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English story

Democracy An American Novel

        Tác giả: by Henry Adams

First published anonymously, March 1880, and soon in various
unauthorized editions. It wasn"t until the 1925 edition that Adams
was listed as author. Henry Adams remarked (ironically as usual),
"The wholesale piracy of Democracy was the single real triumph
of my life."--it was very popular, as readers tried to guess who the
author was and who the characters really were. Chapters XII and
XIII were originally misnumbered.

WHEN he reached his rooms that afternoon, Senator Ratcliffe
found there, as he expected, a choice company of friends and
admirers, who had beguiled their leisure hours since noon by
cursing him in every variety of profane language that experience
could suggest and impatience stimulate. On his part, had he
consulted his own feelings only, he would then and there have
turned them out, and locked the doors behind them. So far as silent
maledictions were concerned, no profanity of theirs could hold its
own against the intensity and deliberation with which, as he found
himself approaching his own door, he expressed between his teeth
his views in respect to their eternal interests. Nothing could be less
suited to his present humour than the society which awaited him in
his rooms. He groaned in spirit as he sat down at his writing-table
and looked about him. Dozens of office-seekers were besieging the
house; men whose patriotic services in the last election called
loudly for recognition from a grateful country.

They brought their applications to the Senator with an entreaty that
he would endorse and take charge of them. Several members and
senators who felt that Ratcliffe had no reason for existence except
to fight their battle for patronage, were lounging about his room,
reading newspapers, or beguiling their time with tobacco in
various forms; at long intervals making dull remarks, as though
they were more weary than their constituents of the atmosphere
that surrounds the grandest government the sun ever shone upon.

Several newspaper correspondents, eager to barter their news for
Ratcliffe's hints or suggestions, appeared from time to time on the
scene, and, dropping into a chair by Ratcliffe's desk, whispered
with him in mysterious tones.

Thus the Senator worked on, hour after hour, mechanically doing
what was required of him, signing papers without reading them,
answering remarks without hearing them, hardly looking up from
his desk, and appearing immersed in labour. This was his
protection against curiosity and garrulity.

The pretence of work was the curtain he drew between himself and
the world.

Behind this curtain his mental operations went on, undisturbed by
what was about him, while he heard all that was said, and said
little or nothing himself. His followers respected this privacy, and
left him alone. He was their prophet, and had a right to seclusion.
He was their chieftain, and while he sat in his monosyllabic
solitude, his ragged tail reclined in various attitudes about him,
and occasionally one man spoke, or another swore. Newspapers
and tobacco were their resource in periods of absolute silence.

A shade of depression rested on the faces and the voices of Clan
Ratcliffe that evening, as is not unusual with forces on the eve of
battle. Their remarks came at longer intervals, and were more
pointless and random than usual. There was a want of elasticity in
their bearing and tone, partly coming from sympathy with the
evident depression of their chief; partly from the portents of the
time. The President was to arrive within forty-eight hours, and as
yet there was no sign that he properly appreciated their services;
there were signs only too unmistakeable that he was painfully
misled and deluded, that his countenance was turned wholly in
another direction, and that all their sacrifices were counted as
worthless. There was reason to believe that he came with a
deliberate purpose of making war upon Ratcliffe and breaking him
down; of refusing to bestow patronage on them, and of bestowing
it wherever it would injure them most deeply. At the thought that
their honestly earned harvest of foreign missions and consulates,
department-bureaus, custom-house and revenue offices,
postmasterships, Indian agencies, and army and navy contracts,
might now be wrung from their grasp by the selfish greed of a
mere accidental intruder--a man whom nobody wanted and every
one ridiculed--their natures rebelled, and they felt that such things
must not be; that there could be no more hope for democratic
government if such things were possible. At this point they
invariably became excited, lost their equanimity, and swore. Then
they fell back on their faith in Ratcliffe: if any man could pull
them through, he could; after all, the President must first reckon
with him, and he was an uncommon tough customer to tackle.

Perhaps, however, even their faith in Ratcliffe might have been
shaken, could they at that moment have looked into his mind and
understood what was passing there. Ratcliffe was a man vastly
their superior, and he knew it. He lived in a world of his own and
had instincts of refinement. Whenever his affairs went
unfavourably, these instincts revived, and for the time swept all his
nature with them. He was now filled with disgust and cynical
contempt for every form of politics. During long years he had done
his best for his party; he had sold himself to the devil, coined his
heart's blood, toiled with a dogged persistence that no day-labourer
ever conceived; and all for what? To be rejected as its candidate;
to be put under the harrow of a small Indiana farmer who made no
secret of the intention to "corral" him, and, as he elegantly
expressed it, to "take his hide and tallow." Ratcliffe had no great
fear of losing his hide, but he felt aggrieved that he should be
called upon to defend it, and that this should be the result of
twenty years' devotion. Like most men in the same place, he did
not stop to cast up both columns of his account with the party, nor
to ask himself the question that lay at the heart of his grievance:
How far had he served his party and how far himself? He was in no
humour for self-analysis: this requires more repose of mind than he
could then command. As for the President, from whom he had not
heard a whisper since the insolent letter to Grimes, which he had
taken care not to show, the Senator felt only a strong impulse to
teach him better sense and better manners. But as for political life,
the events of the last six months were calculated to make any man
doubt its value. He was quite out of sympathy with it. He hated the
sight of his tobacco-chewing, newspaper-reading satellites, with
their hats tipped at every angle except the right one, and their feet
everywhere except on the floor. Their conversation bored him and
their presence was a nuisance. He would not submit to this slavery
longer. He would have given his Senatorship for a civilized house
like Mrs. Lee's, with a woman like Mrs. Lee at its head, and twenty
thousand a year for life. He smiled his only smile that evening
when he thought how rapidly she would rout every man Jack of his
political following out of her parlours, and how meekly they would
submit to banishment into a back-office with an oil-cloth carpet
and two cane chairs.

He felt that Mrs. Lee was more necessary to him than the
Presidency itself; he could not go on without her; he needed
human companionship; some Christian comfort for his old age;
some avenue of communication with that social world, which
made his present surroundings look cold and foul; some touch of
that refinement of mind and morals beside which his own seemed
coarse. He felt unutterably lonely. He wished Mrs. Lee had asked
him home to dinner; but Mrs. Lee had gone to bed with a
headache. He should not see her again for a week. Then his mind
turned back upon their morning at Mount Vernon, and bethinking
himself of Mrs. Sam Baker, he took a sheet of note-paper, and
wrote a line to Wilson Keen, Esq., at Georgetown, requesting him
to call, if possible, the next morning towards one o'clock at the
Senator's rooms on a matter of business. Wilson Keen was chief of
the Secret Service Bureau in the Treasury Department, and, as the
depositary of all secrets, was often called upon for assistance
which he was very good-natured in furnishing to senators,
especially if they were likely to be Secretaries of the Treasury.

This note despatched, Mr. Ratcliffe fell back into his reflective
mood, which led him apparently into still lower depths of
discontent until, with a muttered oath, he swore he could "stand no
more of this," and, suddenly rising, he informed his visitors that he
was sorry to leave them, but he felt rather poorly and was going to
bed; and to bed he went, while his guests departed, each as his
business or desires might point him, some to drink whiskey and
some to repose.

On Sunday morning Mr. Ratcliffe, as usual, went to church. He
always attended morning service--at the Methodist Episcopal
Church--not wholly on the ground of religious conviction, but
because a large number of his constituents were church-going
people and he would not willingly shock their principles so long as
he needed their votes. In church, he kept his eyes closely fixed
upon the clergyman, and at the end of the sermon he could say
with truth that he had not heard a word of it, although the
respectable minister was gratified by the attention his discourse
had received from the Senator from Illinois, an attention all the
more praiseworthy because of the engrossing public cares which
must at that moment have distracted the Senator's mind. In this last
idea, the minister was right. Mr. Ratcliffe's mind was greatly
distracted by public cares, and one of his strongest reasons for
going to church at all was that he might get an hour or two of
undisturbed reflection. During the entire service he was absorbed
in carrying on a series of imaginary conversations with the new
President. He brought up in succession every form of proposition
which the President might make to him; every trap which could be
laid for him; every sort of treatment he might expect, so that he
could not be taken by surprise, and his frank, simple nature could
never be at a loss. One object, however, long escaped him.
Supposing, what was more than probable, that the President's
opposition to Ratcliffe's declared friends made it impossible to
force any of them into office; it would then be necessary to try
some new man, not obnoxious to the President, as a candidate for
the Cabinet. Who should this be? Ratcliffe pondered long and
deeply, searching out a man who combined the most powerful
interests, with the fewest enmities. This subject was still
uppermost at the moment when service ended. Ratcliffe pondered
over it as he walked back to his rooms. Not until he reached his
own door did he come to a conclusion:

Carson would do; Carson of Pennsylvania; the President had
probably never heard of him.

Mr. Wilson Keen was waiting the Senator's return, a heavy man
with a square face, and good-natured, active blue eyes; a man of
few words and those well-considered. The interview was brief.
After apologising for breaking in upon Sunday with business, Mr.
Ratcliffe excused himself on the ground that so little time was left
before the close of the session. A bill now before one of his
Committees, on which a report must soon be made, involved
matters to which it was believed that the late Samuel Baker,
formerly a well-known lobby-agent in Washington, held the only
clue. He being dead, Mr. Ratcliffe wished to know whether he had
left any papers behind him, and in whose hands these papers were,
or whether any partner or associate of his was acquainted with his

Mr. Keen made a note of the request, merely remarking that he had
been very well acquainted with Baker, and also a little with his
wife, who was supposed to know his affairs as well as he knew
them himself; and who was still in Washington. He thought he
could bring the information in a day or two. As he then rose to go,
Mr. Ratcliffe added that entire secrecy was necessary, as the
interests involved in obstructing the search were considerable, and
it was not well to wake them up. Mr. Keen assented and went his

All this was natural enough and entirely proper, at least so far as
appeared on the surface. Had Mr. Keen been so curious in other
people's affairs as to look for the particular legislative measure
which lay at the bottom of Mr.

Ratcliffe's inquiries, he might have searched among the papers of
Congress a very long time and found himself greatly puzzled at
last. In fact there was no measure of the kind. The whole story was
a fiction. Mr. Ratcliffe had scarcely thought of Baker since his
death, until the day before, when he had seen his widow on the
Mount Vernon steamer and had found her in relations with
Carrington. Something in Carrington's habitual attitude and
manner towards himself had long struck him as peculiar, and this
connection with Mrs. Baker had suggested to the Senator the idea
that it might be well to have an eye on both. Mrs. Baker was a silly
woman, as he knew, and there were old transactions between
Ratcliffe and Baker of which she might be informed, but which
Ratcliffe had no wish to see brought within Mrs. Lee's ken. As for
the fiction invented to set Keen in motion, it was an innocent one.
It harmed nobody. Ratcliffe selected this particular method of
inquiry because it was the easiest, safest, and most effectual. If he
were always to wait until he could afford to tell the precise truth,
business would very soon be at a standstill, and his career at an

This little matter disposed of; the Senator from Illinois passed his
afternoon in calling upon some of his brother senators, and the
first of those whom he honoured with a visit was Mr. Krebs, of
Pennsylvania. There were many reasons which now made the
co-operation of that high-minded statesman essential to Mr.
Ratcliffe. The strongest of them was that the Pennsylvania
delegation in Congress was well disciplined and could be used
with peculiar advantage for purposes of "pressure." Ratcliffe's
success in his contest with the new President depended on the
amount of "pressure" he could employ. To keep himself in the
background, and to fling over the head of the raw Chief Magistrate
a web of intertwined influences, any one of which alone would be
useless, but which taken together were not to be broken through; to
revive the lost art of the Roman retiarius, who from a safe distance
threw his net over his adversary, before attacking with the dagger;
this was Ratcliffe's intention and towards this he had been
directing all his manipulation for weeks past. How much
bargaining and how many promises he found it necessary to make,
was known to himself alone. About this time Mrs. Lee was a little
surprised to find Mr. Gore speaking with entire confidence of
having Ratcliffe's support in his application for the Spanish
mission, for she had rather imagined that Gore was not a favourite
with Ratcliffe. She noticed too that Schneidekoupon had come
back again and spoke mysteriously of interviews with Ratcliffe; of
attempts to unite the interests of New York and Pennsylvania; and
his countenance took on a dark and dramatic expression as he
proclaimed that no sacrifice of the principle of protection should
be tolerated. Schneidekoupon disappeared as suddenly as he came,
and from Sybil's innocent complaints of his spirits and temper,
Mrs. Lee jumped to the conclusion that Mr. Ratcliffe, Mr. Clinton,
and Mr.

Krebs had for the moment combined to sit heavily upon poor
Schneidekoupon, and to remove his disturbing influence from the
scene, at least until other men should get what they wanted. These
were merely the trifling incidents that fell within Mrs. Lee's
observation. She felt an atmosphere of bargain and intrigue, but
she could only imagine how far it extended. Even Carrington,
when she spoke to him about it, only laughed and shook his head:

"Those matters are private, my dear Mrs. Lee; you and I are not
meant to know such things."

This Sunday afternoon Mr. Ratcliffe's object was to arrange the
little manoeuvre about Carson of Pennsylvania, which had
disturbed him in church.

His efforts were crowned with success. Krebs accepted Carson and
promised to bring him forward at ten minutes' notice, should the
emergency arise.

Ratcliffe was a great statesman. The smoothness of his
manipulation was marvellous. No other man in politics, indeed no
other man who had ever been in politics in this country, could--his
admirers said--have brought together so many hostile interests and
made so fantastic a combination. Some men went so far as to
maintain that he would "rope in the President himself before the
old man had time to swap knives with him." The beauty of his
work consisted in the skill with which he evaded questions of
principle. As he wisely said, the issue now involved was not one of
principle but of power.

The fate of that noble party to which they all belonged, and which
had a record that could never be forgotten, depended on their
letting principle alone. Their principle must be the want of
principles. There were indeed individuals who said in reply that
Ratcliffe had made promises which never could be carried out, and
there were almost superhuman elements of discord in the
combination, but as Ratcliffe shrewdly rejoined, he only wanted it
to last a week, and he guessed his promises would hold it up for
that time.

Such was the situation when on Monday afternoon the
President-elect arrived in Washington, and the comedy began. The
new President was, almost as much as Abraham Lincoln or
Franklin Pierce, an unknown quantity in political mathematics. In
the national convention of the party, nine months before, after
some dozens of fruitless ballots in which Ratcliffe wanted but
three votes of a majority, his opponents had done what he was now
doing; they had laid aside their principles and set up for their
candidate a plain Indiana farmer, whose political experience was
limited to stump-speaking in his native State, and to one term as
Governor. They had pitched upon him, not because they thought
him competent, but because they hoped by doing so to detach
Indiana from Ratcliffe's following, and they were so successful
that within fifteen minutes Ratcliffe's friends were routed, and the
Presidency had fallen upon this new political Buddha.

He had begun his career as a stone-cutter in a quarry, and was, not
unreasonably, proud of the fact. During the campaign this incident
had, of course, filled a large space in the public mind, or, more
exactly, in the public eye. "The Stone-cutter of the Wabash," he
was sometimes called; at others "the Hoosier Quarryman," but his
favourite appellation was "Old Granite," although this last
endearing name, owing to an unfortunate similarity of sound, was
seized upon by his opponents, and distorted into "Old Granny." He
had been painted on many thousand yards of cotton sheeting,
either with a terrific sledge-hammer, smashing the skulls (which
figured as paving-stones) of his political opponents, or splitting by
gigantic blows a huge rock typical of the opposing party. His
opponents in their turn had paraded illuminations representing the
Quarryman in the garb of a State's-prison convict breaking the
heads of Ratcliffe and other well-known political leaders with a
very feeble hammer, or as "Old Granny" in pauper's rags,
hopelessly repairing with the same heads the impossible roads
which typified the ill-conditioned and miry ways of his party. But
these violations of decency and good sense were universally
reproved by the virtuous; and it was remarked with satisfaction
that the purest and most highly cultivated newspaper editors on his
side, without excepting those of Boston itself; agreed with one
voice that the Stone-cutter was a noble type of man, perhaps the
very noblest that had appeared to adorn this country since the
incomparable Washington.

That he was honest, all admitted; that is to say, all who voted for

This is a general characteristic of all new presidents. He himself
took great pride in his home-spun honesty, which is a quality
peculiar to nature's noblemen. Owing nothing, as he conceived, to
politicians, but sympathising through every fibre of his unselfish
nature with the impulses and aspirations of the people, he affirmed
it to be his first duty to protect the people from those vultures, as
he called them, those wolves in sheep's clothing, those harpies,
those hyenas, the politicians; epithets which, as generally
interpreted, meant Ratcliffe and Ratcliffe's friends.

His cardinal principle in politics was hostility to Ratcliffe, yet he
was not vindictive. He came to Washington determined to be the
Father of his country; to gain a proud immortality and a

Upon this gentleman Ratcliffe had let loose all the forms of

which could be set in motion either in or out of Washington. From
the moment when he had left his humble cottage in Southern
Indiana, he had been captured by Ratcliffe's friends, and smothered
in demonstrations of affection. They had never allowed him to
suggest the possibility of ill-feeling. They had assumed as a matter
of course that the most cordial attachment existed between him
and his party. On his arrival in Washington they systematically cut
him off from contact with any influences but their own. This was
not a very difficult thing to do, for great as he was, he liked to be
told of his greatness, and they made him feel himself a colossus.
Even the few personal friends in his company were manipulated
with the utmost care, and their weaknesses put to use before they
had been in Washington a single day.

Not that Ratcliffe had anything to do with all this underhand and
grovelling intrigue. Mr. Ratcliffe was a man of dignity and
self-respect, who left details to his subordinates. He waited calmly
until the President, recovered from the fatigues of his journey,
should begin to feel the effect of a Washington atmosphere. Then
on Wednesday morning, Mr. Ratcliffe left his rooms an hour
earlier than usual on his way to the Senate, and called at the
President's Hotel: he was ushered into a large apartment in which
the new Chief Magistrate was holding court, although at sight of
Ratcliffe, the other visitors edged away or took their hats and left
the room. The President proved to be a hard-featured man of sixty,
with a hooked nose and thin, straight, iron-gray hair. His voice was
rougher than his features and he received Ratcliffe awkwardly. He
had suffered since his departure from Indiana. Out there it had
seemed a mere flea-bite, as he expressed it, to brush Ratcliffe
aside, but in Washington the thing was somehow different.

Even his own Indiana friends looked grave when he talked of it,
and shook their heads. They advised him to be cautious and gain
time; to lead Ratcliffe on, and if possible to throw on him the
responsibility of a quarrel. He was, therefore, like a brown bear
undergoing the process of taming; very ill-tempered, very rough,
and at the same time very much bewildered and a little frightened.
Ratcliffe sat ten minutes with him, and obtained information in
regard to pains which the President had suffered during the
previous night, in consequence, as he believed, of an
over-indulgence in fresh lobster, a luxury in which he had found a
diversion from the cares of state. So soon as this matter was
explained and condoled upon, Ratcliffe rose and took leave.

Every device known to politicians was now in full play against the
Hoosier Quarryman. State delegations with contradictory requests
were poured in upon him, among which that of Massachusetts
presented as its only prayer the appointment of Mr. Gore to the
Spanish mission. Difficulties were invented to embarrass and
worry him. False leads were suggested, and false information
carefully mingled with true. A wild dance was kept up under his
eyes from daylight to midnight, until his brain reeled with the
effort to follow it. Means were also found to convert one of his
personal, confidential friends, who had come with him from
Indiana and who had more brains or less principle than the others;
from him every word of the President was brought directly to
Ratcliffe's ear.

Early on Friday morning, Mr. Thomas Lord, a rival of the late
Samuel Baker, and heir to his triumphs, appeared in Ratcliffe's
rooms while the Senator was consuming his lonely egg and chop.
Mr. Lord had been chosen to take general charge of the
presidential party and to direct all matters connected with
Ratcliffe's interests. Some people might consider this the work of a
spy; he looked on it as a public duty. He reported that "Old
Granny" had at last shown signs of weakness. Late the previous
evening when, according to his custom, he was smoking his pipe
in company with his kitchen-cabinet of followers, he had again
fallen upon the subject of Ratcliffe, and with a volley of oaths had
sworn that he would show him his place yet, and that he meant to
offer him a seat in the Cabinet that would make him "sicker than a
stuck hog." From this remark and some explanatory hints that
followed, it seemed that the Quarryman had abandoned his scheme
of putting Ratcliffe to immediate political death, and had now
undertaken to invite him into a Cabinet which was to be specially
constructed to thwart and humiliate him.

The President, it appeared, warmly applauded the remark of one
counsellor, that Ratcliffe was safer in the Cabinet than in the
Senate, and that it would be easy to kick him out when the time

Ratcliffe smiled grimly as Mr. Lord, with much clever mimicry,
described the President's peculiarities of language and manner, but
he said nothing and waited for the event. The same evening came a
note from the President's private secretary requesting his
attendance, if possible, to-morrow, Saturday morning, at ten
o'clock. The note was curt and cool. Ratcliffe merely sent back
word that he would come, and felt a little regret that the President
should not know enough etiquette to understand that this verbal
answer was intended as a hint to improve his manners. He did
come accordingly, and found the President looking blacker than
before. This time there was no avoiding of tender subjects. The
President meant to show Ratcliffe by the decision of his course,
that he was master of the situation. He broke at once into the
middle of the matter: "I sent for you,"

said he, "to consult with you about my Cabinet. Here is a list of the
gentlemen I intend to invite into it. You will see that I have got
you down for the Treasury. Will you look at the list and say what
you think of it?"

Ratcliffe took the paper, but laid it at once on the table without
looking at it. "I can have no objection," said he, "to any Cabinet
you may appoint, provided I am not included in it. My wish is to
remain where I am. There I can serve your administration better
than in the Cabinet."

"Then you refuse?" growled the President.

"By no means. I only decline to offer any advice or even to hear
the names of my proposed colleagues until it is decided that my
services are necessary. If they are, I shall accept without caring
with whom I serve."

The President glared at him with an uneasy look. What was to be
done next?

He wanted time to think, but Ratcliffe was there and must be
disposed of. He involuntarily became more civil: "Mr. Ratcliffe,
your refusal would knock everything on the head. I thought that
matter was all fixed. What more can I do?"

But Ratcliffe had no mind to let the President out of his clutches
so easily, and a long conversation followed, during which he
forced his antagonist into the position of urging him to take the
Treasury in order to prevent some undefined but portentous
mischief in the Senate. All that could be agreed upon was that
Ratcliffe should give a positive answer within two days, and on
that agreement he took his leave.

As he passed through the corridor, a number of gentlemen were
waiting for interviews with the President, and among them was the
whole Pennsylvania delegation, "ready for biz," as Mr. Tom Lord
remarked, with a wink.

Ratcliffe drew Krebs aside and they exchanged a few words as he
passed out.

Ten minutes afterwards the delegation was admitted, and some of
its members were a little surprised to hear their spokesman,
Senator Krebs, press with extreme earnestness and in their names,
the appointment of Josiah B. Carson to a place in the Cabinet,
when they had been given to understand that they came to
recommend Jared Caldwell as postmaster of Philadelphia. But
Pennsylvania is a great and virtuous State, whose representatives
have entire confidence in their chief. Not one of them so much as

The dance of democracy round the President now began again with
wilder energy. Ratcliffe launched his last bolts. His two-days' delay
was a mere cover for bringing new influences to bear. He needed
no delay. He wanted no time for reflection. The President had
undertaken to put him on the horns of a dilemma; either to force
him into a hostile and treacherous Cabinet, or to throw on him the
blame of a refusal and a quarrel. He meant to embrace one of the
horns and to impale the President on it, and he felt perfect
confidence in his own success. He meant to accept the Treasury
and he was ready to back himself with a heavy wager to get the
government entirely into his own hands within six weeks. His
contempt for the Hoosier Stone-cutter was unbounded, and his
confidence in himself more absolute than ever.

Busy as he was, the Senator made his appearance the next evening
at Mrs.

Lee's, and finding her alone with Sybil, who was occupied with her
own little devices, Ratcliffe told Madeleine the story of his week's

He did not dwell on his exploits. On the contrary he quite ignored
those elaborate arrangements which had taken from the President
his power of volition. His picture presented himself; solitary and
unprotected, in the character of that honest beast who was invited
to dine with the lion and saw that all the footmarks of his
predecessors led into the lion's cave, and none away from it. He
described in humorous detail his interviews with the Indiana lion,
and the particulars of the surfeit of lobster as given in the
President's dialect; he even repeated to her the story told him by
Mr. Tom Lord, without omitting oaths or gestures; he told her how
matters stood at the moment, and how the President had laid a trap
for him which he could not escape; he must either enter a Cabinet
constructed on purpose to thwart him and with the certainty of
ignominious dismissal at the first opportunity, or he must refuse an
offer of friendship which would throw on him the blame of a
quarrel, and enable the President to charge all future difficulties to
the account of Ratcliffe's "insatiable ambition." "And now, Mrs.
Lee," he continued, with increasing seriousness of tone; "I want
your advice; what shall I do?"

Even this half revelation of the meanness which distorted politics;
this one-sided view of human nature in its naked deformity playing
pranks with the interests of forty million people, disgusted and
depressed Madeleine's mind. Ratclife spared her nothing except
the exposure of his own moral sores. He carefully called her
attention to every leprous taint upon his neighbours' persons, to
every rag in their foul clothing, to every slimy and fetid pool that
lay beside their path. It was his way of bringing his own qualities
into relief. He meant that she should go hand in hand with him
through the brimstone lake, and the more repulsive it seemed to
her, the more overwhelming would his superiority become. He
meant to destroy those doubts of his character which Carrington
was so carefully fostering, to rouse her sympathy, to stimulate her
feminine sense of self-sacrifice.

When he asked this question she looked up at him with an
expression of indignant pride, as she spoke:

"I say again, Mr. Ratcliffe, what I said once before. Do whatever is
most for the public good."

"And what is most for the public good?"

Madeleine half opened her mouth to reply, then hesitated, and
stared silently into the fire before her. What was indeed most for
the public good?

Where did the public good enter at all into this maze of personal
intrigue, this wilderness of stunted natures where no straight road
was to be found, but only the tortuous and aimless tracks of beasts
and things that crawl?

Where was she to look for a principle to guide, an ideal to set up
and to point at?

Ratcliffe resumed his appeal, and his manner was more serious
than ever.

"I am hard pressed, Mrs. Lee. My enemies encompass me about.
They mean to ruin me. I honestly wish to do my duty. You once
said that personal considerations should have no weight. Very
well! throw them away! And now tell me what I should do."

For the first time, Mrs. Lee began to feel his power. He was
simple, straightforward, earnest. His words moved her. How
should she imagine that he was playing upon her sensitive nature
precisely as he played upon the President's coarse one, and that this
heavy western politician had the instincts of a wild Indian in their
sharpness and quickness of perception; that he divined her
character and read it as he read the faces and tones of thousands
from day to day? She was uneasy under his eye. She began a
sentence, hesitated in the middle, and broke down. She lost her
command of thought, and sat dumb-founded. He had to draw her
out of the confusion he had himself made.

"I see your meaning in your face. You say that I should accept the
duty and disregard the consequences."

"I don't know," said Madeleine, hesitatingly; "Yes, I think that
would be my feeling."

"And when I fall a sacrifice to that man's envy and intrigue, what
will you think then, Mrs. Lee? Will you not join the rest of the
world and say that I overreached myself; and walked into this trap
with my eyes open, and for my own objects? Do you think I shall
ever be thought better of; for getting caught here? I don't parade
high moral views like our friend French. I won't cant about virtue.
But I do claim that in my public life I have tried to do right. Will
you do me the justice to think so?"

Madeleine still struggled to prevent herself from being drawn into
indefinite promises of sympathy with this man. She would keep
him at arm's length whatever her sympathies might be. She would
not pledge herself to espouse his cause. She turned upon him with
an effort, and said that her thoughts, now or at any time, were folly
and nonsense, and that the consciousness of right-doing was the
only reward any public man had a right to expect.

"And yet you are a hard critic, Mrs. Lee. If your thoughts are what
you say, your words are not. You judge with the judgment of
abstract principles, and you wield the bolts of divine justice. You
look on and condemn, but you refuse to acquit. When I come to
you on the verge of what is likely to be the fatal plunge of my life,
and ask you only for some clue to the moral principle that ought to
guide me, you look on and say that virtue is its own reward. And
you do not even say where virtue lies."

"I confess my sins," said Madeleine, meekly and despondently;
"life is more complicated than I thought."

"I shall be guided by your advice," said Ratcliffe; "I shall walk into
that den of wild beasts, since you think I ought. But I shall hold
you to your responsibility. You cannot refuse to see me through
dangers you have helped to bring me into."

"No, no!" cried Madeleine, earnestly; "no responsibility. You ask
more than I can give."

Ratcliffe looked at her a moment with a troubled and careworn
face. His eyes seemed deep sunk in their dark circles, and his voice
was pathetic in its intensity. "Duty is duty, for you as well as for
me. I have a right to the help of all pure minds. You have no right
to refuse it. How can you reject your own responsibility and hold
me to mine?"

Almost as he spoke, he rose and took his departure, leaving her no
time to do more than murmur again her ineffectual protest. After
he was gone, Mrs.

Lee sat long, with her eyes fixed on the fire, reflecting upon what
he had said. Her mind was bewildered by the new suggestions
which Ratcliffe had thrown out. What woman of thirty, with
aspirations for the infinite, could resist an attack like this? What
woman with a soul could see before her the most powerful public
man of her time, appealing--with a face furrowed by anxieties, and
a voice vibrating with only half-suppressed affection--to her for
counsel and sympathy, without yielding some response? and what
woman could have helped bowing her head to that rebuke of her
over-confident judgment, coming as it did from one who in the
same breath appealed to that judgment as final? Ratcliffe, too, had
a curious instinct for human weaknesses. No magnetic needle was
ever truer than his finger when he touched the vulnerable spot in
an opponent's mind. Mrs. Lee was not to be reached by an appeal
to religious sentiment, to ambition, or to affection.

Any such appeal would have fallen flat on her ears and destroyed
its own hopes. But she was a woman to the very last drop of her
blood. She could not be induced to love Ratcliffe, but she might be
deluded into sacrificing herself for him. She atoned for want of
devotion to God, by devotion to man.

She had a woman's natural tendency towards asceticism,
self-extinction, self-abnegation. All through life she had made
painful efforts to understand and follow out her duty. Ratcliffe
knew her weak point when he attacked her from this side. Like all
great orators and advocates, he was an actor; the more effective
because of a certain dignified air that forbade familiarity.

He had appealed to her sympathy, her sense of right and of duty, to
her courage, her loyalty, her whole higher nature; and while he
made this appeal he felt more than half convinced that he was all
he pretended to be, and that he really had a right to her devotion.
What wonder that she in her turn was more than half inclined to
admit that right. She knew him now better than Carrington or
Jacobi knew him. Surely a man who spoke as he spoke, had noble
instincts and lofty aims? Was not his career a thousand times more
important than hers? If he, in his isolation and his cares, needed
her assistance, had she an excuse for refusing it? What was there
in her aimless and useless life which made it so precious that she
could not afford to fling it into the gutter, if need be, on the bare
chance of enriching some fuller existence?

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