Senator North by Gertrude Franklin Horn Atherton
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.