all her warnings she was yet a mere baby-in-arms in the face of the great politician. She accepted his story as true, and she thought it as bad as possible; but had Mr.
Ratcliffe's associates now been present to hear his version of it, they would have looked at each other with a smile of professional pride, and would have roundly sworn that he was, beyond a doubt, the ablest man this country had ever produced, and next to certain of being President. They would not, however, have told their own side of the story if they could have helped it, but in talking it over among themselves they might have assumed the facts to have been nearly as follows: that Ratcliffe had dragged them into an enormous expenditure to carry his own State, and with it his own re-election to the Senate; that they had tried to hold him responsible, and he had tried to shirk the responsibility; that there had been warm discussions on the subject; that he himself had privately suggested recourse to Baker, had shaped his conduct accordingly, and had compelled them, in order to save their own credit, to receive the money.
Even if Mrs. Lee had heard this part of the story, though it might have sharpened her indignation against Mr. Ratcliffe, it would not have altered her opinions. As it was, she had heard enough, and with a great effort to control her expression of disgust, she sank back in her chair as Ratcliffe concluded. Finding that she did not speak, he went on:
"I do not undertake to defend this affair. It is the act of my public life which I most regret--not the doing, but the necessity of doing. I do not differ from you in opinion on that point. I cannot acknowledge that there is here any real divergence between us."
"I am afraid," said Mrs. Lee, "that I cannot agree with you."
This brief remark, the very brevity of which carried a barb of sarcasm, escaped from Madeleine's lips before she had fairly intended it. Ratcliffe felt the sting, and it started him from his studied calmness of manner.
Rising from his chair he stood on the hearthrug before Mrs. Lee, and broke out upon her with an oration in that old senatorial voice and style which was least calculated to enlist her sympathies:
"Mrs. Lee," said he, with harsh emphasis and dogmatic tone, "there are conflicting duties in all the transactions of life, except the simplest.