Laura soon discovered that there were three distinct aristocracies in
Washington. One of these, (nick-named the Antiques,) consisted of
high-bred old families who looked back with pride upon an
ancestry that had been always great in the nation's councils and its wars
from the birth of the republic downward. Into this select circle it was
difficult to gain admission. No. 2 was the aristocracy of the middle
ground--of which, more anon. No. 3 lay beyond; of it we will say a word
here. We will call it the Aristocracy of the Parvenus--as, indeed, the
general public did. Official position, no matter how obtained, entitled
a man to a place in it, and carried his family with him, no matter whence
they sprang. Great wealth gave a man a still higher and nobler place in
it than did official position. If this wealth had been acquired by
conspicuous ingenuity, with just a pleasant little spice of illegality
about it, all the better. This aristocracy was "fast," and not averse to
The aristocracy of the Antiques ignored the aristocracy of the Parvenus;
the Parvenus laughed at the Antiques, (and secretly envied them.)
There were certain important "society" customs which one in Laura's
position needed to understand. For instance, when a lady of any
prominence comes to one of our cities and takes up her residence, all the
ladies of her grade favor her in turn with an initial call, giving their
cards to the servant at the door by way of introduction. They come
singly, sometimes; sometimes in couples; and always in elaborate full
dress. They talk two minutes and a quarter and then go. If the lady
receiving the call desires a further acquaintance, she must return the
visit within two weeks; to neglect it beyond that time means "let the
matter drop." But if she does return the visit within two weeks, it then
becomes the other party's privilege to continue the acquaintance or drop
it. She signifies her willingness to continue it by calling again any
time within twelve-months; after that, if the parties go on calling upon
each other once a year, in our large cities, that is sufficient, and the
acquaintanceship holds good. The thing goes along smoothly, now.
The annual visits are made and returned with peaceful regularity and
bland satisfaction, although it is not necessary that the two ladies
shall actually see each other oftener than once every few years. Their
cards preserve the intimacy and keep the acquaintanceship intact.
For instance, Mrs. A. pays her annual visit, sits in her carriage and
sends in her card with the lower right hand corner turned down, which
signifies that she has "called in person;" Mrs. B: sends down word that
she is "engaged" or "wishes to be excused"--or if she is a Parvenu and
low-bred, she perhaps sends word that she is "not at home." Very good;
Mrs. A. drives, on happy and content. If Mrs. A.'s daughter marries,
or a child is born to the family, Mrs. B. calls, sends in her card with
the upper left hand corner turned down, and then goes along about her
affairs--for that inverted corner means "Congratulations." If Mrs. B.'s
husband falls downstairs and breaks his neck, Mrs. A. calls, leaves her
card with the upper right hand corner turned down, and then takes her
departure; this corner means "Condolence." It is very necessary to get
the corners right, else one may unintentionally condole with a friend on
a wedding or congratulate her upon a funeral. If either lady is about to
leave the city, she goes to the other's house and leaves her card with
"P. P. C." engraved under the name--which signifies, "Pay Parting Call."
But enough of etiquette. Laura was early instructed in the mysteries of
society life by a competent mentor, and thus was preserved from
The first fashionable call she received from a member of the ancient
nobility, otherwise the Antiques, was of a pattern with all she received
from that limb of the aristocracy afterward. This call was paid by Mrs.
Major-General Fulke-Fulkerson and daughter. They drove up at one in the
afternoon in a rather antiquated vehicle with a faded coat of arms on the
panels, an aged white-wooled negro coachman on the box and a younger
darkey beside him--the footman. Both of these servants were dressed in
dull brown livery that had seen considerable service.
The ladies entered the drawing-room in full character; that is to say,
with Elizabethan stateliness on the part of the dowager, and an easy
grace and dignity on the part of the young lady that had a nameless
something about it that suggested conscious superiority. The dresses of
both ladies were exceedingly rich, as to material, but as notably modest
as to color and ornament. All parties having seated themselves, the
dowager delivered herself of a remark that was not unusual in its form,
and yet it came from her lips with the impressiveness of Scripture:
"The weather has been unpropitious of late, Miss Hawkins."
"It has indeed," said Laura. "The climate seems to be variable."
"It is its nature of old, here," said the daughter--stating it apparently
as a fact, only, and by her manner waving aside all personal
responsibility on account of it. "Is it not so, mamma?"
"Quite so, my child. Do you like winter, Miss Hawkins?" She said "like"
as if she had, an idea that its dictionary meaning was "approve of."
"Not as well as summer--though I think all seasons have their charms."
"It is a very just remark. The general held similar views. He
considered snow in winter proper; sultriness in summer legitimate; frosts
in the autumn the same, and rains in spring not objectionable. He was
not an exacting man. And I call to mind now that he always admired
thunder. You remember, child, your father always admired thunder?"
"He adored it."
No doubt it reminded him of battle," said Laura.
"Yes, I think perhaps it did. He had a great respect for Nature.
He often said there was something striking about the ocean. You remember
his saying that, daughter?"
"Yes, often, Mother. I remember it very well."
"And hurricanes... He took a great interest in hurricanes. And animals.
Dogs, especially--hunting dogs. Also comets. I think we all have our
predilections. I think it is this that gives variety to our tastes."
Laura coincided with this view.
"Do you find it hard and lonely to be so far from your home and friends,
"I do find it depressing sometimes, but then there is so much about me
here that is novel and interesting that my days are made up more of
sunshine than shadow."
"Washington is not a dull city in the season," said the young lady.
"We have some very good society indeed, and one need not be at a loss for
means to pass the time pleasantly. Are you fond of watering-places, Miss
"I have really had no experience of them, but I have always felt a strong
desire to see something of fashionable watering-place life."
"We of Washington are unfortunately situated in that respect," said the
dowager. "It is a tedious distance to Newport. But there is no help for
Laura said to herself, "Long Branch and Cape May are nearer than Newport;
doubtless these places are low; I'll feel my way a little and see." Then
she said aloud:
"Why I thought that Long Branch--"
There was no need to "feel" any further--there was that in both faces
before her which made that truth apparent. The dowager said:
"Nobody goes there, Miss Hawkins--at least only persons of no position in
society. And the President." She added that with tranquility.
"Newport is damp, and cold, and windy and excessively disagreeable," said
the daughter, "but it is very select. One cannot be fastidious about
minor matters when one has no choice."
The visit had spun out nearly three minutes, now. Both ladies rose with
grave dignity, conferred upon Laura a formal invitation to call, aid then
retired from the conference. Laura remained in the drawing-room and left
them to pilot themselves out of the house--an inhospitable thing,
it seemed to her, but then she was following her instructions. She
stood, steeped in reverie, a while, and then she said:
"I think I could always enjoy icebergs--as scenery but not as company."
Still, she knew these two people by reputation, and was aware that they
were not ice-bergs when they were in their own waters and amid their
legitimate surroundings, but on the contrary were people to be respected
for their stainless characters and esteemed for their social virtues and
their benevolent impulses. She thought it a pity that they had to be
such changed and dreary creatures on occasions of state.
The first call Laura received from the other extremity of the Washington
aristocracy followed close upon the heels of the one we have just been
describing. The callers this time were the Hon. Mrs. Oliver Higgins,
the Hon. Mrs. Patrique Oreille (pronounced O-relay,) Miss Bridget
(pronounced Breezhay) Oreille, Mrs. Peter Gashly, Miss Gashly, and Miss
The three carriages arrived at the same moment from different directions.
They were new and wonderfully shiny, and the brasses on the harness were
highly polished and bore complicated monograms. There were showy coats
of arms, too, with Latin mottoes. The coachmen and footmen were clad in
bright new livery, of striking colors, and they had black rosettes with
shaving-brushes projecting above them, on the sides of their stove-pipe
When the visitors swept into the drawing-room they filled the place with
a suffocating sweetness procured at the perfumer's. Their costumes, as
to architecture, were the latest fashion intensified; they were rainbow-
hued; they were hung with jewels--chiefly diamonds. It would have been
plain to any eye that it had cost something to upholster these women.
The Hon. Mrs. Oliver Higgins was the wife of a delegate from a distant
territory--a gentleman who had kept the principal "saloon," and sold the
best whiskey in the principal village in his wilderness, and so, of
course, was recognized as the first man of his commonwealth and its