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CHAPTER XIII
Mr. Fillmore was a fine type of the kind of man Americans love to raise to the highest office in their gift. He had not been a mill boy, nor lived in a log-cabin, nor split rails (which was to his discredit), but he had been an apprentice to a wool-carder in Livingston County, New York. Afterward he had worked in a lawyer's office all day and studied at night. He had had no patron. He was essentially a self-made man. When, by the death of President Taylor, he became President of the United States, he fitted into the place as if he had made himself expressly for it.

According to Ampère, who observed us so narrowly in 1852, "M. Fillmore avait un cachet de simplicité digne et bienveillante, qui me semble faire de lui le type de ce que doit être un président Américain."

But nobody said any of those fine things about dear Mrs. Fillmore. The cachet de simplicité she certainly possessed, but she wore it with a difference. In a President it was admirable, in a beautiful woman it would have been adorable. It stamped plain, unhandsome, ungraceful Mrs. Fillmore as ordinary, commonplace. She was the soul of kindness. "She has no manner," said a woman of fashion. "She is absolutely simple. It is not good 99form to be so motherly to her guests. Why, what do you think she said to me at the last levee? 'You look pale and ill, my dear! Pray find a seat.' Think of that! Haven't I a right to look pale and ill, I wonder!"

"She meant to be kind," I ventured. "Should she have permitted you to faint on the floor?"

"Kind, indeed! It was her duty, if she thought me 'gone off in my looks,' to tell me how well I was looking! I should have been all right after that. As it was, I came straight home and went to bed."

I fairly revelled in the music I could now hear. From a famous musician, Mr. Palmer, I took lessons again. He was a notable character—a splendid musician, and a welcome guest at Mr. Corcoran's and other houses, where he amused the company with tricks of legerdemain. He afterward became the celebrated "Heller," the prince of legerdemain and clairvoyance. The elder Booth, Hackett, and Anna Cora Mowatt introduced me to the fascinations of the stage. Nothing to my mind had ever been, could ever be, finer than their Hamlet, Falstaff, and Parthenia. The Armstrongs gave me carte blanche to their box at the theatre, and I saw everything. I wonder if any one at the present day remembers the Ravel brothers and their matchless pantomimes! Mrs. Baird made a party, taking little Lucy to see "Jocko." Not a word was spoken in the play; not an eye was dry in the house.

One evening an agreeable Frenchman whom we 100knew joined us in our box, and seeking an opportunity, whispered to me, "Madame, will you grant me a favor? There—in the parquette, second from the front, voyez-vous? A lady en chapeau bleu?"

"Yes, yes, I see! Who is she?"

"Madame" (tragically), "that demoiselle with the young man is fiancée to my friend!"

"And you are perhaps jealous!"

"Ah, mais non, Madame! I have this moment said to my friend, 'Regardez votre fiancée.' He has responded, 'C'est vrai! It is custom of this country.'"

"And what then?" I asked.

"Oh!" shrugging his shoulders in scorn not to be expressed in words, "I say, 'Eh bien, Emil. If you satisfy, I very well satisfy!' But, pardon, Madame, is it convenable in this country for demoiselle to appear at theatre with young gentleman without chaperon?"

I found refuge in ignorance: "I am sure I cannot say. You see I am from Virginia. I haven't been long in Washington, and customs here may differ from manners in my home."

I was a proud woman when Mr. Pierce sent for my young editor to read with him his inaugural address. These were mighty political secrets, not to be shared with Miss Dick, and thus published to her little boarding-house world. I felt that I belonged, not to that nor to any other small world. I belonged to the nation; and strange to say, that impression (or must I say delusion?) never left me in my darkest, most obscure days. 101 Mr. Pierce liked my young editor. We adored him! Only since we lost him have we learned of his many mistakes, vacillation, weakness, unpopularity; nothing of these appeared in 1852. He had been a fine politician, had served his country "with bravery and credit," enlisting as a private in the Mexican War. "His integrity was above suspicion, and he was deeply religious." It is quite certain he did not desire the nomination. There was nobody in his family to exult over his promotion, no son, no daughter to blossom with new beauty because of the splendid stem on which she grew. Only a sick, broken-hearted wife, too feeble to endure the exactions of social life, too sad to take part in anything outside her own room. She did not even attempt it. It was at once understood that our republican court was such only in name. In name only did Mrs. Pierce appear in its annals. I never saw her. I never saw any one who had seen her. We thought of her as a Mater Dolorosa, shrouded in deepest mourning, and we gave her a sacred place in our hearts.

I cannot close my records of this, my earliest experience of Washington life, without remembering with gratitude all I owe to the friendship and wisdom of the discreet, cultured women who felt an early interest in me, guiding and instructing me. Mrs. Spenser Baird, Mrs. Garnett(née Wise), lovely Annie Wise, and Maria Heth, these were my intimate friends. Mrs. Garnett, a lovely Christian woman, watched me closely and restrained me in my natural desire for beautiful raiment. I once confessed to her, almost with tears, that Léonide Delarue had beguiled me 102into giving forty dollars for a bonnet, whereupon she produced pencil and paper and proved that the material (exclusive of a bit of superfluous point-lace) could be obtained for ten dollars. The young English queen, it was said, could make her own bonnets. But I could not succeed as a milliner. I had some talent, but not in that line. However, that I might please and surprise Mrs. Garnett and also imitate the Queen, when the time came for me to indulge myself in a winter bonnet (we did not call them hats—they weren't hats!), I essayed the "creation" of one with velvet, satin, and feathers galore. It was a dreadful failure! I took it to Madame Delarue's and begged her to tell me what ailed it.

"Mon Dieu!" she exclaimed, throwing up her hands in despair, "pesante."

I gave away my "creation" to somebody in my service—anybody who would condescend to accept it. Mrs. Garnett felt I could hardly afford to try again. She knew, however, how important to me as a young politician's wife would be the virtue of economy. It is not written in the stars that an honest politician can ever be rich. A great evening reception was to be given by some magnate at which my young editor consented to be present. He secretly visited Harper's fine store and brought home a lovely "bertha" for me made of three rows of point-lace. I gasped! But I was prudent. I accepted it with apparent pleasure, went to Harper's, found it had been charged, and effected its return. But here was a dilemma. I was to attend the reception. I was to wear evening dress and a beautiful "bertha." 103 "Have you not imitation lace?" I inquired.

Harper had,—and the imitation was good,—the price of plenty of it ten dollars. I guiltily made the exchange, took a searching look at my model, and perfectly copied it.

That evening, brave in my counterfeit presentment I stood under a blaze of light with my intimates, Mrs. Clay, Mrs. Fitzpatrick, and others around me. My editor approached and was complimented upon my appearance. "Ah, but," he said, in the pride of his young heart, "if I can only keep it up! Why, Mrs. Clay, that bit of lace cost me hundreds of dollars!" I caught the wondering eyes of my fully instructed friends, gave them an imploring glance—and when the boastful young fellow departed, told them my story. They said I was a very silly woman.

Mr. Fillmore's tastes had been sufficiently ripened to enable him to gather around him men of literary taste and attainment. John P. Kennedy, a man of elegant accomplishments, was Secretary of the Navy. Washington Irving was often Mr. Kennedy's guest. We knew these men, and among them none was brighter, wittier, or more genial than G. P. R. James, the English novelist whose star rose and set before 1860. He was the most prolific of writers, "Like an endless chain of buckets in a well," said one; "as fast as one is emptied, up comes another."

We were very fond of Mr. James. One day he dashed in, much excited:—

"Have you seen the Intelligencer? By George, it's all true! Six times has my hero, a 'solitary 104horseman,' emerged from a wood! My word! I was totally unconscious of it! Fancy it! Six times! Well, it's all up with that fellow. He has got to dismount and enter on foot—a beggar, or burglar, or pedler, or at best a mendicant friar."

"But," suggested one, "he might drive, mightn't he?"

"Impossible!" said Mr. James. "Imagine a hero in a gig or a curricle!"

"Perhaps," said one, "the word 'solitary' has given offence. Americans dislike exclusiveness. They are sensitive, you see, and look out for snobs."

He made himself very merry over it; but the solitary horseman appeared no more in the few novels he was yet to write.

One day, after a pleasant visit from Mr. James and his wife, I accompanied them at parting to the front door, and found some difficulty in turning the bolt. He offered to assist, but I said no—he was not supposed to understand the mystery of an American front door.

Having occasion a few minutes afterward to open the door for another departing guest, there on his knees outside was Mr. James, who laughingly explained that he had left his wife at the corner, and had come back to investigate that mystery. "Perhaps you will tell me," he added, and was much amused to learn that the American door opened of itself to an incoming guest, but positively refused, without coaxing, to let him out. "By George, that's fine!" he said, "that'll please the critics in my 105next." I never knew whether it was admitted, for I must confess that, even with the stimulus of his presence, his books were dreary reading to my uninstructed taste.

A very lovely and charming actress was prominent in Washington society at this time,—the daughter of an old New York family, Anna Cora (Ogden) Mowatt. She was especially interesting to Virginians, for she had captivated Foushee Ritchie, soon afterward my husband's partner on the editorship of the Richmond Enquirer. Mr. Ritchie, a confirmed old bachelor, had been fascinated by Mrs. Mowatt's Parthenia (in "Ingomar"), and was now engaged to her. He proudly brought to me a pair of velvet slippers she had embroidered for him, working around them as a border a quotation from "Ingomar":—

"Two souls with but a single thought,

Two hearts that beat as one."




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