An American Politician
F. Marion Crawford
Part 1 out of 5
Tiffany Vergon, Marvin A. Hodges, Curtis A. Weyant, and the Online
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AN AMERICAN POLITICIAN
F. MARION CRAWFORD
AUTHOR OF "MR. ISAACS," "DR. CLAUDIUS,"
"A ROMAN SINGER," "TO LEEWARD,"
TO MY DEAR FRIEND,
ELIZABETH CHRISTOPHERS HOBSON,
IN GRATITUDE AND AFFECTION, I DEDICATE THIS STORY.
CONSTANTINOPLE, _October 7,1884._
Mrs. Sam Wyndham was generally at home after five o'clock. The established
custom whereby the ladies who live in Beacon Street all receive their
friends on Monday afternoon did not seem to her satisfactory. She was
willing to conform to the practice, but she reserved the right of seeing
people on other days as well.
Mrs. Sam Wyndham was never very popular. That is to say, she was not one
of those women who are seemingly never spoken ill of, and are invited as a
matter of course, or rather as an element of success, to every dinner,
musical party, and dance in the season.
Women did not all regard her with envy, all young men did not think she
was capital fun, nor did all old men come and confide to her the
weaknesses of their approaching second childhood. She was not invariably
quoted as the standard authority on dress, classical music, and Boston
literature, and it was not an unpardonable heresy to say that some other
women might be, had been, or could be, more amusing in ordinary
conversation. Nevertheless, Mrs. Sam Wyndham held a position in Boston
which Boston acknowledged, and which Boston insisted that foreigners such
as New Yorkers, Philadelphians and the like, should acknowledge also in
that spirit of reverence which is justly due to a descent on both sides
from several signers of the Declaration of Independence, and to the wife
of one of the ruling financial spirits of the aristocratic part of Boston
As a matter of fact, Mrs. Wyndham was about forty years of age, as all her
friends of course knew; for it is as easy for a Bostonian to conceal a
question of age as for a crowned head. In a place where one half of
society calls the other half cousin, and went to school with it, every one
knows and accurately remembers just how old everybody else is. But Mrs.
Wyndham might have passed for younger than she was among the world at
large, for she was fresh to look at, and of good figure and complexion.
Her black hair showed no signs of turning gray, and her dark eyes were
bright and penetrating still. There were lines in her face, those
microscopic lines that come so abundantly to American women in middle age,
speaking of a certain restless nervousness that belongs to them
especially; but on the whole Mrs. Sam Wyndham was fair to see, having a
dignity of carriage and a grace of ease about her that at once gave the
impression of a woman thoroughly equal to the part she had to play in the
world, and not by any means incapable of enjoying it.
For the rest, Mrs. Sam led a life very much like the lives of many rich
Americans. She went abroad frequently, wandered about the continent with
her husband, went to Egypt and Algiers, stayed in England, where she had a
good many friends, avoided her countrymen and countrywomen when away from
home, and did her duty in the social state to which she was called in
She read the books of the period, and generally pronounced them
ridiculous; she believed in her husband's politics, and aristocratically
approved the way in which he abstained from putting theory into practice,
from voting, and in a general way from dirtying his fingers with anything
so corrupt as government, or so despicable as elections; she understood
Boston business to some extent, and called it finance, but she despised
the New York Stock Market and denounced its doings as gambling. She made
fine distinctions, but she was a woman of sense, and was generally more
likely to be right than wrong when she had a definite opinion, or
expressed a definite dislike. Her religious views were simple and
unobtrusive, and never changed.
Her custom of being at home after five o'clock was perhaps the only
deviation she allowed herself from the established manners of her native
city, and since two or three other ladies had followed her example, it had
come to be regarded as a perfectly harmless idiosyncrasy for which she
could not properly be blamed. The people who came to see her were chiefly
men, except, of course, on the inevitable Monday.
A day or two before Christmas, then, Mrs. Sam Wyndham was at home in the
afternoon. The snow lay thick and hard outside, and the sleigh bells
tinkled unceasingly as the sleighs slipped by the window, gleaming and
glittering in the deep red glow of the sunset. The track was well beaten
for miles away, down Beacon Street and across the Milldam to the country,
and the pavements were strewn with ashes to give a foothold for
For the frost was sharp and lasting. But within, Mrs. Wyndham sat by the
fire with a small table before her, and one companion by her side, for
whom she was pouring tea.
"Tell me all about your summer, Mr. Vancouver," said she, teasing the
flame of the spirit-lamp into better shape with a small silver instrument.
Mr. Pocock Vancouver leaned back in his corner of the sofa and looked at
the fire, then at the window, and finally at his hostess, before he
answered. He was a pale man and slight of figure, with dark eyes, and his
carefully brushed hair, turning gray at the temples and over his forehead,
threw his delicate, intelligent face into relief.
"I have not done much," he answered, rather absently, as though trying to
find something interesting in his reminiscences; and he watched Mrs.
Wyndham as she filled a cup. He was not the least anxious to talk, it
seemed, and he had an air of being thoroughly at home.
"You were in England most of the time, were you not?"
"Yes--I believe I was. Oh, by the bye, I met Harrington in Paris; I
thought he meant to stay at home."
"He often goes abroad," said Mrs. Wyndham indifferently. "One lump of
"Two, if you please--no cream--thanks. Does he go to Paris to convert the
French, or to glean materials for converting other people?" inquired Mr.
"I am sure I cannot tell you," answered the lady, still indifferently.
"What do you go to Paris for?"
"Principally to renew my acquaintance with civilized institutions and
humanizing influences. What does anybody go abroad for?"
"You always talk like that when you come home, Mr. Vancouver," said Mrs.
Wyndham. "But nevertheless you come back and seem to find Boston bearable.
It is not such a bad place after all, is it?"
"If it were not for half a dozen people here, I would never come back at
all," said Mr. Vancouver. "But then, I am not originally one of you, and I
suppose that makes a difference."
"And pray, who are the half dozen people who procure us the honor of your
"You are one of them, Mrs. Wyndham," he answered, looking at her.
"I am much obliged," she replied, demurely. "Any one else?"
"Oh--John Harrington," said Vancouver with a little laugh.
"Really?" said Mrs. Wyndham, innocently; "I did not know you were such
Mr. Vancouver sipped his tea in silence for a moment and stared at the
"I have a great respect for Harrington," he said at last. "He interests me
very much, and I like to meet him." He spoke seriously, as though
thoroughly in earnest. The faintest look of amusement came to Mrs.
Wyndham's face for a moment.
"I am glad of that," she said; "Mr. Harrington is a very good friend of
mine. Do you mind lighting those candles? The days are dreadfully short."
Pocock Vancouver rose with alacrity and performed the service required.
"By the way," said Mrs. Wyndham, watching him, "I have a surprise for
"Yes, an immense surprise. Do you remember Sybil Brandon?"
"Charlie Brandon's daughter? Very well--saw her at Newport some time ago.
Lily-white style--all eyes and hair."
"You ought to remember her. You used to rave about her, and you nearly
ruined yourself in roses. You will have another chance; she is going to
spend the winter with me."
"Not really?" ejaculated Mr. Vancouver, in some surprise, as he again sat
down upon the sofa.
"Yes; you know she is all alone in the world now."
"What? Is her mother dead too?"
"She died last spring, in Paris. I thought you knew."
"No," said Vancouver, thoughtfully. "How awfully sad!"
"Poor girl," said Mrs. Wyndham; "I thought it would do her good to be
among live people, even if she does not go out."
"When is she coming?" There was a show of interest about the question.
"She is here now," answered Mrs. Sam.
"Dear me!" said Vancouver. "May I have another cup?" His hostess began the
usual series of operations necessary to produce a second cup of tea.
"Mrs. Wyndham," began Vancouver again after a pause, "I have an idea--do
not laugh, it is a very good one, I am sure."
"I am not laughing."
"Why not marry Sibyl Brandon to John Harrington?"
Mrs. Wyndham stared for a moment.
"How perfectly ridiculous!" she cried at last.
"They would starve, to begin with."
"I doubt it," said Vancouver.
"Why, I am sure Mr. Harrington never had more than five thousand a year in
his life. You could not marry on that, you know--possibly."
"No; but Miss Brandon is very well off--rich, in fact."
"I thought she had nothing."
"She must have thirty or forty thousand a year from her mother, at the
least. You know Charlie never did anything in his life; he lived on his
wife's money, and Miss Brandon must have it all."
Mrs. Wyndham did not appear surprised at the information; she hardly
seemed to think it of any importance.
"I knew she had something," she repeated; "but I am glad if you are right.
But that does not make it any more feasible to marry her to Mr.
"I thought that starvation was your objection," said Vancouver.
"Oh, no; not that only. Besides, he would not marry her."
"He would be very foolish not to, if he had the chance," remarked
"Perhaps he might not even have the chance--perhaps she would not marry
him," said Mrs. Wyndham, thoughtfully. "Besides, I do not think John
Harrington ought to marry yet; he has other things to do."
Mr. Vancouver seemed about to say something in answer, but he checked
himself; possibly he did not speak because he saw some one enter the room
at that moment, and was willing to leave the discussion of John Harrington
to a future time.
In fact, the person who entered the room should have been the very last to
hear the conversation that was taking place, for it was Miss Brandon
herself, though Mr. Vancouver had not recognized her at once.
There were greetings and hand-shakings, and then Miss Brandon sat down by
the fire and spread out her hands as though to warm them. She looked white
There are women in the world, both young and old, who seem to move among
us like visions from another world, a world that is purer and fairer, and
more heavenly than this one in which the rest of us move. It is hard to
say what such women have that marks them so distinctly; sometimes it is
beauty, sometimes only a manner, often it is both. It is very certain that
we know and feel their influence, and that many men fear it as something
strange and contrary to the common order of things, a living reproach and
protest against all that is base and earthly and badly human.
Most people would have said first of Sybil Brandon that she was cold, and
many would have added that she was beautiful. Ill-natured people sometimes
said she was deathly. No one ever said she was pretty. Vancouver's
description--lily-white, all eyes and hair--certainly struck the principal
facts of her appearance, for her skin was whiter than is commonly natural,
her eyes were very deep and large and blue, and her soft brown hair seemed
to be almost a burden to her from its great quantity. She was dressed
entirely in black, and being rather tall and very slight of figure, the
dress somewhat exaggerated the ethereal look that was natural to her. She
seemed cold, and spread out her delicate hands to the bright flame of the
blazing wood-fire. Mrs. Wyndham and Pocock Vancouver looked at her in
silence for a moment. Then Mrs. Wyndham rose with a cup of tea in her
hand, and crossed to the other side of the fireplace where Sybil was
sitting and offered it to her.
"Poor Sybil, you are so cold. Drink some tea." The elder woman sat down by
the young girl, and lightly kissed her cheek. "You must not be sad,
darling," she whispered sympathetically.
"I am not sad at all, really," answered Miss Brandon aloud, quite
naturally, but pressing Mrs. Wyndham's hand a little, as though in
acknowledgment of her sympathy.
"No one can be sad in Boston," said Vancouver, putting in a word. "Our
city is altogether too wildly gay." He laughed a little.
"You must not make fun of us to visitors, Mr. Vancouver," answered Mrs.
Wyndham, still holding Sybil's hand.
"It is Mr. Vancouver's ruling passion, though he never acknowledges it,"
said Miss Brandon, calmly. "I remember it of old."
"I am flattered at being remembered," said Mr. Vancouver, whose delicate
features betrayed neither pleasure nor interest, however. "But," he
continued, "I am not particularly flattered at being called a scoffer at
my own people--"
"I did not say that," interrupted Miss Brandon.
"Well, you said my ruling passion was making fun of Boston to visitors; at
least, you and Mrs. Wyndham said it between you. I really never do that,
unless I give the other side of the question as well."
"What other side?" asked Mrs. Sam, who wanted to make conversation.
"Boston," said Vancouver with some solemnity. "It is not more often
ridiculous than other great institutions."
"You simply take one's breath away, Mr. Vancouver," said Mrs. Wyndham,
with a good deal of emphasis. "The idea of calling Boston 'an
"Why, certainly. The United States are only an institution after all. You
could not soberly call us a nation. Even you could not reasonably be moved
to fine patriotic phrases about your native country, if your ancestors had
signed twenty Declarations of Independence. We live in a great
institution, and we have every right to flatter ourselves on the success
of its management; but in the long run this thing will not do for a
Miss Brandon looked at Vancouver with a sort of calm incredulity. Mrs.
Wyndham always quarreled with him on points like the one now raised, and
accordingly took up the cudgels.
"I do not see how you can congratulate yourself on the management of your
institution, as you call it, when you know very well you would rather die
than have anything to do with it."
"Very true. But then, you always say that gentlemen should not touch
anything so dirty as politics, Mrs. Wyndham," retorted Vancouver.
"Well, that just shows that it is not an institution at all, and that you
are quite wrong, and that we are a great nation supported and carried on
by real patriotism."
"And the Irish and German votes," added Vancouver, with that scorn which
only the true son of freedom can exhibit in speaking of his fellow-
"Oh, the Irish vote! That is always the last word in the argument,"
answered Mrs. Sam.
"I do not see exactly what the Irish have to do with it," remarked Miss
Brandon, innocently. She did not understand politics.
Vancouver glanced at the clock and took his hat.
"It is very simple," he said, rising to go. "It is the bull in the china
shop--the Irish bull amongst the American china--dangerous, you know. Good
evening, Mrs. Wyndham; good evening, Miss Brandon." And he took his leave.
Miss Brandon watched his slim figure disappear through the heavy curtains
of the door.
"He has not changed much since I knew him," she said, turning again to the
fire. "I used to think he was clever."
"And have you changed your mind?" asked Mrs. Wyndham, laughing.
"Not quite, but I begin to doubt. He has very good manners, and looks
altogether like a gentleman."
"Of course," said Mrs. "Wyndham." His mother was a Shaw, although his
father came from South Carolina. But he is really very bright; Sam always
says he is one of the ablest men in Boston."
"In what way?" inquired Sybil.
"Oh, he is a lawyer, don't you know?--great railroad man."
"Oh," ejaculated Miss Brandon, and relapsed into silence.
Mrs. Wyndham rose and stood before the fire, and pushed a log back with
her small foot. Miss Brandon watched her, half wondering whether the
flames would not catch her dress.
"I have been to see that Miss Thorn," said Sybil presently.
"Oh," exclaimed Mrs. Sam, with sudden interest, "tell me all about her
this minute, dear. Is not she the most extraordinary creature?"
"I rather like her," answered Miss Brandon. "She is very pretty."
"What style? Dark?"
"No; not exactly. Brown hair, and lots of eyebrows. She is a little thing,
but very much alive, you know."
"Awfully English, of course," suggested Mrs. Sam.
"Well--yes, I suppose so. She is wild about horses, and says she shoots.
But I like her--I am sure I shall like her very much. She does not seem
very pleased with her aunt."
"I do not wonder," said Mrs. Sam. "Poor little thing--she has nobody else
belonging to her, has she?"
"Oh, yes," answered Sybil, with a little tremor in her voice; "she has a
mother in England."
"I want to see her ever so much," said Mrs. Sam. "Bring her to luncheon."
"You will see her to-night, I think; she said she was going to that
"I hate to leave you alone," said Mrs. Wyndham. "I really think I had
better not go."
"Dear Mrs. Wyndham," said Sybil, rising, and laying her hands on her
hostess's shoulders, half affectionately, half in protest, "this idea must
be stopped from the first, and I mean to stop it. You are not to give up
any party, or any society, or anything at all for me. If you do I will go
away again. Promise me, will you not?"
"Very well, dear. But you know you are the dearest girl in the world." And
so they kissed, and agreed that Mrs. Wyndham should go out, and that Sybil
should stay at home.
Mrs. Wyndham was really a very kind-hearted woman and a loving friend.
That might be the reason why she was never popular. Popularity is a
curious combination of friendliness and indifference, but very popular
people rarely have devoted friends, and still more rarely suffer great
passions. Everybody's friend is far too apt to be nobody's, for it is
impossible to rely on the support of a person whose devotion is liable to
be called upon a hundred times a day, from a hundred different quarters.
The friendships that mean anything mean sacrifice for friendship's sake;
and a man or a woman really ready to make sacrifices for a considerable
number of people is likely to be asked to do it very often, and to be soon
spent in the effort to be true to every one.
But popularity makes no great demands. The popular man is known to be so
busy in being popular that his offenses of omission are readily pardoned.
His engagements are legion, his obligations are innumerable, and far more
than he can fulfill. But, meet him when you will, his smile is as bright,
his greeting as cordial, and his sayings as universally good-natured and
satisfactory as ever. He has acquired the habit of pleasing, and it is
almost impossible for him to displease. He enjoys it all, is agreeable to
every one, and is never expected to catch cold in attending a friend's
funeral, or otherwise to sacrifice his comfort, because he is quite
certain to have important engagements elsewhere, in which the world always
believes. There is probably no individual more absolutely free and
untrammeled than the thoroughly popular man.
Fate, the artist, mixes her own colors. She grinds them with a pestle in
the fashion of the old masters, and out of the most strange pigments she
produces often only soft neutral tints for background and shadow, kneading
a vast deal of bright colors away among the grays and browns; but now and
then she takes a palette loaded with strong paint, and a great brush, and
splashes a startling full length portrait upon the canvas, without much
regard for drawing or general composition, but with very startling effect.
To paint well needs life-long study; to paint so as merely to attract
attention needs courage and a heart hardened against artistic
John Harrington was a high light against the mezzotint of his
surroundings. He was a constant source of interest, and not infrequently
of terror, to the good town of Boston. True, he was a Bostonian himself, a
chip of the old block, whose progenitors had lived in Salem, and whose
very name breathed Pilgrim memories. He even had a teapot that had come
over in the Mayflower. This was greatly venerated, and whenever John
Harrington said anything more than usually modern, his friends brandished
the teapot, morally speaking, in his defense, and put it in the clouds as
a kind of rainbow--a promise that Puritan blood could not go wrong.
Nevertheless, John Harrington continued to startle his fellow-townsmen by
his writings and sayings, so that many of the grave sort shook their heads
and swore that he sympathized with the Irish and believed in Chinese
As a matter-of-fact, he did not mince matters. Endowed with unbounded
courage and an extraordinary command of language, when he got upon his
feet he spoke his mind in a way that was good to hear. Moreover, he had
the strong oratorical temperament that forces attention and commands men
in a body. He said that things were wrong and should be put right; and
when he had said so for half an hour to a couple of thousand people, most
of them were ready to follow him out of the hall and go and put things
right on the spot, with their own hands. As yet the opportunity had not
offered for proceeding in so simple a manner, but the aforesaid Bostonians
of the graver sort said that John Harrington would some day be seen
heading a desperate mob of socialists in an assault upon the State House.
What he had to do with socialism, or to what end he should thus fiercely
invade the headquarters of all earthly respectability, was not exactly
apparent, but the picture thus evoked in the minds of the solemn burghers
satisfactorily defined for them the personality of the man, and they said
it and said it again.
It was somewhat remarkable that he had never been called clever. At first
he was regarded as a fool by most of his own class, though he always had
friends who believed in him. By and by, as it came to be seen that he had
a purpose and would be listened to while he stated it, Boston said there
was something in him; but he was never said to be clever or "bright"--he
was John Harrington, neither more nor less. He was never even called
He was a friend of Mrs. Wyndham's; her keen instincts had long ago
recognized the true metal in the man, and of all who came and went in her
house there was none more welcome than he. Sam Wyndham utterly disagreed
with him in politics, but always defended him in private, saying that he
would "calm down a lot when he got older," and that meanwhile he was "a
very good fellow if you did not stir him up."
He was therefore very intimate at the Sam Wyndham establishment; in fact,
at the very hour when Pocock Vancouver was drinking Mrs. Sam's tea, John
had intended to be enjoying the same privilege. Unfortunately for his
intention he was caught elsewhere and could not get away. He was drinking
tea, it is true, but the position in which he found himself was not
entirely to his taste.
Old Miss Schenectady, whose niece, Miss Josephine Thorn, had lately come
over from England to pass the winter, had asked John Harrington to call
that afternoon. The old lady believed in John on account of the Mayflower
teapot, and consequently thought him a desirable acquaintance for her
niece. Accordingly, John went to the house, and met Miss Sybil Brandon
just as she was leaving it; which he regretted, suspecting that her
society would have been more interesting than that of Miss Thorn. As it
turned out, he was right, for his first impression of the young English
girl was not altogether agreeable; and he found himself obliged to stay
and talk to her until an ancient lady, who had come to gossip with Miss
Schenectady, and was fully carrying out her intentions, should go away and
make it possible for him to take his leave without absolutely abandoning
Miss Thorn in the corner of the room she had selected for the _tete-a-
"All that, of course, you know," said Miss Thorn, in answer to some remark
of John's, "but what sort of things do you really care for?"
"People," answered John without hesitation.
"Of course," returned his companion, "everybody likes people. It is not
very original. One could not live without lots of society, could one?"
"That depends on the meaning of society."
"Oh, I am not in the least learned about meanings," answered Miss Thorn.
"I mean what one means by society, you know. Heaps of men and women, and
tea-parties, and staying in the country, and that."
"That is a sketch indeed," said John, laughing. "But then it is rather
different here. We do not relapse into the country as you do in England,
and then come back to town like lions refreshed with sleep."
"Because once in society here one is always in it. At least, most people
are. As soon as heat begins Boston goes to New York; and by-and-by New
York goes to Saratoga, and takes Boston with it; and then all three go to
Newport, and the thing begins again, until there is a general rush to
Lenox, to see the glories of the autumn; and by the time the glories are
getting a little thin it is time to be in Beacon Street again."
"But when do people shoot and ride?--do they ever hunt?" asked Miss Thorn,
opening her wide brown eyes in some astonishment at John Harrington's
description of society life in America.
"Oh yes, they hunt at Newport with a drag and a bagged fox. They do it in
July and August, when it is as hot as it can be, and the farmers turn out
with pitchforks and stones to warn them off the growing crops."
"How ridiculous!" exclaimed Miss Josephine.
"It is absurd, of course," said Harrington, "and cruel. But I must say
they ride as though there were no hereafter, and it is a stiff country."
"They must, I should think; no one who believed in a hereafter would hunt
"I will wager that if you go to Newport this summer you will hunt, just
like everybody else," said John boldly.
Josephine Thorn knew in her heart that it was true, but she did not like
the tone in which John said it. There was an air of certainty about his
way of talking that roused her opposition.
"I would do nothing so foolish," said she. "You do not know me. And do you
mean to tell me that you like these people who rush madly about the
country and hunt in summer, and those sort of things?"
"No," said John, "not always."
"But you said you liked people. How awfully inconsistent you are!"
"Excuse me, I think not. I meant that I liked people and having to do with
them--with men and women--better than I like things."
"What are 'things'?" inquired Josephine, sarcastically. "You are not very
clear in your way of expressing yourself."
"I will be as clear as you please," answered John, looking across the room
at Miss Schenectady and her ancient friend, and devoutly wishing he could
get away. "I mean by 'things' the study of the inanimate part of creation,
of such sciences as are not directly connected with man's thoughts and
actions, and such pursuits as hunting, shooting, and sporting of all
kinds, which lead only to the amusement of the individual. I mean also the
production of literature for literature's sake, and of works of art for
the mere sake of themselves. When I say I like 'people,' I mean men and
women, their opinions and their relations to each other."
"I should think you would get very tired of them," said Miss Thorn
scornfully. "They are all dreadfully alike."
She never forgot the look Harrington turned upon her as he answered. His
calm, deep-set gray eyes gazed steadily at her, and his square features
assumed an air of gravity that almost startled her.
"I am never tired of men and women," he said. "Has it ever struck you,
Miss Thorn, that the study of men and women means the study of government,
and that a knowledge of men and women may give the power to influence the
destiny of mankind?"
"I never thought of it like that," said Josephine, very quietly. She was
surprised at his manner, and she suddenly felt that he was no ordinary
To tell the truth, her aunt had informed her that John Harrington was
coming that afternoon, and had told her he was an exceedingly able man, a
statement which at once roused Josephine's opposition to its fiercest
pitch. She thoroughly hated to be warned about people, to be primed as it
were with a dose of their superiority beforehand. It always prepared her
to dislike the admirable individual when he appeared. It seemed as though
it were taken for granted that she herself had not enough intelligence to
discover wit in others, and needed to be told of it with great
circumstance in order to be upon her good behavior. Consequently Josephine
began by disliking John. She thought he was a Philistine; his hair was too
straight, and besides, it was red; he shaved all his face, whereas the men
she liked always had beards; she liked men with black eyes, or blue--
John's were gray and hard; he spoke quietly, without expression, and she
liked men who were enthusiastic. After all, too, the things he said were
not very clever; anybody could have said them.
She meant to show her Boston aunt that she had no intention of accepting
Boston genius on faith. It was not her way; she liked to find out for
herself whether people were able or not, without being told, and if she
ascertained that John Harrington enjoyed a fictitious reputation for
genius it would amuse her to destroy it--or at all events to write a long
letter home to a friend, expressing her supreme opinion on that and other
John, on his part, did not very much care what impression he produced. He
never did on such occasions, and just now he was rendered doubly
indifferent by the fact that he was wishing himself somewhere else. True,
there was a certain novelty in being asked point-blank questions about his
tastes. Boston people knew what he liked, and generally only asked him
about what he did. Perhaps, if he had met Josephine by daylight, instead
of in the dim shadows of Miss Schenectady's front drawing-room, he might
have been struck by her appearance and interested by her manner. As it
was, he was merely endeavoring to get through his visit with a proper
amount of civility, in the hope that he might get away in time to see Mrs.
Sam Wyndham before dinner.
Josephine thought John dull, probably well informed, and utterly without
interest in anything. She felt inclined to do something desperate--to
throw the cushions at him, to do anything, in short, to rouse him from his
calmness. Then he made that remark about government, and his voice
deepened, and his gray eyes shone, and she was aware that he had a great
and absorbing interest in life, and that he could be roused in one
direction at least. To do her justice, she had quick perceptions, and the
impression on her mind was instantaneous.
"I never thought of it like that," she said. "Do you know?" she added in a
moment, "I should not have thought you took much interest in anything at
John laughed. He was amused at the idea that he, who knew himself to be
one of the most enthusiastic of mortals, should be thought indifferent;
and he was amused at the outspoken frankness of the girl's remark.
"You know that is just like me," continued Miss Thorn quickly. "I always
say what I think, you know. I cannot help it a bit."
"What a pity all the world is not like you!" said John. "It would save a
great deal of trouble, I am sure."
"The frump is going at last," said Josephine, in an undertone, as the
ancient friend rose and showed signs of taking leave of Miss Schenectady.
"There is certainly no mistake about the frankness of that speech," said
John, rising to his feet and laughing again.
"There is no mistaking its truth," answered Josephine. "She is the real
thing--the real old-fashioned frump--we have lots of them at home."
"You remind me of Heine," said John. "He said he called a spade a spade,
and Herr Schmidt an ass."
Miss Thorn laughed. "Exactly," she answered, "that is the knowledge of men
which you say leads to power."
She rose also, and there was a little stir as the old lady departed.
Josephine watched John as he bowed and opened the door of the room to let
the visitor out. She wondered vaguely whether she would like him, whether
he might not really be a remarkable man--a fact she doubted in proportion
as her aunt assured her of its truth; she liked his looks and tried to
determine whether he was handsome or not, and she watched closely for any
awkwardness or shyness of manner, that being the fault in a man which she
He was very different from the men she had generally known, and most
completely different from those she had known as her admirers. In fact she
had never admired her admirers at all,--except dear Ronald, of course.
They competed with her on her own ground, and she knew well enough she was
more than a match for any of them. Ronald was different; she had known him
all her life. But all those other men! They could ride--but she rode as
well, or better. They could shoot, but so could she, and allowing for the
disadvantages of a woman in field sports, she was as good a shot as they.
She knew she could do anything they could do, and understood most things
they understood. All in all, she did not care for the average young
Englishman. He was great fun in his own way, but there were probably more
interesting things in the world than pheasants and fences. Politics would
be interesting, she thought; she had known three or four men who were
young and already prominent in Parliament, and they were undeniably
interesting; but they were generally either ugly or clumsy,--the
unpardonable sin,--or perhaps they were vain. Josephine could not bear
vain men. John Harrington probably had some one or more of these defects.
He was certainly no "beauty man," to begin with, nevertheless, she
wondered whether he might not be called handsome by stretching a point.
She rather hoped, inwardly and unconsciously, that her ultimate judgment
would decide in favor of his good looks. She always judged; it was the
first thing she did, and she was surprised, on the present occasion, to
find her judgment so slow. People who pride themselves on being critical
are often annoyed when they find themselves uncertain of their own
opinion. As for his accomplishments, they were doubtful, to say the least.
Miss Thorn was not used to considering American men as manly. She had read
a great many books which made game of them, and showed how unused they
were to all those good things which make up the life of an English country
gentleman; she had met one or two Americans who turned up their noses in
impotent scorn of all field sports except horse-racing, which they
regarded from a financial point of view. Probably John Harrington had
never killed a pheasant in his life. Lastly, he might be vain. A man with
such a reputation for ability would most likely be conceited.
And yet, despite probability, she could not help thinking John
interesting. That one speech of his about government had meant something.
He was a man with a strong personality, with a great interest in the world
led by a dominant aspiration of some sort; and Josephine, in her heart,
loved power and admired those who possessed it. Political power especially
had that charm for her which it has for most English people of the upper
class. There is some quality in the English race which breeds an
inordinate admiration for all kinds of superiority: it is certain that if
one class of English society can be justly accused of an over-great
veneration for rank, the class which is rank itself is not behindhand in
doing homage to the political stars of the day. In favor of this
peculiarity of English people it may fairly be said that they love to
associate with persons of rank and power from a disinterested love of
those things themselves, whereas in most other countries the society of
noble and influential persons is chiefly sought from the most cynical
motives of personal advantage.
Politics--that is, the outward and appreciable manifestations of political
life--must always furnish abundant food for the curiosity of the many and
the intelligent criticism of the few. There is no exception to that rule,
be the state great or small. But politics in England and politics in
America, so far as the main points are concerned, are as different as it
is possible for any two social functions to be. Roughly, Government and
the doings of Government are centripetal in England, and centrifugal in
America. In England the will of the people assists the workings of
Providence, whereas in America devout persons pray that Providence may on
occasion modify the will of the people. In England men believe in the
Queen, the Royal Family, the Established Church, and Belgravia first, and
in themselves afterwards. Americans believe in themselves devoutly, and a
man who could "establish" upon them a church, a royalty, or a peerage,
would be a very clever fellow.
Josephine Thorn and John Harrington were fair examples of their
nationalities. Josephine believed in England and the English; John
Harrington believed in America and the Americans. How far England and
America are ever likely to believe in each other, however, is a question
of future history and not of past experience, and any reasonable amount of
doubt may be cast upon the possibility of such mutual confidence.
But as Josephine stood watching John Harrington while he opened the
drawing-room door for the visitor to go out, she thought of none of these
things. She certainly did not consider herself a type of her nation--a
distinction to which few English people aspire--and she as certainly would
have denied that the man before her was a type of the modern American.
John remained standing when the lady was gone.
"Do sit down," said Miss Schenectady, settling herself once more in her
"Thank you, I think I must be going now," answered John. "It is late." As
he spoke he turned toward Miss Thorn, and for the first time saw her under
the bright light of the old-fashioned gas chandelier.
The young girl was perhaps not what is called a great beauty, but she was
undeniably handsome, and she possessed that quality which often goes with
quick perceptions and great activity, and which is commonly defined by the
expression "striking." Short, rather than tall, she was yet so
proportioned between strength and fineness as to be very graceful, and her
head sat proudly on her shoulders--too proudly sometimes, for she could
command and she could be angry. Her wide brown eyes were bright and
fearless and honest. The faint color came and went under the clear skin as
freely as the heart could send it, and though her hair was brown and soft,
there were ruddy tints among the coils, that flashed out unexpectedly here
and there like threads of red gold twined in a mass of fine silk.
John looked at her in some astonishment, for in his anxiety to be gone and
in the dimness of the corner where they had sat, he had not realized that
Josephine was any more remarkable in her appearance than most of the
extremely young women who annually make their entrance into society, with
the average stock of pink and white prettiness. They call them "buds" in
Boston--an abbreviation for rosebuds.
Fresh young roses of each opening year, fresh with the dew of heaven and
the blush of innocence, coming up in this wild garden of a world, what
would the gardener do without you? Where would all beauty and sweetness be
found among the thorny bushes and the withering old shrubs and the rotting
weeds, were it not for you? Maidens with clean hands and pure hearts, in
whose touch there is something that heals the ills and soothes the pains
of mortality, roses whose petals are yet unspotted by dust and rain, and
whose divine perfume the hot south wind has not scorched, nor the east
wind nipped and frozen--you are the protest, set every year among us,
against the rottenness of the world's doings, the protest of the angelic
life against the earthly, of the eternal good against the eternal bad.
John Harrington looked at Miss Thorn, and looked at her with pleasure, for
he saw that she was fair--but in spite of her newly discovered beauty he
resisted Miss Schenectady's invitation to sit down again, and departed.
Any other man would have stayed, under the circumstances.
"Well, Josephine," said Miss Schenectady, when he was gone, "now you have
seen John Harrington."
Josephine looked at her aunt and laughed a little; it seemed to her a very
self-evident fact, since John had just gone.
"Exactly," said she. "Won't you call me Joe, aunt Zoruiah? They all do at
"Joe? Boy's name. Well, if you insist upon it. As I was saying, you have
seen John Harrington, now."
"Exactly," repeated Joe.
"But I mean, how does he strike you?"
"Clever I should think," answered the young lady. "Clever, you know--that
sort of thing. Not bad looking, either."
"I told you so," said Miss Schenectady.
"Yes--but I expected ever so much more from what you said," returned Joe,
kneeling on the rug before the fire and poking the coals with the tongs.
Miss Schenectady looked somewhat offended at the slight cast upon her late
"You are very _difficile_, Josephi--I mean Joe, I forgot."
"Ye--es, very diffyseal--that sort of thing," repeated Josephine,
mimicking her aunt's pronunciation of the foreign word, "I know I am, I
can't possibly help it, you know." A dashing thrust with the tongs finally
destroyed the equilibrium of the fire, and the coals came tumbling down
upon the hearth.
"Goodness gracious me!" exclaimed the old lady in great anxiety, "you will
have the house on fire in no time! Give me the tongs right away, my dear.
You do not understand American fires!"
"Dear Ronald,--You can't imagine what a funny place Boston is. I wish you
were here, it would be so nice to talk about them together--I mean the
people, of course, for they are much funnier than the place they live in.
But I think they are very nice, too, particularly some of the men. I don't
understand the women in the least--they go in awfully for sets, if you
understand that kind of thing--and art, too, and literature. The other day
at a lunch party--that is what they call it here--they sat and talked
about pictures for ever so long. I wonder what you would have said if you
had been there! but then there were no men, and so you couldn't have been,
could you? And the sets, too. The girls who come out together, all in a
batch, like a hive of bees swarming, spend the rest of their lives
together; and they have what they call sewing circles, that go on all
their lives. There are sewing circles of old frumps sixty years old who
have never been parted since they all went to their first ball together.
They sew for the poor; they don't sew so very much, you know; but then
they have a tremendous lunch afterwards. I sewed for the poor the other
day, because one of the sewing circles asked me to their meeting. I sewed
two buttons on to the end of something, and then I ate six kinds of salad,
and went to drive with Mr. Vancouver. I dare say it does a lot of good in
its way, but I think the poor must be awfully good-natured.
"It is quite too funny about driving, too. You may go out with a man in a
sleigh, but you couldn't possibly go with him on wheels--on the same road,
at the same hour, same man, same everything, except the wheels. You agree
to go out next week in a sleigh with Mr. Vancouver; but when the day
comes, if it has happened to thaw and there is no snow, and he comes in a
buggy, you couldn't possibly go with him, because it would be quite too
improper. But I mean to, some day, just to see what they will say. I wish
you would come! We would do a lot of driving together, and by and by, in
the spring, they say one can ride here, but only along the roads, for
everything else is so thick with steam-engines and Irishmen that one could
not possibly go across country.
"But although they are so funny, they are really very nice, and awfully
clever. I don't think there are nearly so many clever men anywhere else in
society, when once you have got over their Americanisms. Most of them
would be in Parliament at home; but nobody goes into Parliament here,
except Mr. Harrington--that is, into Congress, which is the same thing,
you know. They say politics in America are not at all fit for gentlemen,
and they spend an hour or two every day in abusing all the politicians,
instead of turning them out and managing things themselves. But Mr.
Harrington is going to be a senator as soon as he can, and he is so clever
that I am sure he will make a great reform.
"I don't think of anything else to say just now, but if I do I will write
again--only it's unfeminine to write two letters running, so you must
answer at once. And if you should want to travel this winter you can come
here; they will treat you ever so much better than you deserve. So good-
by. Yours ever sincerely,
The precise nature of the friendship that existed between Josephine Thorn
and Ronald Surbiton could not be accurately inferred from the above
specimen of correspondence; and indeed the letter served rather to confuse
than to enlighten the recipient as to the nature of his relations with the
writer. He was, of course, very much in love with Joe Thorn; he knew it,
because he had always been in love with her since they were children
together, so there could be no possible doubt in the matter. But whether
she cared a jot for him and his feelings he could not clearly make out,
from the style of the hurried, ungrammatical sentences, crammed with
abbreviations and unpermissible elisions. True, she said three times that
she hoped he would come to America; but America was a long way off, and
she very likely reckoned on his laziness and dislike to foreign traveling.
It is so easy for a young woman writing from Boston to say to a young man
residing in Scotland, "Do come over for a few days"--Surbiton thought it
would be a good joke to take her at her word and go. The idea of seeing
her again so much sooner than he had expected was certainly uppermost in
his mind as he began to make his resolution; but it was sustained and
strengthened by a couple of allusions Joe had made to men of her
acquaintance in Boston, not to say by the sweeping remark that there were
more clever men in Boston society than anywhere else, which made his
vanity smart rather unpleasantly. When Josephine used to tell him, half in
earnest, half in jest, that he was "so dreadfully stupid," he did not feel
much hurt; but it was different when she took the trouble to write all the
way from America to tell him that the men there were much cleverer than at
home. He had a great mind to go and see for himself whether it were true.
Nevertheless, the hunting was particularly good just at the time when he
got the letter, and being rather prudent of counsel, Ronald determined to
wait until a hard frost should spoil his temper and give the necessary
stimulus to his activity, before he packed his boxes for a western voyage.
As for Josephine, it was very natural that she should feel a little
homesick, and wish to have some one of her own people with her. In spite
of the favorable views she expressed about America, Boston, and her new
acquaintances, her position was not without some drawbacks in her own
eyes. She felt herself out of her natural element, and the very great
admiration she received in society, though pleasant enough in itself, was
not to her so entirely satisfactory as it would have been to a woman older
or younger than she, or to a more thorough flirt. An older woman would
have enjoyed more keenly the flattery of it; a younger girl would have
found it more novel and fresh, and the accomplished professional society
flirt--there is no other word to express her--would have rejoiced
exceedingly over a great holocaust of victims.
In writing to Surbiton and suggesting to him to come to Boston, Joe had no
intention of fanning his hopes into flame. She never thought much about
Ronald. She had long been used to him, and regarded him in the light of a
marriage fixture, though she had never exactly promised to marry him; she
had been brought up to suppose she would, and that was all. When or where
the marriage would actually take place was a question she did not care to
raise, and if ever Surbiton raised it she repressed him ruthlessly. For
the present she would look about the world, seeing she had been
transported into a new part of it, and she found it amusing. Only she
would like to have a companion to whom she could talk. Ronald would be so
convenient, and after all it was a great advantage to be able to make use
of the man to whom she was engaged. She never had known any other girl who
could do that, and she rather prided herself on the fact that she was not
ridiculous, although she was in the most traditionally absurd position,
that of betrothal. She would like to compare Ronald with the men she had
The desire for comparison had increased of late. A fortnight had passed
since she had first met John Harrington, and she had made up her mind. He
was handsome, though his hair was red and he had no beard, and she liked
him; she liked him very much; it was quite different from her liking for
Ronald. She liked Ronald, she said to herself that she loved him dearly,
partly because she expected to marry him, and partly because he was so
good and so much in love with herself. He would take any amount of trouble
for anything she wanted. But John was different. She knew very well that
she was thinking much more of him than he of her, if indeed he thought of
her at all. But she was a little ashamed of it, and in order to justify
herself in her own eyes she was cold and sarcastic in her manner to him,
so that people noticed it, and even John Harrington himself, who never
thought twice whether his acquaintances liked him or disliked him,
remarked one day to Mrs. Wyndham that he feared he had offended Miss
Thorn, as she took such particular pains to treat him differently from
others. On the other hand Joe was always extremely candid to Pocock
It was on a Monday that John made the aforesaid remark. All Boston was at
Mrs. Wyndham's, excepting all the other ladies who lived in Beacon Street,
and that is a very considerable portion of Boston, as every schoolboy
knows. John was standing near the tea-table talking to Mrs. Sam, when Joe
entered the room and came up to the hostess, who welcomed her warmly. She
nodded coldly to John without shaking hands, and joined a group of young
girls near by.
"It is very strange," said John to Mrs. Wyndham. "I wonder whether I can
have done anything Miss Thorn resents. I am not sensitive, but it is
impossible to mistake people when they look at one like that. She always
does it just in that way."
Mrs. Wyndham looked inquiringly at John for a moment, and the quick smile
of ready comprehension played on her sensitive mouth.
"Are you really quite sure you have not offended her?" she asked.
"Quite sure," John answered, in a tone of conviction. "Besides, I never
offend any one, certainly not ladies. I never did such a thing in my whole
"Not singly," said Mrs. Wyndham, laughing. "You offend people in large
numbers when you do it at all, especially newspaper people. Sam read that
ridiculous article in the paper to me last night."
"Which paper?" asked John, smiling. "They have most of them been at me
"_The_ paper," answered Mrs. Sam, "the _horrid_ paper. You do
not suppose I would mention such a publication in my house?"
"Oh, my old enemy," laughed John. "I do not mind that in the least. One
might almost think those articles were written by Miss Thorn."
"Perhaps they are," answered Mrs. Wyndham. "Really," she added, glancing
at Josephine, whom Pocock Vancouver had just detached from her group of
girls, "really you may not be so very, very far wrong." John's glance
followed the direction of her eyes, and he saw Vancouver. He looked
steadily at the man's delicate pale features and intellectual head, and at
the end of half a minute he and Mrs. Wyndham looked at each other again.
She probably regretted the hint she had carelessly dropped, but she met
Harrington's gaze frankly.
"I did not mean to say it," she said, for John looked so grave that she
was frightened. "It was only a guess."
"But have you any reason to think it might be the truth?" asked John.
"None whatever--really none, except that he differs so much from you in
every way, politically speaking."
She knew very well that Vancouver hated John, and she had often thought it
possible that the offensive articles in question came from the pen of the
former. There was a tone of superior wit and a ring of truer English in
them than are generally met with in the average office work of a daily
"I do not believe Vancouver writes them," said John, slowly. "He is not
exactly a friend, but he is not an enemy either."
Mrs. Wyndham, who knew better than that, held her peace. She was not a
mischief-maker, and moreover she liked both the men too well to wish a
quarrel between them. She busied herself at the tea-table for a moment,
and John stood near her, watching the moving crowd. Now and then his eyes
rested on Josephine Thorn's graceful figure, and he noticed how her
expressive features lighted up in the conversation. John could hear
something of their conversation, which was somewhat noisy. They were
talking in that strain of objectless question and answer which may be
stupid to idiocy or clever to the verge of wit, according to the talkers.
Joe called it "chaff."
"I have learned America," said Joe.
"Indeed!" said Vancouver. "You have not been long about it; but then, you
will say there is not much to learn."
"I never believe in places till I have lived in them," said Joe.
"Nor in people till you have seen them, I suppose," returned Vancouver.
"But now that you have learned America, of course you believe in us all
without exception. We are the greatest nation on earth--I suppose you have
"Yes; you told me so the other day; but it needs all the faith I have in
your judgment to believe it. If any one else had said it, you know, I
should have thought there was some mistake."
"Oh no; it is pretty true, taking it all round," returned Vancouver, with
a smile. "But I am tremendously flattered at the faith you put in my
"Oh, are you? That is odd, you know, because if you are so much flattered
at my believing you, you would not be much disappointed if I doubted you."
"I beg to differ. Excuse me"--
"Not at all," answered Joe, laughing. "Only we have old-fashioned
prejudices at home. We begin by expecting to be believed, and are
sometimes a good deal annoyed if any one says we are telling fibs."
"Of course, if you put it in that way," said Vancouver. "But I suppose it
is not a very bad fib to say one's country is the greatest on earth. I am
sure you English say it quite as often and as loudly as we do, and, you
see, we cannot both be right, possibly."
"No, not exactly. But suppose two men, any two, like you and Mr.
Harrington for instance, each made a point of telling every one you met
that you were the greatest man on earth."
"It is conceivable that we might both be wrong," said Vancouver, laughing
at the idea.
"But one of you might be right," objected Joe.
"No--that is not conceivable," retorted Vancouver.
"No? Let us ask Mr. Harrington. Mr. Harrington!"
Joe turned towards John and called him. He was only a step from her, and
joined the two instantly. He looked from one to the other inquiringly.
"Here is a great question to be decided, Mr. Harrington," said Joe. "I was
saying to Mr. Vancouver that, supposing each of you asserted that he was
the greatest man on earth, it would--I mean, how could the point be
settled?" John stared for a moment.
"If you insist upon raising such a very remarkable point of precedence,
Miss Thorn," he answered calmly, "I am sure Vancouver will agree with me
to leave the decision to you also."
Joe looked slightly annoyed. She had brought the retort on herself.
"Pardon me," said Vancouver, quickly, "I object to the contest. The match
is not a fair one. Mr. Harrington means to be the greatest man on earth,
or in the water under the earth, whereas I have no such aspiration."
Instead of being grateful to Vancouver for coming to her rescue in the
rather foolish position in which she was placed, Joe felt unaccountably
annoyed. She was willing to make sure of John herself, if she could, but
she was not prepared to allow that privilege to any one else. Accordingly
she turned upon Vancouver before John could answer. "The question began
in a foolish comparison, Mr. Vancouver," she said coldly. "I think you are
inclined to make it personal?"
"I believe it became personal from the moment you hit upon Mr. Harrington
and me as illustrations of what you were saying, Miss Thorn," retorted
Vancouver, very blandly, but with a disagreeable look in his eyes. He was
angry at Joe's rebuke.
John stood calmly by without exhibiting the least shade of annoyance. The
chaff of a mere girl, and the little satirical thrusts of a lady's man
like Vancouver, did not seem to him of much importance. Joe, however, did
not vouchsafe any answer to Vancouver's last remark, and it devolved on
John to say something to relieve the awkwardness of the situation.
"Have you become reconciled to our methods of amusement, Miss Thorn?" he
asked, "or shall we devise something different from the everlasting
sleighing and five o'clock tea, and dinner parties and 'dancing classes'?"
"Oh, do not remind me of all that," said Joe. "I did not mean half of it,
you know." She turned to John, and Vancouver moved away in pursuit of
Sybil Brandon, who had just entered the room.
"Tell me," said Joe, when Pocock was gone, "do you like Mr. Vancouver? You
are great friends, are you not?" John looked at her inquiringly.
"I should not say we were very great friends," he answered, "because we
are not intimate; but we have always been on excellent terms, as far as I
know. Vancouver is a very clever fellow."
"Yes," said Joe, thoughtfully, "I fancy he is. You do not mind my having
asked, do you?"
"Not in the least," said John, quietly. His face had grown very grave
again, and he seemed suddenly absorbed by some thought. "Let us sit down,"
he said presently, and the two installed themselves on a divan in a
"You are not in the least inquisitive," remarked Joe, as soon as they were
"What makes you say that?" asked John.
"It was such a silly thing, you know, and you never asked what it was all
"When you called me? No--I did not hear what led up to it, and I supposed
from what you said afterwards that I understood."
"Did you? What did you think?" asked Joe.
"I thought from the question about Vancouver that you wanted to put us
into an awkward position in order to find out whether we were friends."
"No," said Joe, with a little laugh, "I am not so clever as that. It was
pure silliness--chaff, you know--that sort of thing."
"Oh," ejaculated John, still quite unmoved, "then it was not of any
"Very silly things sometimes turn out to be very important. Saul, you
know--was not it he?--was looking for asses and he found a kingdom."
John laughed suddenly. "And so it is clear which part Vancouver and I
played in the business," he said. "But where is the kingdom?"
"I did not mean that," said Joe, seriously. "I am not making fun any more.
I have not been successful in my chaff to-day. I should think that in your
career it would be very important for you to know who are your friends. Is
"Certainly," said John, looking at her curiously. "It is very important;
but I think political life is generally much simpler than people suppose.
It is rather like fighting. The man who hits you is your enemy. The man
who does not is practically your friend. Do you mean in regard to
"Vancouver never hit me, that I can swear," said John, "and I am very sure
I never hit him."
"I dare say I am mistaken," said Joe. "You ought to know best. Let us
leave him alone."
"With all my heart," answered John.
"Tell me what you have been doing, Mr. Harrington," said Joe, after a
moment's pause; "all the papers are full of you."
"Yes, I have been rather in the passive mood during the last week. I have
been standing up to be shot at."
"Without shooting back? What are they so angry about?"
"The truth," said John, calmly. "They do not like to hear it."
"What is truth--in this instance?"
"Apparently something so unpleasant that the mere mention of it has roused
the bile of every penny-a-liner in the Republican press. I undertook to
demonstrate that one of the fifteen millions of the 'ablest men in the
country,' whom you are always hearing about, is a swindler. He is, but he
does not like to be told so."
"I suppose not," said Joe. "I wonder if any one likes unpleasant truths.
But what do you mean to do now? Are you going to fight it out? I hope so!"
"Of course, in good time. One can hardly retire from such a position as
mine; they would make an end of me in a week and quarrel over my bones.
But the real fight will be fought by and by, when the elections come on."
"How exciting it must all be," said Joe. "I wish I were a man!"
"And an American?" asked John, smiling. "How are the mighty fallen! You
were laughing at us and our politics the day before yesterday, and now you
are wishing you were one of us yourself. I think you must be naturally
fond of fighting"--
"Fond of a row?" suggested Miss Thorn, with a laugh. "Yes, I fancy I am. I
am fond of all active things. Are not you?"
"I do not know," said John. "I never thought much about it. But I suppose
I should be called rather an active person."
"Is not she beautiful?" ejaculated Miss Thorn, looking across the room at
Sybil Brandon, whose fair head was just visible between two groups of
"Who?" asked John, who was looking at his companion.
"Miss Brandon," said Joe. "Look at her, over there. I think she is the
most beautiful thing I ever saw."
"Yes," said John, "she is very beautiful."
All sorts and conditions of men and women elbowed and crowded each other
under the dim gaslight at the three entrances to the Boston Music Hall.
The snow was thick on the ground outside, and it had been thawing all the
afternoon. The great booby sleighs slid and slipped and rocked through the
wet stuff, the policemen vociferated, the horse-car drivers on Tremont
Street rang their bells furiously, and a great crowd of pedestrians
stumbled and tumbled about in the mud and slush and snow of the crossings,
all bent on getting inside the Music Hall in time for the beginning of the
The affair was called a "lecture" in accordance with the time-honored
custom of Boston, and unless it were termed an oration, it would be hard
to find a better name for it. A "meeting" implies a number of orators, or
at least a well-filled row of chairs upon the platform. A "lecture," on
the other hand, does not convey to the ordinary mind the idea of a
political speech, and critical persons with a taste for etymology say that
the word means something which is read.
John Harrington had determined to speak in public on certain subjects
connected with modern politics, and had caused the fact to be extensively
made known. His name alone would have sufficed to draw a large audience,
but the great attention he had attracted by his doings for some time past,
and the severe criticisms lately made upon him by the local press,
rendered the interest even greater than it would otherwise have been.
Moreover, the lecture was free. Harrington was a poor man, as fortunes go
in Boston, but it was his chiefest principle that a man had no right to be
paid for speaking the truth, even though it might sometimes be just that
people should pay something for hearing it. Accordingly the lecture was
free, and at the appointed hour the house was full to overflowing.
In the front row of the first gallery sat old Miss Schenectady, and by her
side was Josephine Thorn. A little colony of "Beacon Street" had collected
there, and Pocock Vancouver was not far off. It is not often that Beacon
Street goes to such lectures, but John was one of themselves, and had too
many friends and enemies among them not to be certain of a large
Miss Schenectady was there, partly because she believed in John
Harrington, and partly because Joe insisted upon going; and, generally
speaking, what Joe insisted upon was done. The old lady did not understand
why her niece was so very anxious to be present, but as the proposition
fell in with her own desires, she made no objection. The fact was that
Joe's interest in John had very greatly increased of late, and her
curiosity to hear the man she met so often speak to a great audience was
excited to its highest pitch. She fancied, too, from many things she had
heard said, that a large proportion of his audience would be hostile to
him, and that she would see him roused to his greatest strength and
eloquence. She did not consider her impulse in the least, for though she
felt a stronger interest in Harrington than she had ever before felt in
any individual, it had not struck her that she was beginning to care
overmuch for the sight of his face and the sound of his voice. She could
not have believed she was beginning to love him; and if any secret voice
had suggested to her conscience that it was so, she could have silenced it
at once to her own satisfaction by merely remembering the coldness with
which she generally treated him. She had got into the habit of treating
him in that way from the first, when she had been prejudiced against him
and the annoyance she often felt at his indifference made her think that
she ought to be consistent and never allow her formal manner to change.
Unfortunately she now and then forgot herself, as she had done after the
little skirmish with Vancouver at Mrs. Wyndham's, and then she talked to
him and asked him questions of himself almost as though he were an
John, who was a man of the world as well as a man of talent, thought she
was capricious, and since he was infinitely removed from falling in love
with her, or indeed with any other woman, he found it agreeable to talk to
her when she was in a good humor, and when she was ungracious he merely
kept out of her way. If he had deliberately made up his mind to attract
her attention and interest, he could have chosen no surer way than this.
But although he admired her beauty and vivacity, and now and then took a
real pleasure in her conversation, his mind was too full of other matters
to receive any lasting impression of such a kind. Besides, she was
capricious, and he hated mere caprice.
And now there was a hush in the house, and then a short burst of applause,
and Josephine, looking down, saw John standing alone upon the platform in
front of the great bronze statue of Beethoven. He looked exactly as he did
when she met him in society; there was no change in the even color of his
face, nor any awkwardness or self-consciousness in his easy attitude as he
stood there, broad-shouldered and square, his strong hand just resting on
the plain desk that had been placed in the middle of the stage. He waited
a few seconds for silence in the audience, and then began to speak. His
voice sounded as natural and his accent as unaffected as though he were
talking alone with a friend, saving only that every syllable he uttered
was audible in the furthest gallery. Josephine leaned forward upon the red
leather cushion of the railing before her, watching and listening
She did not understand the subject well. John Harrington was a reformer,
she knew; or, to speak more accurately, he desired to be one. He believed
great changes were necessary. He believed in an established Civil Service,
in something which, if not exactly Free Trade, was much nearer to it than
the existing tariff. Above all, he believed in truth and freedom instead
of lying and bribery. As he spoke and cleared the way to his main points,
his voice never quavered or faltered. He was perfectly sure of himself,
and he reserved all his strength for the time when it should be most
required. For a quarter of an hour he proceeded, and the people sat in
dead silence before him. Then he paused a moment, and shifted his position
a little, moving a step forward as though to gain a better hearing.
"I am coming to the point," he said,--"the point that I must come to
sooner or later. I am a Democrat, as perhaps some of you know."
Here there was an uneasy movement in the house. "Yes, I guess you are!"
cried a voice from somewhere, in a tone of high nasal irony. Some one
laughed, and some one hissed, and then there was silence again.
"Exactly," continued John, unmoved by the interruption. "I am a Democrat,
and though the sight does not astonish you so much as it might have done
twenty years ago, it is worthy of remark, nevertheless. But I have a
peculiarity which I think you will allow to be extremely novel.
I do not begin by saying that salvation is only to be found with
Democrats, and I will not believe any man who says it belongs exclusively
to Republicans. If we were suddenly put in great danger of any kind, war,
famine, or revolution, I think that in some way or other we should manage
to save the country between us, Republicans and Democrats, for the common
"That's so!" said more than one voice.
"Of course we should. Is there any one among us all who would not give up
his individual views about a local election rather than see the country go
to pieces? Would any man be such a coward as to be afraid to change his
mind in order to prevent another Rebellion, another Civil War? No, no, we
are more civilized than that. We want our own men in Congress, our own
friends in office, just so long as they are serviceable--just so long as
the country can stand it, if you like it in that way. But if it comes to
be a question between the public good and having your cousin made
postmaster in a country village, I think there is enough patriotism in the
average Democrat or Republican to send the country cousin about his
business. If worst comes to worst, we can save the country between us,
depend upon it. We have done it before."
Here there was a burst of willing applause. It is a great point to bring
an audience into the position of applauding themselves.
Joe watched John's every gesture, and listened intently to every word. His
voice rang clear and strong through the great hall, and he was beginning
to be roused. He had gained a decided advantage in the success of his last
words, and as he gathered his strength for the real effort which was to
come, his cheek paled and his gray eyes grew brighter. He spoke out again
through the subsiding clamor.
"Now I say that the country is in danger. It is in very great danger, the
greatest danger that can threaten any community. The institutions of a
nation are like the habits of a man, except that they are harder to
improve and easier to spoil. We have got into bad habits, and if we do not
mend them they will take us to a more certain destruction than revolution,
famine, or war,--or all three together. It is easier to fight a thing that
has a head to it and a name, than a thing that is everywhere and has no
name, because no one has the courage to christen it.
"We are like a man who has grown from being a peddler of tape and buttons
to be the greatest dry-goods-man in his town, and then to being a great
dealer for many towns. When he was a peddler he could carry the profit and
loss on his buttons and tape in his head, because the profits were
literally in his pocket, and the losses were literally out of it. But when
he has grown into a great merchant he must keep books, and he must keep a
great many of them, and they must be kept accurately, or he will get into
trouble and go to ruin. That is true, is it not? And when he was a peddler
he could buy his stock-in-trade himself, and be sure that it was what he
wanted; but when he is one of the great merchants he must employ other
people to help him, and unless they are the right people and understand
the business, he will be ruined. Nobody can deny that.
"Very well. We began in a small way as a nation, without much stock-in-
trade, and we kept our accounts by rule of thumb. But it seems to me we
are doing a pretty large business as a nation just now."
There was a laugh, and sundry remarks to the effect that the audience
understood what John was driving at.
"Yes, we are doing a great business, and to all intents and purposes we
are doing it on false business principles, and with an absolutely
incompetent staff of clerks. What would you think of a merchant who
dismissed all his book-keepers every four years, and engaged a set of
shoemakers, or tailors, or artists, or musicians to fill up the
A low murmur ran through the hall, a murmur of disapprobation. Probably a
large number out of the three thousand men and women present had cousins
in country post offices. But John did not pause; his voice grew full and
clear, ringing high above the dull sounds in the house. From her place in
the gallery Josephine looked down, never taking her eyes from the face of
the orator. She too was pale with excitement; had she been willing to
acknowledge it, it was fear. That deep-toned beginning of a protest from
the great concourse was like an omen of failure to her sensitive ear. She
longed to see John Harrington succeed and carry his hearers with him into
an access of enthusiasm. John expected no such thing. He only wanted the
people to understand thoroughly what he meant, for he was sure that if
once they knew the truth clearly they would feel for it as he himself did.
"Nevertheless," he continued, "I tell you that is what we are doing, what
we have been doing for years, from the very beginning. And if we go on
doing it we shall get into trouble. We choose schoolboys to do the work of
men, we expect that by the mere signature of the head of the executive any
man can be turned into an accomplished public officer fit to be compared
with one whose whole life has been spent in the public service. We wish to
be represented abroad among foreign nations in a way becoming to our
dignity and very great power, and we select as our ministers a number of
gentlemen who in most cases have never read a diplomatic dispatch in their
lives, and who sometimes are not even acquainted with any language save
their own. Perhaps you will say that our dignity is not of much importance
provided our power is great enough. I do not think you will say it, but
there are communities in our country where it would most certainly be
said. Very well, so be it. But where do you think our power comes from? Do
you think there is a boundless store of some natural product called power,
of which we need only take as much as we want in order to stand a head and
shoulders higher than any other nation in the world? What is power? Can a
man be strong if he has an internal disease, or is his strength any use to
him if his arms and legs are out of joint? Would you believe in the
strength of a great firm that hired a company of actors from a theatre,
and made the tragedian cashier and the low-comedy man head book-keeper?
"The sick man may live for years with his sickness, and the man whose
limbs are all distorted may still deal a formidable blow with his head, if
it is thick enough. The firm may prosper for a time with its staff of
theatrical clerks, provided there is enough business to pay for all their
mistakes and leave a margin of profit. But the sick man does not live
because he is diseased, but in spite of it. The distorted joints of the
cripple do not help him to fight. The firm is not rich because its
business is done by tragedians and walking-gentlemen, but in spite of
them. If the doctor fails to give his medicine, if the fighting grows too
rough for the cripple, if business grows slack, or if some good business
man with competent assistants starts a strong opposition--what happens?
What must inevitably happen? Why, the sick man dies, the cripple gets the
worst of it, and the theatrical firm of merchants goes straight into
"And so I tell you that we are in danger. We are sick with the foul
disease of office seeking; we are crippled hand and foot not only for
fighting but for working, because our public officers are inexperienced
men who spend four years in learning a trade not theirs, and are very
generally turned out before they have half learnt it; we are doing a
political business which will succeed fairly well just so long as we are
rich enough to provide funds for any amount of extravagance and keep
enough in our pockets to buy bread and cheese with afterwards. Just so
"When we have been lanced here in Boston and the blood is running freely,
we can still cut a slice out of the West and use it like court-plaster to
stop the bleeding. Some day there will be no more slices to be had. It
will be a bad day in State Street."
This remark raised a laugh and a good deal of noise for a moment. But the
audience were soon silent again. Whether they meant to approve or
disapprove, they kept their opinions to themselves. Miss Thorn did not
comprehend the allusion, but she was listening with all her ears.
"You understand that," John went on. "Then understand it about the rest of
the country as well. Understand that we are all the time patching our
income with our capital; and it answers pretty well because there is a
good deal of capital and not so very many of ourselves, as yet. There will
be twice as many of us in a few years, and very much less than half as
much capital. Understand above all that we are getting into bad habits--
habits we should despise in a corporation, and condemn by very bad names
in any individual man of our acquaintance.
"And when you have understood it, look at matters as they stand. Look at
the incompetence of our public officers, look at our ruined carrying
trade, at those vile enactions of fools, and worse than fools, the
Navigation Laws of the United States, and tell me whether things are as
they should be. Tell me what has become of liberty if you cannot buy a
ship where you can get her best and cheapest, and hoist your own flag upon
her, and call her your own? You may pay for her and bring her home with
you, but though she were ten times paid for, you cannot hoist the American
flag, nor register her in your own port, nor claim the protection of your
country for your own property--because, forsooth, the ship was not built
on American stocks, where she would cost three times her value, and put a
job into the hands of a set of builders of river steamboats and harbor
Loud murmurs ran through the audience, and cries of "That's so!" and
counter cries of "Freetrader!" were heard on all sides. John's great voice
rang out like a trumpet. He knew the sensitiveness of his townsmen on the
"I am not speaking against protection," he said, and at the magic word
"protection" a dead silence again fell over the vast crowd. "I say to you,
'Protect!' Protect, all of you, merchants, tradesmen, the great body of
the commerce of this country; protect whatever you all decide together
needs protection. But by the greatness and the power you have, by the
Heaven that gave us this land of ours to till and to enjoy, protect also
yourselves and your liberties."
A patriotic phrase in the mouth of a man who has the golden gift of
speech, coupled with the statement of a principle popular with his
audience, is a sure point in an oration. Something in John's tone and
gesture touched the sympathetic chord, and the house broke out in a great
cry of applause.
An orator cannot always talk in strict logical sequence. He must search
about for the right nail till he has found it, and then drive it home.
"Aye, that is the point," he said. "You men of Boston here, look to your
harbors, crowded with English craft, and think of what is gone, lost to
you forever, unless you will strike a blow for it. Many of you are old
enough to remember how it used to be. Look at Salem Harbor, at Marblehead.
Where are the fleets of noble ships that lay side by side along the great
docks, the ships that did half the carrying trade of the world? Where are
the great merchantmen that used to sail so grandly away to the East and
that came home so richly laden? They are sunk or gone to pieces, or sold
as old timber and copper and nails to the gentlemen who build mudscows.
What are the great merchants doing who owned those fleets? They are
employing their time in building railroads with English iron and foreign
labor into desolate deserts in the West, which they hope to sell for a
handsome profit, and probably will. But when there are no more desolate
deserts and English iron and foreign labor to be had, they will wish they
had their ships again, and that in all these years they had got possession
of the carrying trade of the world, as they might have done.
"That is what I am here to say. The time is come to give up the shifts and
unstable expedients that we needed, or thought we needed, in our early
beginnings. Let us pull down all these scaffoldings and stages that have
helped us to build, and let us see whether our fabric will stand upon its
base, erect, without the paltry support of a few rotting timbers. Let us
substitute the permanent for the transitory, the stable for the unstable,
and the reality for the sham. Let us have a Civil Service in fact as well
as in name, a service of men trained to their duties, and who shall spend
their lives in fulfilling them; a service of competent men to represent us
abroad, and a service of honest men to do the country's business at home,
instead of making the country do theirs and being paid for it into the
bargain. Let us put men into Congress who will cover the seas with our
ships again, as well as make our harbors impassable with a competition of
cheap ferry-boats. Begin here, as you began here more than a hundred years
ago, and as you succeeded then you will succeed now.
"Begin, and go on, and God prosper you; and when the work is done, when
bribery and extortion and all corruption are crushed forever out of our
public life, when the Navigation Act is a thing of the past, and you are
again the carriers of the world's commerce as well as the greatest sharers
in it, then it will be time enough to give a name to the men who shall
have done all these things, Republicans and Democrats together, a new
party, the last and the greatest of all parties that the country has ever
seen. You will find a name, surely enough, that will answer the purpose
then; but whatever that name may be, it will not be forgotten that, for
the third time in the history of our land, Massachusetts has struck the
first and the strongest blow in the struggle for liberty, honor, and
Few men in public life had as good a right as John Harrington to denounce
all manner of dishonesty. Many a speaker would have raised a sneering
laugh by that last phrase, but even John's enemies admitted that his hands
were clean. Coming from one of themselves it was a strong appeal, and the
applause was long and loud. With a courteous inclination John turned and
left the platform through the door at the back.
He was well enough satisfied. His hearers had been moved for a moment to
enthusiasm. They would go home and on mature reflection would not agree
with him; but a blow struck is a point in the fight so long as it is felt
at all, and John was well pleased at the reception he had met with. He had
avoided every detail, and had confined himself to the widest generalities,
but his homely illustrations would not be forgotten, and his strong
individuality had created a sincere desire in many who had been there that
night to hear him speak again.
For some minutes after John had left the platform, Josephine sat unmoved
in her seat beside her aunt, lost in thought as she watched the surging
"Well," said Miss Schenectady, "you have heard John Harrington now." Joe
started. She had grown used to the implied interrogation her aunt usually
conveyed in that way.
"He is a great man, Aunt Zoe," she said quietly, and looked round. There
was a moisture in her beautiful brown eyes that told of great excitement.
She was very pale too, and looked tired.
"Yes, my dear," said Aunt Zoruiah. "But we had better go home right away,
Joe darling. You are so pale, I suppose you must be a good deal used up."
"Allow me to see you to your carriage," said Pocock Vancouver in dulcet
tones, coming up to the two ladies as they rose.
"Why can't you get in, Mr. Vancouver?" inquired Miss Schenectady, when she
and Joe were at last packed into the deep booby. It was simply a form of
invitation. There was no reason why Mr. Vancouver should not get in, and
with a word of thanks he did so. Ten minutes later the three were seated
round the fire in Miss Schenectady's drawing-room.
"It was very fine, was it not, Miss Thorn?" said Vancouver.
"Yes," said Joe, staring at the fire.
"There are some people," said Miss Schenectady, "it does not seem to make
much difference what they say, but it is always fine."
"Is that ironical?" asked Vancouver.
"Why, goodness gracious no! Of course not! I am John Harrington's very
best friend. I only mean to say."
"What, Aunt Zoe ?" inquired Joe, not yet altogether accustomed to the
peculiar implications of her aunt's language.
"Why, what I said, of course; it sounds very fine."
"Then you do not believe it all?" asked Vancouver.
"I don't understand politics," said the old lady. "You might ring the
bell, Joe, and ask Sarah for some tea."
"Nobody understands politics," said Vancouver. "When people do, there will
be an end of them. Politics consist in one half of the world trying to
drive paradoxes down the throats of the other half."
Joe laughed a little.
"I do not know anything about politics here," she said, "though I do at
home, of course. I must say, though, Mr. Harrington did not seem so very
"Oh no," answered Vancouver, blandly, "I did not mean in this case.
Harrington is very much in earnest. But it is like war, you see. When
every one understands it thoroughly, it will stop by universal consent.
Did you ever read Bulwer's 'Coming Race'?"
"Yes," said Joe. "I always read those books. _Vril_, and that sort of
thing, you mean? Oh yes."
"Approximately," answered Vancouver. "It was an allegory, you know. A
hundred years hence people will write a book to explain what Bulwer meant.
_Vril_ stands for the cumulative power of potential science, of
"I think Bulwer's word shorter, and a good deal easier to understand,"
said Joe, laughing.
"It is a great thing to be great," remarked Miss Schenectady. "Sarah, I
think you might bring us some tea, please, and ask John if he couldn't
stir the furnace a little. And then to have people explain you. Goethe
must be a good deal amused, I expect, when people write books to prove
that Byron was Euphorion." Miss Schenectady was fond of German literature,
and the extent of her reading was a constant surprise to her niece.
"What a lot of things you know, Aunt Zoe !" said Joe. "But what had Bulwer
to do with war, Mr. Vancouver?"
"Oh, in the book--the 'Coming Race,' you know--they abolished war because
they could kill each other so easily."
"How nice that would be!" exclaimed Joe, looking at him.
"Why, you perfectly shock me, Joe," cried Miss Schenectady.
"I mean, to have no war," returned Joe, sweetly.
"Oh; I belonged to the Peace Conference myself," said her aunt,
immediately pacified. "Well, yes. Perhaps you could bring us a little
cake, Sarah? War is a terrible thing, my dear, as Mr. Vancouver will tell
Vancouver, however, was silent. He probably did not care to have it
remembered that he was old enough to carry a musket in the Rebellion. Joe
understood and asked no Questions about it, and Vancouver was grateful for
her tact. She rose and began to pour out some tea.
"You began talking about Mr. Harrington's speech," said she presently,
"but we got away from the subject. Is it all true?"
"That is scarcely a fair question, Miss Thorn," answered Vancouver. "You
see, I belong to the opposite party in politics."
"But Mr. Harrington said he wanted both parties to combine. Besides, you
do not take any active part in it all."
"I have very strong opinions, nevertheless," replied Pocock.
"Strong opinions and activity ought to go together," said Joe.
"But if you have strong opinions and disagree with Mr. Harrington,"
persisted Miss Thorn, "then you have a strong opinion against your two
parties acting together for the common good."
"Not exactly that," said Vancouver, embarrassed between the directness of
Joe's question and a very strong impression that he had better not say
anything against John Harrington.
"Then what do you believe? Will you please give this cup to Miss
Vancouver rose quickly to escape.
"Cream and sugar, Miss Schenectady?" he said. "Ah, Miss Thorn has already
put them in. It is such celebrated tea of yours! Do you know, I always
look forward to a cup of it as one of the greatest pleasures in life!"
"When you have quite done praising the tea, will you please tell me what
you believe about Mr. Harrington's speech?" said the inexorable Joe,
drowning her aunt's reply to Vancouver's polite remark.
Thus cornered, Vancouver faced the difficulty.
"I believe it was a very good speech," he said mildly.
"Do you believe what he said was true?"
"A great deal of it was true, but I assure you that Harrington is very
enthusiastic. Much of it was extremely imaginative."
"I dare say; all that about making a Civil Service, I suppose?"
"Well, not exactly. I think all good Republicans hope to have a regular
Civil Service some day. It is necessary, or will be so before long."
"But then it is what he said about that ridiculous Navigation Act that you
object to?" pursued Joe, without mercy.
"Really, I think it would be an advantage to repeal it. It is only kept up
for the sake of a few builders who have influence."
"Ah, I see," exclaimed Joe triumphantly, "you think the hope he expressed
that bribery and that sort of thing might be suppressed was altogether
"I hope not, Miss Thorn. But I am sure there is not nearly so much of it
as he made out. It was a very great exaggeration."
"Was there? Really, he only used the word once in the most general way. I
remember very well, at the end; he said, 'when bribery, corruption, and
all extortion are crushed forever;' anybody might say that!"
"You make out a wonderfully good case, Miss Thorn," said Vancouver, who
was not altogether pleased; "was the speech printed before Harrington
spoke it this evening?"
"No!" exclaimed Joe. "I have a very good memory, in that way, just to
remember what I hear. I could repeat word for word everything he said, and
everything you have said since during the evening."
"What a terrible person you are!" said Vancouver, smiling pleasantly.
"Well, then, now that you have proved every word of Harrington's speech
out of an opponent's evidence, I will tell you frankly how it is that I do
not agree with him. He is a Democrat, I am a Republican. That is the whole
story. I do not believe, nor shall I ever believe, that any large number
of the two parties can work together. I cannot help my belief in the
least; it is a matter of conscience. Nevertheless, I have a very great
respect for Harrington, and as I take no active part whatever in any
political contest, my opinion of his politics will never interfere with my
personal feeling for him."
Frankness seemed to be Mr. Vancouver's strong point. Joe was obliged to
admit that he spoke clearly, even if she did not greatly respect his
logic. During all this time, Miss Schenectady had been sipping her tea in
"Joe," she said at last, "you are a perfect Socrates for questions. You
ought to have been a lawyer."
"I wish I were," said Joe, laughing, "or Socrates himself."
"Yes, you ought to have been. Here you know nothing at all about this
thing, and you have been talking like anything for half an hour. I think
Socrates was perfectly horrid."
"So do I," said Vancouver, laughing aloud.
"Why?" Joe asked, turning to her aunt.
"To be always stopping people in the street, and button-holing them with
his questions. Of course it was very clever, as Plato makes it out; but I
do wish he could have met me--when I was young, my dear. I would have
answered him once and for all!"
"Try me, Aunt Zoe, for practice," said Joe, "until you meet him."
"Really, I expect you would do almost as well. Look at Mr. Vancouver, he
is quite used up."
The case was not so serious with Mr. Vancouver as the old lady made it out
to be. He was silent and to all intents vanquished for the present, but it
was not long before he turned the conversation to other things, and
succeeded in making himself very agreeable. He admired Josephine very
much, and though she occasionally made him feel very uncomfortable, he
always returned to the charge with renewed intelligence and sweetness. Joe
liked him too, in spite of an unfounded suspicion she felt that he was
dangerous. He was always ready when she needed anything at a party; he
never bored her, but whenever he saw she was wearied by any one else he
came up and saved her, clearing a place for himself at her side with an
ease that bespoke long and constant experience of the world. Women,
especially young women, always like men of that description; they are
flattered at the attention of a man who is so evidently able to choose,
and they enjoy the immunity from all annoyance and weariness that such men
are able to carry with them.
Consequently Joe accepted the attentions of Pocock Vancouver with a
certain amount of satisfaction, and she had not been displeased that he
should come to Miss Schenectady's house for tea. The evening passed
quickly, and Vancouver took his leave. As he opened the front door to let
himself out he nearly fell over a small telegraph messenger.
"Thorn here?" inquired the boy, laconically.
"Yes, I'll take it in," said Vancouver quickly. He went back with the
telegram, and the boy stood inside the door waiting for the receipt. He
noticed the stamp of the Cable Office on the envelope.
"Miss Thorn," said Vancouver, entering the drawing-room again, hat in
hand, "I just met this telegram on the steps, so I brought it in. It may
need an answer, you know."
"Thanks, so much," said Joe, tearing open the pale yellow cover. She was
startled, not being accustomed to receive telegrams. Her brow contracted
as she read the contents, and she tapped her small foot on the carpet
THORN, care Schenectady,
Josephine crushed the paper in her hand and signed the receipt with the
pencil Vancouver offered her.
"Thanks, so much," she said again, but in a different tone of voice.
"Any answer?" suggested Vancouver.
"Thanks, no," answered Joe. "Good-night again."
"Good-night." And Vancouver departed, wondering what the message could
Miss Schenectady had looked on calmly throughout the little scene, and
nodded to Pocock as he left the room; her peculiarities were chiefly those
of diction; she was a well-bred old lady, not without wisdom.
"Nothing wrong, Joe?" she inquired, when alone with her niece.
"I hardly know," answered Joe. "Ronald has just sailed from England. I
suppose he will be here in ten days."
"Business here?" asked Miss Schenectady.
"Oh dear, no! He knows nothing about business. I wish he would stay at
home. What a bore!"
It was evident that Joe had changed her mind since she had written to
Ronald a fortnight before. It seemed to her now, when she looked forward
to Surbiton's coming, that he would not find his place in Boston society
so easily as she had done. Of course he would expect to see her every day,
and to spend all his leisure hours at Miss Schenectady's house. Whatever
she happened to be doing, it would always be necessary to take Ronald into
consideration, and the prospect did not please her at all.
Ronald was a dear good fellow, of course, and she meant to marry him in
the end--at least, she probably would. But then, she intended to marry him
at a more convenient season, some time in the future. She knew him well,
and she was certain that when he saw her surrounded by her Boston
acquaintances, his British nature would assert itself, and he would claim
her, or try to claim her, and persuade her to go away. She bid Miss
Schenectady good night, and went to her room; and presently, when she was
sure every one was in bed in the house, she stole down to the drawing-room
again, and sat alone by the remains of the coal-fire, thinking what she
Josephine Thorn was young and more full of life and activity than most
girls of her age. She enjoyed what came in her way to enjoy with a
passionate zest, and she had the reputation of being somewhat capricious
and changeable. But she was honest in all her thoughts, and very clear-
sighted. People often said she spoke her mind too freely, and was not
enough in awe of the veiled deity known in society as "The Thing." How
she hated it! How many times she had been told that what she said and did
was not quite "The Thing." She knew now what Ronald would say when he
came, if he found her worshiped on all sides by Pocock Vancouver and his
younger and less accomplished compeers. Ronald would say "it was rather
rough, you know."
She sat by the fire and thought the matter over, and when she came to
formulating in her mind the exact words that Ronald would say, she paused
to think of him and how he would look. He was handsome--far handsomer than
Vancouver or--or John Harrington. He was very nice; much nicer than
Vancouver. John Harrington was different, "nice" did not describe him; but
Ronald was nicer than all the other men she knew. He would make a charming
husband. At the thought Joe started.
"My husband!" she repeated aloud to herself in the silence. Then she rose
quickly to her feet and leaned against the smooth white marble
mantelpiece, and buried her face in her small white hands for an instant.
"Oh no, no, no, no!" she cried aloud. "It is impossible; oh no! never! I
never really meant it; did I?" She stared at herself in the glass for a
few seconds, and her face was very pale. Then she bent over her hands
again, and the tears came and wetted them a little, and at last she sat
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