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Mark Twain > The Gilded Age > Chapter XXXVII

The Gilded Age

Chapter XXXVII

That Chairman was nowhere in sight. Such disappointments seldom occur in
novels, but are always happening in real life.

She was obliged to make a new plan. She sent him a note, and asked him
to call in the evening--which he did.

She received the Hon. Mr. Buckstone with a sunny smile, and said:

"I don't know how I ever dared to send you a note, Mr. Buckstone, for you
have the reputation of not being very partial to our sex."

"Why I am sure my, reputation does me wrong, then, Miss Hawkins. I have
been married once--is that nothing in my favor?"

"Oh, yes--that is, it may be and it may not be. If you have known what
perfection is in woman, it is fair to argue that inferiority cannot
interest you now."

"Even if that were the case it could not affect you, Miss Hawkins," said
the chairman gallantly. "Fame does not place you in the list of ladies
who rank below perfection." This happy speech delighted Mr. Buckstone as
much as it seemed to delight Laura. But it did not confuse him as much
as it apparently did her.

"I wish in all sincerity that I could be worthy of such a felicitous
compliment as that. But I am a woman, and so I am gratified for it just
as it is, and would not have it altered."

"But it is not merely a compliment--that is, an empty complement--it is
the truth. All men will endorse that."

Laura looked pleased, and said:

"It is very kind of you to say it. It is a distinction indeed, for a
country-bred girl like me to be so spoken of by people of brains and
culture. You are so kind that I know you will pardon my putting you to
the trouble to come this evening."

"Indeed it was no trouble. It was a pleasure. I am alone in the world
since I lost my wife, and I often long for the society of your sex, Miss
Hawkins, notwithstanding what people may say to the contrary."

"It is pleasant to hear you say that. I am sure it must be so. If I
feel lonely at times, because of my exile from old friends, although
surrounded by new ones who are already very dear to me, how much more
lonely must you feel, bereft as you are, and with no wholesome relief
from the cares of state that weigh you down. For your own sake, as well
as for the sake of others, you ought to go into society oftener.
I seldom see you at a reception, and when I do you do not usually give me
very, much of your attention"

"I never imagined that you wished it or I would have been very glad to
make myself happy in that way.--But one seldom gets an opportunity to say
more than a sentence to you in a place like that. You are always the
centre of a group--a fact which you may have noticed yourself. But if
one might come here--"

"Indeed you would always find a hearty welcome, Mr. Buckstone. I have
often wished you would come and tell me more about Cairo and the
Pyramids, as you once promised me you would."

"Why, do you remember that yet, Miss Hawkins? I thought ladies' memories
were more fickle than that."

"Oh, they are not so fickle as gentlemen's promises. And besides, if I
had been inclined to forget, I--did you not give me something by way of a

"Did I?"


"It does seem to me that I did; but I have forgotten what it was now."

"Never, never call a lady's memory fickle again! Do you recognize this?"

"A little spray of box! I am beaten--I surrender. But have you kept
that all this time?"

Laura's confusion was very, pretty. She tried to hide it, but the more
she tried the more manifest it became and withal the more captivating to
look upon. Presently she threw the spray of box from her with an annoyed
air, and said:

"I forgot myself. I have been very foolish. I beg that you will forget
this absurd thing."

Mr. Buckstone picked up the spray, and sitting down by Laura's side on
the sofa, said:

"Please let me keep it, Miss Hawkins. I set a very high value upon it

"Give it to me, Mr. Buckstone, and do not speak so. I have been
sufficiently punished for my thoughtlessness. You cannot take pleasure
in adding to my distress. Please give it to me."

"Indeed I do not wish to distress you. But do not consider the matter so
gravely; you have done yourself no wrong. You probably forgot that you
had it; but if you had given it to me I would have kept it--and not
forgotten it."

"Do not talk so, Mr. Buckstone. Give it to me, please, and forget the

"It would not be kind to refuse, since it troubles you so, and so I
restore it. But if you would give me part of it and keep the rest--"

"So that you might have something to remind you of me when you wished to
laugh at my foolishness?"

"Oh, by no means, no! Simply that I might remember that I had once
assisted to discomfort you, and be reminded to do so no more."

Laura looked up, and scanned his face a moment. She was about to break
the twig, but she hesitated and said:

"If I were sure that you--"She threw the spray away, and continued:
"This is silly! We will change the subject. No, do not insist--I must
have my way in this."

Then Mr. Buckstone drew off his forces and proceeded to make a wily
advance upon the fortress under cover of carefully--contrived artifices
and stratagems of war. But he contended with an alert and suspicious
enemy; and so at the end of two hours it was manifest to him that he had
made but little progress. Still, he had made some; he was sure of that.

Laura sat alone and communed with herself;

"He is fairly hooked, poor thing. I can play him at my leisure and land
him when I choose. He was all ready to be caught, days and days ago--
I saw that, very well. He will vote for our bill--no fear about that;
and moreover he will work for it, too, before I am done with him. If he
had a woman's eyes he would have noticed that the spray of box had grown
three inches since he first gave it to me, but a man never sees anything
and never suspects. If I had shown him a whole bush he would have
thought it was the same. Well, it is a good night's work: the committee
is safe. But this is a desperate game I am playing in these days--
a wearing, sordid, heartless game. If I lose, I lose everything--even
myself. And if I win the game, will it be worth its cost after all?
I do not know. Sometimes I doubt. Sometimes I half wish I had not
begun. But no matter; I have begun, and I will never turn back; never
while I live."

Mr. Buckstone indulged in a reverie as he walked homeward:

"She is shrewd and deep, and plays her cards with considerable
discretion--but she will lose, for all that. There is no hurry; I shall
come out winner, all in good time. She is the most beautiful woman in
the world; and she surpassed herself to-night. I suppose I must vote for
that bill, in the end maybe; but that is not a matter of much consequence
the government can stand it. She is bent on capturing me, that is plain;
but she will find by and by that what she took for a sleeping garrison
was an ambuscade."

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