Carlisle rubbed his chin thoughtfully. "It's beautiful; it may be wise, but it's impossible. It would take a king's credit."
"At least we might begin with such funds as are already at hand," smiled the Countess St. Auban. "It might be difficult? I suppose the building of the pyramids was difficult. Yet they were begun. Yet they are finished. Yet they stand, complete, to-day."
"It is hardly for me to advise in a case so grave as that," said Carlisle. "I should not undertake it. Have you really considered?"
"I have often followed over the same old course of reasoning, South against North," she said, smiling at him. "Come now, a revolutionist and two abolitionists should do much. You still can fight, though they have taken away your sword."
"Some say that the courts will settle these mooted points," Carlisle went on; "others, that Congress must do so. Yet others are unwilling that even the courts should take it up, and insist that the Constitution is clear and explicit already. These Southerners say that Congress should make an end to it, by specifically declaring that men have a right to take into any new country what they lawfully own—that is to say, these slaves; because that territory was bought in common by North and South. The South is just as honest and sincere as the North is, and to be fair about it, I don't believe it's right to claim that the South wants the Union destroyed. A few hotheads talk of that in South Carolina, in Mississippi, but that is precisely what the sober judgment of the South doesn't desire. Let us match those secessionists against the abolitionists," he grinned. "The first think they have law back of them. The latter know they have none!"
"No," she said, "only the higher law, that of human democracy. No,—we've nothing concrete—except Lily!"
"Yes, but let me argue you out of this, Countess. Really, I can see no just reason why the proud and prosperous North should wish to destroy the proud and prosperous South. If the South remains in the Union it must be considered a part of the Union. New England did not believe in taxation without representation. Ought it to enforce that doctrine on the South?"
"You argue it very well, Sir, as well as any one can. The only trouble is that you are not convinced, and you do not convince. You are trying to protect me, that's all. I have no answer—except Lily! There are some things in the analysis from which you shrink. Isn't it true?"
"Yes, altogether true. We always come back to the bitter and brutal part of slavery. But what are we going to do for remedy? Anarchy doesn't suggest remedy. For my own part, sometimes I think that Millard Fillmore's idea was right—that the government should buy these slaves and deport them. That would be, as you say, far cheaper than a war. It was the North that originally sold most of the slaves. If they, the South, as half the country, are willing to pay back their half of the purchase price, ought not the North to be satisfied with that? That's putting principles to the hardest test—that of the pocket."
In his excitement he rose and strode about the room, his face frowning, his slender figure erect, martial even in its civilian dress. Presently he turned; "But it is noble of you, magnificent, to think of doing what a government hesitates to do! And a woman!"
"Could it be done?" she demanded. "It would require much money. But what a noble solution it would be!"
"Precisely. I rejoice to see that your mind is so singularly clear although your heart is so kind."
"You speak in the voice of New England."
"Yes, yes, I'm a New Englander. She's glorious in her principles, New England, but she carries her principles in her pocket! I admire your proposed solution, but that solution I fear you will never see. It is the fatal test, that of the pocket." But the idea had hold of him, and would not let him go. He walked up and down, excited, still arguing against it.
"The South, frankly, has always been juggled out of its rights, all along the line—through pocket politics—and I'm not sure how much more it can endure of the same sort of juggling. Why, John Quincy Adams himself, Northerner that he was, admitted that Missouri had the right to come in as a slave state, just as much as had Arkansas and Louisiana. Pocket-politics allowed Congress to trade all of the Louisiana Purchase south of thirty-six degrees, thirty minutes, excepting Arkansas, in exchange for the Floridas—and how much chance, how much lot and part had the Missourians in a country so far away as Florida? The South led us to war with Mexico in order to extend our territory, but what did the South get? The North gets all the great commercial and industrial rights. Just to be frank and fair about it, although I am a New Englander and don't believe in slavery, the truth is, the South has paid its share in blood and risk and money, but it didn't get its share when it came to the divide; and it never has."
"Precisely, my dear Captain. I delight to see you so broad-minded and fair. This plan of mine, to have any success, must be carried out on lines broad-minded and fair."
"But how adjust pocket interests on both sides? You'll see. You'll be left alone. It is easier to make a speech for liberty than it is to put the price of one slave in the hat passed for liberty. New England, all the North, will talk, will hold mass meetings, will pass resolutions commending resistance to the law—like this Christianville incident of which there's news this morning. You'll see the blacks commended for that. But you won't see much money raised to keep other blacks from being followed by their owners."
"Then leave it for those who see duty in more concrete form. Leave the cost to me. My only answer is—Lily."
And again and again her only answer to them both was—Lily. She told them her story, produced the girl herself and made her confirm it, offered her as concrete example to be presented in a platform campaign which might not end in talk alone—pleaded, argued, and won.
"Madam, I, too, kiss your hands," said Carlisle at last; and did so.
An hour after that, she had laid out a campaign for her two agents, and had arranged for the expenditure of an initial hundred thousand dollars.
THE ARTFUL GENTLEMAN PROM KENTUCKY
It was dusk. Heavy shadows lay over the trees which lined the curving walks leading across a little park to the stately white house beyond. From that direction now appeared several gentlemen, advancing in scattering groups. They might almost have been made up of conspirators, so intent they seemed, so apprehensive lest even their thoughts might be read. Two of them drew apart,—one of these a slender bony man, the other a tall and dark man. The latter spoke almost moodily.
"I doubt your ability, my dear sir, to influence so shrewd a man in any such way as you suggest. Besides, he is not of our party."
"That's all the better. A man of our party might, could, would and should keep his mouth shut about such a ticklish matter; but outside our party, any who begins it has got to keep his mouth shut!"
"There is no other way," he added, smiling. "It must be done. The Countess St. Auban is here again! This band of Gipsy heathens from Hungary is also here. The country is wild over Kossuth. We'll have to accept this invitation to invite him! But Austria remains bitter against the countess. What we must do is to have her go back home with these commissioners from Hungary. There's ugly talk about the way she's been used. That fellow Carlisle—good riddance of him from the army—even confessed he engaged in a game of cards—" their heads bent together—"in short, the devil is to pay with the administration if this gets out. We can't banish her again. But how can we with dignity even it with her, so she will make no talk? If she likes, she can ruin us, because Carlisle can't be kept silent, now he's out of the army. And he's crazy over her, anyhow."
"So? I do not blame him."
"Yes. Therefore, since all of us have lacked wisdom in our own camp, we'd e'en do well to take wisdom where we can find it."
They parted, the last speaker presently to hail the nearest carriage. The driver a few moments later drew up at the front of a spacious and dignified brick building, whose reserved look might have pronounced it a private hotel or a club for gentlemen. The visitor seemed known, the door swinging open for him.
"Louis," said he to the attendant, "is Mr. —— in?" He mentioned a name which even then was well known in Washington.
"I think you will find him in the reading-room, Sir," was the answer.
The inquirer passed to the right, entering a wide room with tables, books, heavy chairs, discreetly shaded lamps. At one table, drawn close to the light and poring over a printed page, sat a gentleman whose personality was not without distinction. The gray hair brushed back from a heightening forehead might have proclaimed him even beyond middle age, and his stature, of about medium height, acknowledged easy living in its generous habit. The stock and cravat of an earlier day gave a certain austerity to the shrewd face, lighted by a pair of keen gray eyes, which now turned to greet the new-comer. He rose, and both bowed formally before they advanced to take each other by the hand. They were acquaintances, if not intimate friends. Evidently this particular club no more enlisted its members from this or that political party than did either of the leading parties call upon any certain section for their membership.
"I am fortunate to find you here in Washington, my dear Sir," began the gentleman from Kentucky. "It is something of a surprise."
The wrinkles about the other's eyes deepened in an affable smile. "True," said he, "in the last twelve years I have three times sought to get back into Washington! Perhaps it would have been more seemly for me to remain in the decreed dignified retirement."
They joined in a laugh at this, as they both drew up chairs at the table side.
"You see," resumed the last speaker, "I am not indeed intruding here in national affairs, but only choose Washington for to-night. I have been thinking of a pleasure journey into the West, down the Ohio River—"
"Will you have snuff?" began his companion. "This is no import, I assure you, but is made by one of my old darkeys, on my plantation in Kentucky. He declares he puts nothing into it but straight leaf."
"My soul!" exclaimed the other, sneezing violently. "I suspect the veracity of your darkey. It is red pepper that he uses!"
"All the better, then, to clear our minds, my dear Sir. But let me first send for another product of my state, to assuage these pains." He beckoned to a servant, who presently, returned with tray and glasses.
"And now," he resumed, "what you say of your journey interests me immensely. No doubt you propose going down the river as far as Missouri? The interest of the entire country is focused there to-day. Ah, yonder is the crux of all our compromise! Safe within the fold herself, that is to say above the fatal line of thirty-six degrees, thirty minutes, her case is simply irresistible in interest to-day, both for those who argue for and those who talk against the extension of slavery into our other territories."
"Yet your administration, to-day, my dear Sir, calls this 'finality.' Believe me, it is no more than a compromise with truth and justice! The entire North demands that slavery shall halt."
"The entire South refuses it!"
"Then let the South beware!"
"The North also may beware, my dear Sir!"
"We are aware, and we are prepared. Not another inch for slavery!"
"Hush!" said the other, raising a hand. "Not even you and I dare go into this. The old quarrel is lulled for a time. At last we have worked these measures through both the House and Senate. In the House the administration can put through at any time the Wilmot proviso prohibiting slavery, and although the Senate always has and always can defeat such a measure, both branches, and the executive as well, have agreed to put this dog to sleep when possible, and when found sleeping, to let him lie. My dear friend, it is not a question of principle, but of policy, to-day."
"Principles should rule policies!" exclaimed the other virtuously.
"Agreed! Agreed! We are perfectly at one as to that. But you know that Webster himself reiterates again and again that no man should set up his conscience above the law of his country. Your Free Soil party means not law, but anarchy,—and worse than that—it means disunion! Clay, Cass, Webster, Benton, even the hottest of the men from Mississippi and South Carolina, are agreed on that. My dear Sir, I say it with solemn conviction, the formation of a new party of discontent to-day, when everything is already strained to breaking, will split this country and plunge the divided sections into a bloody war!"
The other sat gravely for a time before he made reply. "Our people feel too sternly to be reconciled. We need some new party—"
Again the other raised a warning hand. "Do not say that word! Others have principles as much as you and I. Let us not speak with recklessness of consequences. But, privately, and without hot argument, my dear friend, the singular thing to me is that you, an old leader of the people, with a wide following in the North and South, should now be entertaining precisely the same principles— though not expressing them with the same reckless fervor—which are advanced by the latest and most dangerous abolitionist of the time."
"You do not mean Mr. Garrison? Any of my New York or Boston friends?"
"No, I mean a woman, here in Washington. You could perhaps guess her name."
The other drew his chair closer. "I presume you mean the lady reputed to have been connected with President Taylor's commission, of inquiry into affairs in Hungary—"
"Yes,—the 'most beautiful woman in Washington to-day.' So she is called by some—'the most dangerous,' by others."
"Has Kentucky forgotten its gallantry so fully as that? Rumor has reported the young woman to me as a charming young widow, of beauty, wealth and breeding."
"Yes, manners, and convictions, and courage—abolitionist tendencies and fighting proclivities. She is a firebrand—a revolutionist, fresh back from the Old World, and armed with weapons of whose use we old fogies are utterly ignorant. Having apparently nothing to lose whose loss she dreads, she is careless of all consequences. You, my dear Sir, speak of your moral adherence to some new party. You consider yourself one of the lamented Free Soil party, and hope a resurrection. This woman does not pause there—no. She comes here to Washington, at precisely the time of our final compromise, when all is peaceful, even slumberous,—and she preaches the crusade of fire and sword. My dear friend, if you seek a prophet, here is one; and if you want leadership in your dogma of no slavery north of thirty-six degrees, thirty minutes, here is prophet and leader in one!—And, believe me, one with arguments which make her dangerous to one man, two men, or any collection of men."
The other pondered. "I have never seen the lady," he remarked, at length. "Is she acquainted among the abolitionists of the North?"
"No. She trains in no one's camp. Indeed, socially she has been neglected in the North, for reasons said to have been urged in diplomatic circles."
"Something of an intrigante, eh?"
"At least enough to excite the anger and suspicion of Austria, the interest of England, the concern of France;—that's all!"
"Of what age is she?"
"Of about that age, my dear Sir, which our children or grandchildren might claim. I should say, twenty-three, twenty-four,—not over twenty-six, perhaps. It is difficult to say. I have met her but rarely."
"You have me at disadvantage, even so," smiled the other. "It is, however, unnecessary for you to settle your cravat. It is quite straight; and besides, I think we are quite safe from intrusion of women here."
"You have never met this fair enthusiast? You are behind the times!" retorted the wily Kentuckian. "Perhaps you would like that honor? I think it could be arranged. Indeed," he added, after a moment spent in careful study of his companion's face, "I would even undertake to arrange it. My dear Sir, with your well known charm of manner with men, and women as well, you could in that case win the lasting plaudits of your country, if you but possessed the resolution!"
"In a cause so noble, I would do what I might! But what is the cause? And is it proper for one of my place to engage in it?"
"You could, I say, be hailed by the administration in power, not as the Father of your Country, perhaps, but as its savior. Take this woman out of our camp, and into your own. Flock your own fowl together, you Free Soilers! Take her out of Washington, get her back to Europe—where she belongs,—and, without jesting, my dear Sir, you shall have the backing next year, two years hence—in 1853,—any time you like—of the men who make this administration, and of the men behind this compromise. A majority of the House, an even division of the Senate—Listen, my dear friend, this is not idle talk, and these are no idle promises! I am serious. I speak to you in no wise ill-advised. To tell you the truth, we are frightened. She has stolen all our peace of mind, and stolen also some of our thunder—some of our cast-off and unthundered thunder."
"In what way?"
"Oh, nothing. It is of very little consequence. It is a bagatelle. All she proposes to do is to purchase all the slaves in the United States—out of her own funds—and ship them out of America."
"Yes. We didn't dare it. She does. We didn't begin. She has begun. And since it has begun, who knows what army of the people—what new party—may fall in behind her? We want you to forestall all that. We don't want you to head that new party. We think you will do better to fall in with us, to accept the compliment of a European mission—and to take this fair firebrand with you. We are afraid to have her in Washington."
The other listened with a flicker of the eyelid, which showed his interest, but feigned lightness in his speech.
"In matters of gallantry, my dear friend, why does Kentucky need a substitute, or even an ally?"
"Kentucky, in the deference due to so great a man as yourself, yields to New York! Will you have snuff, Sir?"
"I thank you, I think not. But tell me, what is it that New York must do?"
"New York, my dear Sir, must transport, man-handle, murder, wheedle, bowstring, drown, and permanently lose Josephine, Countess St. Auban,—herself late back from Missouri, formerly of God knows where. I promise you, this country is only a tinder box, waiting for that sort of spark. To-morrow—but you remember, my dear Horatio!"
"But between now and to-morrow is rather a brief period. We have not yet invented means of traveling through the air. I could not well carry off this fair lady by main strength. My own plans unfortunately require some attention. And I think that, even were the trifling difficulty of the lady's consent overcome, I could not easily assume the role of savior of my country before the time of the departure of the next ship for Europe—even granted my enemies, the Whigs, will give a mission to an ex-Democrat and a Free Soiler like myself!"
"Not that I should not experience the most pleasureable emotions both in saving the country, my dear Sir," he saluted with his glass, "and of saving it in the company of so charming a person as this young lady is reported to be. The years have laid us under a certain handicap, my friend. Yet were this lady quite unattached, or her duena not wholly impossible, one might consider the distinguished role of disinterestedly saving one's country in the capacity at least of chaperon."
They looked at each other, and broke into laughter. Yet minds so keen as theirs long before them had read between lines on the printed page, under the outward mask of human countenances.
"Stranger things have happened!" said the gentleman from Kentucky.
"My soul and body' My dear Sir, you do not speak seriously?" His surprise was feigned, and the other knew it.
"I was never so serious in my life. My friend, it seems almost as though fate had guided me to your side to-night. At this time, when our diplomacy abroad is none too fortunate, and when our diplomacy at home is far more delicate and dangerous, you yourself, known the country over as a man of tact and delicacy, are the one man in the world to handle this very mission. It is the Old Fox of the North, after all, Free Soiler or not, who alone can smooth down matters for us. Our country had supreme confidence in you. This administration has such confidence still. It will give all that is seemly for one of your station to accept. It will not ask aught of party lines, this or that."
"Do you speak with authority other than your own?"
"It is not yet time for me to answer that."
"Yet you dare approach one who is in the opposing camp."
"But one whose camp we either hope to join, or whom we hope later to have in our own. Who can tell where party lines will fall in the next three years? All the bars may be down by then, and many a fence past mending."
"For the sake of harmony, much should be ventured."
"Excellent words, Sir."
"One owes a certain duty to one's country at any time."
"Still more excellent."
"And political success can be obtained best through union and not disunion of political forces."
"Most excellent of all! We rejoice to hear the voice of New York speaking in the old way."
"My faith, I believe you are serious in this! Have you really formulated any plans?" He was safe in the trap, and the other knew it.
"Sir, I will not discredit you by choosing methods. As to the results desired, I say no more."
"Yet we sit here and discuss this matter as though we contemplated a simple, proper and dignified act!"
"Murder is perhaps not legal, even for the sake of one's country. But suppose we halt this side of murder. Suppose that by means known only to yourself, and not even to myself, you gained this young woman's free consent to accompany you, say, to Europe—that would be legal, dignified, proper—and ah! so useful."
"And rather risky!"
"And altogether interesting."
"And quite impossible."
"Altogether impossible. Oh, utterly!"
They spoke with gravity. What the gentleman from New York really thought lay in his unvoiced question: "Could it by any possibility be true that the Fillmore administration would give me support for the next nomination if I agree to swing the Free Soil vote nearer to the compromise?" What the gentleman from Kentucky asked in his own mind, was this:
"Will he play fair with us, or will he simply make this an occasion to break into our ranks?" What they both did was to break out into laughter at least feignedly hearty. The Kentuckian resolved to put everything upon one hazard.
"I was just saying," he remarked, "that we have been told the adorable countess perhaps contemplates only a short visit in America after all. She might be easy to lead back to Europe, If necessary, you shall have a dignified errand made for you abroad—entirely what you yourself would call fitting. You must see to that. Your reward will come somewhere this side of Heaven."
"Again you have forgotten about—"
"I have forgotten nothing, and to show you that I speak with authority, I will tell you this: Within the hour the Countess St. Auban will leave her entertainment at the theater and return to her hotel. You see, we are advised of all her movements. We give you an hour to meet her at her hotel; an hour to persuade her. There the curtain drops.
"No one in Washington or in New York seeks to look beyond that curtain," he concluded slowly. "No one counsels you what to do, and indeed, no one can suggest. Only take this woman away, and lose her,—that is all! A few days or weeks will do, but for ever would be better. It is no light errand that is offered to you, and we are not fools or children to look at this altogether lightly. There is risk, and there is no security. Customarily the rewards of large risks and poor security are great—when there are any rewards."
The gentleman from Kentucky rose as he spoke and, adroit in managing men, reached out his hand as though to take the other's and so to clench the matter. Yet his heart leaped in surprise—a surprise which did not leave him wholly clear as to the other's motives—when the latter met his hand with so hearty a grasp of affirmation.
"It should not be so difficult," he said. "It is only a case of logical argument. It is long since I have addressed the people, or addressed a lady, but I shall try my skill once more to-night! All that is necessary is to explain to this young lady that our political ambitions are quite the same, and that I might be of service did we share the same public means of travel in a Journey already planned by both. I was intending a visit to Europe this very summer."
"Sir, there is no other man owner both of the skill and courage to handle this matter. I hesitated to put it before you, but the method you suggest seems almost plausible. I trust you to make it appear wholly so to the fair lady herself."
"We might be younger and fare better at that sort of thing."
"Altogether to the contrary, my friend! Do not mistake this lady. Youth would be an absolute bar to success. Age, dignity, a public reputation such as yours,—these are the only things which by any possibility could gain success; and, frankly, even these may fail. At least, I honestly wish you success, and there has been no jest in what I said about the support of Mr. Fillmore's family and his party. You know that there is honesty even in politics, sometimes; and there is silence, I promise that. Take my advice. Put her in a sack, drop her overboard in mid-ocean. In return, all I ask of you is not to throw overboard the sack anywhere close to this country's shore! It was done once before, on the Ohio River, but the sack was not tied tightly enough. Here she is again! Wherefore, have a care with your sack strings, I beseech you.
"Louis, my hat; and get my carriage! Have a second carriage waiting here at once."
THE DISTINGUISHED GENTLEMAN FROM NEW YORK
Meantime, the Countess St. Auban, innocent of these plans which had gone forward regarding her, completed her attendance at the entertainment which the evening was offering the elite of Washington, and in due time arrived at the entrance of her hotel. She found the private entrance to-night occupied by the usual throng, but hurried from the carriage step across the pavement and through the open door.
She made no ordinary picture now as she approached the brighter lights of the interior. Her garb, cut in that fashion which gave so scant aid to nature's outlines, was widely though not extremely hooped, the fabric of daintily flowered silk. As she pushed back the deep, double fronted dolman which served her for a wrap, her shoulders showed white and beautiful, as also the round column of her neck, shadowed only by one long drooping curl, and banded by a gleaming circlet of many colored gems. Her dark hair, though drawn low upon the temples in acknowledgment of the prevailing mode, was bound in fashion of her own by a gem-clasped, golden fillet, under which it broke into a riot of lesser curls which swept over ears and temples. Here and there a gleaming jewel confined some such truant lock, so that she glittered, half-barbaric, as she walked, surmounted by a thousand trembling points of light. Ease, confidence, carelessness seemed spoken alike by the young woman's half haughty carriage and her rich costuming. Midway in the twenties of her years, she was just above slightness, just above medium height. The roundness of shoulder and arm, thus revealed, bespoke soundness and wholesomeness beyond callowness, yet with no hint of years or bulk. Her hair certainly was dark and luxuriant, her eyes surely were large and dark, without doubt shaded by long and level brows. The nose was not too highly arched any more than it was pinched and meager—indeed, a triumph in noses, since not too strong, nor yet indicating a physique weak and ill nourished.
Vital, self-confident, a trifle foreign, certainly distinguished, at first there might have seemed a trace of defiance in the carriage, even in the glance of Josephine St. Auban. But a second look into the wide dark eyes would have found there rather a trace of pathos, bordering upon melancholy; and the lines of the mouth, strongly curved, would in all likelihood have gained that sympathy demanded by the eyes, betokening a nature warm and noble, not petty or mean, and certainly not insignificant.
Such was the woman of the hour in Washington, lately frowned on by the ladies as too beautiful, talked about by the gentlemen as too cold, discussed by some, adored by others, understood by none, dreaded by some high in power, plotted against by others yet more high in place.
She cast a hurried glance now at the clock which, tall and solemn, stood near by in the hall. It was upon the stroke of midnight only. Turning half questioningly to her maid, she heard a footfall. The manager of the hotel himself came to greet her, carrying a card in his hand, and with a bow, asking her attention.
"Well, then," began the young woman, in perfect English, glancing at the card. Her dark eyes rose to meet his. "It is impossible," she said. "You know my wishes very well."
"But, my dear Countess, have you noted this name?" began the manager.
"Of course, I know it. All the more reason there should be mistake."
"But I assure you, my dear Countess—"
A step sounded near by, and the curtains swung back, disclosing the entrance to one of the adjoining parlors of the hotel. The figure of a well-built and hale gentleman, past middle age, of dignified carriage and pleasant features, was revealed. Half hesitating, he advanced.
"My dear lady," he began, in a deep and melodious voice, "I come to you doubly handicapped, both as intruder and eavesdropper. I could not avoid hearing what you have said, and as listeners hear no good of themselves, I venture to interrupt. I am anxious that your first impression of me should be a good one, Madam!"
She dropped him a curtsy which was grace itself, her dark eyes looking straight into his face. Surprise brought a slightly heightened color to her cheek. Seeing her perturbation, the unbidden guest hastened to make what amends were possible.
"You were saying it was a mistake, dear lady. But if so, the intrusion was on my part. I have wished to meet you quietly, if such may be your pleasure. I am alone. Opportunity has lacked for earlier announcement, for I have but reached town this evening."
She looked from one to the other still questioningly. The manager of the hotel, feeling discretion to be the best card to play, hurriedly bowed, and hastened away.
The Countess St. Auban hesitated for an instant, but guessed some errand here worth knowing. Having herself entered the inner room, with grace she signified that the elderly gentleman should first be placed; then, seating herself upon a divan somewhat nearer to the door and hence in shadow, she waited for him to go forward with the business which had brought him hither.
"Madam," he went on, "my dear Countess, I could but overhear you refer to my own name. If it has any reputation in your eyes, let that plead as my excuse for intruding in this manner. Believe me, nothing would induce me to take such a step except business of importance."
"It is, then, of business?" Her voice, as he noted once more, was clear and full, her enunciation without provincial slur, clean and highbred.
"I hope something not wholly outside your liking."
"Of course I do not understand." She sat still looking at him full, her hands, clasping her little fan, a trifle raised.
"Then let me hasten to make all plain. I am aware of a part of your history and of a part of your plans, Madam; I am not unaware of certain ambitions of your own—I am forced to be so frank in these conditions. You are interested in the cause of Hungary."
"Place it wider, Sir," she said. "In humanity!"
"Hence you have come to America to carry forward certain of your plans. Even now you have undertaken the greatest and most daring work of altruism this country ever knew."
She made no answer but to smile at him, a wide and half lazy smile, disclosing her white and even teeth. The jewels in her dark hair glistened as she nodded slightly. Emboldened, he went on:
"And you find all things at a deadlock in Washington to-day. Humanity is placed away in linen on the shelf in America, to-day. Dust must not filter through the protection of this mighty compromise which our two great parties have accomplished! We must not talk of principles, must not stir sedition, at this time. Whig and Democrat must tiptoe, both of them, nor wake this sleeping dog of slavery. Only a few, Madam, only a few, have the hardihood to assert their beliefs. Only a few venture to cast defiance even to the dictum of Webster himself. He says to us that conscience should not be above the law. I say to you, Madam, that conscience should be the only law."
"Are you for freedom, Sir?" she asked slowly. "Are you for humanity?"
"Madam, as I hope reward, I am! Those of us who dare say so much are few in numbers to-day. We are so few, my dear lady, that we belong together. All of us who have influence—and that I trust may be said of both of us, who now meet for the first time—we are so few that I, a stranger to you, though not, I trust, wholly unrecommended, dare come to you to-night."
"With what purpose, then. Sir?"
"With the immediate purpose of learning at first hand the truth of the revolutionary system in Europe. I have not been abroad of late, indeed not for some years. But I know that our diplomacy is all a-tangle. The reports are at variance, and we get them colored by partisan politics. This slavery agitation is simply a political game, at which both parties and all sides are merely playing. Party desirability, party safety—that is the cry in the South as much as in the North. Yet all the time I know, as you know, of the hundreds of thousands of men who are leaving Europe to come to this country. A wave of moral change is bound to sweep across the North. Madam, we dwell on the eve of revolution here in America as well as in Europe. Now do you see why I have come to you to-night? Have we not much in common?"
"I am glad," she said simply; "I am proud. Me you overrate, but my wishes and my hopes you do not overrate. Only,—" and she hesitated, "why to-night; why in this particular way?"
"I arrive at that. My own plans take me soon to Europe. I am determined to investigate upon the very ground itself this question of a national repression of the human conscience."
She sat a trifle more erect, a trifle more haughty. He seemed to read her thoughts.
"Let me hope that you also have planned an early return. We have much which we might discuss of common interest. There is much of interest in that country beyond, which we might see. I do not venture any suggestion for you, but only say that if it were within your own desires to travel in the company of a man whose former station at least ought to render your reputation safe, you and your servants will be welcome in my company. My party will have other gentlemen and ladies, not of mean station, I hope."
She looked at him, hesitating, studying. It was hardly a fair contest, this of youth and scant experience against suavity and shrewdness strengthened by years of public life.
"I am somewhat helpless, Sir," she said, at length. "To converse with one so able as yourself,—what woman of my ambitions would not be pleased with that? But I am a woman, and alone in the world. I am already denounced as careless. There already has been talk. Moreover, as you see, I am committed now fully to this great work of freeing and sending from America the negro slaves. Take them from this country. Replace them with three million men born closer to freedom and citizenship—"
"Yes. But you are here somewhat mysteriously; you come privately and secretly. What harm, then, if you return as privately and secretly as you have come to Washington? Let your agents carry on your work here. The mission on which I shall be engaged will have to do with Louis Kossuth."
"Yes; and you know that noble patriot, I am told. Consider of what aid you might be to me. You speak his tongue, you know his history, you could supply me at once with information—Come, 'tis no idle errand. And, perhaps,—you will forgive me, since we both know how cruel is such gossip as this that has wronged you—the tongue of gossip wags the least when the eye of gossip has seen least. Tins is a most natural and proper—indeed, most convincing opportunity."
"That is precisely what I pondered, Sir." She nodded gravely.
"And let me add this," he continued: "every day you are here in Washington the tongue of rumor wags the more. Listen to me! Leave this place. Let gossip quiet down. It has been cruel with you; yet the public soon forgets. To remain and appear in public would freshen gossip anew. Come, it is an adventure! I swear it does not lack its appeal to me! Ah, would only that I were younger, and that it were less seemly and sedate! Dear lady, I offer you my apology for coming as I have, but large plans work rapidly at times, and there is little time to wait. Now there is but one word I can say; that you have courage and decision, I know."
He had risen, and unconsciously the young woman also had risen,—balancing, measuring, watching, warding, in this contest, all too unequal. Suddenly, with a swift and most charming smile she approached him a half step and held out her hand.
"You are a great man, Sir. Your country has found you great. I have always found the greatest men the simplest and most frank. Therefore I know you will tell me—you will satisfy any doubt I may feel—If I should ask a question, you would not condemn me as presuming?"
"Certainly not. Upon the contrary, my dear Countess, I should feel flattered."
She looked at him for an instant, then came up to the side of the table beyond which he had taken his seat. Leaning her chin upon her hand, her elbow upon the table, in a sudden posture of encounter, she asked him a question whose answer took him swiftly far back into his own past, into another and forgotten day.
"Did you ever hear of Mr. John Parish, Sir?" she demanded.
The suave countenance before her was at first blank, then curious, then intent. His mind was striving to summon up, from all its many images, this one which was required. It was a brain which rarely forgot, even though years had passed; and had it been able to forget, so much had been the better for the plans of the gentleman from Kentucky, and for the success of his proposed European mission.
At last, slowly, a faint flush passed over the face she was regarding so intently. "Yes, I remember him very well," he replied. "He has not for very many years, been in this country. He died abroad, some years since. I presume you mean Mr. Parish of New York—he is the only one I recall of that name at least. Yes; I knew such a man."
"That was very long ago?"
"It was when I was much younger, my dear Countess."
"You knew him very well, then?"
"I may say that I did, Madam."
"And you'll tell me; then—tell me, was it true that once, as a wild rumor had it, a rumor that I have heard—that once you two played at cards—"
"Was that a crime?" he smiled.
"But with him, at cards with him, Mr. John Parish, a certain game of cards with him—one day,—a certain winter day years ago, when you both were younger—when the train was snowbound in the North? And you played then, for what? What were the stakes then, in that particular game with Mr. John Parish? Do you chance to recall?"
"Madam, you credit me with frankness. I will not claim even so much. But since you have heard a rumor that died out long years ago—which was denied—which even now I might better deny—since, in fact you know the truth—why should I deny the truth?"
"Then you two played a game, at cards,—for a woman? And Mr. Parish won? Was it not true?"
A new and different expression passed over the face of the gentleman before her. Her chin still rested in her hand, her other arm, long, round, white, lay out upon the table before him. He could see straight into her wide eyes, see the heave of her throat now under its shining circlet, see the color of her cheek, feel the tenseness of all her mind and body as she questioned him about his long forgotten past.
"Why do you ask me this?" he demanded at last. "What has that to do with us? That was long ago. It is dead, it is forgotten. Why rake up the folly of a deed of youth and recklessness, long years dead and gone? Why, the other man, and the woman herself, are dead and gone now, both of them. Then, why?"
"I will tell you why. That happened once in my own experience."
"Yes, impossible. It should have been impossible among men at this day of the world. But it happened. I also had the distinguished honor to be the stake in some such game, and that because—indirectly because—I had won the enmity, the suspicions at least—well, we will say, of persons high in authority in this land."
"But, my dear young lady, the conditions can not have been the same. Assuredly the result was not the same!"
"By whose credit, then? Who thinks of a woman? Who is there whose hand is not raised against her? Each member of her own sex is her enemy. Each member of the opposite sex is her foe. One breath, one suspicion, and she becomes fair game, even under the strictest code among men; and then, the man who did not dare would be despised because he would not dare. Her life is one long war against suspicion. It is one long war against selfishness, a continued defense against desire, gratification. She is, even to-day, valued as chattel—under all the laws and conventions built about her runs the chattel idea. She is a convenience. Is that all?"
"My dear lady, it is not for me to enter into discussion of subjects so abstruse, so far removed at least from my proper trend of thought—our proper trend of thought, if you please. I must admit that act of folly, yes. But I must also end the matter there."
"Then why should not I end our matter there, Sir? It seems to me that if in any usual way of life, going about her business honestly, paying her obligations of all sort—even that to her crucifix at night—a woman who is clean wishes to remain clean, to be herself,—why, I say, if that may not be, among men great or small, distinguished or unknown, then most fortunate is she who remains aloof from all chance of that sort of thing. Sir, I should not like to think that, while I was in my room, for the time removed from the society of the gentlemen who should be my protectors, there was going on, let us say, somewhere in the gentlemen's saloon, a little enterprise at chance in which—"
"But, my dear lady, you are mad to speak in this way! Lightning, even lightning of folly, does not strike twice in the same place."
"Ah, does it not? But it has!"
"What can you mean? Surely you do not mean actually to say that you yourself ever have figured in such an incident?"
She made no answer to him, save to look straight into his eyes, chin in hand still, her long white arm lying out, motionless, her posture free of nervous strain or unrest. Slowly her lips parted, showing her fine white teeth in a half smile. Her eyes smiled also, with wisdom in their look.
The venerable statesman opposed to her all at once felt his resources going. He knew that his quest was over, that this young woman was after all able to fend for herself.
"What would you do?" she demanded of him. "If you were a woman and knew you were merely coveted in general, as a woman, and that you had been just cheaply played for in a game of cards, in a public place—what would you do, if you could, to the man who lost—or the man who won? Would you be delivered over? That woman, was she—but she could not help herself; she had no place to turn, poor girl? And she paid all her life, then, for some act earlier, which left her fair game? Was that it?"
"But you, my dear girl! It is impossible!"
"I was more fortunate, that is all. Would you blame me if I dreaded the memory of such an incident; if I felt a certain shrinking from one who ever figured in such an incident? If I could trust—but then, but then—Are you very sure that Mr. Parish loved that woman?"
"I am sure of it," answered the old man soberly. "Did he use her well?"
"All her life. He gave her everything—"
"Oh, that is nothing! Did he give her—after he had learned, maybe, that she was not what he had thought—did he give her then—love—belief, trust? Did he—are you very sure that any man in such case, after such an incident, could have loved, really loved, the woman whom he held in that way—"
"I not only believe he might, my dear girl, but I know that in this one case—the only one of my experience"—he smiled—"such was the truth. There was some untold reason why they two did not, or could not, marry. I do not go into that.
"Consider, my dear girl," he resumed; "you are young, and I am so old that it is as though I too were young now and had no experience—so we may talk. Our life is a contest among men for money and for love; that is all success can bring us. In older days men fought for that. To-day we have modified life a little, and have other ways; but I fancy the game in which that certain lady figured was only one form of contest—it was a fight, the spoils to go to the victor."
"Horrible! But you might have been the victor? In that case, would you have loved her, would you have used her well, all your life, and hers?"
He drew back now with dignity. "Madam, my position in later years defends me from necessity of answering you. You are young, impulsive, but you should not forget the proprieties even now—" His face was now hotly flushed.
"I ask your pardon! But would you?"
He smiled in spite of himself, something of the old fire of gallantry still burning in his withered veins. "My dear girl, if it were yourself, I would! And by the Lord! I'd play again with Parish, or any other man, if my chance otherwise, merely by cruel circumstances, had been left hopeless. Some one must win."
"But how could the winner be sure? How could the—how did she—I would say—"
"Dear girl, let us not be too cold in our philosophy, nor too wise. I can not say how or why these things go as they do. All I know is that the right man won in that case, and that he proved it later, by each act of kindness he gave her, all her life. This, my dear, is an odd world, when it comes to all that."
"Was he—did he have anybody else in the world who—"
"Oh, only a wife, I believe, that was all!"
"Did she die, soon? Was there ever—"
"How you question! What do you plan for yourself? My word! You are putting me through a strange initiation on our first acquaintance, my dear Countess! Let us not pursue such matters further, or I shall begin to think your own interest in these questions is that of the original Eve!"
"To the victor does not always belong the spoils," she said slowly. "Not till he has won—earned them—in war, in conquest! Perhaps conquest of himself."
"You speak in enigmas for me, my dear Countess."
She shook her head slowly, from side to side. "That poor girl! Did she ever feel she had been won in the real game, I wonder? To whom would belong herself—if she felt that she had something in her own life to forget, some great thing to be done, in penance perhaps, in eagerness perhaps, some step to take, up—something to put her into a higher plane in the scheme of life? To do something, for some one else—not just to be selfish—suppose that was in her heart; after that game?"
"Why, you read her story as though you saw it! That was her life, absolutely. Never lived a woman more respected there, more loved. She disarmed even the women, old and young—yes, even the single ones!"
"It is an odd world," she said slowly. "But"—drawing back—"I do not think I will go back to Europe. It would delight me to meet again my friend, the patriot Kossuth. But here I have many ideas which I must work out."
"My dear Countess, you oppress me with a sense of failure! I had so much hoped that you would lend your aid in this mission of my own abroad. You would be valuable. You are so much prized in the opinions of the administration, I am sure, that—"
"What do you mean? Does the administration know of me? Why should it know? What have I done?"
But the old statesman before her was no such fool as to waste time in a lost cause. This one was lost, he knew, and it booted little for him to become involved where, even at the best issue, there was risk enough for him. He reflected that risk must have existed even had this young lady been a shade more dull of mind, of less brilliant faculty in leaping to conclusions and resolutions. She was a firebrand, that was sure. Let others handle such, but not that task for him!
"Now you ask questions whose answers lie entirely beyond my power," he replied easily. "You must remember that I am not of this party, let alone this administration. My own day in politics has past, and I must seek seclusion, modestly. I own that the mission to Europe, to examine in a wholly non-partisan way, the working out there of this revolutionary idea—the testing on the soil of monarchies of the principle of democratic government—has a great appeal to me; and I fancied it would offer appeal also to yourself. But if—"
"All life is chance, is it not? But in your belief, does the right man always win?"
He rose, smiling, inscrutable once more, astute and suave politician again, and passing about the table he bowed over her hand to kiss it.
"My dear Countess," he said, "my dear girl, all I can say is that in the very limited experience I can claim in such matters, the victor usually is the right man. But I find you here, alone, intent on visionary plans which never can be carried out, undertaking a labor naturally foreign to a woman's methods of life, alien to her usual ideas of happiness. So, my dear, my dear, I fear you yourself have not played out the game—you have not fulfilled its issue! The stakes are not yet given over! I can not say as to the right man, but I can say with all my heart that he who wins such prize is fortunate indeed, and should cherish it for ever. See, I am not after all devoid of wit or courage, my dear young girl! Because, I know, though you do not tell me, that there is some game at which you play, yourself, and that you will not stop that game to participate in my smaller enterprise of visiting Kossuth and the lands of Europe! I accept defeat myself, once more, in a game where a woman is at stake. Again, I lose!"
There was more truth than she knew in his words, for what was in his mind and in the minds of others there in Washington, regarding her, were matters not then within her knowledge. But she was guided once more, as many a woman has been, by her unerring instinct, her sixth sense of womanhood, her scent for things of danger. Now, though she stood with face grave, pensive, almost melancholy, to give him curtsy as he passed, there was not weakness nor faltering in her mien or speech.
"But he would have to win!" she said, as though following out some train of thought. "He would first need to win in the larger game. Ah! What woman would be taken, except by the man who really had won in the real game of life."
"You would demand that, my dear?" smiled the pleasant gentleman who now was bowing himself toward the door.
"I would demand it!"
By the time he had opportunity to rally his senses, assailed as they were by the sight of her, by the splendor of her apparel, by the music of her voice, the fragrance which clung about her, the charm of her smiles,—by the time, in short, which he required to turn half about, she was gone. He heard her light step at the stair.
"My soul!" he exclaimed, wiping his brow with a silken kerchief. "So much for attempting to sacrifice principle—for expecting to mix Free Soil and Whig! Damn that Kentuckian!"
A SPLENDID FAILURE
If it is easy to discover why there was no special embassy sent by this government to Turkey for the purpose of inviting the distinguished patriot Kossuth to visit America, (that matter being concluded in rather less formal fashion after the return home of the Hungarian committee of inquiry—a ship of our navy being despatched to carry him to our shores) it with equal ease may be understood why the Countess St. Auban after this remained unmolested. A quaking administration, bent only on keeping political matters in perfect balance, and on quenching promptly, as best it might, any incipient blaze of anti-slavery zeal which might break out from its smoldering, dared make no further move against her. She was now too much in the public eye to be safe even in suppression, and so was left to pursue her own way for a time; this the more readily, of course, because she was doing nothing either illegal or reprehensible. Indeed, as has been said, she was only carrying out in private way a pet measure of Mr. Fillmore himself, one which he had only with difficulty been persuaded to eliminate from his first presidential message—that of purchasing the slaves and deporting them from our shores. The government at Washington perforce looked on, shivering, dreading lest this thing might fail, dreading also lest it might not fail. It was a day of compromise, of cowardice, of politics played as politics; a day of that political unwisdom which always is dangerous—the fear of riding straight, the ignorance of the saving quality of honest courage. Wherefore, matters went on thus, fit foundation now building for that divided and ill-ordered house of this republic, whose purification could only be found in the cleansing catastrophe of fire so soon to come.
As to the unfortunate work in which this warm-hearted enthusiast thus impulsively engaged, small comment need be made, since its failure so soon was to become apparent to the popular mind. The Countess St. Auban was not the first to look to colonization and deportation as the solution of the negro problem in America. But as the Colonization Society for more than a decade had failed to accomplish results, so did she in her turn fail. In a work which continued through all that spring and summer, she drew again and again upon her own private fortune. Carlisle and Kammerer had charge of the details, but she herself was the driving force of the enterprise. While they were abroad lecturing and asking contributions to their cause—taking with them the slave girl Lily as an example of what slavery had done—she remained at Washington. They actually did arrange for the deportation of a ship-load of blacks to Hayti, another ship-load to Liberia. A colony of blacks whose freedom had been purchased was established in Tennessee, others were planned for yet other localities. It was part of her intent to establish nuclei of freed blacks in different portions of the southern section.
In all this work Lily, late servant of Josephine St. Auban, assumed a certain prominence, this being given to her not wholly with wisdom. Although but little negro blood remained in her veins, this former slave had not risen above the life that had surrounded her. Ignorant, emotional, at times working herself into a frenzy of religious zeal, she was farthest of all from being a sober judge or a fair-minded agent for the views of others. Yet in time her two guardians, Carlisle and Kammerer, unwisely allowed her more and more liberty. She was even, in times of great hurry, furnished funds to go upon trips of investigation for herself, as one best fitted to judge of the conditions of her people. As to these details, Josephine St. Auban knew little. There was enough to occupy her mind at the center of these affairs, where labors grew rapidly and quite beyond her original plan.
As is always the case in such hopeless enterprises, the expenses multiplied beyond belief. True, contributions came meagerly from the North, here and there some abolitionist appearing who would do something besides write and preach. In all, more than a half million dollars was spent before the end of the year 1851. Then, swiftly and without warning, there came the end.
One morning, almost a year after her return to Washington, Josephine St. Auban sat in her apartments, looking at a long document inscribed in a fine, foreign hand. It was the report of the agent of her estates in Prance and Hungary. As she read it the lines blurred before her eyes. It demanded an effort even of her superb courage fairly to face and meet the meaning. In fact, it was this: The revolution of Louis Napoleon of 1851 had resulted in the confiscation of many estates in France, all her own included. As though by concert among the monarchies of Europe, the heavy hand of confiscation fell, in this nation and in that. The thrones of the Old World are not supported by revolutionists; nor are revolutionists supported by the occupants of thrones. Her Hungarian lands had followed those which she had owned in France. The rents of her estates no longer could be collected. Her revenues were absolutely gone. Moreover, she herself was an exile.
Thus, then, had her high-blown hopes come to an end. It was proof of the splendid courage of the woman that she shed not a tear. Not a lash trembled as presently she turned to despatch a message for her lieutenant, Carlisle, to come to her. The latter was absent at some western point, but within two days he appeared in Washington and presently made his call, as yet ignorant of what were his employer's wishes.
He himself began eagerly, the fanatic fire still in his eye, on details of the work so near to his soul. "My dear Countess," he exclaimed, even as he grasped her hands, "we're doing splendidly. We'll have the whole Mississippi Valley in an uproar before long. All the lower Ohio is unsettled. Missouri, Illinois, Indiana are muttering as loudly as New England. I hear that Lily has led away a whole neighborhood over in Missouri. A few months more like this, and we'll have this whole country in a turmoil. It's bound to win—the country's bound to come to its senses—if we keep on."
"But we can not keep on, my dear Sir," she said to him slowly. "That is why I have sent for you."
"How do you mean? What's wrong? Can not keep on—end our work? You're jesting!"
"No, it is the truth. Kossuth is in Turkey. Shall I join him there? Where shall I go? I'm an exile from France. I dare not return to Hungary."
"You—I'll—I'll not believe it! What do you mean?"
"I am ruined financially, that's all. My funds are at an end. My estates are gone! My agent tells me he can send me no more money. How much do you think," she said, with a little moue, "we can do in the way of deporting blacks out of my earnings—well, say as teacher of music, or of French?"
"I'll not believe it—you—why, you've been used to riches, luxuries, all your life! And I—why, I've helped impoverish you! I've been spending your money. A ship-load of blacks, against you? My God! I'd have cut my hand off rather."
She showed him the correspondence, proof of all that she had said, and he read with a face haggard in unhappiness.'
"There' There!" she said. "You've not heard me make any outcry yet, have you? Why should you, then? I have seen men lay down their lives for a principle, a belief. You will see that again. Should not a woman lay down her money?
"But as to that," she went on lightly, "why, there are many things one might do. I might make a rich alliance, don't you think?"
He suddenly stiffened and straightened, and looked her full in the eye, a slow flush coming across his face.
"I couldn't have said it any time before this," said he. "It has been in my heart all along, but I didn't dare—not then. Yes, a rich alliance if you liked, I do not doubt. There's a poor one waiting for you, any time you like. You know that. You must have seen it, a thousand times—"
She advanced to him easily and held out both her hands. "Now, now!" she said. "Don't begin that. You'll only hurt us both. My lieutenant, visionary as myself! Ah, we've failed."
"But everybody will blame you—you will have no place to go—it will be horrible—you don't begin to know what it means. Of course, we have made mistakes."
"Then let's not make the worst mistake of all," she said.
"But we could do so much—"
She turned upon him suddenly, pale, excited. "Do not!" she cried. "Do not use those words! It seems to me that that is what all men think and say. 'How much we could do—together!' Do not say that to me."
At this he sobered. "Then there is some one else?" he said slowly. "You've heard some one else use those words? I couldn't blame him. Well, I wish him happiness. And I wish you happiness, too. I had no right to presume."
"Happiness!—what is that?" she said slowly. "I've been trying to find it all my life. My God! How crooked were all the mismated planets at my birth! I haven't been happy myself. I do not think that I've added one iota to the happiness of any one else, I've just failed, that's all. And I've tried so hard—to do something, something for the world! Oh, can a woman—can she, ever?" For once shaken, she dropped her face an instant in her hands, he standing by, mute, and suffering much as herself at seeing her thus suffer.
"But now," she continued after a time, "—I want to ask you whether I've been ungenerous or vindictive with you—"
"Vindictive? You? Never! But why should you be?"
"Captain," she said easily, "my lieutenant, my friend, let me say—I will not be specific—I will not mention names or dates; but do you think, if you were a woman, you could ever marry a man who once, behind your back, with not even eagerness to incite him, but coolly, deliberately—had played a game of cards for—you?"
He stiffened as though shot. "I know. But you misunderstand. I did not play for you. I played to relieve a situation—because I thought you wished—because it seemed the solution of a situation hard for both of us. I thought—"
"Solution!" She blazed up now, tigerlike, and her words came through set lips. "I'd never have told you I knew, if you hadn't said what you have. But—a solution—a plan—a compromise! You ought to have played for me! You ought to have played for me; and you ought to have won—have won!"
He stood before a woman new to him, one so different from the grateful and gracious enthusiast he had met all these months that he could not comprehend the change, could not at once adjust his confused senses. So miserable was he that suddenly, with one of her swift changes, she smiled at him, even through her sudden tears. "No! No!" she exclaimed. "See! Look here!"
She handed him a little sheet of crumpled note paper, inscribed in a cramped hand, showed him the inscription—"Jeanne Fournier."
"You don't know who that is?" she asked him.
"No, I don't know."
"Why, yes, you do. My maid—my French maid—don't you remember? She married Hector, the cooper, at St. Genevieve. Now, see, Jeanne is writing to me again. Don't you see, there's a baby, and it is named for me—who has none. Good-by, that money!"—she kissed hand to the air—"Good-by, that idea, that dream of mine! That's of no consequence. In fact, nothing is of consequence. See, this is the baby of Jeanne! She has asked me to come. Why, then, should I delay?"
Whether it were tears or smiles which he saw upon her face Carlisle never could determine. Whether it were physical unrest or mental emotion, he did not know, but certainly it was that the letter of the agent remained upon the table untouched between them while Josephine St. Auban pressed to her lips the letter from Jeanne, her maid.
"Why, I have not failed at all!" said she. "Have I not cared for and brought up this Jeanne, and is there not a baby of Jeanne, a baby whom she has named for me?"
Carlisle, mute and unnoticed, indeed, as he felt almost forgotten, was relieved when there came a knock at the door. A messenger bearing a card entered. She turned toward him gravely, and he could only read dismissal now. Mute and unhappy, he hurried from the room. He did not, however, pass from the stage of activity he had chosen. He later fought for his convictions, and saw accomplished, before, with so many other brave men, he fell upon the field of battle—accomplished at vast cost of blood and tears—that work which he had been inspired to undertake in a more futile form.
"You may say to this gentleman that I shall join him presently, in the parlor at the right of the stair," said Josephine St. Auban after a moment to the messenger.
As she entered the room, there rose to meet her a tall gentleman, who stood gravely regarding her. At sight of him she paused, embarrassed. No figure was more familiar in Washington, yet none was less to be expected here. There was no mistaking the large frame, the high brow, the dark and piercing eye, the costume—that of another day. Involuntarily, although her first impression (based upon other meetings with distinguished men) was one more of apprehension than of pleasure, she swept him a deep curtsy. With the grace of a courtier he extended a hand and led her to a chair.
"You know me, Madam?" he demanded, in a deep and bell-like voice. "I know you, as well. I am delighted, I am honored, to announce that I come to you as a messenger."
"It is an honor that you come in any capacity, Sir. To what may I attribute so kind a visit, to one so unimportant?"
"No, no, my dear Countess. We rate you very high. It is the wish of a certain gentleman to have you attend a little meeting which will not welcome many out of all this city. It is informal and unofficial, my dear lady, but all those who will be there will be glad to have your attendance. It was thought well for me to drop in to interrogate your pleasure in the matter."
"It is a command, Sir! Very well, at what time, then?"
"If it should please you, it would delight me to accompany you at once, my dear lady! My carriage is waiting now."
Josephine St. Auban did not lack decision upon her own part. Something told her that no danger this time lurked for her.
"Pardon me for just one moment then, Sir," she answered. A few moments later she returned, better prepared for the occasion with just a touch to her toilet; and with a paper or two which with some instinct she hastily snatched up from her desk. These latter she hurriedly crowded into her little reticule. They took the carriage and soon were passing through the streets toward the most public portion of the city of Washington.
They entered wide grounds, and drew up before a stately building which lay well back from the street. Entering, they passed through a narrow hall, thence into a greater room, fitted with wide panels decorated with many portraits of men great in the history of this country. There was a long table in this room, and about it—some of them not wholly visible in the rather dim light—there were several gentlemen. As her tall escort entered with a word of announcement, all of these rose, grave and silent, and courteously bowed to her. There approached from the head of the room a tall, handsome and urbane gentleman, who came and took her hand. He, some of these others, she could not fail to know. She had come hither without query or comment, and she stood silent and waiting now, but her heart was racing, her color faintly rising in spite of all her efforts to be calm.
"My dear lady," he began, in a voice whose low, modulated tones scarce could fail to please any ear, "I thank you for your presence here. Will you not be seated? It is a very great honor that you give us, and all of these gentlemen appreciate it."
Josephine St. Auban curtsied and, remaining silent and wondering, assumed the seat assigned her, at the right hand of the tall and grave gentleman who had escorted her hither, and who now courteously handed her to her place.
"We meet absolutely without formality, my dear Madam," went on the tall and kindly man who had greeted her. "What goes on here is entirely unofficial and, as I need not say, it is altogether private; as you will remember."
"You will perhaps pardon my diffidence at such a time and place, Sir," she began, at last. "It is difficult for me to understand what small merit, or large error, of mine should bring me here."
"Madam, we wish that your abilities were smaller," smiled the tall gentleman. "That is the very thing of which we wish to speak. It is your activities which have seemed to us matters of concern—indeed, of kindly inquiry, if you do not mind. These gentlemen, I think, I do not need to introduce. We are all of us interested in the peace and dignity of this country."
"Have I done anything against either?" asked she.
"Ah, you have courage to be direct! In answer, I must say that we would like to ask regarding a few things which seem to be within your own knowledge. You, of course, are not unaware of the popular discontent which exists on this or the other side of the great political question in America to-day. We are advised that you yourself have been a traveler in our western districts; and it seemed to us likely that you might be possessed of information regarding matters there of which we get only more interested, more purely partisan, reports."
"That is not impossible," was her guarded reply. "It is true, I have talked with some in that part of the country."
"You were witness of the anxiety of our attempt to keep war and the talk of it far in the background,—our desire to preserve the present state of peace."
"Assuredly. But, Sirs, you will forgive me,—I do not believe peace will last. I thought so, until this very day. In my belief, now, there will be war. It can not be averted."
"We are glad to hear the belief of all, on all sides," was the courteous rejoinder. "We ourselves hope the compromise to be more nearly final. Perhaps you as well as others hold to the so-called doctrine of the 'higher law'? Perhaps you found your politics in Rousseau's Nouvelle Heloise, rather than in the more sober words of our own Constitution?" His eyes were quizzical, yet not unkind.
"Certain doctrines seem to endure," was her stout answer, kindling. "I am but a woman, yet I take it that anything that I can say will have no value unless it shall be sincere. To me, this calm is something which can not endure."
"There at least do not lack others who are of that belief. But why?"
"They told me in the West that the South has over three million slaves. They told me that the labor of more than seven million persons, black and white, is controlled by less than a third of a million men; and of all that third of a million, less than eight thousand practically represent the owners of these blacks, who do not vote. Gentlemen, I have been interested in the cause of democracy in Europe—I do not deny it—yet it seems to me an oligarchy and not a democracy which exists in the American South. The conflict between an oligarchy and a natural democracy is ages old. It does not die. It seems to me that there is the end of all compromise—in the renewed struggle of men, all over the world, to set up an actual government of their own,—not an oligarchy, not a monarchy, not of property and wealth, but of actual democracy. It must come, here, some day."
"It is unusual, my dear lady, to find one of your sex disposed to philosophy so deep and clear as your own. You please us. Will you go on?"
"Sir, your courtesy gives me additional courage,". was her answer. "You have asked me for my beliefs—and I do not deny that I have some of my own, some I have sought to put in practice. To me, another phase of this question lies in something which the South itself seems not to have remembered. The South figures that the cost of a laboring man, a slave, is perhaps a thousand or fifteen hundred dollars. The South pays the cost of rearing that man. Any nation pays the cost of bringing up a human being. Yet, within this very year, Europe has sent into the North and into the West a third of a million of men already reared, already paid for. Sir, you ask me what will be the result of this discontent, the result of this compromise. It seems to me plainly written in those two facts—industrial, not political facts. The 'finality' of this compromise, its final issue, will be established by conditions with which laws or their enforcement have little to do. Yet statesmen try to solve such a question by politics. I myself at one time thought it could endure—but only if all the blacks were bought, paid for and deported, to make room for those who come at no cost to us. I thought for a time it could be done. I have tried to do it. I have failed. I do not think others will follow in my attempt."
"We have not undervalued, Madam, either the brilliance or the profundity of your own active intellect! What you say is of interest. We already have followed with profound interest your efforts. Your words here justify our concern in meeting you. This is perhaps the first time in our history when a woman has been asked to meet those most concerned in even so informal an assemblage as this, at precisely this place."
There were gravity and dignity in his words. The majesty of a government, the dignity of even the simplest and most democratic form of government, the unified needs, the concentrated wish of many millions expressed in the persons of a few,—these are the things which can not fail to impress even the most ignorant and insensitive as deeply as the most extravagant pageantry of the proudest monarchy. They did not fail to impress Josephine St. Auban, brilliant and audacious thinker though she was, and used to the pomp of Old World courts. At once she felt almost a sense of fright, of terror. The silence of these other gentlemen, so able to hold their peace, came to her mind with the impress of some mighty power. She half shrank back into her chair.
"Madam, you have no need of fear," broke in the deep voice of the gentleman who had escorted her thither, and who now observed her perturbation. "We shall not harm you—I think not even criticize you seriously. Our wish is wholly for your own good."
"Assuredly," resumed the first speaker. "That is the wish of all my friends here. But let us come now to the point. Madam, to be frank with you, you have, as we just have said, been much concerned of late with attempts at the colonization and deportation of negroes from this country. You at least have not hesitated to undertake a work which has daunted the imagination of our ablest minds. Precisely such was once my own plan. My counselors dissuaded me. I lacked your courage."
"There seemed no other way," she broke in hurriedly, her convictions conquering her timidity. "I wanted so much to do something—not alone for these blacks—but something for the good of America, the good of the world. And I failed, to-day."
"The work of the Colonization Society has gone on for many years," gently insisted the first speaker, raising a hand, "and made it no serious complications. Your own work has been much bolder, and, to be frank, there have been complications. Oh, we do not criticize you. On the contrary, we have asked your presence here that we might understandingly converse on these things to which you have given so much attention."
"If I have erred," she ventured, "it has been done within the limitations of human wisdom; yet my convictions were absolutely sincere—at least I may assure you of so much. I have not wished to break any law, to violate convictions on either side. I only wanted to do some good in the world."
"We are quite sure, my dear lady, that the sentiments of your mind are precisely those of our own. But perhaps you may be less aware than ourselves of complications which may rise. Our friend who sits by you has found occasion to write again in unmeasured terms to the representatives of Austria. We are advised of your affiliations with the Hungarian movement—in short, we are perhaps better advised of your movements than you yourself are aware. We know of these blacks which have been purchased and deported by your agents, but we also know that large numbers of slaves have been enticed away from their owners, that whole plantations have been robbed of their labor, and this under the protection—indeed, under the very name—of this attempt which you have set on foot. Has this been done by your knowledge, Madam? I anticipate your answer. I am sure that it has not."
"No! No!" she rejoined. "Assuredly, no! That is a matter entirely without my knowledge. You shock me unspeakably by this news. I have not heard of it. I should be loath to believe it! I have spent my own funds in this matter, and I have told my own agents to do nothing in the slightest contravention of the laws."
"None the less, these things have been done, my dear lady. They have awakened the greatest feeling in the South—a feeling of animosity which extends even to the free colonies of blacks which have been established. The relations between the two great sections of this country are already strained sufficiently. We deprecate, indeed we fear, anything which may cause a conflict, an outbreak of sectional feeling."
"Gentlemen, you must believe me," she replied, firmly and with dignity, "I have been as ignorant as I am innocent of any such deeds on the part of my agents. While I do not agree that any human being can be the property of another, I will waive that point; and I have given no aid to any undertaking which contemplated taking from any man what he himself considered to be his property, and what the laws of the land accorded him as his property. My undertaking was simply intended as a solution of all those difficulties—for both sides, and justly—"
"Madam, I rejoice to hear those words,—rejoice beyond measure! They accord entirely with the opinion we have formed of you."
"Then you have watched me!—I have been—"
"This is a simple and democratic country, Madam," was the quiet answer, although perhaps there might have been the trace of a smile on the close-set mouth of the speaker. "We do not spy on any one. Your acts have been quite within public knowledge. You yourself have not sought to leave them secret. Should these facts surprise you?"
"They almost terrify me. What have I done!"
"There is no need of apprehension on your part. Let us assure you of that at once. We are glad that you, whom we recognize as the moving spirit in this deportation enterprise, have not sanctioned certain of the acts of your agents. There was one—a former army officer—with whom there labored a revolutionist, a German, recently from Europe. Is it not so?"
"It is true," she assented. "They were my chief agents. But as for that officer, this country has none more eager to offer his sword to the flag when the time shall come. I am sure it is but his zeal which has caused offense. I would plead for his reinstatement. He may have been indiscreet."
"We shall listen to what you say. But in addition to these, there was a former slave girl, who has been somewhat prominent in meetings which these two have carried on in different parts of the country. In the words of the southern press, this girl has been used as a decoy."
"Lily!" exclaimed Josephine. "It must have been she! Yes, I had such a person in my employ—in very humble capacity. But, Sir, I assure you I have not seen her for more than two months. I had supposed her busy with these others on the lecture platform."
"She is not now so engaged," interrupted a voice from the shadows on the other side of the table.
"Then she has been arrested?" demanded Josephine.
"That is not the term; yet it is true that she sailed on one of your own colonization ships last week. Her fortune will lie elsewhere hereafter. It was her own wish."
A sudden sense of helplessness smote upon Josephine St. Auban. Here, even in this republic, were great and silent powers with which the individual needed to contend. Absorbed for the time in that which was nearest her heart, she had forgotten her own fortunes. Now she suddenly half rose for the first time.
"But, gentlemen," said she, as she held out in her hand some papers which crackled in her trembling grasp,—"after all, we are at cross purposes. This is not necessary. My own work is at an end, already! This very morning it came to an end, and for ever. Will you not look at these?"
"How do you mean, Madam?" The tall grave man near by turned upon her his beetling brows, his piercing dark eyes. "Your work was worthy of approval in many ways. What has happened that it should cease?"
"This!" she said, handing to him the papers which she held. "I have a report to-day from my agents in Europe. Gentlemen, since I must mention these things,—I have been possessor of a fortune in my own name which might have been called considerable. I had estates in France and in Austria. This advises me that my estates have been confiscated by the governments in both countries—they got word there, in some way—"
"It was Hulsemann!" ejaculated the dark man, as to himself. "Austria's man here!"
She went on: "If I am not welcome in this country, whither shall I go? I am an exile as I stand before you. I am a widow. I have no living kin. Moreover, I am an exile, impoverished, as I stand. My fortune has been dissipated—honestly so, gentlemen; but since it is gone, my powers are at an end. If I have displeased you, I shall do so no longer. Here are my proofs."
She placed her papers in the hand of her escort, the nearest of these grave and silent men. A nod from the leader at the head of the table caused this tall and dark gentleman to rise and seek a place closer to the window in order that he might find better light for reading. His glasses upon his nose, he scanned the papers gravely. A sudden smile broke out upon his face, so that he passed a hand across his face to force it back into its usual lines of gravity.
"Gentlemen," said he, at length, solemnly, "this lady has been kind to come to meet us, and you all are witness that her dealings have been perfectly frank and sincere. I confess, however, I am somewhat puzzled over this document which she has given me. I presume we may well mark it 'Exhibit A.' If you do not mind, I will read it to you."
Slowly, deliberately, employing all the tones of his deep and sonorous voice, which before then had thrilled audiences of thousands in every portion of his country, he read; his face studiously turned away that he might not see the dismayed gestures of the woman who had handed him these papers:
"MY DEAR MADAME:
"I take in hand my pen to tell you how life goes with us in this locality. The business of Hector is improved one half this year. We have green blinds on all sides of the house, and a vine that grows also. The mother of Hector is kind to me. We have abundance and peace at this place. But, Madame, that which it is which I write you, there is come but now the baby of Hector and myself Jeanne. In all this locality there is no baby like this. Madame, we have said to name it for yourself, Josephine St. Auban Jeanne Marie Fournier. Moreover, Madame, it is advise that for a baby so remarkable a godmother is necessary. I take my pen in hand to inquire of madame whether in the kindness of her heart madame could come to see us and be present at this christening of this child most extraordinary. I have the assurance also of Hector that the remarkable qualities of this baby will warrant the presence of madame. A reply poste restante, address on St. Genevieve in Missouri, will arrive to your faithful and obedient servant,
Before this singular document had been half concluded there were sounds of shifting chairs, bursts of stifled laughter. The tall grave man nevertheless went on, solemnly finishing this communication. As for Josephine, she had shrunk back in her chair, knowing not which way to turn.
"Sirs," concluded the gentleman who now occupied the floor, "while I do not find full confirmation herein of all the statements this lady has made to us, I do discover this document to be not without interest. At its close, I find in a different handwriting—Madam, may I guess it to be your own?—the addendum—let me see,—Ah, yes, it says merely two words: 'The darling!'"
He approached, and laid just the lightest, gentlest hand upon the shoulder of the disturbed woman, who sat speechless, her face suffused. "Your documents are regular, Madam," he said kindly. "As for this other, which perhaps was the one you intended me to read, that is private matter. It is not necessary even for myself to read it. There will be no further exhibits in this case. I am sure that I voice the feeling of every gentleman present here however, Madam, if I say that although we have not curiosity as to the terms of this communication, we have deep regret over its advices to you. If your fortunes have been ruined, they have been ruined in a cause in which a kind heart and an active brain were deeply enlisted. You have our regrets."
"Sir!" He turned now toward the tall gentleman who sat silent at the head of the table. "I am sure there is no further need for this lady's attendance here. For my own part, I thank her. She has offered us no remedy, I fear. In turn, there seems none we can extend to her."
"Wait a moment!" interrupted a voice from the opposite side of the table.
The leader shifted in his seat as he turned toward Josephine St. Auban. "This is the gentleman from Kentucky," he said. "We usually find his words of interest. Tarry, then, for just a moment longer."
A tall figure was visible in the half light, as the clear voice of the gentleman so described went on.
"Sir, and gentlemen, there is no Kentuckian,—no, nor any man from any other state here present—who could suffer this matter to conclude just as it is now. This is not all. This matter but begins. We have invited to attend us a lady whose activities we considered dangerous,—that is the plain truth of it, and we all know it, and she may know it. Instead of that, we find here with us now a woman in distress. Which of us would have the courage to endure with equal equanimity that which she faces now? It has already been said here that we have been not unmindful of the plans of this lady, not wholly unacquainted with her history. We know that although a revolutionist at heart, an alien on our shores, her purposes have been clean, have been noble. Would to God we had more such in our own country! But now, in a plan which has proved wholly futile before her time, which would prove futile after it, even though backed by the wealth of a nation,—she has failed, not to our ruin, but to her own.
"It is not without my knowledge that this lady at one time, according to popular report, was asked to undertake a journey which later resulted, in considerable personal inconvenience, not to say indignity, to herself. Is there no way, gentlemen, in which, especially in consideration of her present material circumstances, this government—I mean to say this country—can make some amends for that?"
"Madam," began the leader at the head of the table, "I did not predict wrongly regarding our friend from Kentucky; but in reply to him, I myself must say, as I have already said, we are but a simple republic,—all our acts must be open and known. What special fund, my dear sir,"—this to the speaker, who still retained his position,—"in what manner, indeed, could this be arranged?"
"In the easiest way in the world," rejoined the Kentuckian. "This lady, whatever be her nationality, is at heart much identified with the cause of Hungary, which she has been so good as to confuse with our own cause here in America. Her idea is to advance democracy—and to advance pure nationalism. Very well. We have already invited Louis Kossuth to come to America as the guest of this country. Even now one of the vessels of our navy is approaching his port of exile in Turkey to carry him hither. In the entertainment of Louis Kossuth large sums of money will be—and it is proper that they should be—expended. The people demand it. The dignity of this nation must be maintained. Popular approval will meet the proper expenditures for any such entertainment.
"Now then, gentlemen,"—and he raised an argumentative forefinger,—"there must be committees of entertainment; there must be those able to interpret, those competent to arrange large plans, and to do so courteously, with dignity." He bowed toward the somewhat dejected figure of the only woman present, who scarce ventured to raise her eyes to his, startled as she was by the sudden turn of events,