Senator North by Gertrude Franklin Horn Atherton
Betty was determined that Saturday and Sunday should be her own, free of care. She sent Emory to New York to talk over an investment with her man of business, and she provided her mother with eight new novels. As Harriet loved the novel only less than she loved the studies which furnished her ambitious mind, Betty knew that she would read aloud all day without complaint. Miss Trumbull, of whom she had seen little of late, and who had looked sullen and haughty since Harriet with untactful abruptness had placed her at arm's length, she requested to superintend in person the cleaning of the lower rooms.
Her mind being at rest, she arose at four on the morning of Saturday. She rowed across the lake this time and picked up Senator North about a half-mile from the hotel. His hands were full of fishing-tackle.
"Will you take me fishing?" he said. "Can you give me the whole morning? I hear there is better fishing in the lake above, and a farmhouse where we can get breakfast. Do you know the way?"
She nodded, and he took the oars from her and rowed up the lake.
"My wife always sleeps until noon," he said. "We can have seven hours if you will give them to me."
"Of course I'll give them to you. I may as well admit that I intended to have them. I made an elaborate disposition of my household to that end."
They were smiling at each other, and both looked happy and free of desire for anything but seven long hours of pleasant companionship. The morning, bright and full of sound, mated itself with the superficial moods of man, and was not cast for love-making.
"Well, what have you been doing?" he asked. "I have had you in a permanent and most refreshing vision, floating up and down this lake, or flitting through the forest, in that white frock. I know that Burleigh was here--"
"I did not wear white for him."
"Ah! He has looked very vague, not to say mooning, since his return. I am thankful he is not seeing you exactly as I do. How is the lady of the shadows?"
"Sally's Southern gorge rose so high, after she discovered the taint, that she left precipitately. She couldn't sit at the table with even a hidden drop of negro blood."
"You Southerners will solve the negro problem by inspiring the entire race with an irresistible desire to cut its throat. If a tidal wave would wash Ireland out of existence and the blacks in this country would dispose of themselves, how happy we all should be! What else have you been doing?"
"I have read the Congressional Record every day, and the Federalist and State papers of Hamilton; to say nothing of the monographs in the American Statesmen Series. Mr. Burleigh insisted that I must acquire the national sense, and I have acquired it to such an extent that half the time I don't know whether I am living in history or out of it. Even the Record makes me feel impersonal, and as 'national' as Mr. Burleigh could wish."
"Burleigh intends that his State shall be proud of you."
Betty flushed. "Don't prophesy, even in fun. I believe I am superstitious. His idea is that politics are to become a sort of second nature with me before I start my salon--Why do you smile cynically? Don't you think I can have a salon?" "You might build up one in the course of ten years if you devoted your whole mind to it and made no mistakes; nothing is impossible. But for a long while you merely will find yourself entertaining a lot of men who want to talk on any subject but politics after they have turned their backs on Capitol Hill. They will be extremely grateful if you will provide them with some lively music, a reasonable amount of punch, and an unlimited number of pretty and entertaining women. But don't expect them to invite you down the winding ways of their brains to the cupboards where they have hung up their great thoughts for the night. I do not even see them standing in groups of three, their right hands thrust under their coat fronts, gravely muttering at each other. I see them invariably doing their poor best to make some pretty woman forget they could be bores if they were not vigilant."
"The pretty women I shall ask will not think them bores. The thing to do at first, of course, is to get them there."
"Oh, there will be no difficulty about that. Why do you want a salon? Are you ambitious?"
Betty nodded. "Yes, I think I am. At first I only wanted a new experience. Now that I have met so many men with careers, I want one too. If I succeed, I shall be the most famous woman in America."
"You certainly would be. Very well, I will do all I can to help you. It is possible, as I said. And you have many qualifications--"
"Ah!" Betty's face lit up. "If there is war with Spain, they will talk of nothing else--Don't frown so at me. I'm sure I don't want a war if you don't. Those are my politics. Here is the water lane between the two lakes. I almost had forgotten it. I hope it isn't overgrown."
She spoke lightly, but more truly than she was wholly willing to admit. Women see political questions, as they see all life, through the eyes of some man. If he is not their lover, he is a public character for whom they have a pleasing sentiment.
Senator North pulled into the long winding lane of water in a cleft of the mountains. It was dark and chill here they were in the heart of the forest; they had but to turn their heads to look straight into the long vistas, heavy with silence and shadows.
He rowed for some moments without speaking. He felt their profound and picturesque isolation, and had no desire to break the spell of it. She recalled her wish that the Adirondacks would swing off into space, but smiled: she was too happy in the mere presence of the man to wish for anything more. He let his eyes meet hers and linger in their depths, and when he smiled at the end of that long communion it was with tenderness. But when he spoke he addressed himself to her mind alone.
"No, you must not wish for war with Spain. If we ever are placed in a position where patriotism commands war, I shall be the last to oppose it. If England had not behaved with her calm good sense at the time of the Venezuela difficulty, but had taken our jingoes seriously and returned their insults, we should have had no alternative but war,-- the serious and conservative of the country would have had to suffer from the errors of its fools, as is often the case. But for this war there would be no possible excuse. Spain at one time owned nearly two- thirds of the earth's surface. She has lost every inch of it, except the Peninsula and a few islands, by her cruelty and stupidity. Her manifest destiny is to lose these islands in the same manner and for the same reasons. And brutal and stupid as she is, we have no more right to interfere in her domestic affairs than had Europe to interfere in ours when we were torn by a struggle that had a far greater effect on the progress of civilization than the trouble between dissatisfied colonists and decadent Spaniards in this petty island. God only knows how many intellects went out on those battlefields in the four years of the Civil War, which, had they persisted and developed, would have added to the legislative wisdom of this country. We knew what we were losing, knew that the longer the struggle lasted the longer would our growth as a nation be retarded, and the horrors of our battlefields were quite as ghastly as anything set forth in the reports from Cuba. And yet every thinking man among us, young and old, turned cold with apprehension when we were threatened with a European interference which would have dishonoured us. That Spain is behaving with wanton brutality would not be to the point, even if the reports were not exaggerated, which they are,--for the matter of that, the Cubans are equally brutal when they find the opportunity. The point is that it is none of our business. The Cubans have rebelled. They must take the consequences, sustained by the certainty of success in the end. Moreover, we not only are on friendly terms with Spain, we not only have no personal grievance as a nation against her, but we are a great nation, she is a weak one. We have no moral right, we a lusty young country, to humiliate a proud and ancient kingdom, expose the weaknesses and diseases of her old age to the unpitying eyes of the world. It would be a despicable and a cowardly act, and it horrifies me to think that the United States could be capable of it. For Spain I care nothing. The sooner she dies of her own rottenness the better; but let her die a natural death. My concern is for my own country. I don't want her to violate those fundamental principles to whose adherence alone she can hope to reach the highest pitch of development."
Betty smiled. "Mr. Burleigh says that Washington had a brain of ice, and that his ideal of American prosperity was frozen within it. I suppose he would say the same of you."
"I have not a brain of ice. I know that the only hope for this Republic is to anchor itself to conservatism. The splits in the Democratic party have generated enough policies to run several virile young nations on the rocks. The Populist is so eager to help the farmer that he is indifferent to national dishonour. The riff-raff in the House is discouraging. The House ought to be a training-school for the Senate. It is a forum for excitable amateurs. The New England Senators are almost the only ones with a long--or any--record in the House."
"They are bright, most of those Representatives--even the woolly ones; as quick as lightning."
"Oh, yes, they are bright," he said contemptuously. "The average American is bright. If one prefixes no stronger adjective than that to his name, he accomplishes very little in life. Don't think me a pessimist," he added, smiling. "All over the country the Schools and colleges are instilling the principles of conservatism and practical politics on the old lines, and therein lies hope. I feel sure I shall live to see the Republic safely past the dangers that threaten it now. The war with Spain is the worst of these. No war finishes without far- reaching results, and the conscience of a country, like the conscience of a man, may be too severely tried. If we whip Spain--the 'if,' of course, is a euphemism--we not only shall be tempted to do things that are unconstitutional, but we are more than liable to make a laughing- stock of the Monroe doctrine. For reasons I am not going into this beautiful summer morning, with fish waiting to be caught, we are liable to be landed in foreign waters with all Europe as our enemy and our second-rate statesmen at home pleading for a new Constitution-- which would mean a new United States and unimaginable and interminable difficulties. Have I said enough to make you understand why I think we owe a higher duty to a country that should and could be greater than it is, than even to two hundred thousand Cubans whom we should but starve the faster if we hemmed them in? Very well, if you will kindly bait that hook I will see what I can get. The rest of the world may sink, for all I care this morning."
They had entered another lake, smaller and even wilder in its surroundings, for there was no sign of habitation.
"Few people know of this lake, I am told," said Senator North, contentedly; "and we are unlikely to see a living soul for hours, except while we are discovering that farmhouse. Are you hungry?"
"Yes, but catch a lot of fish before we go to the farmhouse--I know where it is--for I detest bread and milk and eggs."
The fish were abundant, and he had filled his basket at the end of an hour. Then they tied up their boat and went in search of the farmhouse. It was a poor affair, but a good-natured woman fried their fish and contributed potatoes they could eat. Betty was rattling on in her gayest spirits, when her glance happened to light on a photograph in a straw frame. She half rose to her feet, then sank back in her chair with a frown of annoyance.
"What is it?" he asked anxiously.
"A photograph of my housekeeper, a woman who is all curiosity where her brain ought to be."
"Well, it is only her photograph, not herself, and this woman does not know my name. You are not to bother about anything this morning."
They went back to the lake. He caught another basket of fish, and then they floated about idly, sometimes silent, sometimes talking in a desultory way about many things that interested them both. Betty wondered where he had found time to read and think so much on subjects that belong to the literary wing of the brain and have nothing to do with the vast subjects of politics and statesmanship, of which he was so complete a master. She recalled what her mother had said about her brain being her worst enemy when she fell in love. It certainly made her love this man more profoundly and passionately, for her own was of that high quality which demanded a greater to worship. And if she loved the man it was because his whole virile magnetic being was the outward and visible expression of the mind that informed it. It was almost noon when they parted, pleased with themselves and with life. They agreed to meet again on the following morning.