Senator North by Gertrude Franklin Horn Atherton
When Betty awoke next morning, she made up her mind that she would not suffer so long as she could see him. Beyond the present she absolutely refused to look. She had found more on the political sea than she had gone in search of, but if she could have foreseen this tumult that would have overwhelmed a weaker woman, she would not have clung to the shore. For although the ultimate of love was forbidden her, she had come into her kingdom, and was immeasurably happier than the millions of women whose love had run its course and turned cold, or been cast back at them. After all, there were so few people who were really happy, why should she complain because her love could not come to rice and old shoes, instead of being a beautiful secret thing, the more perfect, perhaps, because Commonplace, that ogre whose girth increases from year to year, and who sits remorseless in the dwellings of the united, could not breathe upon it?
Harriet had returned without a cold, and the next morning Emory came in and took her to the Congressional Library, where they had luncheon. He also engaged her masters, and before the week was over she had settled down to steady work.
"She has a wonderful mind, I am positive of that," he said to Betty. "She has made so much out of so few advantages. I shall take the greatest interest in watching a mind like that unfold. What relation is she to us, anyway? I can't make out, for the life of me. There was Cousin Amelia--"
"For heaven's sake, don't ask me to write up the genealogical tree. Didn't I refuse to join the Colonial Dames because it meant raking over the bones of all my ancestors--whom may the Saints rest! Most Southern relationships amount to no relationship at all, and Harriet's is too insignificant to mention."
"Well, I must say it is angelic in you to take her in and shower blessings on her in this way--" "Her father had a great claim on us, but that is a family secret, even from you. Mind you take her tomorrow to see the 'Declaration of Independence' and the portrait of Hamilton."
The days passed very quickly to the end of the session. It was the short term; Congress would adjourn on the fourth of March. Although the great official receptions were over, dinners and luncheons crowded each other as closely as before, for Washington pays little attention to Lent beyond releasing its weary hostesses from weekly reception days, and their callers from an absurd and antiquated custom. Betty went frequently to the gallery on Capitol Hill, and although she sometimes was bored by "business," she seldom heard a dull speech, for the intellectual average of the Senate is very high, and its aptitude and the variety of its information unexcelled. Harriet accompanied her two or three times, but her mind turned naturally to the past and concerned itself little with the present. She found the history of the Roman Empire vastly more entertaining than debates on the Arbitration Treaty.
Betty had recently met a Mrs. Fonda, a handsome widow in the vague thirties, who had that fascination of manner and that brilliant talent for politics which went to make up Miss Madison's ideal of the women with whom tired statesmen spent their leisure hours. She was the daughter of a former distinguished member of the House and the widow of a naval officer, and her life may be said to have been passed in Washington with intervals of Europe. Although the Old Washingtonians knew her not, her position in the kaleidoscope of official society was always brilliant. She professed to have no party politics, but to be profoundly interested in all great questions affecting the nation. During the early winter she had visited Cuba and had announced upon her return that no other subject would command her attention until the United States had exterminated Spanish rule in that unhappy island. She occupied one of the smaller houses in Massachusetts Avenue, and her dining-room seated only ten people with comfort. Betty had heard that as many as nine of her country's chosen men had sat about that board at the same time and decided upon matters of state; and she envied her deeply. As Mrs. Fonda lived with no less than two elderly aunts who wore caps, and was a devout member of St. John's Church, Mrs. Madison, with a sigh, concluded that there was no reason why Betty should not go to her house.
"I suppose she is no worse than the rest," she added. "I prefer people with husbands, but the more you see of this new life the sooner you may get tired of it."
Mrs. Fonda paid Betty marked attention whenever they happened to meet, and upon the last occasion had offered playfully to tell her "all she knew" about politics. "They are engrossing," she added with a sigh, "so engrossing that they have taken the best of my years. A woman should be married and happy, I think, but I have become quite depersonalized. And I really think I have done a little good. You will marry, of course; you are young and so beautiful; but let politics be your second great interest. You will, indeed, never give them up if you let them absorb you for one year, and I am more glad than I can say that you already have gone so far." She then invited Betty to a dinner she was giving, and even made an appointment for an hour's "talk" beforehand; but this appointment Betty was unable to keep, as her mother fell ill for a day or two, and Mrs. Fonda's hour occurred while Mrs. Madison desired to have her hand held.
Betty went to the dinner, however, and expected brilliant and unusual things. Mrs. Fonda, who was tall and dark and distinguished looking, and too wise in her unprotected position to annul the attentions of Time with those artifices which are rather a pity but quite condonable in the married woman, was handsomely dressed in black net embroidered with gold, and received with an aunt on either side of her. Her manner was very fine, and, without any relaxation of the dignity which was an integer of her personality, she made each comer feel the guest of the evening. To Betty she was almost affectionate, and surrounded her with the aunts, who looked at her with such kindly and cordial, albeit sadly patient eyes, that Betty almost loved them.
The dining-room accommodated twelve tonight, and two were not the aunts. Betty wondered if they were picking up crumbs in the pantry. She suspected that Mrs. Fonda was more worldly than she would admit, and that ambition and love of admiration had somewhat to do with her patriotism.
There were four members of the Senate present, two wives of members who had been unable to come, and three eminent Representatives. It was seldom that Mrs. Fonda's invitations were declined, for no man went to her house with the miserable conviction that he was about to eat his twenty-seventh dinner by the same cook. Mrs. Fonda had picked up a woman in Belgium who was a genius.
Betty went in with Senator Burleigh, and they examined the menu together.
"By Jove," he said, "it's even more gorgeous than usual. And did you ever see so many flowers outside of a conservatory?"
The room was a bower of violets and lilies of the valley. The mantelpiece was obliterated, the table looked like a garden, and great bunches of the flowers swung from the ceiling. As what could be seen of the room was green and gold, the effect was very beautiful. The lights were pink, and in this room Mrs. Fonda defied Time and looked so wholly attractive that it was not difficult to fancy her the cause of another war, albeit not its Helen.
But much to Betty's disappointment the conversation, which was always general when that radiant hostess presided, soon wandered from the suffering Cuban and fixed itself interminably about a certain measure which had been agitating Congress for the last four years. It was a measure which demanded an immense appropriation, and so far Senator North had kept it from passing the upper chamber; it was generally understood that it would fare still worse at the hands of the Speaker, did it ever reach the House. These two intractable gentlemen had evidently not been bidden to the feast; but three of the Senators, Betty suddenly observed, were members of the Select Committee for the measure under discussion.
Five courses had come and gone, and still the conversation raged along a tiresome bill that happened to be Betty's pet abomination, the only subject discussed in the Senate that bored her. Mrs. Fonda, in the brightest, most impersonal way, defended the unpopular measure, pointing out the immense advantage the country at large must derive from the success of the bill, and, while appealing to the statesmen gathered at her board to set her right when she made mistakes,--she couldn't be expected to keep up with every bill while her head was full of Cuba,--assailed the weak points in those statesmen's arguments.
"I'm bored to death," muttered Betty, finally. "I wish I hadn't come. You won't talk to me and I can't eat any more."
Burleigh turned to her at once. "I've merely been watching her game," he whispered. "Now, I'm nearly sure."
"What?" asked Betty, interested at once.
"She has given a dinner a week this winter, and there is a rumour that she is spending the money of the syndicate interested in this much desired appropriation. Heretofore, when I have been here, at least, although she has always graciously permitted the subject to come up and has delivered herself of a few trenchant and memorable remarks, this is the first time she has deliberately made it run through an entire dinner; every attempt to turn the conversation has been a sham. She's in the ring for votes, there's no further doubt in my mind on that subject; and she's getting desperate, as it is so near the end of the session."
"Then she is a lobbyist," said Betty, in a tone of deep disgust, and pushing away her plate.
"'Sh! She is too clever to have got herself called that. She has very successfully made the world believe that the great game alone interests her; there never has been a more subtle woman in Washington. During the last two years there has been one of those vague rumours going about that she has lost heavily through certain investments; but one hasn't much time for gossip in Washington, and it is only lately that this other rumour has been in the wind. How long she has been doing this sort of thing, of course no one knows."
"But do you mean to say these other men don't see through her?"
"More than one does, no doubt. If he is against the bill he will be amused, as I am, and probably decline her invitations in the future. If he is for it--and there is a good deal to be said in favour of the bill, only we cannot afford the appropriation at present--he will make her think, as a reward for her excellent dinner, that she has secured his vote. Others may be influenced by having it thrashed out in these luxurious surroundings, so different from the chill simplicity of legislative halls. Those that she may be able to get in love with her, of course will believe nothing that is said of her, and when she travels from the Committees to the more or less indifferent members of both chambers, and gets to work on the nonentities whose convictions can always be readjusted by a clever and pretty woman,--and whose vote is as good as North's or Ward's,--you see just how much she can accomplish."
"And if I have my salon, shall I come under suspicion of being a high-class lobbyist?"
"There is not the slightest danger if you are careful to have only first-rate men, and avoid the temptation to make a pet of any bill. Besides, as I have told you, your position peculiarly fits you for having a salon. No one could question your motive in the beginning, and your tact would protect you always. Don't give up the idea, for its success would mean not only the best political society in the country, but a famous salon would tend to draw art and literature to Washington. And you are just the one woman who could make it famous; and we'd all help you. North would be sure to, his ambition for Washington is so great. He won't put his foot in this house. I never heard him discuss her, but I am convinced that he has seen through her for a long while."
The next day Betty left a card on Mrs. Fonda and struck her from her list; but she carefully secluded her discovery from Mrs. Madison.