The exact facts were these. It had happened that the Grand-Duchess, having been necessarily brought into contact with the President, and particularly with his wife, during the past week, had conceived for the latter an antipathy hardly to be expressed in words. Her fixed determination was at any cost to keep the Presidential party at a distance, and it was only after a stormy scene that the Grand-Duke and Lord Skye succeeded in extorting her consent that the President should take her to supper. Further than this she would not go. She would not speak to "that woman," as she called the President's wife, nor be in her neighbourhood. She would rather stay in her own room all the evening, and she did not care in the least what the Queen would think of it, for she was no subject of the Queen's. The case was a hard one for Lord Skye, who was perplexed to know, from this point of view, why he was entertaining the Princess at all; but, with the help of the Grand-Duke and Lord Dunbeg, who was very active and smiled deprecation with some success, he found a way out of it; and this was the reason why there were two thrones in the ball-room, and why the British throne was lighted with such careful reference to the Princess's complexion. Lord Skye immolated himself in the usual effort of British and American Ministers, to keep the two great powers apart. He and the Grand-Duke and Lord Dunbeg acted as buffers with watchful diligence, dexterity, and success. As one resource, Lord Skye had bethought himself of Mrs. Lee, and he told the Princess the story of Mrs. Lee's relations with the President's wife, a story which was no secret in Washington, for, apart from Madeleine's own account, society was left in no doubt of the light in which Mrs. Lee was regarded by the mistress of the White House, whom Washington ladles were now in the habit of drawing out on the subject of Mrs. Lee, and who always rose to the bait with fresh vivacity, to the amusement and delight of Victoria Dare and other mischief-makers.
"She will not trouble you so long as you can keep Mrs. Lee in your neighbourhood," said Lord Skye, and the Princess accordingly seized upon Mrs. Lee and brandished her, as though she were a charm against the evil eye, in the face of the President's party. She made Mrs. Lee take a place just behind her as though she were a lady-in-waiting. She even graciously permitted her to sit down, so near that their chairs touched. Whenever "that woman" was within sight, which was most of the time, the Princess directed her conversation entirely to Mrs. Lee and took care to make it evident. Even before the Presidential party had arrived, Madeleine had fallen into the Princess's grasp, and when the Princess went forward to receive the President and his wife, which she did with a bow of stately and distant dignity, she dragged Madeleine closely by her side. Mrs. Lee bowed too; she could not well help it; but was cut dead for her pains, with a glare of contempt and hatred. Lord Skye, who was acting as cavalier to the President's wife, was panic-stricken, and hastened to march his democratic potentate away, under pretence of showing her the decorations. He placed her at last on her own throne, where he and the Grand-Duke relieved each other in standing guard at intervals throughout the evening. When the Princess followed with the President, she compelled her husband to take Mrs. Lee on his arm and conduct her to the British throne, with no other object than to exasperate the President's wife, who, from her elevated platform, looked down upon the cortège with a scowl.
In all this affair Mrs. Lee was the principal sufferer. No one could relieve her, and she was literally penned in as she sat. The Princess kept up an incessant fire of small conversation, principally complaint and fault-finding, which no one dared to interrupt. Mrs. Lee was painfully bored, and after a time even the absurdity of the thing ceased to amuse her.
She had, too, the ill-luck to make one or two remarks which appealed to some hidden sense of humour in the Princess, who laughed and, in the style of royal personages, gave her to understand that she would like more amusement of the same sort. Of all things in life, Mrs. Lee held this kind of court-service in contempt, for she was something more than republican--a little communistic at heart, and her only serious complaint of the President and his wife was that they undertook to have a court and to ape monarchy.
She had no notion of admitting social superiority in any one, President or Prince, and to be suddenly converted into a lady-in-waiting to a small German Grand-Duchess, was a terrible blow. But what was to be done? Lord Skye had drafted her into the service and she could not decently refuse to help him when he came to her side and told her, with his usual calm directness, what his difficulties were, and how he counted upon her to help him out.
The same play went on at supper, where there was a royal-presidential table, which held about two dozen guests, and the two great ladies presiding, as far apart as they could be placed. The Grand-Duke and Lord Skye, on either side of the President's wife, did their duty like men, and were rewarded by receiving from her much information about the domestic arrangements of the White House. The President, however, who sat next the Princess at the opposite end, was evidently depressed, owing partly to the fact that the Princess, in defiance of all etiquette, had compelled Lord Dunbeg to take Mrs. Lee to supper and to place her directly next the President. Madeleine tried to escape, but was stopped by the Princess, who addressed her across the President and in a decided tone asked her to sit precisely there. Mrs.
Lee looked timidly at her neighbour, who made no sign, but ate his supper in silence only broken by an occasional reply to a rare remark. Mrs. Lee pitied him, and wondered what his wife would say when they reached home. She caught Ratcliffe's eye down the table, watching her with a smile; she tried to talk fluently with Dunbeg; but not until supper was long over and two o'clock was at hand; not until the Presidential party, under all the proper formalities, had taken their leave of the Grand-ducal party; not until Lord Skye had escorted them to their carriage and returned to say that they were gone, did the Princess loose her hold upon Mrs. Lee and allow her to slip away into obscurity.
Meanwhile the ball had gone on after the manner of balls. As Madeleine sat in her enforced grandeur she could watch all that passed. She had seen Sybil whirling about with one man after another, amid a swarm of dancers, enjoying herself to the utmost and occasionally giving a nod and a smile to her sister as their eyes met. There, too, was Victoria Dare, who never appeared flurried even when waltzing with Lord Dunbeg, whose education as a dancer had been neglected. The fact was now fully recognized that Victoria was carrying on a systematic flirtation with Dunbeg, and had undertaken as her latest duty the task of teaching him to waltz. His struggles and her calmness in assisting them commanded respect. On the opposite side of the room, by the republican throne, Mrs. Lee had watched Mr. Ratcliffe standing by the President, who appeared unwilling to let him out of arm's length and who seemed to make to him most of his few remarks. Schneidekoupon and his sister were mixed in the throng, dancing as though England had never countenanced the heresy of free-trade. On the whole, Mrs. Lee was satisfied.