Senator North by Gertrude Franklin Horn Atherton
The Senate adjourned a few moments after Betty left the gallery. There was little conversation in the cloak-room. The Senators were very tired, and it surely was a brain of bubbles that could indulge in comment upon the climax of the great finished chapter of the old Republic.
North put on his hat and overcoat at once and left the Capitol. After the close confinement in heated and vitiated air for sixteen hours, the thought of a cab was intolerable: he shook his head at the old darky who owned him and whom he never had been able to dodge during his twenty years' service in Washington, plunged his hands into his overcoat pockets, and strode off with an air of aggressive determination which amused him as a fitting anti-climax. The darky grinned and drove home without looking for another fare. His Senator not only had paid him by the month for several years, but had supported his family for the last ten.
North inhaled the pure cool air, the delicious perfume of violet and magnolia, as Betty had done. Once he paused and looked up at the wooded heights surrounding the city, then down at the Potomac and the great expanse of roofs and leaves. The Washington Monument, the purest, coldest, most impersonal monument on earth, looked as gray as the sky, but its outlines were as sharp as at noonday. North often watched it from the window of his Committee Room; he had seen it rosy with the mists of sunset, as dark as granite under stormy skies, as waxen as death. Normally, it was white and pure and inspiring, never companionable, but helpful in its cold and lofty beauty.
"It is a monument," he thought, to-night, "and to more than Washington."
He turned into Massachusetts Avenue and strolled along, in no hurry to find himself between walls again. He was not conscious of physical fatigue, and experienced no longing for bed, but his brain was tired and he enjoyed the absence of enforced companionship and continued alertness, the cool air, the quiet morning in her last sleep.
Betty, like all brilliant women who love passionately, had over- imagined, in her solitude and excitement. It is true that North had felt the bitterness of defeat, that his mind had dwelt upon the miserable and blasting thought that after years of unquestioned statesmanship and leadership, of hard work and unremitting devotion, his will had had no weight against hysteria and delirium. But both bitterness and the sense of failure had been dismissed in the moment when he had, once for all, accepted the situation; and that had been several days before. Since then, he had shoved aside the past, and had given his undivided thought to the present and the future. He had uttered his "aye" almost indifferently; it had been given to the President days since.
Nevertheless, his brain, tired as it was, did not wander from the great climax in his country's history. To that country at large this climax meant simply a brief and arrogant chastisement of a cruel little nation; the generals would have been quite justified in sending their dress clothes and golf sticks on to Havana; but North knew that this officious "police duty" was the noisy prologue to a new United States, possibly to the birth of a new Constitution.
"Is this the grand finale of the people's rule?" he thought. "They have screamed for the moon as they never screamed before, and this time they have got it fairly between their teeth. Well, it is a dead old planet; will its decay vitiate their own blood and leave them the half-willing prey of a Circumstance they do not dream of now? Dewey will take the Philippines, of course. He would be an inefficient fool if he did not, and he is the reverse. The Spanish in Cuba will crumble almost before the world realizes that the war has begun. The United States will find itself sitting open-mouthed with two huge prizes in its lap. It may, in a fit of virtue which would convulse history, give them back, present them, with much good advice and more rhetoric, to their rightful owners. And it may not. These prizes are crusted with gold; and the stars and stripes will look so well in the breeze above that the pride of patriotism may decide they must remain there. And if it does--if it does... The extremists in the Senate will grow twenty years in one... With the bit between their teeth and the arrogance of triumph in their blood--"
He found himself in front of his own house. He turned slowly and looked intently for a moment toward I Street. His face softened, then he jerked out his latchkey, let himself in and went directly to the library. He still had no desire for bed, and threw himself into an easy-chair before the andirons. But it was the first time in several days that he had sat in a luxurious chair, and the room was full of soft warmth. He fell asleep, and although he seemed to awaken immediately, he could only conclude, when the experience which followed was over, that he had been dreaming.
He suddenly became aware that a chair beside him was occupied, and he wheeled about sharply. His sense of companionship was justified; a man sat there. North stared at him, more puzzled than surprised, endeavouring to fit the familiar face to some name on his long list of acquaintances, and wondering who in Washington could have given a fancy-dress ball that night. His visitor wore his hair in a queue and powdered, a stock of soft lawn, and a dress-coat of plum-coloured cloth cut as in the days of the founders of the Republic.
Although it was some moments before North recognized his visitor, his resentment at this unseasonable intrusion passed quickly; the personality in the chair was so charming, so magnetic, so genial. He was a young man, between thirty and forty, with a long nose, a mobile mouth, dark gray-blue eyes full of fire and humour, and a massive head. It was a face of extraordinary power and intellect, but lit up by a spirit so audacious and impulsive and triumphant that it was like a leaping flame of dazzling brilliancy in some forbidding fortress. He was smiling with a delighted expression of good fellowship; but North experienced a profound conviction that the man was weighing and analyzing him, that he would weigh and analyze everybody with whom he came in contact, and make few mistakes.
"Who the deuce can he be?" he thought, "and why doesn't he speak?" And then it occurred to him that he had not spoken, himself. He was about to inquire with somewhat perfunctory courtesy in what manner he could serve his visitor, when his glance fell on the man's hands. He sat erect with a slight exclamation and experienced a stiffening at the roots of his hair. The hands under the lace ruffles were the most beautiful that ever had been given to a man, even to as small a man as this. They were white and strong and delicate, with pointed fingers wide apart, and filbert nails. North knew them well, for they were the hands of the man whom he admired above all men in the history of his country. But until to-night he had seen them on canvas only, in the Treasury Department of the United States. His feeling of terror passed, and he sat forward eagerly.
"The little lion," he said caressingly, for the man before him might have been his son, although he had been in his tomb with a bullet in his heart for nearly a century. But he looked so young, so restless, so indomitable, that the years slipped out of the century, and Hamilton once more was the most brilliant ornament of a country which had never ceased to need him.
"Yes," he said brightly, "here I am, sir, and you see me at last. This is that one moment in the lifetime of the few when the spirit burns through the flesh and recognizes another spirit who has lost that dear and necessary medium. I have been with you a great deal in your life, but you never have been able to see me until to-night." He gave his head an impatient toss. "How I have wished I were alive during the last three or four months!" he exclaimed. "Not that I could have accomplished what you could not, sir, but it would have been such a satisfaction to have been able to make the effort, and then, when I failed, to tell democracy what I thought of it."
North smiled. All sense of the supernatural had left him. His soul and Hamilton's were face to face; that was the one glorified fact. "I have been tempted several times lately to wish that we had your aristocratic republic," he said, "and that I were the head and centre of it. I have felt a strong desire to wring the neck of that many- headed nuisance called 'the people,' and proceed as if it were where the God of nations intended those incapable of governing should be and remain without protest."
"Oh, yes, you are an aristocrat. That is the reason I have enjoyed the society of your mind all these years. You were so like me in many ways when you were my age, and since then I seem to have grown older with you. I died so young. But in you, in the last twenty years, I seem to have lived on. You have built an iron wall all round those terrible fires of your youth, and roofed it over. It is only now and then that a panel melts and the flame leaps out; and the panel is so quickly replaced! I too should have conquered myself like that and made fewer and fewer mistakes."
"God knows what I might not have been able to do for my country. I have been mad to leap into the arena often enough."
"You are not dead. No man is, whose inspiration lives on. More than one of us would be of shorter stature and shorter gait if we never had had your accomplishment to ponder over. And as to what the nation would have been without you--"
"Yes!" cried Hamilton. "Yes! How can any man of ability submit to death without protest, shrug his shoulders cynically, and say that no man's disappearance causes more than a whirl of bubbles on the surface, that the world goes on its old gait undisturbed, and does as well with the new as the old? Look at Great Britain. She hasn't a single great man in all her eleven million square miles to lead her. That is answer enough to a theory which some men are sincere enough in believing. This country always has needed great leaders, and sometimes she has had them and sometimes not. The time is coming when she will need them as she has not done since the days when three or four of us set her on her feet."
North stood up suddenly and looked down on Hamilton. "What are we coming to?" he asked abruptly. "Monarchy?"
The guest tapped the toe of his little slipper with the tips of his beautiful fingers. He laughed gayly. "I can see only a little farther ahead than your own far-penetrating brain, sir. What do you think?"
"As I walked home tonight, the situation possessed my mind, which by some process of its own seemed to develop link after link in coming events. It seemed to me that I saw a thoroughly disorganized people, unthinkingly but ruthlessly thrusting aside all ideals, and-- consequently--in time--ready for anything."
Hamilton nodded, "If they had begun with my ideal, they would have remained there. Now they will leap far behind that--when there is a strong enough man down there in the White House. Certain radical changes, departures from their traditions and those of their fathers, will school them for greater changes still. In some great critical moment when a dictator seems necessary they will shrug their shoulders and say, 'Why not?'"
"I believe you are right, but I doubt if it comes in my time."
Hamilton shook his head. "Every state in Europe has its upper lip curled back above its teeth, and who knows, when the leashes snap, what our fate will be, now that we have practically abandoned our policy of non-interference in the affairs of the Eastern Hemisphere? If all Europe is at somebody's throat in the next five years, we shall not escape; be sure of that. Then will be the great man's opportunity. You always have despised the office of President. Work for it from this day. The reaction from this madness will help you. Democrats as well as Republicans will turn to you as the one man worthy of the confidence of the entire country."
"Not if they guessed that I meditated treason, sir. Nor should I. I agree with you that your ideal was the best, but there is nothing for me to do but to make the best of the one I've inherited. If I am aristocratic in my preferences, I am also a pretty thoroughgoing American."
"Yes, yes, I know, sir. You never will meditate what, if premeditated, would be treason. But when the great moment comes, when your patriotism and your statesmanship force you to admit that if the country is to be saved it must be rescued from the people, and that you alone can rescue it, then you will tear the Constitution down its middle. This country is past amendments. It must begin over again. And the whole great change must come from one man. The people never could be got to vote for an aristocratic republic. They must be stunned into accepting a monarchy. After the monarchy, then the real, the great Republic."
The two men looked long into each other's eyes. Then North said,--
"I repeat that I never should work nor scheme for the position that such a change might bring me. Nevertheless, believing, as I do, that we are on the threshold of a new and entirely different era in this country, if the time should come when I felt that I, as its most highly trained servant, could best serve the United States by taking her destinies entirely into my own hands, I should do so without an instant's hesitation. I have done all I could to preserve the old order for them, and they have called me traitor and gone their own way. Now let them take the consequences."
Hamilton set his mobile lips in a hard line. His eyes looked like steel. "Yes," he said harshly, "let them take the consequences. They had their day, they have gone mad with democracy, let them now die of their own poison. The greatest Republic the world ever will have known is only in the ante-room of its real history." He stood up suddenly and held out his hand. "Good-bye, sir," he said. "We may or may not meet again before you too are forced to abandon your work. But I often shall be close to you, and I believe, I firmly believe, that you will do exactly as I should do if I stood on solid ground to-day."
North took the exquisite hand that had written the greatest state papers of the century, and looked wonderingly at its white beauty. It suddenly gave him the grip of an iron vise. North returned the pressure. Then the strong hand melted from his, and he stood alone.
Exactly in what the transition from sleep to waking consisted, North was not able to define. There was a brief sense of change, including a lifting of heavy eyelids. Technically he awoke. But he was standing on the hearthrug. And his right hand ached.
He shrugged his shoulders.
"What difference does it make whether he appeared to my waking eyes or passed through my sleeping brain and sat down with my soul?"
He plunged his hands into his pockets and stood thinking for many minutes. He said, half aloud, finally,--
"Not in my time, perhaps. But it will come, it will come."