But my chief work was the investigating of complaints made by the public as to postal matters. The practice of the office was and is to send one of its servants to the spot to see the complainant and to inquire into the facts, when the complainant is sufficiently energetic or sufficiently big to make himself well heard. A great expense is often incurred for a very small object; but the system works well on the whole, as confidence is engendered, and a feeling is produced in the country that the department has eyes of its own and does keep them open. This employment was very pleasant, and to me always easy, as it required at its close no more than the writing of a report. There were no accounts in this business, no keeping of books, no necessary manipulation of multitudinous forms. I must tell of one such complaint and inquiry, because in its result I think it was emblematic of many.
'The silver will be the brighter when it comes,' said I.
I could not forget that the feeling with which she now regarded me had grown up in my own free choice and course. That if she had ever loved me with another love - and I sometimes thought the time was when she might have done so - I had cast it away. It was nothing, now, that I had accustomed myself to think of her, when we were both mere children, as one who was far removed from my wild fancies. I had bestowed my passionate tenderness upon another object; and what I might have done, I had not done; and what Agnes was to me, I and her own noble heart had made her.
"Oh, yes. Of course I remember. It was in all the papers I could hardly believe it. It was like something out of a thriller. Why? Were you mixed up in it?"
The book I wrote was very much longer than that on the West Indies, but was also written almost without a note. It contained much information, and, with many inaccuracies, was a true book. But it was not well done. It is tedious and confused, and will hardly, I think, be of future value to those who wish to make themselves acquainted with the United States. It was published about the middle of the war — just at the time in which the hopes of those who loved the South were I most buoyant, and the fears of those who stood by the North were the strongest. But it expressed an assured confidence — which never quavered in a page or in a line — that the North would win. This assurance was based on the merits of the Northern cause, on the superior strength of the Northern party, and on a conviction that England would never recognise the South, and that France would be guided in her policy by England. I was right in my prophecies, and right, I think, on the grounds on which they were made. The Southern cause was bad. The South had provoked the quarrel because its political supremacy was checked by the election of Mr. Lincoln to the Presidency. It had to fight as a little man against a big man, and fought gallantly. That gallantry — and a feeling based on a misconception as to American character that the Southerners are better gentlemen than their Northern brethren — did create great sympathy here; but I believe that the country was too just to be led into political action by a spirit of romance, and I was warranted in that belief. There was a moment in which the Northern cause was in danger, and the danger lay certainly in the prospect of British interference. Messrs. Slidell and Mason — two men insignificant in themselves — had been sent to Europe by the Southern party, and had managed to get on board the British mail steamer called “The Trent,” at the Havannah. A most undue importance was attached to this mission by Mr. Lincoln’s government, and efforts were made to stop them. A certain Commodore Wilkes, doing duty as policeman on the seas, did stop the “Trent,” and took the men out. They were carried, one to Boston and one to New York, and were incarcerated, amidst the triumph of the nation. Commodore Wilkes, who had done nothing in which a brave man could take glory, was made a hero and received a prize sword. England of course demanded her passengers back, and the States for a while refused to surrender them. But Mr. Seward was at that time the Secretary of State, and Mr. Seward, with many political faults, was a wise man. I was at Washington at the time, and it was known there that the contest among the leading Northerners was very sharp on the matter. Mr. Sumner and Mr. Seward were, under Mr. Lincoln, the two chiefs of the party. It was understood that Mr. Sumner was opposed to the rendition of the men, and Mr. Seward in favour of it. Mr. Seward’s counsels at last prevailed with the President, and England’s declaration of war was prevented. I dined with Mr. Seward on the day of the decision, meeting Mr. Sumner at his house, and was told as I left the dining-room what the decision had been. During the afternoon I and others had received intimation through the embassy that we might probably have to leave Washington at an hour’s notice. This, I think, was the severest danger that the Northern cause encountered during the war.