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   Chapter 5 No.5

An American Politician By F. Marion Crawford Characters: 19094

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02


"Why can't you get in, Mr. Vancouver?" inquired Miss Schenectady, when she and Joe were at last packed into the deep booby. It was simply a form of invitation. There was no reason why Mr. Vancouver should not get in, and with a word of thanks he did so. Ten minutes later the three were seated round the fire in Miss Schenectady's drawing-room.

"It was very fine, was it not, Miss Thorn?" said Vancouver.

"Yes," said Joe, staring at the fire.

"There are some people," said Miss Schenectady, "it does not seem to make much difference what they say, but it is always fine."

"Is that ironical?" asked Vancouver.

"Why, goodness gracious no! Of course not! I am John Harrington's very best friend. I only mean to say."

"What, Aunt Zo??" inquired Joe, not yet altogether accustomed to the peculiar implications of her aunt's language.

"Why, what I said, of course; it sounds very fine."

"Then you do not believe it all?" asked Vancouver.

"I don't understand politics," said the old lady. "You might ring the bell, Joe, and ask Sarah for some tea."

"Nobody understands politics," said Vancouver. "When people do, there will be an end of them. Politics consist in one half of the world trying to drive paradoxes down the throats of the other half."

Joe laughed a little.

"I do not know anything about politics here," she said, "though I do at home, of course. I must say, though, Mr. Harrington did not seem so very paradoxical."

"Oh no," answered Vancouver, blandly, "I did not mean in this case. Harrington is very much in earnest. But it is like war, you see. When every one understands it thoroughly, it will stop by universal consent. Did you ever read Bulwer's 'Coming Race'?"

"Yes," said Joe. "I always read those books. Vril, and that sort of thing, you mean? Oh yes."

"Approximately," answered Vancouver. "It was an allegory, you know. A hundred years hence people will write a book to explain what Bulwer meant. Vril stands for the cumulative power of potential science, of course."

"I think Bulwer's word shorter, and a good deal easier to understand," said Joe, laughing.

"It is a great thing to be great," remarked Miss Schenectady. "Sarah, I think you might bring us some tea, please, and ask John if he couldn't stir the furnace a little. And then to have people explain you. Goethe must be a good deal amused, I expect, when people write books to prove that Byron was Euphorion." Miss Schenectady was fond of German literature, and the extent of her reading was a constant surprise to her niece.

"What a lot of things you know, Aunt Zo?!" said Joe. "But what had Bulwer to do with war, Mr. Vancouver?"

"Oh, in the book–the 'Coming Race,' you know–they abolished war because they could kill each other so easily."

"How nice that would be!" exclaimed Joe, looking at him.

"Why, you perfectly shock me, Joe," cried Miss Schenectady.

"I mean, to have no war," returned Joe, sweetly.

"Oh; I belonged to the Peace Conference myself," said her aunt, immediately pacified. "Well, yes. Perhaps you could bring us a little cake, Sarah? War is a terrible thing, my dear, as Mr. Vancouver will tell you."

Vancouver, however, was silent. He probably did not care to have it remembered that he was old enough to carry a musket in the Rebellion. Joe understood and asked no Questions about it, and Vancouver was grateful for her tact. She rose and began to pour out some tea.

"You began talking about Mr. Harrington's speech," said she presently, "but we got away from the subject. Is it all true?"

"That is scarcely a fair question, Miss Thorn," answered Vancouver. "You see, I belong to the opposite party in politics."

"But Mr. Harrington said he wanted both parties to combine. Besides, you do not take any active part in it all."

"I have very strong opinions, nevertheless," replied Pocock.

"Strong opinions and activity ought to go together," said Joe.

"Not always."

"But if you have strong opinions and disagree with Mr. Harrington," persisted Miss Thorn, "then you have a strong opinion against your two parties acting together for the common good."

"Not exactly that," said Vancouver, embarrassed between the directness of Joe's question and a very strong impression that he had better not say anything against John Harrington.

"Then what do you believe? Will you please give this cup to Miss Schenectady?"

Vancouver rose quickly to escape.

"Cream and sugar, Miss Schenectady?" he said. "Ah, Miss Thorn has already put them in. It is such celebrated tea of yours! Do you know, I always look forward to a cup of it as one of the greatest pleasures in life!"

"When you have quite done praising the tea, will you please tell me what you believe about Mr. Harrington's speech?" said the inexorable Joe, drowning her aunt's reply to Vancouver's polite remark.

Thus cornered, Vancouver faced the difficulty.

"I believe it was a very good speech," he said mildly.

"Do you believe what he said was true?"

"A great deal of it was true, but I assure you that Harrington is very enthusiastic. Much of it was extremely imaginative."

"I dare say; all that about making a Civil Service, I suppose?"

"Well, not exactly. I think all good Republicans hope to have a regular Civil Service some day. It is necessary, or will be so before long."

"But then it is what he said about that ridiculous Navigation Act that you object to?" pursued Joe, without mercy.

"Really, I think it would be an advantage to repeal it. It is only kept up for the sake of a few builders who have influence."

"Ah, I see," exclaimed Joe triumphantly, "you think the hope he expressed that bribery and that sort of thing might be suppressed was altogether imaginary?"

"I hope not, Miss Thorn. But I am sure there is not nearly so much of it as he made out. It was a very great exaggeration."

"Was there? Really, he only used the word once in the most general way. I remember very well, at the end; he said, 'when bribery, corruption, and all extortion are crushed forever;' anybody might say that!"

"You make out a wonderfully good case, Miss Thorn," said Vancouver, who was not altogether pleased; "was the speech printed before Harrington spoke it this evening?"

"No!" exclaimed Joe. "I have a very good memory, in that way, just to remember what I hear. I could repeat word for word everything he said, and everything you have said since during the evening."

"What a terrible person you are!" said Vancouver, smiling pleasantly. "Well, then, now that you have proved every word of Harrington's speech out of an opponent's evidence, I will tell you frankly how it is that I do not agree with him. He is a Democrat, I am a Republican. That is the whole story. I do not believe, nor shall I ever believe, that any large number of the two parties can work together. I cannot help my belief in the least; it is a matter of conscience. Nevertheless, I have a very great respect for Harrington, and as I take no active part whatever in any political contest, my opinion of his politics will never interfere with my personal feeling for him."

Frankness seemed to be Mr. Vancouver's strong point. Joe was obliged to admit that he spoke clearly, even if she did not greatly respect his logic. During all this time, Miss Schenectady had been sipping her tea in silence.

"Joe," she said at last, "you are a perfect Socrates for questions. You ought to have been a lawyer."

"I wish I were," said Joe, laughing, "or Socrates himself."

"Yes, you ought to have been. Here you know nothing at all about this thing, and you have been talking like anything for half an hour. I think Socrates was perfectly horrid."

"So do I," said Vancouver, laughing aloud.

"Why?" Joe asked, turning to her aunt.

"To be always stopping people in the street, and button-holing them with his questions. Of course it was very clever, as Plato makes it out; but I do wish he could have met me–when I was young, my dear. I would have answered him once and for all!"

"Try me, Aunt Zo?, for practice," said Joe, "until you meet him."

"Really, I expect you would do almost as well. Look at Mr. Vancouver, he is quite used up."

The case was not so serious with Mr. Vancouver as the old lady made it out to be. He was silent and to all intents vanquished for the present, but it was not long before he turned the conversation to other things, and succeeded in making himself very agreeable. He admired Josephine very much, and though she occasionally made him feel very uncomfortable, he always returned to the charge with renewed intelligence and sweetness. Joe liked him too, in spite of an unfounded suspicion she felt that he was dangerous. He was always ready when she needed anything at a party; he never bored her, but whenever he saw she was wearied by any one else he came up and saved her, clearing a place for himself at her side with an ease that bespoke long and constant experience of the world. Women, especially young women, always like men of that description; they are flattered at the attention of a man who is so evidently able to choose, and they enjoy the immunity from all annoyance and weariness that such men are able to carry with them.

Consequently Joe accepted the attentions of Pocock Vancouver with a certain amount of satisfaction, and she had not been displeased that he should come to Miss Schenectady's house for tea. The evening passed quickly, and Vancouver took his leave. As he opened the front door to let hi

mself out he nearly fell over a small telegraph messenger.

"Thorn here?" inquired the boy, laconically.

"Yes, I'll take it in," said Vancouver quickly. He went back with the telegram, and the boy stood inside the door waiting for the receipt. He noticed the stamp of the Cable Office on the envelope.

"Miss Thorn," said Vancouver, entering the drawing-room again, hat in hand, "I just met this telegram on the steps, so I brought it in. It may need an answer, you know."

"Thanks, so much," said Joe, tearing open the pale yellow cover. She was startled, not being accustomed to receive telegrams. Her brow contracted as she read the contents, and she tapped her small foot on the carpet impatiently.

Thorn, care Schenectady,

Beacon, Boston.

Sailed to-day.

Ronald.

Josephine crushed the paper in her hand and signed the receipt with the pencil Vancouver offered her.

"Thanks, so much," she said again, but in a different tone of voice.

"Any answer?" suggested Vancouver.

"Thanks, no," answered Joe. "Good-night again."

"Good-night." And Vancouver departed, wondering what the message could have been.

Miss Schenectady had looked on calmly throughout the little scene, and nodded to Pocock as he left the room; her peculiarities were chiefly those of diction; she was a well-bred old lady, not without wisdom.

"Nothing wrong, Joe?" she inquired, when alone with her niece.

"I hardly know," answered Joe. "Ronald has just sailed from England. I suppose he will be here in ten days."

"Business here?" asked Miss Schenectady.

"Oh dear, no! He knows nothing about business. I wish he would stay at home. What a bore!"

It was evident that Joe had changed her mind since she had written to Ronald a fortnight before. It seemed to her now, when she looked forward to Surbiton's coming, that he would not find his place in Boston society so easily as she had done. Of course he would expect to see her every day, and to spend all his leisure hours at Miss Schenectady's house. Whatever she happened to be doing, it would always be necessary to take Ronald into consideration, and the prospect did not please her at all.

Ronald was a dear good fellow, of course, and she meant to marry him in the end–at least, she probably would. But then, she intended to marry him at a more convenient season, some time in the future. She knew him well, and she was certain that when he saw her surrounded by her Boston acquaintances, his British nature would assert itself, and he would claim her, or try to claim her, and persuade her to go away. She bid Miss Schenectady good night, and went to her room; and presently, when she was sure every one was in bed in the house, she stole down to the drawing-room again, and sat alone by the remains of the coal-fire, thinking what she should do.

Josephine Thorn was young and more full of life and activity than most girls of her age. She enjoyed what came in her way to enjoy with a passionate zest, and she had the reputation of being somewhat capricious and changeable. But she was honest in all her thoughts, and very clear-sighted. People often said she spoke her mind too freely, and was not enough in awe of the veiled deity known in society as "The Thing." How she hated it! How many times she had been told that what she said and did was not quite "The Thing." She knew now what Ronald would say when he came, if he found her worshiped on all sides by Pocock Vancouver and his younger and less accomplished compeers. Ronald would say "it was rather rough, you know."

She sat by the fire and thought the matter over, and when she came to formulating in her mind the exact words that Ronald would say, she paused to think of him and how he would look. He was handsome–far handsomer than Vancouver or–or John Harrington. He was very nice; much nicer than Vancouver. John Harrington was different, "nice" did not describe him; but Ronald was nicer than all the other men she knew. He would make a charming husband. At the thought Joe started.

"My husband!" she repeated aloud to herself in the silence. Then she rose quickly to her feet and leaned against the smooth white marble mantelpiece, and buried her face in her small white hands for an instant.

"Oh no, no, no, no!" she cried aloud. "It is impossible; oh no! never! I never really meant it; did I?" She stared at herself in the glass for a few seconds, and her face was very pale. Then she bent over her hands again, and the tears came and wetted them a little, and at last she sat down as she had sat before, and stared vacantly at the fire.

It would be very wrong to break Ronald's heart, she thought. He would come to her so full of hope and gladness; how could she tell him she did not love him?

But how was it possible that in all these years she had never before understood that she could not marry him? It had always seemed so natural to marry Ronald. And yet she must have always really felt just as she did to-night; only she had never realized it, never at all. Why had it come over her so suddenly too? It would have been so much better if she could have seen the truth at home, before she parted from him; for it would be so hard for him to bear it now, after coming across the ocean to see her –so cruelly hard. Dear Ronald; and yet he must be told.

Yes, there was no doubt about it, the very first meeting must explain it to him. He would say–what would he say? He would tell her she liked some one else better.

Some one else! Some one who had stolen away her heart; of course he would say that. But he would be wrong, for there was no one else, not one of all these men she had seen, who had so much as breathed a word of love to her. None whom she liked nearly so much as Ronald, no, not one.

For a long time she sat very quietly, following a train of thought that was half unconscious. Her lips moved now and then, as though she were repeating something to herself, and gradually the pained and anxious expression of her face melted away into a look of peace.

The old gilt clock upon the chimney-piece struck twelve in its shrill steel tones. Josephine started at the sound, and passed one hand over her eyes as though to rouse herself, and at the same time a deep blush spread over her delicate cheek. For with the voice of midnight there was also the voice of a man ringing in her ears, and she heard the two together, so that it seemed as though all the world must hear them also, and her gentle maiden's soul was shamed at the thought.

So it is that our loves are always with us, and though we search ourselves diligently to find them and rebuke them, we find them not; but if we give up searching they come upon us unawares, and speak very soft words. Love also is a gentle thing, full of sweetness and peace, when he comes to us so; and though the maiden blushes at his speaking, she would not stop the ears of her heart against him for all the world; and although the boy trembles and turn pale, and forgets to be boyish when, the fit is on him, nevertheless he goes near and worships, and loses his heart in learning a new language. So kind and soft is love, so tender and sweet-spoken, that you would think he would not so much as ruffle the leaf of a rose, nor breathe too sharply on a violet, lest he should hurt the flower-soul within; and if you treat him hospitably he is kind to the last, so that when he is gone there is still a sweet savor of him left. But if you would drive him roughly away with scorn and rude language, he will stand at your door and will not leave you. Then his wings drop from him, and he grows strong and fierce, and deadly and beautiful, as the fallen archangel of heaven, crying aloud bitter things to you by day and night; till at the last he will break down bolt and bar and panel, and enter your chamber, and drag you out with him to your death in the wild darkness.

But Josephine blushed deeply there in the old-fashioned drawing-room at midnight, and as she turned away she wondered at herself, for she could not believe nor understand what was happening.

Poor girl! She had talked of love so often as an abstract thing, she had seen so many love-makings of others, and so many men had tried to make love to her in her short brilliant life, and she had always thought it could not come near her, because, of course, she really loved Ronald. She had marveled, indeed, at what people were willing to do, and at what they were ready to sacrifice, for a feeling that seemed to her of such little importance as that. It had been an illusion, and the waking had come at last very suddenly. Whoever it might be whom she was destined to take, it was not Ronald. It was madness to think she could be bound forever to him, however much she might admire him and desire him as a friend.

When the clock struck she was thinking of John, and the words he had said that night to his great audience were ringing again in her ears. She blushed indeed at the idea that she was thinking so much of him, but it was not that she believed she loved him. If as yet she really did, she was herself most honestly unconscious of it; and so the blush was not accounted for in the reckoning she made.

She lay awake long, trying to determine what was best to be done, but she could not. One thing she must do; she must explain to Ronald, when he came, that she could never, never marry him.

If only she had a sister, or some one! Dear Aunt Zoruiah was so horrid about such things that it was impossible to talk to her!

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