Happy for the first time

November 29. At half-past one to-day–half-past one exactly–I began my
“career.”

Mrs. Carteret said she would call for me at five minutes to one. But
it was ten minutes after when she appeared, away down at the corner of
I Street. Jim was walking up and down the drawing-room; I was at the
window, watching that corner of I Street. “There she blows!” I cried,
my voice brave, but my heart like a big lump of something soggy and
sad.

Jim hurried up and stood behind me, staring glumly over my shoulder. He
has proposed to me in so many words more than twenty times in the last
three years, and has looked it every time we’ve met–we meet almost
every day. I could feel that he was getting ready to propose again, but
I hadn’t the slightest fear that he’d touch me. He’s in the army, and
his “pull” has kept him snug and safe at Washington and has promoted
him steadily until now he’s a Colonel at thirty-five. But he was
brought up in a formal, old-fashioned way, and he’d think it a deadly
insult to a woman he respected enough to ask her to be his wife if he
should touch her without her permission. I admire Jim’s self-restraint,
but–I couldn’t bear being married to a man who worshiped me, even if
I only liked him. If I loved him, I’d be utterly miserable. I’ve been
trying hard to love Jim for the past four months, or ever since I’ve
really realized how desperate my affairs are. But I can’t. And the most
exasperating part of my obstinacy is that I can’t find a good reason or
excuse for it.

As I was saying–or, rather, writing–Jim stood behind me and said in a
husky sort of voice: “You ain’t goin’ to do it, are you, Gus?”

I didn’t answer. If I had said anything, it would have been a feeble,
miserable “No”–which would have meant that I was accepting the
alternative–him. All my courage had gone and I felt contemptibly
feminine and dependent.

I looked at him–I did like the expression of his eyes and the strength
and manliness of him from head to foot. What a fine sort of man a
“pull” and a private income have spoiled in Jim Lafollette! He went on:
“Surely, I’m not more repellent to you than–than what that auto is
coming to take you away to.”

“Shame on you, Jim Lafollette!” I said angrily–most of the anger so
that he wouldn’t understand and take advantage of the tears in my eyes
and voice. “But how like you! How _brave_!”

He reddened at that–partly because he felt guilty toward me, partly
because he is ashamed of the laziness that has made him shirk for
thirteen years. “I don’t care a hang whether it’s brave or not, or
_what_ it is,” he said sullenly. “I want _you_. And it seems to me I’ve
got to do something–use force, if necessary–to keep you from–_from
that_. You ain’t fit for it, Gus–not in any way. Why, it’s worse than
being a servant. And you–brought up as you’ve been–”

I laughed–a pretty successful effort. “I’ve been educating for it all
my life, without knowing it. And it’s honest and independent. If you
had the right sort of ideas of self-respect, you’d be ashamed of me if
you thought I’d be low enough to marry a man I couldn’t give my heart
to–for a living.”

“Don’t talk rubbish,” he retorted. “Thousands of women do it. Besides,
if I don’t mind, why should you? God knows you’ve made it plain enough
that you don’t love me. Gus, why can’t you marry me and let me save you
from this just as a brother might save a sister?”

“Because I may love somebody some day, Jim,” said I. I wanted to hurt
him–for his own sake, and also because I didn’t want him to tempt me.

The auto was at the curb. He didn’t move until I was almost at the
drawing-room door. Then he rushed at me and his look frightened me a
little. He caught me by the arm. “It’s the last chance, Augusta!” he
exclaimed. “Won’t you?”

I drew away and hurried out. “Then you don’t intend to have anything
to do with me after I’ve crossed the line and become a toiler?” I
called back over my shoulder. I couldn’t resist the temptation to be
thoroughly feminine and leave the matter open by putting him in the
wrong with my “woman’s last word.” I was so low in my mind that I
reasoned that my adventure might be as appalling as I feared, in which
case it would be well to have an alternative. I wonder if the awful
thoughts we sometimes have are our real selves or if they just give us
the chance to measure the gap between what we might be as shown by them
and what we are as shown by our acts. I hope the latter, for surely I
can’t be as poor a creature as I so often have impulses to make myself.

Mrs. Carteret was waiting for the servant to open the door. I hurried
her back toward the auto, being a little afraid that Jim would be
desperate enough to come out and beg her to help him–and I knew she
would do it if she were asked. In the first place, Jessie always does
what she’s asked to do–if it helps her to spend time and breath. In
the second place, she’d never let up on me if she thought I had so good
a chance to marry. For she knows that Washington is the hardest place
in the world for a woman to find a husband unless she’s got something
that appeals to the ambition of men. Besides, she thinks, as do many of
my friends, that I am indifferent to men and discourage them. As if any
woman was indifferent to men! The only point is that women’s ideas of
what constitutes a man differ, and my six years in this cosmopolis have
made me somewhat discriminating.

But to return to Jessie, she was full of apologies for being late.
“I’ve thought of nothing but you, dear, for two days and nights. And I
thought that for once in my life I’d be on time. Yet here I am, fifteen
minutes late, unless that clock’s wrong.” She was looking at the
beautiful little clock set in the dashboard of the auto.

“Only fifteen minutes!” I said. “And you never before were known to
be less than half an hour late. You even kept the President waiting
twenty minutes.”

“Isn’t it stupid, this fussing about being on time?” she replied. “I
don’t believe any but dull people and those who want to get something
from one are ever on time. For those who really live, life is so full
that punctuality is impossible. But I should have been on time, if I
hadn’t been down seeing the Secretary of War about Willie Catesby–poor
Willie! He has been _so_ handicapped by nature!”

“Did you get it for him?” I asked.

“I think so–third secretary at St. Petersburg. The secretary said:
‘But Willie is almost an imbecile, Mrs. Carteret. If we don’t send
him abroad, his family’ll have to put him away.’ And I said: ‘That’s
true, Mr. Secretary. But if we don’t send that sort of people to
foreign courts, how are we to repay the insults they send us in the
form of imbecile attachés?’ And then I handed him six letters from
senators–every one of them a man whose vote he needs for his fight
on that nomination. They were _real_ letters. So presently he said,
‘Very well, Mrs. Carteret, I’ll do what I can to resent the Czar’s last
insult by exporting Willie to him.”

I waited a moment, then burst out with what I was full of. “You think
she’ll take me?” I said.

Jessie reproached me with tragedy in her always intensely serious gray
eyes. “Take _you_?” she exclaimed. “Take a Talltowers when there’s a
chance to get one? Why, as soon as I explained who you were, she fairly
quivered with eagerness.”

“You had to _explain_ who a Talltowers is?” I said with mock
amazement. It’s delightful to poke fun at Jessie; she always
appreciates a jest by taking it more seriously than an ordinary
statement of fact.

“But, dear, you mustn’t be offended. You know Mrs. Burke is very common
and ignorant. She doesn’t know the first thing about the world. She
said to me the other day that she had often heard there were such
things as class distinctions, but had never believed it until she came
to Washington–she had thought it was like the fairy stories. She never
was farther east than Chicago until this fall. She went there to the
Fair. You must get her to tell you how she and three other women who
belong to the same Chautauqua Circle went on together and slept in the
same room and walked from dawn till dark every day, catalogue in hand,
for eleven days. It’s too pathetic. She said, ‘My! but my feet were
sore. I thought I was a cripple for life.'”

“That sounds nice and friendly,” said I, suspicious that Jessie’s
quaint sense of humor had not permitted her to appreciate Mrs. Burke.
“I’m so dreadfully afraid I’ll fall into the clutches of people that’ll
try to–to humiliate me.”

Tears sprang to Jessie’s eyes. “Please don’t, Gus!” she pleaded.
“They’ll be only too deferential. And you must keep them so. I suspect
that Mrs. Burke chums with her servants.”

We were stopping before the house–the big, splendid Ralston Castle,
as they call it; one of the very finest of the houses that have been
building since rich men began to buy into the Senate and Cabinet
and aspire for diplomatic places, and so have attracted other rich
families to Washington. What a changed Washington it is, and what a
fight the old simplicity is making against the new ostentation! The
sight of the Ralston Castle in my present circumstances depressed me
horribly. I went to my second ball there, and it was given for me by
Mrs. Ralston. And only a little more than a year ago I danced in the
quadrille of honor with the French Ambassador–and the next week the
Ralstons went smash and hurried abroad to hide, all except the old man
who is hanging round Wall Street, they say, trying to get on his feet
with the aid of his friends. Friends! How that word must burn into
him every time he thinks of it. When he got into a tight place his
“friends” took advantage of their knowledge of his affairs to grab his
best securities, they say. No doubt he was disagreeable in a way, but
still those who turned on him the most savagely had been intimate with
him and had accepted his hospitality.

“You’ll be mistress here,” Jessie was saying. She had put on her
prophetic look and pose–she really believes she has second sight at
certain times. “And you’ll marry the son, if you manage it right. I
counted him in when I was going over the advantages and disadvantages
of the place before proposing it to you. He looks like a mild, nice
young man–though I must say I don’t fancy cowlicks right in the part
of the hair. I saw only his picture.”

A tall footman with an insolent face opened the door and ushered
us into the small drawing-room to the left: “Mrs. Carteret! Miss
Talltowers!” he shouted–far louder than is customary or courteous. I
saw the impudent grin in his eyes–no proper man-servant ever permits
any one to see his eyes. And he almost dropped the curtain in our
faces, in such haste was he to get back to his lounging-place below
stairs.

His roar had lifted to her feet an elderly woman with her hair so
badly dyed that it made her features look haggard and harsh and even
dissipated. She made a nervous bow. She was of the figure called stout
by the charitable and sumptuous by the crude. She was richly-dressed,
over-dressed, dressed-up–shiny figured satin with a great deal of
beads and lace that added to her width and subtracted from her height.
She stood miserable, jammed and crammed into a tight corset. Her
hands–very nice hands, I noticed–were folded upon her stomach. As
soon as I got used to that revolting hair-dye, I saw that she had in
fact a large-featured, sweet face with fine brown eyes. Even with the
dye she was the kind of looking woman that it sounds perfectly natural
to hear her husband call “mother.”

Jessie went up to her as she stood wretched in her pitiful attempt at
youth and her grandeur of clothes and surroundings. Mrs. Burke looked
down kindly, with a sudden quizzical smile that reminded me of my
suspicions as to the Chicago Fair story. Jessie was looking up like a
plump, pretty, tame robin, head on one side. “_Dear_ Mrs. Burke,” she
said. “This is Miss Talltowers, and I’m sure you’ll love each other.”

Mrs. Burke looked at me–I thought, with a determined attempt to be
suspicious and cautious. I’m afraid Jessie’s reputation for tireless
effort to do something for everybody has finally “queered” her
recommendations. However, whatever warning Mrs. Burke had received went
for nothing. She was no match for Jessie–Jessie from whom his Majesty
at the White House hides when he knows she’s coming for an impossible
favor–she was no match for Jessie and she knew it. She wiped the sweat
from her face and stammered: “I hope we’ll suit each other, Miss–” In
her embarrassment she had forgotten my name.

“Talltowers,” whispered Jessie with a side-splitting look of tragic
apology to me. Just then the clock in the corner struck out the
half-hour from its cathedral bell–the sound echoed and reëchoed
through me, for it marked the beginning of my “career.” Jessie went on
more loudly: “And now that our _business_ is settled, can’t we have
some lunch, Mrs. Burke? I’m starved.”

Mrs. Burke brightened. “The Senator won’t be here to-day,” she drawled,
in a tone which always suggests to me that, after all, life is a
smooth, leisurely matter with plenty of time for everything except
work. “As he was leaving for the Capitol this morning, he says to me,
says he: ‘You women had better fight it out alone.'”

“The _dear_ Senator!” said Jessie. “He’s _so_ clever?”

“Yes, he _is_ mighty clever with those he likes,” replied Mrs.
Burke–Jessie looking at me to make sure I would note Mrs. Burke’s
“provincial” way of using the word clever.

Jessie saved the luncheon–or, at least, thought she was saving it.
Mrs. Burke and I had only to listen and eat. I caught her looking at
me several times, and then I saw shrewdness in her eyes–good-natured,
but none the less penetrating for that. And I knew I should like her,
and should get on with her. At last our eyes met and we both smiled.
After that she somehow seemed less crowded and foreign in her tight,
fine clothes. I saw she was impatient for Jessie to go the moment
luncheon was over, but it was nearly three o’clock before we were left
alone together. There fell an embarrassed silence–for both of us were
painfully conscious that nothing had really been settled.

“When do you wish me to come–if you do wish it at all?” I asked, by
way of making a beginning.

“When do you think you could come?” she inquired nervously.

“Then you do wish to give me a trial? I hope you won’t feel that Mrs.
Carteret’s precipitate way binds you.”

She gave me a shrewd, good-natured look. “I want you to come,” she
said. “I wanted it from what I’d heard of you–I and Mr. Burke. I want
it more than ever, now that I’ve seen you. When can you come?”

“To-morrow–to-morrow morning?”

“Come as early as you like. The salary is–is satisfactory?”

“Mrs. Carteret said–but I’m sure–you can judge better–whatever–” I
stuttered, red as fire.

Mrs. Burke laughed. “I can see you ain’t a great hand at business. The
salary is two thousand a year, with a three months’ vacation in the
time we’re not at Washington. Always have a plain understanding in
money matters–it saves a lot of mean feelings and quarrels.”

“Very well–whatever you think. I don’t believe I’m worth much of
anything until I’ve had a chance to show what I can do.”

“Well, Tom–Mr. Burke–said two thousand would be about right at the
set-off,” she drawled in her calming tone. “So we’ll consider that
settled.”

“Yes,” I gasped, with a big sigh of relief. “I suppose you wish me to
take charge of your social matters–relieve you of the burdensome part
of entertaining?”

“I just wish you could,” she said, with a great deal of humor in her
slow voice. “But I’ve got to keep that–it’s the trying to make people
have a good time and not look and act as if they were wondering why
they’d come.”

“That’ll soon wear off,” said I. “Most of the stiffness is strangeness
on both sides, don’t you think?”

“I don’t know. As nearly as I can make out, they never had a real,
natural good time in their lives. They wear the Sunday, go-to-meeting
clothes and manners the whole seven days. I’ll never get used to it.
I can’t talk that kind of talk. And if I was just plain and natural,
they’d think I was stark crazy.”

“Did you ever try?”

She lifted her hands in mock-horror. “Mercy, no! Tom–Mr. Burke–warned
me.”

I laughed. “Men don’t know much about that sort of thing,” said I. “A
woman might as well let a man tell her how to dress as how to act.”

She colored. “He does,” she said, her eyes twinkling. “He was here
two winters–this is my first. I’ve a kind of feeling that he really
don’t know, but he’s positive and–I’ve had nobody else to talk about
it with. I’m a stranger here–not a friend except people who–well, I
can guess pretty close to what they say behind my back.” She laughed–a
great shaking of as much of her as was not held rigid by that tight
corset. “Not that I care–I like a joke myself, and I’m a good deal of
a joke among these grand folks. Only, I do want to help Tom, and not be
a drag.” She gave me a sudden, sharp look. “I don’t know why I trust
you, I’m sure.”

“Because I’m your confidential adviser,” said I, “and it’s always well
to keep nothing from a confidential adviser.” The longer I looked and
listened, the larger possibilities I saw in her. My enthusiasm was
rising.

She rose and came to me and kissed me. There were tears in her eyes.
“I’ve been _so_ lonesome,” she said. “Even Tom don’t seem natural any
more, away off here in the East. Sometimes I get so homesick that I
just can’t eat or anything.”

“We’re going to have a lot of fun,” said I encouragingly–as if she
were twenty-four and I fifty, instead of it being the other way.
“You’ll soon learn the ropes.”

“I’m so glad you use slang,” she drawled, back in her chair and
comfortably settled. “My, but Tom’ll be scandalized. He’s made
inquiries about you and has made up his mind that whatever you say is
right. And I almost believed he knew the trails. I might ‘a’ known!
He’s a man, you see, and always was stiff with the ladies. You ought
to ‘a’ seen the letter he wrote proposing to me. You see, I’m kind of
fat and always was. Mother used to tease me because I hadn’t any beaux
except Tom, who wouldn’t come to the point. She said: ‘Lizzie, you’ll
never have a man make real love to you.’ And she was right. When Tom
proposed he wrote very formal-like–not a sentimental word. And when
we were married and got better acquainted, I teased him about it, and
tried to get him to make love, real book kind of love. But not a word!
But he’s fond of me–we always have got on fine, and his being no good
at love-talk is just one of our jokes.”

It was fine to hear her drawl it out–I knew that she was sure to make
a hit, if only I could get her under way, could convince her that it’s
nice to be natural if you’re naturally nice.

“Tom” came in from the Senate and I soon saw that, though she was a
“really” lady, of the only kind that is real–the kind that’s born
right, he was a made gentleman, and not a very successful job. He was
small and thin and dressed with the same absurd stiff care with which
he had made her dress. He had a pointed reddish beard and reddish
curls, and he used a kind of scent that smelt cheap though it probably
wasn’t. He was very precise and distant with me–how “Lizzie’s” eyes
did twinkle as she watched him. I saw that she was “on to” Tom with the
quickness with which a shrewd woman always finds out, once she gets the
clue.

“Have you had Miss Talltowers shown her rooms, Mrs. Burke?” he soon
inquired.

“Why, no, pa,” replied Mrs. Burke. “I forgot it clear.” As she said
“pa” he winced and her eyes danced with fun. She went on to me: “You
don’t mind our calling each other pa and ma before you, do you, Miss
Talltowers? We’re so used to doing it that, if you minded it and we had
to stop, we’d feel as if we had company in the house all the time.”

I didn’t dare answer, I was so full of laughter. For “pa” looked as if
he were about to sink through the floor. She led me up to my rooms–a
beautiful suite on the third floor. “We took the house furnished,” she
explained as we went, “and I feel as if I was living in a hotel–except
that the servants ain’t nearly so nice. I do hope you’ll help me with
them. Tom wanted me to take a housekeeper, but those that applied were
such grand ladies that I’d rather ‘a’ done all my own work than ‘a’
had any one of them about. Perhaps we could get one now, and you could
kind of keep her in check.”

“I think it’d be better to have some one,” I replied. “I’ve had
some experience in managing a house.” I couldn’t help saying it
unsteadily–not because I miss our house; no, I’m sure it wasn’t that.
But I suddenly saw the old library and my father looking up from
his book to smile lovingly at me as I struggled with the household
accounts. Anyhow, deep down I’m glad he did know so little about
business and so much about everything that’s fine. I’d rather have my
memories of him than any money he could have left me by being less of a
father and friend and more of a “practical” man.

Mrs. Burke looked at me sympathetically–I could see that she longed
to say something about my changed fortunes, but refrained through fear
of not saying the right thing. I must teach her never to be afraid of
that–a born lady with a good heart could never be really tactless.
She went to the front door with me, opening it for me herself to
the contemptuous amusement of the tall footman. We shook hands and
kissed–I usually can’t bear to have a woman kiss me, but I’d have felt
badly if “ma” Burke hadn’t done it.

When I got back to Rachel’s and burst into the drawing-room with a
radiant face, I heard a grunt like a groan. It was from Jim in the
twilight near Rachel at the tea-table. “I’m going out to service
to-morrow,” said I to Rachel. “So you’re to be rid of your visitor at
last.”

“Oh, Gus!” exclaimed Rachel between anger and tears. And Jim looked
black and sullen. But I was happy–and am to-night. Happy for the
first time in two years. I’m going to _do_ something–and it is
something that interests me. I’m going to launch a fine stately ship, a
full-rigged four-master in this big-little sea of Washington society.
What a sensation I can make with it among the pretty holiday boats!

December 6. Last Monday morning young Mr. Burke–Cyrus, the son and
heir–arrived, just from Germany. The first glimpse I had of him was as
he entered the house between his father and his mother, who had gone to
the station to meet him. I got myself out of the way and didn’t come
down until “ma” Burke sent for me. I liked the way she was sitting
there beaming–but then, I like almost everything she does; she’s such
a large, natural person. She never stands, except on her way to sit
just as soon as ever she can. “I never was a great hand for using my
feet,” she said to me on my second day, “and I don’t know but about
as much seems to ‘a’ come to find me as most people catch up with by
running their legs off.” I liked the way her son was hovering about
her. And I liked the way “pa” Burke hovered round them both, nervous
and pulling at his whiskers and trying to think of things to say–if he
only wouldn’t use brilliantine, or whatever it is, on his whiskers!

“Cyrus, this is my friend, Miss Talltowers,” said Mrs. Burke. I smiled
and he clapped his heels together with a click and doubled up as if he
had a sudden pain in his middle, just like all the northern Continental
diplomats. When he straightened back to the normal I took a good look
at him–and he at me. I don’t know–or, rather, didn’t then know–what
_he_ thought. But I thought him–well, “common.” He has a great big
body that’s strong and well-proportioned; but his features are so
insignificant–a small mouth, a small nose, small ears, eyes, forehead,
small head. And there, in the very worst place–just where the part
ought to be–was the cowlick I’d noticed in his photograph. When he
began to speak I liked him still less. He’s been at Berlin three years,
but still has his Harvard accent. I wonder why they teach men at
Harvard to use their lips in making words as a Miss Nancy sort of man
uses his fingers in doing fancy work?

Neither of us said anything memorable, and presently he went away to
his room, his mother going up with him. His father followed to the
foot of the stairs, then drifted away to his study where he could lie
in wait for Cyrus on his way down. Pretty soon his mother came into the
“office” they’ve given me–it’s just off the drawing-room so that I can
be summoned to it the instant any one comes to see Mrs. Burke.

[Illustration: CLARENCE F. UNDERWOOD]

“I’ve let his pa have him for a while,” she explained, as she came in.
I saw that she was full of her boy, so I turned away from my books.
She rambled on about him for an hour, not knowing what she was saying,
but just pouring out whatever came into her head. “His pa has always
said I’d spoil him,” was one of the things I remember, “but I don’t
think love ever spoiled anybody.” Also she told me that his real
name wasn’t Cyrus but Bucyrus, the town his father originally came
from–it’s somewhere in Ohio, I think she said. “And,” said she,
“whenever I want to cut his comb I just give him his name. He tames
right down.” Also that he has used all sorts of things on the cowlick
without success. “There it is, still,” said she, “as cross-grained as
ever. I like it about the best of anything, except maybe his long legs.
I’m a duck-leg myself, and his pa–well, _his_ legs ‘just about reach
the ground,’ as Lincoln said, and after that the less said the sooner
forgot. But Cyrus has _legs_. And his cowlick matches a cowlick in his
disposition–a kind of gnarly knot that you can’t cut nor saw through
nor get round no way. It’s been the saving of him, he’s so good-natured
and easy otherwise.” And she went on to tell how generous he is, “the
only generous small-eared person I’ve ever known, though I must say
I have my doubts about ears as a sign. There was Bill Slayback in our
town, with ears like a jack-rabbit, and whenever he had a poor man do a
job of work about his place he used to pay him with a ninety-day note
and then shave the note.”

I was glad when she hurried away at the sound of Cyrus in the hall.
For a huge lot of work there’ll be for me to do until I get things in
some sort of order. I’ve opened a regular set of books to keep the
social accounts in. Of course, nobody who goes in for society, on the
scale we’re going into it, could get along without social bookkeeping
as big as a bank’s. I pity the official women in the high places who
can’t afford secretaries; they must spend hours every night posting and
fussing with their account-books when they ought to be in bed asleep.

On my second day here “pa” Burke explained what his plans were. “We
wish to make our house,” said he, “the most distinguished social center
in Washington, next to the White House–and very democratic. Above all,
Miss Talltowers, democratic.”

“He don’t mean that he wants us to do our own work and send out the
wash,” drawled “ma” Burke, who was sitting by. “But democratic, with
fourteen servants in livery.”

“I understand,” said I. “You wish simplicity, and people to feel at
ease, Mr. Burke.”

“Exactly,” he replied in a dubious tone. “But I wish to maintain
the–the dignities, as it were.”

I saw he was afraid I might get the idea he wanted something like those
rough-and-tumble public maulings of the President that they have
at the White House. I hastened to reassure him; then I explained my
plan. I had drawn up a system somewhat like those the President’s wife
and the Cabinet women and the other big entertainers have. I’m glad
the Burkes haven’t any daughters. If they had I’d certainly need an
assistant. As it is, I’m afraid I’ll worry myself hollow-eyed over my
books.

First, there’s the Ledger–a real, big, thick office ledger with almost
four hundred accounts in it, each one indexed. Of course, there aren’t
any entries as yet. But there soon will be–what we owe various people
in the way of entertainment, what they’ve paid, and what they owe us.

Second, there’s my Day-Book. It contains each day’s engagements so that
I can find out at a glance just what we’ve got to do, and can make out
each night before going to bed or early each morning the schedule for
Mrs. Burke for the day, and for Senator Burke and the son, I suppose,
for the late afternoon and the evening.

Third, there’s the Calling-Book. Already I’ve got down more than
a thousand names. The obscurer the women are–the back-district
congressmen’s wives and the like–the greater the necessity for keeping
the calling account straight. I wonder how many public men have had
their careers injured or ruined just because their wives didn’t keep
the calling account straight. They say that _men_ forgive slights, and,
when it’s to their interest, forget them. But I know the _women_ never
do. They keep the knife sharp and wait for a chance to stick it in,
for years and years. Of course, if the Burkes weren’t going into this
business in a way that makes me think the Senator’s looking for the
nomination for president I shouldn’t be so elaborate. We’d pick out our
set and stick to it and ignore the other sets. As it is, I’m going to
do this thing thoroughly, as it hasn’t been done before.

Fourth, there’s our Ball-and-Big-Dinner Book. That’s got a list of
all the young men and another of all the young women. And I’m making
notes against the names of those I don’t know very well or don’t know
at all–notes about their personal appearance, eligibility, capacities
for dancing, conversation, and so forth and so on. If you’re going to
make an entertainment a success you’ve got to know something more or
less definite about the people that are coming, whom to ask to certain
things and whom not to ask. Take a man like Phil Harkness, or a girl
like Nell Witton, for example. Either of them would ruin a dinner, but
Phil shines at a ball, where silence and good steady dancing are what
the girls want. As for Nell, she’s possible at a ball only if you can
be sure John Rush or somebody like him is coming–somebody to sit with
her and help her blink at the dancers and be bored. Then there’s the
Sam Tremenger sort of man–a good talker, but something ruinous when
he turns loose in a ball-room and begins to batter the women’s toilets
to bits. He’s a dinner man, but you can’t ask him when politics may be
discussed–he gets so violent that he not only talks all the time, but
makes a deafening clamor and uses swear words–and we still have quiet
people who get gooseflesh for damn.

Then there’s–let me see, what number–oh, yes–fifth, there’s my
Acceptance-and-Refusal Book. It’s most necessary, both as a direct help
and as an indirect check on other books. Then, too, I want it to be
impossible to send the Burkes to places they’ve said they wouldn’t go,
or for them to be out when they’ve asked people to come here. Those
things usually happen when you’ve asked some of those dreadful people
that everybody always forgets, yet that are sure to be important at
some critical time.

Sixth, there’s my Book of Home Entertainments–a small book but most
necessary, as arranging entertainments in the packed days of the
Washington season isn’t easy.

Seventh, there’s the little book with the list of entertainments other
people are going to give. We have to have that so that we can know
how to make our plans. And in it I’m going to keep all the information
I can get about the engagements of the people we particularly want to
ask. If I’m not sharp-eyed about that I’ll fail in one of my principal
duties, which is getting the right sort of people under this roof often
enough during the season to give us “distinction.”

Eighth, there’s my Distinguished-Stranger Book. I’m going to make that
a specialty. I want to try to know whenever anybody who is anybody
is here on a visit, so that we can get hold of him if possible. The
White House can get all that sort of information easily because the
distinguished stranger always gives the President a chance to get at
him. _We_ shall have to make an effort, but I think we’ll succeed.

Ninth–that’s my book for press notices. It’s empty now, but I think
“pa” Burke will be satisfied long before the season is over.

Quite a library isn’t it? How simple it must be to live in a city like
New York or Boston where one bothers only with the people of one set
and has practically no bookkeeping beyond a calling list. And here it’s
getting worse and worse each season.

Let me see, how many sets are there? There’s the set that can say
must to us–the White House and the Cabinet and the embassies. Then
there’s the set we can say must to–a huge, big set and, in a way,
important, but there’s nobody really important in it. Then there’s the
still wider lower official set–such people as the under-secretaries
of departments, the attachés of embassies, small congressmen and the
like. Then there’s the old Washington aristocracy–my particular crowd.
It doesn’t amount to “shucks,” as Mrs. Burke would say, but everybody
tries to be on good terms with it, Lord knows why. Finally, there’s the
set of unofficial people–the rich or otherwise distinguished who live
in Washington and must be cultivated. And we’re going to gather in all
of them, so as not to miss a trick.

The first one of the Burkes to whom I showed my books and explained
myself in full was “ma” Burke. She looked as if she had been taken with
a “misery,” as she calls it. “Lord! Lord!” she groaned. “Whatever have
I got my fool self into?”

I laughed and assured her that it was nothing at all. “I’m only showing
you _my_ work. All you’ve got to do is to carry out each day’s work.
I’ll see to it that you won’t even have to bother about what clothes to
wear, unless you want to. You’ll be perfectly free to enjoy yourself.”

“_Enjoy_ myself?” said she. “Why, I’ll be on the jump from morning till
night.”

“From morning till morning again,” I corrected. “The men sleep
in Washington. But the women with social duties have no time for
sleep–only for naps.”

“I reckon it’ll hardly be worth while to undress for bed,” she said
grimly. “I’m going to have the bed taken out of my room. It’d drive
me crazy to look at it. Such a good bed, too. I always was a great
hand for a good bed. I’ve often said to pa that you can’t put too much
value into a bed–and by bed I don’t mean headboard and footboard, nor
canopy nor any other fixings. What do you think of my hair?”

I was a bit startled by her sudden change of subject. I waited.

“Don’t mind me–speak right out,” she said with her good-natured
twinkle. “You might think it wasn’t my hair, but it is. The color’s
not, though, as you may be surprised to hear.” The “surprised” was
broadly satirical.

“I prefer natural hair,” said I, “and gray hair is most becoming. It
makes a woman look younger, not older.”

“That’s sensible,” said she. “I never did care for bottled hair. I
think it looks bad from the set-off, and gets worse. The widow Pfizer
in our town got so that hers was bright green after she bottled it for
two years, trying to catch old man Coakley. And after she caught him
she bottled his, and it turned out green, too, after a while.”

“Why run such a risk?” said I. “I’m sure your own hair done as your
maid can do it would be far more becoming.”

Mrs. Burke was delighted. “I might have known better,” she observed,
“but I found Mr. Burke bottling his beard, and he wanted me to; and it
seemed to me that somehow bottled hair just fitted right in with all
the rest of this foolishness here. How they would rear round at home if
they knew what kind of a place Washington is! Why, I hear that up at
the White House, when the President leaves the table for a while during
meals, all the ladies–women, I mean–his wife and all of them, have to
rise and stand till he comes back.”

“Yes,” I replied. “He’s started that custom. I like ceremony, don’t
you?”

“No, I can’t say that I do,” she drawled. “Out home all the drones and
pokes and nobodies are just crazy about getting out in feathers and
red plush aprons and clanking and pawing round, trying to make out
they’re somebody. And I’ve always noticed that whenever anybody that
is a somebody hankers after that sort of thing it’s because he’s got a
streak of nobody in him. No, I don’t like it in Cal Walters out home,
and I don’t like it in the President.”

“We’ve got to do as the other capitals do,” said I. “Naturally, as we
get more and more ambassadors, and a bigger army, and the President
more powerful, we become like the European courts. And the President is
simply making a change abruptly that’d have to come gradually anyhow.”

Her eyes began to twinkle. “First thing you know, the country’ll turn
loose a herd of steers from the prairies in this town, and–But, long
as it’s here, I suppose I’ve got to abide by it. So I’ll do whatever
you say. It’ll be a poor do, without my trying to find fault.”

And she’s being as good as her word. She makes me tell her exactly
what to do. She is so beautifully simple and ladylike in her frank
confessions of her ignorance–just as the Queen of England would be if
she were to land on the planet Mars and have to learn the ways–the
surface ways, I mean. I’ve no doubt that outside of a few frills which
silly people make a great fuss about, a lady is a lady from one end of
the universe to the other.

I’m making the rounds of my friends with Mrs. Burke in this period of
waiting for the season to begin. And she sits mum and keeps her eyes
moving. She’s rapidly picking up the right way to say things–that
is, the self-assurance to say things in her own way. I took her
among my friends first because I wanted her to realize that I was
absolutely right in urging her to naturalness. There are so many in the
different sets she’ll be brought into contact with who are ludicrously
self-conscious. Certainly, there’s much truth in what she says about
the new order. We Americans don’t do the European sort of thing well,
and, while the old way wasn’t pretty to look at it, it was–it was our
own. However, I’m merely a social secretary, dealing with what is, and
not bothering my head about what ought to be. And as for the Burkes,
they’re here to take advantage of what is, not to revolutionize things.

Mr. Burke himself was the next member of the family at whom I got a
chance with my great plans. When he had got it all out of me he began
to pace up and down the floor, pulling at his whiskers, and evidently
thinking. Finally he looked at me in a kindly, sharp way, and, in a
voice I recognized at once as the voice of the Thomas Burke who had
been able to pile up a fortune and buy into the Senate, said:

“I double your salary, Miss Talltowers. And I hope you understand that
expense isn’t to be considered in carrying out your program. I want you
to act just as if this were all for yourself. And if we succeed I think
you’ll find I’m not ungenerous.” And before I could try to thank him he
was gone.

The last member was “Bucyrus.” As I knew his parents wished to be
alone with him at first I kept out of the way, breakfasting in my
rooms, lunching and dining out a great deal. What little I saw of him
I didn’t like. He ignored me most of the time–and I, for one woman,
don’t like to be ignored by any man. When he did speak to me it was as
they speak to the governess in families where they haven’t been used
to very much for very long. Perhaps this piqued me a little, but it
certainly amused me, and I spoke to him in an humble, deferential way
that seemed somehow to make him uneasy.

It was day before yesterday that he came into my office about an hour
after luncheon. He tried to look very dignified and superior.

“Miss Talltowers,” he said, “I must request you to refrain from calling
me sir whenever you address me.”

“I beg your pardon, sir,” I replied meekly, “but I have never addressed
you. I hope I know my place and my duty better than that. Oh, no, sir,
I have always waited to be spoken to.”

He blazed a furious red. “I must request you,” he said, with his speech
at its most fancy-work like, “not to continue your present manner
toward me. Why, the very servants are laughing at me.”

“Oh, sir,” I said earnestly, “I’m sure that’s not my fault.” And I
didn’t spoil it by putting accent on the “that” and the “my.”

He got as pale as he had been red. “Are you trying to make it
impossible for us to remain under the same roof?” he demanded. What a
spoiled stupid!

“I’m sure, sir,” said I, and I think my eyes must have shown what an
unpleasant mood his hinted threat had put me in, “that I’m not even
succeeding in making it impossible for us to remain in my private
office at the same time. Do you understand me, or do you wish me to
make my meaning–”

He had given a sort of snort and had rushed from the room.

I suppose I ought to be more charitable toward him. A small person,
brought up to regard himself as a sort of god, and able to buy
flattery, and permitted to act precisely as his humors might
suggest–what is to be expected of such a man? No, not a man but boy,
for he’s only twenty-six. _Only_ twenty-six! One would think I was
forty to hear me talking in that way of twenty-six. But women always
seem older than men who are even many years older than they. And how
having to earn my own bread has aged me inside! I think Jessie was
right when she said in that solemn way of hers, “And although, dear
Augusta, they may think you haven’t brains enough, I assure you you’ll
develop them.” Poor, dear Jessie! How she would amuse herself if she
could be as she is, and also have a sense of humor!

At any rate, Mr. Bucyrus came striding back after half an hour, and,
rather surlily but with a certain grudging manliness, said: “I beg your
pardon, Miss Talltowers, for what I said. I am ashamed of my having
forgotten myself and made that tyrannical speech to you.”

“Thank you, sir,” said I, without raising my eyes. “You are most
gracious.”

“And I hope,” he went on, “that you will try to treat me as an equal.”

“It’ll be very hard to do that, sir,” said I. And I lifted my eyes and
let him see that I was laughing at him.

He shifted uneasily, red and white by turns. “I think you understand
me,” he muttered.

“Perfectly,” said I.

He waved his arm impatiently. “Please don’t!” he exclaimed rather
imperiously. “I could have got my mother to–”

“I hope you won’t complain of me to your mother,” I pleaded.

He flushed and snorted, like a horse that is being teased by a fly it
can reach with neither teeth, hoofs nor tail. “You know I didn’t mean
that. I’m not an utter cad–now, don’t say, ‘Aren’t you, sir?'”

“I had no intention of doing so,” said I. “In fact I’ve been trying
to make allowances for you–for your mother’s sake. I appreciate that
you’ve been away from civilization for a long time. And I’m sure we
shall get on comfortably, once you’ve got your bearings again.”

He was silent, stood biting his lips and looking out of the window.
Presently, when I had resumed my work, he said in an endurable tone and
manner: “I hope you will be kind enough to include me in that admirable
social scheme of yours. Are those your books?”

I explained them to him as briefly as I could. I had no intention
of making myself obnoxious, but on the other hand I did not, and do
not purpose to go out of my way to be courteous to this silly of an
overgrown, spoiled baby. He tried to be nice in praise of my system,
but I got rid of him as soon as I had explained all that my obligations
as social secretary to the family required. He thanked me as he was
leaving and said, in his most gracious tone, “I shall see that my
father raises your salary.”

I fairly gasped at the impudence of this, but before I could collect
myself properly to deal with him he was gone. Perhaps it was just as
well. I must be careful not to be “sensitive”–that would make me as
ridiculous as he is.

And that’s the man Jim Lafollette is fairly smoking with jealousy of!
He was dining at Rachel’s last night, and Rachel put him next me. He
couldn’t keep off the subject of “that young Burke.” Jessie overheard
him after a while and leaned round and said to me, “How do you and
young Mr. Burke get on?” in her “strictly private” manner–Jessie’s
strictly private manner is about as private as the Monument.

“Not badly,” I replied, to punish Jim. “We’re gradually getting
acquainted.”

Jim sneered under his mustache. “It’s the most shameful scheme two
women ever put up,” he said, as if he were joking.

“Oh, has Jessie told you?” I exclaimed, pretending to be concealing my
vexation.

“It’s the talk of the town,” he answered, showing his teeth in a grin
that was all fury and no fun.

There may be women idiots enough to marry a man who warns them in
advance that he’s rabidly jealous, but I’m not one of them. Better a
crust in quietness.

December 27. Three weeks simply boiling with business since I wrote
here–and it seems not more than so many days. And all by way of
preparation, for the actual season is still five days away.

I can hardly realize that Mrs. Burke is the same person I looked at so
dubiously two days less than a month ago. Truly, the right sort of us
Americans are wonderful people. To begin with her appearance: her hair
isn’t “bottled,” as she called it, any more. It’s beautiful iron-gray,
and softens her features and permits all the placid kindliness and
humor of her face to show. Then there’s her dress–gracious, how
tight-looking she was! A _thin_ woman can, and should, wear _close_
things. But no woman who wishes to look like a lady must ever wear
anything _tight_. To be tight in one’s clothes is to be tight in one’s
talk, manner, thought–and that means–well, common. What an expressive
word “common” is, yet I’m sure I couldn’t define it.

For a fat woman to be tight is–revolting! My idea of misery is a fat
woman in a tight waist and tight shoes. Yet fat women have a mania
for wearing tight things, just as gaunt women yearn for stripes and
short women for flounces. My first move in getting Mrs. Burke into
shape–after doing away with that dreadful “bottled” hair–was to
put her into comfortable clothes. The first time I got her into an
evening dress of the right sort I was rewarded for all my trouble by
her expression. She kissed me with tears in her eyes. “My dear,” said
she, “never before did I have a best dress that I wasn’t afraid to
breathe in for fear I’d bust out, back or front.” Then I made her sit
down before her long glass and look at herself carefully. She had the
prettiest kind of color in her cheeks as she smiled at me and said: “If
I’d ‘a’ looked like this when I was young I reckon Mr. Burke wouldn’t
‘a’ been so easy in his mind when he went away from home, nor ‘a’
stayed so long. I always did sympathize with pretty women when they
capered round, but now I wonder they ever do sober down. If I weighed a
hundred pounds or so less I do believe I’d try to frisk yet.”

And I do believe she could; for she’s really a handsome woman. Why is
it that the women who have the most to them don’t give it a chance to
show through, but get themselves up so that anybody who glances at them
tries never to look again?

It is the change in her appearance even more than all she’s learned
that has given her self-confidence. She feels at ease–and that puts
her at ease, and puts everybody else at ease, too. It has reacted upon
Mr. Burke. He has dropped brilliantine–perhaps “ma” gave him a quiet
hint–and he has taken some lessons in dress from “Cyrus,” who really
gets himself up very well, considering that he has lived in Germany
for three years. I should have hopes that “pa” would blossom out into
something very attractive socially if he hadn’t a deep-seated notion
that he is a great joker. A naturally serious man who tries to be funny
is about the most painful object in civilization. Still, Washington
is full of statesmen and scholars who try to unbend and be “light,”
especially with “the ladies.” Nothing makes me–or any other woman, I
suppose–so angry as for a man to show that he takes me for a fool by
making a grinning galoot of himself whenever he talks to me. Bucyrus is
much that kind of ass. He alternates between solemnity and silliness.

I said rather pointedly to him the other night: “You men with your
great, deep minds make a mistake in changing your manner when you talk
with the women and the children. Nothing pleases us so much as to be
taken seriously.” But it didn’t touch him. However, he’s hardly to
blame. He’s spent a great many years round institutions of learning,
and in those places, I’ve noticed, every one has a musty, fusty sense
of humor. Probably it comes from cackling at classical jokes that have
laughed themselves as dry as a mummy.

We’ve been giving a few entertainments–informal and not large, but
highly important. I had two objects in mind: In the first place, to
get Mr. and Mrs. Burke accustomed to the style of hospitality they’ve
got to give if they’re going to win out. In the second place, to get
certain of the kind of people who are necessary to us in the habit of
coming to this house–and those people are not so very hard to get hold
of now; later they’ll be engaged day and night.

For two weeks now I’ve had my two especial features going. One of them
is for the men, the other for the women. And I can see already that
they alone would carry us through triumphantly; for they’ve caught on.

My men’s feature is a breakfast. I engaged a particularly good
cook–the best old-fashioned Southern cook in Washington. Rachel had
her, and I persuaded Mr. Derby to consent to giving her up to us, just
for this season. Cleopatra–that’s her name–has nothing to do but
get together every morning by nine o’clock the grandest kind of an
old-fashioned American breakfast. And I explained to Senator Burke that
he was to invite some of his colleagues, as many as he liked, and tell
them to come any morning, or every morning if they wished, and bring
their friends.

I consult with Cleopatra every day as to what she’s to have the next
morning; and I think dear old father taught me what kind of breakfast
men like. I don’t give them too much, or they’d be afraid to come
and risk indigestion a second time. I see to it that everything is
perfectly cooked–and it’s pretty hard for any man to get indigestion,
even from corned beef hash and hot cornbread and buckwheat cakes with
maple syrup, if it’s perfectly cooked and is eaten in a cheerful
frame of mind. No women are permitted at these breakfasts–just men,
with everything free and easy, plenty to smoke, separate tables, but
each large enough so that there’s always room at any one of them for
one more who might otherwise be uncomfortable. Even now we have from
fifteen to twenty men–among them the very best in Washington. In the
season we’ll have thirty and forty, and our house will be a regular
club from nine to eleven for just the right men.

My other big feature is an informal dance every Wednesday night. It’s
already as great a success in its way as the breakfasts are in theirs.
I’ve been rather careful about whom I let Mrs. Burke invite to come
in on Wednesdays whenever they like. The result is that everybody is
pleased; the affairs seem to be “exclusive,” yet are not. I know it
will do the Burkes a world of good politically, because a certain kind
of people who are important politically but have had no chance socially
are coming to us on Wednesdays, and that’s just the kind of people who
are frantically flattered by the idea that they are “in the push.”

Speaking of being “in the push,” there are two ways of getting there
if one isn’t there. One is to worm your way in; the other is to make
yourself the head and front of “the push.” That’s the way for those
who have money and know how. And that’s the way the Burkes are getting
in–getting in at the front instead of at the rear.

It’s most gratifying to see how Mr. Burke treats me. He always has
been deferential, but he now shows that he thinks I have real brains.
And since his breakfasts have become the talk of the town and are
“patronized” by the men he’s so eager to get hold of, he is even
consulting me about his business. I am criticizing for him now a speech
he’s going to make on the canal question next month–a dreadfully
dull speech, and I don’t feel competent to tell him what to do with
it. I think I’ll advise him not to make it, tell him his forte is
diplomacy–winning men round by personal dealing with them–which is
the truth.

Young Mr. Burke–after a period of unbending–is now shyer than ever.
I wondered why, until it happened to occur to me one day as I was
talking with Jessie. I suddenly said to her: “Jessie, did you ever tell
Nadeshda that you had planned to marry me to Cyrus Burke?”

She hopped about in her chair a bit, as uneasy as a bird on a swaying
perch. Then she confessed that she “might have suggested before
Nadeshda what a delightfully satisfactory thing it would be.”

I laughed to relieve her mind–also because it amused me to see through
Nadeshda.

Of course, one of the women I needed most in this Burke campaign was
Nadeshda. And I happened to know that she is bent on marrying a rich
American–indeed, that’s the only reason why the wilds of America are
favored with the presence of the beautiful, joy-loving, courted and
adored Baroness Nadeshda Daragane. The yarn about her sister, the
ambassadress, being an invalid and shrinking from the heavy social
responsibilities of the embassy is just so much trash. So, as soon as
“Cyrus” came I went over to see her, and, as diplomatically as I knew
how, displayed before her dazzled eyes the substantial advantages of
the sole heir of the great Western multi-millionaire.

As I went on to tell how generous the Senator is, and how certain he
would be to lavish wealth upon his daughter-in-law, I could see her
mind at work. A fascinating, naughty, treacherous little mind it
is–like a small Swiss watch of the rarest workmanship and full of
wheels within wheels. And she’s a beautiful little creature, as warm as
a tropical sun to look at, and about as cold as the Arctic regions to
deal with. No, I haven’t begun to describe her. I’d not be surprised
to hear that she had eloped with her brother-in-law’s coachman; nor
should I be surprised to hear that she had married the most hideous,
revolting man in the world for his money, and was suspected of being
engaged in trying to hasten him off to the grave. She’s of the queer
sort that would kiss or kill with equal enthusiasm, capable of almost
any virtue or vice–on impulse. If there’s any part of her beneath the
impulsive part it’s solid ice in a frame of steel. But–is there? She’s
talked about a good deal–not a tenth enough to satisfy her craving
for notoriety, and, I may add, not a tenth part so much as she deserves
to be, and would be if we studied character on this side of the water
instead of being too busy with ourselves to look beyond anybody else’s
surface.

Well, the Baroness Nadeshda has been wild about the Burkes ever since
we had our talk. And she has Mr. Cyrus thoroughly tangled in her nets,
and the Senator, too. And, naturally, she lost no time in trying to
“do” me. She has told Bucyrus what a designing creature I am–no doubt
has warned him that if I seem distant to him I’m at my deadliest, and
to look out for mines. He certainly is looking out for them, for,
whenever I speak to him, he acts as if he were stepping round on a
volcano. I’m having a good deal of fun with him. I wish I had the
time; I’d try to teach him a very valuable lesson. Really, it’s a shame
to let a man go through life imagining that he’s an all-conqueror, when
in reality the woman who marries him will feel that she’s swallowing
about as bitter a dose as Fate ever presented to feminine lips in a
gold spoon.

Dear old “ma” Burke hasn’t yet yielded to Nadeshda’s blandishments. We
went to the embassy to call yesterday afternoon at tea-time, and I saw
her watching Nadeshda in that smiling, simple way of hers that conceals
about as keen a brain as I shouldn’t care to have tearing me to pieces
for inspection.

The embassy at tea-time is always wild. For then Sophie comes in with
her monkey and Nadeshda’s seven dogs are racing about. And the Count
always laughs loudly, usually at nothing at all. And each time he
laughs the dogs bark until the monkey in a great fright dashes up the
curtains or flings himself at Sophie and almost strangles her with his
paws or arms, or whatever they are, round her neck. I don’t think I’ve
ever been there that something hasn’t been spilt for a huge mess; often
the whole tea-table topples over. Mrs. Burke loves to go, for afterward
she laughs a dozen times a day until her sides ache.

As we came away yesterday I said to her: “What a fascinating, beautiful
creature Nadeshda is!”

Mrs. Burke smiled. “When I was a girl,” she said, “I had a catamount
for a pet–a cub, and they had cut his claws. He was beautiful and
mighty fascinating–you never did know when he was going to fawn on you
and when he was going to fasten his teeth in you. The baroness puts me
in mind of my old pet, and how I didn’t know which was harder–to keep
him or to give him up.”

“She certainly has a strange nature,” said I.

After a pause Mrs. Burke went on: “She’s the queerest animal in this
menagerie here, so far as I’ve seen. And I don’t think I’m wrong in
suspecting she’s sitting up to Cyrus.”

“I don’t wonder he finds her interesting,” said I.

“Cyrus is just like his pa,” said she, “a mighty poor judge of women.
It was lucky for his pa that he married and settled down before he had
much glitter to catch the eyes of the women. Otherwise, he’d ‘a’ made a
ridiculous fool of himself. But I like a man the women can fool easy.
That shows he’s honest. These fellows who are so sharp at getting on to
the tricks of the women ain’t, as a rule, good for much else. But Cyrus
has got _me_ to look after him.”

“He might do much worse than marry Nadeshda,” said I.

“That’s what his pa says,” she replied. “But I ain’t got round to these
new-fashioned notions of marriage. I want to see my Cyrus married to
the sort of woman his ma’d like and be proud to have for the mother of
her grand-children. And I ain’t altogether sure we need the kind of
tone in our blood that a catamount’d bring. Though I must say a year or
so of living with a catamount might do Cyrus a world of good.”

Which shows that even love can’t altogether blind “ma” Burke.

January 3. I had to do a little scheming to get Mrs. Burke an
invitation to assist at the New Year’s reception. It’s always the first
event of the season, and, though it would have been no great matter
if I hadn’t been able to get her in among those who stand near the
President’s wife and the Cabinet women, still I felt that I couldn’t
get my “pulls” into working order any too soon. Ever since the second
week in my “job” I’ve realized that nothing could be easier than to put
the Burkes well to the front, but my ambition to make them first calls
for the exertion of every energy.

So, in the third week of December I set Rachel at Mrs. Senator Lumley
and Mrs. Admiral Bixby–two women who can get almost anything in reason
out of the President’s wife. Rachel is about the most important woman
in the old Washington aristocracy, and the Lumleys and the Bixbys are
in the nature of fixtures here, not at all like an evanescent President
or Cabinet person. So Rachel’s request set the two women to work. And
although the President’s wife said she’d asked all she intended to ask,
far too many, and didn’t see why on earth she should be beset for a
newcomer who had been reported to her as fat and impossible, still she
finally yielded.

I hadn’t hoped to get an invitation for them for the Cabinet dinner,
and I was astounded when it came. We had arranged to give a rather
large informal dinner that night and had to call it off, as an
invitation from the White House, even from the obscurest member of the
President’s family for any old function whatever, is a command that
may not be disobeyed. Well, as I was saying, the invitation to the
Cabinet dinner came unsought. It seems that the Burke breakfasts are
making a great stir politically; so great a stir that they have made
the President a little uneasy. Of course, the best way to get rid of an
opponent is to conciliate him. Hence the royal command to Senator and
Mrs. Burke to appear at his Majesty’s dinner to his Majesty’s ministers.

Mrs. Burke is tremendously proud of her first two communications from
the White House. As for the Senator, he looks at them half a dozen
times a day.

I went down to the New Year’s reception to see how “ma” was getting on.
As I had expected, she didn’t stand very long. She cast about for a
chair, and, seeing one, planted herself. Soon the Baroness joined her,
and young Prince Krepousky joined Nadeshda, and then General Martin,
who loves Mrs. Burke for the feeds she gives. The group grew, and
Mrs. Burke began to talk in her drawling, humorous way, and Nadeshda
laughed, which made the others laugh–for it’s impossible to resist
Nadeshda. When I arrived Mrs. Burke was “right in it.”

And after a while the President came and said: “Is this your reception,
madam, or is it mine?” At which there was more laughing, he raising a
great guffaw and slapping his hip with his powerful hand. Then they all
went up to have something to eat, and the President spent most of the
time with her.

She doesn’t need any more coaching. Of course, she’s flattered by her
success. But instead of having her head turned, as most women do who
get the least bit of especial attention from the conspicuous men here,
she takes it all very placidly. “They don’t care shucks for me,” she
says, “and I know it. We’re all in business together, and I’m mighty
glad it can be carried on so cheerful-like.” At the Cabinet dinner,
to-morrow night, she’ll have to sit well down toward the foot of the
table. But she won’t mind that. Indeed, if I hadn’t been giving her
lessons in precedence she wouldn’t have an idea that everything here is
arranged by rank.

Jessie–so she tells me–had a half-hour’s session with “Cyrus” the
other day and gave him a very exalted idea of my social position and
influence. No doubt, what she said confirmed his suspicion that I and
my friends are conspiring against him; but I observe a distinct change
in his manner toward me. He’s even humble. I suppose he thought I
was some miserable creature whom his mother had taken on, half out
of charity. I’m afraid I have a sort of family pride that’s a little
ridiculous–but I can’t help it. Still, I am American enough to despise
people who are courteous or otherwise, according as they look up to or
look down on the particular person’s family and position. I guess young
Mr. Burke is his father in an aggravated form. Yet Jessie, and Rachel,
too, pretend to like him. And probably they really do–it’s not hard
to like any one who is not asking favors and is in a position to grant
them, and isn’t so near to one that his quills stick into one.

The Countess of Wend came in to see me this afternoon and told me all
about the row over at the legation. It seems that the new minister is
a plebeian, and in their country people of his sort aren’t noticed by
the upper classes unless an upper-class man happens to need something
to wipe his boots on and one of them is convenient for use. Well, every
attaché is in a fury, and none of them will speak to the minister
except in the most formal way and only when it’s absolutely necessary.
As for the minister’s wife, the other women–but what’s the use of
describing it; we all know how nasty women can be about matters of
rank. The Count is talking seriously of resigning. I’d be dreadfully
sorry, as Eugenie is a dear, more like an American than a foreigner;
and I believe she really likes us, where most of them privately despise
us as a lot of low-born upstarts. I know they laugh all day long at the
President’s queer manners and mannerisms–but then, so do we, for that
matter. And it’s quite unusual for Washington, where each President is
bowed down to and praised everywhere and flattered till he thinks he’s
a sort of god–and forgotten as soon as his term is ended. I suppose
there’s nothing deader on this earth than an ex-President, with no
offices to distribute and no hopes for a further political career.

January 9. We had a beautiful dinner here last night–very brilliant
too, as we all were going to a ball at the Russian embassy afterward.
All the diplomats and army men were in uniform–and one or two of the
army men were really brilliant. But none of the diplomats. They say
that no nation sends us its best or even its second best. It seems
that diplomats don’t amount to much in this day of cables. Those who
have any intelligence naturally go to courts, where the atmosphere is
congenial and where there are chances for decorations. So we get only
the stiffs and stuffs–with a few exceptions. If it weren’t for their
women–

But, to return to our dinner–Mrs. Burke went in with the German
ambassador, and I saw that they were getting on famously. He is a very
clever man in a small way, and has almost an American sense of humor.
As soon as he saw that she intended what she said to be laughed at he
gave himself up to it. “Your Mrs. Burke is charming, Miss Talltowers,”
said he to me after dinner. “She ranks with Bret Harte and Mark Twain.
It’s only in America that you find old women who make you forget to
wish you were with young and pretty women.”

Jim Lafollette took me in–the first time I’ve had him here. I must
say he behaved very well and was the handsomest man in the room. But
he never has much to say that is worth hearing. Though conversation at
Washington in society isn’t on any too high a plane, as a rule–how
could conversation in a mixed society anywhere be very high?–still it
isn’t the wishy-washy chatter and gossip that Jim Lafollette delights
in. Of course, army officers almost always go in for gossip–that comes
from sitting round with their women at lonely posts where nothing
occurs. And they, as a rule, either gossip or simply drivel when they
talk to women, because all the women that ever liked them liked them
for their brass buttons, and all the women they ever liked they liked
for their pretty faces and empty heads. So, usually, to get an army
officer at dinner is to sit with a bowl of soft taffy held to your
lips and a huge spoonful of it thrust into your mouth every time you
stop talking. That’s true of many of the statesmen, too, especially the
heavyweights. I suppose I’m wrong, but I can’t help suspecting a man
without a sense of humor of being a solemn fraud.

You’d think American women, at the capital, at least, would be
interested in politics. But they’re not. They say it’s the vulgarity
of the intriguing and of most of the best intriguers that makes them
dislike politics, even here. I suspect there’s another reason. We women
are so petted by the men that we don’t have to know anything to make
ourselves agreeable. If we’re pretty and listen well that’s all that’s
necessary. So, why get headaches learning things?

Of course, there are exceptions. Take Maggie Shotwell. Her husband
is a wag-eared ass. Yet in eleven years she has advanced him from
second secretary to minister to a second-class power just by showing
up here at intervals and playing the game intelligently. And there are
scores of army women who do as well in a smaller way, and a few of the
diplomats’ wives are most adroit, intriguing well both here and at
their homes in a nice, clean way, as intrigue goes.

But most of the women are like “ma” Burke, who’d as soon think of
entering for a foot-race as of interfering in her husband’s political
affairs in any way, beyond giving him some sound advice about the
men that can be trusted and the men that can’t. I suppose if there
were real careers in public life in this country, not dependent upon
elections, the Washington women wouldn’t be so lazy and indifferent,
but would wake up and intrigue their brothers and sons and other male
relatives into all sorts of things. Then, too, a man has to vote with
his “party” on everything that’s important, and his “party” is a small
group of old men who are beyond social blandishments and go to bed
early every night and associate only with men in the daytime.

No, we women don’t amount to much _directly_ at Washington. If Jim
Lafollette had kept away from the women and society he might have
amounted to something. It’s become a proverb that whenever a young man
comes here and goes in for the social end of it he is doomed soon to
disappear and be heard of no more. The President is trying to make
society amount to something, but he won’t succeed. Whatever benefit
there may be in it will go, not to him, but to men like Senator Burke.
He doesn’t go any more than he can help, except to his own breakfasts.
But he sends his wife, and so, without wasting any of his time, he
makes himself prominent in a very short space of time and gets all the
big social indirect influence–the influence of the women on their
husbands.

Mrs. Burke’s younger brother, Robert Gunton, arrived last night. He
reminds me of her, but he’s slender and very active–a shabby sort of
person, clean but careless, and he looks as if he had so many other
things to think about that he hadn’t time to think about himself. He
looks younger and talks older than his years. He’s here to get some
sort of patent through; he won’t permit his brother-in-law to assist
him; he refuses to go anywhere–in society, I mean. We rode up to the
Capitol together in a street-car this morning, and I liked him.

“Why do you ride in a street-car?” he asked.

“Because it’s not considered good form to use carriages too much,” I
replied. “It might rouse the envy of those who can’t afford carriages.”

“Then it isn’t because you don’t want to, but because you don’t dare
to?”

“Yes,” said I. “But things are changing rapidly. The rich people who
live here but care nothing for politics are gradually introducing class
distinctions.”

“You mean, poor people who like to fawn upon and hate the rich are
introducing class distinctions,” he corrected.

He is thirty-two years old; he treats a woman as if she were a man,
and he treats a man as if he himself were one. It isn’t possible not to
like that sort of human being.

Invitations are beginning to come in floods–invitations for the big,
formal things for which people are asked weeks in advance. And we are
getting a splendid percentage of acceptances for our big affairs,
thanks to my taking the trouble to find out the freest dates in the
season. If all goes well, before another month, as soon as it gets
round that we are going to give something big in a short time, lots of
pretty good people will be holding off from accepting other things in
the hope that they’re on our list.

Certainly, there’s a good deal in going about anything in a systematic
way–even a social launching.