Perhaps Sybil did deceive herself a little. When this excitement had passed away, perhaps Carrington's image might recur to her mind a little too often for her own comfort. The future must take care of itself. Mrs. Lee drew her sister closer to her, and said: "Sybil, I have made a horrible mistake, and you must forgive me."
NOT until afternoon did Mrs. Lee reappear. How much she had slept she did not say, and she hardly looked like one whose slumbers had been long or sweet; but if she had slept little, she had made up for the loss by thinking much, and, while she thought, the storm which had raged so fiercely in her breast, more and more subsided into calm. If there was not sunshine yet, there was at least stillness. As she lay, hour after hour, waiting for the sleep that did not come, she had at first the keen mortification of reflecting how easily she had been led by mere vanity into imagining that she could be of use in the world. She even smiled in her solitude at the picture she drew of herself, reforming Ratcliffe, and Krebs, and Schuyler Clinton. The ease with which Ratcliffe alone had twisted her about his finger, now that she saw it, made her writhe, and the thought of what he might have done, had she married him, and of the endless succession of moral somersaults she would have had to turn, chilled her with mortal terror. She had barely escaped being dragged under the wheels of the machine, and so coming to an untimely end. When she thought of this, she felt a mad passion to revenge herself on the whole race of politicians, with Ratcliffe at their head; she passed hours in framing bitter speeches to be made to his face.
Then as she grew calmer, Ratcliffe's sins took on a milder hue; life, after all, had not been entirely blackened by his arts; there was even some good in her experience, sharp though it were. Had she not come to Washington in search of men who cast a shadow, and was not Ratcliffe's shadow strong enough to satisfy her? Had she not penetrated the deepest recesses of politics, and learned how easily the mere possession of power could convert the shadow of a hobby-horse existing only in the brain of a foolish country farmer, into a lurid nightmare that convulsed the sleep of nations? The antics of Presidents and Senators had been amusing--so amusing that she had nearly been persuaded to take part in them. She had saved herself in time.
She had got to the bottom of this business of democratic government, and found out that it was nothing more than government of any other kind. She might have known it by her own common sense, but now that experience had proved it, she was glad to quit the masquerade; to return to the true democracy of life, her paupers and her prisons, her schools and her hospitals. As for Mr. Ratcliffe, she felt no difficulty in dealing with him.
Let Mr. Ratcliffe, and his brother giants, wander on their own political prairie, and hunt for offices, or other profitable game, as they would.
Their objects were not her objects, and to join their company was not her ambition. She was no longer very angry with Mr. Ratcliffe. She had no wish to insult him, or to quarrel with him. What he had done as a politician, he had done according to his own moral code, and it was not her business to judge him; to protect herself was the only right she claimed. She thought she could easily hold him at arm's length, and although, if Carrington had written the truth, they could never again be friends, there need be no difficulty in their remaining acquaintances. If this view of her duty was narrow, it was at least proof that she had learned something from Mr.
Ratcliffe; perhaps it was also proof that she had yet to learn Mr. Ratcliffe himself.
Two o'clock had struck before Mrs. Lee came down from her chamber, and Sybil had not yet made her appearance. Madeleine rang her bell and gave orders that, if Mr. Ratcliffe called she would see him, but she was at home to no one else. Then she sat down to write letters and to prepare for her journey to New York, for she must now hasten her departure in order to escape the gossip and criticism which she saw hanging like an avalanche over her head.