Mr. Buckstone's campaign was brief—much briefer than he supposed it would be. He began it purposing to win Laura without being won himself; but his experience was that of all who had fought on that field before him; he diligently continued his effort to win her, but he presently found that while as yet he could not feel entirely certain of having won her, it was very manifest that she had won him. He had made an able fight, brief as it was, and that at least was to his credit. He was in good company, now; he walked in a leash of conspicuous captives. These unfortunates followed Laura helplessly, for whenever she took a prisoner he remained her slave henceforth. Sometimes they chafed in their bondage; sometimes they tore themselves free and said their serfdom was ended; but sooner or later they always came back penitent and worshiping. Laura pursued her usual course: she encouraged Mr. Buckstone by turns, and by turns she harassed him; she exalted him to the clouds at one time, and at another she dragged him down again. She constituted him chief champion of the Knobs University bill, and he accepted the position, at first reluctantly, but later as a valued means of serving her—he even came to look upon it as a piece of great good fortune, since it brought him into such frequent contact with her.
Through him she learned that the Hon. Mr. Trollop was a bitter enemy of her bill. He urged her not to attempt to influence Mr. Trollop in any way, and explained that whatever she might attempt in that direction would surely be used against her and with damaging effect.
She at first said she knew Mr. Trollop, "and was aware that he had a Blank-Blank;"—[**Her private figure of speech for Brother—or Son-in-law]—but Mr. Buckstone said that he was not able to conceive what so curious a phrase as Blank-Blank might mean, and had no wish to pry into the matter, since it was probably private, he "would nevertheless venture the blind assertion that nothing would answer in this particular case and during this particular session but to be exceedingly wary and keep clear away from Mr. Trollop; any other course would be fatal."
It seemed that nothing could be done. Laura was seriously troubled. Everything was looking well, and yet it was plain that one vigorous and determined enemy might eventually succeed in overthrowing all her plans. A suggestion came into her mind presently and she said:
"Can't you fight against his great Pension bill and bring him to terms?"
"Oh, never; he and I are sworn brothers on that measure; we work in harness and are very loving—I do everything I possibly can for him there. But I work with might and main against his Immigration bill,—as pertinaciously and as vindictively, indeed, as he works against our University. We hate each other through half a conversation and are all affection through the other half. We understand each other. He is an admirable worker outside the capitol; he will do more for the Pension bill than any other man could do; I wish he would make the great speech on it which he wants to make—and then I would make another and we would be safe."
"Well if he wants to make a great speech why doesn't he do it?"
Visitors interrupted the conversation and Mr. Buckstone took his leave. It was not of the least moment to Laura that her question had not been answered, inasmuch as it concerned a thing which did not interest her; and yet, human being like, she thought she would have liked to know. An opportunity occurring presently, she put the same question to another person and got an answer that satisfied her. She pondered a good while that night, after she had gone to bed, and when she finally turned over to go to sleep, she had thought out a new scheme. The next evening at Mrs. Gloverson's party, she said to Mr. Buckstone:
"I want Mr. Trollop to make his great speech on the Pension bill."
"Do you? But you remember I was interrupted, and did not explain to you—"
"Never mind, I know. You must make him make that speech. I very particularly desire it."
"Oh, it is easy to say make him do it, but how am I to make him!"
"It is perfectly easy; I have thought it all out."
She then went into the details. At length Mr. Buckstone said:
"I see now. I can manage it, I am sure. Indeed I wonder he never thought of it himself—there are no end of precedents. But how is this going to benefit you, after I have managed it? There is where the mystery lies."
"But I will take care of that. It will benefit me a great deal."
"I only wish I could see how; it is the oddest freak. You seem to go the furthest around to get at a thing—but you are in earnest, aren't you?"
"Yes I am, indeed."
"Very well, I will do it—but why not tell me how you imagine it is going to help you?"
"I will, by and by.—Now there is nobody talking to him. Go straight and do it, there's a good fellow."
A moment or two later the two sworn friends of the Pension bill were talking together, earnestly, and seemingly unconscious of the moving throng about them. They talked an hour, and then Mr. Buckstone came back and said:
"He hardly fancied it at first, but he fell in love with it after a bit. And we have made a compact, too. I am to keep his secret and he is to spare me, in future, when he gets ready to denounce the supporters of the University bill—and I can easily believe he will keep his word on this occasion."
A fortnight elapsed, and the University bill had gathered to itself many friends, meantime. Senator Dilworthy began to think the harvest was ripe. He conferred with Laura privately. She was able to tell him exactly how the House would vote. There was a majority—the bill would pass, unless weak members got frightened at the last, and deserted—a thing pretty likely to occur. The Senator said:
"I wish we had one more good strong man. Now Trollop ought to be on our side, for he is a friend of the negro. But he is against us, and is our bitterest opponent. If he would simply vote No, but keep quiet and not molest us, I would feel perfectly cheerful and content. But perhaps there is no use in thinking of that."
"Why I laid a little plan for his benefit two weeks ago. I think he will be tractable, maybe. He is to come here tonight."
"Look out for him, my child! He means mischief, sure. It is said that he claims to know of improper practices having been used in the interest of this bill, and he thinks he sees a chance to make a great sensation when the bill comes up. Be wary. Be very, very careful, my dear. Do your very ablest talking, now. You can convince a man of anything, when you try. You must convince him that if anything improper has been done, you at least are ignorant of it and sorry for it. And if you could only persuade him out of his hostility to the bill, too—but don't overdo the thing; don't seem too anxious, dear."
"I won't; I'll be ever so careful. I'll talk as sweetly to him as if he were my own child! You may trust me—indeed you may."
The door-bell rang.
"That is the gentleman now," said Laura. Senator Dilworthy retired to his study.
Laura welcomed Mr. Trollop, a grave, carefully dressed and very respectable looking man, with a bald head, standing collar and old fashioned watch seals.
"Promptness is a virtue, Mr. Trollop, and I perceive that you have it. You are always prompt with me."
"I always meet my engagements, of every kind, Miss Hawkins."
"It is a quality which is rarer in the world than it has been, I believe. I wished to see you on business, Mr. Trollop."
"I judged so. What can I do for you?"
"You know my bill—the Knobs University bill?"
"Ah, I believe it is your bill. I had forgotten. Yes, I know the bill."
"Well, would you mind telling me your opinion of it?"
"Indeed, since you seem to ask it without reserve, I am obliged to say that I do not regard it favorably. I have not seen the bill itself, but from what I can hear, it—it—well, it has a bad look about it. It—"
"Speak it out—never fear."
"Well, it—they say it contemplates a fraud upon the government."
"Well?" said Laura tranquilly.
"Well! I say 'Well?' too."
"Well, suppose it were a fraud—which I feel able to deny—would it be the first one?"
"You take a body's breath away! Would you—did you wish me to vote for it? Was that what you wanted to see me about?"
"Your instinct is correct. I did want you—I do want you to vote for it."
"Vote for a fr—for a measure which is generally believed to be at least questionable? I am afraid we cannot come to an understanding, Miss Hawkins."
"No, I am afraid not—if you have resumed your principles, Mr. Trollop."
"Did you send for me merely to insult me? It is time for me to take my leave, Miss Hawkins."
"No—wait a moment. Don't be offended at a trifle. Do not be offish and unsociable. The Steamship Subsidy bill was a fraud on the government. You voted for it, Mr. Trollop, though you always opposed the measure until after you had an interview one evening with a certain Mrs. McCarter at her house. She was my agent. She was acting for me. Ah, that is right—sit down again. You can be sociable, easily enough if you have a mind to. Well? I am waiting. Have you nothing to say?"
"Miss Hawkins, I voted for that bill because when I came to examine into it—"
"Ah yes. When you came to examine into it. Well, I only want you to examine into my bill. Mr. Trollop, you would not sell your vote on that subsidy bill—which was perfectly right—but you accepted of some of the stock, with the understanding that it was to stand in your brother-in-law's name."
"There is no pr—I mean, this is, utterly groundless, Miss Hawkins." But the gentleman seemed somewhat uneasy, nevertheless.
"Well, not entirely so, perhaps. I and a person whom we will call Miss Blank (never mind the real name,) were in a closet at your elbow all the while."
Mr. Trollop winced—then he said with dignity:
"Miss Hawkins is it possible that you were capable of such a thing as that?"
"It was bad; I confess that. It was bad. Almost as bad as selling one's vote for—but I forget; you did not sell your vote—you only accepted a little trifle, a small token of esteem, for your brother-in-law. Oh, let us come out and be frank with each other: I know you, Mr. Trollop. I have met you on business three or four times; true, I never offered to corrupt your principles—never hinted such a thing; but always when I had finished sounding you, I manipulated you through an agent. Let us be frank. Wear this comely disguise of virtue before the public—it will count there; but here it is out of place. My dear sir, by and by there is going to be an investigation into that National Internal Improvement Directors' Relief Measure of a few years ago, and you know very well that you will be a crippled man, as likely as not, when it is completed."
"It cannot be shown that a man is a knave merely for owning that stock. I am not distressed about the National Improvement Relief Measure."
"Oh indeed I am not trying to distress you. I only wished to make good my assertion that I knew you. Several of you gentlemen bought of that stack (without paying a penny down) received dividends from it, (think of the happy idea of receiving dividends, and very large ones, too, from stock one hasn't paid for!) and all the while your names never appeared in the transaction; if ever you took the stock at all, you took it in other people's names. Now you see, you had to know one of two things; namely, you either knew that the idea of all this preposterous generosity was to bribe you into future legislative friendship, or you didn't know it. That is to say, you had to be either a knave or a—well, a fool—there was no middle ground. You are not a fool, Mr. Trollop."
"Miss Hawking you flatter me. But seriously, you do not forget that some of the best and purest men in Congress took that stock in that way?"
"Did Senator Blank?"
"Well, no—I believe not."
"Of course you believe not. Do you suppose he was ever approached, on the subject?"
"If you had approached him, for instance, fortified with the fact that some of the best men in Congress, and the purest, etc., etc.; what would have been the result?"
"Well, what WOULD have been the result?"
"He would have shown you the door! For Mr. Blank is neither a knave nor a fool. There are other men in the Senate and the House whom no one would have been hardy enough to approach with that Relief Stock in that peculiarly generous way, but they are not of the class that you regard as the best and purest. No, I say I know you Mr. Trollop. That is to say, one may suggest a thing to Mr. Trollop which it would not do to suggest to Mr. Blank. Mr. Trollop, you are pledged to support the Indigent Congressmen's Retroactive Appropriation which is to come up, either in this or the next session. You do not deny that, even in public. The man that will vote for that bill will break the eighth commandment in any other way, sir!"
"But he will not vote for your corrupt measure, nevertheless, madam!" exclaimed Mr. Trollop, rising from his seat in a passion.
"Ah, but he will. Sit down again, and let me explain why. Oh, come, don't behave so. It is very unpleasant. Now be good, and you shall have the missing page of your great speech. Here it is!"—and she displayed a sheet of manuscript.
Mr. Trollop turned immediately back from the threshold. It might have been gladness that flashed into his face; it might have been something else; but at any rate there was much astonishment mixed with it.
"Good! Where did you get it? Give it me!"
"Now there is no hurry. Sit down; sit down and let us talk and be friendly."
The gentleman wavered. Then he said:
"No, this is only a subterfuge. I will go. It is not the missing page."
Laura tore off a couple of lines from the bottom of the sheet.
"Now," she said, "you will know whether this is the handwriting or not. You know it is the handwriting. Now if you will listen, you will know that this must be the list of statistics which was to be the 'nub' of your great effort, and the accompanying blast the beginning of the burst of eloquence which was continued on the next page—and you will recognize that there was where you broke down."
She read the page. Mr. Trollop said:
"This is perfectly astounding. Still, what is all this to me? It is nothing. It does not concern me. The speech is made, and there an end. I did break down for a moment, and in a rather uncomfortable place, since I had led up to those statistics with some grandeur; the hiatus was pleasanter to the House and the galleries than it was to me. But it is no matter now. A week has passed; the jests about it ceased three or four days ago. The whole thing is a matter of indifference to me, Miss Hawkins."
"But you apologized; and promised the statistics for next day. Why didn't you keep your promise."
"The matter was not of sufficient consequence. The time was gone by to produce an effect with them."
"But I hear that other friends of the Soldiers' Pension Bill desire them very much. I think you ought to let them have them."
"Miss Hawkins, this silly blunder of my copyist evidently has more interest for you than it has for me. I will send my private secretary to you and let him discuss the subject with you at length."
"Did he copy your speech for you?"
"Of course he did. Why all these questions? Tell me—how did you get hold of that page of manuscript? That is the only thing that stirs a passing interest in my mind."
"I'm coming to that." Then she said, much as if she were talking to herself: "It does seem like taking a deal of unnecessary pains, for a body to hire another body to construct a great speech for him and then go and get still another body to copy it before it can be read in the House."
"Miss Hawkins, what do you mean by such talk as that?"
"Why I am sure I mean no harm—no harm to anybody in the world. I am certain that I overheard the Hon. Mr. Buckstone either promise to write your great speech for you or else get some other competent person to do it."
"This is perfectly absurd, madam, perfectly absurd!" and Mr. Trollop affected a laugh of derision.
"Why, the thing has occurred before now. I mean that I have heard that Congressmen have sometimes hired literary grubs to build speeches for them.—Now didn't I overhear a conversation like that I spoke of?"
"Pshaw! Why of course you may have overheard some such jesting nonsense. But would one be in earnest about so farcical a thing?"
"Well if it was only a joke, why did you make a serious matter of it? Why did you get the speech written for you, and then read it in the House without ever having it copied?"
Mr. Trollop did not laugh this time; he seemed seriously perplexed. He said:
"Come, play out your jest, Miss Hawkins. I can't understand what you are contriving—but it seems to entertain you—so please, go on."
"I will, I assure you; but I hope to make the matter entertaining to you, too. Your private secretary never copied your speech."
"Indeed? Really you seem to know my affairs better than I do myself."
"I believe I do. You can't name your own amanuensis, Mr. Trollop."
"That is sad, indeed. Perhaps Miss Hawkins can?"
"Yes, I can. I wrote your speech myself, and you read it from my manuscript. There, now!"
Mr. Trollop did not spring to his feet and smite his brow with his hand while a cold sweat broke out all over him and the color forsook his face—no, he only said, "Good God!" and looked greatly astonished.
Laura handed him her commonplace-book and called his attention to the fact that the handwriting there and the handwriting of this speech were the same. He was shortly convinced. He laid the book aside and said, composedly:
"Well, the wonderful tragedy is done, and it transpires that I am indebted to you for my late eloquence. What of it? What was all this for and what does it amount to after all? What do you propose to do about it?"
"Oh nothing. It is only a bit of pleasantry. When I overheard that conversation I took an early opportunity to ask Mr. Buckstone if he knew of anybody who might want a speech written—I had a friend, and so forth and so on. I was the friend, myself; I thought I might do you a good turn then and depend on you to do me one by and by. I never let Mr. Buckstone have the speech till the last moment, and when you hurried off to the House with it, you did not know there was a missing page, of course, but I did."
"And now perhaps you think that if I refuse to support your bill, you will make a grand exposure?"
"Well I had not thought of that. I only kept back the page for the mere fun of the thing; but since you mention it, I don't know but I might do something if I were angry."
"My dear Miss Hawkins, if you were to give out that you composed my speech, you know very well that people would say it was only your raillery, your fondness for putting a victim in the pillory and amusing the public at his expense. It is too flimsy, Miss Hawkins, for a person of your fine inventive talent—contrive an abler device than that. Come!"
"It is easily done, Mr. Trollop. I will hire a man, and pin this page on his breast, and label it, 'The Missing Fragment of the Hon. Mr. Trollop's Great Speech—which speech was written and composed by Miss Laura Hawkins under a secret understanding for one hundred dollars—and the money has not been paid.' And I will pin round about it notes in my handwriting, which I will procure from prominent friends of mine for the occasion; also your printed speech in the Globe, showing the connection between its bracketed hiatus and my Fragment; and I give you my word of honor that I will stand that human bulletin board in the rotunda of the capitol and make him stay there a week! You see you are premature, Mr. Trollop, the wonderful tragedy is not done yet, by any means. Come, now, doesn't it improve?"
Mr Trollop opened his eyes rather widely at this novel aspect of the case. He got up and walked the floor and gave himself a moment for reflection. Then he stopped and studied Laura's face a while, and ended by saying:
"Well, I am obliged to believe you would be reckless enough to do that."
"Then don't put me to the test, Mr. Trollop. But let's drop the matter. I have had my joke and you've borne the infliction becomingly enough. It spoils a jest to harp on it after one has had one's laugh. I would much rather talk about my bill."
"So would I, now, my clandestine amanuensis. Compared with some other subjects, even your bill is a pleasant topic to discuss."
"Very good indeed! I thought I could persuade you. Now I am sure you will be generous to the poor negro and vote for that bill."
"Yes, I feel more tenderly toward the oppressed colored man than I did. Shall we bury the hatchet and be good friends and respect each other's little secrets, on condition that I vote Aye on the measure?"
"With all my heart, Mr. Trollop. I give you my word of that."
"It is a bargain. But isn't there something else you could give me, too?"
Laura looked at him inquiringly a moment, and then she comprehended.
"Oh, yes! You may have it now. I haven't any more use for it." She picked up the page of manuscript, but she reconsidered her intention of handing it to him, and said, "But never mind; I will keep it close; no one shall see it; you shall have it as soon as your vote is recorded."
Mr. Trollop looked disappointed. But presently made his adieux, and had got as far as the hall, when something occurred to Laura. She said to herself, "I don't simply want his vote under compulsion—he might vote aye, but work against the bill in secret, for revenge; that man is unscrupulous enough to do anything. I must have his hearty co-operation as well as his vote. There is only one way to get that."
She called him back, and said:
"I value your vote, Mr. Trollop, but I value your influence more. You are able to help a measure along in many ways, if you choose. I want to ask you to work for the bill as well as vote for it."
"It takes so much of one's time, Miss Hawkins—and time is money, you know."
"Yes, I know it is—especially in Congress. Now there is no use in you and I dealing in pretenses and going at matters in round-about ways. We know each other—disguises are nonsense. Let us be plain. I will make it an object to you to work for the bill."
"Don't make it unnecessarily plain, please. There are little proprieties that are best preserved. What do you propose?"
"Well, this." She mentioned the names of several prominent Congressmen.
"Now," said she, "these gentlemen are to vote and work for the bill, simply out of love for the negro—and out of pure generosity I have put in a relative of each as a member of the University incorporation. They will handle a million or so of money, officially, but will receive no salaries. A larger number of statesmen are to vote and work for the bill—also out of love for the negro—gentlemen of but moderate influence, these—and out of pure generosity I am to see that relatives of theirs have positions in the University, with salaries, and good ones, too. You will vote and work for the bill, from mere affection for the negro, and I desire to testify my gratitude becomingly. Make free choice. Have you any friend whom you would like to present with a salaried or unsalaried position in our institution?"
"Well, I have a brother-in-law—"
"That same old brother-in-law, you good unselfish provider! I have heard of him often, through my agents. How regularly he does 'turn up,' to be sure. He could deal with those millions virtuously, and withal with ability, too—but of course you would rather he had a salaried position?"
"Oh, no," said the gentleman, facetiously, "we are very humble, very humble in our desires; we want no money; we labor solely, for our country and require no reward but the luxury of an applauding conscience. Make him one of those poor hard working unsalaried corporators and let him do every body good with those millions—and go hungry himself! I will try to exert a little influence in favor of the bill."
Arrived at home, Mr. Trollop sat down and thought it all over—something after this fashion: it is about the shape it might have taken if he had spoken it aloud.
"My reputation is getting a little damaged, and I meant to clear it up brilliantly with an exposure of this bill at the supreme moment, and ride back into Congress on the eclat of it; and if I had that bit of manuscript, I would do it yet. It would be more money in my pocket in the end, than my brother-in-law will get out of that incorporatorship, fat as it is. But that sheet of paper is out of my reach—she will never let that get out of her hands. And what a mountain it is! It blocks up my road, completely. She was going to hand it to me, once. Why didn't she! Must be a deep woman. Deep devil! That is what she is; a beautiful devil—and perfectly fearless, too. The idea of her pinning that paper on a man and standing him up in the rotunda looks absurd at a first glance. But she would do it! She is capable of doing anything. I went there hoping she would try to bribe me—good solid capital that would be in the exposure. Well, my prayer was answered; she did try to bribe me; and I made the best of a bad bargain and let her. I am checkmated. I must contrive something fresh to get back to Congress on. Very well; a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush; I will work for the bill—the incorporatorship will be a very good thing."
As soon as Mr. Trollop had taken his leave, Laura ran to Senator Dilworthy and began to speak, but he interrupted her and said distressfully, without even turning from his writing to look at her:
"Only half an hour! You gave it up early, child. However, it was best, it was best—I'm sure it was best—and safest."
"Give it up! I!"
The Senator sprang up, all aglow:
"My child, you can't mean that you—"
"I've made him promise on honor to think about a compromise tonight and come and tell me his decision in the morning."
"Good! There's hope yet that—"
"Nonsense, uncle. I've made him engage to let the Tennessee Land bill utterly alone!"
"I've made him promise to vote with us!"
"I've made him swear that he'll work for us!"
"PRE - - - POSTEROUS!—Utterly pre—break a window, child, before I suffocate!"
"No matter, it's true anyway. Now we can march into Congress with drums beating and colors flying!"
"Well—well—well. I'm sadly bewildered, sadly bewildered. I can't understand it at all—the most extraordinary woman that ever—it's a great day, it's a great day. There—there—let me put my hand in benediction on this precious head. Ah, my child, the poor negro will bless—"
"Oh bother the poor negro, uncle! Put it in your speech. Good-night, good-bye—we'll marshal our forces and march with the dawn!"
Laura reflected a while, when she was alone, and then fell to laughing, peacefully.
"Everybody works for me,"—so ran her thought. "It was a good idea to make Buckstone lead Mr. Trollop on to get a great speech written for him; and it was a happy part of the same idea for me to copy the speech after Mr. Buckstone had written it, and then keep back a page. Mr. B. was very complimentary to me when Trollop's break-down in the House showed him the object of my mysterious scheme; I think he will say still finer things when I tell him the triumph the sequel to it has gained for us.
"But what a coward the man was, to believe I would have exposed that page in the rotunda, and so exposed myself. However, I don't know—I don't know. I will think a moment. Suppose he voted no; suppose the bill failed; that is to suppose this stupendous game lost forever, that I have played so desperately for; suppose people came around pitying me—odious! And he could have saved me by his single voice. Yes, I would have exposed him! What would I care for the talk that that would have made about me when I was gone to Europe with Selby and all the world was busy with my history and my dishonor? It would be almost happiness to spite somebody at such a time."