Democracy An American Novel, by Henry Adams

A few delicious tidbits in here, to which we will add as the hours, days, weeks, months and years go by.

Re: Democracy An American Novel, by Henry Adams

Postby admin » Sat Mar 03, 2018 9:26 pm

Chapter 10

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 thing. For weeks and months it is a steady physical pain, an ache about the heart, never leaving one, by night or by day; a long strain on one’s nerves like toothache or rheumatism, not intolerable at any one instant, but exhausting by its steady drain on the strength. It is a disease to be borne with patience, like any other nervous complaint, and to be treated with counter-irritants. My trip to Mexico will be good for it, but that is not the reason why I must go.”

Then he told her all his private circumstances; the ruin which the war had brought on him and his family; how, of his two brothers, one had survived the war only to die at home, a mere wreck of disease, privation, and wounds; the other had been shot by his side, and bled slowly to death in his arms during the awful carnage in the Wilderness; how his mother and two sisters were struggling for a bare subsistence on a wretched Virginian farm, and how all his exertions barely kept them from beggary.

“You have no conception of the poverty to which our southern women are reduced since the war,” said he; “they are many of them literally without clothes or bread.” The fee he should earn by going to Mexico would double his income this year. Could he refuse? Had he a right to refuse? And poor Carrington added, with a groan, that if he alone were in question, he would sooner be shot than go.

Sybil listened with tears in her eyes. She never before had seen a man show suffering. The misery she had known in life had been more or less veiled to her and softened by falling on older and friendly shoulders. She now got for the first time a clear view of Carrington, apart from the quiet exterior in which the man was hidden. She felt quite sure, by a sudden flash of feminine inspiration, that the curious look of patient endurance on his face was the work of a single night when he had held his brother in his arms, and knew that the blood was draining drop by drop from his side, in the dense, tangled woods, beyond the reach of help, hour after hour, till the voice failed and the limbs grew stiff and cold. When he had finished his story, she was afraid to speak. She did not know how to show her sympathy, and she could not bear to seem unsympathetic. In her embarrassment she fairly broke down and could only dry her eyes in 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 but you.”

Sybil promised faithfully to keep his confidence to herself, and she went on to defend her sister.

“You must not blame Madeleine,” said she; “if you knew as well as I do what she has been through, you would not think her cold. You do know how suddenly her husband died, after only one day’s illness, and what a nice fellow he was. She was very fond of him, and his death seemed to stun her. We hardly knew what to make of it, she was so quiet and natural. Then just a week later her little child died of diphtheria, suffering horribly, and she wild with despair because she could not relieve it. After that, she was almost insane; indeed, I have always thought she was quite insane for a time. I know she was excessively violent and wanted to kill herself, and I never heard any one rave as she did about religion and resignation and God. After a few weeks she became quiet and stupid and went about like a machine; and at last she got over it, but has never been what she was before. You know she was a rather fast New York girl before she married, and cared no more about politics and philanthropy than I do. It was a very late thing, all this stuff. But she is not really hard, though she may seem so. It is all on the surface. I always know when she is thinking about her husband or child, because her face gets rigid; she looks then as she used to look after her child died, as though she didn’t care what became of her and she would just as lieve kill herself as not. I don’t think she will ever let herself love any one again. She has a horror of it. She is much more likely to go in for ambition, or duty, or self-sacrifice.”

They rode on for a while in silence, Carrington perplexed by the problem how two harmless people such as Madeleine and he could have been made by a beneficent Providence the sport of such cruel tortures; and Sybil equally interested in thinking what sort of a brother-in-law Carrington would make; on the whole, she thought she liked him better as he was. The silence was only broken by Carrington’s bringing the conversation back to its starting-point: “Something must be done to keep your sister out of Ratcliffe’s power. I have thought about it till I am tired. Can you make no suggestion?”

No! Sybil was helpless and dreadfully alarmed. Mr. Ratcliffe came to the house as often as he could, and seemed to tell Madeleine everything that was going on in politics, and ask her advice, and Madeleine did not discourage him. “I do believe she likes it, and thinks she can do some good by it. I don’t dare speak to her about it. She thinks me a child still, and treats me as though I were fifteen. What can I do?”

Carrington said he had thought of speaking to Mrs. Lee himself, but he did not know what to say, and if he offended her, he might drive her directly into Ratcliffe’s arms. But Sybil thought she would not be offended if he went to work in the right way. “She will stand more from you than from any one else. Tell her openly that you—that you love her,” said Sybil with a burst of desperate courage; “she can’t take offence at that; and then you can say almost anything.”

Carrington looked at Sybil with more admiration than he had ever expected to feel for her, and began to think that he might do worse than to put himself under her orders. After all, she had some practical sense, and what was more to the point, she was handsomer than ever, as she sat erect on her horse, the rich colour rushing up under the warm skin, at the impropriety of her speech. “You are certainly right,” said he; “after all, I have nothing to lose. Whether she marries Ratcliffe or not, she will never marry me, I suppose.”

This speech was a cowardly attempt to beg encouragement from Sybil, and met with the fate it deserved, for Sybil, highly flattered at Carrington’s implied praise, and bold as a lioness now that it was Carrington’s fingers, and not her own, that were to go into the fire, gave him on the spot a feminine view of the situation that did not encourage his hopes. She plainly said that men seemed to take leave of their senses as soon as women were concerned; for her part, she could not understand what there was in any woman to make such a fuss about; she thought most women were horrid; men were ever so much nicer; “and as for Madeleine, whom all of you are ready to cut each other’s throats about, she’s a dear, good sister, as good as gold, and I love her with all my heart, but you wouldn’t like her, any of you, if you married her; she has always had her own way, and she could not help taking it; she never could learn to take yours; both of you would be unhappy in a week; and as for that old Mr. Ratcliffe, she would make his life a burden—and I hope she will,” concluded Sybil with a spiteful little explosion of hatred.

Carrington could not help being amused by Sybil’s way of dealing with affairs of the heart. Emboldened by encouragement, she went on to attack him pitilessly for going down on his knees before her sister, “just as though you were not as good as she is,” and openly avowed that, if she were a man, she would at least have some pride. Men like this kind of punishment.

Carrington did not attempt to defend himself; he even courted Sybil’s attack. They both enjoyed their ride through the bare woods, by the rippling spring streams, under the languid breath of the moist south wind. It was a small idyll, all the more pleasant because there was gloom before and behind it. Sybil’s irrepressible gaiety made Carrington doubt whether, after all, life need be so serious a matter. She had animal spirits in plenty, and it needed an effort for her to keep them down, while Carrington’s spirits were nearly exhausted after twenty years of strain, and he required a greater effort to hold himself up. There was every reason why he should be grateful to Sybil for lending to him from her superfluity. He enjoyed being laughed at by her. Suppose Madeleine Lee did refuse to marry him! What of it?

“Pooh!” said Sybil; “you men are all just alike. How can you be so silly? 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 soul.”

To this speech, which was unusually figurative for Carrington, Mrs. Lee could find no ready answer. She could only reply that Carrington’s life was worth quite as much as his neighbour’s, and that it was worth so much to her, if not to himself, that she would not let him wreck it.

Carrington went on: “Forgive my talking in this way. I do not mean to complain. I shall always love you just as much, whether you care for me or not, because you are the only woman I have ever met, or am ever likely to meet, who seems to me perfect.”

If this was Sybil’s teaching, she had made the best of her time.

Carrington’s tone and words pierced through all Mrs. Lee’s armour as though they were pointed with the most ingenious cruelty, and designed to torture her. She felt hard and small before him. Life for life, his had been, and was now, far less bright than hers, yet he was her superior. He sat there, a true man, carrying his burden calmly, quietly, without complaint, ready to face the next shock of life with the same endurance he had shown against the rest. And he thought her perfect! She felt humiliated that any brave man should say to her face that he thought her perfect! She! perfect! In her contrition she was half ready to go down at his feet and confess her sins; her hysterical dread of sorrow and suffering, her narrow sympathies, her feeble faith, her miserable selfishness, her abject cowardice. Every nerve in her body tingled with shame when she thought what a miserable fraud she was; what a mass of pretensions unfounded, of deceit ingrained. She was ready to hide her face in her hands. She was disgusted, outraged with her own image as she saw it, contrasted with Carrington’s single word: Perfect!

Nor was this the worst. Carrington was not the first man who had thought her perfect. To hear this word suddenly used again, which had never been uttered to her before except by lips now dead and gone, made her brain reel. She seemed to hear her husband once more telling her that she was perfect. Yet against this torture, she had a better defence. She had long since hardened herself to bear these recollections, and they steadied and strengthened her.

She had been called perfect before now, and what had come of it? Two graves, and a broken life! She drew herself up with a face now grown quite pale and rigid. In reply to Carrington, she said not a word, but only shook her head slightly without looking at him.

He went on: “After all, it is not my own happiness I am thinking of but yours. I never was vain enough to think that I was worth your love, or that I could ever win it. Your happiness is another thing. I care so much for that as to make me dread going away, for fear that you may yet find yourself entangled in this wretched political life here, when, perhaps if I stayed, I might be of some use.”

“Do you really think, then, that I am going to fall a victim to Mr. Ratcliffe?” asked Madeleine, with a cold smile.

“Why not?” replied Carrington, in a similar tone. “He can put forward a strong claim to your sympathy and help, if not to your love. He can offer you a great field of usefulness which you want. He has been very faithful to you. Are you quite sure that even now you can refuse him without his complaining that you have trifled with him?”

“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 Mr. Ratcliffe. To you, of course, he shows his best side. He is on his good behaviour, and knows that any false step will ruin him. I see in him only a coarse, selfish, unprincipled politician, who would either drag you down to his own level, or, what is more likely, would very soon disgust you and make your life a wretched self-immolation before his vulgar ambition, or compel you to leave him. In either case you would be the victim. You cannot afford to make another false start in life. Reject me! I have not a word to say against it. But be on your guard against giving your existence up to him.”

“Why do you think so ill of Mr. Ratcliffe?” asked Madeleine; “he always speaks highly of you. Do you know anything against him that the world does not?”

“His public acts are enough to satisfy me,” replied Carrington, evading a part of the question. “You know that I have never had but one opinion about him.”

There was a pause in the conversation. Both parties felt that as yet no good had come of it. At length Madeleine asked, “What would you have me do? Is it a pledge you want that I will under no circumstances marry Mr. Ratcliffe?”

“Certainly not,” was the answer; “you know me better than to think I would ask that. I only want you to take time and keep out of his influence until your mind is fairly made up. A year hence I feel certain that you will think of him as I do.”

“Then you will allow me to marry him if I find that you are mistaken,” said Mrs. Lee, with a marked tone of sarcasm.

Carrington looked annoyed, but he answered quietly, “What I fear is his influence here and now. What I would like to see you do is this: go north a month earlier than you intended, and without giving him time to act. If I were sure you were safely in Newport, I should feel no anxiety.”

“You seem to have as bad an opinion of Washington as Mr. Gore,” said Madeleine, with a contemptuous smile. “He gave me the same advice, though he was afraid to tell me why. I am not a child. I am thirty years old, and have seen something of the world. I am not afraid, like Mr. Gore, of Washington malaria, or, like you, of Mr. Ratcliffe’s influence. If I fall a victim I shall deserve my fate, and certainly I shall have no cause to complain of my friends. They have given me advice enough for a lifetime.”

Carrington’s face darkened with a deeper shade of regret. The turn which the conversation had taken was precisely what he had expected, and both Sybil and he had agreed that Madeleine would probably answer just in this way.

Nevertheless, he could not but feel acutely the harm he was doing to his own interests, and it was only by a sheer effort of the will that he forced himself to a last and more earnest attack.

“I know it is an impertinence,” he said; “I wish it were in my power to show how much it costs me to offend you. This is the first time you ever had occasion to be offended. If I were to yield to the fear of your anger and were to hold my tongue now, and by any chance you were to wreck your life on this rock, I should never forgive myself the cowardice. I should always think I might have done something to prevent it. This is probably the last time I shall have the chance to talk openly with you, and I implore you to listen to me. I want nothing for myself If I knew I should never see you again, I would still say the same thing. Leave Washington! Leave it now!—at once!—without giving more than twenty-four hours’ notice! Leave it without letting Mr. Ratcliffe see you again in private! Come back next winter if you please, and then accept him if you think proper. I only pray you to think long about it and decide when you are 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 this headache.

But before Carrington’s departure he had one more ride with Sybil, and reported to her the result of the interview, at which both of them confessed themselves much depressed. Carrington expressed some hope that Madeleine meant, after a sort, to give a kind of pledge by saying that she had no intention of marrying Mr. Ratcliffe, but Sybil shook her head emphatically:

“How can a woman tell whether she is going to accept a man until she is asked?” said she with entire confidence, as though she were stating the simplest fact in the world. Carrington looked puzzled, and ventured to ask whether women did not generally make up their minds beforehand on such an interesting point; but Sybil overwhelmed him with contempt: “What good will they do by making up their minds, I should like to know? of course they would go and do the opposite. Sensible women don’t pretend to make up their minds, Mr. Carrington. But you men are so stupid, and you can’t understand in the least.”

Carrington gave it up, and went back to his stale question: Could Sybil suggest any other resource? and Sybil sadly confessed that she could not. So far as she could see, they must trust to luck, and she thought it was cruel tor Mr. Carrington to go away and leave her alone without help. He had promised to prevent the marriage.

“One thing more I mean to do,” said Carrington: “and here everything will depend on your courage and nerve. You may depend upon it that Mr. Ratcliffe will offer himself before you go north. He does not suspect you of making trouble, and he will not think about you in any way if you let him alone and keep quiet. When he does offer himself you will know it; at least your sister will tell you if she has accepted him. If she refuses him point blank, you will have nothing to do but to keep her steady. If you see her hesitating, you must break in at any cost, and use all your influence to stop her. Be bold, then, and do your best. If everything fails and she still clings to him, I must play my last card, or rather you must play it for me. I shall leave with you a sealed letter which you are to give her if everything else fails. Do it before she sees Ratcliffe a second time. See that she reads it and, if necessary, make her read it, no matter when or where. No one else must know that it exists, and you must take as much care of it as though it were a diamond. You are not to know what is in it; it must be a complete secret. Do you understand?”

Sybil thought she did, but her heart sank. “When shall you give me this letter?” she asked.

“The evening before I start, when I come to bid good-bye; probably next Sunday. This letter is our last hope. If, after reading that, she does not give him up, you will have to pack your trunk, my dear Sybil, and find a new home, for you can never live with them.”

He had never before called her by her first name, and it pleased her to hear it now, though she generally had a strong objection to such familiarities.

“Oh, I wish you were not going!” she exclaimed tearfully. “What shall I do when you are gone?”

At this pitiful appeal, Carrington felt a sudden pang. He found that he was not so old as he had thought. Certainly he had grown to like her frank honesty and sound common sense, and he had at length discovered that she was handsome, with a very pretty figure. Was it not something like a flirtation he had been carrying on with this young person for the last month? A glimmering of suspicion crossed his mind, though he got rid of it as quickly as possible. For a man of his age and sobriety to be in love with two sisters at once was impossible; still more impossible that Sybil should care for him.

As for her, however, there was no doubt about the matter. She had grown to depend upon him, and she did it with all the blind confidence of youth. To lose him was a serious disaster. She had never before felt the sensation, and she thought it most disagreeable. Her youthful diplomatists and admirers could not at all fill Carrington’s place. They danced and chirruped cheerfully on the hollow crust of society, but they were wholly useless when one suddenly fell through and found oneself struggling in the darkness and dangers beneath. Young women, too, are apt to be flattered by the confidences of older men; they have a keen palate for whatever savours of experience and adventure. For the first time in her life, Sybil had found a man who gave some play to her imagination; one who had been a rebel, and had grown used to the shocks of fate, so as to walk with calmness into the face of death, and to command or obey with equal indifference. She felt that he would tell her what to do when the earthquake came, and would be at hand to consult, which is in a woman’s eyes the great object of men’s existence, when trouble comes. She suddenly conceived that Washington would be intolerable without him, and that she should never get the courage to fight Mr. Ratcliffe alone, or, if she did, she should make some fatal mistake.

They finished their ride very soberly. She began to show a new interest in all that concerned him, and asked many questions about his sisters and their plantation. She wanted to ask him whether she could not do something to help them, but this seemed too awkward. On his part he made her promise to write him faithfully all that took place, and this request pleased her, though she knew his interest was all on her sister’s account.

The following Sunday evening when he came to bid good-bye, it was still worse. There was no chance for private talk. Ratcliffe was there, and several diplomatists, including old Jacobi, who had eyes like a cat and saw every motion of one’s face. Victoria Dare was on the sofa, chattering with Lord Dunbeg; Sybil would rather have had any ordinary illness, even to the extent of a light case of scarlet fever or small-pox than let her know what was the matter. Carrington found means to get Sybil into another room for a moment and to give her the letter he had promised. Then he bade her good-bye, and in doing so he reminded her of her promise to write, pressing her hand and looking into her eyes with an earnestness that made her heart beat faster, although she said to herself that his interest was all about her sister; as it was—mostly. The thought did not raise her spirits, but she went through with her performance like a heroine. Perhaps she was a little pleased to see that he parted from Madeleine with much less apparent feeling. One would have said that they were two good friends who had no troublesome sentiment to worry them. But then every eye in the room was watching this farewell, and speculating about it. Ratcliffe looked on with particular interest and was a little perplexed to account for this too fraternal cordiality. Could he have made a miscalculation? or was there something behind? He himself insisted upon shaking hands genially with Carrington and wished him a pleasant journey and a successful one.

That night, for the first time since she was a child, Sybil actually cried a little after she went to bed, although it is true that her sentiment did not keep her awake. She felt lonely and weighed down by a great responsibility.

For a day or two afterwards she was nervous and restless. She would not ride, or make calls, or see guests. She tried to sing a little, and found it tiresome. She went out and sat for hours in the Square, where the spring sun was shining warm and bright on the prancing horse of the great Andrew Jackson. She was a little cross, too, and absent, and spoke so often about Carrington that at last Madeleine was struck by sudden suspicion, and began to watch her with 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 face.

“Sybil,” said she, “this is the twenty-fourth time you have mentioned Mr. Carrington since we sat down to dinner. I have waited for the round number to decide whether I should take any notice of it or not? what does it mean, my child? Do you care for Mr. Carrington?”

“Oh, Maude!” exclaimed Sybil reproachfully, flushing so violently that, even by that dim light, her sister could not but see it.

Mrs. Lee rose and, crossing the room, sat down by Sybil who was lying on the couch and turned her face away. Madeleine put her arms round her neck and kissed her.

“My poor—poor child!” said she pityingly. “I never dreamed of this! What a fool I have been! How could I have been so thoughtless! Tell me!” she added, with a little hesitation; “has he—does he care 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 consternation.

The situation was getting beyond her control.
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Re: Democracy An American Novel, by Henry Adams

Postby admin » Sat Mar 03, 2018 9:27 pm

Chapter 11

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 flowers. I prefer Jacqueminot roses, but will accept any handsome variety, provided they are not wired. It is diplomatic etiquette that each lady who sends me flowers shall reserve at least one dance for me. You will please inscribe this at once upon your tablets, Miss Ross.”

To Madeleine this ball was a godsend, for it came just in time to divert Sybil’s mind from its troubles. A week had now passed since that revelation of Sybil’s heart which had come like an earthquake upon Mrs. Lee. Since then Sybil had been nervous and irritable, all the more because she was conscious of being watched. She was in secret ashamed of her own conduct, and inclined to be angry with Carrington, as though he were responsible for her foolishness; but she could not talk with Madeleine on the subject without discussing Mr. Ratcliffe, and Carrington had expressly forbidden her to attack Mr. Ratcliffe until it was clear that Ratcliffe had laid himself open to attack. This reticence deceived poor Mrs. Lee, who saw in her sister’s moods only that unrequited attachment for which she held herself solely to blame. Her gross negligence in allowing Sybil to be improperly exposed to such a risk weighed heavily on her mind. With a saint’s capacity for self-torment, Madeleine wielded the scourge over her own back until the blood came. She saw the roses rapidly fading from Sybil’s cheeks, and by the help of an active imagination she discovered a hectic look and symptoms of a cough. She became fairly morbid on the subject, and fretted herself into a fever, upon which Sybil sent, on her own responsibility, for the medical man, and Madeleine was obliged to dose herself with quinine. In fact, there was much more reason for anxiety about her than for her anxiety about Sybil, who, barring a little youthful nervousness in the face of responsibility, was as healthy and comfortable a young woman as could be shown in America, and whose sentiment never cost her five minutes’ sleep, although her appetite may have become a shade more exacting than before. Madeleine was quick to notice this, and surprised her cook by making daily and almost hourly demands for new and impossible dishes, which she exhausted a library of cookery-books to discover.

Lord Skye’s ball and Sybil’s interest in it were a great relief to Madeleine’s mind, and she now turned her whole soul to frivolity. Never, since she was seventeen, had she thought or talked so much about a ball, as now about this ball to the Grand-Duchess. She wore out her own brain in the effort to amuse Sybil. She took her to call on the Princess; she would have taken her to call on the Grand Lama had he come to Washington. She instigated her to order and send to Lord Skye a mass of the handsomest roses New York could afford. She set her at work on her dress several days before there was any occasion for it, and this famous costume had to be taken out, examined, criticised, and discussed with unending interest. She talked about the dress, and the Princess, and the ball, till her tongue clove to the roof of her mouth, and her brain refused to act. From morning till night, for one entire week, she ate, drank, breathed, and dreamt of the ball. Everything that love could suggest or labour carry out, she did, to amuse and occupy her sister.

She knew that all this was only temporary and palliative, and that more radical measures must be taken to secure Sybil’s happiness. On this subject she thought in secret until both head and heart ached. One thing and one thing only was clear: if Sybil loved Carrington, she should have him. How Madeleine expected to bring about this change of heart in Carrington, was known only to herself. She regarded men as creatures made for women to dispose of, and capable of being transferred like checks, or baggage-labels, from one woman to another, as desired. The only condition was that he should first be completely disabused of the notion that he could dispose of himself. Mrs. Lee never doubted that she could make Carrington fall in love with Sybil provided she could place herself beyond his reach. At all events, come what might, even though she had to accept the desperate alternative offered by Mr. Ratcliffe, nothing should be allowed to interfere with Sybil’s happiness. And thus it was, that, for the first time, Mrs. Lee began to ask herself whether it was not better to find the solution of her perplexities in marriage.

Would she ever have been brought to this point without the violent pressure of her sister’s supposed interests? This is one of those questions which wise men will not ask, because it is one which the wisest man or woman cannot answer. Upon this theme, an army of ingenious authors have exhausted their ingenuity in entertaining the public, and their works are to be found at every book-stall. They have decided that any woman will, under the right conditions, marry any man at any time, provided her “higher nature” is properly appealed to. Only with regret can a writer forbear to moralize on this subject. “Beauty and the Beast,” “Bluebeard,” “Auld Robin Gray,” have the double charm to authors of being very pleasant to read, and still easier to dilute with sentiment. But at least ten thousand modern writers, with Lord Macaulay at their head, have so ravaged and despoiled the region of fairy-stories and fables, that an allusion even to the “Arabian Nights” is no longer decent. The capacity of women to make unsuitable marriages must be considered as the corner-stone of society.

Meanwhile the ball had, in truth, very nearly driven all thought of Carrington out of Sybil’s mind. The city filled again. The streets swarmed with fashionable young men and women from the provinces of New York, Philadelphia, and Boston, who gave Sybil abundance of occupation. She received bulletins of the progress of affairs. The President and his wife had consented to be present, out of their high respect for Her Majesty the Queen and their desire to see and to be seen. All the Cabinet would accompany the Chief Magistrate. The diplomatic corps would appear in uniform; so, too, the officers of the army and navy; the Governor-General of Canada was coming, with a staff. Lord Skye remarked that the Governor-General was a flat.

The day of the ball was a day of anxiety to Sybil, although not on account of Mr. Ratcliffe or of Mr. Carrington, who were of trifling consequence compared with the serious problem now before her. The responsibility of dressing both her sister and herself fell upon Sybil, who was the real author of all Mrs. Lee’s millinery triumphs when they now occurred, except that Madeleine managed to put character into whatever she wore, which Sybil repudiated on her own account. On this day Sybil had reasons for special excitement. All winter two new dresses, one especially a triumph of Mr.

Worth’s art, had lain in state upstairs, and Sybil had waited in vain for an occasion that should warrant the splendour of these garments.

One afternoon in early June of the preceding summer, Mr. Worth had received a letter on the part of the reigning favourite of the King of Dahomey, directing him to create for her a ball-dress that should annihilate and utterly destroy with jealousy and despair the hearts of her seventy-five rivals; she was young and beautiful; expense was not a consideration. Such were the words of her chamberlain. All that night, the great genius of the nineteenth century tossed wakefully on his bed revolving the problem in his mind. Visions of flesh-coloured tints shot with blood-red perturbed his brain, but he fought against and dismissed them; that combination would be commonplace in Dahomey. When the first rays of sunlight showed him the reflection of his careworn face in the plate-glass mirrored ceiling, he rose and, with an impulse of despair, flung open the casements. There before his blood-shot eyes lay the pure, still, new-born, radiant June morning. With a cry of inspiration the great man leaned out of the casement and rapidly caught the details of his new conception. Before ten o’clock he was again at his bureau in Paris. An imperious order brought to his private room every silk, satin, and gauze within the range of pale pink, pale crocus, pale green, silver and azure. Then came chromatic scales of colour; combinations meant to vulgarise the rainbow; sinfonies and fugues; the twittering of birds and the great peace of dewy nature; maidenhood in her awakening innocence; “The Dawn in June.” The Master rested content.

A week later came an order from Sybil, including “an entirely original ball-dress,—unlike any other sent to America.” Mr. Worth pondered, hesitated; recalled Sybil’s figure; the original pose of her head; glanced anxiously at the map, and speculated whether the New York Herald had a special correspondent at Dahomey; and at last, with a generosity peculiar to great souls, he duplicated for “Miss S. Ross, New York, U.S. America,” the order for “L’Aube, Mois de Juin.”

The Schneidekoupons and Mr. French, who had reappeared in Washington, came to dine with Mrs. Lee on the evening of the ball, and Julia Schneidekoupon sought in vain to discover what Sybil was going to wear. “Be happy, my dear, in your ignorance!” said Sybil; “the pangs of envy will rankle soon enough.”

An hour later her room, except the fireplace, where a wood fire was gently smouldering, became an altar of sacrifice to the Deity of Dawn in June. Her bed, her low couch, her little tables, her chintz arm-chairs, were covered with portions of the divinity, down to slippers and handkerchief, gloves and bunches of fresh roses. When at length, after a long effort, the work was complete, Mrs. Lee took a last critical look at the result, and enjoyed a glow of satisfaction. Young, happy, sparkling with consciousness of youth and beauty, Sybil stood, Hebe Anadyomene, rising from the foam of soft creplisse which swept back beneath the long train of pale, tender, pink silk, fainting into breadths of delicate primrose, relieved here and there by facings of June green—or was it the blue of early morning?—or both? suggesting unutterable freshness. A modest hint from her maid that “the girls,” as women-servants call each other in American households, would like to offer their share of incense at the shrine, was amiably met, and they were allowed a glimpse of the divinity before she was enveloped in wraps. An admiring group, huddled in the doorway, murmured approval, from the leading “girl,” who was the cook, a coloured widow of some sixty winters, whose admiration was irrepressible, down to a New England spinster whose Anabaptist conscience wrestled with her instincts, and who, although disapproving of “French folks,” paid in her heart that secret homage to their gowns and bonnets which her sterner lips refused. The applause of this audience has, from generation to generation, cheered the hearts of myriads of young women starting out on their little adventures, while the domestic laurels flourish green and fresh for one half hour, until they wither at the threshold of the ball-room.

Mrs. Lee toiled long and earnestly over her sister’s toilet, for had not she herself in her own day been the best-dressed girl in New York?—at least, she held that opinion, and her old instincts came to life again whenever Sybil was to be prepared for any great occasion. Madeleine kissed her sister affectionately, and gave her unusual praise when the “Dawn in June” was complete. Sybil was at this moment the ideal of blooming youth, and Mrs. Lee almost dared to hope that her heart was not permanently broken, and that she might yet survive until Carrington could be brought back. Her own toilet was a much shorter affair, but Sybil was impatient long before it was concluded; the carriage was waiting, and she was obliged to disappoint her household by coming down enveloped in her long opera-cloak, and hurrying away.

When at length the sisters entered the reception-room at the British Legation, Lord Skye rebuked them for not having come early to receive with him. His Lordship, with a huge riband across his breast, and a star on his coat, condescended to express himself vigorously on the subject of the “Dawn in June.” Schneidekoupon, who was proud of his easy use of the latest artistic jargon, looked with respect at Mrs. Lee’s silver-gray satin and its Venetian lace, the arrangement of which had been conscientiously stolen from a picture in the Louvre, and he murmured audibly, “Nocturne in silver-gray!”—then, turning to Sybil—“and you? Of course! I see! A song without words!” Mr. French came up and, in his most fascinating tones, exclaimed, “Why, Mrs. Lee, you look real handsome to-night!” Jacobi, after a close scrutiny, said that he took the liberty of an old man in telling them that they were both dressed absolutely without fault. Even the Grand-Duke was struck by Sybil, and made Lord Skye introduce him, after which ceremony he terrified her by asking the pleasure of a waltz. She disappeared from Madeleine’s view, not to be brought back again until Dawn met dawn.

The ball was, as the newspapers declared, a brilliant success. Every one who knows the city of Washington will recollect that, among some scores of magnificent residences which our own and foreign governments have built for the comfort of cabinet officers, judges, diplomatists, vice-presidents, speakers, and senators, the British Legation is by far the most impressive.

Combining in one harmonious whole the proportions of the Pitti Palace with the decoration of the Casa d’Oro and the dome of an Eastern Mosque, this architectural triumph offers extraordinary resources for society. Further description is unnecessary, since anyone may easily refer back to the New York newspapers of the following morning, where accurate plans of the house on the ground floor, will be found; while the illustrated newspapers of the same week contain excellent sketches of the most pleasing scenic effects, as well as of the ball-room and of the Princess smiling graciously from her throne. The lady just behind the Princess on her left, is Mrs. Lee, a poor likeness, but easily distinguishable from the fact that the artist, for his own objects, has made her rather shorter, and the Princess rather taller, than was strictly correct, just as he has given the Princess a gracious smile, which was quite different from her actual expression. In short, the artist is compelled to exhibit the world rather as we would wish it to be, than as it was or is, or, indeed, is like shortly to become. The strangest part of his picture is, however, the fact that he actually did see Mrs. Lee where he has put her, at the Princess’s elbow, which was almost the last place in the room where any one who knew Mrs. Lee would have looked for her.

The explanation of this curious accident shall be given immediately, since the facts are not mentioned in the public reports of the ball, which only said that, “close behind her Royal Highness the Grand-Duchess, stood our charming and aristocratic countrywoman, Mrs. Lightfoot Lee, who has made so great a sensation in Washington this winter, and whose name public rumour has connected with that of the Secretary of the Treasury. To her the Princess appeared to address most of her conversation.”

The show was a very pretty one, and on a pleasant April evening there were many places less agreeable to be in than this. Much ground outside had been roofed over, to make a ball-room, large as an opera-house, with a daïs and a sofa in the centre of one long side, and another daïs with a second sofa immediately opposite to it in the centre of the other long side. Each daïs had a canopy of red velvet, one bearing the Lion and the Unicorn, the other the American Eagle. The Royal Standard was displayed above the Unicorn; the Stars-and-Stripes, not quite so effectively, waved above the Eagle. The Princess, being no longer quite a child, found gas trying to her complexion, and compelled Lord Skye to illuminate her beauty by one hundred thousand wax candies, more or less, which were arranged to be becoming about the Grand-ducal throne, and to be showy and unbecoming about the opposite institution across the way.

The exact facts were these. It had happened that the Grand-Duchess, having been necessarily brought into contact with the President, and particularly with his wife, during the past week, had conceived for the latter an antipathy hardly to be expressed in words. Her fixed determination was at any cost to keep the Presidential party at a distance, and it was only after a stormy scene that the Grand-Duke and Lord Skye succeeded in extorting her consent that the President should take her to supper. Further than this she would not go. She would not speak to “that woman,” as she called the President’s wife, nor be in her neighbourhood. She would rather stay in her own room all the evening, and she did not care in the least what the Queen would think of it, for she was no subject of the Queen’s. The case was a hard one for Lord Skye, who was perplexed to know, from this point of view, why he was entertaining the Princess at all; but, with the help of the Grand-Duke and Lord Dunbeg, who was very active and smiled deprecation with some success, he found a way out of it; and this was the reason why there were two thrones in the ball-room, and why the British throne was lighted with such careful reference to the Princess’s complexion. Lord Skye immolated himself in the usual effort of British and American Ministers, to keep the two great powers apart. He and the Grand-Duke and Lord Dunbeg acted as buffers with watchful diligence, dexterity, and success. As one resource, Lord Skye had bethought himself of Mrs. Lee, and he told the Princess the story of Mrs. Lee’s relations with the President’s wife, a story which was no secret in Washington, for, apart from Madeleine’s own account, society was left in no doubt of the light in which Mrs. Lee was regarded by the mistress of the White House, whom Washington ladles were now in the habit of drawing out on the subject of Mrs. Lee, and who always rose to the bait with fresh vivacity, to the amusement and delight of Victoria Dare and other mischief-makers.

“She will not trouble you so long as you can keep Mrs. Lee in your neighbourhood,” said Lord Skye, and the Princess accordingly seized upon Mrs. Lee and brandished her, as though she were a charm against the evil eye, in the face of the President’s party. She made Mrs. Lee take a place just behind her as though she were a lady-in-waiting. She even graciously permitted her to sit down, so near that their chairs touched. Whenever “that woman” was within sight, which was most of the time, the Princess directed her conversation entirely to Mrs. Lee and took care to make it evident. Even before the Presidential party had arrived, Madeleine had fallen into the Princess’s grasp, and when the Princess went forward to receive the President and his wife, which she did with a bow of stately and distant dignity, she dragged Madeleine closely by her side. Mrs. Lee bowed too; she could not well help it; but was cut dead for her pains, with a glare of contempt and hatred. Lord Skye, who was acting as cavalier to the President’s wife, was panic-stricken, and hastened to march his democratic potentate away, under pretence of showing her the decorations. He placed her at last on her own throne, where he and the Grand-Duke relieved each other in standing guard at intervals throughout the evening. When the Princess followed with the President, she compelled her husband to take Mrs. Lee on his arm and conduct her to the British throne, with no other object than to exasperate the President’s wife, who, from her elevated platform, looked down upon the cortège with a scowl.

In all this affair Mrs. Lee was the principal sufferer. No one could relieve her, and she was literally penned in as she sat. The Princess kept up an incessant fire of small conversation, principally complaint and fault-finding, which no one dared to interrupt. Mrs. Lee was painfully bored, and after a time even the absurdity of the thing ceased to amuse her.

She had, too, the ill-luck to make one or two remarks which appealed to some hidden sense of humour in the Princess, who laughed and, in the style of royal personages, gave her to understand that she would like more amusement of the same sort. Of all things in life, Mrs. Lee held this kind of court-service in contempt, for she was something more than republican—a little communistic at heart, and her only serious complaint of the President and his wife was that they undertook to have a court and to ape monarchy.

She had no notion of admitting social superiority in any one, President or Prince, and to be suddenly converted into a lady-in-waiting to a small German Grand-Duchess, was a terrible blow. But what was to be done? Lord Skye had drafted her into the service and she could not decently refuse to help him when he came to her side and told her, with his usual calm directness, what his difficulties were, and how he counted upon her to help him out.

The same play went on at supper, where there was a royal-presidential table, which held about two dozen guests, and the two great ladies presiding, as far apart as they could be placed. The Grand-Duke and Lord Skye, on either side of the President’s wife, did their duty like men, and were rewarded by receiving from her much information about the domestic arrangements of the White House. The President, however, who sat next the Princess at the opposite end, was evidently depressed, owing partly to the fact that the Princess, in defiance of all etiquette, had compelled Lord Dunbeg to take Mrs. Lee to supper and to place her directly next the President. Madeleine tried to escape, but was stopped by the Princess, who addressed her across the President and in a decided tone asked her to sit precisely there. Mrs.

Lee looked timidly at her neighbour, who made no sign, but ate his supper in silence only broken by an occasional reply to a rare remark. Mrs. Lee pitied him, and wondered what his wife would say when they reached home. She caught Ratcliffe’s eye down the table, watching her with a smile; she tried to talk fluently with Dunbeg; but not until supper was long over and two o’clock was at hand; not until the Presidential party, under all the proper formalities, had taken their leave of the Grand-ducal party; not until Lord Skye had escorted them to their carriage and returned to say that they were gone, did the Princess loose her hold upon Mrs. Lee and allow her to slip away into obscurity.

Meanwhile the ball had gone on after the manner of balls. As Madeleine sat in her enforced grandeur she could watch all that passed. She had seen Sybil whirling about with one man after another, amid a swarm of dancers, enjoying herself to the utmost and occasionally giving a nod and a smile to her sister as their eyes met. There, too, was Victoria Dare, who never appeared flurried even when waltzing with Lord Dunbeg, whose education as a dancer had been neglected. The fact was now fully recognized that Victoria was carrying on a systematic flirtation with Dunbeg, and had undertaken as her latest duty the task of teaching him to waltz. His struggles and her calmness in assisting them commanded respect. On the opposite side of the room, by the republican throne, Mrs. Lee had watched Mr. Ratcliffe standing by the President, who appeared unwilling to let him out of arm’s length and who seemed to make to him most of his few remarks. Schneidekoupon and his sister were mixed in the throng, dancing as though England had never countenanced the heresy of free-trade. On the whole, Mrs. Lee was satisfied.

If her own sufferings were great, they were not without reward. She studied all the women in the ball-room, and if there was one prettier than Sybil, Madeleine’s eyes could not discover her. If there was a more perfect dress, Madeleine knew nothing of dressing. On these points she felt the confidence of conviction. Her calm would have been complete, had she felt quite sure that none of Sybil’s gaiety was superficial and that it would not be followed by reaction. She watched nervously to see whether her face changed its gay expression, and once she thought it became depressed, but this was when the Grand-Duke came up to claim his waltz, and the look rapidly passed away when they got upon the floor and his Highness began to wheel round the room with a precision and momentum that would have done honour to a regiment of Life Guards. He seemed pleased with his experiment, for he was seen again and again careering over the floor with Sybil until Mrs. Lee herself became nervous, for the Princess frowned.

After her release Madeleine lingered awhile in the ball-room to speak with her sister and to receive congratulations. For half an hour she was a greater belle than Sybil. A crowd of men clustered about her, amused at the part she had played in the evening’s entertainment and full of compliments upon her promotion at Court. Lord Skye himself found time to offer her his thanks in a more serious tone than he generally affected. “You have suffered much,” said he, “and I am grateful.” Madeleine laughed as she answered that her sufferings had seemed nothing to her while she watched his. But at last she became weary of the noise and glare of the ball-room, and, accepting the arm of her excellent friend Count Popoff, she strolled with him back to the house. There at last she sat down on a sofa in a quiet window-recess where the light was less strong and where a convenient laurel spread its leaves in front so as to make a bower through which she could see the passers-by without being seen by them except with an effort. Had she been a younger woman, this would have been the spot for a flirtation, but Mrs. Lee never flirted, and the idea of her flirting with Popoff would have seemed ludicrous to all mankind.

He did not sit down, but was leaning against the angle of the wall, talking with her, when suddenly Mr. Ratcliffe appeared and took the seat by her side with such deliberation and apparent sense of property that Popoff incontinently turned and fled. No one knew where the Secretary came from, or how he learned that she was there. He made no explanation and she took care to ask for none. She gave him a highly-coloured account of her evening’s service as lady-in-waiting, which he matched by that of his own trials as gentleman-usher to the President, who, it seemed, had clung desperately to his old enemy in the absence of any other rock to clutch at.

Ratcliffe looked the character of Prime Minister sufficiently well at this moment. He would have held his own, at a pinch, in any Court, not merely in Europe but in India or China, where dignity is still expected of gentlemen.

Excepting for a certain coarse and animal expression about the mouth, and an indefinable coldness in the eye, he was a handsome man and still in his prime. Every one remarked how much he was improved since entering the Cabinet. He had dropped his senatorial manner. His clothes were no longer congressional, but those of a respectable man, neat and decent. His shirts no longer protruded in the wrong places, nor were his shirt-collars frayed or soiled. His hair did not stray over his eyes, ears, and coat, like that of a Scotch terrier, but had got itself cut. Having overheard Mrs. Lee express on one occasion her opinion of people who did not take a cold bath every morning, he had thought it best to adopt this reform, although he would not have had it generally known, tot it savoured of caste. He made an effort not to be dictatorial and to forget that he had been the Prairie Giant, the bully of the Senate. In short, what with Mrs. Lee’s influence and what with his emancipation from the Senate chamber with its code of bad manners and worse morals, Mr. Ratcliffe was fast becoming a respectable member of society whom a man who had never been in prison or in politics might safely acknowledge as a friend.

Mr. Ratcliffe was now evidently bent upon being heard. After charting for a time with some humour on the President’s successes as a man of fashion, he changed the subject to the merits of the President as a statesman, and little by little as he spoke he became serious and his voice sank into low and confidential tones. He plainly said that the President’s incapacity had now become notorious among his followers; that it was only with difficulty his Cabinet and friends could prevent him from making a fool of himself fifty times a day; that all the party leaders who had occasion to deal with him were so thoroughly disgusted that the Cabinet had to pass its time in trying to pacify them; while this state of things lasted, Ratcliffe’s own influence must be paramount; he had good reason to know that if the Presidential election were to take place this year, nothing could prevent his nomination and election; even at three years’ distance the chances in his favour were at least two to one; and after this exordium he went on in a low tone with increasing earnestness, while Mrs. Lee sat motionless as the statue of Agrippina, her eyes fixed on the ground:

“I am not one of those who are happy in political life. I am a politician because I cannot help myself; it is the trade I am fittest for, and ambition is my resource to make it tolerable. In politics we cannot keep our hands clean. I have done many things in my political career that are not defensible. To act with entire honesty and self-respect, one should always live in a pure atmosphere, and the atmosphere of politics is impure. Domestic life is the salvation of many public men, but I have for many years been deprived of it. I have now come to that point where increasing responsibilities and temptations make me require help. I must have it. You alone can give it to me. You are kind, thoughtful, conscientious, high-minded, cultivated, fitted better than any woman I ever saw, for public duties. Your place is there. You belong among those who exercise an influence beyond their time. I only ask you to take the place which is yours.”

This desperate appeal to Mrs. Lee’s ambition was a calculated part of Ratcliffe’s scheme. He was well aware that he had marked high game, and that in proportion to this height must be the power of his lure. Nor was he embarrassed because Mrs. Lee sat still and pale with her eyes fixed on the ground and her hands twisted together in her lap. The eagle that soars highest must be longer in descending to the ground than the sparrow or the partridge. Mrs. Lee had a thousand things to think about in this brief time, and yet she found that she could not think at all; a succession of mere images and fragments of thought passed rapidly over her mind, and her will exercised no control upon their order or their nature. One of these fleeting reflections was that in all the offers of marriage she had ever heard, this was the most unsentimental and businesslike. As for his appeal to her ambition, it fell quite dead upon her ear, but a woman must be more than a heroine who can listen to flattery so evidently sincere, from a man who is pre-eminent among men, without being affected by it. To her, however, the great and overpowering fact was that she found herself unable to retreat or escape; her tactics were disconcerted, her temporary barriers beaten down.

The offer was made. What should she do with it?

She had thought for months on this subject without being able to form a decision; what hope was there that she should be able to decide now, in a ball-room, at a minute’s notice? When, as occasionally happens, the conflicting sentiments, prejudices, and passions of a lifetime are compressed into a single instant, they sometimes overcharge the mind and it refuses to work. Mrs. Lee sat still and let things take their course; a dangerous expedient, as thousands of women have learned, for it leaves them at the mercy of the strong will, bent upon mastery.

The music from the ball-room did not stop. Crowds of persons passed by their retreat. Some glanced in, and not one of these felt a doubt what was going on there. An unmistakeable atmosphere of mystery and intensity surrounded the pair. Ratcliffe’s eyes were fixed upon Mrs. Lee, and hers on the ground. Neither seemed to speak or to stir. Old Baron Jacobi, who never failed to see everything, saw this as he went by, and ejaculated a foreign oath of frightful import. Victoria Dare saw it and was devoured by curiosity to such a point as to be hardly capable of containing herself.

After a silence which seemed interminable, Ratcliffe went on: “I do not speak of my own feelings because I know that unless compelled by a strong sense of duty, you will not be decided by any devotion of mine. But I honestly say that I have learned to depend on you to a degree I can hardly express; and when I think of what I should be without you, life seems to me so intolerably dark that I am ready to make any sacrifice, to accept any conditions that will keep you by my side.”

Meanwhile Victoria Dare, although deeply interested in what Dunbeg was telling her, had met Sybil and had stopped a single second to whisper in her ear: “You had better look after your sister, in the window, behind the laurel with Mr. Ratcliffe!” Sybil was on Lord Skye’s arm, enjoying herself amazingly, though the night was far gone, but when she caught Victoria’s words, the expression of her face wholly changed. All the anxieties and terrors of the last fortnight, came back upon it. She dragged Lord Skye across the hall and looked in upon her sister. One glance was enough.

Desperately frightened but afraid to hesitate, she went directly up to Madeleine who was still sitting like a statue, listening to Ratcliffe’s last words. As she hurriedly entered, Mrs. Lee, looking up, caught sight of her pale face, and started from her seat.

“Are you ill, Sybil?” she exclaimed; “is anything the matter?”

“A little—fatigued,” gasped Sybil; “I thought you might be ready to go home.”

“I am,” cried Madeleine; “I am quite ready. Good evening, Mr. Ratcliffe. I will see you to-morrow. Lord Skye, shall I take leave of the Princess?”

“The Princess retired half an hour ago,” replied Lord Skye, who saw the situation and was quite ready to help Sybil; “let me take you to the dressing-room and order your carriage.” Mr. Ratcliffe found himself suddenly left alone, while Mrs. Lee hurried away, torn by fresh anxieties. They had reached the dressing-room and were nearly ready to go home, when Victoria Dare suddenly dashed in upon them, with an animation of manner very unusual in her, and, seizing Sybil by the hand, drew her into an adjoining room and shut the door. “Can you keep a secret?” said she abruptly.

“What!” said Sybil, looking at her with open-mouthed interest; “you don’t mean—are you really—tell me, quick!”

“Yes!” said Victoria relapsing into composure; “I am engaged!”

“To Lord Dunbeg?”

Victoria nodded, and Sybil, whose nerves were strung to the highest pitch by excitement, flattery, fatigue, perplexity, and terror, burst into a paroxysm of laughter, that startled even the calm Miss Dare.

“Poor Lord Dunbeg! don’t be hard on him, Victoria!” she gasped when at last she found breath; “do you really mean to pass the rest of your life in Ireland? Oh, how much you will teach them!”

“You forget, my dear,” said Victoria, who had placidly enthroned herself on the foot of a bed, “that I am not a pauper. I am told that Dunbeg Castle is a romantic summer residence, and in the dull season we shall of course go to London or somewhere. I shall be civil to you when you come over. Don’t you think a coronet will look well on me?”

Sybil burst again into laughter so irrepressible and prolonged that it puzzled even poor Dunbeg, who was impatiently pacing the corridor outside.

It alarmed Madeleine, who suddenly opened the door. Sybil recovered herself, and, her eyes streaming with tears, presented Victoria to her sister:

“Madeleine, allow me to introduce you to the Countess Dunbeg!”

But Mrs. Lee was much too anxious to feel any interest in Lady Dunbeg. A sudden fear struck her that Sybil was going into hysterics because Victoria’s engagement recalled her own disappointment. She hurried her sister away to the carriage.
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Re: Democracy An American Novel, by Henry Adams

Postby admin » Sat Mar 03, 2018 9:27 pm

Chapter 12

THEY drove home in silence, Mrs. Lee disturbed with anxieties and doubts, partly caused by her sister, partly by Mr. Ratcliffe; Sybil divided between amusement at Victoria’s conquest, and alarm at her own boldness in meddling with her sister’s affairs. Desperation, however, was stronger than fear. She made up her mind that further suspense was not to be endured; she would fight her baffle now before another hour was lost; surely no time could be better. A few moments brought them to their door. Mrs. Lee had told her maid not to wait for them, and they were alone. The fire was still alive on Madeleine’s hearth, and she threw more wood upon it. Then she insisted that Sybil must go to bed at once. But Sybil refused; she felt quite well, she said, and not in the least sleepy; she had a great deal to talk about, and wanted to get it off her mind. Nevertheless, her feminine regard for the “Dawn in June” led her to postpone what she had to say until with Madeleine’s help she had laid the triumph of the ball carefully aside; then, putting on her dressing-gown, and hastily plunging Carrington’s letter into her breast, like a concealed weapon, she hurried back to Madeleine’s room and established herself in a chair before the fire. There, after a moment’s pause, the two women began their long-deferred trial of strength, in which the match was so nearly equal as to make the result doubtful; for, if Madeleine were much the cleverer, Sybil in this case knew much better what she wanted, and had a clear idea how she meant to gain it, while Madeleine, unsuspicious of attack, had no plan of defence at all.

“Madeleine,” began Sybil, solemnly, and with a violent palpitation of the heart, “I want you to tell me something.”

“What is it, my child?” said Mrs. Lee, puzzled, and yet half ready to see that there must be some connection between her sister’s coming question and the sudden illness at the ball, which had disappeared as suddenly as it came.

“Do you mean to marry Mr. Ratcliffe?”

Poor Mrs. Lee was quite disconcerted by the directness of the attack. This fatal question met her at every turn. Hardly had she succeeded in escaping trom it at the ball scarcely an hour ago, by a stroke of good fortune for which she now began to see she was indebted to Sybil, and here it was again presented to her face like a pistol. The whole town, then, was asking it.

Ratcliffe’s offer must have been seen by half Washington, and her reply was awaited by an immense audience, as though she were a political returning-board. Her disgust was intense, and her first answer to Sybil was a quick inquiry:

“Why do you ask such a question? have you heard anything,—has anyone talked about it to you?”

“No!” replied Sybil; “but I must know; I can see for myself without being told, that Mr. Racliffe is trying to make you marry him. I don’t ask out of curiosity; this is something that concerns me nearly as much as it does you yourself. Please tell me! don’t treat me like a child any longer! let me know what you are thinking about! I am so tired of being left in the dark! You have no idea how much this thing weighs on me. Oh, Maude, I shall never be happy again until you trust me about this.”

Mrs. Lee felt a little pang of conscience, and seemed suddenly to become conscious of a new coil, tightening about her, in this wretched complication. Unable to see her way, ignorant of her sister’s motives, urged on by the idea that Sybil’s happiness was involved, she was now charged with want of feeling, and called upon for a direct answer to a plain question.

How could she aver that she did not mean to marry Mr. Ratcliffe? to say this would be to shut the door on all the objects she had at heart. If a direct answer must be given, it was better to say “Yes!” and have it over; better to leap blindly and see what came of it. Mrs. Lee, therefore, with an internal gasp, but with no visible sign of excitement, said, as though she were in a dream:

“Well, Sybil, I will tell you. I would have told you long ago if I had known myself. Yes! I have made up my mind to marry Mr. Ratcliffe!”

Sybil sprang to her feet with a cry: “And have you told him so?” she asked.

“No! you came and interrupted us just as we were speaking. I was glad you did come, for it gives me a little time to think. But I am decided now. I shall tell him to-morrow.”

This was not said with the air or one whose heart beat warmly at the thought of confessing her love. Mrs. Lee spoke mechanically, and almost with an effort. Sybil flung herself with all her energy upon her sister; violently excited, and eager to make herself heard, without waiting for arguments, she broke out into a torrent of entreaties: “Oh, don’t, don’t, don’t! Oh, please, please, don’t, my dearest, dearest Maude! unless you want to break my heart, don’t marry that man! You can’t love him! You can never be happy with him! he will take you away to Peonia, and you will die there! I shall never see you again! He will make you unhappy; he will beat you, I know he will! Oh, if you care for me at all, don’t marry him! Send him away! don’t see him again! let us go ourselves, now, in the morning train, before he comes back. I’m all ready; I’ll pack everything for you; we’ll go to Newport; to Europe—anywhere, to be out of his reach!”

With this passionate appeal, Sybil threw herself on her knees by her sister’s side, and, clasping her arms around Madeleine’s waist, sobbed as though her heart were already broken. Had Carrington seen her then he must have admitted that she had carried out his instructions to the letter. She was quite honest, too, in it all. She meant what she said, and her tears were real tears that had been pent up for weeks. Unluckily, her logic was feeble. Her idea of Mr. Ratcliffe’s character was vague, and biased by mere theories of what a Prairie Giant of Peonia should be in his domestic relations. Her idea of Peonia, too, was indistinct. She was haunted by a vision of her sister, sitting on a horse-hair sofa before an air-tight iron stove in a small room with high, bare white walls, a chromolithograph on each, and at her side a marble-topped table surmounted by a glass vase containing funereal dried grasses; the only literature, Frank Leslie’s periodical and the New York Ledger, with a strong smell of cooking everywhere prevalent. Here she saw Madeleine receiving visitors, the wives of neighbours and constituents, who told her the Peonia news.

Notwithstanding her ignorant and unreasonable prejudice against western men and women, western towns and prairies, and, in short, everything western, down to western politics and western politicians, whom she perversely asserted to be tue lowest ot all western products, there was still some common sense in Sybil’s idea. When that inevitable hour struck for Mr.

Ratcliffe, which strikes sooner or later for all politicians, and an ungrateful country permitted him to pine among his friends in Illinois, what did he propose to do with his wife? Did he seriously suppose that she, who was bored to death by New York, and had been able to find no permanent pleasure in Europe, would live quietly in the romantic village of Peonia? If not, did Mr. Ratcliffe imagine that they could find happiness in the enjoyment of each other’s society, and of Mrs. Lee’s income, in the excitements of Washington? In the ardour of his pursuit, Mr. Ratcliffe had accepted in advance any conditions which Mrs. Lee might impose, but if he really imagined that happiness and content lay on the purple rim of this sunset, he had more confidence in women and in money than a wider experience was ever likely to justify.

Whatever might be Mr. Ratcliffe’s schemes for dealing with these obstacles they could hardly be such as would satisfy Sybil, who, if inaccurate in her theories about Prairie Giants, yet understood women, and especially her sister, much better than Mr. Ratcliffe ever could do. Here she was safe, and it would have been better had she said no more, for Mrs. Lee, though staggered for a moment by her sister’s vehemence, was reassured by what seemed the absurdity of her fears. Madeleine rebelled against this hysterical violence of opposition, and became more fixed in her decision.

She scolded her sister in good, set terms—

“Sybil, Sybil! you must not be so violent. Behave like a woman, and not like a spoiled child!”

Mrs. Lee, like most persons who have to deal with spoiled or unspoiled children, resorted to severity, not so much because it was the proper way of dealing with them, as because she knew not what else to do. She was thoroughly uncomfortable and weary. She was not satisfied with herself or with her own motives. Doubt encompassed her on all sides, and her worst opponent was that sister whose happiness had turned the scale against her own judgment.

Nevertheless her tactics answered their object of checking Sybil’s vehemence. Her sobs came to an end, and she presently rose with a quieter air.

“Madeleine,” said she, “do you really want to marry Mr. Ratcliffe?”

“What else can I do, my dear Sybil? I want to do whatever is for the best. I thought you might be pleased.”

“You thought I might be pleased?” cried Sybil in astonishment. “What a strange idea! If you had ever spoken to me about it I should have told you that I hate him, and can’t understand how you can abide him. But I would rather marry him myself than see you marry him. I know that you will kill yourself with unhappiness when you have done it. Oh, Maude, please tell me that you won’t!” And Sybil began gently sobbing again, while she caressed her sister.

Mrs. Lee was infinitely distressed. To act against the wishes of her nearest friends was hard enough, but to appear harsh and unfeeling to the one being whose happiness she had at heart, was intolerable. Yet no sensible woman, after saying that she meant to marry a man like Mr. Ratcliffe, could throw him over merely because another woman chose to behave like a spoiled child.

Sybil was more childish than Madeleine herself had supposed. She could not even see where her own interest lay. She knew no more about Mr. Ratcliffe and the West than if he were the giant of a fairy-story, and lived at the top of a bean-stalk. She must be treated as a child; with gentleness, affection, forbearance, but with firmness and decision. She must be refused what she asked, for her own good.

Thus it came about that at last Mrs. Lee spoke, with an appearance of decision far from representing her internal tremor.

“Sybil, dear, I have made up my mind to marry Mr. Ratcliffe because there is no other way of making every one happy. You need not be afraid of him. He is kind and generous. Besides, I can take care of myself; and I will take care of you too. Now let us not discuss it any more. It is broad daylight, and we are both tired out.”

Sybil grew at once perfectly calm, and standing before her sister, as though their rôles were henceforward to be reversed, said:

“You have really made up your mind, then? Nothing I can say will change it?”

Mrs. Lee, looking at her with more surprise than ever, could not force herself to speak; but she shook her head slowly and decidedly.

“Then,” said Sybil, “there is only one thing more I can do. You must read this!” and she drew out Carrington’s letter, which she held before Madeleine’s face.

“Not now, Sybil!” remonstrated Mrs. Lee, dreading another long struggle. “I will read it after we have had some rest. Go to bed now!”

“I do not leave this room, nor will I ever go to bed until you have read that letter,” answered Sybil, seating herself again before the fire with the resolution of Queen Elizabeth; “not if I sit here till you are married. I promised Mr. Carrington that you should read it instantly; it’s all I can do now.” With a sigh, Mrs. Lee drew up the window-curtain, and in the gray morning light sat down to break the seal and read the following letter:—

“Washington, 2nd April.

“My dear Mrs. Lee,

“This letter will only come into your hands in case there should be a necessity for your knowing its contents. Nothing short of necessity would excuse my writing it. I have to ask your pardon for intruding again upon your private affairs. In this case, if I did not intrude, you would have cause for serious complaint against me.

“You asked me the other day whether I knew anything against Mr. Ratcliffe which the world did not know, to account for my low opinion of his character. I evaded your question then. I was bound by professional rules not to disclose facts that came to me under a pledge of confidence. I am going to violate these rules now, only because I owe you a duty which seems to me to override all others.

“I do know facts in regard to Mr. Ratcliffe, which have seemed to me to warrant a very low opinion of his character, and to mark him as unfit to be, I will not say your husband, but even your acquaintance.

“You know that I am executor to Samuel Baker’s will. You know who Samuel Baker was. You have seen his wife. She has told you herself that I assisted her in the examination and destruction of all her husband’s private papers according to his special death-bed request. One of the first facts I learned from these papers and her explanations, was the following.

“Just eight years ago, the great ‘Inter-Oceanic Mail Steamship Company,’ wished to extend its service round the world, and, in order to do so, it applied to Congress for a heavy subsidy. The management of this affair was put into the hands of Mr. Baker, and all his private letters to the President of the Company, in press copies, as well as the President’s replies, came into my possession. Baker’s letters were, of course, written in a sort of cypher, several kinds of which he was in the habit of using. He left among his papers a key to this cypher, but Mrs. Baker could have explained it without that help.

“It appeared from this correspondence that the bill was carried successfully through the House, and, on reaching the Senate, was referred to the appropriate Committee. Its ultimate passage was very doubtful; the end of the session was close at hand; the Senate was very evenly divided, and the Chairman of the Committee was decidedly hostile.

“The Chairman of that Committee was Senator Ratcliffe, always mentioned by Mr. Baker in cypher, and with every precaution. If you care, however, to verify the fact, and to trace the history of the Subsidy Bill through all its stages, together with Mr. Ratcliffe’s report, remarks, and votes upon it, you have only to look into the journals and debates for that year.

“At last Mr. Baker wrote that Senator Ratcliffe had put the bill in his pocket, and unless some means could be found of overcoming his opposition, there would be no report, and the bill would never come to a vote. All ordinary kinds of argument and influence had been employed upon him, and were exhausted. In this exigency Baker suggested that the Company should give him authority to see what money would do, but he added that it would be worse than useless to deal with small sums. Unless at least one hundred thousand dollars could be employed, it was better to leave the thing alone.

“The next mail authorized him to use any required amount of money not exceeding one hundred and fifty thousand dollars. Two days later he wrote that the bill was reported, and would pass the Senate within forty-eight hours; and he congratulated the Company on the fact that he had used only one hundred thousand dollars out of its last credit.

“The bill was actually reported, passed, and became law as he foretold, and the Company has enjoyed its subsidy ever since. Mrs. Baker also informed me that to her knowledge her husband gave the sum mentioned, in United States Coupon Bonds, to Senator Ratcliffe.

“This transaction, taken in connection with the tortuousness of his public course, explains the distrust I have always expressed for him. You will, however, understand that all these papers have been destroyed. Mrs. Baker could never be induced to hazard her own comfort by revealing the facts to the public. The officers of the Company in their own interests would never betray the transaction, and their books were undoubtedly so kept as to show no trace of it. If I made this charge against Mr. Ratcliffe, I should be the only sufferer. He would deny and laugh at it. I could prove nothing. I am therefore more directly interested than he is in keeping silence.

“In trusting this secret to you, I rely firmly upon your mentioning it to no one else—not even to your sister. You are at liberty, if you wish, to show this letter to one person only—to Mr. Ratcliffe himself. That done, you will, I beg, burn it immediately.

“With the warmest good wishes, I am,

“Ever most truly yours,

“John Carrington.”

When Mrs. Lee had finished reading this letter, she remained for some time quite silent, looking out into the square below. The morning had come, and the sky was bright with the fresh April sunlight. She threw open her window, and drew in the soft spring air. She needed all the purity and quiet that nature could give, for her whole soul was in revolt, wounded, mortified, exasperated. Against the sentiment of all her friends she had insisted upon believing in this man; she had wrought herself up to the point of accepting him for her husband; a man who, if law were the same thing as justice, ought to be in a felon’s cell; a man who could take money to betray his trust. Her anger at first swept away all bounds. She was impatient for the moment when she should see him again, and tear off his mask. For once she would express all the loathing she felt for the whole pack of political hounds. She would see whether the animal was made like other beings; whether he had a sense of honour; a single clean spot in his mind.

Then it occurred to her that after all there might be a mistake; perhaps Mr.

Ratcliffe could explain the charge away. But this thought only laid bare another smarting wound in her pride. Not only did she believe the charge, but she believed that Mr. Ratcliffe would defend his act. She had been willing to marry a man whom she thought capable of such a crime, and now she shuddered at the idea that this charge might have been brought against her husband, and that she could not dismiss it with instant incredulity, with indignant contempt. How had this happened? how had she got into so foul a complication? When she left New York, she had meant to be a mere spectator in Washington. Had it entered her head that she could be drawn into any project of a second marriage, she never would have come at all, for she was proud of her loyalty to her husband’s memory, and second marriages were her abhorrence. In her restlessness and solitude, she had forgotten this; she had only asked whether any life was worth living for a woman who had neither husband nor children. Was the family all that life had to offer? could she find no interest outside the household? And so, led by this will-of-the-wisp, she had, with her eyes open, walked into the quagmire of politics, in spite of remonstrance, in spite of conscience.

She rose and paced the room, while Sybil lay on the couch, watching her with eyes half shut. She grew more and more angry with herself, and as her self-reproach increased, her anger against Ratcliffe faded away. She had no right to be angry with Ratcliffe. He had never deceived her. He had always openly enough avowed that he knew no code of morals in politics; that if virtue did not answer his purpose he used vice. How could she blame him for acts which he had repeatedly defended in her presence and with her tacit assent, on principles that warranted this or any other villainy?

The worst was that this discovery had come on her as a blow, not as a reprieve from execution. At this thought she became furious with herself.

She had not known the recesses of her own heart. She had honestly supposed that Sybil’s interests and Sybil’s happiness were forcing her to an act of self-sacrifice; and now she saw that in the depths of her soul very different motives had been at work: ambition, thirst for power, restless eagerness to meddle in what did not concern her, blind longing to escape from the torture of watching other women with full lives and satisfied instincts, while her own life was hungry and sad. For a time she had actually, unconscious as she was of the delusion, hugged a hope that a new field of usefulness was open to her; that great opportunities for doing good were to supply the aching emptiness of that good which had been taken away; and that here at last was an object for which there would be almost a pleasure in squandering the rest of existence even if she knew in advance that the experiment would fail. Life was emptier than ever now that this dream was over. Yet the worst was not in that disappointment, but in the discovery of her own weakness and self-deception.

Worn out by long-continued anxiety, excitement and sleeplessness, she was unfit to struggle with the creatures of her own imagination. Such a strain could only end in a nervous crisis, and at length it came:

“Oh, what a vile thing life is!” she cried, throwing up her arms with a gesture of helpless rage and despair. “Oh, how I wish I were dead! how I wish the universe were annihilated!” and she flung herself down by Sybil’s side in a frenzy of tears.

Sybil, who had watched all this exhibition in silence, waited quietly for the excitement to pass. There was little to say. She could only soothe.

After the paroxysm had exhausted itself Madeleine lay quiet for a time, until other thoughts began to disturb her. From reproaching herself about Ratcliffe she went on to reproach herself about Sybil, who really looked worn and pale, as though almost overcome by fatigue.

“Sybil,” said she, “you must go to bed at once. You are tired out. It was very wrong in me to let you sit up so late. Go now, and get some sleep.”

“I am not going to bed till you do, Maude!” replied Sybil, with quiet obstinacy.

“Go, dear! it is all settled. I shall not marry Mr. Ratcliffe. You need not be anxious about it any more.”

“Are you very unhappy?”

“Only very angry with myself. I ought to have taken Mr. Carrington’s advice sooner.”

“Oh, Maude!” exclaimed Sybil, with a sudden explosion of energy; “I wish you had taken him!”

This remark roused Mrs. Lee to new interest: “Why, Sybil,” said she, “surely you are not in earnest?”

“Indeed, I am,” replied Sybil, very decidedly. “I know you think I am in love with Mr. Carrington myself, but I’m not. I would a great deal rather have him for a brother-in-law, and he is so much the nicest man you know, and you could help his sisters.”

Mrs. Lee hesitated a moment, for she was not quite certain whether it was wise to probe a healing wound, but she was anxious to clear this last weight from her mind, and she dashed recklessly forward:

“Are you sure you are telling the truth, Sybil? Why, then, did you say that you cared for him? and why have you been so miserable ever since he went away?”

“Why? I should think it was plain enough why! Because I thought, as every one else did, that you were going to marry Mr. Ratcliffe; and because if you married Mr. Ratcliffe, I must go and live alone; and because you treated me like a child, and never took me into your confidence at all; and because Mr. Carrington was the only person I had to advise me, and after he went away, I was left all alone to fight Mr. Ratcliffe and you both together, without a human soul to help me in case I made a mistake. You would have been a great deal more miserable than I if you had been in my place.”

Madeleine looked at her for a moment in doubt. Would this last? did Sybil herself know the depth of her own wound? But what could Mrs. Lee do now?

Perhaps Sybil did deceive herself a little. When this excitement had passed away, perhaps Carrington’s image might recur to her mind a little too often for her own comfort. The future must take care of itself. Mrs. Lee drew her sister closer to her, and said: “Sybil, I have made a horrible mistake, and you must forgive me.”
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Re: Democracy An American Novel, by Henry Adams

Postby admin » Sat Mar 03, 2018 9:28 pm

Chapter 13

NOT until afternoon did Mrs. Lee reappear. How much she had slept she did not say, and she hardly looked like one whose slumbers had been long or sweet; but if she had slept little, she had made up for the loss by thinking much, and, while she thought, the storm which had raged so fiercely in her breast, more and more subsided into calm. If there was not sunshine yet, there was at least stillness. As she lay, hour after hour, waiting for the sleep that did not come, she had at first the keen mortification of reflecting how easily she had been led by mere vanity into imagining that she could be of use in the world. She even smiled in her solitude at the picture she drew of herself, reforming Ratcliffe, and Krebs, and Schuyler Clinton. The ease with which Ratcliffe alone had twisted her about his finger, now that she saw it, made her writhe, and the thought of what he might have done, had she married him, and of the endless succession of moral somersaults she would have had to turn, chilled her with mortal terror. She had barely escaped being dragged under the wheels of the machine, and so coming to an untimely end. When she thought of this, she felt a mad passion to revenge herself on the whole race of politicians, with Ratcliffe at their head; she passed hours in framing bitter speeches to be made to his face.

Then as she grew calmer, Ratcliffe’s sins took on a milder hue; life, after all, had not been entirely blackened by his arts; there was even some good in her experience, sharp though it were. Had she not come to Washington in search of men who cast a shadow, and was not Ratcliffe’s shadow strong enough to satisfy her? Had she not penetrated the deepest recesses of politics, and learned how easily the mere possession of power could convert the shadow of a hobby-horse existing only in the brain of a foolish country farmer, into a lurid nightmare that convulsed the sleep of nations? The antics of Presidents and Senators had been amusing—so amusing that she had nearly been persuaded to take part in them. She had saved herself in time.

She had got to the bottom of this business of democratic government, and found out that it was nothing more than government of any other kind. She might have known it by her own common sense, but now that experience had proved it, she was glad to quit the masquerade; to return to the true democracy of life, her paupers and her prisons, her schools and her hospitals. As for Mr. Ratcliffe, she felt no difficulty in dealing with him.

Let Mr. Ratcliffe, and his brother giants, wander on their own political prairie, and hunt for offices, or other profitable game, as they would.

Their objects were not her objects, and to join their company was not her ambition. She was no longer very angry with Mr. Ratcliffe. She had no wish to insult him, or to quarrel with him. What he had done as a politician, he had done according to his own moral code, and it was not her business to judge him; to protect herself was the only right she claimed. She thought she could easily hold him at arm’s length, and although, if Carrington had written the truth, they could never again be friends, there need be no difficulty in their remaining acquaintances. If this view of her duty was narrow, it was at least proof that she had learned something from Mr.

Ratcliffe; perhaps it was also proof that she had yet to learn Mr. Ratcliffe himself.

Two o’clock had struck before Mrs. Lee came down from her chamber, and Sybil had not yet made her appearance. Madeleine rang her bell and gave orders that, if Mr. Ratcliffe called she would see him, but she was at home to no one else. Then she sat down to write letters and to prepare for her journey to New York, for she must now hasten her departure in order to escape the gossip and criticism which she saw hanging like an avalanche over her head.

When Sybil at length came down, looking much fresher than her sister, they passed an hour together arranging this and other small matters, so that both of them were again in the best of spirits, and Sybil’s face was wreathed in smiles.

A number of visitors came to the door that day, some of them prompted by friendliness and some by sheer curiosity, for Mrs. Lee’s abrupt disappearance from the ball had excited remark. Against all these her door was firmly closed. On the other hand, as the afternoon went on, she sent Sybil away, so that she might have the field entirely to herself, and Sybil, relieved of all her alarms, sallied out to interrupt Dunbeg’s latest interview with his Countess, and to amuse herself with Victoria’s last “phase.”

Towards four o’clock the tall form of Mr. Ratcliffe was seen to issue from the Treasury Department and to descend the broad steps of its western front.

Turning deliberately towards the Square, the Secretary of the Treasury crossed the Avenue and stopping at Mrs. Lee’s door, rang the bell. He was immediately admitted. Mrs. Lee was alone in her parlour and rose rather gravely as he entered, but welcomed him as cordially as she could. She wanted to put an end to his hopes at once and to do it decisively, but without hurting his feelings.

“Mr. Ratcliffe,” said she, when he was seated—“I am sure you will be better pleased by my speaking instantly and frankly. I could not reply to you last night. I will do so now without delay. What you wish is impossible. I would rather not even discuss it. Let us leave it here and return to our old relations.”

She could not force herself to express any sense of gratitude for his affection, or of regret at being obliged to meet it with so little return.

To treat him with tolerable civility was all she thought required of her.

Ratcliffe felt the change of manner. He had been prepared for a struggle, but not to be met with so blunt a rebuff at the start. His look became serious and he hesitated a moment before speaking, but when he spoke at last, it was with a manner as firm and decided as that of Mrs. Lee herself.

“I cannot accept such an answer. I will not say that I have a right to explanation,—I have no rights which you are bound to respect,—but from you I conceive that I may at least ask the favour of one, and that you will not refuse it. Are you willing to tell me your reasons for this abrupt and harsh decision?”

“I do not dispute your right of explanation, Mr. Ratcliffe. You have the right, if you choose to use it, and I am ready to give you every explanation in my power; but I hope you will not insist on my doing so. If I seemed to speak abruptly and harshly, it was merely to spare you the greater annoyance of doubt. Since I am forced to give you pain, was it not fairer and more respectful to you to speak at once? We have been friends. I am very soon going away. I sincerely want to avoid saying or doing anything that would change our relations.”

Ratcliffe, however, paid no attention to these words, and gave them no answer. He was much too old a debater to be misled by such trifles, when he needed all his faculties to pin his opponent to the wall. He asked:—

“Is your decision a new one?”

“It is a very old one, Mr. Ratcliffe, which I had let myself lose sight of, for a time. A night’s reflection has brought me back to it.”

“May I ask why you have returned to it? surely you would not have hesitated without strong reasons.”

“I will tell you frankly. If, by appearing to hesitate, I have misled you, I am honestly sorry for it. I did not mean to do it. My hesitation was owing to the doubt whether my life might not really be best used in aiding you. My decision was owing to the certainty that we are not fitted for each other. Our lives run in separate grooves. We are both too old to change them.”

Ratcliffe shook his head with an air of relief. “Your reasons, Mrs. Lee, are not sound. There is no such divergence in our lives. On the contrary I can give to yours the field it needs, and that it can get in no other way; while you can give to mine everything it now wants. If these are your only reasons I am sure of being able to remove them.”

Madeleine looked as though she were not altogether pleased at this idea, and became a little dogmatic. “It is no use our arguing on this subject, Mr. Ratcliffe. You and I take very different views of life. I cannot accept yours, and you could not practise on mine.”

“Show me,” said Ratcliffe, “a single example of such a divergence, and I will accept your decision without another word.”

Mrs. Lee hesitated and looked at him for an instant as though to be quite sure that he was in earnest. There was an effrontery about this challenge which surprised her, and if she did not check it on the spot, there was no saying how much trouble it might give her. Then unlocking the drawer of the writing-desk at her elbow, she took out Carrington’s letter and handed it to Mr. Ratcliffe.

“Here is such an example which has come to my knowledge very lately. I meant to show it to you in any case, but I would rather have waited.”

Ratcliffe took the letter which she handed to him, opened it deliberately, looked at the signature, and read. He showed no sign of surprise or disturbance. No one would have imagined that he had, from the moment he saw Carrington’s name, as precise a knowledge of what was in this letter as though he had written it himself. His first sensation was only one of anger that his projects had miscarried. How this had happened he could not at once understand, for the idea that Sybil could have a hand in it did not occur to him. He had made up his mind that Sybil was a silly, frivolous girl, who counted for nothing in her sister’s actions. He had fallen into the usual masculine blunder of mixing up smartness of intelligence with strength of character. Sybil, without being a metaphysician, willed anything which she willed at all with more energy than her sister did, who was worn out with the effort of life. Mr. Ratcliffe missed this point, and was left to wonder who it was that had crossed his path, and how Carrington had managed to be present and absent, to get a good office in Mexico and to baulk his schemes in Washington, at the same time. He had not given Carrington credit for so much cleverness.

He was violently irritated at the check. Another day, he thought, would have made him safe on this side; and possibly he was right. Had he once succeeded in getting ever so slight a hold on Mrs. Lee he would have told her this story with his own colouring, and from his own point of view, and he fully believed he could do this in such a way as to rouse her sympathy. Now that her mind was prejudiced, the task would be much more difficult; yet he did not despair, for it was his theory that Mrs. Lee, in the depths of her soul, wanted to be at the head of the White House as much as he wanted to be there himself, and that her apparent coyness was mere feminine indecision in the face of temptation. His thoughts now turned upon the best means of giving again the upper hand to her ambition. He wanted to drive Carrington a second time from the field.

Thus it was that, having read the letter once in order to learn what was in it, he turned back, and slowly read it again in order to gain time. Then he replaced it in its envelope, and returned it to Mrs. Lee, who, with equal calmness, as though her interest in it were at an end, tossed it negligently into the fire, where it was reduced to ashes under Ratcliffe’s eyes.

He watched it burn for a moment, and then turning to her, said, with his usual composure, “I meant to have told you of that affair myself. I am sorry that Mr. Carrington has thought proper to forestall me. No doubt he has his own motives for taking my character in charge.”

“Then it is true!” said Mrs. Lee, a little more quickly than she had meant to speak.

“True in its leading facts; untrue in some of its details, and in the impression it creates. During the Presidential election which took place eight years ago last autumn, there was, as you may remember, a violent contest and a very close vote. We believed (though I was not so prominent in the party then as now), that the result of that election would be almost as important to the nation as the result of the war itself. Our defeat meant that the government must pass into the blood-stained hands of rebels, men whose designs were more than doubtful, and who could not, even if their designs had been good, restrain the violence of their followers. In consequence we strained every nerve. Money was freely spent, even to an amount much in excess of our resources. How it was employed, I will not say.

“I do not even know, for I held myself aloof from these details, which fell to the National Central Committee of which I was not a member. The great point was that a very large sum had been borrowed on pledged securities, and must be repaid. The members of the National Committee and certain senators held discussions on the subject, in which I shared. The end was that towards the close of the session the head of the committee, accompanied by two senators, came to me and told me that I must abandon my opposition to the Steamship Subsidy. They made no open avowal of their reasons, and I did not press for one. Their declaration, as the responsible heads of the organization, that certain action on my part was essential to the interests of the party, satisfied me. I did not consider myself at liberty to persist in a mere private opinion in regard to a measure about which I recognized the extreme likelihood of my being in error. I accordingly reported the bill, and voted for it, as did a large majority of the party. Mrs. Baker is mistaken in saying that the money was paid to me. If it was paid at all, of which I have no knowledge except from this letter, it was paid to the representative of the National Committee. I received no money. I had nothing to do with the money further than as I might draw my own conclusions in regard to the subsequent payment of the campaign debt.”

Mrs. Lee listened to all this with intense interest. Not until this moment had she really felt as though she had got to the heart of politics, so that she could, like a physician with his stethoscope, measure the organic disease. Now at last she knew why the pulse beat with such unhealthy irregularity, and why men felt an anxiety which they could not or would not explain. Her interest in the disease overcame her disgust at the foulness of the revelation. To say that the discovery gave her actual pleasure would be doing her injustice; but the excitement of the moment swept away every other sensation. She did not even think of herself. Not until afterwards did she fairly grasp the absurdity of Ratcliffe’s wish that in the face of such a story as this, she should still have vanity enough to undertake the reform of politics. And with his aid too! The audacity of the man would have seemed sublime if she had felt sure that he knew the difference between good and evil, between a lie and the truth; but the more she saw of him, the surer she was that his courage was mere moral paralysis, and that he talked about virtue and vice as a man who is colour-blind talks about red and green; he did not see them as she saw them; if left to choose for himself he would have nothing to guide him. Was it politics that had caused this atrophy of the moral senses by disuse? Meanwhile, here she sat face to face with a moral lunatic, who had not even enough sense of humour to see the absurdity of his own request, that she should go out to the shore of this ocean of corruption, and repeat the ancient rôle of King Canute, or Dame Partington with her mop and her pail. What was to be done with such an animal?

The bystander who looked on at this scene with a wider knowledge of facts, might have found entertainment in another view of the subject, that is to say, in the guilelessness ot Madeleine Lee. With all her warnings she was yet a mere baby-in-arms in the face of the great politician. She accepted his story as true, and she thought it as bad as possible; but had Mr.

Ratcliffe’s associates now been present to hear his version of it, they would have looked at each other with a smile of professional pride, and would have roundly sworn that he was, beyond a doubt, the ablest man this country had ever produced, and next to certain of being President. They would not, however, have told their own side of the story if they could have helped it, but in talking it over among themselves they might have assumed the facts to have been nearly as follows: that Ratcliffe had dragged them into an enormous expenditure to carry his own State, and with it his own re-election to the Senate; that they had tried to hold him responsible, and he had tried to shirk the responsibility; that there had been warm discussions on the subject; that he himself had privately suggested recourse to Baker, had shaped his conduct accordingly, and had compelled them, in order to save their own credit, to receive the money.

Even if Mrs. Lee had heard this part of the story, though it might have sharpened her indignation against Mr. Ratcliffe, it would not have altered her opinions. As it was, she had heard enough, and with a great effort to control her expression of disgust, she sank back in her chair as Ratcliffe concluded. Finding that she did not speak, he went on:

“I do not undertake to defend this affair. It is the act of my public life which I most regret—not the doing, but the necessity of doing. I do not differ from you in opinion on that point. I cannot acknowledge that there is here any real divergence between us.”

“I am afraid,” said Mrs. Lee, “that I cannot agree with you.”

This brief remark, the very brevity of which carried a barb of sarcasm, escaped from Madeleine’s lips before she had fairly intended it. Ratcliffe felt the sting, and it started him from his studied calmness of manner.

Rising from his chair he stood on the hearthrug before Mrs. Lee, and broke out upon her with an oration in that old senatorial voice and style which was least calculated to enlist her sympathies:

“Mrs. Lee,” said he, with harsh emphasis and dogmatic tone, “there are conflicting duties in all the transactions of life, except the simplest. However we may act, do what we may, we must violate some moral obligation. All that can be asked of us is that we should guide ourselves by what we think the highest. At the time this affair occurred, I was a Senator of the United States. I was also a trusted member of a great political party which I looked upon as identical with the nation. In both capacities I owed duties to my constituents, to the government, to the people. I might interpret these duties narrowly or broadly. I might say: Perish the government, perish the Union, perish this people, rather than that I should soil my hands! Or I might say, as I did, and as I would say again: Be my fate what it may, this glorious Union, the last hope of suffering humanity, shall be preserved.”

Here he paused, and seeing that Mrs. Lee, after looking for a time at him, was now regarding the fire, lost in meditation over the strange vagaries of the senatorial mind, he resumed, in another line of argument. He rightly judged that there must be some moral defect in his last remarks, although he could not see it, which made persistence in that direction useless.

“You ought not to blame me—you cannot blame me justly. It is to your sense of justice I appeal. Have I ever concealed from you my opinions on this subject? Have I not on the contrary always avowed them? Did I not here, on this very spot, when challenged once before by this same Carrington, take credit for an act less defensible than this? Did I not tell you then that I had even violated the sanctity of a great popular election and reversed its result? That was my sole act! In comparison with it, this is a trifle! Who is injured by a steamship company subscribing one or ten hundred thousand dollars to a campaign fund? Whose rights are affected by it? Perhaps its stock holders receive one dollar a share in dividends less than they otherwise would. If they do not complain, who else can do so? But in that election I deprived a million people of rights which belonged to them as absolutely as their houses! You could not say that I had done wrong. Not a word of blame or criticism have you ever uttered to me on that account. If there was an offence, you condoned it! You certainly led me to suppose that you saw none. Why are you now so severe upon the smaller crime?”

This shot struck hard. Mrs. Lee visibly shrank under it, and lost her composure. This was the same reproach she had made against herself, and to which she had been able to find no reply. With some agitation she exclaimed:

“Mr. Ratcliffe, pray do me justice! I have tried not to be severe. I have said nothing in the way of attack or blame. I acknowledge that it is not my place to stand in judgment over your acts. I have more reason to blame myself than you, and God knows I have blamed myself bitterly.” The tears stood in her eyes as she said these last words, and her voice trembled.

Ratcliffe saw that he had gained an advantage, and, sitting down nearer to her, he dropped his voice and urged his suit still more energetically:

“You did me justice then; why not do it now? You were convinced then that I did the best I could. I have always done so. On the other hand I have never pretended that all my acts could be justified by abstract morality. Where, then, is the divergence between us?”

Mrs. Lee did not undertake to answer this last argument: she only returned to her old ground. “Mr. Ratcliffe,” she said, “I do not want to argue this question. I have no doubt that you can overcome me in argument. Perhaps on my side this is a matter of feeling rather than of reason, but the truth is only too evident to me that I am not fitted for politics. I should be a drag upon you. Let me be the judge of my own weakness! Do not insist upon pressing me, further!”

She was ashamed of herself for this appeal to a man whom she could not respect, as though she were a suppliant at his mercy, but she feared the reproach of having deceived him, and she tried pitiably to escape it.

Ratcliffe was only encouraged by her weakness.

“I must insist upon pressing it, Mrs. Lee,” replied he, and he became yet more earnest as he went on; “my future is too deeply involved in your decision to allow of my accepting your answer as final. I need your aid. There is nothing I will not do to obtain it. Do you require affection? mine for you is boundless. I am ready to prove it by a life of devotion. Do you doubt my sincerity? test it in whatever way you please. Do you fear being dragged down to the level of ordinary politicians? so far as concerns myself, my great wish is to have your help in purifying politics. What higher ambition can there be than to serve one’s country for such an end? Your sense of duty is too keen not to feel that the noblest objects which can inspire any woman, combine to point out your course.”

Mrs. Lee was excessively uncomfortable, although not in the least shaken.

She began to see that she must take a stronger tone if she meant to bring this importunity to an end, and she answered:—

“I do not doubt your affection or your sincerity, Mr. Ratcliffe. It is myself I doubt. You have been kind enough to give me much of your confidence this winter, and if I do not yet know about politics all that is to be known, I have learned enough to prove that I could do nothing sillier than to suppose myself competent to reform anything. If I pretended to think so, I should be a mere worldly, ambitious woman, such as people think me. The idea of my purifying politics is absurd. I am sorry to speak so strongly, but I mean it. I do not cling very closely to life, and do not value my own very highly, but I will not tangle it in such a way; I will not share the profits of vice; I am not willing to be made a receiver of stolen goods, or to be put in a position where I am perpetually obliged to maintain that immorality is a virtue!”

As she went on she became more and more animated and her words took a sharper edge than she had intended. Ratcliffe felt it, and showed his annoyance. His face grew dark and his eyes looked out at her with their ugliest expression. He even opened his mouth for an angry retort, but controlled himself with an effort, and presently resumed his argument.

“I had hoped,” he began more solemnly than ever, “that I should find in you a lofty courage which would disregard such risks. If all the men and women were to take the tone you have taken, our government would soon perish. If you consent to share my career, I do not deny that you may find less satisfaction than I hope, but you will lead a mere death in life if you place yourself like a saint on a solitary column. I plead what I believe to be your own cause in pleading mine. Do not sacrifice your life!”

Mrs. Lee was in despair. She could not reply what was on her lips, that to marry a murderer or a thief was not a sure way of diminishing crime. She had already said something so much like this that she shrank from speaking more plainly. So she fell back on her old theme.

“We must at all events, Mr. Ratcliffe, use our judgments according to our own consciences. I can only repeat now what I said at first. I am sorry to seem insensible to your expressions towards me, but I cannot do what you wish. Let us maintain our old relations if you will, but do not press me further on this subject.”

Ratcliffe grew more and more sombre as he became aware that defeat was staring him in the face. He was tenacious of purpose, and he had never in his life abandoned an object which he had so much at heart as this. He would not abandon it. For the moment, so completely had the fascination of Mrs.

Lee got the control of him, he would rather have abandoned the Presidency itself than her. He really loved her as earnestly as it was in his nature to love anything. To her obstinacy he would oppose an obstinacy greater still; but in the meanwhile his attack was disconcerted, and he was at a loss what next to do. Was it not possible to change his ground; to offer inducements that would appeal even more strongly to feminine ambition and love of display than the Presidency itself? He began again:—

“Is there no form of pledge I can give you? no sacrifice I can make? You dislike politics. Shall I leave political life? I will do anything rather than lose you. I can probably control the appointment of Minister to England. The President would rather have me there than here. Suppose I were to abandon politics and take the English mission. Would that sacrifice not affect you? You might pass four years in London where there would be no politics, and where your social position would be the best in the world; and this would lead to the Presidency almost as surely as the other.” Then suddenly, seeing that he was making no headway, he threw off his studied calmness and broke out in an appeal of almost equally studied violence.

“Mrs. Lee! Madeleine! I cannot live without you. The sound of your voice—the touch of your hand—even the rustle of your dress—are like wine to me. For God’s sake, do not throw me over!”

He meant to crush opposition by force. More and more vehement as he spoke he actually bent over and tried to seize her hand. She drew it back as though he were a reptile. She was exasperated by this obstinate disregard of her forbearance, this gross attempt to bribe her with office, this flagrant abandonment of even a pretence of public virtue; the mere thought of his touch on her person was more repulsive than a loathsome disease. Bent upon teaching him a lesson he would never forget, she spoke out abruptly, and with evident signs of contempt in her voice and manner:

“Mr. Ratcliffe, I am not to be bought. No rank, no dignity, no consideration, no conceivable expedient would induce me to change my mind. Let us have no more of this!”

Ratcliffe had already been more than once, during this conversation, on the verge of losing his temper. Naturally dictatorial and violent, only long training and severe experience had taught him self-control, and when he gave way to passion his bursts of fury were still tremendous. Mrs. Lee’s evident personal disgust, even more than her last sharp rebuke, passed the bounds of his patience. As he stood before her, even she, high-spirited as she was, and not in a calm frame of mind, felt a momentary shock at seeing how his face flushed, his eyes gleamed, and his hands trembled with rage.

“Ah!” exclaimed he, turning upon her with a harshness, almost a savageness, of manner that startled her still more; “I might have known what to expect! Mrs. Clinton warned me early. She said then that I should find you a heartless coquette!”

“Mr. Ratcliffe!” exclaimed Madeleine, rising from her chair, and speaking in a warning voice almost as passionate as his own.

“A heartless coquette!” he repeated, still more harshly than before; “she said you would do just this! that you meant to deceive me! that you lived on flattery! that you could never be anything but a coquette, and that if you married me, I should repent it all my life. I believe her now!”

Mrs. Lee’s temper, too, was naturally a high one. At this moment she, too, was flaming with anger, and wild with a passionate impulse to annihilate this man. Conscious that the mastery was in her own hands, she could the more easily control her voice, and with an expression of unutterable contempt she spoke her last words to him, words which had been ringing all day in her ears:

“Mr. Ratcliffe! I have listened to you with a great deal more patience and respect than you deserve. For one long hour I have degraded myself by discussing with you the question whether I should marry a man who by his own confession has betrayed the highest trusts that could be placed in him, who has taken money for his votes as a Senator, and who is now in public office by means of a successful fraud of his own, when in justice he should be in a State’s prison. I will have no more of this. Understand, once for all, that there is an impassable gulf between your life and mine. I do not doubt that you will make yourself President, but whatever or wherever you are, never speak to me or recognize me again!”

He glared a moment into her face with a sort of blind rage, and seemed about to say more, when she swept past him, and before he realized it, he was alone.

Overmastered by passion, but conscious that he was powerless, Ratcliffe, after a moment’s hesitation, left the room and the house. He let himself out, shutting the front door behind him, and as he stood on the pavement old Baron Jacobi, who had special reasons for wishing to know how Mrs. Lee had recovered from the fatigue and excitements of the ball, came up to the spot.

A single glance at Ratcliffe showed him that something had gone wrong in the career of that great man, whose fortunes he always followed with so bitter a sneer of contempt. Impelled by the spirit of evil always at his elbow, the Baron seized this moment to sound the depth of his friend’s wound. They met at the door so closely that recognition was inevitable, and Jacobi, with his worst smile, held out his hand, saying at the same moment with diabolic malignity:

“I hope I may offer my felicitations to your Excellency!”

Ratcliffe was glad to find some victim on whom he could vent his rage. He had a long score of humiliations to repay this man, whose last insult was beyond all endurance. With an oath he dashed Jacobi’s hand aside, and, grasping his shoulder, thrust him out of the path. The Baron, among whose weaknesses the want of high temper and personal courage was not recorded, had no mind to tolerate such an insult from such a man. Even while Ratcliffe’s hand was still on his shoulder he had raised his cane, and before the Secretary saw what was coming, the old man had struck him with all his force full in the face. For a moment Ratcliffe staggered back and grew pale, but the shock sobered him. He hesitated a single instant whether to crush his assailant with a blow, but he felt that for one of his youth and strength, to attack an infirm diplomatist in a public street would be a fatal blunder, and while Jacobi stood, violently excited, with his cane raised ready to strike another blow, Mr. Ratcliffe suddenly turned his back and without a word, hastened away.

When Sybil returned, not long afterwards, she found no one in the parlour.

On going to her sister’s room she discovered Madeleine lying on the couch, looking worn and pale, but with a slight smile and a peaceful expression on her face, as though she had done some act which her conscience approved. She called Sybil to her side, and, taking her hand, said:

“Sybil, dearest, will you go abroad with me again?”

“Of course I will,” said Sybil; “I will go to the end of the world with you.”

“I want to go to Egypt,” said Madeleine, still smiling faintly; “democracy has shaken my nerves to pieces. Oh, what rest it would be to live in the Great Pyramid and look out for ever at the polar star!”
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Re: Democracy An American Novel, by Henry Adams

Postby admin » Sat Mar 03, 2018 9:28 pm

Conclusion

SYBIL TO CARRINGTON “May 1st, New York.

“My dear Mr. Carrington,

“I promised to write you, and so, to keep my promise, and also because my sister wishes me to tell you about our plans, I send this letter. We have left Washington—for ever, I am afraid—and are going to Europe next month.

You must know that a fortnight ago, Lord Skye gave a great ball to the Grand-Duchess of something-or-other quite unspellable. I never can describe things, but it was all very fine. I wore a lovely new dress, and was a great success, I assure you. So was Madeleine, though she had to sit most of the evening by the Princess—such a dowdy! The Duke danced with me several times; he can’t reverse, but that doesn’t seem to matter in a Grand-Duke.

Well! things came to a crisis at the end of the evening. I followed your directions, and after we got home gave your letter to Madeleine. She says she has burned it. I don’t know what happened afterwards—a tremendous scene, I suspect, but Victoria Dare writes me from Washington that every one is talking about M.‘s refusal of Mr. R., and a dreadful thing that took place on our very doorstep between Mr. R. and Baron Jacobi, the day after the ball. She says there was a regular pitched battle, and the Baron struck him over the face with his cane. You know how afraid Madeleine was that they would do something of the sort in our parlour. I’m glad they waited till they were in the street. But isn’t it shocking! They say the Baron is to be sent away, or recalled, or something. I like the old gentleman, and for his sake am glad duelling is gone out of fashion, though I don’t much believe Mr. Silas P. Ratcliffe could hit anything. The Baron passed through here three days ago on his summer trip to Europe. He left his card on us, but we were out, and did not see him. We are going over in July with the Schneidekoupons, and Mr. Schneidekoupon has promised to send his yacht to the Mediterranean, so that we shall sail about there after finishing the Nile, and see Jerusalem and Gibraltar and Constantinople. I think it will be perfectly lovely. I hate ruins, but I fancy you can buy delicious things in Constantinople. Of course, after what has happened, we can never go back to Washington. I shall miss our rides dreadfully. I read Mr. Browning’s ‘Last Ride Together,’ as you told me; I think it’s beautiful and perfectly easy, all but a little. I never could understand a word of him before—so I never tried. Who do you think is engaged? Victoria Dare, to a coronet and a peat-bog, with Lord Dunbeg attached. Victoria says she is happier than she ever was before in any of her other engagements, and she is sure this is the real one. She says she has thirty thousand a year derived from the poor of America, which may just as well go to relieve one of the poor in Ireland.

You know her father was a claim agent, or some such thing, and is said to have made his money by cheating his clients out of their claims. She is perfectly wild to be a countess, and means to make Castle Dunbeg lovely by-and-by, and entertain us all there. Madeleine says she is just the kind to be a great success in London. Madeleine is very well, and sends her kind regards. I believe she is going to add a postscript. I have promised to let her read this, but I don’t think a chaperoned letter is much fun to write or receive. Hoping to hear from you soon,

“Sincerely yours,

“Sybil Ross.”

Enclosed was a thin strip of paper containing another message from Sybil, privately inserted at the last moment unknown to Mrs. Lee—

“If I were in your place I would try again after she comes home.”

Mrs. Lee’s P.S. was very short—

“The bitterest part of all this horrid story is that nine out of ten of our countrymen would say I had made a mistake.”
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