Part 3 out of 4
Hence, when Mrs. Lightfoot Lee was announced, and the two
sisters were ushered into the presidential parlour, she put on a
coldly patronizing air, and in reply to Madeleine's hope that she
found Washington agreeable, she intimated that there was much in
Washington which struck her as awful wicked, especially the
women; and, looking at Sybil, she spoke of the style of dress in
this city which she said she meant to do what she could to put a
stop to. She'd heard tell that people sent to Paris for their gowns,
just as though America wasn't good enough to make one's clothes!
Jacob (all Presidents' wives speak of their husbands by their first
names) had promised her to get a law passed against it. In her town
in Indiana, a young woman who was seen on the street in such
clothes wouldn't be spoken to. At these remarks, made with an air
and in a temper quite unmistakable, Madeleine became
exasperated beyond measure, and said that "Washington would be
pleased to see the President do something in regard to
dress-reform--or any other reform;" and with this allusion to the
President's ante-election reform speeches, Mrs. Lee turned her
back and left the room, followed by Sybil in convulsions of
suppressed laughter, which would not have been suppressed had
she seen the face of their hostess as the door shut behind them, and
the energy with which she shook her head and said: "See if I don't
reform you yet, you--jade!"
Mrs. Lee gave Ratcliffe a lively account of this interview, and he
laughed nearly as convulsively as Sybil over it, though he tried to
pacify her by saying that the President's most intimate friends
openly declared his wife to be insane, and that he himself was the
person most afraid of her. But Mrs. Lee declared that the President
was as bad as his wife; that an equally good President and
President's wife could be picked up in any corner-grocery between
the Lakes and the Ohio; and that no inducement should ever make
her go near that coarse washerwoman again.
Ratcliffe did not attempt to change Mrs. Lee's opinion. Indeed he
knew better than any man how Presidents were made, and he had
his own opinions in regard to the process as well as the fabric
produced. Nothing Mrs. Lee could say now affected him. He threw
off his responsibility and she found it suddenly resting on her own
shoulders. When she spoke with indignation of the wholesale
removals from office with which the new administration marked
its advent to power, he told her the story of the President's
fundamental principle, and asked her what she would have him do.
"He meant to tie my hands," said Ratcliffe, "and to leave his own
free, and I accepted the condition. Can I resign now on such a
ground as this?" And Madeleine was obliged to agree that he could
not. She had no means of knowing how many removals he made in
his own interest, or how far he had outwitted the President at his
own game. He stood before her a victim and a patriot. Every step
he had taken had been taken with her approval. He was now in
office to prevent what evil he could, not to be responsible for the
evil that was done; and he honestly assured her that much worse
men would come in when he went out, as the President would
certainly take good care that he did go out when the moment
Mrs. Lee had the chance now to carry out her scheme in coming to
Washington, for she was already deep in the mire of politics and
could see with every advantage how the great machine floundered
about, bespattering with mud even her own pure garments.
Ratcliffe himself, since entering the Treasury, had begun to talk
with a sneer of the way in which laws were made, and openly said
that he wondered how government got on at all. Yet he declared
still that this particular government was the highest expression of
political thought. Mrs. Lee stared at him and wondered whether he
knew what thought was. To her the government seemed to have
less thought in it than one of Sybil's gowns, for if they, like the
government, were monstrously costly, they were at least adapted to
their purpose, the parts fitted together, and they were neither
awkward nor unwieldy.
There was nothing very encouraging in all this, but it was better
than New York. At least it gave her something to look at, and to
think about. Even Lord Dunbeg preached practical philanthropy to
her by the hour. Ratcliffe, too, was compelled to drag himself out
of the rut of machine politics, and to justify his right of admission
to her house. There Mr. French discoursed at great length, until the
fourth of March sent him home to Connecticut; and he brought
more than one intelligent member of Congress to Mrs. Lee's
parlour. Underneath the scum floating on the surface of politics,
Madeleine felt that there was a sort of healthy ocean current of
honest purpose, which swept the scum before it, and kept the mass
This was enough to draw her on. She reconciled herself to
accepting the Ratcliffian morals, for she could see no choice. She
herself had approved every step she had seen him take. She could
not deny that there must be something wrong in a double standard
of morality, but where was it? Mr.
Ratcliffe seemed to her to be doing good work with as pure means
as he had at hand. He ought to be encouraged, not reviled. What
was she that she should stand in judgment?
Others watched her progress with less satisfaction. Mr. Nathan
Gore was one of these, for he came in one evening, looking much
out of temper, and, sitting down by her side he said he had come to
bid good-bye and to thank her for the kindness she had shown him;
he was to leave Washington the next morning. She too expressed
her warm regret, but added that she hoped he was only going in
order to take his passage to Madrid.
He shook his head. "I am going to take my passage," said he, "but
not to Madrid. The fates have cut that thread. The President does
not want my services, and I can't blame him, for if our situations
were reversed, I should certainly not want his. He has an Indiana
friend, who, I am told, wanted to be postmaster at Indianapolis, but
as this did not suit the politicians, he was bought off at the
exorbitant price of the Spanish mission. But I should have no
chance even if he were out of the way. The President does not
approve of me. He objects to the cut of my overcoat which is
unfortunately an English one. He also objects to the cut of my hair.
I am afraid that his wife objects to me because I am so happy as to
be thought a friend of yours."
Madeleine could only acknowledge that Mr. Gore's case was a bad
one. "But after all," said she, "why should politicians be expected
to love you literary gentlemen who write history. Other criminal
classes are not expected to love their judges."
"No, but they have sense enough to fear them," replied Gore
vindictively; "not one politician living has the brains or the art to
defend his own cause. The ocean of history is foul with the
carcases of such statesmen, dead and forgotten except when some
historian fishes one of them up to gibbet it."
Mr. Gore was so much out of temper that after this piece of
extravagance he was forced to pause a moment to recover himself.
Then he went on:-- "You are perfectly right, and so is the
President. I have no business to be meddling in politics. It is not
my place. The next time you hear of me, I promise it shall not be
as an office-seeker."
Then he rapidly changed the subject, saying that he hoped Mrs.
Lee was soon going northward again, and that they might meet at
"I don't know," replied Madeleine; "the spring is pleasant here, and
we shall stay till the warm weather, I think."
Mr. Gore looked grave. "And your politics!" said he; "are you
satisfied with what you have seen?"
"I have got so far as to lose the distinction between right and
wrong. Isn't that the first step in politics?"
Mr. Gore had no mind even for serious jesting. He broke out into a
long lecture which sounded like a chapter of some future history:
"But Mrs. Lee, is it possible that you don't see what a wrong path
you are on. If you want to know what the world is really doing to
any good purpose, pass a winter at Samarcand, at Timbuctoo, but
not at Washington. Be a bank-clerk, or a journeyman printer, but
not a Congressman. Here you will find nothing but wasted effort
and clumsy intrigue."
"Do you think it a pity for me to learn that?" asked Madeleine
when his long essay was ended.
"No!" replied Gore, hesitating; "not if you do learn it. But many
people never get so far, or only when too late. I shall be glad to
hear that you are mistress of it and have given up reforming
politics. The Spaniards have a proverb that smells of the stable, but
applies to people like you and me:
The man who washes his donkey's head, loses time and soap."
Gore took his leave before Madeleine had time to grasp all the
impudence of this last speech. Not until she was fairly in bed that
night did it suddenly flash on her mind that Mr. Gore had dared to
caricature her as wasting time and soap on Mr. Ratcliffe. At first
she was violently angry and then she laughed in spite of herself;
there was truth in the portrait. In secret, too, she was the less
offended because she half thought that it had depended only on
herself to make of Mr. Gore something more than a friend. If she
had overheard his parting words to Carrington, she would have had
still more reason to think that a little jealousy of Ratcliffe's success
sharpened the barb of Gore's enmity.
"Take care of Ratcliffe!" was his farewell; "he is a clever dog. He
has set his mark on Mrs. Lee. Look out that he doesn't walk off
A little startled by this sudden confidence, Carrington could only
ask what he could do to prevent it.
"Cats that go ratting, don't wear gloves," replied Gore, who always
carried a Spanish proverb in his pocket. Carrington, after painful
reflection, could only guess that he wanted Ratcliffe's enemies to
show their claws. But how?
Mrs. Lee not long afterwards spoke to Ratcliffe of her regret at
Gore's disappointment and hinted at his disgust. Ratcliffe replied
that he had done what he could for Gore, and had introduced him
to the President, who, after seeing him, had sworn his usual
granitic oath that he would sooner send his nigger farm-hand Jake
to Spain than that man-milliner. "You know how I stand;" added
Ratcliffe; "what more could I do?" And Mrs. Lee's implied
reproach was silenced.
If Gore was little pleased with Ratcliffe's conduct, poor
Schneidekoupon was still less so. He turned up again at
Washington not long after the Inauguration and had a private
interview with the Secretary of the Treasury.
What passed at it was known only to themselves, but, whatever it
was, Schneidekoupon's temper was none the better for it. From his
conversations with Sybil, it seemed that there was some question
about appointments in which his protectionist friends were
interested, and he talked very openly about Ratcliffe's want of
good faith, and how he had promised everything to everybody and
had failed to keep a single pledge; if Schneidekoupon's advice had
been taken, this wouldn't have happened. Mrs. Lee told Ratcliffe
that Schneidekoupon seemed out of temper, and asked the reason.
He only laughed and evaded the question, remarking that cattle of
this kind were always complaining unless they were allowed to run
the whole government; Schneidekoupon had nothing to grumble
about; no one had ever made any promises to him. But
nevertheless Schneidekoupon confided to Sybil his antipathy to
Ratcliffe and solemnly begged her not to let Mrs. Lee fall into his
hands, to which Sybil answered tartly that she only wished Mr.
Schneidekoupon would tell her how to help it.
The reformer French had also been one of Ratcliffe's backers in
the fight over the Treasury. He remained in Washington a few days
after the Inauguration, and then disappeared, leaving cards with
P.P.C. in the corner, at Mrs. Lee's door. Rumour said that he too
was disappointed, but he kept his own counsel, and, if he really
wanted the mission to Belgium, he contented himself with waiting
for it. A respectable stage-coach proprietor from Oregon got the
As for Jacobi, who was not disappointed, and who had nothing to
ask for, he was bitterest of all. He formally offered his
congratulations to Ratcliffe on his appointment. This little scene
occurred in Mrs. Lee's parlour. The old Baron, with his most suave
manner, and his most Voltairean leer, said that in all his
experience, and he had seen a great many court intrigues, he had
never seen anything better managed than that about the Treasury.
Ratcliffe was furiously angry, and told the Baron outright that
foreign ministers who insulted the governments to which they
were accredited ran a risk of being sent home.
"Ce serait toujours un pis aller," said Jacobi, seating himself with
calmness in Ratcliffe's favourite chair by Mrs. Lee's side.
Madeleine, alarmed as she was, could not help interposing, and
hastily asked whether that remark was translatable.
"Ah!" said the Baron; "I can do nothing with your language. You
would only say that it was a choice of evils, to go, or to stay."
"We might translate it by saying: 'One may go farther and fare
rejoined Madeleine; and so the storm blew over for the time, and
Ratcliffe sulkily let the subject drop. Nevertheless the two men
never met in Mrs.
Lee's parlour without her dreading a personal altercation. Little by
little, what with Jacobi's sarcasms and Ratcliffe's roughness, they
nearly ceased to speak, and glared at each other like quarrelsome
dogs. Madeleine was driven to all kinds of expedients to keep the
peace, yet at the same time she could not but be greatly amused by
their behaviour, and as their hatred of each other only stimulated
their devotion to her, she was content to hold an even balance
Nor were these all the awkward consequences of Ratcliffe's
attentions. Now that he was distinctly recognized as an intimate
friend of Mrs. Lee's, and possibly her future husband, no one
ventured any longer to attack him in her presence, but nevertheless
she was conscious in a thousand ways that the atmosphere became
more and more dense under the shadow of the Secretary of the
Treasury. In spite of herself she sometimes felt uneasy, as though
there were conspiracy in the air. One March afternoon she was
sitting by her fire, with an English Review in her hand, trying to
read the last Symposium on the sympathies of Eternal Punishment,
when her servant brought in a card, and Mrs. Lee had barely time
to read the name of Mrs. Samuel Baker when that lady followed
the servant into the room, forcing the countersign in so effective
style that for once Madeleine was fairly disconcerted. Her manner
when thus intruded upon, was cool, but in this case, on
Carrington's account, she tried to smile courteously and asked her
visitor to sit down, which Mrs. Baker was doing without an
invitation, very soon putting her hostess entirely at her ease. She
was, when seen without her veil, a showy woman verging on forty,
decidedly large, tall, over-dressed even in mourning, and with a
complexion rather fresher than nature had made it.
There was a geniality in her address, savouring of easy Washington
ways, a fruitiness of smile, and a rich southern accent, that
explained on the spot her success in the lobby. She looked about
her with fine self-possession, and approved Mrs. Lee's
surroundings with a cordiality so different from the northern
stinginess of praise, that Madeleine was rather pleased than
offended. Yet when her eye rested on the Corot, Madeleine's only
pride, she was evidently perplexed, and resorted to eye-glasses, in
order, as it seemed, to gain time for reflection. But she was not to
be disconcerted even by Corot's masterpiece:
"How pretty! Japanese, isn't it? Sea-weeds seen through a fog. I
went to an auction yesterday, and do you know I bought a tea-pot
with a picture just like that."
Madeleine inquired with extreme interest about the auction, but
after learning all that Mrs. Baker had to tell, she was on the point
of being reduced to silence, when she bethought herself to mention
Baker brightened up at once, if she could be said to brighten where
there was no sign of dimness:
"Dear Mr. Carrington! Isn't he sweet? I think he's a delicious man.
I don't know what I should do without him. Since poor Mr. Baker
left me, we have been together all the time. You know my poor
husband left directions that all his papers should be burned, and
though I would not say so unless you were such a friend of Mr.
Carrington's, I reckon it's just as well for some people that he did. I
never could tell you what quantities of papers Mr.
Carrington and I have put in the fire; and we read them all too."
Madeleine asked whether this was not dull work.
"Oh, dear, no! You see I know all about it, and told Mr. Carrington
the story of every paper as we went on. It was quite amusing, I
Mrs. Lee then boldly said she had got from Mr. Carrington an idea
Baker was a very skilful diplomatist.
"Diplomatist!" echoed the widow with her genial laugh; "Well! it
was as much that as anything, but there's not many diplomatists'
wives in this city ever did as much work as I used to do. Why, I
knew half the members of Congress intimately, and all of them by
sight. I knew where they came from and what they liked best. I
could get round the greater part of them, sooner or later."
Mrs. Lee asked what she did with all this knowledge. Mrs. Baker
shook her pink-and-white countenance, and almost paralysed her
opposite neighbour by a sort of Grande Duchesse wink:
"Oh, my dear! you are new here. If you had seen Washington in
war-times and for a few years afterwards, you wouldn't ask that.
We had more congressional business than all the other agents put
together. Every one came to us then, to get his bill through, or his
appropriation watched. We were hard at work all the time. You
see, one can't keep the run of three hundred men without some
trouble. My husband used to make lists of them in books with a
history of each man and all he could learn about him, but I carried
it all in my head."
"Do you mean that you could get them all to vote as you pleased?"
"Well! we got our bills through," replied Mrs. Baker.
"But how did you do it? did they take bribes?"
"Some of them did. Some of them liked suppers and cards and
theatres and all sorts of things. Some of them could be led, and
some had to be driven like Paddy's pig who thought he was going
the other way. Some of them had wives who could talk to them,
and some--hadn't," said Mrs. Baker, with a queer intonation in her
"But surely," said Mrs. Lee, "many of them must have been
above--I mean, they must have had nothing to get hold of; so that
you could manage them."
Mrs. Baker laughed cheerfully and remarked that they were very
much of a muchness.
"But I can't understand how you did it," urged Madeleine; "now,
how would you have gone to work to get a respectable senator's
vote--a man like Mr.
Ratcliffe, for instance?"
"Ratcliffe!" repeated Mrs. Baker with a slight elevation of voice
that gave way to a patronising laugh. "Oh, my dear! don't mention
names. I should get into trouble. Senator Ratcliffe was a good
friend of my husband's. I guess Mr. Carrington could have told you
that. But you see, what we generally wanted was all right enough.
We had to know where our bills were, and jog people's elbows to
get them reported in time. Sometimes we had to convince them
that our bill was a proper one, and they ought to vote for it. Only
now and then, when there was a great deal of money and the vote
was close, we had to find out what votes were worth. It was mostly
dining and talking, calling them out into the lobby or asking them
to supper. I wish I could tell you things I have seen, but I don't
dare. It wouldn't be safe. I've told you already more than I ever said
to any one else; but then you are so intimate with Mr. Carrington,
that I always think of you as an old friend."
Thus Mrs. Baker rippled on, while Mrs. Lee listened with more
and more doubt and disgust. The woman was showy, handsome in
a coarse style, and perfectly presentable. Mrs. Lee had seen
Duchesses as vulgar. She knew more about the practical working
of government than Mrs. Lee could ever expect or hope to know.
Why then draw back from this interesting lobbyist with such
When, after a long, and, as she declared, a most charming call,
Mrs. Baker wended her way elsewhere and Madeleine had given
the strictest order that she should never be admitted again,
Carrington entered, and Madeleine showed him Mrs. Baker's card
and gave a lively account of the interview.
"What shall I do with the woman?" she asked; "must I return her
card?" But Carrington declined to offer advice on this interesting
point. "And she says that Mr. Ratcliffe was a friend of her
husband's and that you could tell me about that."
"Did she say so?" remarked Carrington vaguely.
"Yes! and that she knew every one's weak points and could get all
Carrington expressed no surprise, and so evidently preferred to
change the subject, that Mrs. Lee desisted and said no more.
But she determined to try the same experiment on Mr. Ratcliffe,
and chose the very next chance that offered. In her most indifferent
manner she remarked that Mrs. Sam Baker had called upon her
and had initiated her into the mysteries of the lobby till she had
become quite ambitious to start on that career.
"She said you were a friend of her husband's," added Madeleine
Ratcliffe's face betrayed no sign.
"If you believe what those people tell you," said he drily, "you will
be wiser than the Queen of Sheba."
WHENEVER a man reaches the top of the political ladder, his
enemies unite to pull him down. His friends become critical and
exacting. Among the many dangers of this sort which now
threatened Ratcliffe, there was one that, had he known it, might
have made him more uneasy than any of those which were the
work of senators and congressmen. Carrington entered into an
alliance, offensive and defensive, with Sybil. It came about in this
wise. Sybil was fond of riding. and occasionally, when Carrington
could spare the time, he went as her guide and protector in these
country excursions; for every Virginian, however out at elbows,
has a horse, as he has shoes or a shirt.
In a thoughtless moment Carrington had been drawn into a
promise that he would take Sybil to Arlington. The promise was
one that he did not hurry to keep, for there were reasons which
made a visit to Arlington anything but a pleasure to him; but Sybil
would listen to no excuses, and so it came about that, one lovely
March morning, when the shrubs and the trees in the square before
the house were just beginning, under the warmer sun, to show
signs of their coming wantonness, Sybil stood at the open window
waiting for him, while her new Kentucky horse before the door
showed what he thought of the delay by curving his neck, tossing
his head, and pawing the pavement.
Carrington was late and kept her waiting so long, that the
mignonette and geraniums, which adorned the window, suffered
for his slowness, and the curtain tassels showed signs of wilful
damage. Nevertheless he arrived at length, and they set out
together, choosing the streets least enlivened by horse-cars and
provision-carts, until they had crept through the great metropolis
of Georgetown and come upon the bridge which crosses the noble
river just where its bold banks open out to clasp the city of
Washington in their easy embrace. Then reaching the Virginia side
they cantered gaily up the laurel-margined road, with glimpses of
woody defiles, each carrying its trickling stream and rich in
promise of summer flowers, while from point to point they caught
glorious glimpses of the distant city and river. They passed the
small military station on the heights, still dignified by the name of
fort, though Sybil silently wondered how a fort was possible
without fortifications, and complained that there was nothing more
warlike than a "nursery of telegraph poles." The day was blue and
gold; everything smiled and sparkled in the crisp freshness of the
morning. Sybil was in bounding spirits. and not at all pleased to
find that her companion became moody and abstracted as they
went on. "Poor Mr. Carrington!" thought she to herself, "he is so
nice; but when he puts on that solemn air, one might as well go to
sleep. I am quite certain no nice woman will ever marry him if he
looks like that;" and her practical mind ran off among all the girls
of her acquaintance, in search of one who would put up with
Carrington's melancholy face. She knew his devotion to her sister,
but had long ago rejected this as a hopeless chance. There was a
simplicity about Sybil's way of dealing with life, which had its own
charm. She never troubled herself about the impossible or the
unthinkable. She had feelings, and was rather quick in her
sympathies and sorrows, but she was equally quick in getting over
them, and she expected other people to do likewise. Madeleine
dissected her own feelings and was always wondering whether
they were real or not; she had a habit of taking off her mental
clothing, as she might take off a dress, and looking at it as though
it belonged to some one else, and as though sensations were
manufactured like clothes. This seems to be one of the easier ways
of deadening sorrow, as though the mind could teach itself to lop
off its feelers. Sybil particularly disliked this self-inspection. In the
first place she did not understand it, and in the second her mind
was all feelers, and amputation was death. She could no more
analyse a feeling than doubt its existence, both which were habits
of her sister.
How was Sybil to know what was passing in Carrington's mind?
He was thinking of nothing in which she supposed herself
interested. He was troubled with memories of civil war and of
associations still earlier, belonging to an age already vanishing or
vanished; but what could she know about civil war who had been
almost an infant at the time? At this moment, she happened to be
interested in the baffle of Waterloo, for she was reading "Vanity
Fair," and had cried as she ought for poor little Emmy, when her
husband, George Osborne, lay dead on the field there, with a bullet
through his heart. But how was she to know that here, only a few
rods before her, lay scores and hundreds of George Osbornes, or
his betters, and in their graves the love and hope of many Emmys,
not creatures of the imagination, but flesh and blood, like herself?
To her, there was no more in those associations which made
Carrington groan in the silence of his thoughts, than if he had been
old Kaspar, and she the little Wilhelmine. What was a skull more
or less to her? What concern had she in the famous victory?
Yet even Sybil was startled as she rode through the gate and found
herself suddenly met by the long white ranks of head-stones,
stretching up and down the hill-sides by thousands, in order of
baffle; as though Cadmus had reversed his myth, and had sown
living men, to come up dragons' teeth. She drew in her horse with
a shiver and a sudden impulse to cry. Here was something new to
her. This was war--wounds, disease, death. She dropped her voice
and with a look almost as serious as Carrington's, asked what all
these graves meant. When Carrington told her, she began for the
first time to catch some dim notion why his face was not quite as
gay as her own. Even now this idea was not very precise, for he
said little about himself, but at least she grappled with the fact that
he had actually, year after year, carried arms against these men
who lay at her feet and who had given their lives for her cause. It
suddenly occurred to her as a new thought that perhaps he himself
might have killed one of them with his own hand. There was a
strange shock in this idea. She felt that Carrington was further
from her. He gained dignity in his rebel isolation. She wanted to
ask him how he could have been a traitor, and she did not dare.
Carrington a traitor!
Carrington killing her friends! The idea was too large to grasp. She
fell back on the simpler task of wondering how he had looked in
his rebel uniform.
They rode slowly round to the door of the house and dismounted,
after he had with some difficulty found a man to hold their horses.
From the heavy brick porch they looked across the superb river to
the raw and incoherent ugliness of the city, idealised into dreamy
beauty by the atmosphere, and the soft background of purple hills
behind. Opposite them, with its crude "thus saith the law" stamped
on white dome and fortress-like walls, rose the Capitol.
Carrington stood with her a short time while they looked at the
view; then said he would rather not go into the house himself, and
sat down on the steps while she strolled alone through the rooms.
These were bare and gaunt, so that she, with her feminine sense of
fitness, of course considered what she would do to make them
habitable. She had a neat fancy for furniture, and distributed her
tones and half tones and bits of colour freely about the walls and
ceilings, with a high-backed chair here, a spindle-legged sofa
there, and a claw-footed table in the centre, until her eye was
caught by a very dirty deal desk, on which stood an open book,
with an inkstand and some pens. On the leaf she read the last
entry: "Eli M. Grow and lady, Thermopyle Centre." Not even the
graves outside had brought the horrors of war so near.
What a scourge it was! This respectable family turned out of such
a lovely house, and all the pretty old furniture swept away before a
horde of coarse invaders "with ladies." Did the hosts of Attila write
their names on visiting books in the temple of Vesta and the house
of Sallust? What a new terror they would have added to the name
of the scourge of God! Sybil returned to the portico and sat down
by Carrington on the steps.
"How awfully sad it is!" said she; "I suppose the house was prettily
furnished when the Lees lived here? Did you ever see it then?"
Sybil was not very profound, but she had sympathy, and at this
moment Carrington felt sorely in need of comfort. He wanted
some one to share his feelings, and he turned towards her hungry
"The Lees were old family friends of mine," said he. "I used to stay
here when I was a boy, even as late as the spring of 1861. The last
time I sat here, it was with them. We were wild about disunion and
talked of nothing else. I have been trying to recall what was said
then. We never thought there would be war, and as for coercion, it
was nonsense. Coercion, indeed!
The idea was ridiculous. I thought so, too, though I was a Union
man and did not want the State to go out. But though I felt sure
that Virginia must suffer, I never thought we could be beaten. Yet
now I am sitting here a pardoned rebel, and the poor Lees are
driven away and their place is a grave-yard."
Sybil became at once absorbed in the Lees and asked many
questions, all which Carrington gladly answered. He told her how
he had admired and followed General Lee through the war. "We
thought he was to be our Washington, you know; and perhaps he
had some such idea himself;" and then, when Sybil wanted to hear
about the baffles and the fighting, he drew a rough map on the
gravel path to show her how the two lines had run, only a few
miles away; then he told her how he had carried his musket day
after day over all this country, and where he had seen his battles.
Sybil had everything to learn; the story came to her with all the
animation of real life, for here under her eyes were the graves of
her own champions, and by her side was a rebel who had stood
under our fire at Malvern Hill and at South Mountain, and who
was telling her how men looked and what they thought in face of
death. She listened with breathless interest, and at last summoned
courage to ask in an awestruck tone whether Carrington had ever
killed any one himself. She was relieved, although a little
disappointed, when he said that he believed not; he hoped not;
though no private who has discharged a musket in baffle can be
quite sure where the bullet went. "I never tried to kill any one,"
said he, "though they tried to kill me incessantly." Then Sybil
begged to know how they had tried to kill him, and he told her one
or two of those experiences, such as most soldiers have had, when
he had been fired upon and the balls had torn his clothes or drawn
blood. Poor Sybil was quite overcome, and found a deadly
fascination in the horror. As they sat together on the steps with the
glorious view spread before them, her attention was so closely
fixed on his story that she saw neither the view nor even the
carriages of tourists who drove up, looked about, and departed,
envying Carrington his occupation with the lovely girl.
She was in imagination rushing with him down the valley of
Virginia on the heels of our flying army, or gloomily toiling back
to the Potomac after the bloody days at Gettysburg, or watching
the last grand debâcle on the road from Richmond to Appomattox.
They would have sat there till sunset if Carrington had not at
length insisted that they must go, and then she rose slowly with a
deep sigh and undisguised regret.
As they rode away, Carrington, whose thoughts were not devoted
to his companion so entirely as they should have been, ventured to
say that he wished her sister had come with them, but he found
that his hint was not well received.
Sybil emphatically rejected the idea: "I'm very glad she didn't
come. If she had, you would have talked with her all the time, and
I should have been left to amuse myself. You would have been
discussing things, and I hate discussions. She would have been
hunting for first principles, and you would have been running
about, trying to catch some for her. Besides, she is coming herself
some Sunday with that tiresome Mr. Ratcliffe. I don't see what she
finds in that man to amuse her. Her taste is getting to be
demoralised in Washington. Do you know, Mr. Carrington, I'm not
clever or serious, like Madeleine, and I can't read laws, and hate
politics, but I've more common sense than she has, and she makes
me cross with her. I understand now why young widows are
dangerous, and why they're bumed at their husband's funerals in
India. Not that I want to have Madeleine burned, for she's a dear,
good creature, and I love her better than anything in the world; but
she will certainly do herself some dreadful mischief one of these
days; she has the most extravagant notions about self-sacrifice and
duty; if she hadn't luckily thought of taking charge of me, she
would have done some awful thing long ago, and if I could only be
a little wicked, she would be quite happy all the rest of her life in
reforming me; but now she has got hold of that Mr. Ratcliffe, and
he is trying to make her think she can reform him, and if he does,
it's all up with us. Madeleine will just go and break her heart over
that odious, great, coarse brute, who only wants her money."
Sybil delivered this little oration with a degree of energy that went
to Carrington's heart. She did not often make such sustained
efforts, and it was clear that on this subject she had exhausted her
whole mind. Carrington was delighted, and urged her on. "I dislike
Mr. Ratcliffe as much as you do;--more perhaps. So does every
one who knows much about him. But we shall only make the
matter worse if we interfere. What can we do?"
"That is just what I tell everybody," resumed Sybil. "There is
Victoria Dare always telling me I ought to do something; and Mr.
Schneidekoupon too; just as though I could do anything.
Madeleine has done nothing but get into mischief here. Half the
people think her worldly and ambitious. Only last night that
spiteful old woman, Mrs. Clinton, said to me: 'Your sister is quite
spoiled by Washington. She is more wild for power than any
human being I ever saw.' I was dreadfully angry and told her she
was quite mistaken--Madeleine was not the least spoiled. But I
couldn't say that she was not fond of power, for she is; but not in
the way Mrs. Clinton meant.
You should have seen her the other evening when Mr. Ratcliffe
said about some matter of public business that he would do
whatever she thought right; she spoke up quite sharply for her,
with a scornful little laugh, and said that he had better do what he
thought right. He looked for a moment almost angry, and muttered
something about women's being incomprehensible. He is always
trying to tempt her with power. She might have had long ago all
the power he could give her, but I can see, and he sees too, that she
always keeps him at arm's length. He doesn't like it, but he expects
one of these days to find a bribe that will answer. I wish we had
never come to Washington. New York is so much nicer and the
people there are much more amusing; they dance ever so much
better and send one flowers all the time, and then they never talk
about first principles. Maude had her hospitals and paupers and
training school, and got along very well. It was so safe. But when I
say so to her, she only smiles in a patronising kind of way, and
tells me that I shall have as much of Newport as I want; just as
though I were a child, and not a woman of twenty-five. Poor
Maude! I can't stay with her if she marries Mr. Ratcliffe, and it
would break my heart to leave her with that man. Do you think he
would beat her? Does he drink? I would almost rather be beaten a
little, if I cared for a man, than be taken out to Peonia. Oh, Mr.
Carrington! you are our only hope. She will listen to you.
Don't let her marry that dreadful politician."
To all this pathetic appeal, some parts of which were as liffle
calculated to please Carrington as Ratcliffe himself, Carrington
answered that he was ready to do all in his power but that Sybil
must tell him when and how to act.
"Then, it's a bargain," said she; "whenever I want you, I shall call
on you for help, and you shall prevent the marriage."
"Alliance offensive and defensive," said he, laughing; "war to the
knife on Ratcliffe. We will have his scalp if necessary, but I rather
think he will soon commit hari-kari himself if we leave him
"Madeleine will like him all the better if he does anything
replied Sybil, with great seriousness; "I wish there was more
Japanese bric-à-brac here, or any kind of old pots and pans to talk
about. A little art would be good for her. What a strange place this
is, and how people do stand on their heads in it! Nobody thinks
like anyone else. Victoria Dare says she is trying on principle not
to be good, because she wants to keep some new excitements for
the next world. I'm sure she practices as she preaches. Did you see
her at Mrs. Clinton's last night. She behaved more outrageously
than ever. She sat on the stairs all through supper, looking like a
demure yellow cat with two bouquets in her paws--and I know
Lord Dunbeg sent one of them;--and she actually let Mr. French
feed her with ice-cream from a spoon. She says she was showing
Lord Dunbeg a phase, and that he is going to put it into his article
on American Manners and Customs in the Quarterly, but I don't
think it's nice, do you, Mr. Carrington? I wish Madeleine had her
to take care of. She would have enough to do then, I can tell her."
And so, gently prattling, Miss Sybil returned to the city, her
alliance with Carrington completed; and it was a singular fact that
she never again called him dull. There was henceforward a look of
more positive pleasure and cordiality on her face when he made
his appearance wherever she might be; and the next time he
suggested a horseback excursion she instantly agreed to go,
although aware that she had promised a younger gentleman of the
diplomatic body to be at home that same afternoon, and the good
fellow swore polyglot oaths on being turned away from her door.
Mr. Ratcliffe knew nothing of this conspiracy against his peace
and prospects. Even if he had known it, he might only have
laughed, and pursued his own path without a second thought. Yet
it was certain that he did not think Carrington's enmity a thing to
be overlooked, and from the moment of his obtaining a clue to its
cause, he had begun to take precautions against it. Even in the
middle of the contest for the Treasury, he had found time to listen
to Mr. Wilson Keens report on the affairs of the late Samuel
Mr. Keen came to him with a copy of Baker's will and with
memoranda of remarks made by the unsuspecting Mrs. Baker;
"from which it appears," said he, "that Baker, having no time to
put his affairs in order, left special directions that his executors
should carefully destroy all papers that might be likely to
"What is the executor's name?" interrupted Ratcliffe.
"The executor's name is--John Carrington," said Keen,
methodically referring to his copy of the will.
Ratcliffe's face was impassive, but the inevitable, "I knew it,"
almost sprang to his lips. He was rather pleased at the instinct
which had led him so directly to the right trail.
Keen went on to say that from Mrs. Baker's conversation it was
certain that the testator's directions had been carried out, and that
the great bulk of these papers had been burned.
"Then it will be useless to press the inquiry further," said Ratcliffe;
"I am much obliged to you for your assistance," and he turned the
conversation to the condition of Mr. Keen's bureau in the Treasury
The next time Ratcliffe saw Mrs. Lee, after his appointment to the
Treasury was confirmed, he asked her whether she did not think
Carrington very well suited for public service, and when she
warmly assented, he said it had occurred to him to offer the place
of Solicitor of the Treasury to Mr.
Carrington, for although the actual salary might not be very much
more than he earned by his private practice, the incidental
advantages to a Washington lawyer were considerable; and to the
Secretary it was especially necessary to have a solicitor in whom
he could place entire confidence. Mrs. Lee was pleased by this
motion of Ratcliffe's, the more because she had supposed that
Ratcliffe had no liking for Carrington. She doubted whether
Carrington would accept the place, but she hoped that it might
modify his dislike for Ratcliffe, and she agreed to sound him on
the subject. There was something a little compromising in thus
allowing herself to appear as the dispenser of Mr. Ratcliffe's
patronage, but she dismissed this objection on the ground that
Carrington's interests were involved, and that it was for him to
judge whether he should take the place or not. Perhaps the world
would not be so charitable if the appointment were made. What
then? Mrs. Lee asked herself the question and did not feel quite at
So far as Carrington was concerned, she might have dismissed her
There was not a chance of his taking the place, as very soon
appeared. When she spoke to him on the subject, and repeated
what Ratcliffe had said, his face flushed, and he sat for some
moments in silence. He never thought very rapidly, but now the
ideas seemed to come so fast as to bewilder his mind.
The situation flashed before his eyes like electric sparks. His first
impression was that Ratcliffe wanted to buy him; to tie his tongue;
to make him run, like a fastened dog, under the waggon of the
Secretary of the Treasury. His second notion was that Ratcliffe
wanted to put Mrs. Lee under obligations, in order to win her
regard; and, again, that he wanted to raise himself in her esteem by
posing as a friend of honest administration and unassisted virtue.
Then suddenly it occurred to him that the scheme was to make him
appear jealous and vindictive; to put him in an attitude where any
reason he might give for declining would bear a look of meanness,
and tend to separate him from Mrs. Lee. Carrington was so
absorbed by these thoughts, and his mind worked so slowly, that
he failed to hear one or two remarks addressed to him by Mrs. Lee,
who became a little alarmed, under the impression that he was
When at length he heard her and attempted to frame an answer, his
embarrassment increased. He could only stammer that he was
sorry to be obliged to decline, but this office was one he could not
If Madeleine felt a little relieved by this decision, she did not show
From her manner one might have supposed it to be her fondest
wish that Carrington should be Solicitor of the Treasury. She
cross-questioned him with obstinacy. Was not the offer a good
one? --and he was obliged to confess that it was. Were the duties
such as he could not perform? Not at all! there was nothing in the
duties which alarmed him. Did he object to it because of his
southern prejudices against the administration? Oh, no! he had no
political feeling to stand in his way. What, then, could be his
reason for refusing?
Carrington resorted again to silence, until Mrs. Lee, a little
impatiently, asked whether it was possible that his personal dislike
to Racliffe could blind him so far as to make him reject so fair a
proposal. Carrington, finding himself more and more
uncomfortable, rose restlessly from his chair and paced the room.
He felt that Ratclife had fairly out-generaled him, and he was at
his wits' end to know what card he could play that would not lead
directly into Ratcliffe's trump suit. To refuse such an offer was
hard enough at best, for a man who wanted money and
professional advancement as he did, but to injure himself and help
Ratcliffe by this refusal, was abominably hard. Nevertheless, he
was obliged to admit that he would rather not take a position so
directly under Ratcliffe's control. Madeleine said no more, but he
thought she looked annoyed, and he felt himself in an intolerably
painful situation. He was not certain that she herself might not
have had some share in proposing the plan, and that his refusal
might not have some mortifying consequences for her. What must
she think of him, then?
At this very moment he would have given his right arm for a word
of real affection from Mrs. Lee. He adored her. He would willingly
enough have damned himself for her. There was no sacrifice he
would not have made to bring her nearer to him. In his upright,
quiet, simple kind of way, he immolated himself before her. For
months his heart had ached with this hopeless passion. He
recognized that it was hopeless. He knew that she would never
love him, and, to do her justice, she never had given him reason to
suppose that it was in her power to love him, r any man. And here
he stood, obliged to appear ungrateful and prejudiced, mean and
vindictive, in her eyes. He took his seat again, looking so
unutterably dejected, his patient face so tragically mournful, that
Madeleine, after a while, began to see the absurd side of the
matter, and presently burst into a laugh "Please do not look so
frightfully miserable!" said she; "I did not mean to make you
unhappy. After all, what does it matter? You have a perfect right to
refuse, and, for my part, I have not the least wish to see you
On this, Carrington brightened, and declared that if she thought
him right in declining, he cared for nothing else. It was only the
idea of hurting her feelings that weighed on his mind. But in
saying this, he spoke in a tone that implied a deeper feeling, and
made Mrs. Lee again look grave and sigh.
"Ah, Mr. Carrington," she said, "this world will not run as we
want. Do you suppose the time will ever come when every one will
be good and happy and do just what they ought? I thought this
offer might possibly take one anxiety off your shoulders. I am
sorry now that I let myself be led into making it."
Carrington could not answer her. He dared not trust his voice. He
rose to go, and as she held out her hand, he suddenly raised it to
his lips, and so left her. She sat for a moment with tears in her eyes
after he was gone. She thought she knew all that was in his mind,
and with a woman's readiness to explain every act of men by their
consuming passions for her own sex, she took it as a matter of
course that jealousy was the whole cause of Carrington's hostility
to Ratcliffe, and she pardoned it with charming alacrity. "Ten
years ago, I could have loved him," she thought to herself, and
then, while she was half smiling at the idea, suddenly another
thought flashed upon her, and she threw her hand up before her
face as though some one had struck her a blow. Carrington had
reopened the old wound.
When Ratcliffe came to see her again, which he did very shortly
afterwards, glad of so good an excuse, she told him of Carrington's
refusal, adding only that he seemed unwilling to accept any
position that had a political character. Ratcliffe showed no sign of
displeasure; he only said, in a benignant tone, that he was sorry to
be unable to do something for so good a friend of hers; thus
establishing, at all events, his claim on her gratitude. As for
Carrington, the offer which Ratcliffe had made was not intended to
be accepted, and Carrington could not have more embarrassed the
secretary than by closing with it. Ratcliffe's object had been to
settle for his own satisfaction the question of Carrington's hostility,
for he knew the man well enough to feel sure that in any event he
would act a perfectly straightforward part. If he accepted, he
would at least be true to his chief. If he refused, as Ratcliffe
expected, it would be a proof that some means must be found of
getting him out of the way. In any case the offer was a new thread
in the net that Mr. Ratcliffe flattered himself he was rapidly
winding about the affections and ambitions of Mrs. Lee. Yet he
had reasons of his own for thinking that Carrington, more easily
than any other man, could cut the meshes of this net if he chose to
do so, and therefore that it would be wiser to postpone action until
Carrington were disposed of.
Without a moment's delay he made inquiries as to all the vacant or
eligible offices in the gift of the government outside his own
department. Very few of these would answer his purpose. He
wanted some temporary law business that would for a time take its
holder away to a distance, say to Australia or Central Asia, the
further the better; it must be highly paid, and it must be given in
such a way as not to excite suspicion that Ratcliffe was concerned
in the matter. Such an office was not easily found. There is little
law business in Central Asia, and at this moment there was not
enough to require a special agent in Australia. Carrington could
hardly be induced to lead an expedition to the sources of the Nile
in search of business merely to please Mr. Ratcliffe, nor could the
State Department offer encouragement to a hope that government
would pay the expenses of such an expedition. The best that
Ratcliffe could do was to select the place of counsel to the
Mexican claims-commission which was soon to meet in the city of
Mexico, and which would require about six months' absence. By a
little management he could contrive to get the counsel sent away
in advance of the commission, in order to work up a part of the
case on the spot. Ratcliffe acknowledged that Mexico was too
near, but he drily remarked to himself that if Carrington could get
back in time to dislodge him after he had once got a firm hold on
Mrs. Lee, he would never try to run another caucus.
The point once settled in his own mind, Ratcliffe, with his usual
rapidity of action, carried his scheme into effect. In this there was
little difficulty. He dropped in at the office of the Secretary of
State within eight-and-forty hours after his last conversation with
Mrs. Lee. During these early days of every new administration, the
absorbing business of government relates principally to
appointments. The Secretary of the Treasury was always ready to
oblige his colleagues in the Cabinet by taking care of their friends
to any reasonable extent. The Secretary of State was not less
courteous. The moment he understood that Mr. Ratcliffe had a
strong wish to secure the appointment of a certain person as
counsel to the Mexican claims-commission, the Secretary of State
professed readiness to gratify him, and when he heard who the
proposed person was, the suggestion was hailed with pleasure, for
Carrington was well known and much liked at the Department, and
was indeed an excellent man for the place. Ratcliffe hardly needed
to promise an equivalent. The business was arranged in ten
"I only need say," added Ratcliffe, "that if my agency in the affair
is known, Mr. Carrington will certainly refuse the place, for he is
one of your old-fashioned Virginia planters, proud as Lucifer, and
willing to accept nothing by way of favour. I will speak to your
Assistant Secretary about it, and the recommendation shall appear
to come from him."
The very next day Carrington received a private note from his old
friend, the Assistant Secretary of State, who was overjoyed to do
him a kindness.
The note asked him to call at the Department at his earliest
convenience. He went, and the Assistant Secretary announced that
he had recommended Carrington's appointment as counsel to the
Mexican claims-commission, and that the Secretary had approved
the recommendation. "We want a Southern man, a lawyer with a
little knowledge of international law, one who can go at once, and,
above all, an honest man. You fit the description to a hair; so pack
your trunk as soon as you like."
Carrington was startled. Coming as it did, this offer was not only
unobjectionable, but tempting. It was hard for him even to imagine
a reason for hesitation. From the first he felt that he must go, and
yet to go was the very last thing he wanted to do. That he should
suspect Ratcliffe to be at the bottom of this scheme of banishment
was a matter of course, and he instantly asked whether any
influence had been used in his favour; but the Assistant Secretary
so stoutly averred that the appointment was made on his
recommendation alone, as to block all further inquiry. Technically
this assertion was exact, and it made Carrington feel that it would
be base ingratitude on his part not to accept a favour so
Yet he could not make up his mind to acceptance. He begged four
and twenty hours' delay, in order, as he said, to see whether he
could arrange his affairs for a six months' absence, although he
knew there would be no difficulty in his doing so. He went away
and sat in his office alone, gloomily wondering what he could do,
although from the first he saw that the situation was only too clear,
and there could not be the least dark corner of a doubt to crawl
into. Six months ago he would have jumped at this offer.
What had happened within six months to make it seem a disaster?
Mrs. Lee! There was the whole story. To go away now was to give
up Mrs. Lee, and probably to give her up to Ratcliffe. Carrington
gnashed his teeth when he thought how skilfully Ratcliffe was
playing his cards. The longer he reflected, the more certain he felt
that Ratcliffe was at the bottom of this scheme to get rid of him;
and yet, as he studied the situation, it occurred to him that after all
it was possible for Ratcliffe to make a blunder. This Illinois
politician was clever, and understood men; but a knowledge of
men is a very different thing from a knowledge of women.
Carrington himself had no great experience in the article of
women, but he thought he knew more than Ratcliffe, who was
evidently relying most on his usual theory of political corruption as
applied to feminine weaknesses, and who was only puzzled at
finding how high a price Mrs. Lee set on herself. If Ratcliffe were
really at the bottom of the scheme for separating Carrington from
her, it could only be because he thought that six months, or even
six weeks, would be enough to answer his purpose. And on
reaching this point in his reflections, Carrington suddenly rose, lit
a cigar, and walked up and down his room steadily for the next
hour, with the air of a general arranging a plan of campaign, or a
lawyer anticipating his opponent's line of argument.
On one point his mind was made up. He would accept. If Ratcliffe
really had a hand in this move, he should be gratified. If he had
laid a trap, he should be caught in it. And when the evening came,
Carrington took his hat and walked off to call upon Mrs. Lee.
He found the sisters alone and quietly engaged in their
Madeleine was dramatically mending an open-work silk stocking,
a delicate and difficult task which required her whole mind. Sybil
was at the piano as usual, and for the first time since he had known
her, she rose when he came in, and, taking her work-basket, sat
down to share in the conversation. She meant to take her place as a
woman, henceforward. She was tired of playing girl. Mr.
Carrington should see that she was not a fool.
Carrington plunged at once into his subject, and announced the
offer made to him, at which Madeleine expressed delight, and
asked many questions. What was the pay? How soon must he go?
How long should he be away? Was there danger from the climate?
and finally she added, with a smile, "What am I to say to Mr.
Ratcliffe if you accept this offer after refusing his?" As for Sybil,
she made one reproachful exclamation: "Oh, Mr. Carrington!" and
sank back into silence and consternation. Her first experiment at
taking a stand of her own in the world was not encouraging. She
Nor was Carrington gay. However modest a man may be, only an
idiot can forget himself entirely in pursuing the moon and the
stars. In the bottom of his soul, he had a lingering hope that when
he told his story, Madeleine might look up with a change of
expression, a glance of unpremeditated regard, a little suffusion of
the eyes, a little trembling of the voice. To see himself relegated to
Mexico with such cheerful alacrity by the woman he loved was not
the experience he would have chosen. He could not help feeling
that his hopes were disposed of, and he watched her with a painful
sinking of the heart, which did not lead to lightness of
conversation. Madeleine herself felt that her expressions needed to
be qualified, and she tried to correct her mistake. What should she
do without a tutor? she said. He must let her have a list of books to
read while he was away: they were themselves going north in the
middle of May, and Carrington would be back by the time they
returned in December. After all, they should see as little of him
during the summer if he were in Virginia as if he were in Mexico.
Carrington gloomily confessed that he was very unwilling to go;
that he wished the idea had never been suggested; that he should
be perfectly happy if for any reason the scheme broke down; but
he gave no explanation of his feeling, and Madeleine had too much
tact to press for one. She contented herself by arguing against it,
and talking as vivaciously as she could. Her heart really bled for
him as she saw his face grow more and more pathetic in its quiet
expression of disappointment. But what could she say or do? He
sat till after ten o'clock; he could not tear himself away. He felt
that this was the end of his pleasure in life; he dreaded the solitude
of his thoughts. Mrs. Lee's resources began to show signs of
exhaustion. Long pauses intervened between her remarks; and at
length Carrington, with a superhuman effort, apologized for
inflicting himself upon her so unmercifully. If she knew, he said,
how he dreaded being alone, she would forgive him. Then he rose
to go, and, in taking leave, asked Sybil if she was inclined to ride
the next day; if so, he was at her service. Sybil's face brightened as
she accepted the invitation.
Mrs. Lee, a day or two afterwards, did mention Carrington's
appointment to Mr. Ratcliffe, and she told Carrington that the
Secretary certainly looked hurt and mortified, but showed it only
by almost instantly changing the subject.
THE next morning Carrington called at the Department and
announced his acceptance of the post. He was told that his
instructions would be ready in about a fortnight, and that he would
be expected to start as soon as he received them; in the meanwhile,
he must devote himself to the study of a mass of papers in the
Department. There was no trifling allowable here.
Carrington had to set himself vigorously to work. This did not,
however, prevent him from keeping his appointment with Sybil,
and at four o'clock they started together, passing out into the quiet
shadows of Rock Creek, and seeking still lanes through the woods
where their horses walked side by side, and they themselves could
talk without the risk of criticism from curious eyes. It was the
afternoon of one of those sultry and lowering spring days when life
germinates rapidly, but as yet gives no sign, except perhaps some
new leaf or flower pushing its soft head up against the dead leaves
that have sheltered it. The two riders had something of the same
sensation, as though the leafless woods and the laurel thickets, the
warm, moist air and the low clouds, were a protection and a soft
shelter. Somewhat to Carrington's surprise, he found that it was
pleasant to have Sybil's company. He felt towards her as to a
sister--a favourite sister.
She at once attacked him for abandoning her and breaking his
treaty so lately made, and he tried to gain her sympathy by saying
that if she knew how much he was troubled, she would forgive
him. Then when Sybil asked whether he really must go and leave
her without any friend whom she could speak to, his feelings got
the better of him: he could not resist the temptation to confide all
his troubles in her, since there was no one else in whom he could
confide. He told her plainly that he was in love with her sister.
"You say that love is nonsense, Miss Ross. I tell you it is no such
For weeks and months it is a steady physical pain, an ache about
the heart, never leaving one, by night or by day; a long strain on
one's nerves like toothache or rheumatism, not intolerable at any
one instant, but exhausting by its steady drain on the strength. It is
a disease to be borne with patience, like any other nervous
complaint, and to be treated with counter-irritants. My trip to
Mexico will be good for it, but that is not the reason why I must
Then he told her all his private circumstances; the ruin which the
war had brought on him and his family; how, of his two brothers,
one had survived the war only to die at home, a mere wreck of
disease, privation, and wounds; the other had been shot by his side,
and bled slowly to death in his arms during the awful carnage in
the Wilderness; how his mother and two sisters were struggling for
a bare subsistence on a wretched Virginian farm, and how all his
exertions barely kept them from beggary.
"You have no conception of the poverty to which our southern
women are reduced since the war," said he; "they are many of
them literally without clothes or bread." The fee he should earn by
going to Mexico would double his income this year. Could he
refuse? Had he a right to refuse? And poor Carrington added, with
a groan, that if he alone were in question, he would sooner be shot
Sybil listened with tears in her eyes. She never before had seen a
man show suffering. The misery she had known in life had been
more or less veiled to her and softened by falling on older and
friendly shoulders. She now got for the first time a clear view of
Carrington, apart from the quiet exterior in which the man was
hidden. She felt quite sure, by a sudden flash of feminine
inspiration, that the curious look of patient endurance on his face
was the work of a single night when he had held his brother in his
arms, and knew that the blood was draining drop by drop from his
side, in the dense, tangled woods, beyond the reach of help, hour
after hour, till the voice failed and the limbs grew stiff and cold.
When he had finished his story, she was afraid to speak. She did
not know how to show her sympathy, and she could not bear to
seem unsympathetic. In her embarrassment she fairly broke down
and could only dry her eyes in silence.
Having once got this weight of confidence off his mind,
Carrington felt comparatively gay and was ready to make the best
of things. He laughed at himself to drive away the tears of his
pretty companion, and obliged her to take a solemn pledge never
to betray him. "Of course your sister knows it all," he said; "but
she must never know that I told you, and I never would tell any one
Sybil promised faithfully to keep his confidence to herself, and she
went on to defend her sister.
"You must not blame Madeleine," said she; "if you knew as well as
I do what she has been through, you would not think her cold. You
do know how suddenly her husband died, after only one day's
illness, and what a nice fellow he was. She was very fond of him,
and his death seemed to stun her. We hardly knew what to make of
it, she was so quiet and natural. Then just a week later her little
child died of diphtheria, suffering horribly, and she wild with
despair because she could not relieve it. After that, she was almost
insane; indeed, I have always thought she was quite insane for a
time. I know she was excessively violent and wanted to kill
herself, and I never heard any one rave as she did about religion
and resignation and God. After a few weeks she became quiet and
stupid and went about like a machine; and at last she got over it,
but has never been what she was before. You know she was a
rather fast New York girl before she married, and cared no more
about politics and philanthropy than I do. It was a very late thing,
all this stuff. But she is not really hard, though she may seem so. It
is all on the surface. I always know when she is thinking about her
husband or child, because her face gets rigid; she looks then as she
used to look after her child died, as though she didn't care what
became of her and she would just as lieve kill herself as not. I don't
think she will ever let herself love any one again. She has a horror
of it. She is much more likely to go in for ambition, or duty, or
They rode on for a while in silence, Carrington perplexed by the
problem how two harmless people such as Madeleine and he could
have been made by a beneficent Providence the sport of such cruel
tortures; and Sybil equally interested in thinking what sort of a
brother-in-law Carrington would make; on the whole, she thought
she liked him better as he was. The silence was only broken by
Carrington's bringing the conversation back to its starting-point:
"Something must be done to keep your sister out of Ratcliffe's
power. I have thought about it till I am tired. Can you make no
No! Sybil was helpless and dreadfully alarmed. Mr. Ratcliffe came
to the house as often as he could, and seemed to tell Madeleine
everything that was going on in politics, and ask her advice, and
Madeleine did not discourage him. "I do believe she likes it, and
thinks she can do some good by it. I don't dare speak to her about
it. She thinks me a child still, and treats me as though I were
fifteen. What can I do?"
Carrington said he had thought of speaking to Mrs. Lee himself,
but he did not know what to say, and if he offended her, he might
drive her directly into Ratcliffe's arms. But Sybil thought she
would not be offended if he went to work in the right way. "She
will stand more from you than from any one else. Tell her openly
that you--that you love her," said Sybil with a burst of desperate
courage; "she can't take offence at that; and then you can say
Carrington looked at Sybil with more admiration than he had ever
expected to feel for her, and began to think that he might do worse
than to put himself under her orders. After all, she had some
practical sense, and what was more to the point, she was
handsomer than ever, as she sat erect on her horse, the rich colour
rushing up under the warm skin, at the impropriety of her speech.
"You are certainly right," said he; "after all, I have nothing to lose.
Whether she marries Ratcliffe or not, she will never marry me, I
This speech was a cowardly attempt to beg encouragement from
Sybil, and met with the fate it deserved, for Sybil, highly flattered
at Carrington's implied praise, and bold as a lioness now that it
was Carrington's fingers, and not her own, that were to go into the
fire, gave him on the spot a feminine view of the situation that did
not encourage his hopes. She plainly said that men seemed to take
leave of their senses as soon as women were concerned; for her
part, she could not understand what there was in any woman to
make such a fuss about; she thought most women were horrid;
men were ever so much nicer; "and as for Madeleine, whom all of
you are ready to cut each other's throats about, she's a dear, good
sister, as good as gold, and I love her with all my heart, but you
wouldn't like her, any of you, if you married her; she has always
had her own way, and she could not help taking it; she never could
learn to take yours; both of you would be unhappy in a week; and
as for that old Mr. Ratcliffe, she would make his life a burden--and
I hope she will," concluded Sybil with a spiteful little explosion of
Carrington could not help being amused by Sybil's way of dealing
with affairs of the heart. Emboldened by encouragement, she went
on to attack him pitilessly for going down on his knees before her
sister, "just as though you were not as good as she is," and openly
avowed that, if she were a man, she would at least have some
pride. Men like this kind of punishment.
Carrington did not attempt to defend himself; he even courted
Sybil's attack. They both enjoyed their ride through the bare
woods, by the rippling spring streams, under the languid breath of
the moist south wind. It was a small idyll, all the more pleasant
because there was gloom before and behind it. Sybil's irrepressible
gaiety made Carrington doubt whether, after all, life need be so
serious a matter. She had animal spirits in plenty, and it needed an
effort for her to keep them down, while Carrington's spirits were
nearly exhausted after twenty years of strain, and he required a
greater effort to hold himself up. There was every reason why he
should be grateful to Sybil for lending to him from her superfluity.
He enjoyed being laughed at by her. Suppose Madeleine Lee did
refuse to marry him! What of it?
"Pooh!" said Sybil; "you men are all just alike. How can you be so
Madeleine and you would be intolerable together. Do find some
one who won't be solemn!"
They laid out their little plot against Madeleine and elaborated it
carefully, both as to what Carrington should say and how he
should say it, for Sybil asserted that men were too stupid to be
trusted even in making a declaration of love, and must be taught,
like little children to say their prayers. Carrington enjoyed being
taught how to make a declaration of love.
He did not ask where Sybil had learned so much about men's
stupidity. He thought perhaps Schneidekoupon could have thrown
light on the subject. At all events, they were so busily occupied
with their schemes and lessons, that they did not-reach home till
Madeleine had become anxious lest they had met with some
accident. The long dusk had become darkness before she heard the
clatter of hoofs on the asphalt pavement, and she went down to the
door to scold them for their delay. Sybil only laughed at her, and
said it was all Mr. Carrington's fault: he had lost his way, and she
had been forced to find it for him.
Ten days more passed before their plan was carried into effect.
April had come. Carrington's work was completed and he was
ready to start on his journey. Then at last he appeared one evening
at Mrs. Lee's at the very moment when Sybil, as chance would
have it, was going out to pass an hour or two with her friend
Victoria Dare a few doors away. Carrington felt a little ashamed as
she went. This kind of conspiracy behind Mrs. Lee's back was not
to his taste.
He resolutely sat down, and plunged at once into his subject. He
was almost ready to go, he said; he had nearly completed his work
in the Department, and he was assured that his instructions and
papers would be ready in two days more; he might not have
another chance to see Mrs. Lee so quietly again, and he wanted to
take his leave now, for this was what lay most heavily on his mind;
he should have gone willingly and gladly if it had not been for
uneasiness about her; and yet he had till now been afraid to speak
openly on the subject. Here he paused for a moment as though to
invite some reply.
Madeleine laid down her work with a look of regret though not of
annoyance, and said frankly and instantly that he had been too
good a friend to allow of her taking offence at anything he could
say; she would not pretend to misunderstand him. "My affairs," she
added with a shade of bitterness, "seem to have become public
property, and I would rather have some voice in discussing them
myself than to know they are discussed behind my back."
This was a sharp thrust at the very outset, but Carrington turned it
aside and went quietly on:
"You are frank and loyal, as you always are. I will be so too. I can't
help being so. For months I have had no other pleasure than in
being near you.
For the first time in my life I have known what it is to forget my
own affairs in loving a woman who seems to me without a fault,
and for one solitary word from whom I would give all I have in
life, and perhaps itself."
Madeleine flushed and bent towards him with an earnestness of
manner that repeated itself in her tone.
"Mr. Carrington, I am the best friend you have on earth. One of
these days you will thank me with your whole soul for refusing to
listen to you now.
You do not know how much misery I am saving you. I have no
heart to give.
You want a young, fresh life to help yours; a gay, lively
temperament to enliven your despondency; some one still young
enough to absorb herself in you and make all her existence yours. I
could not do it. I can give you nothing. I have done my best to
persuade myself that some day I might begin life again with the
old hopes and feelings, but it is no use. The fire is burned out. If
you married me, you would destroy yourself You would wake up
some day, and find the universe dust and ashes."
Carrington listened in silence. He made no attempt to interrupt or
to contradict her. Only at the end he said with a little bitterness:
"My own life is worth so much to the world and to me, that I
suppose it would be wrong to risk it on such a venture; but I would
risk it, nevertheless, if you gave me the chance. Do you think me
wicked for tempting Providence? I do not mean to annoy you with
entreaties. I have a little pride left, and a great deal of respect for
you. Yet I think, in spite of all you have said or can say, that one
disappointed life may be as able to find happiness and repose in
another, as to get them by sucking the young life-blood of a fresh
To this speech, which was unusually figurative for Carrington,
Mrs. Lee could find no ready answer. She could only reply that
Carrington's life was worth quite as much as his neighbour's, and
that it was worth so much to her, if not to himself, that she would
not let him wreck it.
Carrington went on: "Forgive my talking in this way. I do not mean
to complain. I shall always love you just as much, whether you
care for me or not, because you are the only woman I have ever
met, or am ever likely to meet, who seems to me perfect."
If this was Sybil's teaching, she had made the best of her time.
Carrington's tone and words pierced through all Mrs. Lee's armour
as though they were pointed with the most ingenious cruelty, and
designed to torture her. She felt hard and small before him. Life
for life, his had been, and was now, far less bright than hers, yet he
was her superior. He sat there, a true man, carrying his burden
calmly, quietly, without complaint, ready to face the next shock of
life with the same endurance he had shown against the rest. And
he thought her perfect! She felt humiliated that any brave man
should say to her face that he thought her perfect! She! perfect! In
her contrition she was half ready to go down at his feet and confess
her sins; her hysterical dread of sorrow and suffering, her narrow
sympathies, her feeble faith, her miserable selfishness, her abject
cowardice. Every nerve in her body tingled with shame when she
thought what a miserable fraud she was; what a mass of
pretensions unfounded, of deceit ingrained. She was ready to hide
her face in her hands. She was disgusted, outraged with her own
image as she saw it, contrasted with Carrington's single word:
Nor was this the worst. Carrington was not the first man who had
thought her perfect. To hear this word suddenly used again, which
had never been uttered to her before except by lips now dead and
gone, made her brain reel. She seemed to hear her husband once
more telling her that she was perfect. Yet against this torture, she
had a better defence. She had long since hardened herself to bear
these recollections, and they steadied and strengthened her.
She had been called perfect before now, and what had come of it?
Two graves, and a broken life! She drew herself up with a face
now grown quite pale and rigid. In reply to Carrington, she said
not a word, but only shook her head slightly without looking at
He went on: "After all, it is not my own happiness I am thinking of
but yours. I never was vain enough to think that I was worth your
love, or that I could ever win it. Your happiness is another thing. I
care so much for that as to make me dread going away, for fear
that you may yet find yourself entangled in this wretched political
life here, when, perhaps if I stayed, I might be of some use."
"Do you really think, then, that I am going to fall a victim to Mr.
Ratcliffe?" asked Madeleine, with a cold smile.
"Why not?" replied Carrington, in a similar tone. "He can put
forward a strong claim to your sympathy and help, if not to your
love. He can offer you a great field of usefulness which you want.
He has been very faithful to you. Are you quite sure that even now
you can refuse him without his complaining that you have trifled
"And are you quite sure," added Mrs. Lee, evasively, "that you
have not been judging him much too harshly? I think I know him
better than you. He has many good qualities, and some high ones.
What harm can he do me? Supposing even that he did succeed in
persuading me that my life could be best used in helping his, why
should I be afraid of it?"
"You and I," said Carrington, "are wide apart in our estimates of
Ratcliffe. To you, of course, he shows his best side. He is on his
good behaviour, and knows that any false step will ruin him. I see
in him only a coarse, selfish, unprincipled politician, who would
either drag you down to his own level, or, what is more likely,
would very soon disgust you and make your life a wretched
self-immolation before his vulgar ambition, or compel you to leave
him. In either case you would be the victim. You cannot afford to
make another false start in life. Reject me! I have not a word to say
against it. But be on your guard against giving your existence up to
"Why do you think so ill of Mr. Ratcliffe?" asked Madeleine; "he
always speaks highly of you. Do you know anything against him
that the world does not?"
"His public acts are enough to satisfy me," replied Carrington,
evading a part of the question. "You know that I have never had
but one opinion about him."
There was a pause in the conversation. Both parties felt that as yet
no good had come of it. At length Madeleine asked, "What would
you have me do? Is it a pledge you want that I will under no
circumstances marry Mr. Ratcliffe?"
"Certainly not," was the answer; "you know me better than to think
I would ask that. I only want you to take time and keep out of his
influence until your mind is fairly made up. A year hence I feel
certain that you will think of him as I do."
"Then you will allow me to marry him if I find that you are
mistaken," said Mrs. Lee, with a marked tone of sarcasm.
Carrington looked annoyed, but he answered quietly, "What I fear
is his influence here and now. What I would like to see you do is
this: go north a month earlier than you intended, and without
giving him time to act. If I were sure you were safely in Newport, I
should feel no anxiety."
"You seem to have as bad an opinion of Washington as Mr. Gore,"
said Madeleine, with a contemptuous smile. "He gave me the same
advice, though he was afraid to tell me why. I am not a child. I am
thirty years old, and have seen something of the world. I am not
afraid, like Mr. Gore, of Washington malaria, or, like you, of Mr.
Ratcliffe's influence. If I fall a victim I shall deserve my fate, and
certainly I shall have no cause to complain of my friends. They
have given me advice enough for a lifetime."
Carrington's face darkened with a deeper shade of regret. The turn
which the conversation had taken was precisely what he had
expected, and both Sybil and he had agreed that Madeleine would
probably answer just in this way.
Nevertheless, he could not but feel acutely the harm he was doing
to his own interests, and it was only by a sheer effort of the will
that he forced himself to a last and more earnest attack.
"I know it is an impertinence," he said; "I wish it were in my
power to show how much it costs me to offend you. This is the
first time you ever had occasion to be offended. If I were to yield
to the fear of your anger and were to hold my tongue now, and by
any chance you were to wreck your life on this rock, I should never
forgive myself the cowardice. I should always think I might have
done something to prevent it. This is probably the last time I shall
have the chance to talk openly with you, and I implore you to
listen to me. I want nothing for myself If I knew I should never see
you again, I would still say the same thing. Leave Washington!
Leave it now!
--at once! --without giving more than twenty-four hours' notice!
Leave it without letting Mr. Ratcliffe see you again in private!
Come back next winter if you please, and then accept him if you
think proper. I only pray you to think long about it and decide
when you are not here."
Madeleine's eyes flashed, and she threw aside her embroidery with
an impatient gesture: "No! Mr. Carrington! I will not be dictated
to! I will carry out my own plans! I do not mean to marry Mr.
Ratcliffe. If I had meant it, I should have done it before now. But I
will not run away from him or from myself. It would be
unladylike, undignified, cowardly."
Carrington could say no more. He had come to the end of his
lesson. A long silence ensued and then he rose to go. "Are you
angry with me?" said she in a softer tone.
"I ought to ask that question," said he. "Can you forgive me? I am
afraid not. No man can say to a woman what I have said to you,
and be quite forgiven. You will never think of me again as you
would have done if I had not spoken. I knew that before I did it. As
for me, I can only go on with my old life. It is not gay, and will not
be the gayer for our talk to-night."
Madeleine relented a little: "Friendships like ours are not so easily
broken," she said. "Do not do me another injustice. You will see
me again before you go?"
He assented and bade good-night. Mrs. Lee, weary and disturbed in
mind, hastened to her room. "When Miss Sybil comes in, tell her
that I am not very well, and have gone to bed," were her
instructions to her maid, and Sybil thought she knew the cause of
But before Carrington's departure he had one more ride with Sybil,
and reported to her the result of the interview, at which both of
them confessed themselves much depressed. Carrington expressed
some hope that Madeleine meant, after a sort, to give a kind of
pledge by saying that she had no intention of marrying Mr.
Ratcliffe, but Sybil shook her head emphatically:
"How can a woman tell whether she is going to accept a man until
she is asked?" said she with entire confidence, as though she were
stating the simplest fact in the world. Carrington looked puzzled,
and ventured to ask whether women did not generally make up
their minds beforehand on such an interesting point; but Sybil
overwhelmed him with contempt: "What good will they do by
making up their minds, I should like to know? of course they
would go and do the opposite. Sensible women don't pretend to
make up their minds, Mr. Carrington. But you men are so stupid,
and you can't understand in the least."
Carrington gave it up, and went back to his stale question: Could
Sybil suggest any other resource? and Sybil sadly confessed that
she could not. So far as she could see, they must trust to luck, and
she thought it was cruel tor Mr. Carrington to go away and leave
her alone without help. He had promised to prevent the marriage.
"One thing more I mean to do," said Carrington: "and here
everything will depend on your courage and nerve. You may
depend upon it that Mr. Ratcliffe will offer himself before you go
north. He does not suspect you of making trouble, and he will not
think about you in any way if you let him alone and keep quiet.
When he does offer himself you will know it; at least your sister
will tell you if she has accepted him. If she refuses him point
blank, you will have nothing to do but to keep her steady. If you
see her hesitating, you must break in at any cost, and use all your
influence to stop her. Be bold, then, and do your best. If everything
fails and she still clings to him, I must play my last card, or rather
you must play it for me.
I shall leave with you a sealed letter which you are to give her if
everything else fails. Do it before she sees Ratcliffe a second time.
See that she reads it and, if necessary, make her read it, no matter
when or where. No one else must know that it exists, and you must
take as much care of it as though it were a diamond. You are not to
know what is in it; it must be a complete secret. Do you
Sybil thought she did, but her heart sank. "When shall you give me
this letter?" she asked.
"The evening before I start, when I come to bid good-bye; probably
next Sunday. This letter is our last hope. If, after reading that, she
does not give him up, you will have to pack your trunk, my dear
Sybil, and find a new home, for you can never live with them."
He had never before called her by her first name, and it pleased her
to hear it now, though she generally had a strong objection to such
"Oh, I wish you were not going!" she exclaimed tearfully. "What
shall I do when you are gone?"
At this pitiful appeal, Carrington felt a sudden pang. He found that
he was not so old as he had thought. Certainly he had grown to like
her frank honesty and sound common sense, and he had at length
discovered that she was handsome, with a very pretty figure. Was
it not something like a flirtation he had been carrying on with this
young person for the last month? A glimmering of suspicion
crossed his mind, though he got rid of it as quickly as possible. For
a man of his age and sobriety to be in love with two sisters at once
was impossible; still more impossible that Sybil should care for
As for her, however, there was no doubt about the matter. She had
grown to depend upon him, and she did it with all the blind
confidence of youth. To lose him was a serious disaster. She had
never before felt the sensation, and she thought it most
disagreeable. Her youthful diplomatists and admirers could not at
all fill Carrington's place. They danced and chirruped cheerfully on
the hollow crust of society, but they were wholly useless when one
suddenly fell through and found oneself struggling in the darkness
and dangers beneath. Young women, too, are apt to be flattered by
the confidences of older men; they have a keen palate for whatever
savours of experience and adventure. For the first time in her life,
Sybil had found a man who gave some play to her imagination;
one who had been a rebel, and had grown used to the shocks of
fate, so as to walk with calmness into the face of death, and to
command or obey with equal indifference. She felt that he would
tell her what to do when the earthquake came, and would be at
hand to consult, which is in a woman's eyes the great object of
men's existence, when trouble comes. She suddenly conceived that
Washington would be intolerable without him, and that she should
never get the courage to fight Mr. Ratcliffe alone, or, if she did,
she should make some fatal mistake.
They finished their ride very soberly. She began to show a new
interest in all that concerned him, and asked many questions about
his sisters and their plantation. She wanted to ask him whether she
could not do something to help them, but this seemed too
awkward. On his part he made her promise to write him faithfully
all that took place, and this request pleased her, though she knew
his interest was all on her sister's account.
The following Sunday evening when he came to bid good-bye, it
was still worse. There was no chance for private talk. Ratcliffe was
there, and several diplomatists, including old Jacobi, who had eyes
like a cat and saw every motion of one's face. Victoria Dare was
on the sofa, chattering with Lord Dunbeg; Sybil would rather have
had any ordinary illness, even to the extent of a light case of
scarlet fever or small-pox than let her know what was the matter.
Carrington found means to get Sybil into another room for a
moment and to give her the letter he had promised. Then he bade
her good-bye, and in doing so he reminded her of her promise to
write, pressing her hand and looking into her eyes with an
earnestness that made her heart beat faster, although she said to
herself that his interest was all about her sister; as it was--mostly.
The thought did not raise her spirits, but she went through with her
performance like a heroine. Perhaps she was a little pleased to see
that he parted from Madeleine with much less apparent feeling.
One would have said that they were two good friends who had no
troublesome sentiment to worry them. But then every eye in the
room was watching this farewell, and speculating about it.
Ratcliffe looked on with particular interest and was a little
perplexed to account for this too fraternal cordiality. Could he
have made a miscalculation? or was there something behind? He
himself insisted upon shaking hands genially with Carrington and
wished him a pleasant journey and a successful one.
That night, for the first time since she was a child, Sybil actually
cried a little after she went to bed, although it is true that her
sentiment did not keep her awake. She felt lonely and weighed
down by a great responsibility.
For a day or two afterwards she was nervous and restless. She
would not ride, or make calls, or see guests. She tried to sing a
little, and found it tiresome. She went out and sat for hours in the
Square, where the spring sun was shining warm and bright on the
prancing horse of the great Andrew Jackson. She was a little cross,
too, and absent, and spoke so often about Carrington that at last
Madeleine was struck by sudden suspicion, and began to watch her
with anxious care.
Tuesday night, after this had gone on for two days, Sybil was in
Madeleine's room, where she often stayed to talk while her sister
was at her toilet.
This evening she threw herself listlessly on the couch, and within
five minutes again quoted Carrington. Madeleine turned from the
glass before which she was sitting, and looked her steadily in the
"Sybil," said she, "this is the twenty-fourth time you have
Carrington since we sat down to dinner. I have waited for the
round number to decide whether I should take any notice of it or
not? what does it mean, my child? Do you care for Mr.
"Oh, Maude!" exclaimed Sybil reproachfully, flushing so violently
that, even by that dim light, her sister could not but see it.
Mrs. Lee rose and, crossing the room, sat down by Sybil who was
lying on the couch and turned her face away. Madeleine put her
arms round her neck and kissed her.
"My poor--poor child!" said she pityingly. "I never dreamed of
this! What a fool I have been! How could I have been so
thoughtless! Tell me!" she added, with a little hesitation; "has
he--does he care for you?"
"No! no!" cried Sybil, fairly breaking down into a burst of tears;
"no! he loves you! nobody but you! he never gave a thought to me.
I don't care for him so very much," she continued, drying her tears;
"only it seems so lonely now he is gone."
Mrs. Lee remained on the couch, with her arm round her sister's
neck, silent, gazing into vacancy, the picture of perplexity and
The situation was getting beyond her control.
IN the middle of April a sudden social excitement started the
indolent city of Washington to its feet. The Grand-Duke and
Duchess of Saxe-Baden-Hombourg arrived in America on a tour of
pleasure, and in due course came on to pay their respects to the
Chief Magistrate of the Union. The newspapers hastened to inform
their readers that the Grand-Duchess was a royal princess of
England, and, in the want of any other social event, every one who
had any sense of what was due to his or her own dignity, hastened
to show this august couple the respect which all republicans who
have a large income derived from business, feel for English
royalty. New York gave a dinner, at which the most insignificant
person present was worth at least a million dollars, and where the
gentlemen who sat by the Princess entertained her for an hour or
two by a calculation of the aggregate capital represented. New
York also gave a ball at which the Princess appeared in an
ill-fitting black silk dress with mock lace and jet ornaments,
among several hundred toilets that proclaimed the refined
republican simplicity of their owners at a cost of various hundred
thousand dollars. After these hospitalities the Grand-ducal pair
came on to Washington, where they became guests of Lord Skye,
or, more properly, Lord Skye became their guest, for he seemed to
consider that he handed the Legation over to them, and he told
Mrs. Lee, with true British bluntness of speech, that they were a
great bore and he wished they had stayed in
Saxe-Baden-Hombourg, or wherever they belonged, but as they
were here, he must be their lackey. Mrs. Lee was amused and a
little astonished at the candour with which he talked about them,
and she was instructed and improved by his dry account of the
Princess, who, it seemed, made herself disagreeable by her airs of
royalty; who had suffered dreadfully from the voyage; and who
detested America and everything American; but who was, not
without some show of reason, jealous of her husband, and endured
endless sufferings, though with a very bad grace, rather than lose
sight of him.
Not only was Lord Skye obliged to turn the Legation into an hotel,
but in the full enthusiasm of his loyalty he felt himself called upon
to give a ball. It was, he said, the easiest way of paying off all his
debts at once, and if the Princess was good for nothing else, she
could be utilized as a show by way of "promoting the harmony of
the two great nations." In other words, Lord Skye meant to exhibit
the Princess for his own diplomatic benefit, and he did so. One
would have thought that at this season, when Congress had
adjourned, Washington would hardly have afforded society enough
to fill a ball-room, but this, instead of being a drawback, was an
advantage. It permitted the British Minister to issue invitations
without limit. He asked not only the President and his Cabinet, and
the judges, and the army, and the navy, and all the residents of
Washington who had any claim to consideration, but also all the
senators, all the representatives in Congress, all the governors of
States with their staffs, if they had any, all eminent citizens and
their families throughout the Union and Canada, and finally every
private individual, from the North Pole to the Isthmus of Panama,
who had ever shown him a civility or was able to control interest
enough to ask for a card. The result was that Baltimore promised
to come in a body, and Philadelphia was equally well-disposed;
New York provided several scores of guests, and Boston sent the
governor and a delegation; even the well-known millionaire who
represented California in the United States Senate was irritated
because, his invitation having been timed to arrive just one day too
late, he was prevented from bringing his family across the
continent with a choice party in a director's car, to enjoy the smiles
of royalty in the halls of the British lion. It is astonishing what
efforts freemen will make in a just cause.
Lord Skye himself treated the whole affair with easy contempt.
One afternoon he strolled into Mrs. Lee's parlour and begged her to
give him a cup of tea.
He said he had got rid of his menagerie for a few hours by shunting
it off upon the German Legation, and he was by way of wanting a
little human society. Sybil, who was a great favourite with him,
entreated to be told all about the ball, but he insisted that he knew
no more than she did. A man from New York had taken possession
of the Legation, but what he would do with it was not within the
foresight of the wisest; trom the talk of the young members of his
Legation, Lord Skye gathered that the entire city was to be roofed
in and forty millions of people expected, but his own concern in
the affair was limited to the flowers he hoped to receive.
"All young and beautiful women," said he to Sybil, "are to send me
I prefer Jacqueminot roses, but will accept any handsome variety,
provided they are not wired. It is diplomatic etiquette that each
lady who sends me flowers shall reserve at least one dance for me.
You will please inscribe this at once upon your tablets, Miss
To Madeleine this ball was a godsend, for it came just in time to
divert Sybil's mind from its troubles. A week had now passed since
that revelation of Sybil's heart which had come like an earthquake
upon Mrs. Lee. Since then Sybil had been nervous and irritable, all
the more because she was conscious of being watched. She was in
secret ashamed of her own conduct, and inclined to be angry with
Carrington, as though he were responsible for her foolishness; but
she could not talk with Madeleine on the subject without
discussing Mr. Ratcliffe, and Carrington had expressly forbidden
her to attack Mr. Ratcliffe until it was clear that Ratcliffe had laid
himself open to attack. This reticence deceived poor Mrs. Lee,
who saw in her sister's moods only that unrequited attachment for
which she held herself solely to blame. Her gross negligence in
allowing Sybil to be improperly exposed to such a risk weighed
heavily on her mind. With a saint's capacity for self-torment,
Madeleine wielded the scourge over her own back until the blood
came. She saw the roses rapidly fading from Sybil's cheeks, and by
the help of an active imagination she discovered a hectic look and
symptoms of a cough. She became fairly morbid on the subject,
and fretted herself into a fever, upon which Sybil sent, on her own
responsibility, for the medical man, and Madeleine was obliged to
dose herself with quinine. In fact, there was much more reason for
anxiety about her than for her anxiety about Sybil, who, barring a
little youthful nervousness in the face of responsibility, was as
healthy and comfortable a young woman as could be shown in
America, and whose sentiment never cost her five minutes' sleep,
although her appetite may have become a shade more exacting
than before. Madeleine was quick to notice this, and surprised her
cook by making daily and almost hourly demands for new and
impossible dishes, which she exhausted a library of cookery-books
Lord Skye's ball and Sybil's interest in it were a great relief to
Madeleine's mind, and she now turned her whole soul to frivolity.
Never, since she was seventeen, had she thought or talked so much
about a ball, as now about this ball to the Grand-Duchess. She
wore out her own brain in the effort to amuse Sybil. She took her
to call on the Princess; she would have taken her to call on the
Grand Lama had he come to Washington. She instigated her to
order and send to Lord Skye a mass of the handsomest roses New
York could afford. She set her at work on her dress several days
before there was any occasion for it, and this famous costume had
to be taken out, examined, criticised, and discussed with unending
interest. She talked about the dress, and the Princess, and the ball,
till her tongue clove to the roof of her mouth, and her brain refused
to act. From morning till night, for one entire week, she ate, drank,
breathed, and dreamt of the ball. Everything that love could
suggest or labour carry out, she did, to amuse and occupy her
She knew that all this was only temporary and palliative, and that
more radical measures must be taken to secure Sybil's happiness.
On this subject she thought in secret until both head and heart
ached. One thing and one thing only was clear: if Sybil loved
Carrington, she should have him. How Madeleine expected to
bring about this change of heart in Carrington, was known only to
herself. She regarded men as creatures made for women to dispose
of, and capable of being transferred like checks, or baggage-labels,
from one woman to another, as desired. The only condition was
that he should first be completely disabused of the notion that he
could dispose of himself. Mrs. Lee never doubted that she could
make Carrington fall in love with Sybil provided she could place
herself beyond his reach. At all events, come what might, even
though she had to accept the desperate alternative offered by Mr.
Ratcliffe, nothing should be allowed to interfere with Sybil's
happiness. And thus it was, that, for the first time, Mrs. Lee began
to ask herself whether it was not better to find the solution of her
perplexities in marriage.
Would she ever have been brought to this point without the violent
pressure of her sister's supposed interests? This is one of those
questions which wise men will not ask, because it is one which the
wisest man or woman cannot answer. Upon this theme, an army of
ingenious authors have exhausted their ingenuity in entertaining
the public, and their works are to be found at every book-stall.
They have decided that any woman will, under the right
conditions, marry any man at any time, provided her "higher
nature" is properly appealed to. Only with regret can a writer
forbear to moralize on this subject. "Beauty and the Beast,"
"Bluebeard," "Auld Robin Gray," have the double charm to authors
of being very pleasant to read, and still easier to dilute with
sentiment. But at least ten thousand modern writers, with Lord
Macaulay at their head, have so ravaged and despoiled the region
of fairy-stories and fables, that an allusion even to the "Arabian
Nights" is no longer decent. The capacity of women to make
unsuitable marriages must be considered as the corner-stone of
Meanwhile the ball had, in truth, very nearly driven all thought of
Carrington out of Sybil's mind. The city filled again. The streets
swarmed with fashionable young men and women from the
provinces of New York, Philadelphia, and Boston, who gave Sybil
abundance of occupation. She received bulletins of the progress of
affairs. The President and his wife had consented to be present, out
of their high respect for Her Majesty the Queen and their desire to
see and to be seen. All the Cabinet would accompany the Chief
Magistrate. The diplomatic corps would appear in uniform; so,
too, the officers of the army and navy; the Governor-General of
Canada was coming, with a staff. Lord Skye remarked that the
Governor-General was a flat.
The day of the ball was a day of anxiety to Sybil, although not on
account of Mr. Ratcliffe or of Mr. Carrington, who were of trifling
consequence compared with the serious problem now before her.
The responsibility of dressing both her sister and herself fell upon
Sybil, who was the real author of all Mrs. Lee's millinery triumphs
when they now occurred, except that Madeleine managed to put
character into whatever she wore, which Sybil repudiated on her
own account. On this day Sybil had reasons for special excitement.
All winter two new dresses, one especially a triumph of Mr.
Worth's art, had lain in state upstairs, and Sybil had waited in vain
for an occasion that should warrant the splendour of these
One afternoon in early June of the preceding summer, Mr. Worth
had received a letter on the part of the reigning favourite of the
King of Dahomey, directing him to create for her a ball-dress that
should annihilate and utterly destroy with jealousy and despair the
hearts of her seventy-five rivals; she was young and beautiful;
expense was not a consideration. Such were the words of her
chamberlain. All that night, the great genius of the nineteenth
century tossed wakefully on his bed revolving the problem in his
mind. Visions of flesh-coloured tints shot with blood-red perturbed
his brain, but he fought against and dismissed them; that
combination would be commonplace in Dahomey. When the first
rays of sunlight showed him the reflection of his careworn face in
the plate-glass mirrored ceiling, he rose and, with an impulse of
despair, flung open the casements. There before his blood-shot
eyes lay the pure, still, new-born, radiant June morning. With a cry
of inspiration the great man leaned out of the casement and rapidly
caught the details of his new conception. Before ten o'clock he was
again at his bureau in Paris. An imperious order brought to his
private room every silk, satin, and gauze within the range of pale
pink, pale crocus, pale green, silver and azure. Then came