Part III
Chapter XVII
 

The next day, before starting for New York, she wrote a note to Senator North:--

I am going to marry Robert Burleigh. On Tuesday morning I almost went to your house--to bring you back with me here. I came to my senses in time; but I might not again. I want you to understand.

I wish he were not on the winning side. But he is the only man I can even think of marrying.

I do not think this much is disloyal to him. But I will not say other things. B. M.

Burleigh came to the train to see her off, and Betty looked so charming in her rich brown travelling frock and little turban, and smiled so gayly upon him, that his heavy spirit lifted its wings and he begged to be allowed to go to New York on Saturday. But to this she would not listen, and he was forced to content himself with making elaborate preparations for her comfort in the little drawing-room, and buying a copy of every paper and magazine the newsboy had on sale.

"I am sure he will make an ideal husband," said Mrs. Madison, as she waved her hand to him from the window. "He certainly is very much of a man," admitted Betty, "but what on earth are we to do with all these papers? I haven't room to turn round."

The excitement in Washington, great as it was, had been mostly within doors; in New York it appeared to be entirely in the streets, if one excepted the corridors of the hotels. The population, still pale and nervously talkative, surged up and down the sidewalks. On the morrow the city put forth her hundred thousand flags. The very air seemed to turn to stars and stripes.

The Madisons went to the Waldorf-Astoria, and in its refreshing solitudes felt for the first time in months that they must go in search of excitement if they wanted it; none would reach them here.

"Now that the war is declared, I am sorry;" admitted Mrs. Madison, "for so many Americans will be killed."

"Instead of Cubans. I've done with the war. I won't even regret."

For three days Betty shopped furiously, or held long consultations with her dressmaker. On Sunday, after church, she read to her mother, but refused to discuss her engagement, and on Monday she resumed her shopping. She wrote to Burleigh immediately after breakfast every morning, then dismissed him from her mind for twenty-four hours.

The beautiful spring fabrics were in the shops, and she bought so many things she did not want, even for a trousseau, that she wondered if Mrs. Mudd would accept a trunk full of "things." She envied Mrs. Mudd, and would find a contradictory pleasure in making her happy. Miss Trumbull never had manifested any false pride, and matrimony had altered her little in other ways.

At night she slept very well, and if she did not think of Burleigh, neither would she think of Senator North.

She did not open a newspaper. What the country did now had no interest for her; it was marching to its drums, and nothing could stop it. And she would have her fill of politics for the rest of her natural life. As Mrs. Madison always was content with a novel, she made no complaint at the absence of newspapers, particularly as the fighting had not begun. Moreover, Betty took her to the theatre every evening, a dissipation which her invalidism endured without a protest.

It was on Wednesday afternoon that Betty, returning to her rooms, met Sally Carter in a corridor of the hotel. The two girls kissed as if no war had come between them, and Miss Carter announced that she was going to Cuba to nurse the American soldier.

"I almost feel conscience-stricken," she remarked, "now that we actually are in for it. I don't think I believed it ever really could happen. It was more like a great drama that was about to take place somewhere on the horizon. But if the American boys have to be shot, I'm going to be there to do what I can."

They entered the parlor of Mrs. Madison's suite, and that good lady, who had read until her eyes ached, welcomed Sally with effusion and demanded news of Washington.

"We haven't seen a paper or a soul," she said. "We have our meals up here, and I feel as if I were a Catholic in retreat. It's been a relief in a way, especially after the salon, but I should like to know if Washington has burned down, or anything."

"Washington is still there and still excited," said Miss Carter, dropping into a chair and taking off her hat, which she ran the pin through and flung on the floor. "How it keeps it up is beyond the comprehension of one poor set of nerves. I am now dead to all emotion and longing for work. I'm even sorry I painted my best French handkerchiefs red, white, and blue. If you haven't seen the papers I suppose you don't know that Mrs. North is dead. She died suddenly of paralysis on the twenty-second. The strength she got in the Adirondacks soon began to leave her by degrees; the doctor--who is mine, you know--told me the other day that it meant nothing but a temporary improvement at any time; but he had hoped that she would live for several years yet. Betty, what on earth do you find so interesting in Fifth Avenue? I hate it, with its sixty different architectures."

"But it looks so beautiful with all the flags," said Betty, "and the one opposite is really magnificent."

It was a half-hour before Sally ceased from chattering and went in search of her father. Betty had managed to control both her face and her knees, and listened as politely as a person may who longs to strangle the intruder and achieve solitude. The moment Sally had gone Betty went straight to her room, avoiding her mother's eyes, which turned themselves intently upon her.

She did not reappear for dinner, as her mother was made cheerful by the society of the Carters; but as Sally passed her room on her way to bed, she called her in, and the two girls had a few moments' conversation.