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