MARK TWAIN IN WASHINGTON
[SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT OF THE ALTA CALIFORNIA.]
Stealing a March on Congress -- Who Was He? -- How State Secrets Leak Out -- Colonel Parker's Little Difficulty -- Hawaiian Harris.
WASHINGTON, December 17.
A week or two ago, Congress was surprised -- and incensed as well -- to wake up one morning and find that the President's Message was being read in every newspaper in the land, from Rhode Island to California, long before the official document had had an opportunity to reach the clerical desk of the Capitol. Angry speeches were made in both Houses. Members aired their opinions very freely about this breach of confidence, breach of decorum, contempt of Congress, or whatever it might be, and talked of arraigning the reporters and correspondents -- talked of punishing the wretch who had forestalled the national legislature -- talked vaguely of Presidential leakiness and lack of decorum in the matter. Gentlemen connected with the Associated Press came out in newspaper cards and explained that whatever connection they had had with the affair was fair and honorable -- but did not tell how they got hold of the document. Individual correspondents published cards in which they denied being guilty; conventions of correspondents framed similar cards, and all signed and sent them to the Speaker of the House -- but still the one guilty man could not be found. He failed to come forward. Everybody knew what he got for the message and who he sold it to, but there all knowledge ceased. Who he was, remained a dark and bloody mystery. A printer was suspected; then a chambermaid of the White House; then a cook -- and each of these individuals in turn was a lion in a small way -- a mysterious lion that nobody saw but everybody believed in. But it turned out that the chambermaid had left town two weeks before the crime was committed, the printer was in the hospital, deaf, dumb, blind and an idiot, and the cook was dead -- been dead a year. At any rate he had been dead some time. These were exciting days. But every sign failed, every suspicion proved at fault. The culprit could not be discovered, and so, reluctantly, the search was discontinued, and the wonder passed from the public mind.
But, behold, only a few days ago, when the people knew that a message from the President was to go to the Senate, to be acted upon in secret session, (a message concerning Mr. Stanton's removal), and everybody, Senators and all, were full of curiosity as to what its character would be, out bursts an elaborate synopsis of the document in the newspapers! And not only that, but on the day appointed for the session, and before any Senator had had a chance to hear the official message read, the document in full made its appearance in the public press! Congress was puzzled more than ever. The people were surprised almost as much as they were gratified. Now, how can such things be, and overcome us like a summer's dream, without our special wonder? There is mystery all about us. There are dreadful leaks somewhere in the old Ship of State. Dozens of people know (they don't tell how,) who is to be appointed to an office, days before the appointment is made -- weeks before it is sent to the Senate for action. Synopses of evidence in great secret inquests are published long before the Government is ready to make them public. Intentions of the heads of the Government that will affect the gold market are known in Wall street long enough before those intentions are done into deeds to enable the brokers to buy gold or sell it, as the case shall demand. Now, who is the man? That is the question. Speaking of these things reminds me of an incident of old-time newspaper enterprise. It will dovetail into this theme very well. It is true in every particular. I get it from excellent authority.
How a Mystery was Solved.
During Mr. Madison's Administration the President and the Cabinet were periodically astonished to find all their little secret state affairs faithfully reported in a certain New York paper, two or three days after they had transpired -- this was in the old times, when stage-coaches were used, you will remember. If a line of policy was determined on, in secret council, the facts appeared in that paper without fail; if a foreign Minister's conduct was criticised; if somebody was to be turned out of office; if the conduct of Congress was overhauled; if the most private and important matters affecting foreign relations were discussed -- no matter, it was all fish for that New York newspaper's net; and somehow it all found its way there. And what was particularly surprising, was the accuracy and attention to minute details displayed in these mysterious reports. At first prying servants were suspected, but when it was remembered that even long conversations had been reported, word for word, and at a time when no servant was present, that idea was cast away as absurd. The upshot of it was, that a coolness ensued in the Cabinet. The President began to suspect his great advisers, and they began to suspect him. Things came to such a pass that these gentlemen sat coldly at the Cabinet meetings, with important public matters distressing their minds, yet not daring to speak out freely and honestly, lest some Judas in the party should print his words in that haunting friend of a newspaper. Matters could not go on in this way. Neither human nature nor governmental nature could bear it. At last, one fortunate day, in the midst of one of these dreary silences of the Cabinet, the mystery was revealed; a suppressed sneeze was heard beyond a door that was there present -- a door that had been unused and triple-locked for years! Every man sprang to his feet; an armorer was summoned to unfasten the door; and when it swung open, lo, a well known stenographer, named Davis, was exposed, wedged into a recess in the wall, taking notes!
The wall was very thick, and the recess in it had a door opening into the Cabinet Council room, and another opening into an unused ante-room. Both doors had been locked for several years, everybody supposed. Davis had procured a key, and, by feeing a servant, had gained admission to the recess from the ante-room. For a long time he had been in the habit of getting himself locked into this place early in the morning, and remaining there until the Cabinet business was finished. Terrible threats were made, and there was talk of making an example of him; but Davis tranquilly invited them to show wherein he had been guilty of misdemeanor, manslaughter, or any other grave offence against the law, and they -- let him go. It was all they could do. He had the weather-gauge of them.
Col. Eli Parker, of Gen. Grant's staff, was to have married an accomplished young lady of distinguished family in this city yesterday morning, but the wedding did not come off, owing to the mysterious disappearance of the bridegroom on Saturday night. It is feared that he has met with foul play. Parker was a favorite with Gen. Grant, and was with him all through the war. Great preparations had been made for the wedding; cards were issued for it; cards were also issued for receptions here and in New York; an extensive bridal tour had been mapped out; General Grant was to have given away the bride in the presence of a large and select company. The company was duly assembled at the appointed time. The General was ready. Everybody waited -- waited -- waited. The slow minutes dragged heavily along, the guests wondered, the bride grew distressed. Still the bridegroom did not come. The party broke up at last, and went home.
Up to this time, more than three days, Col. Parker has not been found or heard of. The last that was seen of him, he went to Gen. Grant's house on Saturday night to borrow a military scarf to add to his wedding outfit. Mrs. Grant brought three downstairs; he selected one, and went away, and has not since been seen. Col. Parker was an educated, cultivated gentleman -- a thorough gentleman -- and therefore no one suspects him of carelessness or criminal intent in this matter. His name is perhaps familiar to your readers. It has long been a noted one. He was an Indian and a Chief; and by the same token a lineal descendant of old Red Jacket, the friend of Washington. A sketch of his own career and that of his great ancestor was published in Harper's Monthly two or three years ago. He was with Grant, and in his confidence, all through the war, and made a brave record for himself. [Col. Parker subsequently turned up, and the marriage was duly consummated. -- EDS. ALTA.]
Harris is here yet. Harris is Lord High Minister of Finance to the King of the Sandwich Islands when he is at home and it don't rain. But he is "His Royal Hawaiian Majesty's Envoy to the United States" now, and no man is sorrier than I am that his wages are stopped for the present. I met him and conversed with him at the house of a mutual friend a night or two ago, and that is how I happen to know how to spell his title all the way through without breaking my neck over any of the corduroy syllables. I never saw Harris so pleasant and companionable before. He is really very passable company, until he tries to be funny, and then Harris is ghastly. He smiles as if he had his foot in a steel trap and did not want anybody to know it. I can forgive that person anything but his jokes -- but those, never. While Harris continues to joke there will be a malignant animosity between us that no power can mollify.
Harris' business here is to get our Government to remove our man-of-war from the Sandwich Island waters. To give this enterprising devil his due, he has done everything he possibly could do to accomplish his mission, and it was ungraceful in the King to stop his salary. He could not accomplish it and I suppose nobody could. It is a good place out there for a man-of-war; she is not doing any harm; she is not going to do any harm; and until a fair, reasonable reason is given for banishing her, she will remain. In placing her there, no offence whatever was meant to the King or the country, any more than we mean to offend the Sultan when we anchor a frigate in the harbor of Smyrna.
I have missed Harris during the last day or two. I wonder what is become of him. I grieve to see a man fail in an honest endeavor; and now that his King has turned against him, I even wish that Harris could succeed in his mission.
Governor Curry, of Oregon, is here, at Willard's.
General Kiernan, recently United States Consul to some port in China, called a day or two ago. He spoke of his intention of delivering an address before the New York and Boston Chamber of Commerce concerning the great and growing importance of our trade with China. I hear that he wishes to be Minister of Mexico. His ambition ought to be realized. Those people down there are of a kind to keep a man moving around pretty lively, and General Kiernan is accustomed to travelling. I suppose he has learned how to pack is trunk and dictate his will at the same time. If he went to Mexico, though, I should think it would be a good idea to go "flying light" -- put his will on record and travel without any baggage at all.
Senator Stewart's family sailed for France last week.
I was at a dinner in the early part of the week, given by Mr. Henry D. Cook, to the Newspaper Correspondents' Club, of Washington, where Ben. Perly Poore, a noted writer, said something which gave offence to General Boynton, late of the Army, but now of the press, and yesterday the parties quarrelled in the ante-room of the House reporters' gallery. A duel was talked of all day, but I hear to-night that Mr. Poore has apologized. It is a great pity. I never have seen a dead reporter.
A. D. Richardson is making a fortune out of his last book, "The Mississippi and Beyond." He and Swinton ("Twelve Decisive Battles.") have published the most saleable books, I believe, that have issued from the press this year.
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