“My father and I waited at the Fifth Avenue Hotel,” Kate said softly. “We thought that, at any moment, a procession would appear to hail his nomination. But Tilden perceived that his own self-interest lay with Governor Seymour, who in turn promised the governorship to Tilden, as if it were some child’s bauble. Tilden betrayed my father to suit his own interests. Tilden can profit no further from that betrayal.”
Conkling was silent for several minutes. They were nearly at the opera house.
“I cannot be absent from the Senate,” he said finally.
“You can, if a lady requests your attendance elsewhere. I intend to visit Baltimore in the near future. You cannot expect me to do so unattended.”
Conkling stared at Kate for several moments. If he remained in Washington, he could ride into battle, lance at the ready, and revenge himself against Hayes. What would become of that lance if he retreated?
“I shall reward you if you do,” Kate persisted.
“Your thanks would be its own reward.”
“Then shall you escort me to Baltimore?”
Conkling looked out the window of the carriage. They were traveling the streets of the city, its buildings, monuments, and lights passing outside his window. While at Edgewood there were no temptations other than Kate, but now in Washington again, he felt the sting of contrary obligations. The thought of Hayes, that inconsequential cipher, as President, was nearly unbearable. But Hayes had promised to serve only one term, and to violate that vow would be a breach of trust so great that he would be surely defeated for renomination. He would be equally at liberty in 1880 whether Hayes or Tilden prevailed now. And he would have Kate in the meantime.
“I shall do as you ask.” Conkling turned from the window of the carriage and looked Kate in the eye.
Kate gazed at him apprizingly for a moment, for he had taken too long to decide, in her opinion. But now her face lit with a deep satisfaction.
“Here,” she said. She turned to a bouquet of flowers upon the seat beside her and removed one flower. Lightly, she tossed the flower from her side of the compartment to his. Conkling looked at the flower quizzically, then placed it in his buttonhole.