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   Chapter 3 No.3

An American Politician By F. Marion Crawford Characters: 20652

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02


"Dear Ronald,–You can't imagine what a funny place Boston is. I wish you were here, it would be so nice to talk about them together–I mean the people, of course, for they are much funnier than the place they live in. But I think they are very nice, too, particularly some of the men. I don't understand the women in the least–they go in awfully for sets, if you understand that kind of thing–and art, too, and literature. The other day at a lunch party–that is what they call it here–they sat and talked about pictures for ever so long. I wonder what you would have said if you had been there! but then there were no men, and so you couldn't have been, could you? And the sets, too. The girls who come out together, all in a batch, like a hive of bees swarming, spend the rest of their lives together; and they have what they call sewing circles, that go on all their lives. There are sewing circles of old frumps sixty years old who have never been parted since they all went to their first ball together. They sew for the poor; they don't sew so very much, you know; but then they have a tremendous lunch afterwards. I sewed for the poor the other day, because one of the sewing circles asked me to their meeting. I sewed two buttons on to the end of something, and then I ate six kinds of salad, and went to drive with Mr. Vancouver. I dare say it does a lot of good in its way, but I think the poor must be awfully good-natured.

"It is quite too funny about driving, too. You may go out with a man in a sleigh, but you couldn't possibly go with him on wheels–on the same road, at the same hour, same man, same everything, except the wheels. You agree to go out next week in a sleigh with Mr. Vancouver; but when the day comes, if it has happened to thaw and there is no snow, and he comes in a buggy, you couldn't possibly go with him, because it would be quite too improper. But I mean to, some day, just to see what they will say. I wish you would come! We would do a lot of driving together, and by and by, in the spring, they say one can ride here, but only along the roads, for everything else is so thick with steam-engines and Irishmen that one could not possibly go across country.

"But although they are so funny, they are really very nice, and awfully clever. I don't think there are nearly so many clever men anywhere else in society, when once you have got over their Americanisms. Most of them would be in Parliament at home; but nobody goes into Parliament here, except Mr. Harrington–that is, into Congress, which is the same thing, you know. They say politics in America are not at all fit for gentlemen, and they spend an hour or two every day in abusing all the politicians, instead of turning them out and managing things themselves. But Mr. Harrington is going to be a senator as soon as he can, and he is so clever that I am sure he will make a great reform.

"I don't think of anything else to say just now, but if I do I will write again–only it's unfeminine to write two letters running, so you must answer at once. And if you should want to travel this winter you can come here; they will treat you ever so much better than you deserve. So good-by. Yours ever sincerely,

"Joe Thorn."

The precise nature of the friendship that existed between Josephine Thorn and Ronald Surbiton could not be accurately inferred from the above specimen of correspondence; and indeed the letter served rather to confuse than to enlighten the recipient as to the nature of his relations with the writer. He was, of course, very much in love with Joe Thorn; he knew it, because he had always been in love with her since they were children together, so there could be no possible doubt in the matter. But whether she cared a jot for him and his feelings he could not clearly make out, from the style of the hurried, ungrammatical sentences, crammed with abbreviations and unpermissible elisions. True, she said three times that she hoped he would come to America; but America was a long way off, and she very likely reckoned on his laziness and dislike to foreign traveling. It is so easy for a young woman writing from Boston to say to a young man residing in Scotland, "Do come over for a few days"–Surbiton thought it would be a good joke to take her at her word and go. The idea of seeing her again so much sooner than he had expected was certainly uppermost in his mind as he began to make his resolution; but it was sustained and strengthened by a couple of allusions Joe had made to men of her acquaintance in Boston, not to say by the sweeping remark that there were more clever men in Boston society than anywhere else, which made his vanity smart rather unpleasantly. When Josephine used to tell him, half in earnest, half in jest, that he was "so dreadfully stupid," he did not feel much hurt; but it was different when she took the trouble to write all the way from America to tell him that the men there were much cleverer than at home. He had a great mind to go and see for himself whether it were true. Nevertheless, the hunting was particularly good just at the time when he got the letter, and being rather prudent of counsel, Ronald determined to wait until a hard frost should spoil his temper and give the necessary stimulus to his activity, before he packed his boxes for a western voyage.

As for Josephine, it was very natural that she should feel a little homesick, and wish to have some one of her own people with her. In spite of the favorable views she expressed about America, Boston, and her new acquaintances, her position was not without some drawbacks in her own eyes. She felt herself out of her natural element, and the very great admiration she received in society, though pleasant enough in itself, was not to her so entirely satisfactory as it would have been to a woman older or younger than she, or to a more thorough flirt. An older woman would have enjoyed more keenly the flattery of it; a younger girl would have found it more novel and fresh, and the accomplished professional society flirt–there is no other word to express her–would have rejoiced exceedingly over a great holocaust of victims.

In writing to Surbiton and suggesting to him to come to Boston, Joe had no intention of fanning his hopes into flame. She never thought much about Ronald. She had long been used to him, and regarded him in the light of a marriage fixture, though she had never exactly promised to marry him; she had been brought up to suppose she would, and that was all. When or where the marriage would actually take place was a question she did not care to raise, and if ever Surbiton raised it she repressed him ruthlessly. For the present she would look about the world, seeing she had been transported into a new part of it, and she found it amusing. Only she would like to have a companion to whom she could talk. Ronald would be so convenient, and after all it was a great advantage to be able to make use of the man to whom she was engaged. She never had known any other girl who could do that, and she rather prided herself on the fact that she was not ridiculous, although she was in the most traditionally absurd position, that of betrothal. She would like to compare Ronald with the men she had met lately.

The desire for comparison had increased of late. A fortnight had passed since she had first met John Harrington, and she had made up her mind. He was handsome, though his hair was red and he had no beard, and she liked him; she liked him very much; it was quite different from her liking for Ronald. She liked Ronald, she said to herself that she loved him dearly, partly because she expected to marry him, and partly because he was so good and so much in love with herself. He would take any amount of trouble for anything she wanted. But John was different. She knew very well that she was thinking much more of him than he of her, if indeed he thought of her at all. But she was a little ashamed of it, and in order to justify herself in her own eyes she was cold and sarcastic in her manner to him, so that people noticed it, and even John Harrington himself, who never thought twice whether his acquaintances liked him or disliked him, remarked one day to Mrs. Wyndham that he feared he had offended Miss Thorn, as she took such particular pains to treat him differently from others. On the other hand Joe was always extremely candid to Pocock Vancouver.

It was on a Monday that John made the aforesaid remark. All Boston was at Mrs. Wyndham's, excepting all the other ladies who lived in Beacon Street, and that is a very considerable portion of Boston, as every schoolboy knows. John was standing near the tea-table talking to Mrs. Sam, when Joe entered the room and came up to the hostess, who welcomed her warmly. She nodded coldly to John without shaking hands, and joined a group of young girls near by.

"It is very strange," said John to Mrs. Wyndham. "I wonder whether I can have done anything Miss Thorn resents. I am not sensitive, but it is impossible to mistake people when they look at one like that. She always does it just in that way."

Mrs. Wyndham looked inquiringly at John for a moment, and the quick smile of ready comprehension played on her sensitive mouth.

"Are you really quite sure you have not offended her?" she asked.

"Quite sure," John answered, in a tone of conviction. "Besides, I never offend any one, certainly not ladies. I never did such a thing in my whole life."

"Not singly," said Mrs. Wyndham, laughing. "You offend people in large numbers when you do it at all, especially newspaper people. Sam read that ridiculous article in the paper to me last night."

"Which paper?" asked John, smiling. "They have most of them been at me this week."

"The paper," answered Mrs. Sam, "the horrid paper. You do not suppose I would mention such a publication in my house?"

"Oh, my old enemy," laughed John. "I do not mind that in the least. One might almost think those articles were written by Miss Thorn."

"Perhaps they are," answered Mrs. Wyndham. "Really," she added, glancing at Josephine, whom Pocock Vancouver had just detached from her group of girls, "really you may not be so very, very far wrong." John's glance followed the direction of her eyes, and he saw Vancouver. He looked ste

adily at the man's delicate pale features and intellectual head, and at the end of half a minute he and Mrs. Wyndham looked at each other again. She probably regretted the hint she had carelessly dropped, but she met Harrington's gaze frankly.

"I did not mean to say it," she said, for John looked so grave that she was frightened. "It was only a guess."

"But have you any reason to think it might be the truth?" asked John.

"None whatever–really none, except that he differs so much from you in every way, politically speaking."

She knew very well that Vancouver hated John, and she had often thought it possible that the offensive articles in question came from the pen of the former. There was a tone of superior wit and a ring of truer English in them than are generally met with in the average office work of a daily newspaper.

"I do not believe Vancouver writes them," said John, slowly. "He is not exactly a friend, but he is not an enemy either."

Mrs. Wyndham, who knew better than that, held her peace. She was not a mischief-maker, and moreover she liked both the men too well to wish a quarrel between them. She busied herself at the tea-table for a moment, and John stood near her, watching the moving crowd. Now and then his eyes rested on Josephine Thorn's graceful figure, and he noticed how her expressive features lighted up in the conversation. John could hear something of their conversation, which was somewhat noisy. They were talking in that strain of objectless question and answer which may be stupid to idiocy or clever to the verge of wit, according to the talkers. Joe called it "chaff."

"I have learned America," said Joe.

"Indeed!" said Vancouver. "You have not been long about it; but then, you will say there is not much to learn."

"I never believe in places till I have lived in them," said Joe.

"Nor in people till you have seen them, I suppose," returned Vancouver. "But now that you have learned America, of course you believe in us all without exception. We are the greatest nation on earth–I suppose you have heard that?"

"Yes; you told me so the other day; but it needs all the faith I have in your judgment to believe it. If any one else had said it, you know, I should have thought there was some mistake."

"Oh no; it is pretty true, taking it all round," returned Vancouver, with a smile. "But I am tremendously flattered at the faith you put in my sayings."

"Oh, are you? That is odd, you know, because if you are so much flattered at my believing you, you would not be much disappointed if I doubted you."

"I beg to differ. Excuse me"–

"Not at all," answered Joe, laughing. "Only we have old-fashioned prejudices at home. We begin by expecting to be believed, and are sometimes a good deal annoyed if any one says we are telling fibs."

"Of course, if you put it in that way," said Vancouver. "But I suppose it is not a very bad fib to say one's country is the greatest on earth. I am sure you English say it quite as often and as loudly as we do, and, you see, we cannot both be right, possibly."

"No, not exactly. But suppose two men, any two, like you and Mr. Harrington for instance, each made a point of telling every one you met that you were the greatest man on earth."

"It is conceivable that we might both be wrong," said Vancouver, laughing at the idea.

"But one of you might be right," objected Joe.

"No–that is not conceivable," retorted Vancouver.

"No? Let us ask Mr. Harrington. Mr. Harrington!"

Joe turned towards John and called him. He was only a step from her, and joined the two instantly. He looked from one to the other inquiringly.

"Here is a great question to be decided, Mr. Harrington," said Joe. "I was saying to Mr. Vancouver that, supposing each of you asserted that he was the greatest man on earth, it would–I mean, how could the point be settled?" John stared for a moment.

"If you insist upon raising such a very remarkable point of precedence, Miss Thorn," he answered calmly, "I am sure Vancouver will agree with me to leave the decision to you also."

Joe looked slightly annoyed. She had brought the retort on herself.

"Pardon me," said Vancouver, quickly, "I object to the contest. The match is not a fair one. Mr. Harrington means to be the greatest man on earth, or in the water under the earth, whereas I have no such aspiration."

Instead of being grateful to Vancouver for coming to her rescue in the rather foolish position in which she was placed, Joe felt unaccountably annoyed. She was willing to make sure of John herself, if she could, but she was not prepared to allow that privilege to any one else. Accordingly she turned upon Vancouver before John could answer. "The question began in a foolish comparison, Mr. Vancouver," she said coldly. "I think you are inclined to make it personal?"

"I believe it became personal from the moment you hit upon Mr. Harrington and me as illustrations of what you were saying, Miss Thorn," retorted Vancouver, very blandly, but with a disagreeable look in his eyes. He was angry at Joe's rebuke.

John stood calmly by without exhibiting the least shade of annoyance. The chaff of a mere girl, and the little satirical thrusts of a lady's man like Vancouver, did not seem to him of much importance. Joe, however, did not vouchsafe any answer to Vancouver's last remark, and it devolved on John to say something to relieve the awkwardness of the situation.

"Have you become reconciled to our methods of amusement, Miss Thorn?" he asked, "or shall we devise something different from the everlasting sleighing and five o'clock tea, and dinner parties and 'dancing classes'?"

"Oh, do not remind me of all that," said Joe. "I did not mean half of it, you know." She turned to John, and Vancouver moved away in pursuit of Sybil Brandon, who had just entered the room.

"Tell me," said Joe, when Pocock was gone, "do you like Mr. Vancouver? You are great friends, are you not?" John looked at her inquiringly.

"I should not say we were very great friends," he answered, "because we are not intimate; but we have always been on excellent terms, as far as I know. Vancouver is a very clever fellow."

"Yes," said Joe, thoughtfully, "I fancy he is. You do not mind my having asked, do you?"

"Not in the least," said John, quietly. His face had grown very grave again, and he seemed suddenly absorbed by some thought. "Let us sit down," he said presently, and the two installed themselves on a divan in a corner.

"You are not in the least inquisitive," remarked Joe, as soon as they were settled.

"What makes you say that?" asked John.

"It was such a silly thing, you know, and you never asked what it was all about."

"When you called me? No–I did not hear what led up to it, and I supposed from what you said afterwards that I understood."

"Did you? What did you think?" asked Joe.

"I thought from the question about Vancouver that you wanted to put us into an awkward position in order to find out whether we were friends."

"No," said Joe, with a little laugh, "I am not so clever as that. It was pure silliness–chaff, you know–that sort of thing."

"Oh," ejaculated John, still quite unmoved, "then it was not of any importance."

"Very silly things sometimes turn out to be very important. Saul, you know–was not it he?–was looking for asses and he found a kingdom."

John laughed suddenly. "And so it is clear which part Vancouver and I played in the business," he said. "But where is the kingdom?"

"I did not mean that," said Joe, seriously. "I am not making fun any more. I have not been successful in my chaff to-day. I should think that in your career it would be very important for you to know who are your friends. Is it not?"

"Certainly," said John, looking at her curiously. "It is very important; but I think political life is generally much simpler than people suppose. It is rather like fighting. The man who hits you is your enemy. The man who does not is practically your friend. Do you mean in regard to Vancouver?"

"Yes."

"Vancouver never hit me, that I can swear," said John, "and I am very sure I never hit him."

"I dare say I am mistaken," said Joe. "You ought to know best. Let us leave him alone."

"With all my heart," answered John.

"Tell me what you have been doing, Mr. Harrington," said Joe, after a moment's pause; "all the papers are full of you."

"Yes, I have been rather in the passive mood during the last week. I have been standing up to be shot at."

"Without shooting back? What are they so angry about?"

"The truth," said John, calmly. "They do not like to hear it."

"What is truth–in this instance?"

"Apparently something so unpleasant that the mere mention of it has roused the bile of every penny-a-liner in the Republican press. I undertook to demonstrate that one of the fifteen millions of the 'ablest men in the country,' whom you are always hearing about, is a swindler. He is, but he does not like to be told so."

"I suppose not," said Joe. "I wonder if any one likes unpleasant truths. But what do you mean to do now? Are you going to fight it out? I hope so!"

"Of course, in good time. One can hardly retire from such a position as mine; they would make an end of me in a week and quarrel over my bones. But the real fight will be fought by and by, when the elections come on."

"How exciting it must all be," said Joe. "I wish I were a man!"

"And an American?" asked John, smiling. "How are the mighty fallen! You were laughing at us and our politics the day before yesterday, and now you are wishing you were one of us yourself. I think you must be naturally fond of fighting"–

"Fond of a row?" suggested Miss Thorn, with a laugh. "Yes, I fancy I am. I am fond of all active things. Are not you?"

"I do not know," said John. "I never thought much about it. But I suppose I should be called rather an active person."

"Is not she beautiful?" ejaculated Miss Thorn, looking across the room at Sybil Brandon, whose fair head was just visible between two groups of people.

"Who?" asked John, who was looking at his companion.

"Miss Brandon," said Joe. "Look at her, over there. I think she is the most beautiful thing I ever saw."

"Yes," said John, "she is very beautiful."

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