with a maddening husbandish air

January 12. We are all sleeping so badly. Even the Senator, whom
nothing has ever before kept from his “proper rest,” is complaining
of wakefulness. Suppers every night either here or elsewhere, the
house never quiet until two or three in the morning, all of us up at
eight–Cyrus often at seven because he rides a good deal, and the early
morning is the only time when any one in Washington in the season
can find time to ride. “It’s worse than the Wilderness campaign,”
said Mr. Burke, who was a lieutenant in the war. “For now and then,
between battles and skirmishes, we did get plenty of sleep. This is
a continuous battle day and night, week in and week out, with no
let-up for Sundays.” And Mrs. Burke–poor “ma!” How hollow-eyed and
sagged-cheeked she is getting with the real season less than two weeks
old! She says: “I wouldn’t treat a dog as I treat myself. I no sooner
get to sleep than they wake me. I think the servants just delight to
wake me, and I don’t blame them, for they’re worse off than we are,
though I do try to be as easy on them as possible.” She doesn’t know
how many long naps they take while she’s dragging herself from place to
place.

On our way to the White House to a musicale she fell asleep. As we
rolled up to the entrance I had to wake her. She came to with a sort
of groan and gave a ludicrously pitiful glance at the attendant who was
impatiently waiting. “Oh, Lord!” she muttered. “I was dreaming I was in
bed, and it ain’t so. Instead, I’ve got to enjoy myself.” And then she
gave a dreary laugh.

“Ma” Burke dozed through the musicale with a pleasant smile on her
large face and her head keeping time to the music. When we spoke to the
President and he said he hoped she’d “enjoyed herself,” she drawled:
“I did that, Mr. President! I only wish it had been longer–I’m ‘way
behind on sleep.” He laughed uproariously. It’s the fashion to laugh
at everything “ma” says now, because the German ambassador tells every
one what a wit she is. And who’d fail to laugh at wit admired by an
ambassador?

Writing about sleep has driven off my fit of wakefulness. I’ll only
add that Lu Frayne’s in town, working day and night to get her husband
transferred from San Francisco to the War Department here. I think
she’ll win out, as she’s got two Senators who’ve been frightening
the President by acting queerly lately. It’s too funny! When the new
Administration came every one was scared because the rumor got round
that he was going to give us a repetition of the Cleveland nightmare.
But there was nothing in it; the only “pulls” that have failed to
work are those that were strong with the last Administration, and
there’s a whole crop of new pulls. Well, at least, the right sort of
people, those who have family and position, are getting their rights to
preference as they never did before. We’ve not had many Presidents who
knew the right sort of people even when they’ve been willing to please
them, if they could pick them out.

What a changed Washington it is: so many formalities; so many rich
people; so many rich men, and men of family and position in office;
so many big, fine houses and English and French servants. “Such a
stylishness!”

January 14. Our first big dance last night–I mean, formal dance to
show our strength. Everybody was here, and the dinner beforehand and
the supper afterward and all the mechanical arrangements, so to speak,
were perfect. The ball-room was a sight–even “ma” Burke, tired to
death, perked up. Almost all the diplomats, except those nobody asks,
were here. And I don’t think more than thirty people we hadn’t invited
ventured to come. We were all so excited that, after the last people
had gone, we sat round for nearly an hour. “Ma” Burke took me in her
arms and kissed me. “It was your ball,” said she. “But then, everything
we get credit for is all yours; ain’t it, pa?”

“Miss Talltowers has certainly done wonderfully,” said “pa” in his
cautious, judicial way. Then he seemed ashamed of himself, as if he had
been ungenerous, and shook hands with me and added: “Thank you, thank
you, Miss Augusta–if you’ll permit me the liberty of calling you so.”

“I never expected to see as pretty a girl as you bothering to have
brains,” Mrs. Burke went on to say. And for the first time in weeks and
weeks it occurred to me that I did have a personal existence apart from
my work–the books and bookkeeping, the servants and the housekeeper,
who is only one more to fuss with, the tradespeople, and musicians, and
singers, and florists, and–it makes my head whirl to try to recall the
awful list.

“She won’t be pretty very long,” said Cyrus–he’s taking lessons of his
mother and is dropping his fancy-work speech and his “made-in-Germany”
manners–“if she don’t stop working day _and_ night.”

“Oh, I’m amusing myself,” replied I; but I was reminded how weary I
felt, and went away to bed. I neglected to close my sitting-room door,
and as I was getting ready for bed in my dressing-room I couldn’t help
overhearing a scrap of talk between Cyrus and Mr. Gunton as they went
along the hall on the way to their apartments.

“The Tevises were disgusting–they showed their envy so plainly,” Cyrus
said. The Tevises are trying hard to do what we’re doing in a social
way, and though they must have even more money than the Burkes, they’re
failing at it.

“They’ll never get anywhere,” Mr. Gunton replied. “You can’t collect
much of a crowd of nice people just to watch you spend money. You’ve
got to give them a real show. There’s where Miss Talltowers comes in.”

“She has wonderful taste and originality,” said Cyrus. Cyrus!

Mr. Gunton sat out most of the evening with Nadeshda. I suppose
she was trying to make Cyrus jealous and also to create trouble
between him and his uncle. I’ve not seen a franker flirtation even
in Washington. Whenever I chanced to look at them, Mr. Gunton was
talking earnestly, and she seemed to be hanging to his words like a
thirsty bird to a water-pan. And her queer, subtle face was–well,
it was beautiful, and gave me that sense of the wild and fierce and
uncanny which makes her both fascinating and terrible. I think Mr.
Gunton was infatuated–indeed, I know it. For when I spoke of her to
him this morning his eyes seemed to blaze. He drew a long breath. “A
wonder-woman!” he said. “I never saw anything like her–in the flesh.”
Then he looked a little sheepish, and added: “I mean it, but I laugh
at myself, too. There are fools that don’t know they’re fools; then,
there are fools that do know it and laugh at themselves as they plan
fresh follies–it takes a pretty clever man, Miss Talltowers, to make
a grand, supreme, rip-roaring ass of himself, doesn’t it? At least,
I hope so.” And with that somewhat mysterious observation he left me
abruptly.

When I saw him and Nadeshda together so much at the ball I looked out
for Cyrus. He seemed bored, and devoted himself to wallflowers, but on
the whole was surprisingly unconcerned, apparently. I had him in sight
almost the whole evening. Jim Lafollette, who stuck to my train like a
Japanese poodle–I told him so, but he didn’t take the hint–said that
“the gawk,” meaning Cyrus, was hanging round me. “He’s moon-struck,”
said Jim. “So your little put-up job with Jessie seems to be doing
nicely, thank you.” I wonder why a man assumes that the fact that he
loves a woman gives him the right to insult her and makes it his duty
to do it. And I wonder why we women assent to that sort of impudence.
There’s another conventionality that ought to be stamped out.

I find I was hasty in my judgment of Cyrus. He’s a lot more of a man
than he led me to suppose at first. I think he might be licked into
shape. He ought to hunt up some widow or married woman older than
himself and go to school for a few seasons. But perhaps Nadeshda will
do as well.

January 17. There were thirty-two at Senator Burke’s “little informal
breakfast” yesterday morning, including four of the leading Senators,
two members of the Cabinet, an ambassador and three ministers, several
generals, half a dozen distinguished strangers, four or five big
financial men from New York who are here on “private business” with
Congress, and not a man who doesn’t count for something except that
wretched little Framstern, who never misses anything free. And our
regular weekly informal dance was an equal success in its way. Senator
Ritchie told me it was amazing how Burke had forged to the front in
influence and in popularity. “And now that the newspapers have begun to
take him up he’ll soon be standing out before the whole country.” So
my little suggestion about the wives and families of correspondents of
the big papers, which the Burkes adopted, is bearing fruit. And Mrs.
Burke is so genuinely friendly and hospitable that really I’ve only to
suggest her being nice to somebody to set her to work. If she were the
least bit of a fraud I’d not dare–she’d only get into trouble.

January 18. I was breakfasting alone in my sitting-room this morning–I
always do an hour or so of work before I touch anything to eat–when
Mr. Gunton sent, asking if he might join me. I was glad to have him.
His direct way is attractive, and he never talks without saying at
least a few things I haven’t heard time and again. He was in riding
clothes, and as soon as I looked at him I saw he had something on his
mind.

“Good ride?” I asked.

He made an impatient gesture–whenever he has anything to say and
doesn’t know how to begin, the way to start him off is to make some
commonplace remark. It acts like a blow that knocks in the head of a
full barrel. “I was out with the Baroness Daragane,” he said, “with
Nadeshda.”

“And Cyrus?” said I.

He looked at me in astonishment, then laughed queerly. “Oh, bother!”
he exclaimed. “Cyrus doesn’t disturb himself about _her_, or she about
him–and you know it. Miss Talltowers, I love her–and she loves me.”

His tone was convincing. But, after the first shock, I couldn’t believe
anything so preposterous. And I felt sorry for him–an honest, straight
man, inexperienced with women, a fine mixture of gentleness and
roughness, at once too much and too little of a gentleman for Nadeshda.
If I had dared I should have tried to undeceive him. But I’m not so
stupid as ever to try to make a person in love see the truth about
the person he or she’s in love with. So I simply said: “She is a most
fascinating woman.”

[Illustration]

“You think I’m a fool,” he went on, as if I hadn’t spoken, “and I am
a–a blankety-blank fool. Did you see her night before last in that
dress of silver spangles like the wonderful skin of some amazing
serpent? Did you see her eyes–her hair–the way her arms looked–as if
they could wind themselves round a man’s neck and choke him to death
while her eyes were fooling him into thinking that such a death was
greater happiness than to live?” He rolled this all out, then burst
into a queer, crazy laugh. “You see, I’m a lunatic!” he said.

“Yes, I see it,” I replied cheerfully. “But why do you rave to me?”

“Because I–we–have got to tell somebody, and you’re the only person
in Washington that I know that’s both sensible and experienced, wise
enough to understand, beautiful enough to sympathize, and young enough
to encourage.”

That was rather good for a man who had had less than a month’s real
experience with women, wasn’t it? I recognized Nadeshda’s handiwork,
and admired.

“Miss Talltowers,” he went on, “I am going to make a fool of myself,
and she’s going to help me.”

“In what particular sort of folly are you about to embark?” said I.

“We’re going to marry,” he replied. “We’ve _got_ to marry. I’m afraid
of her and she’s afraid of me, and we’ll either have Heaven or the
other place when we do marry–perhaps big doses of each alternately.
But we’ve got to do it.”

“You know it’s impossible,” said I. “Under the laws of her country
she mayn’t marry without the consent of her parents. And they’d never
consent.”

“Certainly they won’t,” said he, “unless you can suggest some way of
getting the ambassador and his wife round. We want to give her people a
chance.” This with perfect coolness. I began to believe that there must
be something in it.

“Does Nadeshda know you aren’t rich?” I asked.

“She knows I have practically nothing. In fact I told her I had less
than I have.”

“And you’re sure she wishes to marry you?”

“Ask her.”

He was quiet a while, then raved about her for ten minutes, begged me
to do my best thinking, and left me. I felt dazed. I simply couldn’t
believe it. And the longer I thought, the more certain I was that
she was making some sort of grand play in coquetry, which seemed
ridiculous enough when I considered what small game Mr. Gunton is from
the standpoint of a woman like Nadeshda.

In the afternoon I was in a flower store in Pennsylvania Avenue, and
Nadeshda joined me. Her surface was, if anything, cooler and subtler
and more cynical than usual. “Send away your cab,” said she, “and let
me take you in my auto–wherever you wish.”

As I was full of curiosity, I accepted instantly. When we were under
way she gave me a strange smile–a slow parting of the lips, a slow
half-closing and elongation of those Eastern eyes which she inherits
from a Russian grandmother, I believe.

“Well, Gus,” she said, “has that wild man told you?”

“Yes, and you ought to be ashamed of yourself,” said I, a little
indignantly. “It ain’t fair to coax an innocent into _your_ sort of
game and fleece him of his little all.”

She laughed–beautiful white teeth, cruel like her red lips. “It’s all
true–all he told you,” she replied. “All true, on my honor.”

Every season Washington’s strange mixture of classes and conditions and
nations furnishes at least one sensation of some kind or other. But,
used as I am to surprises until they have ceased to surprise, this took
me quite aback. “Do you love him, Nadeshda–really?”

She quite closed her eyes and said in a strange, slow undertone:
“He’s my master. The blood in my veins flowed straight from the
savage wilderness. And he comes from there, and I don’t dare disobey
him. I’d do anything he said. And when we’re married I’ll never
glance at another man–if he saw me he’d kill me. Ah, you don’t
understand–you’re too–too civilized. Now, I think I should love him
better if he’d beat me.”

I laughed–it was too ridiculous, especially as she was plainly in
earnest. She laughed, too, and added: “I think some day I’ll try
to make him do it. He’s afraid of me, too. And he may well be, for
I–well, he belongs to _me_, you see, and I _will_ have what’s mine!”

Yes, she would–I believe her absolutely. And I must say I like her at
last, for all her extremely uncanny way of loving and of liking to be
loved. I suppose she’s only a primeval woman–I believe the primeval
woman fancied the lover who lay in wait and brought her down with a
club. I begin to understand Robert Gunton, too–that is, the side of
his nature she’s roused.

“Do you believe us?” she asked.

“Yes, I do,” said I, “and I apologize to you. I’ve been thinking of you
all along as–fascinating, of course, but–mercenary.”

“Ah, but so I am!” she exclaimed. “It breaks my heart to marry this
poor man–and of such a vulgar family–even among you funny Americans.
But”–she threw up her arms and her shoulders and let them drop in a
gesture of tragicomic helplessness–“I must have him; I must be his
slave.”

I can’t imagine how it’s going to end, as her people will never let
her marry him. Possibly, if “ma” Burke were to persuade the Senator
to settle a large sum on her–but that’s wild, even if Gunton would
consent. I can imagine what a roar he’d give if such a thing were
proposed. He’ll insist on having her on his own terms. As if his
insisting would do any good!

The last thing she said to me was: “Do you know when we became engaged?
Listen! It was the first time we met–after three hours. After one hour
he made me insult the men who came up to claim dances. After two hours
he made me say, ‘I love you.’ After three hours–it was on the way down
to my carriage–he asked me to come into the little reception-room by
the entrance. And he closed the door and caught me in his arms and
kissed me. ‘That makes you my wife,’ he said in a _dreadful_ voice–oh,
it was–_magnifique!_–and he said, ‘Do you understand?’ And”–she
smiled ravishingly and nodded her head–“I understood.”

I shan’t sleep a wink to-night.

January 20. I wish they hadn’t told me. If ever a man loves me and
wants to win me he must be–well, perhaps not exactly _that_, but
certainly not tame. I’m not a bit like Nadeshda, but I do hate the tame
sort. I know what’s the matter with me now. Yes, I wish they hadn’t
told me.

January 21. Robert and Nadeshda have told “ma” Burke. She
is–_delighted_! “I never heard of the like,” she said to me all in
a quiver. “I wish I’d known there were such things. I reckon I’d ‘a’
made my Tom cut a few capers before he got _me_.” And then she laughed
until she cried. It certainly was droll to picture “pa” capering in the
Robert-Nadeshda fashion.

She went to the embassy and told Nadeshda’s sister, Madame
l’Ambassadrice. “She let on as if she was just tickled to death,” she
reported to me a few minutes after she returned. “And when I told her
that we–Tom and I–would do handsomely by Nadeshda as soon as they
were married she had tears in her eyes. But I don’t trust her–nor any
other foreigner.”

“Not even Nadeshda?”

“Ma” nodded knowingly. “I reckon Bob’ll keep her on the chalk,” she
replied. “He’s started right, and in marriage, as in everything else,
it’s all in the start.”

January 22. Nadeshda asked Mrs. Burke to give a big costume ball, but
I sat on it hard. “I don’t think you want to do that, Mrs. Burke,”
said I, when she proposed it to me. “If this were New York it wouldn’t
matter so much, though I don’t think really nice people with means do
that sort of thing there. Here I’m afraid it’d make you very unpopular.”

“Do you think so?” said she. “Now, I’d ‘a’ said it was just the sort of
foolishness these people’d like.”

“Those who have money would,” I replied. “But how about those who
haven’t? Don’t you think that people of large means ought to make it a
rule never to cause any expense whatever to those of their friends and
acquaintances who haven’t means?”

“Don’t say another word!” she exclaimed, seeing my point instantly.
“Why, it’d be the worst thing in the world. Out home I’ve always been
careful about those kind of things, but on here I don’t know the people
and am liable to forget how they’re circumstanced. They all seem
so prosperous on the surface. I reckon there’s a lot of miserable
pinching and squinching when the blinds are down.”

Cyrus happened to come in just then, and she told him all about
it. He looked at me and grew red and evidently tried to say
something–probably something that would have shown how poorly he
thought of my cheating them all out of the fun. But he restrained
himself and said nothing.

Presently he went out and must have gone straight to his
father–probably to remonstrate, though I may wrong him–for, after a
few minutes, the Senator came.

“My son has just been telling me,” he said to me, “and I agree with
you entirely. It would be ruinous politically. As it is, if it hadn’t
been for you we’d never have been able to keep both the official and
the fashionable sets in a good humor with us.” I never saw him so
“flustered” before.

“What are you talking about, pa?” inquired Mrs. Burke.

“About the costume ball you were thinking of giving.”

Mrs. Burke smiled. “You’d better go back to your cage,” said she.
“That’s settled and done for long ago.”

“Pa” looked more uneasy than his good-natured tone seemed to
justify–but, no doubt, he knows when he has put his foot into it. He
“faded” from the room. When she heard his study door close “ma” said to
me in a complacent voice: “There’s nothing like keeping a man always to
his side of the fence. When ‘pa’ began to get rich I saw trouble ahead,
for he was showing signs that he was thinking himself right smart
better than the common run, and that he was including his wife in the
common run. I took Mr. Smartie Burke right in hand. And so, with him
it’s never been ‘I’ in this family, but ‘we.’ And keeping it that way
has made Tom lots happier than he would ‘a’ been lording it over me and
having no control on his foolishness anywhere.”

What a dear, sensible woman she is! He’s got good brains, but if he had
as good brains as she has he’d get what he’s after and doesn’t stand a
show for.

January 24. The whole town is in a tumult over Robert and Nadeshda.
People think she’s crazy. When Cyrus said this to me I said: “And I
think they are–at least, delirious.”

“A divine delirium, though,” he replied, much to my astonishment. For
he’s never shown before that he had so much as a spot of that sort of
thing in him. But then, I’m beginning to revise my judgment of him in
some ways. He is much nearer what his mother said he was than what I
thought him. But he’s young and crude. I find that he likes–and really
appreciates–the same composers and poets and novelists that I do. I
can forgive much to any one who realizes what a poet Browning was–when
he did write poetry, not when he wrote the stuff for the Browning clubs
to fuddle with.

Nadeshda is in the depths–except when Robert is by to hypnotize
her. “I was so strong,” she said pathetically to me to-day, “or I
thought I was. And now I’m all weakness.” She went on to tell me
how horribly they are talking to her at the embassy–for they are
determined she shan’t marry “that nobody with nothing.” I always knew
her brother-in-law was a snob of the cheapest and narrowest kind–the
well-born, well-bred kind. But I had no idea he was a coward. He
threatens to have the Emperor make her come home and go into a convent
if she doesn’t break off the engagement within a week.

We are tremendously popular. Everybody is cultivating us, hoping
to find out the real inside of this incredible engagement. And the
ambassador has to pretend publicly that he’s personally wild with
delight and hopes Nadeshda’s parents will consent. He knows how
unpopular it would make him and his country with America if his
opposition and his reason for it were to be known.

January 30. Nadeshda has disappeared. They give out at the embassy that
she has left for home to consult with her parents. Robert looks like
a man who had gone stark mad and was fighting to keep himself from
showing it.

We were all at the ball at the French embassy, Mr. and Mrs. Burke
dining there. I dined at the White House–a literary affair. The
conversation was what you might expect when a lot of people get
together to show one another how brilliant they are. The President
talked a great deal. He has very positive opinions on literature in all
its branches. I was the only person at the table who wasn’t familiar
with his books. Fortunately, I wasn’t cornered. Cyrus came to the ball
from Mrs. Dorringer’s, where he took in the Duchess d’Emarre. “She has
a beautiful face in repose,” he said to me as he paused for a moment,
“and it’s not at all pretty when she talks. So she listened well.”

I was too tired to dance, as were the others. We went home together,
all depressed. “It’s too ridiculous, this kind of life,” said “ma”
Burke, “and the most ridiculous part of it is that, now we’re hauled
into it and set a-going, we’ll never get out and be sensible again. It
just shows you can get used to anything in this world–except doing as
you please. I don’t believe anybody was ever satisfied to do that. Did
you ever wear a Mother Hubbard? _There’s_ comfort!”

I can think of nothing but Robert and Nadeshda. Have they some sort of
understanding? No–I’m afraid not.

I forgot to put down that Robert made the Senator go to the Secretary
of State about Nadeshda’s disappearance. The Secretary was sympathetic,
but he refused to interfere in any way. What else could he do?

February 1. Last night Robert started for Europe. He is going to see
Nadeshda’s father and mother. I begin to suspect that Nadeshda has
really gone abroad and that she has let him know. He is certainly in
a very different frame of mind from what he was at first. But he says
nothing, hints nothing. Rachel, who has a huge sentimental streak in
her, has given Robert a letter to her sister Ellen–she’s married to
one of the biggest nobles in the empire, Prince Glückstein. Also, she
has written Ellen a long, long letter, telling her all about Robert,
and what a great catch he is. And he _is_ a great catch now, for
Senator Burke has organized a company to take over his patents and pay
him a big sum for them–it’ll sound fabulously big to such people as
the Daraganes. For even where these foreigners are very rich and have
miles on miles of land and large incomes from it, they’re not used to
the kind of fortunes we have–the sums in cash, or in property that’s
easily sold. And the Daraganes have only rank; their estates are quite
insignificant, Von Slovatsky says.

“They might as well consent first as last,” said Mrs. Burke to me just
after Robert left; “for Bob always gets what he wants. He never lets
go. Cyrus is the same way–he spent eleven months in the mountains
once, and like to ‘a’ starved and froze and died of fever, just because
he’d made up his mind not to come back without a grizzly. That’s why
the President took to him.”

And then she told me that it was Cyrus who thought out the scheme
for making Robert financially eligible and put it in such form that
Robert consented. That convicted me of injustice again, for I had been
suspecting him of being secretly pleased at Robert’s set-back–he
certainly hasn’t looked in the least sorry for him. But it may be that
Robert has told him more than he’s told us. He certainly couldn’t have
found a closer-mouthed person. As his mother says, “The grave’s a
blabmouth beside him when it comes to keeping secrets. And most men are
_such_ gossips.”

Mrs. Fortescue came in to tea this afternoon. Mrs. Burke was out
calling, and I received her–or, rather, she caught me, for I detest
her. Just as she was going Cyrus popped in, and she nailed him before
he could pop out. She thought it was a good chance to put in a few
strong strokes for her daughter. “Of course, it’s very pretty and
romantic about Nadeshda,” she said, “and in this case I’m sure no one
with a spark of heart could object. Still, the principle is bad. I
don’t think young girls who are properly brought up are so impulsive
and imprudent. I often say to my husband that I think it’s perfectly
frightful the way girls–young girls–go about in Washington. They’re
out before they should be even thinking of leaving the nursery, and go
round practically unchaperoned. It’s so demoralizing.”

“But how are they to compete with the young married women if they
don’t?” said Cyrus, because he was evidently expected to say something.

“I don’t think a man–a _sensible_ man–looking for a wife for his home
and a mother for his children would want a girl who’d been ‘competing’
in Washington society,” she answered. “I don’t at all approve the way
American girls are brought up, anyway–it’s entirely too free and
destructive of the innocence that is a woman’s chief charm. And as for
turning the young girls loose in Washington!” Mrs. Fortescue threw
up her hands. “It’s simply madness. Most of the men are foreigners,
accustomed to meet only married women in society. They don’t know how
to take a young girl, and they don’t understand this American freedom.
The wonder to me is that we don’t have a regular cataclysm every
season. Now, I never permit Mildred to go _anywhere_ without me or
some other _real_ chaperon. And I know that her mind is like a fresh
rose-leaf.”

Cyrus and I exchanged a covert glance of amusement. Mildred Fortescue
is a very nice, sweet girl, but–well, she does fool her mother
scandalously.

“I should think a man would positively be _afraid_ to marry the
ordinary Washington society girl who knows everything that she
shouldn’t and nothing that she should.”

“Perhaps that’s what makes them so irresistible,” said Cyrus.

“Irresistible to flirt with and to _flaner_ about with,” said Mrs.
Fortescue reproachfully. “But I’m sure you wouldn’t marry one of them,
Mr. Burke.”

“Oh, I don’t know,” he answered. “No doubt it does spoil a good
many, being so free and associating with experienced men who’ve been
brought up in a very different way. But”–he hesitated and blushed
uncomfortably–“it seems to me that those who do come through all right
are about the best anywhere. If a girl has any really bad qualities
anywhere in her they come out here. And if a Washington girl does marry
a man–for himself–and I rather think they make marriages of the heart
more than most girls in the same sort of society in other cities–don’t
you, Miss Talltowers?”

“It may be so,” I replied. “But probably they’re much like girls–and
men–everywhere. They make marriages of the heart if they get the
chance. And if nobody happens along in the marrying mood who is able
to appeal to their hearts, they select the most eligible among the
agreeable ones they can get. I think many a girl has been branded as
mercenary when in reality the rich man she chose was neither more nor
less agreeable than the poor man she rejected, and she only had choice
among men she didn’t especially care about.”

Mrs. Fortescue looked disgusted. Cyrus showed that he agreed with me.
“What I was going to say,” he went on, “was, that if a Washington girl
does choose a man, after she has known lots of men and has come to
prefer him, she’s not likely–at least, not _so_ likely–to repent her
bargain. And,” he said, getting quite warmed up by his subject, “if a
man looks forward to his wife’s going about in society, as he must if
he lives in a certain way, I think he’s wise to select some one who has
learned something of the world–how to conduct herself, how to control
herself, how to fill the rôle Fate has assigned her.”

“Oh, of course, a girl should be well-bred,” said Mrs. Fortescue, as
sourly as her sort of woman can speak to a bachelor with prospects.

Cyrus said no more, and soon she was off. He stood at the window
watching her carriage drive away. He turned abruptly–I was at the
little desk, writing a note.

“You can’t imagine,” he said with quick energy, “how I loathe the
average girl brought up in conventional, exclusive society in America.”

“Really?” said I, not stopping my writing–though I don’t mind
confessing that I was more interested in his views than I cared to let
him see.

“Yes, really,” he replied ironically. Then he went on in his former
tone: “Poor things, they can’t help having silly mothers with the idea
of aping the European upper classes, and with hardly a notion of those
upper classes beyond–well, such notions as are got in novels written
by snobs for snobs. And these unfortunate girls are afraid of a genuine
emotion–by Jove, I doubt if they even have the germs of genuine
emotion. All that sort of thing has been weeded out of them. Little dry
minds, little dry hearts–so ‘proper,’ so–vulgar!”

“Not in Washington,” said I.

“No, not so many in Washington; though more and more all the time. Miss
Talltowers, will you marry me?”

It was just like that–no warning, not a touch of sentiment toward me.
I almost dropped my pen. But I managed to hide myself pretty well.
I simply went on with my note, finished it, sealed and addressed it,
and rang for a servant. Then I went and stood by the fire. The servant
came; I gave him the note and went into my office. I had been in there
perhaps ten minutes when he came, looking shy and sheepish. He stumbled
over a low chair and had a ridiculous time saving himself from falling.
When he finally had himself straightened up and shaken together he
stood with his hands behind him, and his face red, and his eyes down,
and with his mouth fixed in that foolish little way as if he were about
to speak with his fancy-work way of handling his words.

“Do you wish something?” I asked.

“Only–only my answer,” said he humbly.

Would you believe it, I actually hesitated.

“I want a woman that doesn’t like me for my money, and that at the
same time would know how to act and would be–be sensible. I’ve had
you in mind ever since you explained your system for–for”–he smiled
faintly–“exploiting mother and father. And mother has been talking in
the same way of late. She says we can’t afford to let you get out of
the family. That’s all, I guess–all you’d have patience to hear.”

“Then you were making me a serious business proposition?” said I.

“Well, you might call it that,” he admitted, as if he weren’t
altogether satisfied with my way of summing it up.

“I’m much obliged, but it doesn’t attract me,” I said.

He gave a kind of hopeless gesture. “I’ve put it all wrong,” said he.
“I always _say_ things wrong. But–I–I believe I _do_ things better.”
And he gave me a look that I liked. It was such a quaint mingling of
such a nice man with such a nice boy.

“I understand perfectly,” said I, and I can’t tell how much I hated
to hurt him–he did so remind me of dear old “ma” Burke. “But–please
don’t discuss it. I couldn’t consider the matter–possibly.”

“You won’t leave!” he exclaimed. “I assure you I’ll not annoy you. You
must admit, Miss Talltowers, that I haven’t tried to thrust myself on
you in the past. And–really, mother and father couldn’t get on at all
without you.”

“Certainly, I shan’t leave–why should I?” said I. “I’m very well
satisfied with my position.”

“Thank you,” he said with an awkward bow, and he left me alone.

Of course, I couldn’t possibly marry him. But I suppose a woman’s
vanity compels her to take a more favorable view of any man after
she’s found out that he wishes to marry her. Anyhow, I find I don’t
dislike him at all as I thought I did. I couldn’t help being amused at
myself the next day. I was driving with Jessie, and she was giving me
her usual sermon on the advantages of the Burke alliance–if I could
by chance scheme it through. “You’re very pretty, Gus,” she said. “In
fact you’re beautiful at times. Men do like height when it goes with
your sort of a–a willowy figure. Your eyes alone–if you would only
_use_ them–would catch him. And the Burkes would be–well, they might
object a little at first because you’ve given them a position that
has no doubt swollen their heads–but they’d yield gracefully. And
although you are very attractive and are always having men in love with
you, you’ve simply got to make up your mind soon. Look how many such
nice, good-looking girls have been crowded aside by the young ones. Men
are crazy about freshness, no matter what they pretend. Yes, you must
decide, dear. And–I couldn’t _endure_ poor Carteret when I married
him.”

Carteret is a miserable specimen, and Jessie’s ways keep him in a dazed
state–like an old hen sitting on a limb and turning her head round and
round to keep watch on a fox that’s racing in a circle underneath. Fox
doesn’t seem exactly to fit Jessie, but sometimes I suspect–however–

“But,” Jessie was going on, “I knew mama was my best friend. And when
she said, ‘Six months after marriage you’ll be quite used to him and
won’t in the least mind, and you’ll be so glad you married somebody who
was quiet and good,’ I married him. And I love him dearly, Gus, and we
make each other _so_ happy!”

I laughed–Jessie doesn’t mind; she don’t understand what laughter
means in most people. I was thinking of what Rachel told me the other
day. She said to Carteret, “It must be great fun wondering what Jessie
will do next.” And he looked at her in his dumb way and said: “What
she’ll do _next_? Lord, I ain’t caught up with _that_. I’m just about
six weeks behind on her record all the time.”

But to go back to Jessie’s talk to me, she went on: “And Mr. Burke’s
not so dreadfully unattractive, dear. Of course, he’s far from
handsome, and–well, he’s the son of Mr. and Mrs. Burke–but though
they’re quite common and all that–”

I found myself furiously angry. “I don’t think he’s at all
bad-looking,” I said, pretending to be judicial. “He’s big and strong
and sensible; and what more does a woman usually ask for? And I don’t
at all agree with you about his father and mother, either–especially
his mother. No, Jessie, dear, my objections aren’t yours at all. I’m
sure you wouldn’t understand them, so let’s not talk about it.”

February 3. Yesterday Mrs. Tevis sent for me. That was a good deal of
an impertinence, but I’m getting very sensible about impertinences.
She lives in grand style in a big, new house in K Street–it, like
everything about her, is “regardless of expense.” The Tevises have been
making the most desperate efforts to “break in” last season and this,
and as Washington is, up to a certain point, very easy for strangers
with money, they’ve gone pretty far. I suppose Washington’s like every
other capital–the people are so used to all sorts of queer strangers
and everything is so restless and changeful that no one minds adding to
his list of acquaintances any person who offers entertainment and isn’t
too appalling. And the Tevises have been spending money like water.

It’s queer how people can go everywhere that anybody goes and can seem
to be “right in it,” yet not be in it at all. That’s the way it is
with the Tevises. They are at every big affair in town–White House,
embassies, private houses. But they’re never invited to the smaller,
more or less informal things. And when they do appear at a ball or
anywhere they’re treated with formal politeness. They know there’s
something wrong, but they can’t for the life of them see what it is.
And that’s not strange, for who can see the line that’s instinctively
drawn between social sheep and social goats in the flock that’s
apparently all mixed up? Everybody knows the sheep on sight; everybody
knows the goats. And all act accordingly without anything being said.

Well, Mr. and Mrs. Tevis are goats. Why? Anybody could see it after
talking to either of them for five minutes; yet who could say why? It
isn’t because they’re snobs–lots of sheep are nauseating snobs. It
isn’t because they’re very badly self-made–I defy anybody to produce
a goat that can touch Willie Catesby or Rennie Tucker, yet each of them
has ancestors by the score. It isn’t because they’re new–the Burkes
are new, yet Mrs. Burke has at least a dozen intimate acquaintances
of the right sort. It isn’t because they’re ostentatious and boastful
about wealth and prices–there are scores of sheep who make the same
sort of absurd exhibition of vulgarity. I can’t place it. They’re just
goats, and they know it, and they feel it; and when you go to their
house they suggest a restaurant keeper welcoming his customers; and
when they come to your house they suggest Cook’s tourists roaming in
the private apartments of a palace, smiling apologetically at every one
and wondering whether they’re not about to be told to “step lively.”

Mrs. Tevis received me very grandly and graciously, though dreadfully
nervous withal, lest I should be seeing that she was “throwing a bluff”
and should put her in her place.

“I’ve requested you to come, my dear Miss Talltowers,” she began,
after she had bunglingly served tea from the newest and costliest and
most elaborate tea-set I ever saw, “because I had a little matter of
business to talk over with you and felt that we could talk more freely
here.”

“I must be back at half-past five,” said I, by way of urging her on to
the point.

“That will be quite time enough,” said she. “We can have our little
conversation quite nicely, and you will be in ample time for your
duties.”

I wonder what sort of dialect she _thinks_ in. It certainly can’t be
more irritating than the one she translates her thoughts into before
speaking them. The dialect she inflicts on people sounds as if it were
from a Complete Conversationalist, got up by an old maid who had been
teaching school for forty years.

“I have decided to take a secretary for next season,” she went on. “Not
that I need any such direction as the Burkes. Fortunately, Mr. Tevis
and I have had a large social experience on both sides of the Atlantic
and have always moved with the best people. But just a secretary–to
attend to my onerous correspondence and arrangements for entertaining.
The duties would be light, but we should be willing to pay a larger
salary than the position would really justify–that is, we should be
willing to pay it, you know, to a _lady_ such as you are.”

I bowed.

“We should treat you with all delicacy and appreciation of
the fact that your misfortunes have compelled you to take
a–a–position–which–which–”

“You are very kind, Mrs. Tevis,” said I.

“And we realized that in all probability the Burkes would have no
further use for your services at the end of this season, as you have
been most successful with them.”

I winced. For the first time the “practical” view of what I’ve been
doing for the Burkes stared me in the face–that is, the view which
such people as the Tevises, perhaps many of my friends, took of it. So
I was being regarded, spoken of, discussed, as a person who had been
bought by the Burkes to get them in with certain people. And it was
assumed that, having got what they wanted, they would dismiss me and so
cut off a superfluous expense! I was somewhat astonished at myself for
not having seen my position in this light before.

And I suddenly realized why I hadn’t–because the Burkes were really
nice people, because I hadn’t been their employee but their friend.
What if I had started my career as a dependent of Mrs. Tevis’! I
shivered. And when the Burkes should need me no longer–why, the
probabilities were that I should have to seek employment from just
such dreadful people as these–upstarts eager to jam themselves in,
vulgarians whom icy manners and forbidding looks only influence to
fiercer efforts to associate with those who don’t wish to associate
with them.

Mrs. Tevis interrupted my dismal thoughts with a cough, intended to be
polite. “What–what–compensation would you expect, may I ask?”

“What do such positions pay?” I said, and my voice sounded harsh to me.
I wished to know what value was usually put upon such services.

“Would–say–twenty-five dollars a week be–meet with your views?”
she asked, and her tone was that of a person performing an act of
astounding generosity.

“Oh, dear me, no,” said I, with the kind of sweetness that coats a pill
of gall. “I couldn’t think of trying to get you in for any such sum as
that.”

I saw that the gall had bit through the sugar-coat.

“Would you object to giving me some idea of what the Burkes pay?” she
asked, with the taste puckering her mouth.

“I should,” I replied, rising. “Anyhow, I don’t care to undertake the
job. Thank you so much for your generosity and kindness, Mrs. Tevis.”
I nodded–I’m afraid it was a nod intended to “put her in her place.”
“Good-by.” And I smiled and got myself out of the room before she
recovered.

I _wish_ I hadn’t seen her. I hate the truth–it’s always unpleasant.

February 5. Mrs. Burke had thirty-one invitations to-day, eleven of
them for her and Mr. Burke. Seven were invitations to little affairs
which Mrs. Tevis would give–well, perhaps five dollars apiece–to
get to. How ridiculous for her to economize in the one way in which
liberality is most necessary. Here they are spending probably a
hundred thousand dollars a season in hopeless attempts to do that which
they would hesitate to pay me six hundred dollars for doing. And this
when they think I could accomplish it. But could I? I guess not. To
win out as I have with the Burkes you’ve got to have the right sort
of material to work on, and it must be workable. Vulgar people would
be ashamed to put themselves in any one’s hands as completely as Mrs.
Burke put herself in my hands.

Oh, I’m sick–sick, sick of it! I’m ashamed to look “ma” Burke in the
face, because I think such mean things about them all when I’m in bed
and blue.

February 6. I decline all the invitations that come for me personally.
I sit in my “office” and pretend to be fussing with my books–they give
me the horrors! And I was so proud of them and of my plans to make my
little enterprise a success.

February 7. Mrs. Burke came in this afternoon and came round my desk
and kissed me. “What is it, dear? What’s the matter?” she said. “Won’t
you tell _me_? Why, I feel as if you were my daughter. I did have a
daughter. She came first. Tom was so disappointed. But I was glad. A
son belongs to both his parents, and, when he’s grown up, to his wife.
But a daughter–she would ‘a’ belonged to me always. And she had to up
and die just when she was about to make up her mind to talk.”

I put my face down in my arms on the desk.

“Tired, dear?” said “ma”–she’s a born “ma.” “Of course, that’s it.
You’re clean pegged out, working and worrying. You must put it all
away and rest.” And she sat down by me.

All of a sudden–I couldn’t help it–I put my head on her great, big
bosom and burst out crying. “Oh, I’m so _bad_!” I said. “And you’re so
_good_!”

She patted me and kissed me on top of my head. “What pretty, soft hair
you have, dear,” she said, “and what a lot of it! My! My! I don’t see
how anybody that looks like you do could ever be unhappy a minute. You
don’t know what it means to be born homely and fat and to have to work
hard just to make people not object to having you about.” And she went
on talking in that way until I was presently laughing, still against
that great, big bosom with the great, big heart beating under it.
When I felt that it would be a downright imposition to stay there any
longer I straightened up. I felt quite cheerful.

“Was there something worrying you?” she asked.

I blushed and hung my head. “Yes, but I can’t tell you,” said I. And I
couldn’t–could I? Besides, there somehow doesn’t seem to be much of
anything in all my brooding. What a nasty beast that Mrs. Tevis is!

February 12. Mrs. Burke and I went to a reception at the Secretary
of State’s this afternoon. We saw Nadeshda’s sister in the
distance–that’s where we’ve always seen her and the ambassador and
the whole embassy staff ever since the “bust-up,” except funny little
De Pleyev. He, being of a mediatized family, does not need to disturb
himself about ambassadorial frowns or smiles. It’s curious what a
strong resemblance there is between a foreigner of royal blood and a
straightaway American gentleman. But, as I was about to write, this
afternoon the distance between us and Madame l’Ambassadrice slowly
lessened, and when she was quite close to us she gave us a dazzling
smile apiece and said to Mrs. Burke: “My dear Madame Burke, you are
looking most charming. You must come to us to tea. To-morrow? Do say
yes–we’ve missed you so. My poor back–it almost shuts me out of the
world.” And she passed on–probably didn’t wish to risk the chance that
“ma’s” puzzled look might give place to an expression of some kind of
anger and that she might make one of those frank speeches she’s famous
for.

“Well, did you _ever_!” exclaimed “ma” when the Countess was out of
earshot.

I said warningly: “Everybody’s seen it and is watching you.” And it
was true. The whole crowd in those perfume-steeped rooms was gaping,
and the news had spread so quickly that a throng was pushing in from
the tea-room, some of them still chewing.

Afterward we discussed it, and could come to but one conclusion–that
the Robert-Nadeshda crisis had passed. But–do the Daraganes think
that Nadeshda is safe from Robert, or have they decided to take him
in? Certainly, _something_ decisive has happened. And if Robert had
anything to do with it it must have been stirring enough to make the
Daraganes use the cable–how else could Nadeshda’s sister have got her
cue so soon?

February 15. No news whatever of Robert and Nadeshda. Yesterday the
ambassadress came here to tea and said to Mrs. Burke that she had had
a letter from Nadeshda in which she sent us all her love–“especially
your dear, splendid, big Monsieur Cyrus.” Mr. and Mrs. Burke are to
dine at the embassy five weeks from to-night–the ambassadress insisted
on Mrs. Burke’s giving her first free evening to her, and that was it.

“I reckon we’ll have to go,” said “ma” after her departure, and while
the odor of her frightfully-powerful heliotrope scent was still heavy
in the room, “though I doubt if I’ll be alive by then. Sometimes it
seems to me I’ve just got to knock off and take a clean week in bed.
I thought I’d never think of drugs to keep me going, as so many women
advise. But I see I’m getting round to it. And I’m getting _that_ fat
in the body and _that_ lean in the face! Did you ever see the like? I
must ‘a’ lost three pounds off my face. And the skin’s hanging there
waiting for it to come back, instead of shrinking. I’m glad my Tom
never looks at me. I know to a certainty he ain’t looked at me in
twenty years. Husbands and wives don’t waste much time looking at each
other, and I guess it’s a good, safe plan.”

Mrs. Burke does look badly. I must take better care of her. Cyrus looks
badly, too. I haven’t seen him to talk to since he made his “strictly
business” proposition. I suppose he wants me to realize that he isn’t
one of the pestering kind. I’m sorry he takes it that way, as I’d have
liked to be friends with him. He quarreled so beautifully when we
didn’t agree. It’s a great satisfaction to have some one at hand who
both agrees and quarrels in a satisfactory way. But I don’t dare make
any advances to him. He might misunderstand.

I’ve just been laughing–at his cowlick. It _is_ such an obstinate
little swirl. And when he looks serious it looks so funnily frisky, and
when he smiles it looks so fiercely serious and disapproving. Yesterday
I hurried suddenly into the little room just off the ball-room,
thinking it was empty. But Cyrus and his mother were there, and he
was tickling her, and he looked so fond of her, and she looked so
delighted. I slipped away without their seeing me.

February 16. We gave our second big ball last night with a dinner for
sixty before. It was just half-past five this morning when the last
couple came sneaking out from the alcove off the little room beyond
the conservatory and, we pretending not to see them, scuttled away
without saying good night. Major-General Cutler danced with Mrs.
Burke in the opening quadrille, and Mr. Burke danced with the British
ambassadress–the ambassador is ill. I had Jim on my hands most of the
evening–though I was flirting desperately with little D’Estourelle, he
hung to me with a maddening husbandish air of proprietorship. I don’t
see how I ever endured him, much less thought of marrying him. Cyrus
Burke is a king beside him. Excuse me from men who think the fact that
they’ve done a woman the honor of loving her gives them a property
right to her. Mrs. Burke was the belle of the ball. She had a crowd of
men round her chair all evening, laughing at everything she said.

February 17. A cable from Robert Gunton at Hamburg this morning–just
“Arrive Washington about March 3.” That was all–worse than nothing.
It is Lent, but there’s no let up for us. We only get rid of the kind
of entertainments that cost us the least trouble to plan and give, and
we have to arrange more of the kind that have to be done carefully.
Anybody can give a dance, but it takes skill to give a successful
dinner.

February 19. Nadeshda’s sister said to-day, quite casually, to Jessie:
“Deshda’s coming back, and we’re so glad. The trip has done her _so_
much good–in every way.” Now, whatever did _that_ mean?

February 26. No news of Robert and Nadeshda. Have been glancing through
this diary. How conceited I am, taking credit to myself for everything.
I wonder if I am vainer than most people, or does everybody make the
same ridiculous discovery about himself when he takes himself off his
guard? What an imperfect record this is of our launching. But then, if
I had made it perfect I should have had to go into so many wearisome
details, not to speak of my having so little time. Still, it would
have been interesting to read some day, when I shall have forgotten the
little steps–for although we’ve had in all only a month before the
season and five weeks between New Year’s and Ash Wednesday, so much
has been crowded into that time. It’s amazing what one can accomplish
if one uses every moment to a single purpose. And I’ve not only used
my own time, but Robert’s and Jessie’s and the time of their and my
friends, and that of Nadeshda and a dozen other people. They and I
all worked together to make my enterprise a success–and Jim and the
Senator, and “ma” Burke was a great help after the first few weeks.
Yes, and I mustn’t forget Cyrus. He has made himself astonishingly
popular. I see now that he showed a better side to every one than he
did to me. Perhaps I can guess why. I wonder if he really cares or did
care–for me, or was it just “ma” trying to get me into the family, and
he willing to do anything she asked of him?

But to go back to my vanity–I see that Jessie, Rachel and Cyrus
were the real cause of my success. Jessie and Rachel alone could
make anybody, who wasn’t positively awful, a go. Then Nadeshda, bent
on marrying Cyrus at first, was a big help–and every mama with a
marriageable daughter was hot on Cyrus’ trail. So it’s easy to make
an infallible recipe for getting into society: First, wealth; second,
willingness to act on competent advice; third, get a “secretary” who
knows society and has intimate friends in its most exclusive set,
and who also knows how to arrange entertainments; fourth, have a
marriageable son, if possible, or, failing that, a daughter, or,
failing that, a near relative who will be well dowered; fifth, organize
the campaign thoroughly and pay particular attention to getting
yourself liked by the few people who really count. You can’t bribe
them; you can’t drive them; you must _amuse_ them. The more leisure
people have the harder it is to amuse them.

Looking back, I can see that “ma” Burke passed her social crisis when,
on January 5, Mrs. Gaether asked her to assist at her reception. For
Mrs. Gaether was the first social power who took “ma” up simply and
solely because she liked her.

We have spent a great deal of money, but not half what the Tevises have
spent. But our money counted because it was incidental. Mere money
won’t carry any one very far in Washington–I don’t believe it will
anywhere, except, perhaps, in New York.

I ought to have kept some sort of record of what we’ve done from day
to day–I mean, more detailed than my books. However, I’ll just put in
our last full day before Lent, as far as I can recall it. No, I’ll only
write out what Mrs. Burke alone did that day:

7:30 to 10. She and I, in her room, went over the arrangements for the
ball we were giving in the evening.

10 to 12:30. She went to see half a dozen people about various social
matters, besides doing a great deal of shopping.

12:30 to 1:45. More worrying consultation with me, then dressing for
luncheon.

1:45 to 3:45. A long and tiresome luncheon at one of the embassies.

3:45 to 6:30. More than twenty calls and teas–a succession of
exhausting rushes and struggles.

6:30 to 7:15. In the drawing-room here, with a lot of people coming and
going.

7:15 to 8. Dressing for dinner–a frightful rush.

8 to 8:30. Receiving the dinner guests.

8:30 to 10:45. The dinner.

10:45 to midnight. Receiving the guests for the dance–on her feet all
the time.

Midnight to 6 in the morning. Sitting, but incessantly busy.

6 to 9. In bed.

9. A new and crowded day.

This has been a short season, but I don’t think it was the shortness,
crowding much into a few days, that made the pressure so great. It’s
simply that year by year Washington becomes socially worse and worse.
As I looked round at that last ball of ours I pitied the people who
were nerving themselves up to trying to enjoy themselves.

Almost every one was, and looked, worn out. Here and there the
unnatural brightness of eyes or cheeks showed that somebody–usually a
young person–had been driven to some sort of stimulant to enable him
or her to hold the pace. Quick to laugh; quick to frown and bite the
lips in almost uncontrollable anger. Nerves on edge, flesh quivering.

Yet, what is one to do? To be “in it” one must go all the time; not
to go all the time, not to accept all the principal invitations, is
to make enemies right and left. Besides, who that gets into the
hysterical state which the Washington season induces can be content to
sit quietly at home when on every side there are alluring opportunities
to enjoy?

No wonder we see less and less of the men of importance. No wonder the
“sons of somebodies” and the young men of the embassies and legations
and departments, most of them amiable enough, but all just about as
near nothing as you would naturally expect, are the best the women can
get to their houses.

It is foolish; it is frightful. But it is somehow fascinating, and it
gives us women the chance to go the same reckless American gait that
the men go in their business and professions.

I am utterly worn out. I might be asleep at this moment. Yet I’m
sitting here alone, too feverish for hope of rest. And I can see
lights in Cyrus’ apartment and in Senator Burke’s sitting-room, and I
don’t doubt poor “ma” is tossing miserably in a vain attempt to get the
sleep that used to come unasked and stay until it was fought off.

It is Lent, and the season is supposed to be over. But the rush is
still on, and other things which crowd and jam in more than fill up the
vacant space left by big, formal parties. It seems to me that there is
even as much dancing as there was two weeks ago. The only difference is
that it isn’t formally arranged for beforehand.

I’d like to “shut off steam”–indeed, it seems to me that I must if
“ma” Burke is not to be sacrificed. But how can we? People expect us to
entertain, and we must go out to their affairs also. The only escape
would be to fly, and we can’t do that so long as Congress is sitting.

February 27. Robert and Nadeshda are both in town, he with us, she
at the embassy. They are to be married the twelfth of April. The
engagement is to be announced to-morrow. I’ve never seen any one more
demure than Nadeshda, or happier. I suspect she’s going to settle down
into the most domestic of women. Indeed, I know it–for, as she says,
she’s afraid of him, obeys him as a dog its master, and the domestic
side of her is the only one he’ll tolerate. I’ve always heard that her
sort of woman is the tamest, once it’s under control. She has will but
no continuity. He has a stronger will and his purposes are unalterable.
So he’ll continue to dominate her.

“Ma” Burke asked him, “How did you make out with her folks?”

He smiled, then laughed.

“I don’t know–exactly,” he said. “They couldn’t talk my language nor
I theirs. So it was all done through an interpreter. And he was Mrs.
Dean’s brother-in-law, Prince Glückstein, and a regular trump. He saw
them half a dozen times before I did. When I saw them everything was
lovely. They left me alone with her after twenty minutes. Finally it
was agreed that we should come back on the same steamer, her brother
accompanying her.”

“But why on earth didn’t you cable us?” she demanded.

“I did,” he replied.

“But you didn’t tell us anything,” she returned.

“I told you all there was to tell,” he replied.

“You only said you were coming,” she objected.

“Well,” he answered, looking somewhat surprised, “I knew you’d know I
wouldn’t come without her.”

I’m glad he didn’t get it into his head to “take after” me. A woman
stands no more chance with a man like that than a rabbit with a
greyhound.

February 29. “Ma” Burke is dreadfully ill–has been for two days. The
doctors have got several large Latin names for it, but the plain truth
is that she has broken down under the strain she seemed to be bearing
so placidly. She didn’t give up until she was absolutely unable to lift
herself out of bed. “I knew it was coming,” she said, “but I thought I
had spirit enough to put it off till I had more time.”

It wasn’t until she did give up that her face really showed how badly
off she was. I was sitting by her bed when “pa” Burke and Cyrus came
in. I couldn’t bear to look at them, yet I couldn’t keep my eyes off
their faces. Both got deadly white at sight of her, and “pa” rushed
from the room after a moment or two. The doctor had cautioned him
against alarming her by showing any signs of grief. But “pa” couldn’t
stand it. He went to his study, and the housekeeper told me he cried
like a baby. Cyrus stayed, and I couldn’t help admiring the way he put
on cheerfulness.

“I’ll be all right in a few days,” said “ma.” “It wasn’t what I did; it
was what I et. I’m such a fool that I can’t let things that look good
go by. And I went from house to house, munching away, cake here, candy
there, chocolate yonder, besides lunches and dinners and suppers. I et
in and I et out. Now, I reckon I’ve got to settle the bill. Thank the
Lord I don’t have to do it standing up.”

Cyrus and I went away from her room together. “If she wasn’t so good,”
said he, more to himself than to me, “I’d not be so–so uncertain.”

“I feel that I’m to blame,” said I bitterly. “It was I that gave her
all those things to do.”

He was silent, and his silence frightened me. I had felt that I was
partly to blame. His silence made me feel that I was wholly to blame,
and that he thought so.

“If I could only undo it,” I said, in what little voice I could muster.

“If you only could,” he muttered.

I was utterly crushed. Every bit of my courage fled, and–but what’s
the use of trying to describe it? It was as if I had tried to murder
her and had come to my senses and was realizing what I’d done.

I suppose I must have shown what was in my mind, for, all of a sudden,
with a sort of sob or groan, he put his arms round me–such a strong
yet such a gentle clasp! “Don’t look like that, dear!” he pleaded.
“Forgive me–it was cowardly, what I said–and not true. We’re all to
blame–you the least. Haven’t I seen, day after day, how you’ve done
everything you could to spare her–how you’ve worn yourself out?”

He let me go as suddenly as he had seized me.

“I’m not fit to be called a man!” he exclaimed. “Just because I loved
you, and was always thinking of you, and watching you, and worrying
about you, I neglected to think of mother. If I’d given her a single
thought I’d have known long ago that she was ill.”

Just then Mrs. Burke’s maid called me–she was only a few yards away,
and must have seen everything. I hurried back to the room we had
quitted a few minutes before. “You must cheer up those two big, foolish
men, child,” she said. “You all think I’m going to pass over, but I’m
not. You won’t get rid of me for many a year. And I rely on you to
prevent them from going all to pieces.”

She paused and looked at me wistfully, as if she longed to say
something but was afraid she had no right to. I said: “What is it–ma?”

Her face brightened. “Come, kiss me,” she murmured. “Thank you for
saying that. We’re very different in lots of ways, being raised so
different. But hearts have a way of finding each other, haven’t they?”

I nodded.

“What I wanted to say was about–Cyrus,” she went on. “My Cyrus told
me that he don’t see how he could get along without you, no way, and
I advised him to talk to you about it, because I knew it’d relieve
his mind and because it’d set you to looking at him in a different
way. Anyhow, it’s always a good plan to ask for what you want. And he
did–and he told me you wouldn’t hear to him. Don’t think I’m trying to
persuade you. All I meant to say is that–”

She stopped and smiled, a bright shadow of that old, broad, beaming
smile of hers.

“I’d do anything for you!” I exclaimed, on impulse.

“I’m afraid that wouldn’t suit Cyrus,” she drawled, good humoredly.
“He’d be mad as the Old Scratch if he knew what I was up to now.
Well–do the best you can. But don’t do anything unless it’s for his
sake. Only–just look him over again. There’s a lot to Cyrus besides
his cowlick. And he’s been so dead in love with you ever since he first
saw you that he’s been making a perfect fool of himself every time he
looked at you or spoke to you. Sometimes, when I’ve seen the way he’s
acted up, like a farmhand waltzing in cowhides, I’ve felt like taking
him over my knees and laying it on good and hard.”

I was laughing so that I couldn’t answer–the reaction from the fear
that she might be very, very ill had made me hysterical. I could still
see that she was sick, extremely sick, but I realized that our love for
her had just put us into a panic.

“Do the best you can, dear,” she ended. “And everything–all the
entertaining here and the going out–must be kept up just the same
as if I was being dragged about down stairs instead of lying up here
resting.”

She insisted on this, and would not be content until she had my
promise. “And don’t forget to cheer pa and Cyrus up. I never was sick
before–not a day. That’s why they take on so.”

I think I have been succeeding in cheering them up. And everything is
going forward as before–except, of course, that we’ve cut out every
engagement we possibly could.

It’s amazing how many friends “ma” Burke has made in such a short
time. Ever since the news of her illness got out, the front door has
been opening and shutting all day long. And those of the callers that
I’ve seen have shown a real interest. This has made me have a better
opinion of human nature than I had thought I could have. I suppose
half the seeming heartlessness in this world is suspicion and a sort
of miserly dread lest one should give kindly feeling without getting
any of it in return. But “ma” Burke, who never bothers her head for an
instant about whether people like her, and gets all her pleasure out of
liking them, makes friends by the score.

I’m in a queer state of mind about Cyrus.

March 3. “Ma” Burke was brought down to the drawing-room for tea
to-day. She held a regular levee. Those that came early spread it
round, and by six o’clock they were pouring in. She looked extremely
well, and gloriously happy. All she had needed was complete rest and
sleep–and less to eat. “After this,” she said, “I’m not going to eat
more than four or five meals a day. At my age a woman can’t stand the
strain of ten and twelve–my record was sixteen–counting two teas
as one meal.” For an hour there was hilarious chattering in English,
French, German, Italian, Russian, and mixtures of all five. I think
the thing that most fascinates Mrs. Burke about Washington is the many
languages spoken. She looks at me in an awed way when I trot out my
three in quick succession. And she regards the women as superhuman who
speak so many languages so fluently that they drift from one to the
other without being quite sure what they’re speaking. There certainly
were enough going on at once to-day, and a good many of the women
smoked.

But to return to Mrs. Burke. When only a few of those we know best were
left this afternoon, and Nadeshda was smoking, Jessie, who is always
so tactful, said to Robert: “I’m glad to see that you don’t object to
Nadeshda’s smoking.”

Mrs. Burke laughed. “Why should he?” said she. “Why, when we were
children ma and pa used to sit on opposite sides of the chimney,
smoking their pipes. And ma dipped, too, when it wasn’t convenient for
her to have her pipe.”

“Do _you_ smoke, Mrs. Burke?” asked Jessie, with wide, serious eyes. “I
never saw you.”

“No, I don’t,” she confessed. “Tom used to hate the smell of it, so I
never got into the habit.”

Nadeshda was tremendously amused by what Mrs. Burke had said about
pipes. “I didn’t know it was considered nice for a lady to smoke in
America until recently,” said she. “And pipes! How eccentric! Mama
smokes cigars–one after dinner, but I never heard of a lady smoking a
pipe.”

“Ma wasn’t a lady–what _you’d_ call a lady,” replied Mrs. Burke. “She
was just a plain woman. She didn’t smoke because she thought it was
fashionable, but because she thought it was comfortable. As soon as we
children got a little older we used to be terribly ashamed of it–but
_she_ kept right on. And now it’s come in style.”

“Not _pipes_,” said Jessie.

“Not _yet_,” said “ma,” with a smile.

When I thought they had all gone, and I was writing in my “office” for
a few minutes before going up to dress, Nadeshda came in to me. “Ma”
Burke used often to say that Nadeshda’s eyes were “full of the Old
Scratch,” but certainly they were not at that moment. She was giving
me a glimpse of that side which, as Browning, I think, says, even the
meanest creature has and shows only to the person he or she loves. Not
that Nadeshda loves me, but she has that side turned outermost nowadays
whenever she hasn’t the veil drawn completely over her real self.

“My dear,” she said in French, “what is it? Why these little smiles all
afternoon whenever you forgot where you were?”

I couldn’t help blushing. “I don’t quite know, myself,” I replied–and
it was so.

“Oh, you cold, cold, _cold_ Americans!”–then she paused and gave me
one of her strange smiles, with her eyes elongated and her lips just
parted–“I mean, you American women.”

“Cold, because we don’t set ourselves on fire?” I inquired.

“But yes,” she answered, “yourselves, and the men, too. Never mind. I
shall not peep into your little secret.” She laughed. “It always chills
me to grope round in one of your cold American women’s hearts.”

“I wish you could tell me what my secret is–and that’s the plain
truth,” said I.

She laughed again, shrugged her shoulders, pinched my cheek, nodded
her head until her big plumed hat was all in a quiver and was shaking
out volumes of the strong, heavy perfume she uses. And without saying
anything more she went away.

March 4. Cyrus and I sat next each other at dinner at the Secretary
of War’s to-night. It has happened several times this winter, as the
precedence is often very difficult to arrange at small dinners. Old
Alex Bartlett took me in, and as he’s stone deaf and a monstrous eater
I was free.

Cyrus had taken in a silent little girl who has just come out. She had
exhausted her little line of prearranged conversation before the fish
was taken away. So Cyrus talked to me.

“She’s grateful for my letting her alone,” said he when I tried to turn
him back to his duty. “Besides, if I didn’t meet you out once in a
while you’d forget me entirely. And I don’t want that, if I can avoid
it.”

“Thank you,” said I, for lack of anything else to say, and with not
the remotest intention of irritating him. But he flushed scarlet, and
frowned.

“You always and deliberately misconstrue everything I say,” said he
bitterly. “I know I’m unfortunate in trying to express myself to you,
but why do you never attribute to me anything but the worst intentions?”

“And why should you assume that every careless reply I make is a
carefully thought out attack on you?” I retorted. “Don’t you think your
vanity makes you morbid?”

“You know perfectly well that it isn’t vanity that makes me think you
especially dislike me,” said he.

“But I don’t,” I answered. “I confess I did at first, but not since
I’ve come to know you better.”

“Why did you dislike me at first?” he asked. “You began on me with
almost the first moment of our acquaintance.”

“That’s true–I did,” I admitted. “I had a reason for it–didn’t
Nadeshda tell you what it was?”

He looked frightened.

“Be frank, if you want me to be frank,” said I.

“I never for an instant believed what she said,” he replied abjectly.
Then after a warning look from me, he added–“_Really_ believed it, I
mean.”

“And what was it that you didn’t really believe?” I demanded.

He looked at me boldly. “Nadeshda and one or two others told me that
you and your friends had arranged it for me to marry you. But, of
course, I knew it wasn’t so.”

“But it was so,” I replied. “You were one of the considerations that
determined my friends in trying to get me my place.”

“Well–and why didn’t you take me when I finally fell into the trap?”

I let him see I was laughing at him.

He scowled–his cowlick did look so funny that I longed to pull it.
“Simply couldn’t stand me–not even for the sake of what I brought,” he
said. And then he gave me a straight, searching look. “I wonder why I
don’t hate you,” he went on. “I wonder why I am such an ass as to care
for you. Yes–even if I knew you didn’t care for me, still I’d want
you. Can a man make a more degrading confession than that?”

“But why?” said I, very careful not to let him see how eagerly I
longed to hear him say _the_ words again. “Why should you want–me?”

He gave a very unpleasant laugh. “If you think I’m going to sit
here and exhibit my feelings for your amusement you’re going to be
disappointed. It’s none of your business _why_. Certainly not because I
find anything sweet or amiable or even kind in you.”

“That’s rude,” said I.

“It was intended to be,” said he.

“Please–let’s not quarrel now,” said I coldly. “It gives me the
headache to quarrel during dinner.”

And he answered between his set teeth, “To quarrel with
you–anywhere–gives me–the heartache, Gus.”

I had no answer for that, nor should I have had the voice to utter it
if I had had it. And then Mr. Bartlett began prosing to me about the
Greeley-Grant campaign. And when the men came to join the women after
dinner Cyrus went away almost immediately.

I am _so_ happy to-night.

March 5. Cyrus came to me in my office to-day–as I had expected. But
instead of looking woebegone and abject, he was radiant. He shut the
door behind him. “_You_–guilty of cowardice,” he began. “It isn’t
strange that I never suspected it.”

“What do you mean?” I asked, not putting down my pen.

He came over and took it out of my fingers, then he took my fingers and
kissed them, one by one. I was so astounded–and something else–that I
made not the slightest resistance. “It’s useless for you to cry out,”
he said, “for I’ve got the outer door well guarded.”

[Illustration]

I started up aflame with indignation. “Who–whom–” I began.

“Ma,” he replied.

“Oh!” I exclaimed, looking round with a wild idea of making a dart for
liberty.

“Ma,” he repeated, “and it’s not of the slightest use for you to try
to side-step. You’re cornered.” He had both my hands now and was
looking at me at arm’s length. “So you are afraid to marry me for fear
people–your friends–will say that–I walked right into the trap?”

I hung my head and couldn’t keep from trembling, I was so ashamed.

“And if it wasn’t for that you’d accept my ‘proposition’–now–wouldn’t
you?”

“I would not,” I replied, wrenching myself away with an effort that
put my hair topsy-turvy–it always does try to come down if I make a
sudden movement, and I washed it only yesterday.

“What gorgeous hair you have!” he said. “Sometimes I’ve caught a
glimpse of it just as I was entering a room–and I’ve had to retreat
and compose myself to make a fresh try.”

“You’ve been talking to your mother!” I exclaimed–I’d been casting
about for an explanation of all this sudden shrewdness of his in ways
feminine.

“I have,” said he. “It’s as important to her as to me that you don’t
escape.”

“And she told you that I was in love with _you_!” I tried to put a
little–not too much–scorn into the “you.”

“She did,” he answered. “Do you deny that it’s true?”

“I have told you I would never accept your ‘proposition,'” was my
answer.

“So you did,” said he. “Then you mean that you’re going to sacrifice
my mother’s happiness and mine, simply because you’re afraid of being
accused of mercenary motives?”

“I shall never accept your ‘proposition,'” I repeated, with a faint
smile that was a plain hint.

He came very close to me and looked down into my face. “What do you
mean by that?” he demanded. And then he must have remembered what
his proposition was–a strictly business arrangement on both sides.
For, with a sort of gasp of relief, he took me in his arms. I do love
the combination of strength and tenderness in a man. He had looked
and talked and been so strong up to that instant. Then he was _so_
tender–I could hardly keep back the tears.

“Wouldn’t you like me to tell mother?” he asked. “She’s just in the
next room–and–”

I nodded and said, “I never should have caught you if it hadn’t been
for her.”

“Nor I you,” said he. And he put me in a chair and opened the door. I
somehow couldn’t look up, though I knew she was there.

“I don’t know whether to laugh or cry,” said “ma” Burke. “So I guess
I’ll just do both.” And then she seated herself and was as good as her
word.

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