“I’m glad to hear you say that,” cried Margaret, with the keen enthusiasm with which, in time of doubt, we welcome an ally to our own private judgment. “But,” she hastened to add, with veiled eye and slightly tremulous lip, “I’m ready to take whatever comes.”
“That’s right! That’s right!” exclaimed Mrs. Whitson, a tender and dreamy sentimentalist except in her own affairs. “Love is best!”
“Love is best,” echoed Margaret.
A MEMORABLE MEETING
In that administration the man “next” the President was his Secretary of the Treasury, John Branch, cold and smooth and able, secreting, in his pale-gray soul, an icy passion for power more relentless than heat ever bred. To speak of him as unscrupulous would be like attributing moral quality to a reptile. For him principle did not exist, except as an eccentricity of some strangely-constructed men which might be used to keep them down. Life presented itself to him as a series of mathematical problems, as an examination in mathematics. To pass it meant a diploma as a success; to fail to pass meant the abysmal disgrace of obscurity. Cheating was permissible, but not to get caught at it. Otherwise Branch was the most amiable of men; and why should he not have been, his digestion being good, his income sufficient, his domestic relations admirable, and his reputation for ability growing apace? No one respected him, no one liked him; but every one admired him as an intellect moving quite unhampered of the restraints of conscience. In person he was rather handsome, the weasel type of his face being well concealed by fat and by judicious arrangements of mustache and side-whiskers. By profession he was a lawyer, and had been most successful as adviser to wholesale thieves on depredations bent or in search of immunity for depredations done. It was incomprehensible to him why he was unpopular with the masses. It irritated him that they could not appreciate his purely abstract point of view on life; it irritated him because his unpopularity with them meant that there were limits, and very narrow ones, to his ambition.
It was to John Branch that Madam Bowker applied when she decided that Joshua Craig must be driven from Washington. She sent for him, and he came promptly. He liked to talk to her because she was one of the few who thoroughly appreciated and sympathized with his ideas of success in life. Also, he respected her as a personage in Washington, and had it in mind to marry his daughter, as soon as she should be old enough, to one of her grandnephews.
“Branch,” said the old lady, with an emphatic wave of the ebony staff, “I want that Craig man sent away from Washington.”
“Josh, the joke?” said Branch with a slow, sneering smile that had an acidity in it interesting in one so even as he.
“That’s the man. I want you to rid us of him. He has been paying attention to Margaret, and she is encouraging him.”