"SPLENDID voyage we've had in the Scotia, sir. Was you ill aboard ?"
The speaker was a weather-beaten man of about forty-five, wearing a much-worn black frock-coat, bare at the seams, With a greenish velvet vest. His voice issued from beneath a ragged moustache, and a general air of second-rate military respectability hung about his whole appearance.
"Very jolly voyage," replied Ralph Clifford, an English youth of about eighteen years of age, "and I was not once ill all the whole time."
"Air you going fur?" asked the stranger, leaning across the passage which ran the whole length of the railway car. It was on board a car bound south on the Pennsylvania railroad, and Ralph was listlessly gazing at the endless zigzag wooden fences, the burned and sickly-looking
copses, and the patches of young green timothy-grass and clover.
"To Washington. My sister and I have been forced to leave home, having been left orphans lately, with but a small sum in hand, and no relations to turn to. I am going to take up farming in Virginia, and have learned something of farm life in a year's apprenticeship in Aberdeenshire."
The young Englishman spoke out straight from his honest English heart. His new acquaintance at once brightened up, and changing his seat and planting himself beside Ralph, pointed with his thumb over his left- shoulder, saying,
"I take it that right smart-looking young gal on the other side is your sister; proud to make her acquaintance."
As Ralph did not respond, nor introduce his sister Rose, there was a moment's , silence. And then the American, taking out a bundle of papers from a wallet, opened one, and with an air of great confidence, said,
"I thought of speaking to you on the Scotia, sir, but was too much engaged booking commissions for our splendid twelve-fanned, star-spangled pumping and grinding wind-engine, to address you. Now, here's the prospectus. I'm the agent for the Eastern States. The shares are rising up like all-fired balloons, and in six weeks' time will sell at Zoo per cent. profit."
Ralph was interested. He studied the prospectus, and it looked well. He thought of the three hundred and fifty pounds which had been gathered
together as the result of the sale of furniture, books, and horse, etc., at the dear old vicarage in the Midlands, and reflected.
"How splendid to double my capital in six weeks ! to have six or seven hundred pounds, instead of three hundred and fifty, to start my farming scheme."
After listening to the American for about a quarter of an hour, and hearing how splendid war, this opening for developing his capital, "I'll take one of these circulars," said he, with interest, " and will call on you in Washington when I have decided what to do."
"This is my cyard, sir, and I'm proud, I'm sure, to have the prospect of numbering among my clients an Englishman who has spirit to make a dash for a fortin'. You are going," he began again, "to take land in Virginny? Virginny's played out, I tell you, sir ; trampled outóDEAD. It isn't land that'll make money for you, sir, it's invention. It's hard-grit mechanical invention, like the twelve-fanned, star-spangled pumping and grinding wind-engine. D'ye see that, sir? D'ye see that red and yaller wheel a-turnin' in the evenin' breeze ? "
Ralph looked out to where the agent's finger pointed, and, sure enough, there was a lofty iron structure, like a tall capital A, at the top of which a large disc of red and yellow fans was whirling round, and catching the evening sun very charmingly.,
"That's the old-fashioned pumping wind-engine, but'tain't fit to shell pea-nuts for the star-spangled pumperóno, sir, 'tain't fit to shine its boots."
"Well, I'll call upon you," said Ralph, " in a few days."
"I'll be in the office every day this week, and after that I can't be seen for six weeks. I'll be out West, arter new shareholders and commissions. Sharp's the word, sir."
And then Mr. Hickey, for such was the name on the card, rolled off to the "cooler" at the end of the car, and tossing off a big pewter full of iced water with a gurgling noise, he opened and slammed the door at the end of the car, and disappeared by the platform into the next.
Ralph felt a little bit elated, and thought it was well indeed that he was the possessor of something which could be invested. He had often heard of America as the paradise of inventions, and to have a share in one of the most remarkable new ones was more than he had hoped. But he said nothing to his sister Rose, who was of a very cautious disposition, and who preferred creeping safely to flying high, as he well knew. But having left her alone with her dime novel now for a good hour, he went and sat down beside her, and they began again to criticize the country through which they were passing.
They crossed the Delaware, the Susquehanna, the Back, and the Gunpowder rivers, on rickety wooden girder bridges, and Miss Clifford grasped the nickel-plated arms of her seat nervously, as the frail structures trembled beneath the rush of the train. They had now reached Baltimore, and the daylight was rapidly departing. It was Saturday night, and the through-car, detached from the
train, was yoked behind a team of six mules tandem; a wild-looking driver in his shirt-sleeves rode one of the mules, his head covered with an immense flapping straw-hat a yard broad: he cracked a heavy whip, and the mules rattled off with the car through the streets. They passed through narrow winding back streets, shabby and poor; they jogged through the market, where flaring petroleum torches threw a lurid glare over crowds of comfortably-dressed men and women, who were buying, selling, or "trading country truck." And so to the further depot, where the car was taken up by another sooty locomotive, which, ringing its great bell, snorting through its steam-horn, and vomiting sulphurous fumes, hurried them from the depot, and soon carried them at express speed along the track to Washington.
The baggage-agent took their checks, and they, at his suggestion, took the street car from the depot, along Pennsylvania Avenue to Willard's ó Willard's, of all places, the hostelry of the wealthy. But,experience must be bought and paid for in America in good hard dollars. They nervously approached the monarch of the great hotel, the diamond-studded clerk at the registration bureau; and, having signed their names, were handed two nickel keys with large discs of brass as glittering as Arcturus, and were "elevated" to their rooms,-which seemed to be in the sky. After a while the brother and sister met again in the great hall, with its marble pavement, its fluted white and gold pillars, its maze of rocking-chairs and metal tables, its smoking and chewing crowd
of oscillating senators, commission agents, and general company from all parts of the Union.
Ordering their supper, Rose and Ralph Clifford sauntered round the place, and admired the riches and glories it contained. Then they issued forth on Pennsylvania Avenue, and went for a stroll in the streets before supper.
As they stood in the middle of the wide road, their eyes were delighted with the beauty, vaguely seen at that evening hour. Behind them was the solid colonnade of the Treasury and the White House, where rows of massive fluted columns (painted white) supported a long architrave carved with figures. The glittering fronts of the stores, or shops, threw a varied light beneath the dense shade of the trees which bordered the side-walks, on the passing crowd that moved always to and fro. The eye was led on along this avenue of light and shade and moving figures to the farthest end, where, nearly a mile away, stood, on a fine rising ground, the noble dome and wings of the Capitol, its white facades and columns and rising cupola gleaming like ivory in the full moon.
On the side-walk they were jostled by crowds of warm and laughing African-Americanes, most of the women dressed in white muslins and highly-trimmed flapping hats, who laughed vociferously, poked each other in the ribs, and appeared to enjoy the present moment, with its mild delights, as if unconscious of any past, present, or future cares. Merry as children, their sides shook with shrieks of laughter, and the men, with their mighty lips and their gleaming teeth and eyeballs, guffawed, and roared, and harangued each other, just as if they had never been the down-trodden, suffering, patient, pious race which Mrs. Stowe has described in her epoch-making romance.
They returned to the hotel in time for supper. A tall, jetty African-American bore high over his head on one flat hand a large tray containing what they had ordered. They observed with interest his astonishingly agile attendance, the silent, cat-like movements which provided for every want, kept their glasses replenished with ice-water, noiselessly changed the plates on which they had had reed-bird pie, and produced strawberries and cream instead. Mean, while a little staring African-American walked round the table, fanning their faces and driving away the flies which were so troublesome. Finally, when all was over, the waiter placed finger-glasses before each, handed Ralph an evening paper, and a glass of wooden tooth-picks, and, with a bow and general sweep, disappeared.
"They seem to make admirable waiters," said Rose.
"Yes," said Ralph but did you notice how that little African-American looked down our throats? Was he longing for a bit, do you think, or was he afraid we should choke?"