerted by the directness of the
attack. This fatal question met her at every turn. Hardly had she
succeeded in escaping trom it at the ball scarcely an hour ago, by a
stroke of good fortune for which she now began to see she was
indebted to Sybil, and here it was again presented to her face like a
pistol. The whole town, then, was asking it.
Ratcliffe's offer must have been seen by half Washington, and her
reply was awaited by an immense audience, as though she were a
political returning-board. Her disgust was intense, and her first
answer to Sybil was a quick inquiry:
"Why do you ask such a question? have you heard anything,--has
anyone talked about it to you?"
"No!" replied Sybil; "but I must know; I can see for myself without
being told, that Mr. Racliffe is trying to make you marry him. I
don't ask out of curiosity; this is something that concerns me nearly
as much as it does you yourself. Please tell me! don't treat me like a
child any longer! let me know what you are thinking about! I am so
tired of being left in the dark!
You have no idea how much this thing weighs on me. Oh, Maude, I
shall never be happy again until you trust me about this."
Mrs. Lee felt a little pang of conscience, and seemed suddenly to
become conscious of a new coil, tightening about her, in this
wretched complication. Unable to see her way, ignorant of her
sister's motives, urged on by the idea that Sybil's happiness was
involved, she was now charged with want of feeling, and called upon
for a direct answer to a plain question.
How could she aver that she did not mean to marry Mr. Ratcliffe?
to say this would be to shut the door on all the objects she had at
heart. If a direct answer must be given, it was better to say "Yes!"
and have it over; better to leap blindly and see what came of it.
Mrs. Lee, therefore, with an internal gasp, but with no visible sign
of excitement, said, as though she were in a dream:
"Well, Sybil, I will tell you. I would have told you long ago if I
had known myself. Yes! I have made up my mind to marry Mr.
Sybil sprang to her feet with a cry: "And have you told him so?"
"No! you came and interrupted us just as we were speaking. I was
glad you did come, for it gives me a little time to think. But I am
decided now. I shall tell him to-morrow."
This was not said with the air or one wnose heart beat warmly at
the thought of confessing her love. Mrs. Lee spoke mechanically, and
almost with an effort. Sybil flung herself with all her energy upon
her sister; violently excited, and eager to make herself heard,
without waiting for arguments, she broke out into a torrent of
entreaties: "Oh, don't, don't, don't! Oh, please, please, don't, my
dearest, dearest Maude! unless you want to break my heart, don't
marry that man! You can't love him! You can never be happy with him!
he will take you away to Peonia, and you will die there! I shall never
see you again! He will make you unhappy; he will beat you, I know he
will! Oh, if you care for me at all, don't marry him! Send him away!
don't see him again! let us go ourselves, now, in the morning train,
before he comes back. I'm all ready; I'll pack everything for you;
we'll go to Newport; to Europe--anywhere, to be out of his reach!"
With this passionate appeal, Sybil threw herself on her knees by
her sister's side, and, clasping her arms around Madeleine's waist,
sobbed as though her heart were already broken. Had Carrington seen
her then he must have admitted that she had carried out his
instructions to the letter. She was quite honest, too, in it all. She
meant what she said, and her tears were real tears that had been pent
up for weeks. Unluckily, her logic was feeble. Her idea of Mr.
Ratcliffe's character was vague, and biased by mere theories of what
a Prairie Giant of Peonia should be in his domestic relations. Her
idea of Peonia, too, was indistinct. She was haunted by a vision of
her sister, sitting on a horse-hair sofa before an air-tight iron
stove in a small room with high, bare white walls, a chromolithograph
on each, and at her side a marble-topped table surmounted by a glass
vase containing funereal dried grasses; the only literature, Frank
Leslie's periodical and the New York Ledger, with a strong smell of
cooking everywhere prevalent. Here she saw Madeleine receiving
visitors, the wives of neighbours and constituents, who told her the
Notwithstanding her ignorant and unreasonable prejudice against
western men and women, western towns and prairies, and, in short,
everything western, down to western politics and western politicians,
whom she perversely asserted to be tue lowest ot all western products,
there was still some common sense in Sybil's idea. When that
inevitable hour struck for Mr.
Ratcliffe, which strikes sooner or later for all politicians, and
an ungrateful country permitted him to pine among his friends in
Illinois, what did he propose to do with his wife? Did he seriously
suppose that she, who was bored to death by New York, and had been
able to find no permanent pleasure in Europe, would live quietly in
the romantic village of Peonia? If not, did Mr. Ratcliffe imagine that
they could find happiness in the enjoyment of each other's society,
and of Mrs. Lee's income, in the excitements of Washington? In the
ardour of his pursuit, Mr. Ratcliffe had accepted in advance any
conditions which Mrs. Lee might impose, but if he really imagined that
happiness and content lay on the purple rim of this sunset, he had
more confidence in women and in money than a wider experience was ever
likely to justify.
Whatever might be Mr. Ratcliffe's schemes for dealing with these
obstacles they could hardly be such as would satisfy Sybil, who, if
inaccurate in her theories about Prairie Giants, yet understood
women, and especially her sister, much better than Mr. Ratcliffe ever
could do. Here she was safe, and it would have been better had she
said no more, for Mrs. Lee, though staggered for a moment by her
sister's vehemence, was reassured by what seemed the absurdity of her
fears. Madeleine rebelled against this hysterical violence of
opposition, and became more fixed in her decision.
She scolded her sister in good, set terms--
"Sybil, Sybil! you must not be so violent. Behave like a woman,
and not like a spoiled child!"
Mrs. Lee, like most persons who have to deal with spoiled or
unspoiled children, resorted to severity, not so much because it was
the proper way of dealing with them, as because she knew not what else
to do. She was thoroughly uncomfortable and weary. She was not
satisfied with herself or with her own motives. Doubt encompassed her
on all sides, and her worst opponent was that sister whose happiness
had turned the scale against her own judgment.
Nevertheless her tactics answered their object of checking Sybil's
vehemence. Her sobs came to an end, and she presently rose with a
"Madeleine," said she, "do you really want to marry Mr.
"What else can I do, my dear Sybil? I want to do whatever is for
the best. I thought you might be pleased."
"You thought I might be pleased?" cried Sybil in astonishment.
"What a strange idea! If you had ever spoken to me about it I should
have told you that I hate him, and can't understand how you can abide
him. But I would rather marry him myself than see you marry him. I
know that you will kill yourself with unhappiness when you have done
it. Oh, Maude, please tell me that you won't!" And Sybil began gently
sobbing again, while she caressed her sister.
Mrs. Lee was infinitely distressed. To act against the wishes of
her nearest friends was hard enough, but to appear harsh and unfeeling
to the one being whose happiness she had at heart, was intolerable.
Yet no sensible woman, after saying that she meant to marry a man
like Mr. Ratcliffe, could throw him over merely because another woman
chose to behave like a spoiled child.
Sybil was more childish than Madeleine herself had supposed. She
could not even see where her own interest lay. She knew no more about
Mr. Ratcliffe and the West than if he were the giant of a fairy-story,
and lived at the top of a bean-stalk. She must be treated as a child;
with gentleness, affection, forbearance, but with firmness and
decision. She must be refused what she asked, for her own good.
Thus it came about that at last Mrs. Lee spoke, with an appearance
of decision far from representing her internal tremor.
"Sybil, dear, I have made up my mind to marry Mr. Ratcliffe
because there is no other way of making every one happy. You need not
be afraid of him. He is kind and generous. Besides, I can take care of
myself; and I will take care of you too. Now let us not discuss it any
more. It is broad daylight, and we are both tired out."
Sybil grew at once perfectly calm, and standing before her sister,
as though their rôles were henceforward to be reversed, said:
"You have really made up your mind, then? Nothing I can say will
Mrs. Lee, looking at her with more surprise than ever, could not
force herself to speak; but she shook her head slowly and decidedly.
"Then," said Sybil, "there is only one thing more I can do. You
must read this!" and she drew out Carrington's letter, which she held
before Madeleine's face.
"Not now, Sybil!" remonstrated Mrs. Lee, dreading another long
struggle. "I will read it after we have had some rest. Go to bed
"I do not leave this room, nor will I ever go to bed until you have
read that letter," answered Sybil, seating herself again before the
fire with the resolution of Queen Elizabeth; "not if I sit here till
you are married. I promised Mr. Carrington that you should read it
instantly; it's all I can do now." With a sigh, Mrs. Lee drew up the
window-curtain, and in the gray morning light sat down to break the
seal and read the following letter:--
"Washington, 2nd April.
"My dear Mrs. Lee, "This letter will only come into your hands in
case there should be a necessity for your knowing its contents.
Nothing short of necessity would excuse my writing it. I have to ask
your pardon for intruding again upon your private affairs. In this
case, if I did not intrude, you would have cause for serious complaint
"You asked me the other day whether I knew anything against Mr.
Ratcliffe which the world did not know, to account for my low opinion
of his character. I evaded your question then. I was bound by
professional rules not to disclose facts that came to me under a
pledge of confidence. I am going to violate these rules now, only
because I owe you a duty which seems to me to override all others.
"I do know facts in regard to Mr. Ratcliffe, which have seemed to
me to warrant a very low opinion of his character, and to mark him as
unfit to be, I will not say your husband, but even your acquaintance.
"You know that I am executor to Samuel Baker's will. You know who
Samuel Baker was. You have seen his wife. She has told you herself
that I assisted her in the examination and destruction of all her
husband's private papers according to his special death-bed request.
One of the first facts I learned from these papers and her
explanations, was the following.
"Just eight years ago, the great 'Inter-Oceanic Mail Steamship
Company,' wished to extend its service round the world, and, in order
to do so, it applied to Congress for a heavy subsidy. The management
of this affair was put into the hands of Mr. Baker, and all his
private letters to the President of the Company, in press copies, as
well as the President's replies, came into my possession. Baker's
letters were, of course, written in a sort of cypher, several kinds of
which he was in the habit of using. He left among his papers a key to
this cypher, but Mrs. Baker could have explained it without that help.
"It appeared from this correspondence that the bill was carried
successfully through the House, and, on reaching the Senate, was
referred to the appropriate Committee. Its ultimate passage was very
doubtful; the end of the session was close at hand; the Senate was
very evenly divided, and the Chairman of the Committee was decidedly
"The Chairman of that Committee was Senator Ratcliffe, always
mentioned by Mr. Baker in cypher, and with every precaution. If you
care, however, to verify the fact, and to trace the history of the
Subsidy Bill through all its stages, together with Mr. Ratcliffe's
report, remarks, and votes upon it, you have only to look into the
journals and debates for that year.
"At last Mr. Baker wrote that Senator Ratcliffe had put the bill in
his pocket, and unless some means could be found of overcoming his
opposition, there would be no report, and the bill would never come to
a vote. All ordinary kinds of argument and influence had been employed
upon him, and were exhausted. In this exigency Baker suggested that
the Company should give him authority to see what money would do, but
he added that it would be worse than useless to deal with small sums.
Unless at least one hundred thousand dollars could be employed, it was
better to leave the thing alone.
"The next mail authorized him to use any required amount of money
not exceeding one hundred and fifty thousand dollars. Two days later
he wrote that the bill was reported, and would pass the Senate within
forty-eight hours; and he congratulated the Company on the fact that
he had used only one hundred thousand dollars out of its last credit.
"The bill was actually reported, passed, and became law as he
foretold, and the Company has enjoyed its subsidy ever since. Mrs.
Baker also informed me that to her knowledge her husband gave the sum
mentioned, in United States Coupon Bonds, to Senator Ratcliffe.
"This transaction, taken in connection with the tortuousness of his
public course, explains the distrust I have always expressed for him.
You will, however, understand that all these papers have been
destroyed. Mrs. Baker could never be induced to hazard her own
comfort by revealing the facts to the public. The officers of the
Company in their own interests would never betray the transaction,
and their books were undoubtedly so kept as to show no trace of it.
If I made this charge against Mr. Ratcliffe, I should be the only
sufferer. He would deny and laugh at it. I could prove nothing. I am
therefore more directly interested than he is in keeping silence.
"In trusting this secret to you, I rely firmly upon your mentioning
it to no one else--not even to your sister. You are at liberty, if you
wish, to show this letter to one person only-- to Mr. Ratcliffe
himself. That done, you will, I beg, burn it immediately.
"With the warmest good wishes, I am, "Ever most truly yours, "John
When Mrs. Lee had finished reading this letter, she remained for
some time quite silent, looking out into the square below. The
morning had come, and the sky was bright with the fresh April
sunlight. She threw open her window, and drew in the soft spring air.
She needed all the purity and quiet that nature could give, for her
whole soul was in revolt, wounded, mortified, exasperated. Against the
sentiment of all her friends she had insisted upon believing in this
man; she had wrought herself up to the point of accepting him for her
husband; a man who, if law were the same thing as justice, ought to be
in a felon's cell; a man who could take money to betray his trust. Her
anger at first swept away all bounds. She was impatient for the moment
when she should see him again, and tear off his mask. For once she
would express all the loathing she felt for the whole pack of
political hounds. She would see whether the animal was made like other
beings; whether he had a sense of honour; a single clean spot in his
Then it occurred to her that after all there might be a mistake;
Ratcliffe could explain the charge away. But this thought only laid
bare another smarting wound in her pride. Not only did she believe
the charge, but she believed that Mr. Ratcliffe would defend his act.
She had been willing to marry a man whom she thought capable of such a
crime, and now she shuddered at the idea that this charge might have
been brought against her husband, and that she could not dismiss it
with instant incredulity, with indignant contempt. How had this
happened? how had she got into so foul a complication? When she left
New York, she had meant to be a mere spectator in Washington. Had it
entered her head that she could be drawn into any project of a second
marriage, she never would have come at all, for she was proud of her
loyalty to her husband's memory, and second marriages were her
abhorrence. In her restlessness and solitude, she had forgotten this;
she had only asked whether any life was worth living for a woman who
had neither husband nor children. Was the family all that life had to
offer? could she find no interest outside the household? And so, led
by this will-of-the-wisp, she had, with her eyes open, walked into the
quagmire of politics, in spite of remonstrance, in spite of
She rose and paced the room, while Sybil lay on the couch,
watching her with eyes half shut. She grew more and more angry with
herself, and as her self-reproach increased, her anger against
Ratcliffe faded away. She had no right to be angry with Ratcliffe. He
had never deceived her. He had always openly enough avowed that he
knew no code of morals in politics; that if virtue did not answer his
purpose he used vice. How could she blame him for acts which he had
repeatedly defended in her presence and with her tacit assent, on
principles that warranted this or any other villainy?
The worst was that this discovery had come on her as a blow, not
as a reprieve from execution. At this thought she became furious with
She had not known the recesses of her own heart. She had honestly
supposed that Sybil's interests and Sybil's happiness were forcing
her to an act of self-sacrifice; and now she saw that in the depths
of her soul very different motives had been at work: ambition, thirst
for power, restless eagerness to meddle in what did not concern her,
blind longing to escape from the torture of watching other women with
full lives and satisfied instincts, while her own life was hungry and
sad. For a time she had actually, unconscious as she was of the
delusion, hugged a hope that a new field of usefulness was open to
her; that great opportunities for doing good were to supply the aching
emptiness of that good which had been taken away; and that here at
last was an object for which there would be almost a pleasure in
squandering the rest of existence even if she knew in advance that the
experiment would fail. Life was emptier than ever now that this dream
was over. Yet the worst was not in that disappointment, but in the
discovery of her own weakness and self-deception.
Worn out by long-continued anxiety, excitement and sleeplessness,
she was unfit to struggle with the creatures of her own imagination.
Such a strain could only end in a nervous crisis, and at length it
"Oh, what a vile thing life is!" she cried, throwing up her arms
with a gesture of helpless rage and despair. "Oh, how I wish I were
dead! how I wish the universe were annihilated!" and she flung
herself down by Sybil's side in a frenzy of tears.
Sybil, who had watched all this exhibition in silence, waited
quietly for the excitement to pass. There was little to say. She
could only soothe.
After the paroxysm had exhausted itself Madeleine lay quiet for a
time, until other thoughts began to disturb her. From reproaching
herself about Ratcliffe she went on to reproach herself about Sybil,
who really looked worn and pale, as though almost overcome by
"Sybil," said she, "you must go to bed at once. You are tired out.
It was very wrong in me to let you sit up so late. Go now, and get
"I am not going to bed till you do, Maude!" replied Sybil, with
"Go, dear! it is all settled. I shall not marry Mr. Ratcliffe. You
need not be anxious about it any more."
"Are you very unhappy?"
"Only very angry with myself. I ought to have taken Mr.
Carrington's advice sooner."
"Oh, Maude!" exclaimed Sybil, with a sudden explosion of energy;
"I wish you had taken him!"
This remark roused Mrs. Lee to new interest: "Why, Sybil," said
she, "surely you are not in earnest?"
"Indeed, I am," replied Sybil, very decidedly. "I know you think I
am in love with Mr. Carrington myself, but I'm not. I would a great
deal rather have him for a brother-in-law, and he is so much the
nicest man you know, and you could help his sisters."
Mrs. Lee hesitated a moment, for she was not quite certain whether
it was wise to probe a healing wound, but she was anxious to clear
this last weight from her mind, and she dashed recklessly forward:
"Are you sure you are telling the truth, Sybil? Why, then, did you
say that you cared for him? and why have you been so miserable ever
since he went away?"
"Why? I should think it was plain enough why! Because I thought,
as every one else did, that you were going to marry Mr. Ratcliffe;
and because if you married Mr. Ratcliffe, I must go and live alone;
and because you treated me like a child, and never took me into your
confidence at all; and because Mr.
Carrington was the only person I had to advise me, and after he
went away, I was left all alone to fight Mr. Ratcliffe and you both
together, without a human soul to help me in case I made a mistake.
You would have been a great deal more miserable than I if you had been
in my place."
Madeleine looked at her for a moment in doubt. Would this last?
did Sybil herself know the depth of her own wound? But what could
Mrs. Lee do now?
Perhaps Sybil did deceive herself a little. When this excitement
had passed away, perhaps Carrington's image might recur to her mind a
little too often for her own comfort. The future must take care of
itself. Mrs. Lee drew her sister closer to her, and said: "Sybil, I
have made a horrible mistake, and you must forgive me."
NOT until afternoon did Mrs. Lee reappear. How much she had slept
she did not say, and she hardly looked like one whose slumbers had
been long or sweet; but if she had slept little, she had made up for
the loss by thinking much, and, while she thought, the storm which had
raged so fiercely in her breast, more and more subsided into calm. If
there was not sunshine yet, there was at least stillness. As she lay,
hour after hour, waiting for the sleep that did not come, she had at
first the keen mortification of reflecting how easily she had been led
by mere vanity into imagining that she could be of use in the world.
She even smiled in her solitude at the picture she drew of herself,
reforming Ratcliffe, and Krebs, and Schuyler Clinton. The ease with
which Ratcliffe alone had twisted her about his finger, now that she
saw it, made her writhe, and the thought of what he might have done,
had she married him, and of the endless succession of moral
somersaults she would have had to turn, chilled her with mortal
terror. She had barely escaped being dragged under the wheels of the
machine, and so coming to an untimely end. When she thought of this,
she felt a mad passion to revenge herself on the whole race of
politicians, with Ratcliffe at their head; she passed hours in framing
bitter speeches to be made to his face.
Then as she grew calmer, Ratcliffe's sins took on a milder hue;
life, after all, had not been entirely blackened by his arts; there
was even some good in her experience, sharp though it were. Had she
not come to Washington in search of men who cast a shadow, and was
not Ratcliffe's shadow strong enough to satisfy her? Had she not
penetrated the deepest recesses of politics, and learned how easily
the mere possession of power could convert the shadow of a hobby-horse
existing only in the brain of a foolish country farmer, into a lurid
nightmare that convulsed the sleep of nations? The antics of
Presidents and Senators had been amusing--so amusing that she had
nearly been persuaded to take part in them. She had saved herself in
She had got to the bottom of this business of democratic
government, and found out that it was nothing more than government of
any other kind. She might have known it by her own common sense, but
now that experience had proved it, she was glad to quit the
masquerade; to return to the true democracy of life, her paupers and
her prisons, her schools and her hospitals. As for Mr. Ratcliffe, she
felt no difficulty in dealing with him.
Let Mr. Ratcliffe, and his brother giants, wander on their own
political prairie, and hunt for offices, or other profitable game, as
Their objects were not her objects, and to join their company was
not her ambition. She was no longer very angry with Mr. Ratcliffe.
She had no wish to insult him, or to quarrel with him. What he had
done as a politician, he had done according to his own moral code,
and it was not her business to judge him; to protect herself was the
only right she claimed. She thought she could easily hold him at
arm's length, and although, if Carrington had written the truth, they
could never again be friends, there need be no difficulty in their
remaining acquaintances. If this view of her duty was narrow, it was
at least proof that she had learned something from Mr.
Ratcliffe; perhaps it was also proof that she had yet to learn Mr.
Two o'clock had struck before Mrs. Lee came down from her chamber,
and Sybil had not yet made her appearance. Madeleine rang her bell and
gave orders that, if Mr. Ratcliffe called she would see him, but she
was at home to no one else. Then she sat down to write letters and to
prepare for her journey to New York, for she must now hasten her
departure in order to escape the gossip and criticism which she saw
hanging like an avalanche over her head.
When Sybil at length came down, looking much fresher than her
sister, they passed an hour together arranging this and other small
matters, so that both of them were again in the best of spirits, and
Sybil's face was wreathed in smiles.
A number of visitors came to the door that day, some of them
prompted by friendliness and some by sheer curiosity, for Mrs. Lee's
abrupt disappearance from the ball had excited remark. Against all
these her door was firmly closed. On the other hand, as the afternoon
went on, she sent Sybil away, so that she might have the field
entirely to herself, and Sybil, relieved of all her alarms, sallied
out to interrupt Dunbeg's latest interview with his Countess, and to
amuse herself with Victoria's last "phase."
Towards four o'clock the tall form of Mr. Ratcliffe was seen to
issue from the Treasury Department and to descend the broad steps of
its western front.
Turning deliberately towards the Square, the Secretary of the
Treasury crossed the Avenue and stopping at Mrs. Lee's door, rang the
bell. He was immediately admitted. Mrs. Lee was alone in her parlour
and rose rather gravely as he entered, but welcomed him as cordially
as she could. She wanted to put an end to his hopes at once and to do
it decisively, but without hurting his feelings.
"Mr. Ratcliffe," said she, when he was seated- "I am sure you will
be better pleased by my speaking instantly and frankly. I could not
reply to you last night. I will do so now without delay. What you
wish is impossible. I would rather not even discuss it. Let us leave
it here and return to our old relations."
She could not force herself to express any sense of gratitude for
his affection, or of regret at being obliged to meet it with so little
To treat him with tolerable civility was all she thought required
Ratcliffe felt the change of manner. He had been prepared for a
struggle, but not to be met with so blunt a rebuff at the start. His
look became serious and he hesitated a moment before speaking, but
when he spoke at last, it was with a manner as firm and decided as
that of Mrs. Lee herself.
"I cannot accept such an answer. I will not say that I have a right
to explanation,--I have no rights which you are bound to respect,--but
from you I conceive that I may at least ask the favour of one, and
that you will not refuse it. Are you willing to tell me your reasons
for this abrupt and harsh decision?"
"I do not dispute your right of explanation, Mr. Ratcliffe. You
have the right, if you choose to use it, and I am ready to give you
every explanation in my power; but I hope you will not insist on my
doing so. If I seemed to speak abruptly and harshly, it was merely to
spare you the greater annoyance of doubt. Since I am forced to give
you pain, was it not fairer and more respectful to you to speak at
once? We have been friends. I am very soon going away. I sincerely
want to avoid saying or doing anything that would change our
Ratcliffe, however, paid no attention to these words, and gave
them no answer. He was much too old a debater to be misled by such
trifles, when he needed all his faculties to pin his opponent to the
wall. He asked:--
"Is your decision a new one?"
"It is a very old one, Mr. Ratcliffe, which I had let myself lose
sight of, for a time. A night's reflection has brought me back to it."
"May I ask why you have returned to it? surely you would not have
hesitated without strong reasons."
"I will tell you frankly. If, by appearing to hesitate, I have
misled you, I am honestly sorry for it. I did not mean to do it. My
hesitation was owing to the doubt whether my life might not really be
best used in aiding you. My decision was owing to the certainty that
we are not fitted for each other.
Our lives run in separate grooves. We are both too old to change
Ratcliffe shook his head with an air of relief. "Your reasons, Mrs.
Lee, are not sound. There is no such divergence in our lives. On the
contrary I can give to yours the field it needs, and that it can get
in no other way; while you can give to mine everything it now wants.
If these are your only reasons I am sure of being able to remove
Madeleine looked as though she were not altogether pleased at this
idea, and became a little dogmatic. "It is no use our arguing on this
Ratcliffe. You and I take very different views of life. I cannot
accept yours, and you could not practise on mine."
"Show me," said Ratcliffe, "a single example of such a divergence,
and I will accept your decision without another word."
Mrs. Lee hesitated and looked at him for an instant as though to be
quite sure that he was in earnest. There was an effrontery about this
challenge which surprised her, and if she did not check it on the
spot, there was no saying how much trouble it might give her. Then
unlocking the drawer of the writing-desk at her elbow, she took out
Carrington's letter and handed it to Mr. Ratcliffe.
"Here is such an example which has come to my knowledge very
lately. I meant to show it to you in any case, but I would rather
Ratcliffe took the letter which she handed to him, opened it
deliberately, looked at the signature, and read. He showed no sign of
surprise or disturbance. No one would have imagined that he had, from
the moment he saw Carrington's name, as precise a knowledge of what
was in this letter as though he had written it himself. His first
sensation was only one of anger that his projects had miscarried. How
this had happened he could not at once understand, for the idea that
Sybil could have a hand in it did not occur to him. He had made up his
mind that Sybil was a silly, frivolous girl, who counted for nothing
in her sister's actions. He had fallen into the usual masculine
blunder of mixing up smartness of intelligence with strength of
character. Sybil, without being a metaphysician, willed anything which
she willed at all with more energy than her sister did, who was worn
out with the effort of life. Mr. Ratcliffe missed this point, and was
left to wonder who it was that had crossed his path, and how
Carrington had managed to be present and absent, to get a good office
in Mexico and to baulk his schemes in Washington, at the same time. He
had not given Carrington credit for so much cleverness.
He was violently irritated at the check. Another day, he thought,
would have made him safe on this side; and possibly he was right. Had
he once succeeded in getting ever so slight a hold on Mrs. Lee he
would have told her this story with his own colouring, and from his
own point of view, and he fully believed he could do this in such a
way as to rouse her sympathy. Now that her mind was prejudiced, the
task would be much more difficult; yet he did not despair, for it was
his theory that Mrs. Lee, in the depths of her soul, wanted to be at
the head of the White House as much as he wanted to be there himself,
and that her apparent coyness was mere feminine indecision in the face
of temptation. His thoughts now turned upon the best means of giving
again the upper hand to her ambition. He wanted to drive Carrington a
second time from the field.
Thus it was that, having read the letter once in order to learn
what was in it, he turned back, and slowly read it again in order to
gain time. Then he replaced it in its envelope, and returned it to
Mrs. Lee, who, with equal calmness, as though her interest in it were
at an end, tossed it negligently into the fire, where it was reduced
to ashes under Ratcliffe's eyes.
He watched it burn for a moment, and then turning to her, said,
with his usual composure, "I meant to have told you of that affair
myself. I am sorry that Mr. Carrington has thought proper to
forestall me. No doubt he has his own motives for taking my character
"Then it is true!" said Mrs. Lee, a little more quickly than she
had meant to speak.
"True in its leading facts; untrue in some of its details, and in
the impression it creates. During the Presidential election which took
place eight years ago last autumn, there was, as you may remember, a
violent contest and a very close vote. We believed (though I was not
so prominent in the party then as now), that the result of that
election would be almost as important to the nation as the result of
the war itself. Our defeat meant that the government must pass into
the blood-stained hands of rebels, men whose designs were more than
doubtful, and who could not, even if their designs had been good,
restrain the violence of their followers. In consequence we strained
every nerve. Money was freely spent, even to an amount much in excess
of our resources. How it was employed, I will not say.
I do not even know, for I held myself aloof from these details,
which fell to the National Central Committee of which I was not a
member. The great point was that a very large sum had been borrowed
on pledged securities, and must be repaid. The members of the National
Committee and certain senators held discussions on the subject, in
which I shared. The end was that towards the close of the session the
head of the committee, accompanied by two senators, came to me and
told me that I must abandon my opposition to the Steamship Subsidy.
They made no open avowal of their reasons, and I did not press for
one. Their declaration, as the responsible heads of the organization,
that certain action on my part was essential to the interests of the
party, satisfied me. I did not consider myself at liberty to persist
in a mere private opinion in regard to a measure about which I
recognized the extreme likelihood of my being in error. I accordingly
reported the bill, and voted for it, as did a large majority of the
party. Mrs. Baker is mistaken in saying that the money was paid to me.
If it was paid at all, of which I have no knowledge except from this
letter, it was paid to the representative of the National Committee. I
received no money. I had nothing to do with the money further than as
I might draw my own conclusions in regard to the subsequent payment of
the campaign debt."
Mrs. Lee listened to all this with intense interest. Not until this
moment had she really felt as though she had got to the heart of
politics, so that she could, like a physician with his stethoscope,
measure the organic disease. Now at last she knew why the pulse beat
with such unhealthy irregularity, and why men felt an anxiety which
they could not or would not explain. Her interest in the disease
overcame her disgust at the foulness of the revelation. To say that
the discovery gave her actual pleasure would be doing her injustice;
but the excitement of the moment swept away every other sensation. She
did not even think of herself. Not until afterwards did she fairly
grasp the absurdity of Ratcliffe's wish that in the face of such a
story as this, she should still have vanity enough to undertake the
reform of politics. And with his aid too! The audacity of the man
would have seemed sublime if she had felt sure that he knew the
difference between good and evil, between a lie and the truth; but the
more she saw of him, the surer she was that his courage was mere moral
paralysis, and that he talked about virtue and vice as a man who is
colour-blind talks about red and green; he did not see them as she saw
them; if left to choose for himself he would have nothing to guide
him. Was it politics that had caused this atrophy of the moral senses
by disuse? Meanwhile, here she sat face to face with a moral lunatic,
who had not even enough sense of humour to see the absurdity of his
own request, that she should go out to the shore of this ocean of
corruption, and repeat the ancient rôle of King Canute, or Dame
Partington with her mop and her pail. What was to be done with such
The bystander who looked on at this scene with a wider knowledge
of facts, might have found entertainment in another view of the
subject, that is to say, in the guilelessness ot Madeleine Lee. With
all her warnings she was yet a mere baby-in-arms in the face of the
great politician. She accepted his story as true, and she thought it
as bad as possible; but had Mr.
Ratcliffe's associates now been present to hear his version of it,
they would have looked at each other with a smile of professional
pride, and would have roundly sworn that he was, beyond a doubt, the
ablest man this country had ever produced, and next to certain of
being President. They would not, however, have told their own side of
the story if they could have helped it, but in talking it over among
themselves they might have assumed the facts to have been nearly as
follows: that Ratcliffe had dragged them into an enormous expenditure
to carry his own State, and with it his own re-election to the Senate;
that they had tried to hold him responsible, and he had tried to shirk
the responsibility; that there had been warm discussions on the
subject; that he himself had privately suggested recourse to Baker,
had shaped his conduct accordingly, and had compelled them, in order
to save their own credit, to receive the money.
Even if Mrs. Lee had heard this part of the story, though it might
have sharpened her indignation against Mr. Ratcliffe, it would not
have altered her opinions. As it was, she had heard enough, and with
a great effort to control her expression of disgust, she sank back in
her chair as Ratcliffe concluded. Finding that she did not speak, he
"I do not undertake to defend this affair. It is the act of my
public life which I most regret--not the doing, but the necessity of
doing. I do not differ from you in opinion on that point. I cannot
acknowledge that there is here any real divergence between us."
"I am afraid," said Mrs. Lee, "that I cannot agree with you."
This brief remark, the very brevity of which carried a barb of
sarcasm, escaped from Madeleine's lips before she had fairly intended
it. Ratcliffe felt the sting, and it started him from his studied
calmness of manner.
Rising from his chair he stood on the hearthrug before Mrs. Lee,
and broke out upon her with an oration in that old senatorial voice
and style which was least calculated to enlist her sympathies:
"Mrs. Lee," said he, with harsh emphasis and dogmatic tone, "there
are conflicting duties in all the transactions of life, except the
However we may act, do what we may, we must violate some moral
All that can be asked of us is that we should guide ourselves by
what we think the highest. At the time this affair occurred, I was a
Senator of the United States. I was also a trusted member of a great
political party which I looked upon as identical with the nation. In
both capacities I owed duties to my constituents, to the government,
to the people. I might interpret these duties narrowly or broadly. I
might say: Perish the government, perish the Union, perish this
people, rather than that I should soil my hands! Or I might say, as I
did, and as I would say again: Be my fate what it may, this glorious
Union, the last hope of suffering humanity, shall be preserved."
Here he paused, and seeing that Mrs. Lee, after looking for a time
at him, was now regarding the fire, lost in meditation over the
strange vagaries of the senatorial mind, he resumed, in another line
of argument. He rightly judged that there must be some moral defect
in his last remarks, although he could not see it, which made
persistence in that direction useless.
"You ought not to blame me--you cannot blame me justly. It is to
your sense of justice I appeal. Have I ever concealed from you my
opinions on this subject? Have I not on the contrary always avowed
them? Did I not here, on this very spot, when challenged once before
by this same Carrington, take credit for an act less defensible than
this? Did I not tell you then that I had even violated the sanctity of
a great popular election and reversed its result? That was my sole
act! In comparison with it, this is a trifle! Who is injured by a
steamship company subscribing one or ten hundred thousand dollars to a
campaign fund? Whose rights are affected by it? Perhaps its stock
holders receive one dollar a share in dividends less than they
otherwise would. If they do not complain, who else can do so? But in
that election I deprived a million people of rights which belonged to
them as absolutely as their houses! You could not say that I had done
wrong. Not a word of blame or criticism have you ever uttered to me on
that account. If there was an offence, you condoned it! You certainly
led me to suppose that you saw none. Why are you now so severe upon
the smaller crime?"
This shot struck hard. Mrs. Lee visibly shrank under it, and lost
her composure. This was the same reproach she had made against
herself, and to which she had been able to find no reply. With some
agitation she exclaimed:
"Mr. Ratcliffe, pray do me justice! I have tried not to be severe.
I have said nothing in the way of attack or blame. I acknowledge that
it is not my place to stand in judgment over your acts. I have more
reason to blame myself than you, and God knows I have blamed myself
bitterly." The tears stood in her eyes as she said these last words,
and her voice trembled.
Ratcliffe saw that he had gained an advantage, and, sitting down
nearer to her, he dropped his voice and urged his suit still more
"You did me justice then; why not do it now? You were convinced
then that I did the best I could. I have always done so. On the other
hand I have never pretended that all my acts could be justified by
abstract morality. Where, then, is the divergence between us?"
Mrs. Lee did not undertake to answer this last argument: she only
returned to her old ground. "Mr. Ratcliffe," she said, "I do not want
to argue this question. I have no doubt that you can overcome me in
argument. Perhaps on my side this is a matter of feeling rather than
of reason, but the truth is only too evident to me that I am not
fitted for politics. I should be a drag upon you. Let me be the judge
of my own weakness! Do not insist upon pressing me, further!"
She was ashamed of herself for this appeal to a man whom she could
not respect, as though she were a suppliant at his mercy, but she
feared the reproach of having deceived him, and she tried pitiably to
Ratcliffe was only encouraged by her weakness.
"I must insist upon pressing it, Mrs. Lee," replied he, and he
became yet more earnest as he went on; "my future is too deeply
involved in your decision to allow of my accepting your answer as
final. I need your aid.
There is nothing I will not do to obtain it. Do you require
affection? mine for you is boundless. I am ready to prove it by a
life of devotion. Do you doubt my sincerity? test it in whatever way
you please. Do you fear being dragged down to the level of ordinary
politicians? so far as concerns myself, my great wish is to have your
help in purifying politics. What higher ambition can there be than to
serve one's country for such an end?
Your sense of duty is too keen not to feel that the noblest objects
which can inspire any woman, combine to point out your course."
Mrs. Lee was excessively uncomfortable, although not in the least
She began to see that she must take a stronger tone if she meant to
bring this importunity to an end, and she answered:--
"I do not doubt your affection or your sincerity, Mr. Ratcliffe. It
is myself I doubt. You have been kind enough to give me much of your
confidence this winter, and if I do not yet know about politics all
that is to be known, I have learned enough to prove that I could do
nothing sillier than to suppose myself competent to reform anything.
If I pretended to think so, I should be a mere worldly, ambitious
woman, such as people think me. The idea of my purifying politics is
absurd. I am sorry to speak so strongly, but I mean it. I do not cling
very closely to life, and do not value my own very highly, but I will
not tangle it in such a way; I will not share the profits of vice; I
am not willing to be made a receiver of stolen goods, or to be put in
a position where I am perpetually obliged to maintain that immorality
is a virtue!"
As she went on she became more and more animated and her words
took a sharper edge than she had intended. Ratcliffe felt it, and
showed his annoyance. His face grew dark and his eyes looked out at
her with their ugliest expression. He even opened his mouth for an
angry retort, but controlled himself with an effort, and presently
resumed his argument.
"I had hoped," he began more solemnly than ever, "that I should
find in you a lofty courage which would disregard such risks. If all
tme men and women were to take the tone you have taken, our
government would soon perish. If you consent to share my career, I do
not deny that you may find less satisfaction than I hope, but you will
lead a mere death in life if you place yourself like a saint on a
solitary column. I plead what I believe to be your own cause in
pleading mine. Do not sacrifice your life!"
Mrs. Lee was in despair. She could not reply what was on her lips,
that to marry a murderer or a thief was not a sure way of diminishing
crime. She had already said something so much like this that she
shrank from speaking more plainly. So she fell back on her old theme.
"We must at all events, Mr. Ratcliffe, use our judgments according
to our own consciences. I can only repeat now what I said at first. I
am sorry to seem insensible to your expressions towards me, but I
cannot do what you wish. Let us maintain our old relations if you
will, but do not press me further on this subject."
Ratcliffe grew more and more sombre as he became aware that defeat
was staring him in the face. He was tenacious of purpose, and he had
never in his life abandoned an object which he had so much at heart as
this. He would not abandon it. For the moment, so completely had the
fascination of Mrs.
Lee got the control of him, he would rather have abandoned the
Presidency itself than her. He really loved her as earnestly as it was
in his nature to love anything. To her obstinacy he would oppose an
obstinacy greater still; but in the meanwhile his attack was
disconcerted, and he was at a loss what next to do. Was it not
possible to change his ground; to offer inducements that would appeal
even more strongly to feminine ambition and love of display than the
Presidency itself? He began again:--
"Is there no form of pledge I can give you? no sacrifice I can
make? You dislike politics. Shall I leave political life? I will do
anything rather than lose you. I can probably control the appointment
of Minister to England. The President would rather have me there than
here. Suppose I were to abandon politics and take the English mission.
Would that sacrifice not affect you? You might pass four years in
London where there would be no politics, and where your social
position would be the best in the world; and this would lead to the
Presidency almost as surely as the other." Then suddenly, seeing that
he was making no headway, he threw off his studied calmness and broke
out in an appeal of almost equally studied violence.
"Mrs. Lee! Madeleine! I cannot live without you. The sound of your
voice--the touch of your hand--even the rustle of your dress--are like
wine to me. For God's sake, do not throw me over!"
He meant to crush opposition by force. More and more vehement as
he spoke he actually bent over and tried to seize her hand. She drew
it back as though he were a reptile. She was exasperated by this
obstinate disregard of her forbearance, this gross attempt to bribe
her with office, this flagrant abandonment of even a pretence of
public virtue; the mere thought of his touch on her person was more
repulsive than a loathsome disease. Bent upon teaching him a lesson he
would never forget, she spoke out abruptly, and with evident signs of
contempt in her voice and manner:
"Mr. Ratcliffe, I am not to be bought. No rank, no dignity, no
consideration, no conceivable expedient would induce me to change my
Let us have no more of this!"
Ratcliffe had already been more than once, during this
conversation, on the verge of losing his temper. Naturally
dictatorial and violent, only long training and severe experience had
taught him self-control, and when he gave way to passion his bursts of
fury were still tremendous. Mrs. Lee's evident personal disgust, even
more than her last sharp rebuke, passed the bounds of his patience. As
he stood before her, even she, high-spirited as she was, and not in a
calm frame of mind, felt a momentary shock at seeing how his face
flushed, his eyes gleamed, and his hands trembled with rage.
"Ah!" exclaimed he, turning upon her with a harshness, almost a
savageness, of manner that startled her still more; "I might have
known what to expect!
Mrs. Clinton warned me early. She said then that I should find you
a heartless coquette!"
"Mr. Ratcliffe!" exclaimed Madeleine, rising from her chair, and
speaking in a warning voice almost as passionate as his own.
"A heartless coquette!" he repeated, still more harshly than
before; "she said you would do just this! that you meant to deceive
me! that you lived on flattery! that you could never be anything but a
coquette, and that if you married me, I should repent it all my life.
I believe her now!"
Mrs. Lee's temper, too, was naturally a high one. At this moment
she, too, was flaming with anger, and wild with a passionate impulse
to annihilate this man. Conscious that the mastery was in her own
hands, she could the more easily control her voice, and with an
expression of unutterable contempt she spoke her last words to him,
words which had been ringing all day in her ears:
"Mr. Ratcliffe! I have listened to you with a great deal more
patience and respect than you deserve. For one long hour I have
degraded myself by discussing with you the question whether I should
marry a man who by his own confession has betrayed the highest trusts
that could be placed in him, who has taken money for his votes as a
Senator, and who is now in public office by means of a successful
fraud of his own, when in justice he should be in a State's prison. I
will have no more of this. Understand, once for all, that there is an
impassable gulf between your life and mine. I do not doubt that you
will make yourself President, but whatever or wherever you are, never
speak to me or recognize me again!"
He glared a moment into her face with a sort of blind rage, and
seemed about to say more, when she swept past him, and before he
realized it, he was alone.
Overmastered by passion, but conscious that he was powerless,
Ratcliffe, after a moment's hesitation, left the room and the house.
He let himself out, shutting the front door behind him, and as he
stood on the pavement old Baron Jacobi, who had special reasons for
wishing to know how Mrs. Lee had recovered from the fatigue and
excitements of the ball, came up to the spot.
A single glance at Ratcliffe showed him that something had gone
wrong in the career of that great man, whose fortunes he always
followed with so bitter a sneer of contempt. Impelled by the spirit
of evil always at his elbow, the Baron seized this moment to sound
the depth of his friend's wound. They met at the door so closely that
recognition was inevitable, and Jacobi, with his worst smile, held out
his hand, saying at the same moment with diabolic malignity:
"I hope I may offer my felicitations to your Excellency!"
Ratcliffe was glad to find some victim on whom he could vent his
rage. He had a long score of humiliations to repay this man, whose
last insult was beyond all endurance. With an oath he dashed Jacobi's
hand aside, and, grasping his shoulder, thrust him out of the path.
The Baron, among whose weaknesses the want of high temper and personal
courage was not recorded, had no mind to tolerate such an insult from
such a man. Even while Ratcliffe's hand was still on his shoulder he
had raised his cane, and before the Secretary saw what was coming, the
old man had struck him with all his force full in the face. For a
moment Ratcliffe staggered back and grew pale, but the shock sobered
him. He hesitated a single instant whether to crush his assailant with
a blow, but he felt that for one of his youth and strength, to attack
an infirm diplomatist in a public street would be a fatal blunder, and
while Jacobi stood, violently excited, with his cane raised ready to
strike another blow, Mr. Ratcliffe suddenly turned his back and
without a word, hastened away.
When Sybil returned, not long afterwards, she found no one in the
On going to her sister's room she discovered Madeleine lying on
the couch, looking worn and pale, but with a slight smile and a
peaceful expression on her face, as though she had done some act
which her conscience approved. She called Sybil to her side, and,
taking her hand, said:
"Sybil, dearest, will you go abroad with me again?"
"Of course I will," said Sybil; "I will go to the end of the world
"I want to go to Egypt," said Madeleine, still smiling faintly;
"democracy has shaken my nerves to pieces. Oh, what rest it would be
to live in the Great Pyramid and look out for ever at the polar star!"
SYBIL TO CARRINGTON "May 1st, New York.
"My dear Mr. Carrington, "I promised to write you, and so, to keep
my promise, and also because my sister wishes me to tell you about
our plans, I send this letter. We have left Washington--for ever, I am
afraid--and are going to Europe next month.
You must know that a fortnight ago, Lord Skye gave a great ball to
the Grand-Duchess of something-or-other quite unspellable. I never
can describe things, but it was all very fine. I wore a lovely new
dress, and was a great success, I assure you. So was Madeleine, though
she had to sit most of the evening by the Princess--such a dowdy! The
Duke danced with me several times; he can't reverse, but that doesn't
seem to matter in a Grand-Duke.
Well! things came to a crisis at the end of the evening. I followed
your directions, and after we got home gave your letter to Madeleine.
She says she has burned it. I don't know what happened afterwards--a
tremendous scene, I suspect, but Victoria Dare writes me from
Washington that every one is talking about M.'s refusal of Mr. R., and
a dreadful thing that took place on our very doorstep between Mr. R.
and Baron Jacobi, the day after the ball. She says there was a regular
pitched battle, and the Baron struck him over the face with his cane.
You know how afraid Madeleine was that they would do something of the
sort in our parlour. I'm glad they waited till they were in the
street. But isn't it shocking! They say the Baron is to be sent away,
or recalled, or something. I like the old gentleman, and for his sake
am glad duelling is gone out of fashion, though I don't much believe
Mr. Silas P. Ratcliffe could hit anything. The Baron passed through
here three days ago on his summer trip to Europe. He left his card on
us, but we were out, and did not see him. We are going over in July
with the Schneidekoupons, and Mr. Schneidekoupon has promised to send
his yacht to the Mediterranean, so that we shall sail about there
after finishing the Nile, and see Jerusalem and Gibraltar and
Constantinople. I think it will be perfectly lovely. I hate ruins, but
I fancy you can buy delicious things in Constantinople. Of course,
after what has happened, we can never go back to Washington. I shall
miss our rides dreadfully. I read Mr. Browning's 'Last Ride Together,'
as you told me; I think it's beautiful and perfectly easy, all but a
little. I never could understand a word of him before--so I never
tried. Who do you think is engaged? Victoria Dare, to a coronet and a
peat-bog, with Lord Dunbeg attached. Victoria says she is happier than
she ever was before in any of her other engagements, and she is sure
this is the real one. She says she has thirty thousand a year derived
from the poor of America, which may just as well go to relieve one of
the poor in Ireland.
You know her father was a claim agent, or some such thing, and is
said to have made his money by cheating his clients out of their
claims. She is perfectly wild to be a countess, and means to make
Castle Dunbeg lovely by-and-by, and entertain us all there. Madeleine
says she is just the kind to be a great success in London. Madeleine
is very well, and sends her kind regards. I believe she is going to
add a postscript. I have promised to let her read this, but I don't
think a chaperoned letter is much fun to write or receive. Hoping to
hear from you soon, "Sincerely yours, "Sybil Ross."
Enclosed was a thin strip of paper containing another message from
Sybil, privately inserted at the last moment unknown to Mrs. Lee--
"If I were in your place I would try again after she comes home."
Mrs. Lee's P.S. was very short--
"The bitterest part of all this horrid story is that nine out of
ten of our countrymen would say I had made a mistake."