The Gilded Age, Complete
Mark Twain and Charles Dudley Warner
Part 5 out of 9
detriment of his business both in New York and Washington. The society
at the Bolton's might have been a valid excuse for neglecting business
much more important than his. Philip was there; he was a partner with
Mr. Bolton now in the new coal venture, concerning which there was much
to be arranged in preparation for the Spring work, and Philip lingered
week after week in the hospitable house. Alice was making a winter
visit. Ruth only went to town twice a week to attend lectures, and the
household was quite to Mr. Bolton's taste, for he liked the cheer of
company and something going on evenings. Harry was cordially asked to
bring his traveling-bag there, and he did not need urging to do so.
Not even the thought of seeing Laura at the capital made him restless in
the society of the two young ladies; two birds in hand are worth one in
the bush certainly.
Philip was at home--he sometimes wished he were not so much so. He felt
that too much or not enough was taken for granted. Ruth had met him,
when he first came, with a cordial frankness, and her manner continued
entirely unrestrained. She neither sought his company nor avoided it,
and this perfectly level treatment irritated him more than any other
could have done. It was impossible to advance much in love-making with
one who offered no obstacles, had no concealments and no embarrassments,
and whom any approach to sentimentality would be quite likely to set into
a fit of laughter.
"Why, Phil," she would say, "what puts you in the dumps to day? You are
as solemn as the upper bench in Meeting. I shall have to call Alice to
raise your spirits; my presence seems to depress you."
"It's not your presence, but your absence when you are present," began
Philip, dolefully, with the idea that he was saying a rather deep thing.
"But you won't understand me."
"No, I confess I cannot. If you really are so low, as to think I am
absent when I am present, it's a frightful case of aberration; I shall
ask father to bring out Dr. Jackson. Does Alice appear to be present
when she is absent?"
"Alice has some human feeling, anyway. She cares for something besides
musty books and dry bones. I think, Ruth, when I die," said Philip,
intending to be very grim and sarcastic, "I'll leave you my skeleton.
You might like that."
"It might be more cheerful than you are at times," Ruth replied with a
laugh. "But you mustn't do it without consulting Alice. She might not.
"I don't know why you should bring Alice up on every occasion. Do you
think I am in love with her?"
"Bless you, no. It never entered my head. Are you? The thought of
Philip Sterling in love is too comical. I thought you were only in love
with the Ilium coal mine, which you and father talk about half the time."
This is a specimen of Philip's wooing. Confound the girl, he would say
to himself, why does she never tease Harry and that young Shepley who
How differently Alice treated him. She at least never mocked him, and it
was a relief to talk with one who had some sympathy with him. And he did
talk to her, by the hour, about Ruth. The blundering fellow poured all
his doubts and anxieties into her ear, as if she had been the impassive
occupant of one of those little wooden confessionals in the Cathedral on
Logan Square. Has, a confessor, if she is young and pretty, any feeling?
Does it mend the matter by calling her your sister?
Philip called Alice his good sister, and talked to her about love and
marriage, meaning Ruth, as if sisters could by no possibility have any
personal concern in such things. Did Ruth ever speak of him? Did she
think Ruth cared for him? Did Ruth care for anybody at Fallkill? Did
she care for anything except her profession? And so on.
Alice was loyal to Ruth, and if she knew anything she did not betray her
friend. She did not, at any rate, give Philip too much encouragement.
What woman, under the circumstances, would?
"I can tell you one thing, Philip," she said, "if ever Ruth Bolton loves,
it will be with her whole soul, in a depth of passion that will sweep
everything before it and surprise even herself."
A remark that did not much console Philip, who imagined that only some
grand heroism could unlock the sweetness of such a heart; and Philip
feared that he wasn't a hero. He did not know out of what materials a
woman can construct a hero, when she is in the creative mood.
Harry skipped into this society with his usual lightness and gaiety.
His good nature was inexhaustible, and though he liked to relate his own
exploits, he had a little tact in adapting himself to the tastes of his
hearers. He was not long in finding out that Alice liked to hear about
Philip, and Harry launched out into the career of his friend in the West,
with a prodigality of invention that would have astonished the chief
actor. He was the most generous fellow in the world, and picturesque
conversation was the one thing in which he never was bankrupt. With Mr.
Bolton he was the serious man of business, enjoying the confidence of
many of the monied men in New York, whom Mr. Bolton knew, and engaged
with them in railway schemes and government contracts. Philip, who had
so long known Harry, never could make up his mind that Harry did not
himself believe that he was a chief actor in all these large operations
of which he talked so much.
Harry did not neglect to endeavor to make himself agreeable to Mrs.
Bolton, by paying great attention to the children, and by professing the
warmest interest in the Friends' faith. It always seemed to him the most
peaceful religion; he thought it must be much easier to live by an
internal light than by a lot of outward rules; he had a dear Quaker aunt
in Providence of whom Mrs. Bolton constantly reminded him. He insisted
upon going with Mrs. Bolton and the children to the Friends Meeting on
First Day, when Ruth and Alice and Philip, "world's people," went to a
church in town, and he sat through the hour of silence with his hat on,
in most exemplary patience. In short, this amazing actor succeeded so
well with Mrs. Bolton, that she said to Philip one day,
"Thy friend, Henry Brierly, appears to be a very worldly minded young
man. Does he believe in anything?"
"Oh, yes," said Philip laughing, "he believes in more things than any
other person I ever saw."
To Ruth, Harry seemed to be very congenial. He was never moody for one
thing, but lent himself with alacrity to whatever her fancy was. He was
gay or grave as the need might be. No one apparently could enter more
fully into her plans for an independent career.
"My father," said Harry, "was bred a physician, and practiced a little
before he went into Wall street. I always had a leaning to the study.
There was a skeleton hanging in the closet of my father's study when I
was a boy, that I used to dress up in old clothes. Oh, I got quite
familiar with the human frame."
"You must have," said Philip. "Was that where you learned to play the
bones? He is a master of those musical instruments, Ruth; he plays well
enough to go on the stage."
"Philip hates science of any kind, and steady application," retorted
Harry. He didn't fancy Philip's banter, and when the latter had gone
out, and Ruth asked,
"Why don't you take up medicine, Mr. Brierly?"
Harry said, "I have it in mind. I believe I would begin attending
lectures this winter if it weren't for being wanted in Washington. But
medicine is particularly women's province."
"Why so?" asked Ruth, rather amused.
"Well, the treatment of disease is a good deal a matter of sympathy.
A woman's intuition is better than a man's. Nobody knows anything,
really, you know, and a woman can guess a good deal nearer than a man."
"You are very complimentary to my sex."
"But," said Harry frankly; "I should want to choose my doctor; an ugly
woman would ruin me, the disease would be sure to strike in and kill me
at sight of her. I think a pretty physician, with engaging manners,
would coax a fellow to live through almost anything."
"I am afraid you are a scoffer, Mr. Brierly."
"On the contrary, I am quite sincere. Wasn't it old what's his name?
that said only the beautiful is useful?"
Whether Ruth was anything more than diverted with Harry's company; Philip
could not determine. He scorned at any rate to advance his own interest
by any disparaging communications about Harry, both because he could not
help liking the fellow himself, and because he may have known that he
could not more surely create a sympathy for him in Ruth's mind. That
Ruth was in no danger of any serious impression he felt pretty sure,
felt certain of it when he reflected upon her severe occupation with her
profession. Hang it, he would say to himself, she is nothing but pure
intellect anyway. And he only felt uncertain of it when she was in one
of her moods of raillery, with mocking mischief in her eyes. At such
times she seemed to prefer Harry's society to his. When Philip was
miserable about this, he always took refuge with Alice, who was never
moody, and who generally laughed him out of his sentimental nonsense.
He felt at his ease with Alice, and was never in want of something to
talk about; and he could not account for the fact that he was so often
dull with Ruth, with whom, of all persons in the world, he wanted to
appear at his best.
Harry was entirely satisfied with his own situation. A bird of passage
is always at its ease, having no house to build, and no responsibility.
He talked freely with Philip about Ruth, an almighty fine girl, he said,
but what the deuce she wanted to study medicine for, he couldn't see.
There was a concert one night at the Musical Fund Hall and the four had
arranged to go in and return by the Germantown cars. It was Philip's
plan, who had engaged the seats, and promised himself an evening with
Ruth, walking with her, sitting by her in the hall, and enjoying the
feeling of protecting that a man always has of a woman in a public place.
He was fond of music, too, in a sympathetic way; at least, he knew that
Ruth's delight in it would be enough for him.
Perhaps he meant to take advantage of the occasion to say some very
serious things. His love for Ruth was no secret to Mrs. Bolton, and he
felt almost sure that he should have no opposition in the family. Mrs.
Bolton had been cautious in what she said, but Philip inferred everything
from her reply to his own questions, one day, "Has thee ever spoken thy
mind to Ruth?"
Why shouldn't he speak his mind, and end his doubts? Ruth had been more
tricksy than usual that day, and in a flow of spirits quite inconsistent,
it would seem, in a young lady devoted to grave studies.
Had Ruth a premonition of Philip's intention, in his manner? It may be,
for when the girls came down stairs, ready to walk to the cars; and met
Philip and Harry in the hall, Ruth said, laughing,
"The two tallest must walk together" and before Philip knew how it
happened Ruth had taken Harry's arm, and his evening was spoiled. He had
too much politeness and good sense and kindness to show in his manner
that he was hit. So he said to Harry,
"That's your disadvantage in being short." And he gave Alice no reason
to feel during the evening that she would not have been his first choice
for the excursion. But he was none the less chagrined, and not a little
angry at the turn the affair took.
The Hall was crowded with the fashion of the town. The concert was one
of those fragmentary drearinesses that people endure because they are
fashionable; tours de force on the piano, and fragments from operas,
which have no meaning without the setting, with weary pauses of waiting
between; there is the comic basso who is so amusing and on such familiar
terms with the audience, and always sings the Barber; the attitudinizing
tenor, with his languishing "Oh, Summer Night;" the soprano with her
"Batti Batti," who warbles and trills and runs and fetches her breath,
and ends with a noble scream that brings down a tempest of applause in
the midst of which she backs off the stage smiling and bowing. It was
this sort of concert, and Philip was thinking that it was the most stupid
one he ever sat through, when just as the soprano was in the midst of
that touching ballad, "Comin' thro' the Rye" (the soprano always sings
"Comin' thro' the Rye" on an encore)--the Black Swan used to make it
irresistible, Philip remembered, with her arch, "If a body kiss a body"
there was a cry of "Fire!"
The hall is long and narrow, and there is only one place of egress.
Instantly the audience was on its feet, and a rush began for the door.
Men shouted, women screamed, and panic seized the swaying mass.
A second's thought would have convinced every one that getting out was
impossible, and that the only effect of a rush would be to crash people
to death. But a second's thought was not given. A few cried:
"Sit down, sit down," but the mass was turned towards the door. Women
were down and trampled on in the aisles, and stout men, utterly lost to
self-control, were mounting the benches, as if to run a race over the
mass to the entrance.
Philip who had forced the girls to keep their seats saw, in a flash, the
new danger, and sprang to avert it. In a second more those infuriated
men would be over the benches and crushing Ruth and Alice under their
boots. He leaped upon the bench in front of them and struck out before
him with all his might, felling one man who was rushing on him, and
checking for an instant the movement, or rather parting it, and causing
it to flow on either side of him. But it was only for an instant; the
pressure behind was too great, and, the next Philip was dashed backwards
over the seat.
And yet that instant of arrest had probably saved the girls, for as
Philip fell, the orchestra struck up "Yankee Doodle" in the liveliest
manner. The familiar tune caught the ear of the mass, which paused in
wonder, and gave the conductor's voice a chance to be heard--"It's a
The tumult was over in a minute, and the next, laughter was heard, and
not a few said, "I knew it wasn't anything." "What fools people are at
such a time."
The concert was over, however. A good many people were hurt, some of
them seriously, and among them Philip Sterling was found bent across the
seat, insensible, with his left arm hanging limp and a bleeding wound on
When he was carried into the air he revived, and said it was nothing.
A surgeon was called, and it was thought best to drive at once to the
Bolton's, the surgeon supporting Philip, who did not speak the whole way.
His arm was set and his head dressed, and the surgeon said he would come
round all right in his mind by morning; he was very weak. Alice who was
not much frightened while the panic lasted in the hall, was very much
unnerved by seeing Philip so pale and bloody. Ruth assisted the surgeon
with the utmost coolness and with skillful hands helped to dress Philip's
wounds. And there was a certain intentness and fierce energy in what she
did that might have revealed something to Philip if he had been in his
But he was not, or he would not have murmured "Let Alice do it, she is
not too tall."
It was Ruth's first case.
Washington's delight in his beautiful sister was measureless. He said
that she had always been the queenliest creature in the land, but that
she was only commonplace before, compared to what she was now, so
extraordinary was the improvement wrought by rich fashionable attire.
"But your criticisms are too full of brotherly partiality to be depended
on, Washington. Other people will judge differently."
"Indeed they won't. You'll see. There will never be a woman in
Washington that can compare with you. You'll be famous within a
fortnight, Laura. Everybody will want to know you. You wait--you'll
Laura wished in her heart that the prophecy might come true; and
privately she even believed it might--for she had brought all the women
whom she had seen since she left home under sharp inspection, and the
result had not been unsatisfactory to her.
During a week or two Washington drove about the city every day with her
and familiarized her with all of its salient features. She was beginning
to feel very much at home with the town itself, and she was also fast
acquiring ease with the distinguished people she met at the Dilworthy
table, and losing what little of country timidity she had brought with
her from Hawkeye. She noticed with secret pleasure the little start of
admiration that always manifested itself in the faces of the guests when
she entered the drawing-room arrayed in evening costume: she took
comforting note of the fact that these guests directed a very liberal
share of their conversation toward her; she observed with surprise, that
famous statesmen and soldiers did not talk like gods, as a general thing,
but said rather commonplace things for the most part; and she was filled
with gratification to discover that she, on the contrary, was making a
good many shrewd speeches and now and then a really brilliant one, and
furthermore, that they were beginning to be repeated in social circles
about the town.
Congress began its sittings, and every day or two Washington escorted her
to the galleries set apart for lady members of the households of Senators
and Representatives. Here was a larger field and a wider competition,
but still she saw that many eyes were uplifted toward her face, and that
first one person and then another called a neighbor's attention to her;
she was not too dull to perceive that the speeches of some of the younger
statesmen were delivered about as much and perhaps more at her than to
the presiding officer; and she was not sorry to see that the dapper young
Senator from Iowa came at once and stood in the open space before the
president's desk to exhibit his feet as soon as she entered the gallery,
whereas she had early learned from common report that his usual custom
was to prop them on his desk and enjoy them himself with a selfish
disregard of other people's longings.
Invitations began to flow in upon her and soon she was fairly "in
society." "The season" was now in full bloom, and the first select
reception was at hand that is to say, a reception confined to invited
guests. Senator Dilworthy had become well convinced; by this time, that
his judgment of the country-bred Missouri girl had not deceived him--it
was plain that she was going to be a peerless missionary in the field of
labor he designed her for, and therefore it would be perfectly safe and
likewise judicious to send her forth well panoplied for her work.--So he
had added new and still richer costumes to her wardrobe, and assisted
their attractions with costly jewelry-loans on the future land sale.
This first select reception took place at a cabinet minister's--or rather
a cabinet secretary's mansion. When Laura and the Senator arrived, about
half past nine or ten in the evening, the place was already pretty well
crowded, and the white-gloved negro servant at the door was still
receiving streams of guests.--The drawing-rooms were brilliant with
gaslight, and as hot as ovens. The host and hostess stood just within
the door of entrance; Laura was presented, and then she passed on into
the maelstrom of be-jeweled and richly attired low-necked ladies and
white-kid-gloved and steel pen-coated gentlemen and wherever she moved
she was followed by a buzz of admiration that was grateful to all her
senses--so grateful, indeed, that her white face was tinged and its
beauty heightened by a perceptible suffusion of color. She caught such
remarks as, "Who is she?" "Superb woman!" "That is the new beauty from
the west," etc., etc.
Whenever she halted, she was presently surrounded by Ministers, Generals,
Congressmen, and all manner of aristocratic, people. Introductions
followed, and then the usual original question, "How do you like
Washington, Miss Hawkins?" supplemented by that other usual original
question, "Is this your first visit?"
These two exciting topics being exhausted, conversation generally drifted
into calmer channels, only to be interrupted at frequent intervals by new
introductions and new inquiries as to how Laura liked the capital and
whether it was her first visit or not. And thus for an hour or more the
Duchess moved through the crush in a rapture of happiness, for her doubts
were dead and gone, now she knew she could conquer here. A familiar face
appeared in the midst of the multitude and Harry Brierly fought his
difficult way to her side, his eyes shouting their gratification, so to
"Oh, this is a happiness! Tell me, my dear Miss Hawkins--"
"Sh! I know what you are going to ask. I do like Washington--I like it
ever so much!"
"No, but I was going to ask--"
"Yes, I am coming to it, coming to it as fast as I can. It is my first
visit. I think you should know that yourself."
And straightway a wave of the crowd swept her beyond his reach.
"Now what can the girl mean? Of course she likes Washington--I'm not
such a dummy as to have to ask her that. And as to its being her first
visit, why bang it, she knows that I knew it was. Does she think I have
turned idiot? Curious girl, anyway. But how they do swarm about her!
She is the reigning belle of Washington after this night. She'll know
five hundred of the heaviest guns in the town before this night's
nonsense is over. And this isn't even the beginning. Just as I used to
say--she'll be a card in the matter of--yes sir! She shall turn the
men's heads and I'll turn the women's! What a team that will be in
politics here. I wouldn't take a quarter of a million for what I can do
in this present session--no indeed I wouldn't. Now, here--I don't
altogether like this. That insignificant secretary of legation is--why,
she's smiling on him as if he--and now on the Admiral! Now she's
illuminating that, stuffy Congressman from Massachusetts--vulgar
ungrammatcal shovel-maker--greasy knave of spades. I don't like this
sort of thing. She doesn't appear to be much distressed about me--she
hasn't looked this way once. All right, my bird of Paradise, if it suits
you, go on. But I think I know your sex. I'll go to smiling around a
little, too, and see what effect that will have on you"
And he did "smile around a little," and got as near to her as he could to
watch the effect, but the scheme was a failure--he could not get her
attention. She seemed wholly unconscious of him, and so he could not
flirt with any spirit; he could only talk disjointedly; he could not keep
his eyes on the charmers he talked to; he grew irritable, jealous, and
very, unhappy. He gave up his enterprise, leaned his shoulder against a
fluted pilaster and pouted while he kept watch upon Laura's every
movement. His other shoulder stole the bloom from many a lovely cheek
that brushed him in the surging crush, but he noted it not. He was too
busy cursing himself inwardly for being an egotistical imbecile. An hour
ago he had thought to take this country lass under his protection and
show her "life" and enjoy her wonder and delight--and here she was,
immersed in the marvel up to her eyes, and just a trifle more at home in
it than he was himself. And now his angry comments ran on again:
"Now she's sweetening old Brother Balaam; and he--well he is inviting her
to the Congressional prayer-meeting, no doubt--better let old Dilworthy
alone to see that she doesn't overlook that. And now its Splurge, of New
York; and now its Batters of New Hampshire--and now the Vice President!
Well I may as well adjourn. I've got enough."
But he hadn't. He got as far as the door--and then struggled back to
take one more look, hating himself all the while for his weakness.
Toward midnight, when supper was announced, the crowd thronged to the
supper room where a long table was decked out with what seemed a rare
repast, but which consisted of things better calculated to feast the eye
than the appetite. The ladies were soon seated in files along the wall,
and in groups here and there, and the colored waiters filled the plates
and glasses and the, male guests moved hither and thither conveying them
to the privileged sex.
Harry took an ice and stood up by the table with other gentlemen, and
listened to the buzz of conversation while he ate.
From these remarks he learned a good deal about Laura that was news to
him. For instance, that she was of a distinguished western family; that
she was highly educated; that she was very rich and a great landed
heiress; that she was not a professor of religion, and yet was a
Christian in the truest and best sense of the word, for her whole heart
was devoted to the accomplishment of a great and noble enterprise--none
other than the sacrificing of her landed estates to the uplifting of the
down-trodden negro and the turning of his erring feet into the way of
light and righteousness. Harry observed that as soon as one listener had
absorbed the story, he turned about and delivered it to his next neighbor
and the latter individual straightway passed it on. And thus he saw it
travel the round of the gentlemen and overflow rearward among the ladies.
He could not trace it backward to its fountain head, and so he could not
tell who it was that started it.
One thing annoyed Harry a great deal; and that was the reflection that he
might have been in Washington days and days ago and thrown his
fascinations about Laura with permanent effect while she was new and
strange to the capital, instead of dawdling in Philadelphia to no
purpose. He feared he had "missed a trick," as he expressed it.
He only found one little opportunity of speaking again with Laura before
the evening's festivities ended, and then, for the first time in years,
his airy self-complacency failed him, his tongue's easy confidence
forsook it in a great measure, and he was conscious of an unheroic
timidity. He was glad to get away and find a place where he could
despise himself in private and try to grow his clipped plumes again.
When Laura reached home she was tired but exultant, and Senator Dilworthy
was pleased and satisfied. He called Laura "my daughter," next morning,
and gave her some "pin money," as he termed it, and she sent a hundred
and fifty dollars of it to her mother and loaned a trifle to Col.
Sellers. Then the Senator had a long private conference with Laura, and
unfolded certain plans of his for the good of the country, and religion,
and the poor, and temperance, and showed her how she could assist him in
developing these worthy and noble enterprises.
Laura soon discovered that there were three distinct aristocracies in
Washington. One of these, (nick-named the Antiques,) consisted of
cultivated, high-bred old families who looked back with pride upon an
ancestry that had been always great in the nation's councils and its wars
from the birth of the republic downward. Into this select circle it was
difficult to gain admission. No. 2 was the aristocracy of the middle
ground--of which, more anon. No. 3 lay beyond; of it we will say a word
here. We will call it the Aristocracy of the Parvenus--as, indeed, the
general public did. Official position, no matter how obtained, entitled
a man to a place in it, and carried his family with him, no matter whence
they sprang. Great wealth gave a man a still higher and nobler place in
it than did official position. If this wealth had been acquired by
conspicuous ingenuity, with just a pleasant little spice of illegality
about it, all the better. This aristocracy was "fast," and not averse to
The aristocracy of the Antiques ignored the aristocracy of the Parvenus;
the Parvenus laughed at the Antiques, (and secretly envied them.)
There were certain important "society" customs which one in Laura's
position needed to understand. For instance, when a lady of any
prominence comes to one of our cities and takes up her residence, all the
ladies of her grade favor her in turn with an initial call, giving their
cards to the servant at the door by way of introduction. They come
singly, sometimes; sometimes in couples; and always in elaborate full
dress. They talk two minutes and a quarter and then go. If the lady
receiving the call desires a further acquaintance, she must return the
visit within two weeks; to neglect it beyond that time means "let the
matter drop." But if she does return the visit within two weeks, it then
becomes the other party's privilege to continue the acquaintance or drop
it. She signifies her willingness to continue it by calling again any
time within twelve-months; after that, if the parties go on calling upon
each other once a year, in our large cities, that is sufficient, and the
acquaintanceship holds good. The thing goes along smoothly, now.
The annual visits are made and returned with peaceful regularity and
bland satisfaction, although it is not necessary that the two ladies
shall actually see each other oftener than once every few years. Their
cards preserve the intimacy and keep the acquaintanceship intact.
For instance, Mrs. A. pays her annual visit, sits in her carriage and
sends in her card with the lower right hand corner turned down, which
signifies that she has "called in person;" Mrs. B: sends down word that
she is "engaged" or "wishes to be excused"--or if she is a Parvenu and
low-bred, she perhaps sends word that she is "not at home." Very good;
Mrs. A. drives, on happy and content. If Mrs. A.'s daughter marries,
or a child is born to the family, Mrs. B. calls, sends in her card with
the upper left hand corner turned down, and then goes along about her
affairs--for that inverted corner means "Congratulations." If Mrs. B.'s
husband falls downstairs and breaks his neck, Mrs. A. calls, leaves her
card with the upper right hand corner turned down, and then takes her
departure; this corner means "Condolence." It is very necessary to get
the corners right, else one may unintentionally condole with a friend on
a wedding or congratulate her upon a funeral. If either lady is about to
leave the city, she goes to the other's house and leaves her card with
"P. P. C." engraved under the name--which signifies, "Pay Parting Call."
But enough of etiquette. Laura was early instructed in the mysteries of
society life by a competent mentor, and thus was preserved from
The first fashionable call she received from a member of the ancient
nobility, otherwise the Antiques, was of a pattern with all she received
from that limb of the aristocracy afterward. This call was paid by Mrs.
Major-General Fulke-Fulkerson and daughter. They drove up at one in the
afternoon in a rather antiquated vehicle with a faded coat of arms on the
panels, an aged white-wooled negro coachman on the box and a younger
darkey beside him--the footman. Both of these servants were dressed in
dull brown livery that had seen considerable service.
The ladies entered the drawing-room in full character; that is to say,
with Elizabethan stateliness on the part of the dowager, and an easy
grace and dignity on the part of the young lady that had a nameless
something about it that suggested conscious superiority. The dresses of
both ladies were exceedingly rich, as to material, but as notably modest
as to color and ornament. All parties having seated themselves, the
dowager delivered herself of a remark that was not unusual in its form,
and yet it came from her lips with the impressiveness of Scripture:
"The weather has been unpropitious of late, Miss Hawkins."
"It has indeed," said Laura. "The climate seems to be variable."
"It is its nature of old, here," said the daughter--stating it apparently
as a fact, only, and by her manner waving aside all personal
responsibility on account of it. "Is it not so, mamma?"
"Quite so, my child. Do you like winter, Miss Hawkins?" She said "like"
as if she had, an idea that its dictionary meaning was "approve of."
"Not as well as summer--though I think all seasons have their charms."
"It is a very just remark. The general held similar views. He
considered snow in winter proper; sultriness in summer legitimate; frosts
in the autumn the same, and rains in spring not objectionable. He was
not an exacting man. And I call to mind now that he always admired
thunder. You remember, child, your father always admired thunder?"
"He adored it."
"No doubt it reminded him of battle," said Laura.
"Yes, I think perhaps it did. He had a great respect for Nature.
He often said there was something striking about the ocean. You remember
his saying that, daughter?"
"Yes, often, Mother. I remember it very well."
"And hurricanes... He took a great interest in hurricanes. And animals.
Dogs, especially--hunting dogs. Also comets. I think we all have our
predilections. I think it is this that gives variety to our tastes."
Laura coincided with this view.
"Do you find it hard and lonely to be so far from your home and friends,
"I do find it depressing sometimes, but then there is so much about me
here that is novel and interesting that my days are made up more of
sunshine than shadow."
"Washington is not a dull city in the season," said the young lady.
"We have some very good society indeed, and one need not be at a loss for
means to pass the time pleasantly. Are you fond of watering-places, Miss
"I have really had no experience of them, but I have always felt a strong
desire to see something of fashionable watering-place life."
"We of Washington are unfortunately situated in that respect," said the
dowager. "It is a tedious distance to Newport. But there is no help for
Laura said to herself, "Long Branch and Cape May are nearer than Newport;
doubtless these places are low; I'll feel my way a little and see." Then
she said aloud:
"Why I thought that Long Branch--"
There was no need to "feel" any further--there was that in both faces
before her which made that truth apparent. The dowager said:
"Nobody goes there, Miss Hawkins--at least only persons of no position in
society. And the President." She added that with tranquility.
"Newport is damp, and cold, and windy and excessively disagreeable," said
the daughter, "but it is very select. One cannot be fastidious about
minor matters when one has no choice."
The visit had spun out nearly three minutes, now. Both ladies rose with
grave dignity, conferred upon Laura a formal invitation to call, aid then
retired from the conference. Laura remained in the drawing-room and left
them to pilot themselves out of the house--an inhospitable thing,
it seemed to her, but then she was following her instructions. She
stood, steeped in reverie, a while, and then she said:
"I think I could always enjoy icebergs--as scenery but not as company."
Still, she knew these two people by reputation, and was aware that they
were not ice-bergs when they were in their own waters and amid their
legitimate surroundings, but on the contrary were people to be respected
for their stainless characters and esteemed for their social virtues and
their benevolent impulses. She thought it a pity that they had to be
such changed and dreary creatures on occasions of state.
The first call Laura received from the other extremity of the Washington
aristocracy followed close upon the heels of the one we have just been
describing. The callers this time were the Hon. Mrs. Oliver Higgins,
the Hon. Mrs. Patrique Oreille (pronounced O-relay,) Miss Bridget
(pronounced Breezhay) Oreille, Mrs. Peter Gashly, Miss Gashly, and Miss
The three carriages arrived at the same moment from different directions.
They were new and wonderfully shiny, and the brasses on the harness were
highly polished and bore complicated monograms. There were showy coats
of arms, too, with Latin mottoes. The coachmen and footmen were clad in
bright new livery, of striking colors, and they had black rosettes with
shaving-brushes projecting above them, on the sides of their stove-pipe
When the visitors swept into the drawing-room they filled the place with
a suffocating sweetness procured at the perfumer's. Their costumes,
as to architecture, were the latest fashion intensified; they were
rainbow-hued; they were hung with jewels--chiefly diamonds. It would
have been plain to any eye that it had cost something to upholster these
The Hon. Mrs. Oliver Higgins was the wife of a delegate from a distant
territory--a gentleman who had kept the principal "saloon," and sold the
best whiskey in the principal village in his wilderness, and so, of
course, was recognized as the first man of his commonwealth and its
He was a man of paramount influence at home, for he was public spirited,
he was chief of the fire department, he had an admirable command of
profane language, and had killed several "parties." His shirt fronts
were always immaculate; his boots daintily polished, and no man could
lift a foot and fire a dead shot at a stray speck of dirt on it with a
white handkerchief with a finer grace than he; his watch chain weighed a
pound; the gold in his finger ring was worth forty five dollars; he wore
a diamond cluster-pin and he parted his hair behind. He had always been,
regarded as the most elegant gentleman in his territory, and it was
conceded by all that no man thereabouts was anywhere near his equal in
the telling of an obscene story except the venerable white-haired
governor himself. The Hon. Higgins had not come to serve his country in
Washington for nothing. The appropriation which he had engineered
through Congress for the maintenance, of the Indians in his Territory
would have made all those savages rich if it had ever got to them.
The Hon. Mrs. Higgins was a picturesque woman, and a fluent talker, and
she held a tolerably high station among the Parvenus. Her English was
fair enough, as a general thing--though, being of New York origin, she
had the fashion peculiar to many natives of that city of pronouncing saw
and law as if they were spelt sawr and lawr.
Petroleum was the agent that had suddenly transformed the Gashlys from
modest hard-working country village folk into "loud" aristocrats and
ornaments of the city.
The Hon. Patrique Oreille was a wealthy Frenchman from Cork. Not that he
was wealthy when he first came from Cork, but just the reverse. When he
first landed in New York with his wife, he had only halted at Castle
Garden for a few minutes to receive and exhibit papers showing that he
had resided in this country two years--and then he voted the democratic
ticket and went up town to hunt a house. He found one and then went to
work as assistant to an architect and builder, carrying a hod all day and
studying politics evenings. Industry and economy soon enabled him to
start a low rum shop in a foul locality, and this gave him political
influence. In our country it is always our first care to see that our
people have the opportunity of voting for their choice of men to
represent and govern them--we do not permit our great officials to
appoint the little officials. We prefer to have so tremendous a power as
that in our own hands. We hold it safest to elect our judges and
everybody else. In our cities, the ward meetings elect delegates to the
nominating conventions and instruct them whom to nominate. The publicans
and their retainers rule the ward meetings (for every body else hates the
worry of politics and stays at home); the delegates from the ward
meetings organize as a nominating convention and make up a list of
candidates--one convention offering a democratic and another a republican
list of incorruptibles; and then the great meek public come forward at
the proper time and make unhampered choice and bless Heaven that they
live in a free land where no form of despotism can ever intrude.
Patrick O'Riley (as his name then stood) created friends and influence
very, fast, for he was always on hand at the police courts to give straw
bail for his customers or establish an alibi for them in case they had
been beating anybody to death on his premises. Consequently he presently
became a political leader, and was elected to a petty office under the
city government. Out of a meager salary he soon saved money enough to
open quite a stylish liquor saloon higher up town, with a faro bank
attached and plenty of capital to conduct it with. This gave him fame
and great respectability. The position of alderman was forced upon him,
and it was just the same as presenting him a gold mine. He had fine
horses and carriages, now, and closed up his whiskey mill.
By and by he became a large contractor for city work, and was a bosom
friend of the great and good Wm. M. Weed himself, who had stolen
$20,600,000 from the city and was a man so envied, so honored,--so
adored, indeed, that when the sheriff went to his office to arrest him as
a felon, that sheriff blushed and apologized, and one of the illustrated
papers made a picture of the scene and spoke of the matter in such a way
as to show that the editor regretted that the offense of an arrest had
been offered to so exalted a personage as Mr. Weed.
Mr. O'Riley furnished shingle nails to, the new Court House at three
thousand dollars a keg, and eighteen gross of 60-cent thermometers at
fifteen hundred dollars a dozen; the controller and the board of audit
passed the bills, and a mayor, who was simply ignorant but not criminal,
signed them. When they were paid, Mr. O'Riley's admirers gave him a
solitaire diamond pin of the size of a filbert, in imitation of the
liberality of Mr. Weed's friends, and then Mr. O'Riley retired from
active service and amused himself with buying real estate at enormous
figures and holding it in other people's names. By and by the newspapers
came out with exposures and called Weed and O'Riley "thieves,"--whereupon
the people rose as one man (voting repeatedly) and elected the two
gentlemen to their proper theatre of action, the New York legislature.
The newspapers clamored, and the courts proceeded to try the new
legislators for their small irregularities. Our admirable jury system
enabled the persecuted ex-officials to secure a jury of nine gentlemen
from a neighboring asylum and three graduates from Sing-Sing, and
presently they walked forth with characters vindicated. The legislature
was called upon to spew them forth--a thing which the legislature
declined to do. It was like asking children to repudiate their own
father. It was a legislature of the modern pattern.
Being now wealthy and distinguished, Mr. O'Riley, still bearing the
legislative "Hon." attached to his name (for titles never die in America,
although we do take a republican pride in poking fun at such trifles),
sailed for Europe with his family. They traveled all about, turning
their noses up at every thing, and not finding it a difficult thing to
do, either, because nature had originally given those features a cast in
that direction; and finally they established themselves in Paris, that
Paradise of Americans of their sort.--They staid there two years and
learned to speak English with a foreign accent--not that it hadn't always
had a foreign accent (which was indeed the case) but now the nature of it
was changed. Finally they returned home and became ultra fashionables.
They landed here as the Hon. Patrique Oreille and family, and so are
known unto this day.
Laura provided seats for her visitors and they immediately launched forth
into a breezy, sparkling conversation with that easy confidence which is
to be found only among persons accustomed to high life.
"I've been intending to call sooner, Miss Hawkins," said the Hon. Mrs.
Oreille, "but the weather's been so horrid. How do you like Washington?"
Laura liked it very well indeed.
Mrs. Gashly--"Is it your first visit?"
Yea, it was her first.
Mrs. Oreille--"I'm afraid you'll despise the weather, Miss Hawkins.
It's perfectly awful. It always is. I tell Mr. Oreille I can't and
I won't put up with any such a climate. If we were obliged to do it,
I wouldn't mind it; but we are not obliged to, and so I don't see the use
of it. Sometimes its real pitiful the way the childern pine for Parry
--don't look so sad, Bridget, 'ma chere'--poor child, she can't hear Parry
mentioned without getting the blues."
Mrs. Gashly--"Well I should think so, Mrs. Oreille. A body lives in
Paris, but a body, only stays here. I dote on Paris; I'd druther scrimp
along on ten thousand dollars a year there, than suffer and worry here on
a real decent income."
Miss Gashly--"Well then, I wish you'd take us back, mother; I'm sure I
hate this stoopid country enough, even if it is our dear native land."
Miss Emmeline Gashly--"What and leave poor Johnny Peterson behind?" [An
airy genial laugh applauded this sally].
Miss Gashly--"Sister, I should think you'd be ashamed of yourself!"
Miss Emmeline--"Oh, you needn't ruffle your feathers so: I was only
joking. He don't mean anything by coming to, the house every evening
--only comes to see mother. Of course that's all!" [General laughter].
Miss G. prettily confused--"Emmeline, how can you!"
Mrs. G.--"Let your sister alone, Emmeline. I never saw such a tease!"
Mrs. Oreille--"What lovely corals you have, Miss Hawkins! Just look at
them, Bridget, dear. I've a great passion for corals--it's a pity
they're getting a little common. I have some elegant ones--not as
elegant as yours, though--but of course I don't wear them now."
Laura--"I suppose they are rather common, but still I have a great
affection for these, because they were given to me by a dear old friend
of our family named Murphy. He was a very charming man, but very
eccentric. We always supposed he was an Irishman, but after be got rich
he went abroad for a year or two, and when he came back you would have
been amused to see how interested he was in a potato. He asked what it
was! Now you know that when Providence shapes a mouth especially for the
accommodation of a potato you can detect that fact at a glance when that
mouth is in repose--foreign travel can never remove that sign. But he
was a very delightful gentleman, and his little foible did not hurt him
at all. We all have our shams--I suppose there is a sham somewhere about
every individual, if we could manage to ferret it out. I would so like
to go to France. I suppose our society here compares very favorably with
French society does it not, Mrs. Oreille?"
Mrs. O.--"Not by any means, Miss Hawkins! French society is much more
elegant--much more so."
Laura--"I am sorry to hear that. I suppose ours has deteriorated of
Mrs. O.--"Very much indeed. There are people in society here that have
really no more money to live on than what some of us pay for servant
hire. Still I won't say but what some of them are very good people--and
Laura--"The old families seem to be holding themselves aloof, from what I
hear. I suppose you seldom meet in society now, the people you used to
be familiar with twelve or fifteen years ago?"
Mrs. O.--"Oh, no-hardly ever."
Mr. O'Riley kept his first rum-mill and protected his customers from the
law in those days, and this turn of the conversation was rather
uncomfortable to madame than otherwise.
Hon. Mrs. Higgins--"Is Francois' health good now, Mrs. Oreille?"
Mrs. O.--(Thankful for the intervention)--"Not very. A body couldn't
expect it. He was always delicate--especially his lungs--and this odious
climate tells on him strong, now, after Parry, which is so mild."
Mrs. H:--"I should think so. Husband says Percy'll die if he don't have
a change; and so I'm going to swap round a little and see what can be
done. I saw a lady from Florida last week, and she recommended Key West.
I told her Percy couldn't abide winds, as he was threatened with a
pulmonary affection, and then she said try St. Augustine. It's an awful
distance--ten or twelve hundred mile, they say but then in a case of this
kind--a body can't stand back for trouble, you know."
Mrs. O.--"No, of course that's off. If Francois don't get better soon
we've got to look out for some other place, or else Europe. We've
thought some of the Hot Springs, but I don't know. It's a great
responsibility and a body wants to go cautious. Is Hildebrand about
again, Mrs. Gashly?"
Mrs. G.--"Yes, but that's about all. It was indigestion, you know, and
it looks as if it was chronic. And you know I do dread dyspepsia. We've
all been worried a good deal about him. The doctor recommended baked
apple and spoiled meat, and I think it done him good. It's about the
only thing that will stay on his stomach now-a-days. We have Dr. Shovel
now. Who's your doctor, Mrs. Higgins?"
Mrs. H.--"Well, we had Dr. Spooner a good while, but he runs so much to
emetics, which I think are weakening, that we changed off and took Dr.
Leathers. We like him very much. He has a fine European reputation,
too. The first thing he suggested for Percy was to have him taken out in
the back yard for an airing, every afternoon, with nothing at all on."
Mrs. O. and Mrs. G.--"What!"
Mrs. H.--"As true as I'm sitting here. And it actually helped him for
two or three days; it did indeed. But after that the doctor said it
seemed to be too severe and so he has fell back on hot foot-baths at
night and cold showers in the morning. But I don't think there, can be
any good sound help for him in such a climate as this. I believe we are
going to lose him if we don't make a change."
Mrs. O. "I suppose you heard of the fright we had two weeks ago last
Saturday? No? Why that is strange--but come to remember, you've all
been away to Richmond. Francois tumbled from the sky light--in the
second-story hall clean down to the first floor--"
Mrs. O.--"Yes indeed--and broke two of his ribs--"
Mrs. O. "Just as true as you live. First we thought he must be injured
internally. It was fifteen minutes past 8 in the evening. Of course we
were all distracted in a moment--everybody was flying everywhere, and
nobody doing anything worth anything. By and by I flung out next door
and dragged in Dr. Sprague; President of the Medical University no time
to go for our own doctor of course--and the minute he saw Francois he
said, 'Send for your own physician, madam;' said it as cross as a bear,
too, and turned right on his heel, and cleared out without doing a
Everybody--"The mean, contemptible brute!"
Mrs. O--"Well you may say it. I was nearly out of my wits by this time.
But we hurried off the servants after our own doctor and telegraphed
mother--she was in New York and rushed down on the first train; and when
the doctor got there, lo and behold you he found Francois had broke one
of his legs, too!"
Mrs. O.--"Yes. So he set his leg and bandaged it up, and fixed his ribs
and gave him a dose of something to quiet down his excitement and put him
to sleep--poor thing he was trembling and frightened to death and it was
pitiful to see him. We had him in my bed--Mr. Oreille slept in the guest
room and I laid down beside Francois--but not to sleep bless you no.
Bridget and I set up all night, and the doctor staid till two in the
morning, bless his old heart.--When mother got there she was so used up
with anxiety, that she had to go to bed and have the doctor; but when she
found that Francois was not in immediate danger she rallied, and by night
she was able to take a watch herself. Well for three days and nights we
three never left that bedside only to take an hour's nap at a time.
And then the doctor said Francois was out of danger and if ever there was
a thankful set, in this world, it was us."
Laura's respect for these, women had augmented during this conversation,
naturally enough; affection and devotion are qualities that are able to
adorn and render beautiful a character that is otherwise unattractive,
and even repulsive.
Mrs. Gashly--"I do believe I would a died if I had been in your place,
Mrs. Oreille. The time Hildebrand was so low with the pneumonia Emmeline
and me were all, alone with him most of the time and we never took a
minute's sleep for as much as two days, and nights. It was at Newport
and we wouldn't trust hired nurses. One afternoon he had a fit, and
jumped up and run out on the portico of the hotel with nothing in the
world on and the wind a blowing liken ice and we after him scared to
death; and when the ladies and gentlemen saw that he had a fit, every
lady scattered for her room and not a gentleman lifted his hand to help,
the wretches! Well after that his life hung by a thread for as much as
ten days, and the minute he was out of danger Emmeline and me just went
to bed sick and worn out. I never want to pass through such a time
again. Poor dear Francois--which leg did he break, Mrs. Oreille!"
Mrs. O.--"It was his right hand hind leg. Jump down, Francois dear, and
show the ladies what a cruel limp you've got yet."
Francois demurred, but being coaxed and delivered gently upon the floor,
he performed very satisfactorily, with his "right hand hind leg" in the
air. All were affected--even Laura--but hers was an affection of the
stomach. The country-bred girl had not suspected that the little whining
ten-ounce black and tan reptile, clad in a red embroidered pigmy blanket
and reposing in Mrs. Oreille's lap all through the visit was the
individual whose sufferings had been stirring the dormant generosities of
her nature. She said:
"Poor little creature! You might have lost him!"
Mrs. O.--"O pray don't mention it, Miss Hawkins--it gives me such a
Laura--"And Hildebrand and Percy--are they-are they like this one?"
Mrs. G.--"No, Hilly has considerable Skye blood in him, I believe."
Mrs. H.--"Percy's the same, only he is two months and ten days older and
has his ears cropped. His father, Martin Farquhar Tupper, was sickly,
and died young, but he was the sweetest disposition.--His mother had
heart disease but was very gentle and resigned, and a wonderful ratter."
--[** As impossible and exasperating as this conversation may sound to a
person who is not an idiot, it is scarcely in any respect an exaggeration
of one which one of us actually listened to in an American drawing room
--otherwise we could not venture to put such a chapter into a book which,
professes to deal with social possibilities.--THE AUTHORS.]
So carried away had the visitors become by their interest attaching to
this discussion of family matters, that their stay had been prolonged to
a very improper and unfashionable length; but they suddenly recollected
themselves now and took their departure.
Laura's scorn was boundless. The more she thought of these people and
their extraordinary talk, the more offensive they seemed to her; and yet
she confessed that if one must choose between the two extreme
aristocracies it might be best, on the whole, looking at things from a
strictly business point of view, to herd with the Parvenus; she was in
Washington solely to compass a certain matter and to do it at any cost,
and these people might be useful to her, while it was plain that her
purposes and her schemes for pushing them would not find favor in the
eyes of the Antiques. If it came to choice--and it might come to that,
sooner or later--she believed she could come to a decision without much
difficulty or many pangs.
But the best aristocracy of the three Washington castes, and really the
most powerful, by far, was that of the Middle Ground: It was made up of
the families of public men from nearly every state in the Union--men who
held positions in both the executive and legislative branches of the
government, and whose characters had been for years blemishless, both at
home and at the capital. These gentlemen and their households were
unostentatious people; they were educated and refined; they troubled
themselves but little about the two other orders of nobility, but moved
serenely in their wide orbit, confident in their own strength and well
aware of the potency of their influence. They had no troublesome
appearances to keep up, no rivalries which they cared to distress
themselves about, no jealousies to fret over. They could afford to mind
their own affairs and leave other combinations to do the same or do
otherwise, just as they chose. They were people who were beyond
reproach, and that was sufficient.
Senator Dilworthy never came into collision with any of these factions.
He labored for them all and with them all. He said that all men were
brethren and all were entitled to the honest unselfish help and
countenance of a Christian laborer in the public vineyard.
Laura concluded, after reflection, to let circumstances determine the
course it might be best for her to pursue as regarded the several
Now it might occur to the reader that perhaps Laura had been somewhat
rudely suggestive in her remarks to Mrs. Oreille when the subject of
corals was under discussion, but it did not occur to Laura herself.
She was not a person of exaggerated refinement; indeed, the society and
the influences that had formed her character had not been of a nature
calculated to make her so; she thought that "give and take was fair
play," and that to parry an offensive thrust with a sarcasm was a neat
and legitimate thing to do. She some times talked to people in a way
which some ladies would consider, actually shocking; but Laura rather
prided herself upon some of her exploits of that character. We are sorry
we cannot make her a faultless heroine; but we cannot, for the reason
that she was human.
She considered herself a superior conversationist. Long ago, when the
possibility had first been brought before her mind that some day she
might move in Washington society, she had recognized the fact that
practiced conversational powers would be a necessary weapon in that
field; she had also recognized the fact that since her dealings there
must be mainly with men, and men whom she supposed to be exceptionally
cultivated and able, she would need heavier shot in her magazine than
mere brilliant "society" nothings; whereupon she had at once entered upon
a tireless and elaborate course of reading, and had never since ceased to
devote every unoccupied moment to this sort of preparation. Having now
acquired a happy smattering of various information, she used it with good
effect--she passed for a singularly well informed woman in Washington.
The quality of her literary tastes had necessarily undergone constant
improvement under this regimen, and as necessarily, also; the duality of
her language had improved, though it cannot be denied that now and then
her former condition of life betrayed itself in just perceptible
inelegancies of expression and lapses of grammar.
When Laura had been in Washington three months, she was still the same
person, in one respect, that she was when she first arrived there--that
is to say, she still bore the name of Laura Hawkins. Otherwise she was
She had arrived in a state of grievous uncertainty as to what manner of
woman she was, physically and intellectually, as compared with eastern
women; she was well satisfied, now, that her beauty was confessed, her
mind a grade above the average, and her powers of fascination rather
extraordinary. So she, was at ease upon those points. When she arrived,
she was possessed of habits of economy and not possessed of money; now
she dressed elaborately, gave but little thought to the cost of things,
and was very well fortified financially. She kept her mother and
Washington freely supplied with money, and did the same by Col. Sellers
--who always insisted upon giving his note for loans--with interest; he was
rigid upon that; she must take interest; and one of the Colonel's
greatest satisfactions was to go over his accounts and note what a
handsome sum this accruing interest amounted to, and what a comfortable
though modest support it would yield Laura in case reverses should
In truth he could not help feeling that he was an efficient shield for
her against poverty; and so, if her expensive ways ever troubled him for
a brief moment, he presently dismissed the thought and said to himself,
"Let her go on--even if she loses everything she is still safe--this
interest will always afford her a good easy income."
Laura was on excellent terms with a great many members of Congress, and
there was an undercurrent of suspicion in some quarters that she was one
of that detested class known as "lobbyists;" but what belle could escape
slander in such a city? Fairminded people declined to condemn her on
mere suspicion, and so the injurious talk made no very damaging headway.
She was very gay, now, and very celebrated, and she might well expect to
be assailed by many kinds of gossip. She was growing used to celebrity,
and could already sit calm and seemingly unconscious, under the fire of
fifty lorgnettes in a theatre, or even overhear the low voice "That's
she!" as she passed along the street without betraying annoyance.
The whole air was full of a vague vast scheme which was to eventuate in
filling Laura's pockets with millions of money; some had one idea of the
scheme, and some another, but nobody had any exact knowledge upon the
subject. All that any one felt sure about, was that Laura's landed
estates were princely in value and extent, and that the government was
anxious to get hold of them for public purposes, and that Laura was
willing to make the sale but not at all anxious about the matter and not
at all in a hurry. It was whispered that Senator Dilworthy was a
stumbling block in the way of an immediate sale, because he was resolved
that the government should not have the lands except with the
understanding that they should be devoted to the uplifting of the negro
race; Laura did not care what they were devoted to, it was said, (a world
of very different gossip to the contrary notwithstanding,) but there were
several other heirs and they would be guided entirely by the Senator's
wishes; and finally, many people averred that while it would be easy to
sell the lands to the government for the benefit of the negro, by
resorting to the usual methods of influencing votes, Senator Dilworthy
was unwilling to have so noble a charity sullied by any taint of
corruption--he was resolved that not a vote should be bought. Nobody
could get anything definite from Laura about these matters, and so gossip
had to feed itself chiefly upon guesses. But the effect of it all was,
that Laura was considered to be very wealthy and likely to be vastly more
so in a little while. Consequently she was much courted and as much
envied: Her wealth attracted many suitors. Perhaps they came to worship
her riches, but they remained to worship her. Some of the noblest men of
the time succumbed to her fascinations. She frowned upon no lover when
he made his first advances, but by and by when she was hopelessly
enthralled, he learned from her own lips that she had formed a resolution
never to marry. Then he would go away hating and cursing the whole sex,
and she would calmly add his scalp to her string, while she mused upon
the bitter day that Col. Selby trampled her love and her pride in the
dust. In time it came to be said that her way was paved with broken
Poor Washington gradually woke up to the fact that he too was an
intellectual marvel as well as his gifted sister. He could not conceive
how it had come about (it did not occur to him that the gossip about his
family's great wealth had any thing to do with it). He could not account
for it by any process of reasoning, and was simply obliged to accept the
fact and give up trying to solve the riddle. He found himself dragged
into society and courted, wondered at and envied very much as if he were
one of those foreign barbers who flit over here now and then with a
self-conferred title of nobility and marry some rich fool's absurd
daughter. Sometimes at a dinner party or a reception he would find
himself the centre of interest, and feel unutterably uncomfortable in the
discovery. Being obliged to say something, he would mine his brain and
put in a blast and when the smoke and flying debris had cleared away the
result would be what seemed to him but a poor little intellectual clod of
dirt or two, and then he would be astonished to see everybody as lost in
admiration as if he had brought up a ton or two of virgin gold. Every
remark he made delighted his hearers and compelled their applause; he
overheard people say he was exceedingly bright--they were chiefly mammas
and marriageable young ladies. He found that some of his good things
were being repeated about the town. Whenever he heard of an instance of
this kind, he would keep that particular remark in mind and analyze it at
home in private. At first he could not see that the remark was anything
better than a parrot might originate; but by and by he began to feel that
perhaps he underrated his powers; and after that he used to analyze his
good things with a deal of comfort, and find in them a brilliancy which
would have been unapparent to him in earlier days--and then he would make
a note, of that good thing and say it again the first time he found
himself in a new company. Presently he had saved up quite a repertoire
of brilliancies; and after that he confined himself to repeating these
and ceased to originate any more, lest he might injure his reputation by
an unlucky effort.
He was constantly having young ladies thrust upon his notice at
receptions, or left upon his hands at parties, and in time he began to
feel that he was being deliberately persecuted in this way; and after
that he could not enjoy society because of his constant dread of these
female ambushes and surprises. He was distressed to find that nearly
every time he showed a young lady a polite attention he was straightway
reported to be engaged to her; and as some of these reports got into the
newspapers occasionally, he had to keep writing to Louise that they were
lies and she must believe in him and not mind them or allow them to
Washington was as much in the dark as anybody with regard to the great
wealth that was hovering in the air and seemingly on the point of
tumbling into the family pocket. Laura would give him no satisfaction.
All she would say, was:
"Wait. Be patient. You will see."
"But will it be soon, Laura?"
"It will not be very long, I think."
"But what makes you think so?"
"I have reasons--and good ones. Just wait, and be patient."
"But is it going to be as much as people say it is?"
"What do they say it is?"
"Oh, ever so much. Millions!"
"Yes, it will be a great sum."
"But how great, Laura? Will it be millions?"
"Yes, you may call it that. Yes, it will be millions. There, now--does
that satisfy you?"
"Splendid! I can wait. I can wait patiently--ever so patiently. Once I
was near selling the land for twenty thousand dollars; once for thirty
thousand dollars; once after that for seven thousand dollars; and once
for forty thousand dollars--but something always told me not to do it.
What a fool I would have been to sell it for such a beggarly trifle! It
is the land that's to bring the money, isn't it Laura? You can tell me
that much, can't you?"
"Yes, I don't mind saying that much. It is the land.
"But mind--don't ever hint that you got it from me. Don't mention me in
the matter at all, Washington."
"All right--I won't. Millions! Isn't it splendid! I mean to look
around for a building lot; a lot with fine ornamental shrubbery and all
that sort of thing. I will do it to-day. And I might as well see an
architect, too, and get him to go to work at a plan for a house. I don't
intend to spare and expense; I mean to have the noblest house that money
can build." Then after a pause--he did not notice Laura's smiles "Laura,
would you lay the main hall in encaustic tiles, or just in fancy patterns
of hard wood?"
Laura laughed a good old-fashioned laugh that had more of her former
natural self about it than any sound that had issued from her mouth in
many weeks. She said:
"You don't change, Washington. You still begin to squander a fortune
right and left the instant you hear of it in the distance; you never wait
till the foremost dollar of it arrives within a hundred miles of you,"
--and she kissed her brother good bye and left him weltering in his dreams,
so to speak.
He got up and walked the floor feverishly during two hours; and when he
sat down he had married Louise, built a house, reared a family, married
them off, spent upwards of eight hundred thousand dollars on mere
luxuries, and died worth twelve millions.
Laura went down stairs, knocked at/the study door, and entered, scarcely
waiting for the response. Senator Dilworthy was alone--with an open
Bible in his hand, upside down. Laura smiled, and said, forgetting her
acquired correctness of speech,
"It is only me."
"Ah, come in, sit down," and the Senator closed the book and laid it
down. "I wanted to see you. Time to report progress from the committee
of the whole," and the Senator beamed with his own congressional wit.
"In the committee of the whole things are working very well. We have
made ever so much progress in a week. I believe that you and I together
could run this government beautifully, uncle."
The Senator beamed again. He liked to be called "uncle" by this
"Did you see Hopperson last night after the congressional prayer
"Yes. He came. He's a kind of--"
"Eh? he is one of my friends, Laura. He's a fine man, a very fine man.
I don't know any man in congress I'd sooner go to for help in any
Christian work. What did he say?"
"Oh, he beat around a little. He said he should like to help the negro,
his heart went out to the negro, and all that--plenty of them say that
but he was a little afraid of the Tennessee Land bill; if Senator
Dilworthy wasn't in it, he should suspect there was a fraud on the
"He said that, did he?"
"Yes. And he said he felt he couldn't vote for it. He was shy."
"Not shy, child, cautious. He's a very cautious man. I have been with
him a great deal on conference committees. He wants reasons, good ones.
Didn't you show him he was in error about the bill?"
"I did. I went over the whole thing. I had to tell him some of the side
arrangements, some of the--"
"You didn't mention me?"
"Oh, no. I told him you were daft about the negro and the philanthropy
part of it, as you are."
"Daft is a little strong, Laura. But you know that I wouldn't touch this
bill if it were not for the public good, and for the good of the colored
race; much as I am interested in the heirs of this property, and would
like to have them succeed."
Laura looked a little incredulous, and the Senator proceeded.
"Don't misunderstand me, I don't deny that it is for the interest of all
of us that this bill should go through, and it will. I have no
concealments from you. But I have one principle in my public life, which
I should like you to keep in mind; it has always been my guide. I never
push a private interest if it is not Justified and ennobled by some
larger public good. I doubt Christian would be justified in working for
his own salvation if it was not to aid in the salvation of his fellow
The Senator spoke with feeling, and then added,
"I hope you showed Hopperson that our motives were pure?"
"Yes, and he seemed to have a new light on the measure: I think will vote
"I hope so; his name will give tone and strength to it. I knew you would
only have to show him that it was just and pure, in order to secure his
"I think I convinced him. Yes, I am perfectly sure he will vote right
"That's good, that's good," said the Senator; smiling, and rubbing his
hands. "Is there anything more?"
"You'll find some changes in that I guess," handing the Senator a printed
list of names. "Those checked off are all right."
"Ah--'m--'m," running his eye down the list. "That's encouraging. What
is the 'C' before some of the names, and the 'B. B.'?"
"Those are my private marks. That 'C' stands for 'convinced,' with
argument. The 'B. B.' is a general sign for a relative. You see it
stands before three of the Hon. Committee. I expect to see the chairman
of the committee to-day, Mr. Buckstone."
"So, you must, he ought to be seen without any delay. Buckstone is a
worldly sort of a fellow, but he has charitable impulses. If we secure
him we shall have a favorable report by the committee, and it will be a
great thing to be able to state that fact quietly where it will do good."
"Oh, I saw Senator Balloon"
"He will help us, I suppose? Balloon is a whole-hearted fellow. I can't
help loving that man, for all his drollery and waggishness. He puts on
an air of levity sometimes, but there aint a man in the senate knows the
scriptures as he does. He did not make any objections?"
"Not exactly, he said--shall I tell you what he said?" asked Laura
glancing furtively at him.
"He said he had no doubt it was a good thing; if Senator Dilworthy was in
it, it would pay to look into it."
The Senator laughed, but rather feebly, and said, "Balloon is always full
of his jokes."
"I explained it to him. He said it was all right, he only wanted a word
with you,", continued Laura. "He is a handsome old gentleman, and he is
gallant for an old man."
"My daughter," said the Senator, with a grave look, "I trust there was
nothing free in his manner?"
"Free?" repeated Laura, with indignation in her face. "With me!"
"There, there, child. I meant nothing, Balloon talks a little freely
sometimes, with men. But he is right at heart. His term expires next
year and I fear we shall lose him."
"He seemed to be packing the day I was there. His rooms were full of dry
goods boxes, into which his servant was crowding all manner of old
clothes and stuff: I suppose he will paint 'Pub. Docs' on them and frank
them home. That's good economy, isn't it?"
"Yes, yes, but child, all Congressmen do that. It may not be strictly
honest, indeed it is not unless he had some public documents mixed in
with the clothes."
"It's a funny world. Good-bye, uncle. I'm going to see that chairman."
And humming a cheery opera air, she departed to her room to dress for
going out. Before she did that, however, she took out her note book and
was soon deep in its contents; marking, dashing, erasing, figuring, and
talking to herself.
"Free! I wonder what Dilworthy does think of me anyway? One . . .
two. . .eight . . . seventeen . . . twenty-one,. . 'm'm . . .
it takes a heap for a majority. Wouldn't Dilworthy open his eyes if he
knew some of the things Balloon did say to me. There. . . .
Hopperson's influence ought to count twenty . . . the sanctimonious
old curmudgeon. Son-in-law. . . . sinecure in the negro institution
. . . .That about gauges him . . . The three committeemen . . . .
sons-in-law. Nothing like a son-in-law here in Washington or a brother-
in-law . . . And everybody has 'em . . . Let's see: . . . sixty-
one. . . . with places . . . twenty-five . . . persuaded--it is
getting on; . . . . we'll have two-thirds of Congress in time . . .
Dilworthy must surely know I understand him. Uncle Dilworthy . . . .
Uncle Balloon!--Tells very amusing stories . . . when ladies are not
present . . . I should think so . . . .'m . . . 'm. Eighty-five.
There. I must find that chairman. Queer. . . . Buckstone acts . .
Seemed to be in love . . . . . I was sure of it. He promised to
come here. . . and he hasn't. . . Strange. Very strange . . . .
I must chance to meet him to-day."
Laura dressed and went out, thinking she was perhaps too early for Mr.
Buckstone to come from the house, but as he lodged near the bookstore she
would drop in there and keep a look out for him.
While Laura is on her errand to find Mr. Buckstone, it may not be out of
the way to remark that she knew quite as much of Washington life as
Senator Dilworthy gave her credit for, and more than she thought proper
to tell him. She was acquainted by this time with a good many of the
young fellows of Newspaper Row; and exchanged gossip with them to their
They were always talking in the Row, everlastingly gossiping, bantering
and sarcastically praising things, and going on in a style which was a
curious commingling of earnest and persiflage. Col. Sellers liked this
talk amazingly, though he was sometimes a little at sea in it--and
perhaps that didn't lessen the relish of the conversation to the
It seems that they had got hold of the dry-goods box packing story about
Balloon, one day, and were talking it over when the Colonel came in.
The Colonel wanted to know all about it, and Hicks told him. And then
Hicks went on, with a serious air,
"Colonel, if you register a letter, it means that it is of value, doesn't
it? And if you pay fifteen cents for registering it, the government will
have to take extra care of it and even pay you back its full value if it
is lost. Isn't that so?"
"Yes. I suppose it's so.".
"Well Senator Balloon put fifteen cents worth of stamps on each of those
seven huge boxes of old clothes, and shipped that ton of second-hand
rubbish, old boots and pantaloons and what not through the mails as
registered matter! It was an ingenious thing and it had a genuine touch
of humor about it, too. I think there is more real: talent among our
public men of to-day than there was among those of old times--a far more
fertile fancy, a much happier ingenuity. Now, Colonel, can you picture
Jefferson, or Washington or John Adams franking their wardrobes through
the mails and adding the facetious idea of making the government
responsible for the cargo for the sum of one dollar and five cents?
Statesmen were dull creatures in those days. I have a much greater
admiration for Senator Balloon."
"Yes, Balloon is a man of parts, there is no denying it"
"I think so. He is spoken of for the post of Minister to China, or
Austria, and I hope will be appointed. What we want abroad is good
examples of the national character.
"John Jay and Benjamin Franklin were well enough in their day, but the
nation has made progress since then. Balloon is a man we know and can
depend on to be true to himself."
"Yes, and Balloon has had a good deal of public experience. He is an old
friend of mine. He was governor of one of the territories a while, and
was very satisfactory."
"Indeed he was. He was ex-officio Indian agent, too. Many a man would
have taken the Indian appropriation and devoted the money to feeding and
clothing the helpless savages, whose land had been taken from them by the
white man in the interests of civilization; but Balloon knew their needs
better. He built a government saw-mill on the reservation with the
money, and the lumber sold for enormous prices--a relative of his did all
the work free of charge--that is to say he charged nothing more than the
lumber world bring." "But the poor Injuns--not that I care much for
Injuns--what did he do for them?"
"Gave them the outside slabs to fence in the reservation with. Governor
Balloon was nothing less than a father to the poor Indians. But Balloon
is not alone, we have many truly noble statesmen in our country's service
like Balloon. The Senate is full of them. Don't you think so Colonel?"
"Well, I dunno. I honor my country's public servants as much as any one
can. I meet them, Sir, every day, and the more I see of them the more I
esteem them and the more grateful I am that our institutions give us the
opportunity of securing their services. Few lands are so blest."
"That is true, Colonel. To be sure you can buy now and then a Senator or
a Representative but they do not know it is wrong, and so they are not
ashamed of it. They are gentle, and confiding and childlike, and in my
opinion these are qualities that ennoble them far more than any amount of
sinful sagacity could. I quite agree with you, Col. Sellers."
"Well"--hesitated the, Colonel--"I am afraid some of them do buy their
seats--yes, I am afraid they do--but as Senator Dilworthy himself said to
me, it is sinful,--it is very wrong--it is shameful; Heaven protect me
from such a charge. That is what Dilworthy said. And yet when you come
to look at it you cannot deny that we would have to go without the
services of some of our ablest men, sir, if the country were opposed to
--to--bribery. It is a harsh term. I do not like to use it."
The Colonel interrupted himself at this point to meet an engagement with
the Austrian minister, and took his leave with his usual courtly bow.
In due time Laura alighted at the book store, and began to look at the
titles of the handsome array of books on the counter. A dapper clerk of
perhaps nineteen or twenty years, with hair accurately parted and
surprisingly slick, came bustling up and leaned over with a pretty smile
and an affable--
"Can I--was there any particular book you wished to see?"
"Have you Taine's England?"
"Taine's Notes on England."
The young gentleman scratched the side of his nose with a cedar pencil
which he took down from its bracket on the side of his head, and
reflected a moment:
"Ah--I see," [with a bright smile]--"Train, you mean--not Taine. George
Francis Train. No, ma'm we--"
"I mean Taine--if I may take the liberty."
The clerk reflected again--then:
"Taine . . . . Taine . . . . Is it hymns?"
"No, it isn't hymns. It is a volume that is making a deal of talk just
now, and is very widely known--except among parties who sell it."
The clerk glanced at her face to see if a sarcasm might not lurk
somewhere in that obscure speech, but the gentle simplicity of the
beautiful eyes that met his, banished that suspicion. He went away and
conferred with the proprietor. Both appeared to be non-plussed. They
thought and talked, and talked and thought by turns. Then both came
forward and the proprietor said:
"Is it an American book, ma'm?"
"No, it is an American reprint of an English translation."
"Oh! Yes--yes--I remember, now. We are expecting it every day. It
isn't out yet."
"I think you must be mistaken, because you advertised it a week ago."
"Why no--can that be so?"
"Yes, I am sure of it. And besides, here is the book itself, on the
She bought it and the proprietor retired from the field. Then she asked
the clerk for the Autocrat of the Breakfast Table--and was pained to see
the admiration her beauty had inspired in him fade out of his face.
He said with cold dignity, that cook books were somewhat out of their
line, but he would order it if she desired it. She said, no, never mind.
Then she fell to conning the titles again, finding a delight in the
inspection of the Hawthornes, the Longfellows, the Tennysons, and other
favorites of her idle hours. Meantime the clerk's eyes were busy, and no
doubt his admiration was returning again--or may be he was only gauging
her probable literary tastes by some sagacious system of admeasurement
only known to his guild. Now he began to "assist" her in making a
selection; but his efforts met with no success--indeed they only annoyed
her and unpleasantly interrupted her meditations. Presently, while she
was holding a copy of "Venetian Life" in her hand and running over a
familiar passage here and there, the clerk said, briskly, snatching up a
paper-covered volume and striking the counter a smart blow with it to
dislodge the dust:
"Now here is a work that we've sold a lot of. Everybody that's read it
likes it"--and he intruded it under her nose; "it's a book that I can
recommend--'The Pirate's Doom, or the Last of the Buccaneers.' I think
it's one of the best things that's come out this season."
Laura pushed it gently aside her hand and went on and went on filching
from "Venetian Life."
"I believe I do not want it," she said.
The clerk hunted around awhile, glancing at one title and then another,
but apparently not finding what he wanted.
However, he succeeded at last. Said he:
"Have you ever read this, ma'm? I am sure you'll like it. It's by the
author of 'The Hooligans of Hackensack.' It is full of love troubles and
mysteries and all sorts of such things. The heroine strangles her own
mother. Just glance at the title please,--'Gonderil the Vampire, or The
Dance of Death.' And here is 'The Jokist's Own Treasury, or, The Phunny
Phellow's Bosom Phriend.' The funniest thing!--I've read it four times,
ma'm, and I can laugh at the very sight of it yet. And 'Gonderil,'
--I assure you it is the most splendid book I ever read. I know you will
like these books, ma'm, because I've read them myself and I know what
"Oh, I was perplexed--but I see how it is, now. You must have thought
I asked you to tell me what sort of books I wanted--for I am apt to say
things which I don't really mean, when I am absent minded. I suppose I
did ask you, didn't I?"
"No ma'm,--but I--"
"Yes, I must have done it, else you would not have offered your services,
for fear it might be rude. But don't be troubled--it was all my fault.
I ought not to have been so heedless--I ought not to have asked you."
"But you didn't ask me, ma'm. We always help customers all we can.
You see our experience--living right among books all the time--that sort
of thing makes us able to help a customer make a selection, you know."
"Now does it, indeed? It is part of your business, then?"
"Yes'm, we always help."
"How good it is of you. Some people would think it rather obtrusive,
perhaps, but I don't--I think it is real kindness--even charity. Some
people jump to conclusions without any thought--you have noticed that?"
"O yes," said the clerk, a little perplexed as to whether to feel
comfortable or the reverse; "Oh yes, indeed, I've often noticed that,
"Yes, they jump to conclusions with an absurd heedlessness. Now some
people would think it odd that because you, with the budding tastes and
the innocent enthusiasms natural to your time of life, enjoyed the
Vampires and the volume of nursery jokes, you should imagine that an
older person would delight in them too--but I do not think it odd at all.
I think it natural--perfectly natural in you. And kind, too. You look
like a person who not only finds a deep pleasure in any little thing in
the way of literature that strikes you forcibly, but is willing and glad
to share that pleasure with others--and that, I think, is noble and
admirable--very noble and admirable. I think we ought all--to share our
pleasures with others, and do what we can to make each other happy, do
"Oh, yes. Oh, yes, indeed. Yes, you are quite right, ma'm."
But he was getting unmistakably uncomfortable, now, notwithstanding
Laura's confiding sociability and almost affectionate tone.
"Yes, indeed. Many people would think that what a bookseller--or perhaps
his clerk--knows about literature as literature, in contradistinction to
its character as merchandise, would hardly, be of much assistance to a
person--that is, to an adult, of course--in the selection of food for the
mind--except of course wrapping paper, or twine, or wafers, or something
like that--but I never feel that way. I feel that whatever service you
offer me, you offer with a good heart, and I am as grateful for it as if
it were the greatest boon to me. And it is useful to me--it is bound to
be so. It cannot be otherwise. If you show me a book which you have
read--not skimmed over or merely glanced at, but read--and you tell me
that you enjoyed it and that you could read it three or four times, then
I know what book I want--"
--"to avoid. Yes indeed. I think that no information ever comes amiss
in this world. Once or twice I have traveled in the cars--and there you
know, the peanut boy always measures you with his eye, and hands you out
a book of murders if you are fond of theology; or Tupper or a dictionary
or T. S. Arthur if you are fond of poetry; or he hands you a volume of
distressing jokes or a copy of the American Miscellany if you
particularly dislike that sort of literary fatty degeneration of the
heart--just for the world like a pleasant spoken well-meaning gentleman
in any, bookstore. But here I am running on as if business men had
nothing to do but listen to women talk. You must pardon me, for I was
not thinking.--And you must let me thank you again for helping me.
I read a good deal, and shall be in nearly every day and I would be sorry
to have you think me a customer who talks too much and buys too little.
Might I ask you to give me the time? Ah-two-twenty-two. Thank you
very much. I will set mine while I have the opportunity."
But she could not get her watch open, apparently. She tried, and tried
again. Then the clerk, trembling at his own audacity, begged to be
allowed to assist. She allowed him. He succeeded, and was radiant under
the sweet influences of her pleased face and her seductively worded
acknowledgements with gratification. Then he gave her the exact time
again, and anxiously watched her turn the hands slowly till they reached
the precise spot without accident or loss of life, and then he looked as
happy as a man who had helped a fellow being through a momentous
undertaking, and was grateful to know that he had not lived in vain.
Laura thanked him once more. The words were music to his ear; but what
were they compared to the ravishing smile with which she flooded his
whole system? When she bowed her adieu and turned away, he was no longer
suffering torture in the pillory where she had had him trussed up during
so many distressing moments, but he belonged to the list of her conquests
and was a flattered and happy thrall, with the dawn-light of love
breaking over the eastern elevations of his heart.
It was about the hour, now, for the chairman of the House Committee on
Benevolent Appropriations to make his appearance, and Laura stepped to
the door to reconnoiter. She glanced up the street, and sure enough--
That Chairman was nowhere in sight. Such disappointments seldom occur in
novels, but are always happening in real life.
She was obliged to make a new plan. She sent him a note, and asked him
to call in the evening--which he did.
She received the Hon. Mr. Buckstone with a sunny smile, and said:
"I don't know how I ever dared to send you a note, Mr. Buckstone, for you
have the reputation of not being very partial to our sex."
"Why I am sure my, reputation does me wrong, then, Miss Hawkins. I have
been married once--is that nothing in my favor?"
"Oh, yes--that is, it may be and it may not be. If you have known what
perfection is in woman, it is fair to argue that inferiority cannot
interest you now."
"Even if that were the case it could not affect you, Miss Hawkins," said
the chairman gallantly. "Fame does not place you in the list of ladies
who rank below perfection." This happy speech delighted Mr. Buckstone as
much as it seemed to delight Laura. But it did not confuse him as much
as it apparently did her.
"I wish in all sincerity that I could be worthy of such a felicitous
compliment as that. But I am a woman, and so I am gratified for it just
as it is, and would not have it altered."
"But it is not merely a compliment--that is, an empty complement--it is
the truth. All men will endorse that."
Laura looked pleased, and said:
"It is very kind of you to say it. It is a distinction indeed, for a
country-bred girl like me to be so spoken of by people of brains and
culture. You are so kind that I know you will pardon my putting you to
the trouble to come this evening."
"Indeed it was no trouble. It was a pleasure. I am alone in the world
since I lost my wife, and I often long for the society of your sex, Miss
Hawkins, notwithstanding what people may say to the contrary."
"It is pleasant to hear you say that. I am sure it must be so. If I
feel lonely at times, because of my exile from old friends, although
surrounded by new ones who are already very dear to me, how much more
lonely must you feel, bereft as you are, and with no wholesome relief
from the cares of state that weigh you down. For your own sake, as well
as for the sake of others, you ought to go into society oftener.
I seldom see you at a reception, and when I do you do not usually give me
very, much of your attention"
"I never imagined that you wished it or I would have been very glad to
make myself happy in that way.--But one seldom gets an opportunity to say
more than a sentence to you in a place like that. You are always the
centre of a group--a fact which you may have noticed yourself. But if
one might come here--"
"Indeed you would always find a hearty welcome, Mr. Buckstone. I have
often wished you would come and tell me more about Cairo and the
Pyramids, as you once promised me you would."
"Why, do you remember that yet, Miss Hawkins? I thought ladies' memories
were more fickle than that."
"Oh, they are not so fickle as gentlemen's promises. And besides, if I
had been inclined to forget, I--did you not give me something by way of a
"It does seem to me that I did; but I have forgotten what it was now."
"Never, never call a lady's memory fickle again! Do you recognize this?"
"A little spray of box! I am beaten--I surrender. But have you kept
that all this time?"
Laura's confusion was very, pretty. She tried to hide it, but the more
she tried the more manifest it became and withal the more captivating to
look upon. Presently she threw the spray of box from her with an annoyed
air, and said:
"I forgot myself. I have been very foolish. I beg that you will forget
this absurd thing."
Mr. Buckstone picked up the spray, and sitting down by Laura's side on
the sofa, said:
"Please let me keep it, Miss Hawkins. I set a very high value upon it
"Give it to me, Mr. Buckstone, and do not speak so. I have been
sufficiently punished for my thoughtlessness. You cannot take pleasure
in adding to my distress. Please give it to me."
"Indeed I do not wish to distress you. But do not consider the matter so
gravely; you have done yourself no wrong. You probably forgot that you
had it; but if you had given it to me I would have kept it--and not
"Do not talk so, Mr. Buckstone. Give it to me, please, and forget the
"It would not be kind to refuse, since it troubles you so, and so I
restore it. But if you would give me part of it and keep the rest--"
"So that you might have something to remind you of me when you wished to
laugh at my foolishness?"
"Oh, by no means, no! Simply that I might remember that I had once
assisted to discomfort you, and be reminded to do so no more."
Laura looked up, and scanned his face a moment. She was about to break
the twig, but she hesitated and said:
"If I were sure that you--" She threw the spray away, and continued:
"This is silly! We will change the subject. No, do not insist--I must
have my way in this."
Then Mr. Buckstone drew off his forces and proceeded to make a wily
advance upon the fortress under cover of carefully--contrived artifices
and stratagems of war. But he contended with an alert and suspicious
enemy; and so at the end of two hours it was manifest to him that he had
made but little progress. Still, he had made some; he was sure of that.
Laura sat alone and communed with herself;
"He is fairly hooked, poor thing. I can play him at my leisure and land
him when I choose. He was all ready to be caught, days and days ago
--I saw that, very well. He will vote for our bill--no fear about that;
and moreover he will work for it, too, before I am done with him. If he
had a woman's eyes he would have noticed that the spray of box had grown
three inches since he first gave it to me, but a man never sees anything
and never suspects. If I had shown him a whole bush he would have
thought it was the same. Well, it is a good night's work: the committee
is safe. But this is a desperate game I am playing in these days
--a wearing, sordid, heartless game. If I lose, I lose everything--even
myself. And if I win the game, will it be worth its cost after all?
I do not know. Sometimes I doubt. Sometimes I half wish I had not
begun. But no matter; I have begun, and I will never turn back; never
while I live."
Mr. Buckstone indulged in a reverie as he walked homeward:
"She is shrewd and deep, and plays her cards with considerable
discretion--but she will lose, for all that. There is no hurry; I shall
come out winner, all in good time. She is the most beautiful woman in
the world; and she surpassed herself to-night. I suppose I must vote for
that bill, in the end maybe; but that is not a matter of much consequence
the government can stand it. She is bent on capturing me, that is plain;
but she will find by and by that what she took for a sleeping garrison
was an ambuscade."
Now this surprising news caus'd her fall in 'a trance,
Life as she were dead, no limbs she could advance,
Then her dear brother came, her from the ground he took
And she spake up and said, O my poor heart is broke.
The Barnardcastle Tragedy.
"Don't you think he is distinguished looking?"
"What! That gawky looking person, with Miss Hawkins?"
"There. He's just speaking to Mrs. Schoonmaker. Such high-bred
negligence and unconsciousness. Nothing studied. See his fine eyes."
"Very. They are moving this way now. Maybe he is coming here. But he
looks as helpless as a rag baby. Who is he, Blanche?"
"Who is he? And you've been here a week, Grace, and don't know? He's
the catch of the season. That's Washington Hawkins--her brother."
"No, is it?"
"Very old family, old Kentucky family I believe. He's got enormous
landed property in Tennessee, I think. The family lost everything,
slaves and that sort of thing, you know, in the war. But they have a
great deal of land, minerals, mines and all that. Mr. Hawkins and his
sister too are very much interested in the amelioration of the condition
of the colored race; they have some plan, with Senator Dilworthy, to
convert a large part of their property to something another for the
"You don't say so? I thought he was some guy from Pennsylvania. But he
is different from others. Probably he has lived all his life on his
It was a day reception of Mrs. Representative Schoonmaker, a sweet woman,
of simple and sincere manners. Her house was one of the most popular in
Washington. There was less ostentation there than in some others, and
people liked to go where the atmosphere reminded them of the peace and
purity of home. Mrs. Schoonmaker was as natural and unaffected in
Washington society as she was in her own New York house, and kept up the
spirit of home-life there, with her husband and children. And that was
the reason, probably, why people of refinement liked to go there.
Washington is a microcosm, and one can suit himself with any sort of
society within a radius of a mile. To a large portion of the people who
frequent Washington or dwell where, the ultra fashion, the shoddy, the
jobbery are as utterly distasteful as they would he in a refined New
England City. Schoonmaker was not exactly a leader in the House, but he
was greatly respected for his fine talents and his honesty. No one would
have thought of offering to carry National Improvement Directors Relief
stock for him.
These day receptions were attended by more women than men, and those
interested in the problem might have studied the costumes of the ladies
present, in view of this fact, to discover whether women dress more for
the eyes of women or for effect upon men. It is a very important
problem, and has been a good deal discussed, and its solution would form
one fixed, philosophical basis, upon which to estimate woman's character.
We are inclined to take a medium ground, and aver that woman dresses to
please herself, and in obedience to a law of her own nature.
"They are coming this way," said Blanche. People who made way for them
to pass, turned to look at them. Washington began to feel that the eyes
of the public were on him also, and his eyes rolled about, now towards
the ceiling, now towards the floor, in an effort to look unconscious.
"Good morning, Miss Hawkins. Delighted. Mr. Hawkins. My friend, Miss
Mr. Hawkins, who was endeavoring to square himself for a bow, put his
foot through the train of Mrs. Senator Poplin, who looked round with a
scowl, which turned into a smile as she saw who it was. In extricating
himself, Mr. Hawkins, who had the care of his hat as well as the
introduction on his mind, shambled against Miss Blanche, who said pardon,
with the prettiest accent, as if the awkwardness were her own. And Mr.
Hawkins righted himself.
"Don't you find it very warm to-day, Mr. Hawkins?" said Blanche, by way
of a remark.
"It's awful hot," said Washington.
"It's warm for the season," continued Blanche pleasantly. "But I suppose
you are accustomed to it," she added, with a general idea that the
thermometer always stands at 90 deg. in all parts of the late slave
states. "Washington weather generally cannot be very congenial to you?"
"It's congenial," said Washington brightening up, "when it's not
"That's very good. Did you hear, Grace, Mr. Hawkins says it's congenial
when it's not congealed."
"What is, dear?" said Grace, who was talking with Laura.
The conversation was now finely under way. Washington launched out an
observation of his own.
"Did you see those Japs, Miss Leavitt?"
"Oh, yes, aren't they queer. But so high-bred, so picturesque. Do you
think that color makes any difference, Mr. Hawkins? I used to be so
prejudiced against color."
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