Senator North by Gertrude Franklin Horn Atherton
Betty had organized a picnic for the following day, inviting several acquaintances from the hotel; and they all drove to a favourite spot in the forest. Mrs. Madison's maid had charge of many cushions, and disposed her tiny mistress--who looked like a wood fairy in lilac mull--comfortably on a bed of pine needles. Major Carter felt young once more as he grilled steaks at a camp-fire, and Harriet enchanted him with her rapt attention while his memory rioted in deeds of war.
Senator Burleigh had never appeared so well, Betty thought. There was an out-of-door atmosphere about him at any time; no doubt he had been a mighty wind in the Senate more than once during the stormy passage of the Tariff Bill; but with all out-doors around him he looked nothing less than a mountain king. His large well-knit frame, full of strength and energy, was at its triumphant best in outing tweeds and Scotch stockings; his fair handsome face was boyish, despite its almost fierce determination, as he pranced about, intoxicated with the mountain air.
"If you ever had spent one summer in Washington, you would understand," he said to Betty. "This is where I'd like to spend the rest of my life. I'd like to think I'd never see a city or the inside of a house again."
"Then you'd probably hew down the forest, which would be a loss to the State: you would have to do something with your superfluous energy. And what would you do with your brain? Mere reading, when your arm ached from chopping, never would content you."
"No, that is the worst of civilization. It either produces discontented savages like myself or goes too far and turns the whole body into brain. I have managed to get a sort of steam-engine into my head which gives me little rest and would wear out my body if I didn't happen to have the constitution of a buffalo. But I doubt if I shall be what North is, sixteen years hence. That man is the best example of equilibrium I have ever seen. His mental activity is enormous, but his control over himself is so absolute that he never wastes an ounce of force. I've seen him look as fresh at the end of a long day of debate as he was when he got on his feet. He never lets go of himself for a moment."
That was the only time Betty heard Senator North's name mentioned during Burleigh's visit, for the younger man was much more interested in himself and the object of his holiday.
"I think if it hadn't been for this Extra Session I should have followed you to California," he said abruptly. "I didn't know how much I depended for my entire happiness upon my frequent visits to your house until I came back after the short vacation and found you gone."
"It would have been jolly to have had you in California. But you must feel that your time has not been thrown away. Are you satisfied with the Tariff Bill?"
"I liked it fairly well as we re-wrote it, but I don't expect to care much about it after it comes out of conference. But there are no politics in the Adirondacks, and when a weary Senator is looking at a woman in a pale green muslin--"
"You look anything but weary. I expect you will tramp over half the Adirondacks before you go back. And I am sure you will eat one of those beefsteaks. Come, they are ready."
But although she managed to seat him between Sally Carter and an extremely pretty girl, he was at her side again the moment the gay party began to split into couples.
"Will you come for a walk?" he asked. "I do want to roam about on the old trails the Indians made, and to get away from these hideous emblems of modern civilization--sailor hats. Thank heaven you don't wear a sailor hat."
Betty shot a peremptory glance at Sally Carter, who nodded and started to follow with a small dark attache who had pursued herself and her million for five determined years. He was titled if not noble, a clever operator of a small brain, and a high-priest of teas. He knew the personnel of Washington Society so thoroughly that he never had been known to waste a solitary moment on a portion-less girl, and he had successfully cultivated every art that could commend him to the imperious favourites of fortune. Betty Madison had disposed of him in short order, but Miss Carter, although she refused him periodically, allowed him to hang on, for he amused her and read her favourite authors. They had not walked far when he seized the picturesque opportunity to press his suit, and Miss Carter, while scolding him soundly, forgot the rapid walkers in front.
Betty, as she tramped along beside the large swinging presence the forest seemed to embrace as its own, wondered why she did not love him, wondered if she should, had she never met the other man. Doubtless, for he possessed all the attributes of the conquering hero, and she would have excavated the ideals of her romantic girlhood, brushed and re-cut their garments, and then deliberately set fire to her imagination. If the responsive spark had held sullenly aloof, awaiting its time, she, knowing nothing of its existence, would soon have ceased to remember the half-conscious labours of the initial stage of her affections, and doubtless would have married this fine specimen of American manhood, and been happy enough. But the responsive spark had struck, and illumined the deepest recesses of her heart in time to burn contempt into any effort of her brain, now or hereafter. The question did assail her--as Burleigh talked of his summer outings among the stupendous mountains of his chosen State-- could she turn to him in time were she suddenly and permanently separated from the other? She shook her head in resentment at the treasonable thought; but her brain had received every advantage of the higher civilization for twenty-seven years, and worked by itself. She was young and she had much to give; in consequence, much to receive. She could find the highest with one man only, for with him alone would her imagination do its final work. But Nature is inexorable. She commands union; and as the years went by and one memory grew dimmer-- who knew? But the thought gave her a moment of sadness so profound that she ceased to hear the voice of the man beside her. She had had moments of deep insight before, and again she stared down into the depths where so many women's agonized memories lie buried. She suddenly felt a warm clasp round her hand, and for a second responded to it gratefully, for hers had turned cold. Then she realized that she was in the present, and withdrew her hand hurriedly.
"Forgive me," he said. "I simply couldn't help it. I could in Washington, and I felt that I must wait. But up here--I want to marry you. You know that, do you not?"
Betty glanced over her shoulder. There was to be no interruption. She was mistress of herself at once.
"I cannot marry you," she said. "I almost wish I could, but I cannot."
He swung into the middle of the path and stood still, looking down upon her squarely. There was nothing of the suppliant in his attitude. He looked unconquerable.
"I did not expect to win you in a moment," he said. "I should not have expected it if I had waited another year. I knew from the beginning that it would be hard work, for if a woman does not love at once it takes a long time to teach her what love is. I have tried to make you like me, and I think I have succeeded. That is all I can hope for now. You have been surfeited and satiated with admiration, and you regard all men as having been born to burn incense before you. I love you for that too. I should hate a woman who even had it in her to love a man out of gratitude. You have your world at your feet, and I want mine at my feet. You have won yours without effort, for you were born with the crown and sceptre of fascination, I have to fight for mine. But the same instinct is in us both, the same possibilities on different lines. I am not making you the broken passionate appeal of the usual lover, because so long as I know you do not love me I could not place myself at the mercy of emotion--I have no thought of making a fool of myself. But when I do win you--then--ah! that will be another matter."
She shook her head, but smiling, for she never had liked and admired him more. She knew of what passion he was capable, and how absurd he would have looked if lashed by it while her cool eyes looked on. His self-control made him magnificent.
"I never shall marry," she said, and then laughed, in spite of herself, at the world-old formula. Burleigh laughed also.
"There isn't time enough left before chaos comes again to argue with a woman a question which means absolutely nothing. I am going to marry you. I have accomplished everything big I have ever strived for. I never have wanted to marry any other woman, and I want to marry you more than I wanted to become a Senator of the United States. Nothing could discourage me unless I thought you loved another man, but so far as I can see there is no other suitor in the field. You appear to have refused every proposing man in Washington. Is there any one on the other side?" he asked anxiously.
"No one. I have no suitor beside yourself; but--"
"I don't understand that word, any more than I understand the word 'fail,'" he said in his rapid truculent tones. Then he added more gently: "I am afraid you think I should be a tyrant, but no one would tyrannize over you, for you are any man's equal, and he never would forget it. I could not love a fool. I want a mate. And I should love you so much that I never should cease atoning for my fractious and other unpleasant qualities--"
"You have none! I cannot do less than tell you I think you are one of the finest men this country has produced, and that I am as proud of you as she will be--"
"Let me interrupt you before you say 'but.' That I have won so high an opinion from you gives me the deepest possible gratification. But I want much more than that. Let us go on with our walk. I'll say no more at present."