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Chapter 29
“Cuban offers.”

In the spring of 1848, we lived in the house next door to the United States Hotel, and went in to our meals across a little bridge that communicated with the dining-room. Governor McWillie, of Mississippi, and his family, Mr.Toombs and Mrs. Toombs, of Georgia, and Mr. and Mrs. Burt, of South Carolina, made up our “mess.” Mrs. Burt was the niece of Mr. Calhoun, and a very handsome and amiable woman. Her husband was a strong-hearted, faithful, honest man who agreed with Mr. Calhoun in most things. We did not know his full worth then, and mistook him for simply an elegant man, formed to adorn society; but when he was tried by the fires of adversity, the metal that was in him shone without a grain of alloy.

Mr.Toombs and Mrs. Toombs were both comparatively young, and one could scarcely imagine a wittier and more agreeable companion than he was. He was a university man, and had kept up his classics. He had the personal habits of a fine gentleman, and talked [410] such grammar determinately, not ignorantly, as the negroes of this day eschew-unless he became excited, and then his diction was good, his wit keen, and his audacity made him equal to anything in the heat of debate.

He loved Alexander H. Stephens with a tenderness that was almost pathetic, and was as much beloved by him.

They were very sharply contrasted personally. Mr. Toombs was over six feet tall, with broad shoulders; his fine head set well on his shoulders, and was covered with long, glossy black hair, which, when speaking, he managed to toss about so as to recall the memory of Danton.

His coloring was good, and his teeth brilliantly white, but his mouth was somewhat pendulous and subtracted from the rest of the strong face. His eyes were magnificent, dark and flashing, and they had a certain lawless way of ranging about that was indicative of his character. His hands were beautiful, and kept like those of a fashionable woman. His voice was like a trumpet, but without sweetness, and his enunciation was thick.

Mr. Stephens was not small, but he looked so, from the shortness of his body. The shape of his head was unpolished and immature. His arms were disproportionately [411] long, and his beardless, wrinkled face gave him the look of one born out of season. His eyes were clear hazel, and had a fine, critical, deliberate expression that commanded attention. His voice was thin, and piercing like a woman's, but there the resemblance ended. His was a virile mind sustained by an inflexible will; and, in all matters of importance, Mr. Toombs came up, in the end, on Mr. Stephens's side.

Mr. Stephens studied only legal and governmental books, but Mr. Toombs loved books of the imagination, travels, anything that would help him (as the English ambassador said once of him) “to utter some of his brilliant paradoxes.” During the time of the highest excitement over the compromise measures, when Mr. Toombs was on his feet some twenty times a day, he arose at daylight, took French lessons with his daughters, and became a good French scholar so far as reading the language went. He would sit with his hands full of the reporter's notes on his speeches for correction, with “Le Medecin malgre lui” in the other hand, roaring over the play.

I said to him, “I do not see how you can enjoy that so much.”

He answered, “Whatever the Lord Almighty lets his geniuses create, He makes [412] someone to enjoy; these plays take all the soreness out of me.”

Mr. Davis and he were never congenial in their tastes; their habits and their manners were entirely diverse; but we all went on amicably enough, as he was very fond of Mrs. Toombs, who was a pleasant, kindly woman, and cheerful like her husband.

About the beginning of the summer, when our “mess” had separated and left us alone in the house, one evening I went into the drawing-room, which, on account of the heat, and according to the fashion of that day, was left with only the moonlight to illuminate it. I found there a light-haired man sitting very still beside one whose glowing eyes and silvery hair made points of light in the room. Supposing them to have come on business with my husband, I moved away to the extreme end of the room, and when Mr. Davis came in they talked in whispers for some time, and eventually Mr. Davis rose, evidently declining some offer, saying, “I deem it inconsistent with my duty; you must excuse me.”

As they left he said: “The only man I could indicate to you just now is one in whom I have implicit confidence: Robert E. Lee” --(I think he called him Major Robert E. Lee). The gentlemen left, and I pressed him to tell me what they wanted. [413] He confided to me that they were General Lopez and another, also a Cuban; as he is still living, his name is not mentioned. They had invited Mr. Davis to take charge of an expedition to liberate Cuba, and had offered to deposit $100,000 for me, before their departure, with another $100,000 assured when successful, or a very fine coffee plantation. Of course I was terrified, and grateful to know that the service had been declined. A few days afterward, I was in the drawing-room when an officer came in, that I thought the handsomest person I had ever seen-his manner, too, was the impersonation of kindness. He introduced himself as Major Lee. Mr. Davis came in at once, and the handsome stranger and he had a long conversation. Major Lee had been offered the same place, and did not think it consistent with his duty to the U. S. Government to accept it. He came to advise with Mr. Davis and to say this.

Less than two months afterward, General Lopez sat strapped in a garrote chair, and was executed with several Americans of good social position, who had been persuaded to join him. One of them, Clement Stanford, an exceedingly daring and bright young man from Natchez, and an enthusiast for liberty, was the uncle of the Dean of the Medical [414] Faculty of New Orleans, Stanford E. Chaille, M. D.

Very little of Mr. Davis's time was devoted to the claims of society. He was so impervious to the influence of anything but principle in shaping his political course, that he underrated the effect of social intercourse in determining the action of public men, and never sought to exert it in behalf of his own policy. In consequence, we went out but little, and spent our evenings together, he in making the more important corrections in the printer's proof of his speeches-after which I attended to the minor details-or in dictating letters to his constituents; and many were the jests and anecdotes he interspersed for my amusement throughout this otherwise dull work. In rare cases, where he was attached to the friends who gave the invitation, he accepted.

In those days, when mammas considered the “Pickwick papers” too coarse for their daughters' perusal; when “Don Juan” was forbidden on pain of excommunication from the guild of delicate-minded women; when “Devereux” and “The Disowned” were placed behind the other books on the shelves of the library, as unfit for the eyes of ladies; when George Sand and Paul de Kock were named with bated breath, and the young people knew them not; [415] when Miss Austen's correct ladies and gentlemen walked serenely across the literary stage and looked their approval of their equally prudent audience; when Lady Delacour's duel with Harriet Freke was considered an incident to be deprecated while reading Miss Edgeworth's novels, and “Lady Audley's secret” was held in reserve and not to be confided lightly to the young; when we still argued hotly over the relative merits of Di. Vernon and Belinda; when some old-fashioned girls wept over “Thaddeus of Warsaw,” and there were even some who yet gazed lovingly at Amanda Fitz-Allen's tearful fainting form as it was borne off from Lord Mortimer--Frederika Bremer's “Neighbors” gave us our first glimpse of Swedish everyday life. Petraa's nose was a matter of widespread sympathy, and we laughed over the Bersekers like her Swedish compatriots. “The President's daughters,” too, were household friends, and Miss Bremer's coming to the United States on a tour of pleasure was hailed as a boon in store for those who loved her, for the joy she gave.

In the summer of 1848 Miss Bremer came to Washington on her way to South Carolina and the Southwest, and Mrs. Seaton, at whose hospitable, graceful home most of the notable people who visited the capital were [416] charmingly entertained, invited Mr. Davis and me to meet her. He told me in confidence that he had not read much in Miss Bremer's books, and only remembered some girl's trouble about her nose, “which, as she was ugly, did not concern me.” However, I was full of the happy anticipation of seeing the authoress of my favorite books. One very hot summer evening, when the moon was nearly full, we went to Mr. Seaton's large old-fashioned house on C Street, to a “high tea.”

When we entered, besides several agreeable men, Mrs. Webster, Mrs. Gales, Commodore Stockton, Mr.Davis and Mrs. John Davis, of Massachusetts, and Senator Green, of Rhode Island, with his gray-haired, charming wife, were present.

Then and there ceased my desire to look with the naked eye upon the authors and authoresses “that warn, comfort, and command” us in our journey through the world. Miss Bremer was not more than five feet high, her nose was all Petraea had unavailingly tried to suppress, and red as a damask rose, of which color her face had also partaken; her eyes were a pale blue, and not large. On her head, concealing all but a few strands of dark hair, was a wondrous cap with aspiring bows of purple ribbon amidst a chevaux-de-frise of white lace. On her person was a large [417] round lace cape, then called a cardinal, which covered her from throat to feet, and was lined also with purple silk. We were all presented with due ceremony, and she was debonnaire, but rather a “mute inglorious” great one, as her English was deficient. After tea we adjourned to the gallery at the back of the house, overlooking an old-fashioned garden where “roses and lilies and daffadowndillies” disputed the ground with fine fruit-trees, but dwelt more peacefully with them than the useful and ornamental members of a community generally do. Just as we were comfortably seated in the silvery moonlight, a party of congenial women together, for the gentlemen had gone into the garden for a cosy smoke, Mr. Webster joined us in evening costume, or what was regarded then as such. He was rather inclined to be ornate in his dress, his usual afternoon costume being a blue coat with large brass buttons, with either a pair of nankeen trousers, or white linen. On this occasion they were white, and with his white expanse of waistcoat made him appear unusually large.

He was just from a dinner party at another friend's house, and was much more stately and inclined to conversation than was habitual with him. After being introduced to Miss Bremer and exchanging a few words with the [418] other ladies, he stood before her, erect and oratorical, and in his senatorial voice, pitched for the ears of the multitude, said, “Madam, you have toiling millions, we have boundless area.” Miss Bremer looked deferentially up in his face and, gently interrupting him, said, “Y-e-s, very moch.” Mr. Webster sighed and sat down silently, and in a few minutes Mr. Davis came and took him off to the smokers, where they kept him for an hour or more.

In the mean while, we spoke of Swedish music, and Mrs. Seaton begged Miss Bremer to play some of the popular airs for us. She consented and we went to the drawing-room to hear her. While Miss Bremer was “forging ahead” at a waltz, Mr. Webster entered, and not looking to see who was playing, spoke from the middle of the room to his wife: “My dear, we will say good-night; whenever a young lady is asked to play on an occasion like this, it is time for us old people to be going home.”

Mrs. Webster, with a dismayed “dear me!” arose, and they made their adieux. Per contra, read Miss Bremer's account of this evening in her travels.

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