"We might translate it by saying: 'One may go farther and fare worse,'"
rejoined Madeleine; and so the storm blew over for the time, and Ratcliffe sulkily let the subject drop. Nevertheless the two men never met in Mrs.
Lee's parlour without her dreading a personal altercation. Little by little, what with Jacobi's sarcasms and Ratcliffe's roughness, they nearly ceased to speak, and glared at each other like quarrelsome dogs. Madeleine was driven to all kinds of expedients to keep the peace, yet at the same time she could not but be greatly amused by their behaviour, and as their hatred of each other only stimulated their devotion to her, she was content to hold an even balance between them.
Nor were these all the awkward consequences of Ratcliffe's attentions. Now that he was distinctly recognized as an intimate friend of Mrs. Lee's, and possibly her future husband, no one ventured any longer to attack him in her presence, but nevertheless she was conscious in a thousand ways that the atmosphere became more and more dense under the shadow of the Secretary of the Treasury. In spite of herself she sometimes felt uneasy, as though there were conspiracy in the air. One March afternoon she was sitting by her fire, with an English Review in her hand, trying to read the last Symposium on the sympathies of Eternal Punishment, when her servant brought in a card, and Mrs. Lee had barely time to read the name of Mrs. Samuel Baker when that lady followed the servant into the room, forcing the countersign in so effective style that for once Madeleine was fairly disconcerted. Her manner when thus intruded upon, was cool, but in this case, on Carrington's account, she tried to smile courteously and asked her visitor to sit down, which Mrs. Baker was doing without an invitation, very soon putting her hostess entirely at her ease. She was, when seen without her veil, a showy woman verging on forty, decidedly large, tall, over-dressed even in mourning, and with a complexion rather fresher than nature had made it.
There was a geniality in her address, savouring of easy Washington ways, a fruitiness of smile, and a rich southern accent, that explained on the spot her success in the lobby. She looked about her with fine self-possession, and approved Mrs. Lee's surroundings with a cordiality so different from the northern stinginess of praise, that Madeleine was rather pleased than offended. Yet when her eye rested on the Corot, Madeleine's only pride, she was evidently perplexed, and resorted to eye-glasses, in order, as it seemed, to gain time for reflection. But she was not to be disconcerted even by Corot's masterpiece:
"How pretty! Japanese, isn't it? Sea-weeds seen through a fog. I went to an auction yesterday, and do you know I bought a tea-pot with a picture just like that."
Madeleine inquired with extreme interest about the auction, but after learning all that Mrs. Baker had to tell, she was on the point of being reduced to silence, when she bethought herself to mention Carrington. Mrs.
Baker brightened up at once, if she could be said to brighten where there was no sign of dimness: