Senator North by Gertrude Franklin Horn Atherton
As soon as Betty awoke the next morning, she turned her mind to the events of the night before. Unlike most occasions eagerly anticipated, it had contained no disappointment; she had, indeed, been pleasurably surprised, for despite her strong common-sense the dark picture of corruption and objectionable toilet accessories had made its impression upon her. She foresaw much amusement in witnessing the unwilling surrender of her mother to even Senator Shattuc, him of the political beard. As for Senator Burleigh, she would yield to his magnetism and power of compelling interest in himself, while pronouncing his manners too abrupt and his personality too "Western." And if he admired intelligently the old lace which she always wore at her throat and wrists and on her pretty head, she would confess that there might be exceptions even to political rules.
But somewhat to Betty's surprise it was not of Senator Burleigh that she thought most, although she had talked with him for two hours and pronounced him charming. She had talked with Senator North for exactly six minutes, but she saw his face more distinctly than Burleigh's and retained his voice in her ear. He had not paid her a compliment, but his manner had expressed that she interested him and that he thought her worth meeting. For the first time in her life Betty felt flattered by the admiration of a man; and she had held her own with more than one of distinction on the other side. Even royalty had not fluttered her, but she conceived an eager desire to make this man think well of her. It irritated her to remember that she could have made no mental impression on him whatever. She became uncheerful, and reflected that the subtle flattery in his manner was probably a mere habit; Lady Mary had intimated that he liked women and had loved several. Well, she cared nothing about that; he was thirty years older than herself and married; but she admired him and wished for his good opinion and to hear him talk. Doubtless they soon would meet again, and if they were left in conversation for a decent length of time she would ask him to call. She cast about in her mind for a subterfuge which would justify a note, but she could think of none, and was too worldly-wise to evoke a smile from the depths of a man's conceit.
Her mother refused to bid her good-by when, accompanied by her maid, she started for the Capitol at twenty minutes to three. A few moments later she found herself admiring for the first time the big stately building on the hill at the end of Pennsylvania Avenue. She always had thought Washington a beautiful city, with its wide quiet avenues set thick with trees, its graceful parks, each with a statue of some man gratefully remembered by the Republic, but she had given little heed to its public buildings and their significance. As she approached the great white Capitol, she experienced a sudden thrill of that historical sense which, after its awakening, dominates so actively the large intelligence. The Capitol symbolized the greatness of the young nation; all the famous American statesmen after the first group had moved and made their reputations within its walls. All laws affecting the nation came out of it, and the Judges of the Supreme Court sat there. And of its kind there was none other in the civilized world, had been but one other since the world began.
The historic building shed an added lustre upon Senator Burleigh; but it was of Senator North that she thought most as she half rose in the Victoria and scanned the long sweep. The cleverest of women cannot class with anything like precision the man who has stamped himself into her imagination. Betty knew that there were six men in the Senate who ranked as equals; their quiet epoch gave them little chance to discover latent genius other than for constructive legislation; nevertheless she arbitrarily conceived the Capitol to-day as the great setting for one man only; and the building and the man became one in her imagination henceforth. The truth was that Betty, being greatly endowed for loving and finding that all men fell short of her high standard, was forced to seek companionship in an ideal. She had had several loves in history, but had come to the conclusion some years since that dead men were unsatisfactory. Since then she had fancied mightily one or two public men on the other side, whom she had never met; but in time they had bored or disappointed her. But here was a conspicuous figure in her own country, appealing to her through the powerful medium of patriotic pride; a man so much alive that he might at any moment hold the destinies of the United States in his hands, and who, owing to his years and impenetrable dignity, was not to be considered from the ordinary view-point of woman. She would coquet with Senator Burleigh; it was on the cards that she would love him, for he was brilliant, ambitious, and honourable; but Senator North was exalted to the vacant pedestal reserved for ideals, and Betty settled herself comfortably to his worship; not guessing that he would be under her memory's dust-heap in ten days if Senator Burleigh captured her heart.
The coachman was directed by a policeman to the covered portico of the Senate wing. Betty had a bare glimpse of corridors apparently interminable, before another policeman put her into the elevator and told her to get off when the boy said "Gallery."
Senator Burleigh was waiting for her, and she thought him even manlier and more imposing in his gray tweed than in evening dress. He shook her hand heartily, and assured her in his abrupt dictatorial way that it gave him the greatest pleasure to meet her again.
"I'm sorry I haven't time to take you all over the building," he said," but I have two Committee meetings this afternoon. You must come down some morning."
His manner was very businesslike, and he seemed a trifle absent as he paused a moment and called her attention to the daub illustrating the Electoral Commission; but this, Betty assumed, was the senatorial manner by day. In a moment he led her to one of the doors in the wall that encloses the Senate Gallery.
"You see this lady," he said peremptorily to the doorkeeper, who rose hastily from his chair. "She is always to be admitted to this gallery. Take a good look at her."
"Yes, sir; member of your family, I presume?"
"You can assume that she is my sister. Only see that you admit her."
"The rules are very strict in regard to this gallery," he added, as he closed the door behind them. "It is only for the families of the Senators, but you will like it better than the reserved gallery. Send for me if there should be trouble at any time about admittance."
"I usually get where I wish! I sha'n't trouble you."
"Don't you ever think twice about troubling me," he said. "Let us go down to the front row."
The galleries surrounding the great Chamber were almost dark under the flat roof, but the space below was full of light. It looked very sumptuous with its ninety desks and easy-chairs, and a big fire beyond an open door; and very legislative with its president elevated above the Senators and the row of clerks beneath him. There were perhaps thirty Senators in the room, and they were talking in groups or couples, reading newspapers, or writing letters. One Senator was making a speech.
"I don't think they are very polite," said Betty. "Why don't they listen? He seems to be in earnest and speaks very nicely." "Oh, he is talking to his constituents, not to the Senate--although he would be quite pleased if it would listen to him. He does not amount to much. We listen to each other when it is worth while; but this is a Club, Miss Madison, the most delightful Club in the United States. Just beyond are the cloakrooms, where we can lounge before the fire and smoke, or lie down and go to sleep. The hard work is in the Committee rooms, and it is hard enough to justify all the pleasure we can get out of the other side of the life. Now, I'll tell you who these are and something about them."
He pointed out one after the other in his quick businesslike way, rattling off biographical details; but Betty, feeling that she was getting but a mass of impressions with many heads, interrupted him.
"I don't see Senator North," she said. "I thought he was going to speak."
"He will, later. He is in his Committee room now, but he'll go down as soon as a page takes him word that the clerk is about to read the bill whose Committee amendments he is sure to object to. Now I must go. I shall give myself the pleasure of calling a week from Sunday. You must come often, and always come here. And let me give you two pieces of advice: never bow to any Senator from up here, and never go to the Marble Room and send in a card. Then you can come every day without attracting attention. Good-bye."
Betty thanked him, and he departed. For the next hour she found the proceedings very dull. The unregarded Senator finished his speech and retired behind a newspaper. Other members clapped their hands, and the pages scampered down the gangways and carried back documents to the clerk below the Vice-President's chair, while their senders made a few remarks meaningless to Betty. Two or three delivered brief speeches which were equally unintelligible to one not acquainted with current legislation. During one of them a man of imposing appearance entered and was apparently congratulated by almost every one in the room, the Senators leaving their seats and coming to the middle aisle, where he stood, to shake him by the hand. Betty felt sorry for Leontine, who was on the verge of tears, but determined to remain until Senator North appeared if she did not leave until it should be time to dress for dinner.
He entered finally and went straight to his desk. He looked preoccupied, and began writing at once. In a few moments the clerk commenced to read from a document, and Senator North laid aside his pen and listened attentively. So did several other Senators. It was a very long document, and Betty, who could not understand one word in ten as delivered by the clerk's rumbling monotonous voice, was desperately bored, and was glad her Senators had the solace of the cloak-rooms. Several did in fact retire to them, but when the clerk sat down and Senator North rose, they returned; and Betty felt a personal pride in the fact that they were about to listen to the Senator whom herself had elected to honour.
She had to lean forward and strain her ears to hear him. It was evident that he did not recognize the existence of the gallery, for he did not raise his voice from beginning to end; and yet it was of that strong rich quality that might have carried far. But it neither "rang out like a clarion," nor "thundered imprecation." Neither did he utter an impassioned phrase nor waste a word, but he denounced the bill as a party measure, exposed its weak points, riddled it with sarcasm, and piled up damaging evidence of partisan zeal. "This is an honourable body," he concluded, "and few measures go out of it that are open to serious criticism by the self-constituted guardians of legislative virtue, but if this bill goes through the Senate we shall invite from the thinking people of the country the same sort of criticism which we now receive from the ignorant. If the high standard of this body is to be maintained, it must be by sound and conservative legislation, not by grovelling to future legislatures."
Having administered this final slap, he sat down and began writing again, apparently paying no attention to the Chairman of the bill, who defended his measure with eloquence and vigour. It was a good speech, but it contained more words than the one that had provoked it and fewer points. Senator North replied briefly that the only chance for the bill was for its father to refrain from calling attention to its weak points, then went into the Republican cloak-room, presumably to smoke a cigar. Betty, whose head ached, went home.