Cedric Vonck, Juliet Sutherland, Charles Franks and the Online
BY GERTRUDE ATHERTON
"When, Mr. President, a man, however eminent in other pursuits and whatever claims he may have to public confidence, becomes a member of this body, he has much to learn and much to endure. Little does he know of what he will have to encounter. He may be well read in public affairs, but he is unaware of the difficulties which must attend and embarrass every effort to render what he may know available and useful. He may be upright in purpose and strong in the belief of his own integrity, but he cannot even dream of the ordeal to which he cannot fail to be exposed; of how much courage he must possess to resist the temptations which must daily beset him; of that sensitive shrinking from undeserved censure which he must learn to control; of the ever recurring contest between a natural desire for public approbation and a sense of public duty; of the load of injustice he must be content to bear even from those who should be his friends; the imputations on his motives; the sneers and sarcasms of ignorance and malice; all the manifold injuries which partisan or private malignity, disappointed of its object, may shower upon his unprotected head. All this, if he would retain his integrity, he must learn to ear unmoved and walk steadily onward in the path of public duty, sustained only by the reflection that time may do him justice; or if not, that his individual hopes and aspirations and even his name among men should be of little account to him when weighed in the balance of a people of whose destiny he is a constituted guardian and defender." —WILLIAM PITT FESSENDEN
In memorial address before the Senate, 1866. Miss Betty Madison embarks on the Political Sea. Her Discoveries, Surprises, and Triumphs.
"If we receive this Lady Mary Montgomery, we shall also have to receive her dreadful husband."
"He is said to be quite charming."
"He is a Representative!"
"Of course they are all wild animals to you, but one or two have been pointed out to me that looked quite like ordinary gentlemen—really."
"Possibly. But no person in official life has ever entered my house. I do not feel inclined to break the rule merely because the wife of one of the most objectionable class is an Englishwoman with a title. I think it very inconsiderate of Lady Barnstaple to have given her a letter to us."
"Lee, never having lived in Washington, doubtless fancies, like the rest of the benighted world, that its officials are its aristocracy. The Senate of the United States is regarded abroad as a sort of House of Peers. One has to come and live in Washington to hear of the 'Old Washingtonians,' the 'cave-dwellers,' as Sally calls us; I expected to see a coat of blue mould on each of them when I returned."
"Really, Betty, I do not understand you this morning." Mrs. Madison moved uneasily and took out her handkerchief. When her daughter's rich Southern voice hardened itself to sarcasm, and her brilliant hazel eyes expressed the brain in a state of cold analysis, Mrs. Madison braced herself for a contest in which she inevitably must surrender with what slow dignity she could command. Betty had called her Molly since she was fourteen months old, and, sweet and gracious in small matters, invariably pursued her own way when sufficiently roused by the strength of a desire. Mrs. Madison, however, kept up the fiction of an authority which she thought was due to herself and her ancestors. She continued impatiently,—
"You have been standing before that fireplace for ten minutes with your shoulders thrown back as if you were going to make a speech. It is not a nice attitude for a girl at all, and I wish you would sit down. I hope you don't think that because Sally Carter crosses her knees and cultivates a brutal frankness of expression you must do the same now that you have dropped all your friends of your own age and become intimate with her. I suppose she is old enough to do as she chooses, and she always was eccentric."
"She is only eight years older than I. You forget that I shall be twenty-seven in three months."
"Well, that is no reason why you should stand before the fireplace like a man. Do sit down."
"I'd rather stand here till I've said what is necessary—if you don't mind. I am sorry to be obliged to say it, and I can assure you that I have not made up my mind in a moment."
"What is it, for heaven's sake?"
Mrs. Madison drew a short breath and readjusted her cushions. In spite of her wealth and exalted position she had known much trouble and grief. Her first six children had died in their early youth. Her husband, brilliant and charming, had possessed a set of affections too restless and ardent to confine themselves within the domestic limits. His wife had buried him with sorrow, but with a deep sigh of relief that for the future she could mourn him without torment. He had belonged to a collateral branch of a family of which her father had been the heir; consequently the old Madison house in Washington was hers, as well as a large fortune. Harold Madison had been free to spend his own inheritance as he listed, and he had left but a fragment. Mrs. Madison's nerves, never strong, had long since given way to trouble and ill-health, and when her active strong-willed daughter entered her twentieth year, she gladly permitted her to become the mistress of the household and to think for both. Betty had been educated by private tutors, then taken abroad for two years, to France, Germany, and Italy, in order, as she subsequently observed, to make the foreign attache. Feel more at ease when he proposed. Her winters thereafter until the last two had been spent in Washington, where she had been a belle and ranked as a beauty. In the fashionable set it was believed that every attache, in the city had proposed to her, as well as a large proportion of the old beaux and of the youths who pursue the business of Society. Her summers she spent at her place in the Adirondacks, at Northern watering-places, or in Europe; and the last two years had been passed, with brief intervals of Paris and Vienna, in England, where she had been presented with distinction and seen much of country life. She had returned with her mother to Washington but a month ago, and since then had spent most of her time in her room or on horseback, breaking all her engagements after the first ten days. Mrs. Madison had awaited the explanation with deep uneasiness. Did her daughter, despite the health manifest in her splendid young figure, feel the first chill of some mortal disease? She had not been her gay self for months, and although her complexion was of that magnolia tint which never harbours colour, it seemed to the anxious maternal eye, looking back to six young graves, a shade whiter than it should. Or had she fallen in love with an Englishman, and hesitated to speak, knowing her mother's love for Washington and bare tolerance of the British Isles? She looked askance at Betty, who stood tapping the front of her habit with her crop and evidently waiting for her mother to express some interest. Mrs. Madison closed her eyes. Betty therefore continued,—
"I see you are afraid I am going to marry an Oriental minister or something. I hear that one is looking for an American with a million. Well, I am going to do something you will think even worse. I am going in for politics."
"You are going to do what?" Mrs. Madison's voice was nearly inaudible between relief and horrified surprise, but her eyes flew open. "Do you mean that you are going to vote?—or run for Congress?—but women don't sit in Congress, do they?"
"Of course not. Do you know I think it quite shocking that we have lived here in the very brain of the United States all our lives and know less of politics than if we were Indians in Alaska? I was ashamed of myself, I can assure you, when Lord Barnstaple asked me so many questions the first time I visited Maundrell Abbey. He took for granted, as I lived in Washington, I must be thoroughly well up in politics, and I was obliged to tell him that although I had occasionally been in the room with one or two Senators and Cabinet Ministers, who happened to be in Society first and politics afterward, I didn't know the others by name, had never put my foot in the White House or the Capitol, and that no one I knew ever thought of talking politics. He asked me what I had done with myself during all the winters I had spent in Washington, and I told him that I had had the usual girls'-good-time,—teas, theatre, Germans, dinners, luncheons, calls, calls, calls! I was glad to add that I belonged to several charities and had read a great deal; but that did not seem to interest him. Well, I met a good many men like Lord Barnstaple, men who were in public life. Some of them were dull enough, judged by the feminine standard, but even they occasionally said something to remember, and others were delightful. This is the whole point—I can't and won't go back to what I left here two years ago. My day for platitudes and pouring tea for men, who are contemptible enough to make Society their profession, is over. I am going to know the real men of my country. It is incredible that there are not men in that Senate as well worth talking to as any I met in England. The other day I picked up a bound copy of the Congressional Record in a book-shop. It was frantically interesting."
"It must have been! But, my dear—of course I understand, darling, your desire for a new intellectual occupation; you always were so clever—but you can't, you really can't know these men. They are—they are—politicians. We never have known politicians. They are dreadful people, who have come from low origins and would probably call me 'marm.'"
"You are all wrong, Molly. I bought a copy of the Congressional Directory a day or two ago, and have read the biography of every Senator. Nine-tenths of them are educated men; if only a few attended the big Universities, the rest went to the colleges of their State. That is enough for an American of brains. And most of them are lawyers; others served in the war, and several have distinguished records. They cannot be boors, whether they have blue blood in them or not. I'm sick of blue blood, anyway. Vienna was the deadliest place I ever visited. What makes London interesting is its red streak of plebeianism;—well, I repeat, I think it really dreadful that we should not know even by name the men who make our laws, who are making history, who may be called upon at any moment to decide our fate among nations. I feel a silly little fool."
"I suppose you mean that I am one too. But it always has been my boast, Betty, that I never have had a politician in my house. Your father knew some, but he never brought them here; he knew the fastidious manner in which I had been brought up; and although I am afraid he kept late hours with a good many of them at Chamberlin's and other dreadful places, he always spared me. I suppose this is heredity working out in you."
"Possibly. But you will admit, will you not, that I am old enough to choose my own life?"
"You always have done every single thing you wanted, so I don't see why you talk like that. But if you are going to bring a lot of men to this house who will spit on my carpets and use toothpicks, I beg you will not ask me to receive with you." "Of course you will receive with me, Molly dear—when I know anybody worth receiving. Unfortunately I am not the wife of the President and cannot send out a royal summons. I am hoping that Lady Mary Montgomery will help me. But my first step shall be to pay a daily visit to the Senate Gallery."
"What!" Mrs. Madison's weary voice flew to its upper register. "I do know something about politics—I remember now—the only women who go to the Capitol are lobbyists—dreadful creatures who—who—do all sorts of things. You can't go there; you'll be taken for one."
"We none of us are taken very long for what we are not. I shall take Leontine with me, and those interested enough to notice me will soon learn what I go for."
Mrs. Madison burst into tears. "You are your father all over again! I've seen it developing for at least three years. At first you were just a hard student, and then the loveliest young girl, only caring to have a good time, and coquetting more bewitchingly than any girl I ever saw. I don't see why you had to change."
"Time develops all of us, one way or another. I suppose you would like me to be a charming girl flirting bewitchingly when I am forty-five. I am finished with the meaningless things of life. I want to live now, and I intend to."
"It will be wildly exciting—the Senate Gallery every day, and knowing a lot of lank raw-boned Yankees with political beards." "I am not expecting to fall in love with any of them. I merely discovered some time since that I had a brain, and they happen to be the impulse that possesses it. You always have prided yourself that I am intellectual, and so I am in the flabby 'well-read' fashion. I feel as if my brain had been a mausoleum for skeletons and mummies; it felt alive for the first time when I began to read the newspapers in England. I want no more memoirs and letters and biographies, nor even of the history that is shut up in calf-skin. I want the life of to-day. I want to feel in the midst of current history. All these men here in Washington must be alive to their finger-tips. Sally Carter admires Senator North and Senator Maxwell immensely."
"What does she say about politicians in general?" Mrs. Madison looked almost distraught. "Of course the Norths and the Maxwells come of good New England families—I never did look down on the North as much as some of us did; after all, nearly three hundred years are very respectable indeed—and if these two men had not been in politics I should have been delighted to receive them. I met Senator North once— at Bar Harbor, while you were with the Carters at Homburg—and thought him charming; and I had some most interesting chats with his wife, who is much the same sort of invalid that I am. But when I establish a standard I am consistent enough to want to keep to it. I asked you what Sally Carter says of the others."
"Oh, she admits that there may be others as convenable as Senator North and Senator Maxwell, and that there is no doubt about there being many bright men in the Senate; but she 'does not care to know any more people.' Being a good cave-dweller, she is true to her traditions."
"People will say you are passee," exclaimed Mrs. Madison, hopefully. "They will be sure to."
Her daughter laughed, showing teeth as brilliant as her eyes. Then she snatched off her riding-hat and shook down her mane of warm brown hair. Her black brows and lashes, like her eyes and mouth, were vivid, but her hair and complexion were soft, without lustre, but very warm. She looked like a flower set on so strongly sapped a stem that her fullness would outlast many women's decline. She had inherited the beauty of her father's branch of the family. Mrs. Madison was very small and thin; but she carried herself erectly and her delicately cut face was little wrinkled. Her eyes were blue, and her hair, which was always carefully rolled, was as white as sea foam. Betty would not permit her to wear black, but dressed her in delicate colours, and she looked somewhat like an animated miniature. She dabbed impatiently at her tears.
"Everybody will cut you—if you go into that dreadful political set."
"I am on the verge of cutting everybody myself, so it doesn't matter. Positively—I shall not accept an invitation of the old sort this winter. The sooner they drop me the better."
Mrs. Madison wept bitterly. "You will become a notorious woman," she sobbed. "People will talk terribly about you. They will say—all sorts of things I have heard come back to me—these politicians make love to every pretty woman they meet. They are so tired of their old frumps from Oshkosh and Kalamazoo." "They do not all come from Oshkosh and Kalamazoo. There are six New England States whose three centuries you have just admitted lift them into the mists of antiquity. There are fourteen Southern States, and I need make no defence—"
"Their gentlemen don't go into politics any more."
"You have admitted that Senator North and Senator Maxwell are gentlemen. There is no reason why there should not be many more."
"Count de Bellairs told me that there was a spittoon at every desk in the Senate and that he counted eight toothpicks in one hour."
"Well, I'll reform them. That will be my holy mission. As for spittoons and toothpicks, they are conspicuous in every hotel in the United States. They should be on our coat-of-arms, and the Great American Novel will be called 'The Great American Toothpick.' Statesmen have cut their teeth on it, and it has been their solace in the great crises of the nation's history. As for spittoons, they were invented for our own Southern aristocrats who loved tobacco then as now. They decorate our Capitol as a mere matter of form. I don't pretend to hope that ninety representative Americans are Beau Brummels, but there must be a respectable minority of gentlemen— whether self-made or not I don't care. I am going to make a deliberate attempt to know that minority, and shall call on Lady Mary Montgomery this afternoon as the first step. So you are resigned, are you not, Molly dear?"
"No, I am not! But what can I do? I have spoiled you, and you would be just the same if I hadn't. You are more like the men of the family than the women—they always would have their own way. Are they all married?" she added anxiously.
"Do you mean the ninety Senators and the three hundred and fifty-six Representatives? I am sure I do not know. Don't let that worry you. It is my mind that is on the qui vive, not my heart."
"You'll hear some old fool make a Websterian speech full of periods and rhetoric, and you'll straight-way imagine yourself in love with him. Your head will be your worst enemy when you do fall in love."
"Webster is the greatest master of style this country has produced. I should hate a man who used either 'periods' or rhetoric. I am the concentrated essence of modernism and have no use for 'oratory' or 'eloquence.' Some of the little speeches in the Record are masterpieces of brevity and pure English, particularly Senator North's."
"You are modern. If we had a Clay, I could understand you—I am too exhausted to discuss the matter further; you must drop it for the present. What will Jack Emory say?"
"I have never given him the least right to say anything."
"I almost wish you were safely married to him. He has not made a great success of his life, but he is your equal and his manners are perfect. I shall live in constant fear now of your marrying a horror with a twang and a toothpick."
"I promise you I won't do that—and that I never will marry Jack Emory."
Betty Madison had exercised a great deal of self-control in resisting the natural impulse to cultivate a fad and grapple with a problem. Only her keen sense of humour saved her. On the Sunday following her return, while sauntering home after a long restless tramp about the city, she passed a church which many coloured people were entering. Her newly awakened curiosity in all things pertaining to the political life of her country prompted her to follow them and sit through the service. The clergyman was light in colour, and prayed and preached in simpler and better English than she had heard in more pretentious pulpits, but there was nothing noteworthy, in his remarks beyond a supplication to the Almighty to deliver the negro from the oppression of the "Southern tyrant," followed by an admonition to the negro to improve himself in mind and character if he would hope to compete with the Whites; bitter words and violence but weakened his cause.
This was sound commonsense, but the reverse of the sensational entertainment Betty had half expected, and her eyes wandered from the preacher to his congregation. There were all shades of Afro-American colour and all degrees of prosperity represented. Coal-black women were there, attired in deep and expensive mourning. "Yellow girls" wore smart little tailor costumes. Three young girls, evidently of the lower middle class of coloured society, for they were cheaply dressed, had all the little airs and graces and mannerisms of the typical American girl. In one corner a sleek mulatto with a Semitic profile sat in the recognized attitude of the banker in church; filling his corner comfortably and setting a worthy example to the less favoured of Mammon.
But Betty's attention suddenly was arrested and held by two men who sat on the opposite side of the aisle, although not together, and apparently were unrelated. There were no others quite like them in the church, but the conviction slowly forced itself into her mind, magnetic for new impressions, that there were many elsewhere. They were men who were descending the fifties, tall, with straight gray hair. One was very slender, and all but distinguished of carriage; the other was heavier, and would have been imposing but for the listless droop of his shoulders. The features of both were finely cut, and their complexions far removed from the reproach of "yellow." They looked like sun-burned gentlemen.
For nearly ten minutes Betty stared, fascinated, while her mind grappled with the deep significance of all those two sad and patient men expressed. They inherited the shell and the intellect, the aspirations and the possibilities of the gay young planters whose tragic folly had called into being a race of outcasts with all their own capacity for shame and suffering.
Betty went home and for twenty-four hours fought with the desire to champion the cause of the negro and make him her life-work. But not only did she abominate women with missions; she looked at the subject upon each of its many sides and asked a number of indirect questions of her cousin, Jack Emory. Sincere reflection brought with it the conclusion that her energies in behalf of the negro would be superfluous. The careless planters were dead; she could not harangue their dust. The Southerners of the present generation despised and feared the coloured race in its enfranchised state too actively to have more to do with it than they could help; if it was a legal offence for Whites and Blacks to marry, there was an equally stringent social law which protected the coloured girl from the lust of the white man. Therefore, as she could not undo the harm already done, and as a crusade in behalf of the next generation would be meaningless, not to say indelicate, she dismissed the "problem" from her mind. But the image of those two sad and stately reflections of the old school sank indelibly into her memory, and rose to their part in one of the most momentous decisions of her life.
The Montgomerys had come to Washington for the first time at the beginning of the previous winter, while the Madisons were in England. Lady Mary had left her note of introduction the day before Betty's declaration of independence.
Betty was anxious to meet the young Englishwoman, not only because she possessed the charmed key to political society, but her history as related by certain gossips of authority commanded interest.
Randolph Montgomery, a young Californian millionaire, had followed his mother's former ward, Lady Maundrell, to England, nursing an old and hopeless passion. What passed between him and the beautiful young countess the gossips did not attempt to state, but he left England two days after the tragedy which shelved Cecil Maundrell into the House of Lords, and returned to California accompanied by his mother and Lady Barnstaple's friend, Lady Mary Montgomery. Bets were exchanged freely as to the result of this bold move on the part of a girl too fastidious to marry any of the English parvenus that addressed her, too poor to marry in her own class. The wedding took place a few months later, immediately after Mrs. Montgomery's death; an event which left Lady Mary the guest in a foreign country of a young bachelor.
From all accounts, the marriage, although a wide deflection from the highest canons of romance, was a successful one, and the Montgomerys were living in splendid state in Washington. Lady Mary was approved by even the "Old Washingtonians"—a thoughtful Californian of lineage had given her a letter to Miss Carter, who in turn had given her a tea— and as her husband was brilliant, accomplished, and of the best blood of Louisiana, the little set, tenaciously clinging to its traditional exclusiveness amidst the whirling ever-changing particles of the political maelstrom, found no fault in him beyond his calling. And as he was a man of tact and never mentioned politics in its presence, and as his wife was not at home to the public on the first Tuesday of the month, reserving that day for such of her friends as shunned political petticoats, the young couple were taken straight into the bosom of that inner set which the ordinary outsider might search for a very glimpse of in vain.
How Lady Mary stood with the large and heterogeneous political set Betty had no means of knowing, and she was curious to ascertain; she could think of no position more trying for an Englishwoman of Mary Gifford's class.
As she drove toward the house several hours after announcing her plan of campaign to her mother, she found Massachusetts Avenue blocked with carriages and recalled suddenly that Tuesday was "Representatives' day." She gave a little laugh as she imagined Mrs. Madison's plaintive distaste. And then she felt the tremor and flutter, the pleasurable desire to run away, which had assailed her on the night of her first ball. That was eight years ago, and she had not experienced a moment of nervous trepidation since.
"Am I about to be re-born?" she thought. "Or merely rejuvenated? I certainly do feel young again."
She looked about critically as she entered the house. Her own home, which was older than the White House, was large and plain, with lofty rooms severely trimmed in the colonial style. There were no portieres, no modern devices of decoration. Everything was solid and comfortable, worn, and of a long and honourable descent. The dining-room and large square hall were striking because of the blackness of their oak walls, the many family portraits, and certain old trophies of the chase, as vague in their high dark corners as fading daguerreotypes.
So imbued was Betty with the idea that anything more elaborate was the sign manifest of too recent fortune, that she had indulged in caustic criticism of the modern palaces of certain New York friends. But although the immediate impression of the Montgomery house was of soft luxurious richness, and it was indubitably the home of wealthy people determined to enjoy life, Miss Madison's dainty nose did not lift itself.
"At all events, the money is not laid on with a trowel," she thought. And then she became aware of a curious sensuous longing as she looked again at the dim rich beauty about her, the smothered windows, the suggested power of withdrawal from every vulgar or annoying contact beyond those stately walls.
"I should like—I should like—" thought Betty, striving to put her vague emotion into words, "to live in this sort of house when I marry." And then her humour flashed up: it was a sense that sat at the heels of every serious thought. "What a combination with the twang and the toothpick! Can they really be my fate? Of course I might reform both, and cut off his Uncle Sam beard while he slept."
She had taken the wrong direction and entered a room in which there was not even a stray guest. A loud buzz of voices rose and fell at the end of a long hall, and she slowly made her way to the drawing-room, pausing once to watch a footman who was busily sorting visiting-cards into separate packs at a table. She handed him her card, and he slipped it into a pack marked "I Street."
The drawing-room was thronged with people, and as many of them surrounded the hostess, while constant new-comers pressed forward to shake a patient hand, Betty decided to stand apart for a few moments and look at the crowd. She was in a new world, and as eager and curious as if she had been shot from Earth to Mars.
Lady Mary was quite as handsome as her portraits: a cold blue and white and ashen beauty whose carriage and manifest of race were in curious contrast, Lee had told Betty, to a nervous manner and the loud voice of one who conceived that social laws had been invented for the middle class. But there was little vivacity in her manner to-day, and her voice was not audible across the large room. She looked tired. It was half-past five o'clock, and doubtless she had been on her feet since three. But she was smiling graciously upon her visitors, and gave each a warmth of welcome which betrayed the wife of the ambitious politician.
"Her mouth is not so selfish as in her photographs," observed the astute Betty. "I suppose in the depths of her soul she hates this, but she does it; and if she loves the man, she must think it well worth while."
She turned her attention to the visitors. There were many women superbly dressed, in taste as perfect as her own. She never had seen any of them before, but they had the air of women of importance. The majority looked frigid and bored, a few dignified and easy of manner. The younger women of the same class were more animated, but no less irreproachable in style.
There were others, middle-aged and young, with all the native style of the second-class, and still others who were clad in coarse serges, cashmeres, or cheap silks, shapelessly made with the heavy hand of many burdens. These did not detain the hostess in conversation, but gathered in groups, or walked about the room gazing at the many beautiful pictures and ornaments. There were only three or four really vulgar-looking women present, and they were clothed in conspicuous raiment. One, and all but her waist was huge, wore a bodice of transparent gauze; another, also of middle years, had crowned her hard over-coloured face with a large gentian-blue hat turned up in front with a brass buckle. Another was in pink silk and heavily powdered. But although these women were offensively loud, they did not suggest any lack of that virtue whose exact proportions so often elude the most earnest seeker after truth.
Betty turned impulsively to an old woman clad in shabby black who stood besides her gazing earnestly at the crowd. Her large bony face was crossed by the lines and wrinkles of long years of care, and her eyes were dim; but her mouth was smiling.
"Tell me," exclaimed Betty, "please—are all these people in politics? I—I—am a stranger, and I should like to know who they are."
"Well, I can tell you pretty near everything you want to know, I guess," replied the old lady. She had the drawl and twang and accent of rural New England. "I guess you've come here, like myself, jest to see the folks. A few here, like you and me, ar'n't in official life, but the most are, I guess. Nearly all the Cabinet ladies are here to- day and a good many Senators' wives and darters. That there lady in heliotrope and fur is the wife of the Secretary of War, and the one in green velvet and chinchilla is Mis' Senator Maxwell. That real stylish handsome girl just behind is her darter, and I guess she has a good many beaux. They're real elegant, ar'n't they? I guess we have good cause to be proud of our ladies."
She paused that Betty might express her approval, and upon being assured that Paris was responsible for many of the gowns present, continued in her monotonous but kindly drawl,
"And some of them began life doin' their own work. The President ain't no aristocrat, and most of his friends ain't neither; but I tell you when their wives begin to entertain they do it jest as if they was born to it. I presume if my husband—he was a physician—had gone into politics and had luck, I'd have been jest like those ladies; but as he didn't, I'm still doin' most of my own work and look it. But the Lord knows what he's about, I guess. Senator Maxwell's a swell; they've always been rich, the Maxwells, and he married a New York girl, so she didn't have much to learn, I guess. Mis' Senator Shattuc—she's the one in wine colour—was the darter of a big railroad man out West, so I guess she had all the schoolin' and Yurrup she wanted. Now that real pretty little woman jest speakin' to Lady Montgomery is Mis' Senator Freeman. They do say as how she was the darter of a baker in Chicago and used to run barefoot around the streets, but she looks as well as any of 'em now and she dines at every Embassy in Washington. Her dresses are always described in the Post: she wears pink and blue mostly. You kin tell by her face that she's got a lot of determination and that she'd git where she had a mind to. I guess she'd dine with Queen Victoria if she had a mind to."
"I feel exactly as if I were at a pantomime," cried Betty, delightedly. "Even you—" She caught herself up. "I mean I always thought the New England playwrights invented all their characters. Who are these plainly dressed women and—and—half-way ones?" "Oh, they're Representatives' wives mostly," drawled the old lady, who looked puzzled. "They take a day off and call on each other. One or two is Senators' wives. Some of the Senators is rich, but some ar'n't. Mis' Montgomery's jest as nice to them as to the swells, and she told me to be sure and go into the next room and have a cup of tea. I don't care much about tea excep' for lunch, and she don't have a collation—I presume she can't; too many people'd come, and I guess she has about enough. Now, those ladies that don't look exactly as if they was ladies," indicating the large birds of tawdry plumage and striking complexions, "they don't live here. Washington ladies don't dress like that. I guess they're the wives of men out West that have made their pile lately and come here to see the sights. First they look at all the public buildin's, and I guess they about walk all over the Capitol, and hear a speech or two in the Ladies' Gallery—from their Senators, if they can—and after that they go about in Society a bit. You see, Washington is a mighty nice place fur people who haven't much show at home—those that live in small towns, fur instance. There is so many public receptions they can go to—The White House, the Wednesdays of the Cabinet ladies, the Thursdays of the Senator's wives, and six or seven Representatives—mebbe more—who have real elegant houses; and then there is several Legations that give public receptions. You can always see in the Post who's goin' to receive; and those women can go home and talk fur the rest of their lives about the fine time they had in Washington society. Amurricans heighst themselves whenever they git a chance. I don't care to do that. My sister—she's a heap younger 'n I am and awful spry—and I come down from the north of New Hampshire every winter and keep a boardin'-house in Washington so that we can see the world. We don't go home with ten dollars over railroad fare in our pockets, but we don't mind, because the farm keeps us and we've had a real good time. I often sit down up in New Hampshire and think of the beautiful houses and dresses and pictures I've seen, and I can always remember that I've shaken hands with the President and his wife and the ladies of the Cabinet. They're just as nice as they can be."
Betty, whose sympathies were quick and keen, winked away a tear. "I'm so glad you enjoy it so much," she exclaimed, "and that there is so much for you here to enjoy. I never thought of it in that way. I'm awfully interested in it all, myself, and I feel deeply indebted to you."
"Well, you needn't mind that. My sister says I always talk when I can git anybody to listen to me, and I guess I do. Where air you from? New York, I guess."
"Oh, I am a Washingtonian. My name is Madison."
"So? I don't remember seeing it in the society columns."
"We are never mentioned in society columns," exclaimed Betty, with her first thrill of pride since entering the new world. "But I seldom have passed a winter out of Washington, although—I am sorry to say—I never have met any of these people."
"You don't say. I ain't curious, but you don't look as if you had to stay to home and do the work. But Amurrican girls are so smart they can about look anything they have a mind to." "Oh—I am really sorry, but everybody seems to be going, and I haven't spoken to Lady Mary yet. I'm so much obliged to you."
"Now, you needn't be, for you're a real nice young lady, and I've enjoyed talkin' to you. Likely we'll meet again, but I'd be happy to have you call. Here's my card. Our house is right near here—in the real fashionable part; and we've several ladies livin' with us that you might like to meet."
"Oh, thanks! thanks!" Betty put the card carefully into her case, shook her new friend warmly by the hand, and went forward. Lady Mary's tired white face had set into an almost mechanical smile, but as her eyes met Betty's they illumined with sudden interest and her hard- worked muscles relaxed.
"You are Betty Madison!" she exclaimed. And as the two girls shook hands they conceived one of those sudden and violent friendships which are so full of interest while they last.
"How awfully good of you to call so soon!" continued Lady Mary, after Betty had expatiated upon her long-cherished desire for this meeting. "I hoped you would, although Miss Carter rather frightened me with her account of your mother's aversion to political people. But they have all been so good to me—all your delightful set." She lowered her voice, which had rung out for a moment in something of its old style, albeit platitudes had worn upon its edges. "I couldn't stand just this—although I must add that many of the official women are charming and have the most stunning manners; but many are the reverse, and unfortunately I can't pick and choose. It seems that when one gets into politics in this country that is the end of nine-tenths of one's personal life; and Washington is certainly the headquarters of democracy. Here every American really does feel that he is as good as every other American; I wish to heaven he didn't."
"Washington is a democracy with a kernel of the most exclusive aristocracy," said Betty, with a laugh. "Some one has said that it is the drawing-room of the Republic. It is the hotel drawing-room with a Holy of Holies opening upon the area. I'm sick of the Holy of Holies, and I Ve never enjoyed a half-hour so much as while I've been looking on here—waiting for you to be disengaged."
"Oh, this is nothing. You must let me take you to a large evening reception. That is really interesting, for you see so many famous people. Can't you dine with me to-morrow? We've a big political dinner on. About fifteen members of a Senate and a House Committee that are deliberating a very important bill are coming. Senator North—he is well worth meeting—is Chairman of the Senate Committee, and my husband, although a new member, stands very high with the Chairman of his Committee, most of whom are old members of the House. Senator Ward also will be here. Do come, if you have nothing more important on hand. I can easily get another member of the House Committee."
"Come! I'd break twenty engagements to come." Betty's eyes sparkled and she lifted her head with a motion peculiar to her when reminded that she was the favoured of the gods. "I suppose there is a good deal of fag about this sort of life to you, but it has all the charm of the undiscovered country for me."
"Oh, I am deeply interested," said Lady Mary. The two women were alone now, and the hostess, released after three hours of stereotyped amenities, surrendered herself to the charm of natural intercourse with one of her own sort, and rang for tea. "I always liked politics, and I feel quite sure that my husband will achieve his high ambitions. It interests me greatly to help him."
"Of course he'll be President!" cried Betty, enthusiastic in the warmth of her new friendship and its possibilities. She was surprised by a tilt of the nose and an emphatic shake of the head.
"No, indeed!" exclaimed Lady Mary, "Presidents are politicians only. My husband aspires higher than that. To be a Senator of the first rank requires very different qualities."
"Ah! I shall quote that to Mol—my mother. She is not predisposed in their favour."
"Of course there are Senators and Senators," said Lady Mary, hastily. "You can't get ninety men of equal ability together, anywhere. There are the six who are admittedly the first,—North, Maxwell, Ward, March, Howard, and Eustis,—and about ten who are close behind them. Then there is the venerable group to which Senator Maxwell also belongs; and the younger men of forty-five or so who are not quite broken in yet, and whose enthusiasm is apt to take the wrong direction; and the fire-eaters, Populists usually; and the hard- working second-rate men, many of them millionaires (Western, as a rule) who are accused of having bought their legislatures to get in, but who do good work on Committee, whether or not they came under the delusion that they had bought an honour with nothing beneath it: a man who presumed on his wealth in the Senate would fare as badly as a boy at Eton who presumed on his title. Beyond all, are the nonentities that are in every body. So, you see, it is worth while to aim for the first place and to keep it."
"There are certainly all sorts to choose from! I'll never mistrust my instincts again. I am glad I shall meet Senator North to-morrow. I suppose he is a courtly person of the old school with a Websterian intellect."
"I don't know anything about Webster; I can't read your history and live in it, too; but certainly there is nothing of the old school about Senator North. He is very modern and has a truly Republican—or shall I say aristocratic?—simplicity—although no one could dress better—combined with a cold manner to most men and a warm manner to most women."
"Tell me all about him!" exclaimed Betty, sipping her tea. "I never was so happy and excited in my life. I feel as if I was Theodosia Burr, or Nelly Custis, or Dolly Madison come to life. And now I'm going to know an American statesman before his coat has turned to calf-skin. Quick! How old is he?"
"Just sixty, and looks much younger, as most of the Senators do. He is a hard worker—he is Chairman of one Committee and a member of five others; a brilliant debater, the most accomplished legislator in the Senate, unyielding in his convictions, and absolutely independent. He is not popular, as it has never occurred to him to conciliate anybody. He is very kind and attentive to his invalid wife and proud of his sons, and he adored a daughter who died four years ago. Rumor has it that more than one charming woman has consoled him for domestic afflictions and political trials, but I do not pay much attention to rumours of that sort. How odd that I, an alien, should be instructing a Washingtonian in politics and the personalities of her Senators; but I quite understand. I do hope Mrs. Madison will not object to your coming to-morrow night."
"I shall come. And go now. I feel a brute to have let you talk so much, but I never have been so interested!"
The two women kissed and parted; and Lady Mary's dreams that night were undisturbed by any vision of herself in the ranks of the Fates.
Betty returned home much elated with the success of her visit. She heard the voice of her cousin Jack Emory in the parlor and went at once to her room to dress. The voice sounded solemn, and so did her mother's; they doubtless were sitting in conference upon her. She selected her evening gown with some care; her cousin was an old story, but he was a very attractive man, and coquetry would hold its own in her, become she never so intellectual.
Jack Emory had been her undeclared lover since his middle teens. Somewhere in the same immature interval, just after her first return from Europe, she had imagined herself passionately in love with him. But she had a large fortune left her by her maternal grandfather, besides a hundred thousand her father had died too soon to spend, and Jack was the son of a Virginian who had been a Rebel to his death, haughtily refusing to have his disabilities removed, and threatening to shoot any negro in his employ who dared to go to the ballot box. He had left his son but a few thousands out of his large inheritance, and adjured him on his death bed to hold no office under the Federal government and to shoot a Yankee rather than shake his hand. Jack inherited his father's prejudices without his violent temper. He had a contemptuous dislike for the North, a loathing for politics, and adistaste for everybody outside his own diminishing class. Love for Betty Madison had driven him West in the hope of retrieving his fortunes, but he was essentially a gentleman and a scholar; the hustling quality was not in him, and he returned South after two years of unpleasant endeavour and started a small produce farm adjoining an old house on the outskirts of Washington, left him by his mother. Here he lived with his books, and made enough money to support himself decently. He never had asked Betty to marry him, although he knew that his aunt would champion his cause. During the period of Betty's maiden passion his pride had caused her as much suffering as her youth and buoyant nature would permit; but as the years slipped by she felt inclined to personify that pride and burn a candle beneath it. Even before her mind had awakened, the energy and strength of her character had cured her of love for a man as supine as Jack Emory. He was charming and well read, all that she could desire in a brother, but as a husband he would be intolerable. As his love cooled she liked him better still, particularly as his loyalty would not permit him to acknowledge even to himself that he could change; but its passing left him with fewer clouds on a rather melancholy spirit, a readier tongue, and a complete recovery from the habits of sighing and of leaving the house abruptly.
Betty's maid dressed her in a bright blue taffeta, softened with much white lace, and she went slowly down to the hall, rustling her skirts that Emory might hear and come out for a word before dinner if he liked. It was a relief to be able to coquet with him without fearing that he would go home and shoot himself; and it helped him to sustain the pleasant fiction that he still was in love with her.
He came out at once and raised her hand to his lips, murmuring a compliment as his grandfather might have done. He was only thirty-two, but his face was sallow and lined from trouble and fever. Otherwise he was very handsome, with his golden head and intellectual blue eyes, his haughty profile and tall figure, listlessly carried as it was. In spite of the fact that he took pride in dressing well, he always looked a little old-fashioned. When with Betty, invariably as smart as Paris and New York could make her, he almost appeared as if wearing his father's old clothes. His Southern accent and intonation were nearly as broad as a negro's. Betty had almost lost hers; she retained just enough to enrich and individualize without a touch of provincialism. She belonged to that small class of Americans whose ear-mark is the absence of all Americanisms.
Mr. Emory looked perturbed.
"There is something I should like to say," he remarked hesitatingly. "There is yet a quarter of an hour before dinner. I think this old hall with its portraits of your grandmothers is a good place to say it in—"
"Molly has pressed you into service, I see. Let us have it out, by all means. Please straighten your necktie before you begin. You cannot possibly be impressive while it looks as if it were standing on one leg."
"Please be serious, Betty dear. I am indeed most disturbed. It surely cannot be that you meant what you told your mother this morning,—that you intended to change the whole current of your life in such an unprecedented manner."
"Great heavens! One would think I was about to go on the stage or enter a convent."
"I would rather you did either than soil your mind with the politics of this country. I say nothing about there being no statesmen;—there is not an honest man in politics the length and breadth of the Union. The country is a sink of corruption, as far as politics are concerned. Every Congressman buys his seat or is put in as the agent of some disgraceful trust or syndicate or railroad corporation."
Betty drew her eyelids together in a fashion that robbed her eyes of their coquetry and fire and made them look unpleasantly judicial.
"Exactly how much do you know about American politics?" she asked coldly. "I have known you all my life and I never heard you mention them before—"
"I never have considered them a fit subject for you to listen to—"
"I have been in your library a great many times and I do not recall a copy of the Congressional Record. You have said often that you despise the newspapers and only read the telegrams; that the only paper you read through is the London Times. So, I repeat, what do you know about the American politics of to-day?"
"What I have told you."
"Where did you learn it? Do you ever go to the Senate or the House?"
"God forbid! But I am a man, and those things are in the atmosphere; a man's brain accumulates naturally all widely diffused impressions. I've been a great deal in the smoking-cars of railroad-trains, and spent two years in a Western State where a man who had taken a fortune out of a mine made no bones of buying a seat in the Senate from the Legislature, nor the Legislature about selling it. It was the most abominable transaction I ever came close to, and had as much to do with my leaving the place as anything else."
"And you mean to say that you judge all the old States of the country by a newly settled community of adventurers out West?"
"New York and Pennsylvania are notorious."
"There are bad boys in every school. What I want to know is—can you assert on your knowledge that all the Southern and New England States are corrupt and send only small politicians to Washington? This is a more serious charge than Molly's assertion that they all use toothpicks."
"I repeat that I do not believe there is an honest man in that Capitol."
"Do you know this? Have you investigated the life of every man in the Senate and the House?" "What a good district attorney you would make!"
"You are talking a lot of copybook platitudes with which you have allowed your mind to stagnate. But you must convince me, for if what you say is true I shall have nothing to do with politics. Let us begin with Senator North. How and when did he buy his seat, and what Trust does he represent?"
"Oh, I never have heard anything against North. He is too big a gun in Washington—"
"You will admit then that he is not corrupt—"
"I don't doubt he has his own methods—"
"I don't care three cents about your suppositions. I want facts. How about Senator Maxwell?"
"He has been in Congress since before I was born. One never hears him discussed."
"And his Puritanical State has heaped every honour on him that it can think of. Tell me the biography of Senator Ward—all that is too awful to be printed in the Congressional Directory—"
"He is from one of those dreadful North-western States and bound to be corrupt," cried Emory, triumphantly. He wished desperately that he had waited and got up his case. He spoke from sincere conviction. "There may be a rag of decency left in the older States, but the West is positively fetid. I give you my word I am speaking the truth, Betty dear, and in your own interest. If I have no more details to give you, it is because I promised my father on his death-bed that I would have nothing to do with politics, and I have kept my word to the extent of reading as little about them as possible. But I can assure you that I know as much about them as anybody not in the accursed business. It is in the air—" "There are so many things in the air that they get mixed up. Your whole argument is based on air. Now, mon ami, you turn to to-morrow and study up the record of every man in that Senate, as well as the legislative methods of his State. When you know all about it, I shall be delighted to be instructed. But I don't want any more air. Now come in to dinner, and if you allude to the subject before Molly, I'll leave the table."
He bowed over her hand again with his old-fashioned courtesy. "When you issue a command I am bound to obey," he said, "and although you have set me an unpleasant, an obnoxious task, I certainly shall accomplish that also to the best of my ability. You belong to this old house, Betty, to this old set; I love to think of you as the last rose on the old Southern tree, and you shall not be blighted if I can help it."
Betty tapped him lightly with her fan.
"I belong to the whole country, my dear boy; I am no old cabbage rose on a half-dead bush, but the same vegetable under a new name,—the American Beauty Rose. Do you see the parable? And I've a great many thorns on my long stem. Remember that also."
Betty, in accordance with a time-honoured habit, was the last to arrive at the dinner-party on the following evening. She had arranged her heavy large-waved hair low on her neck, and the pale green velvet of her gown lifted its dull mahogany hue and the deep Southern whiteness of her skin. She did not take a beautiful picture, for her features had the national irregularity, but she seldom entered a room that several men did not turn and stare at her. She carried herself with the air of one used to commanding the homage of men, her lovely colouring was always enhanced by dress, and she radiated magnetism. It was such an alive, warm, buoyant personality that men turned to her as naturally as children do to the maternal woman; even when they did not love her they liked to be near her, for she recalled some vague ideal. She knew her power perfectly, and after one or two memorable lessons had put from her the temptation to give it active exercise. It should be the instrument of unqualified happiness when her hour came; meanwhile she cultivated an impersonal attitude which baffled men unable to propose and tempered the wind to those that could.
During the few moments in the drawing-room she could gather only a collective impression of the men who stared at her to-night. There was a general suggestion of weight, in the sculptor's sense, and repose combined with alertness, and they stood very squarely on their feet. Betty had only had time to single out one long beard dependent from a visage otherwise shorn, and to observe further that some of the women were charmingly dressed, while others wore light silk afternoon frocks, when dinner was announced.
Her partner was evidently one of the younger Senators, one of those juvenile enthusiasts of forty-five who beat their breasts for some years upon the Senate's impassive front. He was extremely good- looking, with a fair strong impatient face, trimmed with a moustache only, and a well-built figure full of nervous energy. He had less repose than most of the men about him, but he suggested the same solidity. He might fail or go wrong, but not because there was any room in his mind for shams. His name was Burleigh, but what his section was, Betty, as they exchanged amenities and admired the lavish display of flowers, could not determine; he had no accent whatever, and although his voice was deep and sonorous, it had not the peculiar richness of the South. His gray eyes smiled as they met hers, and his manners were charming; but Betty, accustomed to grasp the salient points of character in a first interview, fancied that he could be overbearing and truculent.
"Are they going to talk politics to-night?" she asked, when the platitudes had run their course.
"I hope not. I've had enough of politics, all day."
"Oh, I hoped you would," said Betty, in a deeply disappointed tone.
He looked amused.
"Why?" he asked.
"Oh, I am so interested. That sounds very vague, but I am. When Lady Mary told me she was dining members of the two Committees, I thought it was to talk politics, and—and—settle it amicably or something." Betty could look infantile when she chose, and was always ready to cover real ignorance with an exaggerated assumption which inspired doubt.
"We have the excessive pleasure of discussing the bill in Senator North's comfortable Committee room for several hours every few days, and we usually are amiable. We are merely dining out to-night in each other's good company. Still, I guess your desire will be more or less gratified. Second nature is strong, and one or two will probably get down to it about the middle of dinner."
"You are from New England," exclaimed Betty, triumphantly. "I have been waiting for you to say 'I reckon' or 'I guess.'"
"I was born and educated in Maine, but I went west to practise law as soon as I knew enough, and I am Senator from one of the Middle Western States."
"Ah!" Betty gave him a swift side glance. He looked anything but "corrupt," and that truculent note in his voice did not indicate subservience to party bosses. She determined to write to Jack Emory in the morning and command him to look up Senator Burleigh's record at once.
"I suppose all the Senators here to-night are the—big ones?"
"Oh, no; North and Ward are the only two on this Committee belonging to the very first rank. The other four here are in that group that is pressing close upon their heels; and myself, who am a new member: I've been here four years only. Would you mind telling me who you are? Of course American women don't take much interest in politics, but—do you know as little as you pretend?"
"I wish I knew more; but I've been abroad for the last two years, and my mother prefers rattlesnakes to politics. Which is Senator North?"
"He is at the head of the table with Lady Mary, but that rosebush is in the way; you cannot see him."
"And which is Senator Ward?" "Over there by Mrs. Shattuc,—the woman in ivory-white and heliotrope."
Betty flashed him a glance of renewed interest. "You like women," she exclaimed. "And you must be married, or have sisters."
"I like women and I am not married, nor have I any sisters. I particularly like woman's dress. If you'll pardon me, that combination of pale green and white lace and soft stuff is the most stunning thing I've seen for a long while."
"Law, politics, and woman's dress! How hard you must have worked!"
"Our strong natural inclinations help us so much!" He gave her an amused glance, and his manner was a trifle patronizing, as of a prominent man used to the admiration of pretty girls. It was evident that he knew nothing of her and her long line of conquests.
"Senator Ward looks half asleep," she remarked abruptly.
"He usually does until dinner is two-thirds over. He is Chairman of one Committee and serving on two others; and all have important bills before them at present. So he is tired."
"He doesn't look corrupt."
"Corrupt? Who? Ward? Who on earth ever said he was corrupt?"
"Well, I heard his State was."
"'Corruption' is the father of more platitudes than any word in the American language. There are corrupt men in his State, no doubt, and one of the Trusts with which we are ridden at present tried to buy its Legislature and put their man in. But Ward won his fight without the expenditure of a dollar beyond paying for the band and a few courtesies of that sort. His State is proud of him both as a statesman and a scholar, and he is likely to stay in the Senate until he drops in his tracks."
"Then he comes here with the intention of remaining for life? I think you should all do that."
"You are quite right. When a man achieves the honour of being elected honestly to the United States Senate,—it is the highest honour in the Republic,—he should feel that he is dedicating himself to the service of the country, and should have so arranged his affairs that he can stay there for life."
Betty's eyes kindled with approval. "Oh, I am glad," she said, "I am glad."
"Glad of what, may I ask?"
"Oh—" And then she impulsively told him something of her history, of her determination to take up politics as her ruling interest, and of the opposition of her mother and cousin. Senator Burleigh listened with deep attention, and if he was amused he was too gallant to betray the fact, now that she had honoured him with her confidence.
"Well," he said, "that is very interesting, very. And you are quite right. You'll do yourself good and us good. Mind you stand to your guns. Would you mind telling me your name? Lady Mary never thinks a mere name worth mentioning."
"Madison—Elizabeth Madison. I had almost forgotten the Elizabeth. I have always been called Betty."
"Ah!" he said, "ah!" He turned and regarded her with a deeper interest.
"Have you heard of me?" she asked irresistibly. "Who has not?" he said gallantly. "And although you are a great deal younger than I,—I am forty-four,—my father, who was in Congress before me, was a great friend of your father's. He wears a watch to this day that Mr. Madison gave him. He always expressed regret that he never met your mother, but she seemed to have an unconquerable aversion to politics."
"And they met at Chamberlin's!" exclaimed Betty, with a delighted laugh. "It will be the last straw—my having gone into dinner with the son of one of papa's hated boon companions. My mother is a lovely intelligent woman," she added hastily, "but she is intensely Southern and conservative. Her great pride is that she never changes a standard once established."
"Oh, that's a very safe quality in a woman. But of course you have a right to establish your own, and I am glad it points in our direction. And anything you want to know I'll be glad to tell you. Can't I take you up to the Senate to-morrow and put you in our private gallery? There ought to be some good debating, for North is going to attack an important bill that is on the calendar."
"I will go; but let me meet you there. I must ask you to call in due form first, as my poor mother must not have too many shocks. Will you come a week from Sunday?—I am going to New York for a few days."
"I will, indeed. If I were unselfish, I should let you listen for a few minutes, for they are all talking politics; not bills, however, but the possibility of war with Spain. I don't think I shall, though. Tell me what you want to know and I will begin our lessons right here." "Why should we go to war with Spain?"
"Oh dear! Oh dear! Where have you been? There is a small island off the coast of Florida called Cuba. It has many natives, and they are oppressed, tormented, tortured by Spain."
"I visited Cuba once. They are nothing but a lot of negroes and frightfully dirty. Why should we go to war about them?"
"Only about one-third are negroes and there is a large brilliantly educated and travelled upper class. And I see you need instruction in more things than politics,—humanity, for instance. Forget that you are a Southerner, divorce yourself from traditions, and try to imagine several hundred thousand people—women and children, principally— starving, hopeless, homeless, unspeakably wretched. Cannot you feel for them?"
"Oh, yes! Yes!" Betty's quick sympathy sent the tears to her eyes, and he looked at her with deepening admiration,—a fact the tears did not prevent her from grasping. "And are we going to war in order to release them?"
"Ah! I do not know. There is a war feeling growing in the country; there is no doubt of that. But how high it will grow no one can tell. The leading men in Congress are indifferent, and won't even listen to recognizing the Cubans as belligerents. North will not discuss the subject, and I doubt not is talking over the latest play with Lady Mary at the present moment."
"And you? Do you want war?"
"I do!" His manner gave sudden rein to its inherent nervousness, and his voice rang out for a moment as if he were angrily haranguing the Senate. "Of course I want it. Every human instinct I have compels me to want it, and I cannot understand the apathy and conservatism which prevents our being at war at the present moment. We have posed as the champions of liberty long enough; it is time we did something."
"Ah, this is the youthful enthusiasm of the Senate," thought Betty. "And I have been accustomed to think of forty-five as quite elderly. I feel a mere infant and shall not call myself an old maid till I'm fifty." She smiled approvingly into the Senator's illuminated face, and he plunged at once into details, including the entire history of Spanish colonial misrule. The history was told in head-lines, so to speak, but it was graphic and convincing. Betty nodded encouragingly and asked an occasional intelligent question. She knew the history of Spain as thoroughly as he did, but she would not have told him so for the world. It is only the woman with a certain masculine fibre in her brain who ever really understands men, and when these women have coquetry also, they convince the sex born to admire that they are even more feminine than their weaker sisters. When Senator Burleigh finished, Betty thanked him so graciously and earnestly, with such lively pleasure in her limpid hazel eyes, that he raised his glass impulsively and touched it to hers.
"You must have a salon" he exclaimed. "We need one in Washington, and it would do us incalculable good. Only you could accomplish it: you not only have beauty and brains—and tact?—but you are so apart that you can pick and choose without fear of giving offence. And you are not blas? of the subject like Congressmen's wives, nor has the wild rush and wear and tear of official society chopped up your individuality into a hundred little bits. It would be brutal to mention politics to a woman in political life, and consequently we feel as if no one takes any interest in us unless she has an axe to grind. But you are what we all have been waiting for I feel sure of that! Let it be understood that no mere politician, no man who bought his legislature or is under suspicion in regard to any Trust, can enter your doors. Of course you will have to study the whole question thoroughly; and mind, I am to be your instructor-in-chief."
Betty laughed and thanked him, wondering how well he understood her. He looked like a man who would waste no time on the study of woman's subtleties: he knew what he wanted, and recognized the desired qualities at once, but by a strong masculine instinct, not by analysis.
A few moments later the women went into the drawing-room, and the conversation for the next half-hour was a languid babble of politics, dress, New York, the lady of the White House, and the play. Betty thought the women very nice, but less interesting than the men, possibly because they were women. They certainly looked more intelligent than the average one sat with during the trying half- hour after dinner; but their conversation was fragmentary, and they oddly suggested having left their personality at home and taken their shell out to dinner. Betty also was interested to observe that their composite expression was a curious mingling of fatigue, unselfishness, and peremptoriness. "What does it mean?" she asked of Lady Mary, with whom she stood apart for a moment.
"Oh, they are worked to death,—paying calls, entertaining, receiving people on all sorts of business, and helping their husbands in various ways. They have no time to be selfish,—rich or poor,—and they have acquired the art of disposing of bores and detrimentals in short order. Even their own sort they pass on much in the fashion of royalty. How do you like Senator Burleigh?"
"I never learned so much in two hours in my life. My head feels like a beehive."
"I never saw him quite so devoted."
"I thought you were occupied with Senator North."
"I was, but my eyes and ears understand each other. He wants to meet you after dinner. He knows all about you."
"He has been pointed out to me, but in those days when I was only interested in possible partners for the German. I do not recall him."
"That is he, the second one."
The men were entering the drawing-room. Betty was relieved that the political beard was not on Senator North. He wore only a very short moustache on his ugly powerful face.
He stood for a few moments talking to his host, and Betty, to whom the political beard was immediately presented, gave him an occasional glance of exploration while her companion was assuring her, with neither a twang nor an accent, that he had long looked forward to the pleasure of meeting the famous Miss Betty Madison. Senator Shattuc was in his late fifties, but it was evident that the cares of Congress had not smothered his appreciation of a pretty woman. He had a strong face and an infantile complexion, and his beard sparkled with care. Senator Ward, who was presented a few moments later, told her that he had envied Burleigh throughout the long dinner. Betty decided that the senatorial manner certainly was agreeable.
The two men fell into conversation with one another, and Betty turned her attention to Senator North. He was standing alone for the moment, glancing about the room. His attitude was one of absolute repose; he did not look as if he ever had hurried or wasted his energies or lost his self-control in his life. His face was impenetrable; his eyes, black and piercing, were wholly without that limpidity which reveals depths and changes of expression; his mouth was somewhat contemptuous, and betrayed neither tenderness nor humour. If possible, he stood even more squarely on his feet than the other men. He had the powerful thick-set figure which invariably harbours strong passions.
"I don't know whether I like him or not," thought Betty. "I think I don't—but perhaps I do. He might be made of New England rock, and he looks as if the earth could swallow him before he'd yield an inch. But I can feel his magnetism over here. Why have all these men so much magnetism? Is that, too, senatorial?"
Senator North caught her eye at the moment, and turned at once to Lady Mary. A moment later he had been presented to Betty and they stood alone.
"I once mended your hoop for you, when you were a little girl, just in front of your house; but I am afraid you have forgotten it." "Oh,—I think I do remember it. Yes—I do." She evoked the incident out of the mists of childish memories. "Was it you? I am afraid I was looking harder at the hoop than at its mender. But—I recall—I thought how kind you were."
And then he inquired for her mother, and spoke pleasantly of his own and his wife's acquaintance with Mrs. Madison at Bar Harbor. Betty wondered afterward why she had thought his face repellent. His eyes defied investigation, but his mouth relaxed into a smile that was very kind, and his voice had almost a caress in it. But at the moment she was too eager to hear him express himself to receive a strong personal impression, and while she was casting about in her mind for a leader, she was obliged to give him her hand.
"Good-night," she said with a little pout, "I am so sorry."
"So am I," he said, smiling, and shaking her hand. "Good-night. I shall look forward to meeting you again soon."
"Miss Madison, may I see you to your carriage?" asked Senator Burleigh. "I have tried to get near you ever since dinner," he said discontentedly, as they walked down the hall, "and now you are going. But you will come to the Senate to-morrow? Come right up to the door of the Senators' Gallery at precisely three o'clock and I will meet you there."
A few moments later, Betty paused on her way to her own room and opened her mother's door softly.
"Molly," she whispered.
"Well?" asked a severe voice.
"I went in to dinner with the son of one of papa's old Chamberlin companions, and he was simply charming. So were all the others, and I never met a man who could shake hands as well as Senator North. I had a heavenly time."
Mrs. Madison groaned and turned her face to the wall.
"And there wasn't a toothpick, and I didn't hear a twang."
"Kindly allow me to go to sleep."
As soon as Betty awoke the next morning, she turned her mind to the events of the night before. Unlike most occasions eagerly anticipated, it had contained no disappointment; she had, indeed, been pleasurably surprised, for despite her strong common-sense the dark picture of corruption and objectionable toilet accessories had made its impression upon her. She foresaw much amusement in witnessing the unwilling surrender of her mother to even Senator Shattuc, him of the political beard. As for Senator Burleigh, she would yield to his magnetism and power of compelling interest in himself, while pronouncing his manners too abrupt and his personality too "Western." And if he admired intelligently the old lace which she always wore at her throat and wrists and on her pretty head, she would confess that there might be exceptions even to political rules.
But somewhat to Betty's surprise it was not of Senator Burleigh that she thought most, although she had talked with him for two hours and pronounced him charming. She had talked with Senator North for exactly six minutes, but she saw his face more distinctly than Burleigh's and retained his voice in her ear. He had not paid her a compliment, but his manner had expressed that she interested him and that he thought her worth meeting. For the first time in her life Betty felt flattered by the admiration of a man; and she had held her own with more than one of distinction on the other side. Even royalty had not fluttered her, but she conceived an eager desire to make this man think well of her. It irritated her to remember that she could have made no mental impression on him whatever. She became uncheerful, and reflected that the subtle flattery in his manner was probably a mere habit; Lady Mary had intimated that he liked women and had loved several. Well, she cared nothing about that; he was thirty years older than herself and married; but she admired him and wished for his good opinion and to hear him talk. Doubtless they soon would meet again, and if they were left in conversation for a decent length of time she would ask him to call. She cast about in her mind for a subterfuge which would justify a note, but she could think of none, and was too worldly-wise to evoke a smile from the depths of a man's conceit.
Her mother refused to bid her good-by when, accompanied by her maid, she started for the Capitol at twenty minutes to three. A few moments later she found herself admiring for the first time the big stately building on the hill at the end of Pennsylvania Avenue. She always had thought Washington a beautiful city, with its wide quiet avenues set thick with trees, its graceful parks, each with a statue of some man gratefully remembered by the Republic, but she had given little heed to its public buildings and their significance. As she approached the great white Capitol, she experienced a sudden thrill of that historical sense which, after its awakening, dominates so actively the large intelligence. The Capitol symbolized the greatness of the young nation; all the famous American statesmen after the first group had moved and made their reputations within its walls. All laws affecting the nation came out of it, and the Judges of the Supreme Court sat there. And of its kind there was none other in the civilized world, had been but one other since the world began.
The historic building shed an added lustre upon Senator Burleigh; but it was of Senator North that she thought most as she half rose in the Victoria and scanned the long sweep. The cleverest of women cannot class with anything like precision the man who has stamped himself into her imagination. Betty knew that there were six men in the Senate who ranked as equals; their quiet epoch gave them little chance to discover latent genius other than for constructive legislation; nevertheless she arbitrarily conceived the Capitol to-day as the great setting for one man only; and the building and the man became one in her imagination henceforth. The truth was that Betty, being greatly endowed for loving and finding that all men fell short of her high standard, was forced to seek companionship in an ideal. She had had several loves in history, but had come to the conclusion some years since that dead men were unsatisfactory. Since then she had fancied mightily one or two public men on the other side, whom she had never met; but in time they had bored or disappointed her. But here was a conspicuous figure in her own country, appealing to her through the powerful medium of patriotic pride; a man so much alive that he might at any moment hold the destinies of the United States in his hands, and who, owing to his years and impenetrable dignity, was not to be considered from the ordinary view-point of woman. She would coquet with Senator Burleigh; it was on the cards that she would love him, for he was brilliant, ambitious, and honourable; but Senator North was exalted to the vacant pedestal reserved for ideals, and Betty settled herself comfortably to his worship; not guessing that he would be under her memory's dust-heap in ten days if Senator Burleigh captured her heart.
The coachman was directed by a policeman to the covered portico of the Senate wing. Betty had a bare glimpse of corridors apparently interminable, before another policeman put her into the elevator and told her to get off when the boy said "Gallery."
Senator Burleigh was waiting for her, and she thought him even manlier and more imposing in his gray tweed than in evening dress. He shook her hand heartily, and assured her in his abrupt dictatorial way that it gave him the greatest pleasure to meet her again.
"I'm sorry I haven't time to take you all over the building," he said," but I have two Committee meetings this afternoon. You must come down some morning."
His manner was very businesslike, and he seemed a trifle absent as he paused a moment and called her attention to the daub illustrating the Electoral Commission; but this, Betty assumed, was the senatorial manner by day. In a moment he led her to one of the doors in the wall that encloses the Senate Gallery.
"You see this lady," he said peremptorily to the doorkeeper, who rose hastily from his chair. "She is always to be admitted to this gallery. Take a good look at her."
"Yes, sir; member of your family, I presume?"
"You can assume that she is my sister. Only see that you admit her."
"The rules are very strict in regard to this gallery," he added, as he closed the door behind them. "It is only for the families of the Senators, but you will like it better than the reserved gallery. Send for me if there should be trouble at any time about admittance."
"I usually get where I wish! I sha'n't trouble you."
"Don't you ever think twice about troubling me," he said. "Let us go down to the front row."
The galleries surrounding the great Chamber were almost dark under the flat roof, but the space below was full of light. It looked very sumptuous with its ninety desks and easy-chairs, and a big fire beyond an open door; and very legislative with its president elevated above the Senators and the row of clerks beneath him. There were perhaps thirty Senators in the room, and they were talking in groups or couples, reading newspapers, or writing letters. One Senator was making a speech.
"I don't think they are very polite," said Betty. "Why don't they listen? He seems to be in earnest and speaks very nicely." "Oh, he is talking to his constituents, not to the Senate—although he would be quite pleased if it would listen to him. He does not amount to much. We listen to each other when it is worth while; but this is a Club, Miss Madison, the most delightful Club in the United States. Just beyond are the cloakrooms, where we can lounge before the fire and smoke, or lie down and go to sleep. The hard work is in the Committee rooms, and it is hard enough to justify all the pleasure we can get out of the other side of the life. Now, I'll tell you who these are and something about them."
He pointed out one after the other in his quick businesslike way, rattling off biographical details; but Betty, feeling that she was getting but a mass of impressions with many heads, interrupted him.
"I don't see Senator North," she said. "I thought he was going to speak."
"He will, later. He is in his Committee room now, but he'll go down as soon as a page takes him word that the clerk is about to read the bill whose Committee amendments he is sure to object to. Now I must go. I shall give myself the pleasure of calling a week from Sunday. You must come often, and always come here. And let me give you two pieces of advice: never bow to any Senator from up here, and never go to the Marble Room and send in a card. Then you can come every day without attracting attention. Good-bye."
Betty thanked him, and he departed. For the next hour she found the proceedings very dull. The unregarded Senator finished his speech and retired behind a newspaper. Other members clapped their hands, and the pages scampered down the gangways and carried back documents to the clerk below the Vice-President's chair, while their senders made a few remarks meaningless to Betty. Two or three delivered brief speeches which were equally unintelligible to one not acquainted with current legislation. During one of them a man of imposing appearance entered and was apparently congratulated by almost every one in the room, the Senators leaving their seats and coming to the middle aisle, where he stood, to shake him by the hand. Betty felt sorry for Leontine, who was on the verge of tears, but determined to remain until Senator North appeared if she did not leave until it should be time to dress for dinner.
He entered finally and went straight to his desk. He looked preoccupied, and began writing at once. In a few moments the clerk commenced to read from a document, and Senator North laid aside his pen and listened attentively. So did several other Senators. It was a very long document, and Betty, who could not understand one word in ten as delivered by the clerk's rumbling monotonous voice, was desperately bored, and was glad her Senators had the solace of the cloak-rooms. Several did in fact retire to them, but when the clerk sat down and Senator North rose, they returned; and Betty felt a personal pride in the fact that they were about to listen to the Senator whom herself had elected to honour.
She had to lean forward and strain her ears to hear him. It was evident that he did not recognize the existence of the gallery, for he did not raise his voice from beginning to end; and yet it was of that strong rich quality that might have carried far. But it neither "rang out like a clarion," nor "thundered imprecation." Neither did he utter an impassioned phrase nor waste a word, but he denounced the bill as a party measure, exposed its weak points, riddled it with sarcasm, and piled up damaging evidence of partisan zeal. "This is an honourable body," he concluded, "and few measures go out of it that are open to serious criticism by the self-constituted guardians of legislative virtue, but if this bill goes through the Senate we shall invite from the thinking people of the country the same sort of criticism which we now receive from the ignorant. If the high standard of this body is to be maintained, it must be by sound and conservative legislation, not by grovelling to future legislatures."
Having administered this final slap, he sat down and began writing again, apparently paying no attention to the Chairman of the bill, who defended his measure with eloquence and vigour. It was a good speech, but it contained more words than the one that had provoked it and fewer points. Senator North replied briefly that the only chance for the bill was for its father to refrain from calling attention to its weak points, then went into the Republican cloak-room, presumably to smoke a cigar. Betty, whose head ached, went home.
That evening, as Betty was rummaging through a cupboard in the library looking for a seal, she came upon a box of Cuban cigars. They could have been her father's only and of his special importation: he had smoked the choicest tobacco that Havana had been able to furnish.
She knew that many men would prize that box of cigars, carefully packed in lead and ripened by time, and she suddenly determined to send it to Senator North. She felt that it would be an acute pleasure to give him something, and as for the cigars they were too good for any one else. She took the box to her room and wrapped it up carefully and badly; but when she came to the note which must accompany it, she paused before the difficulties which mechanically presented themselves. Senator North might naturally feel surprise to receive a present from a young woman with whom he had talked exactly six minutes. If she wrote playfully, offering a small tribute at the shrine of statesmanship, he might wonder if she worked slippers for handsome young clergymen and burned candles before the photograph of a popular tenor. She might send them anonymously, but that would not give her the least satisfaction. Finally, she reluctantly decided to wait until she met him again and could lead the conversation up to cigars. "Perhaps he will see me in the gallery to-morrow," she thought.
But although he sat in his comfortable revolving-chair for two hours the next afternoon, he never lifted his eyes to the gallery. She heard several brief and excellent speeches, but went home dissatisfied. On the day after her return from New York, whither she went to perform the duty of bridesmaid; she had a similar experience, twice varied. Senator Burleigh made a short speech in a voice that was truly magnificent, and following up Senator North's attack on the bill unpopular on the Republican side of the Chamber. He was answered by "Blunderbuss" Pepper, the new Senator who had turned every aristocrat out of office in his aristocratic Southern State and filled the vacancies with men of his own humble origin. He was a burly untidy- looking man, and frequently as uncouth in speech, a demagogue and excitable. But the Senate, now that three years in that body had toned him down, conceded his ability and took his abuse with the utmost good-nature. Betty recalled his biography as sketched by Senator Burleigh, and noted that almost every Senator wheeled about with an expression of lively interest, as his reiterated "Mr. President, Mr. President," secured him the floor. They were not disappointed, nor was Betty. In a few moments he was roaring like a mad bull and hurling invective upon the entire Republican Party, which "would deprive the South of legitimate representation if it could." He was witty and scored many points, provoking more than one laugh from both sides of the Chamber; and when he finished with a parting yell of imprecation, his audience returned to their correspondence and conversation with an indulgent smile. Betty wondered what he had been like before the Senate had "toned him down."
That night she addressed the cigars to Jack Emory and sent them off at once. "I do believe I came very close to making a fool of myself," she thought. "What on earth made me want to give those cigars to Senator North?—to give him anything? What a little ninny he would have thought me!" She puzzled long over this deflection from her usual imperious course with men, but concluding that women having so many silly twists in their brains, it was useless to try to understand them all, dismissed the matter from her mind.
"How many politicians are coming this afternoon?" asked Mrs. Madison, at the Sunday midday dinner. Her voice indicated that all protest had not gone out of her.
"Senator Burleigh and Mr. Montgomery—and Lady Mary. Not a formidable array."
"They are exactly two too many. I have written and asked Sally Carter to come over and chaperon you in case I do not feel equal to the ordeal at the last moment. I am surprised that she takes your course so quietly, but on the whole am relieved; you need some one respectable to keep you in countenance."
"This house reeks with respectability; no one would ever notice the absence of a chaperon. Sally is not only quiescent, but sympathetic. She knows that I have got to the end of teas and charities, and she believes in people choosing their own lives. She says she would join a travelling circus if her proclivities happened to point that way."
Mrs. Madison shuddered. "I do not pretend to understand the present generation, and the more I hear of it the less I wish to. As for Sally I love her, but I should detest her if I didn't, for she is the worst form of snob: she is so rich and so well born that she thinks she can dress like a servant-girl and affect the manners of a barmaid." "Molly! So you were haunting 'pubs' when I supposed you were yawning at home? I hope you did not tell the barmaids your real name."
"Well, I suppose I should not criticise people that I know nothing about," said Mrs. Madison, colouring and serious. She changed the subject hastily. "Jack, I hope you will stay this afternoon. It would be the greatest comfort to have you in the house."
"I will stay, certainly," said Emory. He had taken his Sunday dinner at the old house in I Street for almost a quarter of a century. To-day he had been unusually silent, and had contracted his brows nervously every time Betty looked at him. She understood perfectly, and amused herself by turning round upon him several times with abrupt significance. However, she spared him until they had taken Mrs. Madison to the parlor and gone to the library, where he might smoke his after-dinner cigar. He sat down in front of a window, and the sunlight poured over him, glistening his handsome head and illuminating his skin. Betty supposed that some women might fall quite desperately in love with him; and in addition to his beauty he was a noble and high-minded gentleman, whose narrowness was due to the secluded life he chose to lead.