Senator North by Gertrude Franklin Horn Atherton
Betty went to the Senate Gallery that afternoon for the first time in several days. It was hard work to keep up with the calling frenzy of Washington and cultivate one's intellect at the same time. There was no one in the private gallery but an old man with a hayseed beard and horny hands. He sat on the first chair in the front row, but rose politely to let Betty pass; and she took off her veil and jacket and gloves and settled herself for a comfortable afternoon. She felt almost as much at home in this family section of the Senate Gallery as in her own room with a copy of the Congressional Record in her hand. Sometimes save for herself it would be empty, when every other gallery, but the Diplomats', of that fine amphitheatre would be nearly full. It was crowded, however, when it was unofficially known that a favourite Senator would speak, or an important bill on the calendar provoke a debate. Leontine no longer accompanied her mistress; she had threatened to leave unless exempted from political duty.
To-day a distinguished Senator on the other side of the Chamber was attacking with caustic emphasis a Republican measure. He was the only man in the Senate with a real Uncle Sam beard. Senator Shattuc's waved like a golden fan from his powerful jaw; but the Democratic appendage opposite was long and narrow, and whisked over the Senator's shoulder like the tail of a comet, when he became heated in controversy. It was flying about at a great rate to-day, and Betty was watching it with much interest, when a proud voice remarked in her ear,--
"That's my Senator, marm. He's powerful eloquent, ain't he?"
Betty nodded. "He's quite a leader."
"I allow he is. He's been leadin' in our State fur twenty years. I allus wanted to hear him speak in Congress, and when I called on him last Monday--when I come to Washington--he told me to come up here to- day and hear him, and he would set me in the Senators' Gallery. And he did."
His voice became a distant humming in Betty's ears. Senator North had entered and taken his seat. He apparently settled himself to listen to the speech, and he looked as calm and unhurried as usual.
"That's North," whispered the old man. "There wuz a lady in here a spell since who pinted a lot of 'em out to me. He looks a little too hard and stern to suit me. I like the kind that slaps you on the back and says 'Howdy.' Now Senator North, he never would: I know plenty that knows him. He's aristocratic; and I don't like his politics, neither. I allus suspicion that politicians ain't all right when they're aristocratic."
"He does not happen to be a politician."
"Don't you want to listen to your Senator? He is very eloquent."
"He's been speakin' fur an hour steady," said the visitor to Washington, philosophically. "I kinder thought I'd like to talk to you a spell. Hev you seen the new library?" "Oh, yes; I live here."
"Do ye? Well, you're lucky. For this city's so grand it's jest a pleasure to walk around. And that Library's the most beautiful buildin' I ever saw in all my seventy-two years. I've been twice a day to look at it, and it makes me feel proud to be an Amurrican. If Paradise is any more beautiful than that there buildin', I do want to go there."
Betty smiled with the swift sympathy she always felt for genuine simplicity, and the old man's pride in his country's latest achievement was certainly touching. She refrained from telling him that she thought the red and yellow ceilings hideous, and delighted him with the assurance that it was the finest modern building in the world.
"What's happened to ye?" he asked sharply, a moment later. "You've straightened up and thrown back your head as if ye owned the hull Senate."
Senator North had wheeled about slowly and glanced up at the private gallery. Then he had risen abruptly and gone into the cloak-room.
"Perhaps I do," said Betty.
She spoke thickly. It seemed incredible that he was coming up to the gallery at last. She had another humble moment and felt it to be a great honour. But she smiled so brilliantly at the old man that he grinned with delight.
"I presume you're the darter of one of these here Senators," he said; "one of the rich ones. You look as if ye hed it all your own way in life, and seein' as you're young and pretty, meanin' no offence, I'm glad you hev. Is your pa one of the leadin' six?"
"My father is dead." She heard the door open and turned her head quickly. It was Senator Shattuc who had entered. He walked rapidly down the aisle, took a seat in the second row of chairs, and gave her a hearty grip of the hand.
"How are you?" he asked. "I was glad to see you were up here. You always look so pleased with the world that it does me good to get a glimpse of you."
Betty liked Senator Shattuc, and held him in high esteem, but at that moment she would willingly have set fire to his political beard. She was used to self-control, however, and she chatted pleasantly with him for ten minutes, while her heart seemed to descend to a lower rib, and her brain reiterated that eternal question of woman which must reverberate in the very ears of Time himself.
He came at last, and Senator Shattuc amiably got up and let him pass in, then took the chair behind the old man and asked him a few good- natured questions before turning to Betty again.
"I started to come some time ago," said Senator North, "but I was detained in one of the corridors. It is hard to escape being buttonholed. This time it was by a young woman from my State who wants a position in the Pension Office. If it had been a man I should have ordered him about his business, but of course one of your charming sex in distress is another matter. However, I got rid of her, and here I am."
"I knew you were coming. I should have waited for you." Now that he was there she subdued her exuberance of spirit; but she permitted her voice to soften and her eyes to express something more than hospitality. He was looking directly into them, and his hard powerful face was bright with pleasure.
"It suddenly occurred to me that you might be up here," he said; "and I lost no time finding out." He lowered his voice. "Did you go? Has it turned out all right?"
"Yes, I went! I'll tell you all about it on Sunday. I never had such a painful experience."
"Well, I'm glad you had it. You would have felt a great deal worse if you had shirked it. However--Yes?"
Senator Shattuc was asking him if he thought the Democratic Senator was in his usual form.
"No," he said, "I don't. What is he wasting his wind for, anyway? We'll pass the bill, and he's all right with his constituents. They know there's no more rabid watch-dog of the Treasury in America."
"I suspect it does him good to bark at us," said Senator Shattuc.
The old man looked uneasy. "Ain't that a great speech?" he asked.
The two Senators laughed. "Well, it's better than some," said Shattuc. "And few can make a better when he's got a subject worthy of him," he added kindly.
"That's perlite, seein' as you're a Republican. I allow as I'll go. Good-day, marm. I'll never forgit as how you told me you'd bin all over Yurrup and that there ain't no modern buildin' so fine as our new Library. Good-day to ye, sirs."
Senator Shattuc shook him warmly by the hand. Senator North nodded, and Betty gave him a smile which she meant to be cordial but was a trifle absent. She wished that Senator Shattuc would follow him, but he sat down again at once. He, too, felt at home in that gallery, and it had never occurred to him that one Senator might be more welcome there than another. Senator North's face hardened, and Betty, fearing that he would go, said hurriedly,--
"Ar'n't you ever going to speak again? I have heard you only once."
"I rarely make set speeches, although I not infrequently engage in debate--when some measure comes up that needs airing."
"You ought to speak oftener, North," said Senator Shattuc. "You always wake us up."
"You have no business to go to sleep. If I talked when I had nothing to say, you'd soon cease to be waked up. Our friend over there has put three of our esteemed colleagues to sleep. He'll clear the galleries in a moment and interfere with Norris's record.--I suppose you have never seen that memorable sight," he said to Betty: "an entire gallery audience get up and walk out when a certain Senator takes the floor?"
"How very rude!"
"The great American public loves a show, and when the show is not to its taste it has no hesitation in making its displeasure known."
"Why do you despise the great American public? You never raise your voice so that any one in the second row up here can hear you."
"I have no love for the gallery. Nor do I talk to constituents. When it is necessary to talk to my colleagues, I do so, and it matters little to me whether the reporters and the public hear me or not. When my constituents are particularly anxious to know what stand I have taken on a certain question, I have the speech printed and send it to them; but as a rule they take my course for granted and let me alone."
"But tell me, Mr. North," said Betty, squaring about and putting her questions so pointedly that he, perforce, must answer them, "would you really not like to make a speech down there that would thrill the nation, as the speeches of Clay and Webster used to? And you could make a speech like that. Why don't you?"
"My dear Miss Madison, if I attempted to thrill the American people by lofty emotions and an impassioned appeal to their higher selves, I should only bring down a storm of ridicule from seven-eighths of the American press. I could survive that, for I should not read it, but my effort would be thrown away. The people to whom it was directed would feel ashamed of what thrill was left in it after it had reached them through the only possible medium. This is the age--in this country--of hard practical sense without any frills, or thrills. It is true that there is a certain amount of sham oratory surviving in the Senate, but the very fact that it is sham protects it from the press. The real thing would irritate and alarm the spirits of mediocrity and sensationalism which dominate the press to-day. A sensational speech, one in which a man makes a fool of himself, it delights in, and it encourages him by half a column of head-lines. A speech by a great man, granted that we had one, carried away by lofty patriotism and striving to raise his country, if only for a moment, to his own pure altitude, would make the press feel uneasy and resentful, and it would neutralize every word he uttered by the surest of all acids, ridicule. An American statesman of to-day must be content to legislate quietly, to use his intellect and his patriotism in the Committee Room, and to keep a sharp eye on the bills brought forward by other Committees. As for speeches, those look best in the Record which make no appeal to the gallery. There, you cannot say I have not made you a speech!" "Well, make me another, and tell me why you even consider the power of the press. I mean, how you bring yourself even to think about it. You have defied public opinion more than once. You have stood up and told your own State that it was wrong and that you would not legislate as it demanded. I am sure you would defy the whole country, if you felt like it."
"Ah, that is another matter. The hard-headed American respects honest convictions, especially when they are maintained in defiance of self- interest. I never shall lose my State by an unwavering policy, however much I may irritate it for the moment. I could a heterogeneous Western State, of course, but not a New England one. We are a conservative, strong-willed race, and we despise the waverer. We are hard because it always has been a hard struggle for survival with us. Therefore we know what we want, and we have no desire to change when we get it. There goes the bell for Executive Session. You and I must go our different ways."