Part III
Chapter XI
 

If the reception at the White House had been calm, Betty's salon on the following evening was not. On Tuesday the House, after duly relieving its feelings by an hour and a half of war talk, flaming with every variety of patriotism, passed the bill appropriating $50,000,000 for the national defence. On Wednesday the bill passed the Senate without a word beyond the "ayes" of its members. On the morrow the War Department would begin the mobilization of the army; and although the Maine Court of Inquiry had not completed its labours, the New York World, in the interest of curious humanity, had instituted a submarine inquiry of its own and given the result to the country. Even Senator North regarded war as almost inevitable, although the controvertible proof of explosion from without only involved the Spanish by inference.

The women who were privileged to attend the now famous salon wore their freshest and most becoming gowns, and most of the Senators would have been glad to have frivoled away the evening in compliments, so refreshing was the sight of an attractive face after a long and anxious day. But the eyes of the women sparkled with patriotic fire only. One burst into tears and others threatened hysterics, but got through the evening comfortably. Mrs. Madison sat on a sofa and fanned herself nervously; Senator Maxwell and Senator North at her request kept close to her side.

"They were not so excited during the Civil War," she exclaimed, as a shrill voice smote her ear. "I suppose we have developed more nerves or something."

"The mind was possessed by the Grim Fact during the Civil War," said Senator Maxwell. "This is a second-rate thing that appeals to the nerves and not to the soul."

Betty, who understood the patient longing of her statesmen for variety, had imported for the evening several members of the troupe singing at the Metropolitan Opera House. Conversation consequently was interrupted six or seven times, but it burst forth with increased vigour at the end of every song; and when the Polish tenor with mistaken affability sang "The Star Spangled Banner," the women and some of the younger men took it up with such vehemence that Mrs. Madison put her fingers to her ears. When one girl jumped on a chair and waved her handkerchief, which she had painted red, white, and blue, the unwilling hostess asked Senator North if he thought Betty would be able to keep her head till the end of the evening, or would be excited to some extraordinary antic.

"There is not the least danger," he replied soothingly. "Miss Madison could manage to look impassive if a cyclone were raging within her. It is a long while since the Americans have had a chance to be excited. You must make allowances."

Betty for some time had suppressed her Populist with difficulty. He was one of those Americans to whom a keen thin face and a fair education give the superficial appearance of refinement. In a country as democratic as the United States and where schooling and intelligence are so widespread, it is possible for many half-bred men to create a good impression when in an equable frame of mind. But excitement tears their thin coat of gentility in twain, and Betty already regretted having invited Armstrong to her salon. He had not missed a Thursday evening, for he not only appreciated the social advantage of a footing in such a house, but his clever mind enjoyed the conversation there, and the frankly expressed opinions of well- bred people who argued without acerbity and never called each other names. With his slender well-dressed figure and bright fair sharply cut face, he by no means looked an alien, and if he could have corrected the habit of contradicting people up and down--to say nothing of his occasional indulgence in the Congressional snort--his manners would have passed muster in any gathering. He was a good specimen of the ambitious American of obscure birth and clever but shallow brain, quick to seize every opportunity for advancement. But politics were his strongest instinct, and exciting crises stifled every other.

He was very much excited to-night, for he had, during the afternoon, tried three times to bring in a war resolution, and thrice been extinguished by the Speaker. When the tenor started "The Star-Spangled Banner," he braced himself against the wall and sang at the top of his lungs; and the performance seemed to lash his temper rather than relieve it. He twice raised his voice to unburden his mind, and was distracted by Betty, who kept him close beside her. Finally she attempted to change the subject by chatting of personal matters.

"I went to the White House last night," she said, "and was delighted to find that the President had the most charming manners--"

"What's a manner?" interrupted Armstrong, roughly. "You women are all alike. I suppose you'd turn up your nose at William J. Bryan because he ain't what you call a gentleman. But if he were in the White House instead of that milk-and-water puppet of Wall Street, we'd be shooting those murderers down in Cuba as we ought to be. The President and the whole Republican party," he shouted, "are a lot of hogs who've chawed so much gold their digestion won't work and their brains are torpid; and there's nothing to do but to kick them into this war--the whole greedy, white-livered, Trust-owned, thieving lot of them, including that great immaculate Joss up at the White House with his manners. Damn his manners! They come too high--"

"Armstrong," said Burleigh soothingly, but with a glint in his eye, "I have an important communication to make to you. Will you come out into the hall a moment?" He passed his arm through the Populist's, and led him unresistingly away.

Betty glanced at her mother. Mrs. Madison was fanning herself with an air of profound satisfaction. As she met her daughter's eyes, she raised her brows, and her whole being breathed the content of the successful prophetess. Senator North looked grimly amused. Betty turned away hastily. She felt much like laughing, herself.

Burleigh returned alone. "I took the liberty of telling him to go and not to come again," he said. "That sort of man never apologizes, so you are rid of him."

Betty smiled and thanked him; then she frowned a little, for she saw several people glance significantly at each other. She knew that Washington took it for granted she would marry Burleigh.

They went in to supper a few moments later, and in that admirable meal the weary statesmen found the solace that woman denied him. And the flowers were fragrant; the candlelight was grateful to tired eyes, and the champagne unrivalled. Until the toasts--which in this agitated time had become a necessary feature of the salon--the conversation, under the tactful management of Betty and several of her friends, and the diverting influence of the great singers, was but a subdued hum about nothing in particular. When at the end of an hour Burleigh rose impulsively and proposed the health of the President, even the Democrats responded with as much warmth as courtesy.

"You manage your belligerents very well," said Senator North, when he shook her hand awhile later. "Yours has probably been the only amiable supper-room in Washington to-night."