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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesDemocracy: An American Novel - Chapter XI
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Democracy: An American Novel - Chapter XI Post by :tgranum Category :Long Stories Author :Henry Adams Date :January 2011 Read :1937

Click below to download : Democracy: An American Novel - Chapter XI (Format : PDF)

Democracy: An American Novel - Chapter XI

IN the middle of April a sudden social excitement started the
indolent city of Washington to its feet. The Grand-Duke and
Duchess of Saxe-Baden-Hombourg arrived in America on a tour of
pleasure, and in due course came on to pay their respects to the
Chief Magistrate of the Union. The newspapers hastened to inform
their readers that the Grand-Duchess was a royal princess of
England, and, in the want of any other social event, every one who
had any sense of what was due to his or her own dignity, hastened
to show this august couple the respect which all republicans who
have a large income derived from business, feel for English
royalty. New York gave a dinner, at which the most insignificant
person present was worth at least a million dollars, and where the
gentlemen who sat by the Princess entertained her for an hour or
two by a calculation of the aggregate capital represented. New
York also gave a ball at which the Princess appeared in an
ill-fitting black silk dress with mock lace and jet ornaments,
among several hundred toilets that proclaimed the refined
republican simplicity of their owners at a cost of various hundred
thousand dollars. After these hospitalities the Grand-ducal pair
came on to Washington, where they became guests of Lord Skye,
or, more properly, Lord Skye became their guest, for he seemed to
consider that he handed the Legation over to them, and he told
Mrs. Lee, with true British bluntness of speech, that they were a
great bore and he wished they had stayed in
Saxe-Baden-Hombourg, or wherever they belonged, but as they
were here, he must be their lackey. Mrs. Lee was amused and a
little astonished at the candour with which he talked about them,
and she was instructed and improved by his dry account of the
Princess, who, it seemed, made herself disagreeable by her airs of
royalty; who had suffered dreadfully from the voyage; and who
detested America and everything American; but who was, not
without some show of reason, jealous of her husband, and endured
endless sufferings, though with a very bad grace, rather than lose
sight of him.

Not only was Lord Skye obliged to turn the Legation into an hotel,
but in the full enthusiasm of his loyalty he felt himself called upon
to give a ball. It was, he said, the easiest way of paying off all his
debts at once, and if the Princess was good for nothing else, she
could be utilized as a show by way of "promoting the harmony of
the two great nations." In other words, Lord Skye meant to exhibit
the Princess for his own diplomatic benefit, and he did so. One
would have thought that at this season, when Congress had
adjourned, Washington would hardly have afforded society enough
to fill a ball-room, but this, instead of being a drawback, was an
advantage. It permitted the British Minister to issue invitations
without limit. He asked not only the President and his Cabinet, and
the judges, and the army, and the navy, and all the residents of
Washington who had any claim to consideration, but also all the
senators, all the representatives in Congress, all the governors of
States with their staffs, if they had any, all eminent citizens and
their families throughout the Union and Canada, and finally every
private individual, from the North Pole to the Isthmus of Panama,
who had ever shown him a civility or was able to control interest
enough to ask for a card. The result was that Baltimore promised
to come in a body, and Philadelphia was equally well-disposed;
New York provided several scores of guests, and Boston sent the
governor and a delegation; even the well-known millionaire who
represented California in the United States Senate was irritated
because, his invitation having been timed to arrive just one day too
late, he was prevented from bringing his family across the
continent with a choice party in a director's car, to enjoy the smiles
of royalty in the halls of the British lion. It is astonishing what
efforts freemen will make in a just cause.

Lord Skye himself treated the whole affair with easy contempt.
One afternoon he strolled into Mrs. Lee's parlour and begged her to
give him a cup of tea.

He said he had got rid of his menagerie for a few hours by shunting
it off upon the German Legation, and he was by way of wanting a
little human society. Sybil, who was a great favourite with him,
entreated to be told all about the ball, but he insisted that he knew
no more than she did. A man from New York had taken possession
of the Legation, but what he would do with it was not within the
foresight of the wisest; trom the talk of the young members of his
Legation, Lord Skye gathered that the entire city was to be roofed
in and forty millions of people expected, but his own concern in
the affair was limited to the flowers he hoped to receive.

"All young and beautiful women," said he to Sybil, "are to send me
flowers.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An hour later her room, except the fireplace, where a wood fire
was gently smouldering, became an altar of sacrifice to the Deity
of Dawn in June. Her bed, her low couch, her little tables, her
chintz arm-chairs, were covered with portions of the divinity,
down to slippers and handkerchief, gloves and bunches of fresh
roses. When at length, after a long effort, the work was complete,
Mrs. Lee took a last critical look at the result, and enjoyed a glow
of satisfaction. Young, happy, sparkling with consciousness of
youth and beauty, Sybil stood, Hebe Anadyomene, rising from the
foam of soft creplisse which swept back beneath the long train of
pale, tender, pink silk, fainting into breadths of delicate primrose,
relieved here and there by facings of June green--or was it the blue
of early morning? --or both?

suggesting unutterable freshness. A modest hint from her maid that
"the girls," as women-servants call each other in American
households, would like to offer their share of incense at the shrine,
was amiably met, and they were allowed a glimpse of the divinity
before she was enveloped in wraps. An admiring group, huddled in
the doorway, murmured approval, from the leading "girl," who was
the cook, a coloured widow of some sixty winters, whose
admiration was irrepressible, down to a New England spinster
whose Anabaptist conscience wrestled with her instincts, and who,
although disapproving of "French folks," paid in her heart that
secret homage to their gowns and bonnets which her sterner lips
refused. The applause of this audience has, from generation to
generation, cheered the hearts of myriads of young women starting
out on their little adventures, while the domestic laurels flourish
green and fresh for one half hour, until they wither at the threshold
of the ball-room.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"I am not one of those who are happy in political life. I am a
politician because I cannot help myself; it is the trade I am fittest
for, and ambition is my resource to make it tolerable. In politics
we cannot keep our hands clean. I have done many things in my
political career that are not defensible. To act with entire honesty
and self-respect, one should always live in a pure atmosphere, and
the atmosphere of politics is impure.

Domestic life is the salvation of many public men, but I have for
many years been deprived of it. I have now come to that point
where increasing responsibilities and temptations make me require
help. I must have it. You alone can give it to me. You are kind,
thoughtful, conscientious, high-minded, cultivated, fitted better
than any woman I ever saw, for public duties. Your place is there.
You belong among those who exercise an influence beyond their
time. I only ask you to take the place which is yours."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"A little--fatigued," gasped Sybil; "I thought you might be ready to
go home."

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

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

"What!" said Sybil, looking at her with open-mouthed interest;
"you don't mean--are you really--tell me, quick!"

"Yes!" said Victoria relapsing into composure; "I am engaged!"

"To Lord Dunbeg?"

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

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

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

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

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

"Madeleine, allow me to introduce you to the Countess Dunbeg!"

But Mrs. Lee was much too anxious to feel any interest in Lady
Dunbeg. A sudden fear struck her that Sybil was going into
hysterics because Victoria's engagement recalled her own
disappointment. She hurried her sister away to the carriage.

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THEY drove home in silence, Mrs. Lee disturbed with anxietiesand doubts, partly caused by her sister, partly by Mr. Ratcliffe;Sybil divided between amusement at Victoria's conquest, andalarm at her own boldness in meddling with her sister's affairs.Desperation, however, was stronger than fear. She made up hermind that further suspense was not to be endured; she would fighther baffle now before another hour was lost; surely no time couldbe better. A few moments brought them to their door. Mrs. Leehad told her maid not to wait for them, and they were alone. Thefire was still alive on Madeleine's hearth, and she threw
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THE next morning Carrington called at the Department andannounced his acceptance of the post. He was told that hisinstructions would be ready in about a fortnight, and that he wouldbe expected to start as soon as he received them; in the meanwhile,he must devote himself to the study of a mass of papers in theDepartment. There was no trifling allowable here.Carrington had to set himself vigorously to work. This did not,however, prevent him from keeping his appointment with Sybil,and at four o'clock they started together, passing out into the quietshadows of Rock Creek, and seeking still lanes through the woodswhere their
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