The Quest of the Silver Fleece HTML version

Twenty-eight: The Annunciation
The new President had been inaugurated. Beneath the creamy pile of the old Capitol, and
facing the new library, he had stood aloft and looked down on a waving sea of faces—
black-coated, jostling, eager-eyed fellow creatures. They had watched his lips move, had
scanned eagerly his dress and the gowned and decorated dignitaries beside him; and then,
with blare of band and prancing of horses, he had been whirled down the dip and curve of
that long avenue, with its medley of meanness and thrift and hurry and wealth, until,
swinging sharply, the dim walls of the White House rose before him. He entered with a
Then the vast welter of humanity dissolved and streamed hither and thither, gaping and
laughing until night, when thousands poured into the red barn of the census shack and
entered the artificial fairyland within. The President walked through, smiling; the
senators protected their friends in the crush; and Harry Cresswell led his wife to a little
oasis of Southern ladies and gentlemen.
"This is democracy for you," said he, wiping his brow.
From a whirling eddy Mrs. Vanderpool waved at them, and they rescued her.
"I think I am ready to go," she gasped. "Did you ever!"
"Come," Cresswell invited. But just then the crowd pushed them apart and shot them
along, and Mrs. Cresswell found herself clinging to her husband amid two great whirling
variegated throngs of driving, white-faced people. The band crashed and blared; the
people laughed and pushed; and with rhythmic sound and swing the mighty throng was
It took much effort, but at last the Cresswell party escaped and rolled off in their
carriages. They swept into the avenue and out again, then up 14th Street, where, turning
for some street obstruction, they passed a throng of carriages on a cross street.
"It's the other ball," cried Mrs. Vanderpool, and amid laughter she added, "Let's go!"
It was—the other ball. For Washington is itself, and something else besides. Along beside
it ever runs that dark and haunting echo; that shadowy world-in-world with its accusing
silence, its emphatic self-sufficiency. Mrs. Cresswell at first demurred. She thought of
Elspeth's cabin: the dirt, the smell, the squalor: of course, this would be different; but—
well, Mrs. Cresswell had little inclination for slumming. She was interested in the under-
world, but intellectually, not by personal contact. She did not know that this was a side-
world, not an under-world. Yet the imposing building did not look sordid.
"Hired?" asked some one.