CHAPTER IV. WASHINGTON TO ST. LOUIS.
Though I had felt Washington to be disagreeable as a city, yet I was almost sorry to leave it when the day of my departure came. I had allowed myself a month for my sojourn in the capital, and I had stayed a mouth to the day. Then came the trouble of packing up, the necessity of calling on a long list of acquaintances one after another, the feeling that, bad as Washington might be, I might be going to places that were worse, a conviction that I should get beyond the reach of my letters, and a sort of affection which I had acquired for my rooms. My landlord, being a colored man, told me that he was sorry I was going. Would I not remain? Would I come back to him? Had I been comfortable? Only for so and so or so and so, he would have done better for me. No white American citizen, occupying the position of landlord, would have condescended to such comfortable words. I knew the man did not in truth want me to stay, as a lady and gentleman were waiting to go in the moment I went out; but I did not the less value the assurance. One hungers and thirsts after such civil words among American citizens of this class. The clerks and managers at hotels, the officials at railway stations, the cashiers at banks, the women in the shops - ah! they are the worst of all. An American woman who is bound by her position to serve you - who is paid in some shape to supply your wants, whether to sell you a bit of soap or bring you a towel in your bed-room at a hotel - is, I think, of all human creatures, the most insolent. I certainly had a feeling of regret at parting with my colored friend - and some regret also as regards a few that were white.
As I drove down Pennsylvania Avenue, through the slush and mud, and saw, perhaps for the last time, those wretchedly dirty horse sentries who had refused to allow me to trot through the streets, I almost wished that I could see more of them. How absurd they looked, with a whole kit of rattletraps strapped on their horses' backs behind them - blankets, coats, canteens, coils of rope, and, always at the top of everything else, a tin pot! No doubt these things are all necessary to a mounted sentry, or they would not have been there; but it always seemed as though the horse had been loaded gipsy-fashion, in a manner that I may perhaps best describe as higgledy-piggledy, and that there was a want of military precision in the packing. The man would have looked more graceful, and the soldier more warlike, had the pannikin been made to assume some rigidly fixed position instead of dangling among the ropes. The drawn saber, too, never consorted well with the dirty outside woolen wrapper which generally hung loose from the man's neck. Heaven knows, I did not begrudge him his comforter in that cold weather, or even his long, uncombed shock of hair; but I think he might have been made more spruce, and I am sure that he could not have looked more uncomfortable. As I went, however, I felt for him a sort of affection, and wished in my heart of hearts that he might soon be enabled to return to some more congenial employment.
I went out by the Capitol, and saw that also, as I then believed, for the last time. With all its faults it is a great building, and, though unfinished, is effective; its very size and pretension give it a certain majesty. What will be the fate of that vast pile, and of those other costly public edifices at Washington, should the South succeed wholly in their present enterprise? If Virginia should ever become a part of the Southern republic, Washington cannot remain the capital of the Northern republic. In such case it would be almost better to let Maryland go also, so that the future destiny of that unfortunate city may not be a source of trouble, and a stumbling-block of opprobrium. Even if Virginia be saved, its position will be most unfortunate.
I fancy that the railroads in those days must have been doing a very prosperous business. From New York to Philadelphia, thence on to Baltimore, and again to Washington, I had found the cars full; so full that sundry passengers could not find seats. Now, on my return to Baltimore, they were again crowded. The stations were all crowded. Luggage trains were going in and out as fast as the rails could carry them. Among the passengers almost half were soldiers. I presume that these were men going on furlough, or on special occasions; for the regiments were of course not received by ordinary passenger trains. About this time a return was called for by Congress of all the moneys paid by the government, on account of the army, to the lines between New York and Washington. Whether or no it was ever furnished I did not hear; but it was openly stated that the colonels of regiments received large gratuities from certain railway companies for the regiments passing over their lines. Charges of a similar nature were made against officers, contractors, quartermasters, paymasters, generals, and cabinet ministers. I am not prepared to say that any of these men had dirty hands. It was not for me to make inquiries on such matters. But the continuance and universality of the accusations were dreadful. When everybody is suspected of being dishonest, dishonesty almost ceases to be regarded as disgraceful.