Democracy: An American Novel by Henry Adams
OF all titles ever assumed by prince or potentate, the proudest is that of the Roman pontiffs: “Servus servorum Dei”—“Servant of the servants of God.”
In former days it was not admitted that the devil’s servants could by right have any share in government. They were to be shut out, punished, exiled, maimed, and burned. The devil has no servants now; only the people have servants. There may be some mistake about a doctrine which makes the wicked, when a majority, the mouthpiece of God against the virtuous, but the hopes of mankind are staked on it; and if the weak in faith sometimes quail when they see humanity floating in a shoreless ocean, on this plank, which experience and religion long since condemned as rotten, mistake or not, men have thus far floated better by its aid, than the popes ever did with their prettier principle; so that it will be a long time yet before society repents.
Whether the new President and his chief rival, Mr. Silas P. Ratcliffe, were or were not servants of the servants of God, is not material here. Servants they were to some one. No doubt many of those who call themselves servants of the people are no better than wolves in sheep’s clothing, or asses in lions’ skins. One may see scores of them any day in the Capitol when Congress is in session, making noisy demonstrations, or more usefully doing nothing. A wiser generation will employ them in manual labour; as it is, they serve only themselves. But there are two officers, at least, whose service is real—the President and his Secretary of the Treasury. The Hoosier Quarryman had not been a week in Washington before he was heartily home-sick for Indiana. No maid-of-all-work in a cheap boarding-house was ever more harassed. Everyone conspired against him. His enemies gave him no peace. All Washington was laughing at his blunders, and ribald sheets, published on a Sunday, took delight in printing the new Chief Magistrate’s sayings and doings, chronicled with outrageous humour, and placed by malicious hands where the President could not but see them. He was sensitive to ridicule, and it mortified him to the heart to find that remarks and acts, which to him seemed sensible enough, should be capable of such perversion. Then he was overwhelmed with public business. It came upon him in a deluge, and he now, in his despair, no longer tried to control it. He let it pass over him like a wave. His mind was muddied by the innumerable visitors to whom he had to listen. But his greatest anxiety was the Inaugural Address which, distracted as he was, he could not finish, although in another week it must be delivered. He was nervous about his Cabinet; it seemed to him that he could do nothing until he had disposed of Ratcliffe.
Already, thanks to the President’s friends, Ratcliffe had become indispensable; still an enemy, of course, but one whose hands must be tied; a sort of Sampson, to be kept in bonds until the time came for putting him out of the way, but in the meanwhile, to be utilized. This point being settled, the President had in imagination begun to lean upon him; for the last few days he had postponed everything till next week, “when I get my Cabinet arranged;” which meant, when he got Ratcliffe’s assistance; and he fell into a panic whenever he thought of the chance that Ratcliffe might refuse.
He was pacing his room impatiently on Monday morning, an hour before the time fixed for Ratcliffe’s visit. His feelings still fluctuated violently, and if he recognized the necessity of using Ratcliffe, he was not the less determined to tie Ratcliffe’s hands. He must be made to come into a Cabinet where every other voice would be against him. He must be prevented from having any patronage to dispose of. He must be induced to accept these conditions at the start. How present this to him in such a way as not to repel him at once? All this was needless, if the President had only known it, but he thought himself a profound statesman, and that his hand was guiding the destinies of America to his own re-election. When at length, on the stroke of ten o’clock, Ratcliffe entered the room, the President turned to him with nervous eagerness, and almost before offering his hand, said that he hoped Mr. Ratcliffe had come prepared to begin work at once. The Senator replied that, if such was the President’s decided wish, he would offer no further opposition. Then the President drew himself up in the attitude of an American Cato, and delivered a prepared address, in which he said that he had chosen the members of his Cabinet with a careful regard to the public interests; that Mr. Ratcliffe was essential to the combination; that he expected no disagreement on principles, for there was but one principle which he should consider fundamental, namely, that there should be no removals from office except for cause; and that under these circumstances he counted upon Mr. Ratcliffe’s assistance as a matter of patriotic duty.
To all this Ratcliffe assented without a word of objection, and the President, more convinced than ever of his own masterly statesmanship, breathed more freely than for a week past. Within ten minutes they were actively at work together, clearing away the mass of accumulated business.
The relief of the Quarryman surprised himself. Ratcliffe lifted the weight of affairs from his shoulders with hardly an effort. He knew everybody and everything. He took most of the President’s visitors at once into his own hands and dismissed them with great rapidity. He knew what they wanted; he knew what recommendations were strong and what were weak; who was to be treated with deference and who was to be sent away abruptly; where a blunt refusal was safe, and where a pledge was allowable. The President even trusted him with the unfinished manuscript of the Inaugural Address, which Ratcliffe returned to him the next day with such notes and suggestions as left nothing to be done beyond copying them out in a fair hand. With all this, he proved himself a very agreeable companion. He talked well and enlivened the work; he was not a hard taskmaster, and when he saw that the President was tired, he boldly asserted that there was no more business that could not as well wait a day, and so took the weary Stone-cutter out to drive for a couple of hours, and let him go peacefully to sleep in the carriage. They dined together and Ratcliffe took care to send for Tom Lord to amuse them, for Tom was a wit and a humourist, and kept the President in a laugh. Mr. Lord ordered the dinner and chose the wines. He could be coarse enough to suit even the President’s palate, and Ratcliffe was not behindhand. When the new Secretary went away at ten o’clock that night, his chief; who was in high good humour with his dinner, his champagne, and his conversation, swore with some unnecessary granite oaths, that Ratcliffe was “a clever fellow anyhow,” and he was glad “that job was fixed.”
The truth was that Ratcliffe had now precisely ten days before the new Cabinet could be set in motion, and in these ten days he must establish his authority over the President so firmly that nothing could shake it. He was diligent in good works. Very soon the court began to feel his hand. If a business letter or a written memorial came in, the President found it easy to endorse: “Referred to the Secretary of the Treasury.” If a visitor wanted anything for himself or another, the invariable reply came to be: “Just mention it to Mr. Ratcliffe;” or, “I guess Ratcliffe will see to that.”
Before long he even made jokes in a Catonian manner; jokes that were not peculiarly witty, but somewhat gruff and boorish, yet significant of a resigned and self-contented mind. One morning he ordered Ratcliffe to take an iron-clad ship of war and attack the Sioux in Montana, seeing that he was in charge of the army and navy and Indians at once, and Jack of all trades; and again he told a naval officer who wanted a court-martial that he had better get Ratcliffe to sit on him for he was a whole court-martial by himself. That Ratcliffe held his chief in no less contempt than before, was probable but not certain, for he kept silence on the subject before the world, and looked solemn whenever the President was mentioned.
Before three days were over, the President, with a little more than his usual abruptness, suddenly asked him what he knew about this fellow Carson, whom the Pennsylvanians were bothering him to put in his Cabinet. Ratcliffe was guarded: he scarcely knew the man; Mr. Carson was not in politics, he believed, but was pretty respectable—for a Pennsylvanian. The President returned to the subject several times; got out his list of Cabinet officers and figured industriously upon it with a rather perplexed face; called Ratcliffe to help him; and at last the “slate” was fairly broken, and Ratcliffe’s eyes gleamed when the President caused his list of nominations to be sent to the Senate on the 5th March, and Josiah B. Carson, of Pennsylvania, was promptly confirmed as Secretary of the Interior.
But his eyes gleamed still more humorously when, a few days afterwards, the President gave him a long list of some two score names, and asked him to find places for them. He assented good-naturedly, with a remark that it might be necessary to make a few removals to provide for these cases.
“Oh, well,” said the President, “I guess there’s just about as many as that had ought to go out anyway. These are friends of mine; got to be looked after. Just stuff ‘em in somewhere.”
Even he felt a little awkward about it, and, to do him justice, this was the last that was heard about the fundamental rule of his administration.
Removals were fast and furious, until all Indiana became easy in circumstances. And it was not to be denied that, by one means or another, Ratcliffe’s friends did come into their fair share of the public money.
Perhaps the President thought it best to wink at such use of the Treasury patronage for the present, or was already a little overawed by his Secretary.
Ratcliffe’s work was done. The public had, with the help of some clever intrigue, driven its servants into the traces. Even an Indiana stone-cutter could be taught that his personal prejudices must yield to the public service. What mischief the selfishness, the ambition, or the ignorance of these men might do, was another matter. As the affair stood, the President was the victim of his own schemes. It remained to be seen whether, at some future day, Mr. Ratcliffe would think it worth his while to strangle his chief by some quiet Eastern intrigue, but the time had gone by when the President could make use of either the bow-string or the axe upon him.
All this passed while Mrs. Lee was quietly puzzling her poor little brain about her duty and her responsibility to Ratcliffe, who, meanwhile, rarely failed to find himself on Sunday evenings by her side in her parlour, where his rights were now so well established that no one presumed to contest his seat, unless it were old Jacobi, who from time to time reminded him that he was fallible and mortal. Occasionally, though not often, Mr. Ratcliffe came at other times, as when he persuaded Mrs. Lee to be present at the Inauguration, and to call on the President’s wife. Madeleine and Sybil went to the Capitol and had the best places to see and hear the Inauguration, as well as a cold March wind would allow. Mrs. Lee found fault with the ceremony; it was of the earth, earthy, she said. An elderly western farmer, with silver spectacles, new and glossy evening clothes, bony features, and stiff; thin, gray hair, trying to address a large crowd of people, under the drawbacks of a piercing wind and a cold in his head, was not a hero. Sybil’s mind was lost in wondering whether the President would not soon die of pneumonia. Even this experience, however, was happy when compared with that of the call upon the President’s wife, after which Madeleine decided to leave the new dynasty alone in future. The lady, who was somewhat stout and coarse-featured, and whom Mrs. Lee declared she wouldn’t engage as a cook, showed qualities which, seen under that fierce light which beats upon a throne, seemed ungracious. Her antipathy to Ratcliffe was more violent than her husband’s, and was even more openly expressed, until the President was quite put out of countenance by it. She extended her hostility to every one who could be supposed to be Ratcliffe’s friend, and the newspapers, as well as private gossip, had marked out Mrs. Lee as one who, by an alliance with Ratcliffe, was aiming at supplanting her own rule over the White House.
Hence, when Mrs. Lightfoot Lee was announced, and the two sisters were ushered into the presidential parlour, she put on a coldly patronizing air, and in reply to Madeleine’s hope that she found Washington agreeable, she intimated that there was much in Washington which struck her as awful wicked, especially the women; and, looking at Sybil, she spoke of the style of dress in this city which she said she meant to do what she could to put a stop to. She’d heard tell that people sent to Paris for their gowns, just as though America wasn’t good enough to make one’s clothes! Jacob (all Presidents’ wives speak of their husbands by their first names) had promised her to get a law passed against it. In her town in Indiana, a young woman who was seen on the street in such clothes wouldn’t be spoken to. At these remarks, made with an air and in a temper quite unmistakable, Madeleine became exasperated beyond measure, and said that “Washington would be pleased to see the President do something in regard to dress-reform—or any other reform;” and with this allusion to the President’s ante-election reform speeches, Mrs. Lee turned her back and left the room, followed by Sybil in convulsions of suppressed laughter, which would not have been suppressed had she seen the face of their hostess as the door shut behind them, and the energy with which she shook her head and said: “See if I don’t reform you yet, you—jade!”
Mrs. Lee gave Ratcliffe a lively account of this interview, and he laughed nearly as convulsively as Sybil over it, though he tried to pacify her by saying that the President’s most intimate friends openly declared his wife to be insane, and that he himself was the person most afraid of her. But Mrs. Lee declared that the President was as bad as his wife; that an equally good President and President’s wife could be picked up in any corner-grocery between the Lakes and the Ohio; and that no inducement should ever make her go near that coarse washerwoman again.
Ratcliffe did not attempt to change Mrs. Lee’s opinion. Indeed he knew better than any man how Presidents were made, and he had his own opinions in regard to the process as well as the fabric produced. Nothing Mrs. Lee could say now affected him. He threw off his responsibility and she found it suddenly resting on her own shoulders. When she spoke with indignation of the wholesale removals from office with which the new administration marked its advent to power, he told her the story of the President’s fundamental principle, and asked her what she would have him do. “He meant to tie my hands,” said Ratcliffe, “and to leave his own free, and I accepted the condition. Can I resign now on such a ground as this?” And Madeleine was obliged to agree that he could not. She had no means of knowing how many removals he made in his own interest, or how far he had outwitted the President at his own game. He stood before her a victim and a patriot. Every step he had taken had been taken with her approval. He was now in office to prevent what evil he could, not to be responsible for the evil that was done; and he honestly assured her that much worse men would come in when he went out, as the President would certainly take good care that he did go out when the moment arrived.
Mrs. Lee had the chance now to carry out her scheme in coming to Washington, for she was already deep in the mire of politics and could see with every advantage how the great machine floundered about, bespattering with mud even her own pure garments. Ratcliffe himself, since entering the Treasury, had begun to talk with a sneer of the way in which laws were made, and openly said that he wondered how government got on at all. Yet he declared still that this particular government was the highest expression of political thought. Mrs. Lee stared at him and wondered whether he knew what thought was. To her the government seemed to have less thought in it than one of Sybil’s gowns, for if they, like the government, were monstrously costly, they were at least adapted to their purpose, the parts fitted together, and they were neither awkward nor unwieldy.
There was nothing very encouraging in all this, but it was better than New York. At least it gave her something to look at, and to think about. Even Lord Dunbeg preached practical philanthropy to her by the hour. Ratcliffe, too, was compelled to drag himself out of the rut of machine politics, and to justify his right of admission to her house. There Mr. French discoursed at great length, until the fourth of March sent him home to Connecticut; and he brought more than one intelligent member of Congress to Mrs. Lee’s parlour. Underneath the scum floating on the surface of politics, Madeleine felt that there was a sort of healthy ocean current of honest purpose, which swept the scum before it, and kept the mass pure.
This was enough to draw her on. She reconciled herself to accepting the Ratcliffian morals, for she could see no choice. She herself had approved every step she had seen him take. She could not deny that there must be something wrong in a double standard of morality, but where was it? Mr.
Ratcliffe seemed to her to be doing good work with as pure means as he had at hand. He ought to be encouraged, not reviled. What was she that she should stand in judgment?
Others watched her progress with less satisfaction. Mr. Nathan Gore was one of these, for he came in one evening, looking much out of temper, and, sitting down by her side he said he had come to bid good-bye and to thank her for the kindness she had shown him; he was to leave Washington the next morning. She too expressed her warm regret, but added that she hoped he was only going in order to take his passage to Madrid.
He shook his head. “I am going to take my passage,” said he, “but not to Madrid. The fates have cut that thread. The President does not want my services, and I can’t blame him, for if our situations were reversed, I should certainly not want his. He has an Indiana friend, who, I am told, wanted to be postmaster at Indianapolis, but as this did not suit the politicians, he was bought off at the exorbitant price of the Spanish mission. But I should have no chance even if he were out of the way. The President does not approve of me. He objects to the cut of my overcoat which is unfortunately an English one. He also objects to the cut of my hair. I am afraid that his wife objects to me because I am so happy as to be thought a friend of yours.”
Madeleine could only acknowledge that Mr. Gore’s case was a bad one. “But after all,” said she, “why should politicians be expected to love you literary gentlemen who write history. Other criminal classes are not expected to love their judges.”
“No, but they have sense enough to fear them,” replied Gore vindictively; “not one politician living has the brains or the art to defend his own cause. The ocean of history is foul with the carcases of such statesmen, dead and forgotten except when some historian fishes one of them up to gibbet it.”
Mr. Gore was so much out of temper that after this piece of extravagance he was forced to pause a moment to recover himself. Then he went on:—“You are perfectly right, and so is the President. I have no business to be meddling in politics. It is not my place. The next time you hear of me, I promise it shall not be as an office-seeker.”
Then he rapidly changed the subject, saying that he hoped Mrs. Lee was soon going northward again, and that they might meet at Newport.
“I don’t know,” replied Madeleine; “the spring is pleasant here, and we shall stay till the warm weather, I think.”
Mr. Gore looked grave. “And your politics!” said he; “are you satisfied with what you have seen?”
“I have got so far as to lose the distinction between right and wrong. Isn’t that the first step in politics?”
Mr. Gore had no mind even for serious jesting. He broke out into a long lecture which sounded like a chapter of some future history: “But Mrs. Lee, is it possible that you don’t see what a wrong path you are on. If you want to know what the world is really doing to any good purpose, pass a winter at Samarcand, at Timbuctoo, but not at Washington. Be a bank-clerk, or a journeyman printer, but not a Congressman. Here you will find nothing but wasted effort and clumsy intrigue.”
“Do you think it a pity for me to learn that?” asked Madeleine when his long essay was ended.
“No!” replied Gore, hesitating; “not if you do learn it. But many people never get so far, or only when too late. I shall be glad to hear that you are mistress of it and have given up reforming politics. The Spaniards have a proverb that smells of the stable, but applies to people like you and me: The man who washes his donkey’s head, loses time and soap.”
Gore took his leave before Madeleine had time to grasp all the impudence of this last speech. Not until she was fairly in bed that night did it suddenly flash on her mind that Mr. Gore had dared to caricature her as wasting time and soap on Mr. Ratcliffe. At first she was violently angry and then she laughed in spite of herself; there was truth in the portrait. In secret, too, she was the less offended because she half thought that it had depended only on herself to make of Mr. Gore something more than a friend. If she had overheard his parting words to Carrington, she would have had still more reason to think that a little jealousy of Ratcliffe’s success sharpened the barb of Gore’s enmity.
“Take care of Ratcliffe!” was his farewell; “he is a clever dog. He has set his mark on Mrs. Lee. Look out that he doesn’t walk off with her!”
A little startled by this sudden confidence, Carrington could only ask what he could do to prevent it.
“Cats that go ratting, don’t wear gloves,” replied Gore, who always carried a Spanish proverb in his pocket. Carrington, after painful reflection, could only guess that he wanted Ratcliffe’s enemies to show their claws. But how?
Mrs. Lee not long afterwards spoke to Ratcliffe of her regret at Gore’s disappointment and hinted at his disgust. Ratcliffe replied that he had done what he could for Gore, and had introduced him to the President, who, after seeing him, had sworn his usual granitic oath that he would sooner send his nigger farm-hand Jake to Spain than that man-milliner. “You know how I stand;” added Ratcliffe; “what more could I do?” And Mrs. Lee’s implied reproach was silenced.
If Gore was little pleased with Ratcliffe’s conduct, poor Schneidekoupon was still less so. He turned up again at Washington not long after the Inauguration and had a private interview with the Secretary of the Treasury.
What passed at it was known only to themselves, but, whatever it was, Schneidekoupon’s temper was none the better for it. From his conversations with Sybil, it seemed that there was some question about appointments in which his protectionist friends were interested, and he talked very openly about Ratcliffe’s want of good faith, and how he had promised everything to everybody and had failed to keep a single pledge; if Schneidekoupon’s advice had been taken, this wouldn’t have happened. Mrs. Lee told Ratcliffe that Schneidekoupon seemed out of temper, and asked the reason. He only laughed and evaded the question, remarking that cattle of this kind were always complaining unless they were allowed to run the whole government; Schneidekoupon had nothing to grumble about; no one had ever made any promises to him. But nevertheless Schneidekoupon confided to Sybil his antipathy to Ratcliffe and solemnly begged her not to let Mrs. Lee fall into his hands, to which Sybil answered tartly that she only wished Mr.
Schneidekoupon would tell her how to help it.
The reformer French had also been one of Ratcliffe’s backers in the fight over the Treasury. He remained in Washington a few days after the Inauguration, and then disappeared, leaving cards with P.P.C. in the corner, at Mrs. Lee’s door. Rumour said that he too was disappointed, but he kept his own counsel, and, if he really wanted the mission to Belgium, he contented himself with waiting for it. A respectable stage-coach proprietor from Oregon got the place.
As for Jacobi, who was not disappointed, and who had nothing to ask for, he was bitterest of all. He formally offered his congratulations to Ratcliffe on his appointment. This little scene occurred in Mrs. Lee’s parlour. The old Baron, with his most suave manner, and his most Voltairean leer, said that in all his experience, and he had seen a great many court intrigues, he had never seen anything better managed than that about the Treasury.
Ratcliffe was furiously angry, and told the Baron outright that foreign ministers who insulted the governments to which they were accredited ran a risk of being sent home.
“Ce serait toujours un pis aller,” said Jacobi, seating himself with calmness in Ratcliffe’s favourite chair by Mrs. Lee’s side.
Madeleine, alarmed as she was, could not help interposing, and hastily asked whether that remark was translatable.
“Ah!” said the Baron; “I can do nothing with your language. You would only say that it was a choice of evils, to go, or to stay.”
“We might translate it by saying: ‘One may go farther and fare worse,’” rejoined Madeleine; and so the storm blew over for the time, and Ratcliffe sulkily let the subject drop. Nevertheless the two men never met in Mrs.
Lee’s parlour without her dreading a personal altercation. Little by little, what with Jacobi’s sarcasms and Ratcliffe’s roughness, they nearly ceased to speak, and glared at each other like quarrelsome dogs. Madeleine was driven to all kinds of expedients to keep the peace, yet at the same time she could not but be greatly amused by their behaviour, and as their hatred of each other only stimulated their devotion to her, she was content to hold an even balance between them.
Nor were these all the awkward consequences of Ratcliffe’s attentions. Now that he was distinctly recognized as an intimate friend of Mrs. Lee’s, and possibly her future husband, no one ventured any longer to attack him in her presence, but nevertheless she was conscious in a thousand ways that the atmosphere became more and more dense under the shadow of the Secretary of the Treasury. In spite of herself she sometimes felt uneasy, as though there were conspiracy in the air. One March afternoon she was sitting by her fire, with an English Review in her hand, trying to read the last Symposium on the sympathies of Eternal Punishment, when her servant brought in a card, and Mrs. Lee had barely time to read the name of Mrs. Samuel Baker when that lady followed the servant into the room, forcing the countersign in so effective style that for once Madeleine was fairly disconcerted. Her manner when thus intruded upon, was cool, but in this case, on Carrington’s account, she tried to smile courteously and asked her visitor to sit down, which Mrs. Baker was doing without an invitation, very soon putting her hostess entirely at her ease. She was, when seen without her veil, a showy woman verging on forty, decidedly large, tall, over-dressed even in mourning, and with a complexion rather fresher than nature had made it.
There was a geniality in her address, savouring of easy Washington ways, a fruitiness of smile, and a rich southern accent, that explained on the spot her success in the lobby. She looked about her with fine self-possession, and approved Mrs. Lee’s surroundings with a cordiality so different from the northern stinginess of praise, that Madeleine was rather pleased than offended. Yet when her eye rested on the Corot, Madeleine’s only pride, she was evidently perplexed, and resorted to eye-glasses, in order, as it seemed, to gain time for reflection. But she was not to be disconcerted even by Corot’s masterpiece:
“How pretty! Japanese, isn’t it? Sea-weeds seen through a fog. I went to an auction yesterday, and do you know I bought a tea-pot with a picture just like that.”
Madeleine inquired with extreme interest about the auction, but after learning all that Mrs. Baker had to tell, she was on the point of being reduced to silence, when she bethought herself to mention Carrington. Mrs.
Baker brightened up at once, if she could be said to brighten where there was no sign of dimness:
“Dear Mr. Carrington! Isn’t he sweet? I think he’s a delicious man. I don’t know what I should do without him. Since poor Mr. Baker left me, we have been together all the time. You know my poor husband left directions that all his papers should be burned, and though I would not say so unless you were such a friend of Mr. Carrington’s, I reckon it’s just as well for some people that he did. I never could tell you what quantities of papers Mr. Carrington and I have put in the fire; and we read them all too.”
Madeleine asked whether this was not dull work.
“Oh, dear, no! You see I know all about it, and told Mr. Carrington the story of every paper as we went on. It was quite amusing, I assure you.”
Mrs. Lee then boldly said she had got from Mr. Carrington an idea that Mrs.
Baker was a very skilful diplomatist.
“Diplomatist!” echoed the widow with her genial laugh; “Well! it was as much that as anything, but there’s not many diplomatists’ wives in this city ever did as much work as I used to do. Why, I knew half the members of Congress intimately, and all of them by sight. I knew where they came from and what they liked best. I could get round the greater part of them, sooner or later.”
Mrs. Lee asked what she did with all this knowledge. Mrs. Baker shook her pink-and-white countenance, and almost paralysed her opposite neighbour by a sort of Grande Duchesse wink:
“Oh, my dear! you are new here. If you had seen Washington in war-times and for a few years afterwards, you wouldn’t ask that. We had more congressional business than all the other agents put together. Every one came to us then, to get his bill through, or his appropriation watched. We were hard at work all the time. You see, one can’t keep the run of three hundred men without some trouble. My husband used to make lists of them in books with a history of each man and all he could learn about him, but I carried it all in my head.”
“Do you mean that you could get them all to vote as you pleased?” asked Madeleine.
“Well! we got our bills through,” replied Mrs. Baker.
“But how did you do it? did they take bribes?”
“Some of them did. Some of them liked suppers and cards and theatres and all sorts of things. Some of them could be led, and some had to be driven like Paddy’s pig who thought he was going the other way. Some of them had wives who could talk to them, and some—hadn’t,” said Mrs. Baker, with a queer intonation in her abrupt ending.
“But surely,” said Mrs. Lee, “many of them must have been above—I mean, they must have had nothing to get hold of; so that you could manage them.”
Mrs. Baker laughed cheerfully and remarked that they were very much of a muchness.
“But I can’t understand how you did it,” urged Madeleine; “now, how would you have gone to work to get a respectable senator’s vote—a man like Mr. Ratcliffe, for instance?”
“Ratcliffe!” repeated Mrs. Baker with a slight elevation of voice that gave way to a patronising laugh. “Oh, my dear! don’t mention names. I should get into trouble. Senator Ratcliffe was a good friend of my husband’s. I guess Mr. Carrington could have told you that. But you see, what we generally wanted was all right enough. We had to know where our bills were, and jog people’s elbows to get them reported in time. Sometimes we had to convince them that our bill was a proper one, and they ought to vote for it. Only now and then, when there was a great deal of money and the vote was close, we had to find out what votes were worth. It was mostly dining and talking, calling them out into the lobby or asking them to supper. I wish I could tell you things I have seen, but I don’t dare. It wouldn’t be safe. I’ve told you already more than I ever said to any one else; but then you are so intimate with Mr. Carrington, that I always think of you as an old friend.”
Thus Mrs. Baker rippled on, while Mrs. Lee listened with more and more doubt and disgust. The woman was showy, handsome in a coarse style, and perfectly presentable. Mrs. Lee had seen Duchesses as vulgar. She knew more about the practical working of government than Mrs. Lee could ever expect or hope to know. Why then draw back from this interesting lobbyist with such babyish repulsion?
When, after a long, and, as she declared, a most charming call, Mrs. Baker wended her way elsewhere and Madeleine had given the strictest order that she should never be admitted again, Carrington entered, and Madeleine showed him Mrs. Baker’s card and gave a lively account of the interview.
“What shall I do with the woman?” she asked; “must I return her card?” But Carrington declined to offer advice on this interesting point. “And she says that Mr. Ratcliffe was a friend of her husband’s and that you could tell me about that.”
“Did she say so?” remarked Carrington vaguely.
“Yes! and that she knew every one’s weak points and could get all their votes.”
Carrington expressed no surprise, and so evidently preferred to change the subject, that Mrs. Lee desisted and said no more.
But she determined to try the same experiment on Mr. Ratcliffe, and chose the very next chance that offered. In her most indifferent manner she remarked that Mrs. Sam Baker had called upon her and had initiated her into the mysteries of the lobby till she had become quite ambitious to start on that career.
“She said you were a friend of her husband’s,” added Madeleine softly.
Ratcliffe’s face betrayed no sign.
“If you believe what those people tell you,” said he drily, “you will be wiser than the Queen of Sheba.”