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   Chapter 6 No.6

An American Politician By F. Marion Crawford Characters: 17827

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02


"Do you know how to skate?" Sybil Brandon asked of Joe as the two young girls, clad in heavy furs, walked down the sunny side of Beacon Street two days later. They were going from Miss Schenectady's to a "lunch party"– one of those social institutions of Boston which had most surprised Joe on her first arrival.

"Of course," answered Joe. "I do not know anything, but I can do everything."

"How nice!" said Sybil. "Then you can go with us to-night. That will be too lovely!"

"What is it?"

"We are all going skating on Jamaica Pond. Nobody has skated for so long here that it is a novelty. I used to be so fond of it."

"We always skate at home, when there is ice," said Joe. "It will be enchanting though, with the full moon and all. What time?"

"Mrs. Sam Wyndham will arrange that," said Sybil. "She is going to matronize us."

"How dreadful, to have to be chaperoned!" ejaculated Joe. "But Mrs. Wyndham is very jolly after all, so it does not much matter."

"I believe they used to have Germans here without any mothers," remarked Sybil, "but they never do now."

"Poor little things, how awfully lonely for them!" laughed Joe.

"Who?"

"The Germans–without their mothers. Oh, I forgot the German was the cotillon. You mean cotillons, without tapestry, as we say."

"Yes, exactly. But about the skating party. It will be very select, you know; just ourselves. You know I never go out," Sybil added rather sadly, "but I do love skating so."

"Who are 'ourselves'–exactly?"

"Why, you and I, and the Sam Wyndhams, and the Aitchison girls, and Mr.

Topeka, and Mr. Harrington, and Mr. Vancouver–let me see–and Miss St.

Joseph, and young Hannibal. He is very nice, and is very attentive to Miss

St. Joseph."

"Is it nice, like that, skating about in couples?" asked Joe.

"No; that is the disagreeable part; but the skating is delicious."

"Let us stay together all the time," said Joe spontaneously, "it will be ever so much pleasanter. I would not exactly like to be paired off with any of those men, you know."

Sybil looked at Joe, opening her wide blue eyes in some astonishment. She did not think Joe was exactly one of those young women who object to a moonlight tête-à-tête, if properly chaperoned.

"Yes, if you like, dear," she said. "I would like it much better myself, of course."

"Do you know, Sybil," said Joe, looking up at her taller companion, "I should not think you would care for skating and that sort of thing."

"Why?" asked Sybil.

"You do not look strong enough. You are not a bit like me, brought up on horseback."

"Oh, I am very strong," answered Sybil, "only I am naturally pale, you see, and people think I am delicate."

But the north wind kissed her fair face and the faint color came beneath the white and through it, so that Joe looked at her and thought she was the fairest woman in the world that day.

"When I was a little girl," said Joe, "mamma used to tell me a story about the beautiful Snow Angel: she must have been just like you, dear."

"What is the story?" asked Sybil, the delicate color in her cheek deepening a little.

"I will tell you to-night when we are skating, we have not time now. Here we are." And the two girls went up the steps of the house where they were going to lunch.

On the other side of the street Pocock Vancouver and John Harrington met, and stopped to speak just as Joe and Sybil had rung the bell, and stood waiting at the head of the steps.

"Don't let us look at each other so long as we can look at them," said Vancouver, shaking hands with John, but looking across the street at the two girls. John looked too, and both men bowed.

"They are pretty enough for anything, are they not?" continued Vancouver.

"Yes," said John, "they are very pretty."

With a nod and a smile Joe and Sybil disappeared into the house.

"Why don't you marry her?" asked Vancouver.

"Which? The English girl?"

"No; Sybil Brandon."

"Thank you, I am not thinking of being married," said John, a half-comic, half-contemptuous look in his strong face. "Miss Brandon could do better than marry a penniless politician, and besides, even if I wanted it, I care too much for Miss Brandon's friendship to risk losing it by asking her to marry me."

"Nonsense, my dear fellow," said Vancouver, "she would accept you straight off. So would the other."

"You ought to know," said John, eyeing his companion calmly.

Vancouver looked away; it was generally believed that he had been refused by Miss Brandon more than a year previous.

"Well, you can take my word for it, you could not do better," he answered, ambiguously. "There is no knowing how the moonlight effects on Jamaica Pond may strike you this evening. I say, though, you were pretty lucky in having such warm weather the night before last."

"Yes," said John. "The house was full. Were you there?"

"Of course. If I were not a Republican I would congratulate you on your success. It is a long time since any one has made a Boston audience listen to those opinions. You did it surprisingly well; that sentence about protection was a masterpiece. I wish you were one of us."

"It is of no use arguing with you," said John. "If it were, I could make a Democrat of you in an afternoon."

"I make a pretty good thing of arguing, though," answered the other. "It's my trade, you see, and it is not yours. You lay down the law; it is my business to make a living out of it."

"I wish I could lay it down, as you say, and lay it down according to my own ideas," said John. "I would have something to say to you railroad men."

"As for that, I should not care. Railroad law is stronger than iron and more flexible than india-rubber, and the shape of it is of no importance whatever. So long as there is enough of it to work with, you can twist it and untwist it as much as you please."

John laughed.

"It would simplify matters to untwist it and cut it up into lengths," he said. "But then your occupation would be gone."

"I think my occupation will last my life-time," answered Vancouver, laughing in his turn.

"Not if I can help it," returned John. "But we can provide you with another. Good-by. I am going to Cambridge."

They shook hands cordially, and John Harrington turned down Charles Street, while Vancouver pursued his way up the hill. He had been going in the opposite direction when he met Harrington, but he seemed to have changed his mind. He was not seen again that day until he went to dine with Mrs. Sam Wyndham.

There was no one there but Mr. Topeka and young John C. Hannibal, well-dressed men of five-and-thirty and five-and-twenty respectively, belonging to good families of immense fortune, and educated regardless of expense. No homely Boston phrase defiled their anglicized lips, their great collars stood up under their chins in an ecstasy of stiffness, and their shirt-fronts bore two buttons, avoiding the antiquity of three and the vulgarity of one. Well-bred Anglo-maniacs both, but gentlemen withal, and courteous to the ladies. Mr. Topeka was a widower, John C. Hannibal was understood to be looking for a wife.

They came, they dined, and they retired to Sam Wyndham's rooms to don their boots and skating clothes. At nine o'clock the remaining ladies arrived, and then the whole party got into a great sleigh and were driven rapidly out of town over the smooth snow to Jamaica Pond. John Harrington had not come, and only three persons missed him–Joe Thorn, Mrs. Sam, and Pocock Vancouver.

The ice had been cut away in great quantities for storing and the thaw had kept the pond open for a day or two. Then came the sharpest frost of the winter, and in a few hours the water was covered with a broad sheet of black ice that would bear any weight. It was a rare piece of good fortune, but the fashion of skating had become so antiquated that no one took advantage of the opportunity; and as the party got out of the sleigh and made their way down the bank, they saw that there was but one skater before them, sweeping in vast solitary circles out in the middle of the pond, under the cold moonlight. The party sat on the bank in the shadow of some tall pine trees, preparing for the amusement, piling spare coats and shawls on the shoulders of a patient groom, and screwing and buckling their skates on their feet.

"What beautiful ice!" exclaimed Joe, when Vancouver had done his duty by the straps and fastenings. She tapped the steel blade twice or thrice on the hard black surface, still leaning on Vancouver's arm, and then, without a word of warning, shot away in a long sweeping roll. The glorious vitality in her was all alive, and her blood thrilled and beat wildly in utter enjoyment. She did not go far at first, but seeing the others were long in their preparations, she turned and faced them, skating away backwards, leaning far over to right an

d left on each changing stroke, and listening with intense pleasure to the musical ring of the clanging steel on the clean ice. Some pride she felt, too, at showing the little knot of Bostonians how thoroughly at home she was in a sport they seemed to consider essentially American.

Joe had not noticed the solitary skater, and thought herself alone, but in a few moments she was aware of a man in an overcoat bowing before her as he slackened his speed. She turned quickly to one side and stopped herself, for the man was John Harrington.

"Why, where did you come from, Mr. Harrington?" she asked in some astonishment. "You were not hidden under the seats of the sleigh, were you?"

"Not exactly," said John, looking about for the rest of the party. "I was belated in Cambridge this afternoon, so I borrowed a pair of skates and walked over. Splendid ice, is it not?"

"I am so glad you came," said Joe. She was in such high spirits and was so genuinely pleased at meeting John that she forgot to be cold to him. "It would have been a dreadful pity to have missed this."

"It would indeed," said John, skating slowly by her side.

For down by the pine trees two or three figures began to move on the ice.

"I want to thank you, Mr. Harrington," said Joe.

"What for, Miss Thorn?" he asked.

"For the pleasure you gave me the other night," she answered. "I have not seen you since to speak to. It was splendid!"

"Thanks," said John. "I saw you there, in the gallery on my left."

"Yes; but how could you have time to look about and recognize people? You must have splendid eyes."

"It is all a habit," said John. "When one has been before an audience a few times one does not feel nervous, and so one has time to look about. Do you care for that sort of thing, Miss Thorn?"

"Oh, ever so much. But I was frightened once, when they began to grumble."

"There was nothing to fear," said John, laughing. "Audiences of that kind do not punctuate one's speeches with cabbages and rotten eggs."

"They do sometimes in England," said Joe. "But here come the others!"

Two and two, in a certain grace of order, the little party came out from the shore into the moonlight. The women's faces looked white and waxen against their rich furs, and the moonbeams sparkled on their ornaments. A very pretty sight is a moonlight skating party, and Pocock Vancouver knew what he was saying when he hinted at the mysterious and romantic influences that are likely to be abroad on such occasions. Indeed, it was not long before young Hannibal was sliding away hand in hand with Miss St. Joseph at a pace that did not invite competition. And Mr. Topeka decided which of the Aitchison girls he preferred, and gave her his arm, so that the other fell to the lot of Sam Wyndham, while Mrs. Sam and Sybil Brandon came out escorted by Vancouver, who noticed with some dismay that the party was "a man short." The moment he saw Joe talking to the solitary skater, he knew that the latter must be Harrington, who had gone to Cambridge and come across. John bowed to every one and shook hands with Mrs. Wyndham. Joe eluded Vancouver and put her arm through Sybil's, as though to take possession of her.

Joe would have been well enough pleased at first to have been left with John, but the sight of Vancouver somehow reminded her of the compact she had made in the morning with Sybil, and in a few moments the two girls were away together, talking so persistently to each other that Vancouver, who at first followed them and tried to join their conversation, was fain to understand that he was not wanted, so that he returned to Mrs. Wyndham.

"I want so much to talk to you," Joe began, when they were alone.

"Yes, dear?" said Sybil half interrogatively, as they moved along. "We can talk here charmingly, unless Mr. Vancouver comes after us again. But you do skate beautifully, you know. I had no idea you could."

"Oh, I told you I could do everything," said Joe, with some pride. "Where did you get that beautiful fur, my dear? It is magnificent. You are just like the Snow Angel now."

"In Russia. Everybody wears white fur there, you know. We were in St. Petersburg some time."

"I know. We cannot get it in England. If one could I would have told Ronald to bring me some when he comes."

"Who is Ronald?" asked Sybil innocently.

"Oh, he is the dearest boy," said Joe, with a little sigh, "but I do so wish he were not coming!"

"Because he has not got the white fur?" suggested Sybil.

"Oh no! But because"–Joe lowered her voice and spoke demurely, at the same time linking her arm more closely in Sybil's. "You see, dear, he wants to marry me, and I am afraid he is coming to say so."

"And you do not want to marry him? Is that it?"

Joe's small mouth closed tightly, and she merely nodded her head gravely, looking straight before her. Sybil pressed her arm sympathetically and was silent, expecting more.

"It was such a long time ago, you see," said Joe, after a while. "I was not out when it was arranged, and it seemed so natural. But now–it is quite different."

"But of course, if you do not love him, you must not think of marrying him," said Sybil, simply.

"I won't," answered Joe, with sudden emphasis. "But I shall have to tell him, you know," she added despondently.

"It is very hard to say those things," said Sybil, in a tone of reflection. "But of course it must be done–if you were really engaged, that is."

"Yes, almost really," said Joe.

"Not quite?" suggested Sybil.

"I think not quite; but I know he thinks it is quite quite, you know."

"Well, but perhaps he is not so certain, after all. Do you know, I do not think men really care so much; do you?"

"Oh, of course not," said Joe scornfully. "But it does not seem quite honest to let a man think you are going to marry him if you do not mean to."

"But you did mean to, dear, until you found out you did not care for him enough. And just think how dreadful it would be to be married if you did not care enough!"

"Yes, that is true," answered Joe. "It would be dreadful for him too."

"When is he coming?" asked Sybil.

"I think next week. He sailed the day before yesterday."

"Then there is plenty of time to settle on what you want to say," said Sybil. "If you make up your mind just how to put it, you know, it will be ever so much easier."

"Oh no!" cried Joe. "I will trust to luck. I always do; it is much easier."

"Excuse me, Miss Brandon," said the voice of Vancouver, who came up behind them at a great pace, and holding his feet together let himself slide rapidly along beside the two girls,–"excuse me, but do you not think you are very unsociable, going off in this way?"

"May I give you my arm, Miss Thorn?" asked Harrington, coming up on the other side.

Without leaving each other Joe and Sybil took the proffered arms of the two men, and the four skated smoothly out into the middle of the ice, that rang again in the frosty air under their joint weight. Mrs. Wyndham had insisted that Vancouver and Harrington should leave her and follow the young girls, and they had obeyed in mutual understanding.

"Which do you like better, Miss Brandon, boating in Newport or skating on Jamaica Pond?" asked Vancouver.

"This is better than the Music Hall, is it not?" remarked John to Miss Thorn.

"Oh, Jamaica Pond, by far," Sybil answered, and her hold on Joe's arm relaxed a very little.

"Oh no! I would a thousand times rather be in the Music Hall!" exclaimed Joe, and her hand slipped away from Sybil's white fur. And so the four were separated into couples, and went their ways swiftly under the glorious moonlight. As they parted Sybil turned her head and looked after Joe, but Joe did not see her.

"I would rather be here," said John quietly.

"Why?" asked Joe.

"There is enough fighting in life to make peace a very desirable thing sometimes," John answered.

"A man cannot be always swinging his battle-axe." There was a very slight shade of despondency in the tone of his voice. Joe noticed it at once.

Women do not all worship success, however much they may wish their champion to win when they are watching him fight. In the brilliant, unfailing, all-conquering man, the woman who loves him feels pride; if she be vain and ambitious, she feels wholly satisfied, for the time. But woman's best part is her gentle sympathy, and where there is no room at all for that, there is very often little room for love. In the changing hopes and fears of uncertain struggles, a woman's love well given and truly kept may turn the scale for a man, and it is at such times, perhaps, that her heart is given best, and most loyally held by him who has it.

"I wish I could do anything to help him to succeed," thought Joe, in the innocent generosity of her half-conscious devotion.

"Has anything gone wrong?" she asked aloud.

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