Senator North by Gertrude Franklin Horn Atherton
Betty Madison arrived in Washington two days before Christmas, with the sensation of having lived through several life-times since Lady Mary's car had left the Pennsylvania station on the fourteenth of March; she half expected to see several new public buildings, and she found herself wondering if her old friends were much changed.
People capable of the deepest and most enduring impressions often receive these impressions upon apparently shallow waters. They feel the blow, but it skims the surface at the moment, to choose its place and sink slowly, surely, into the thinking brain.
Betty's immediate attitude toward the tragic fact of Harriet's death was almost spectacular. She felt herself the central figure in a thrilling and awful drama, its horror stifling for a moment the hope that the man whose footsteps followed closely upon that tramping of heavy feet would fulfil his promise and take her in his arms. And when he did her sense of personal responsibility left her, as well as her clearer comprehension of what had happened to bring about this climax so long and so ardently desired.
But she had not seen Senator North since the day following the funeral. Mrs. Madison had announced with emphasis that she had had as much as she could stand and would not remain another day in the Adirondacks; she wanted Narragansett and the light and agreeable society of many Southern friends who did not have frequent tragedies in their families. Betty telegraphed for rooms at one of the large hotels at the Pier, and thereafter had the satisfaction of seeing her mother gossip contentedly for hours with other ladies of lineage and ante-bellum reminiscences, or sit with even deeper contentment for intermediate hours upon the veranda of the Casino. When she herself was bored beyond endurance, she crossed the bay and lunched or dined in Newport, where she had many friends; and she spent much time on horseback. When the season was over, they paid a round of visits to country houses, and finished with the few weeks in New York necessary for the replenishment of Miss Madison's wardrobe. She had hoped to reach Washington for the opening of Congress, but her mother had been ill, prolonging the last visit a fortnight, and gowns must be consulted upon, fitted and altered did the world itself stand still. And this was the one period of mental rest that Betty had experienced since her parting from Senator North.
She had been much with people during these five months, seeking and finding little solitude, and few had found any change in her beyond a deeper shade of indifference and more infrequent flashes of humour. She permitted men to amuse her if she did not amuse them, to all out- door sports she was faithful, and she read the new books and talked intelligently of the fashions. When the conversation swung with the precision of a pendulum from clothes and love to war with Spain, her mind leapt at once to action, and she argued every advocate of war into a state of fury. She had responded heavily to the President's appeal in behalf of the reconcentrados, but her mind was no longer divided. The failure of the belligerency resolutions to reach the attention of the House during the Extra Session of Congress had rekindled the war fever in the country; and the constant chatter about the suffering Cuban and the duty of the United States, the black iniquity of the Speaker and the timidity of the President, were wearying to the more evenly balanced members of the community. "You say that we need a war," said Betty contemptuously one day, "that it will shake us up and do us good. If we had fallen as low as that, no war could lift us, certainly not the act of bullying a small country, of rushing into a war with the absolute certainty of success. But we need no war. American manhood is where it always has been and always will be until we reach that pitch of universal luxury and sloth and vice which extinguished Rome. Those commercial and financial pursuits should make a man less a man is the very acme of absurdity. If our men were drawn into a righteous war to-morrow or a hundred years hence, they would fight to the glory of their country and their own honour. But if they swagger out to whip a decrepit and wheezy old man, when the excitement is over they will wish that the whole episode could be buried in oblivion. And I would be willing to wager anything you like that if this war does come off, so false is its sentiment that it will not inspire one great patriotic poem, nor even one of merit, and that the only thing you will accomplish will be to drag Cuba from the relaxing clutches of one tyrant and fling her to a horde of politicians and greedy capitalists."
But, except when politics possessed it, her brain seldom ceased, no matter how crowded her environment, from pondering on the events of the summer, and pondering, it sobered and grew older. She had engaged in a conflict with the Unseen Forces of life and been conquered. She had been obliged to stand by and see these forces work their will upon a helpless being, who carried in solution the vices of civilizations and men persisting to their logical climax, almost demanding aloud the sacrifice of the victim to death that this portion of themselves might be buried with her. Despite her intelligence, nothing else could have given her so clear a realization of the eternal persistence of all acts, of the sequential symmetrical links they forge in the great chain of Circumstance. It was this that made her hope more eager that the United States would be guided by its statesmen and not by hysteria, and it was this that made her think deeply and constantly upon her future relation with Senator North.
The danger was as great as ever. Her brain had sobered, but her heart had not. Separation and the absence of all communication--they had agreed not to correspond--had strengthened and intensified a love that had been half quiescent so long as its superficial wants were gratified. Troubled times were coming when he would need her, would seek her whenever he could, and yet when their meetings must be short and unsatisfactory. When hours are no longer possible, minutes become precious, and the more precious the more dangerous. If she were older, if tragedy and thought had sobered and matured her character, if she were deprived of the protection of the lighter moods of her mind, would not the danger be greater still? The childish remnant upon which she had instinctively relied had gone out of her, she had a deeper and grimmer knowledge of what life would be without the man who had conquered her through her highest ideals and most imperious needs; and of what it would be with him.
She had no intention of making a problem out of the matter, constantly as her mind dwelt upon the future. Senator North had told her once that problems fled when the time for action began. She supposed that one of two things would happen after her return to Washington: great events would absorb his mind and leave him with neither the desire nor the time for more than an occasional friendly hour with her; or after a conscientious attempt to take up their relationship on the old lines and give each other the companionship both needed, all intercourse would abruptly cease.