"My poor--poor child!" said she pityingly. "I never dreamed of this! What a fool I have been! How could I have been so thoughtless! Tell me!" she added, with a little hesitation; "has he--does he care for you?"
"No! no!" cried Sybil, fairly breaking down into a burst of tears; "no! he loves you! nobody but you! he never gave a thought to me. I don't care for him so very much," she continued, drying her tears; "only it seems so lonely now he is gone."
Mrs. Lee remained on the couch, with her arm round her sister's neck, silent, gazing into vacancy, the picture of perplexity and consternation.
The situation was getting beyond her control.
IN the middle of April a sudden social excitement started the indolent city of Washington to its feet. The Grand-Duke and Duchess of Saxe-Baden-Hombourg arrived in America on a tour of pleasure, and in due course came on to pay their respects to the Chief Magistrate of the Union. The newspapers hastened to inform their readers that the Grand-Duchess was a royal princess of England, and, in the want of any other social event, every one who had any sense of what was due to his or her own dignity, hastened to show this august couple the respect which all republicans who have a large income derived from business, feel for English royalty. New York gave a dinner, at which the most insignificant person present was worth at least a million dollars, and where the gentlemen who sat by the Princess entertained her for an hour or two by a calculation of the aggregate capital represented. New York also gave a ball at which the Princess appeared in an ill-fitting black silk dress with mock lace and jet ornaments, among several hundred toilets that proclaimed the refined republican simplicity of their owners at a cost of various hundred thousand dollars. After these hospitalities the Grand-ducal pair came on to Washington, where they became guests of Lord Skye, or, more properly, Lord Skye became their guest, for he seemed to consider that he handed the Legation over to them, and he told Mrs. Lee, with true British bluntness of speech, that they were a great bore and he wished they had stayed in Saxe-Baden-Hombourg, or wherever they belonged, but as they were here, he must be their lackey. Mrs. Lee was amused and a little astonished at the candour with which he talked about them, and she was instructed and improved by his dry account of the Princess, who, it seemed, made herself disagreeable by her airs of royalty; who had suffered dreadfully from the voyage; and who detested America and everything American; but who was, not without some show of reason, jealous of her husband, and endured endless sufferings, though with a very bad grace, rather than lose sight of him.
Not only was Lord Skye obliged to turn the Legation into an hotel, but in the full enthusiasm of his loyalty he felt himself called upon to give a ball. It was, he said, the easiest way of paying off all his debts at once, and if the Princess was good for nothing else, she could be utilized as a show by way of "promoting the harmony of the two great nations." In other words, Lord Skye meant to exhibit the Princess for his own diplomatic benefit, and he did so. One would have thought that at this season, when Congress had adjourned, Washington would hardly have afforded society enough to fill a ball-room, but this, instead of being a drawback, was an advantage. It permitted the British Minister to issue invitations without limit. He asked not only the President and his Cabinet, and the judges, and the army, and the navy, and all the residents of Washington who had any claim to consideration, but also all the senators, all the representatives in Congress, all the governors of States with their staffs, if they had any, all eminent citizens and their families throughout the Union and Canada, and finally every private individual, from the North Pole to the Isthmus of Panama, who had ever shown him a civility or was able to control interest enough to ask for a card. The result was that Baltimore promised to come in a body, and Philadelphia was equally well-disposed; New York provided several scores of guests, and Boston sent the governor and a delegation; even the well-known millionaire who represented California in the United States Senate was irritated because, his invitation having been timed to arrive just one day too late, he was prevented from bringing his family across the continent with a choice party in a director's car, to enjoy the smiles of royalty in the halls of the British lion. It is astonishing what efforts freemen will make in a just cause.
Lord Skye himself treated the whole affair with easy contempt. One afternoon he strolled into Mrs. Lee's parlour and begged her to give him a cup of tea.
He said he had got rid of his menagerie for a few hours by shunting it off upon the German Legation, and he was by way of wanting a little human society. Sybil, who was a great favourite with him, entreated to be told all about the ball, but he insisted that he knew no more than she did. A man from New York had taken possession of the Legation, but what he would do with it was not within the foresight of the wisest; trom the talk of the young members of his Legation, Lord Skye gathered that the entire city was to be roofed in and forty millions of people expected, but his own concern in the affair was limited to the flowers he hoped to receive.