Part III
Chapter IX
 

"If you have this war," said Lady Mary Montgomery to Betty, who had come to receive with her on one of her Tuesdays, "it will be strictly constitutional if you look at it in the right way. This is a government of the people, by the people, and for the people, and as the people are practically a unit in their howl for war, they have a right to it, and the responsibility is on their shoulders, not on your few statesmen."

"That is a real gem of feminine logic, but not only is one wise man of more account than ten thousand fools, but a unit is a unit and has no comparative state. The serious men from one end of the country to the other are doing all they can to quell the excitement; so are the few decent newspapers that we possess. But they are dealing with a mob; an excited mob is always mad, and in this case the keepers are not numerous enough for the lunatics. But no one will question that the intelligent keepers are right and the mob wrong. The average intelligence is always shallow, and in electric climates very excitable. We are dealing to-day no less with a huge mob, even if it is not massed and marching, than were the few sane men of the French Revolution. An exciting idea is like a venomous microbe; it bites into the brain, and if circumstances do not occur to expel it, it produces a form of mania. That is the only way I can account for Burleigh's attitude; he is one of the few exceptions. There are thousands of men in the United States whose brains could stand any strain, but there are hundreds of thousands who were born to swell a mob. As for 'government by the people,' that phrase should be translated to-day into 'tyranny of the people.' England under a constitutional monarchy is far freer than we are."

"Well, I am suppressed and will say no more. I suppose I shall have a mob to-day. If anything, people are paying more calls than ever, for they can't stay indoors for twenty-five minutes with no one to talk to. It is getting monotonous. I wish that the President and the Senate would begin to play, but they look as impassive as the statues in the parks."

The rooms filled quickly. By five o'clock the usual crowd was there, and if it had its dowdy battalion as ever, there was no evidence that the more fortunate had lost their interest in dress, despite the warlike state of their nerves. Not that all were for war, by any means. Many were clinging to a forlorn hope, but they could talk of nothing else.

Betty had just listened to the twenty-eighth theory of the cause of the Maine's destruction when she turned in response to a familiar drawl.

"Why, howdy, Miss Madison, I'm real glad to run across you at last."

Betty was so taken aback that she mechanically surrendered her hand to the limp pressure of her former housekeeper. But she was not long recovering herself.

"Miss Trumbull, is it not? I was not aware that you were an acquaintance of Lady Mary Montgomery's."

"Well, I can't say as I know her real intimate yet, but I guess I shall in time, as we're both wives of Congressmen."

"Ah? You are married?" Betty experienced a fleeting desire to see the man who had been captivated by Miss Trumbull.

"Ye--as. I went out West to visit my sister after I left you and was married before I knew it--to Mr. George Washington Mudd. He's real nice, and smart--My! I expect to be in the White House before I die."

"It is among the possibilities, of course. I hope you are happy, and that meanwhile he is able to take care of you comfortably." Mrs. Mudd glistened with black silk and jet, but the cut of her gown was of the Middle West.

"Well, I guess! He's a lawyer and can make two hundred dollars a month any day. Of course I can't set up a house in Washington, but I live at the Ellsmere, and three or four of us Congressional ladies receive together and share carriages. I'll be happy to have you call--the first and third Tuesdays; but we always put it in the Post."

"I have little time for calling. I am very busy in many ways."

"Well, I'm sorry. You don't look as well as you did up in the mountains; you look real tired, come to examine you. But your dresses are always so swell one sees those first. I always did think you had just the prettiest dresses I ever saw."

Betty did not turn her back upon the woman; it was a relief to talk on any subject that stood aloof from war. Mrs. Mudd rambled on.

"I suppose you're engaged to Senator Burleigh by this time? He's our Senator, you know, but I don't know as he's likely to be, long. We want silver, and I guess we've got to have it."

"I suppose you take quite an interest in politics now," said Betty, looking at the woman's large self-satisfied face. So far, matrimony had not been a chastening influence. Mrs. Mudd looked more conceited than ever.

"Well, I guess I always knew as much about them as anybody; and now I'm in politics, I guess the President couldn't give me many points. If he don't declare war soon, I'll go up to the White House and tell him what I think of him."

"Suppose you make a speech from the House Gallery. It is Congress that declares war, not the President."

Mrs. Mudd's face turned the dull red which Betty well remembered. "I guess I know what I'm talking' about. It's the President--"

But Betty's back was upon her, and Betty was listening to the agitated comments of one of the year's debutantes upon the destruction of the Maine.

"Was night ever so welcome before?" thought Betty, as she settled herself between the four posts of her great-aunt's bed, a few hours later. "Here, at least, not an echo of war can penetrate, and if I think of other things that scald my pillow, it is almost a relief."