Senator North by Gertrude Franklin Horn Atherton
A month passed. Betty received with Lady Mary on Tuesdays, and under that popular young matron's wing called on a number of women prominent in the official life of the dying Administration, whom she received on Fridays. They were very polite, and returned her calls promptly; but they did not always remember her name, and her personality and position impressed but a few of these women, overwhelmed with social duties, visiting constituents, and people-with-letters. Most of them paid from fifteen to twenty calls on six days out of seven, and had filled their engagement books for the season during its first fortnight. Betty was chagrined at first, then amused. Moreover, her incomplete success raised the political world somewhat in Mrs. Madison's estimation; she had expected that her house would be besieged by these temporary beings, eager for a sniff at Old Washington air. Betty realized that she must be content to go slowly this winter, and begin to entertain as soon as the next season opened. Lady Mary took her to four large receptions, and she was invited to two or three dinners of a semi-official character; for several women not only fancied her, but appreciated the fact that the official were not the highest social honours in the land, and were glad to further her plans.
Senator Burleigh called several times. One day he arrived with a large package of books: Bryce's "American Commonwealth," a volume containing the Constitution and Washington's Farewell Address, and several of the "American Statesmen" monographs.
"Read all these," he said dictatorially. ("He certainly takes me very seriously," thought Betty. "Doubtless he'll stand me in a corner with my face to the wall if I don't get my lessons properly.") "I want you to acquire the national sense. I don't believe a woman in this country knows the meaning of the phrase. Study and think over the characters of the men who created this country: Washington and Hamilton, particularly. You'll know what I mean when you've read these little volumes; and then I'll bring you some thirty volumes containing the letters and despatches and communications to Congress of these two greatest of all Americans. I don't know which I admire most. Hamilton was the most creative genius of his century, but the very fact that he was a genius of the highest order makes him hopeless as a standard. But all men in public life who desire to attain the highest and most unassailable position analyze the character of Washington and ponder over it deeply. There never was a man so free from taint, there never was such complete mental poise, there never was such cold, rarified, unerring judgment. The man seems to us--who live in a turbulent day when the effort to be and to remain high-minded makes the brain ache-- to have been nothing less than inspired. And his political wisdom is as sound for to-day as for when he uttered it; although, for the life of me, I cannot help disregarding his admonition to keep hands out of foreign pie, this time. I want the country to go to the rescue of Cuba, and I'll turn over every stone I can to that end."
Betty had listened to him with much interest. "Would Washington have gone?" she asked. "Would he advise it now, supposing he could?"
"No, I don't believe he would. Washington had a brain of ice, and his ideal of American prosperity was frozen within it. He would fear some possible harm or loss to this country, and the other could be left to the care of an all-merciful Providence. I love my country with as sound a patriotism as a man may, and I revere the memory of Washington, but I have not a brain of ice, and I think a country, like a man, should think of others besides itself. And the United States has got to that point where almost nothing could hurt it. A few months' patriotic enthusiasm, for that matter, would do it no end of good. If you care to listen, I'll read the Farewell Address to you."
He read it in his sonorous rolling voice, that must have done as much to make him a popular idol in his State as his more distinguished gifts for public life. Betty decided that the more senatorial he was the better she liked him. She knew that he was a favourite with men, and had a vague idea that men, when in the exclusive society of their own sex, always told witty anecdotes, but she could not imagine herself making small talk with Senator Burleigh. Her day for small talk, however, she fervently hoped was over.
She had seen Senator North again but once. Lady Mary Montgomery gave a great evening reception, as magnificent an affair of the sort as Betty was likely to see in Washington. It was given in honour of a distinguished Englishman, who, rumour whispered, had come over in the interests of the General Arbitration Treaty between the United States and Great Britain, now at the mercy of the Committee on Foreign Relations. There was another impression, equally alive in Washington that Lady Mary aspired to be the historic link between the two countries. Certain it was that the Secretary of State, the British Ambassador, and the Committee on Foreign Relations dined and called constantly at her house. The Distinguished Guest had called on her every day since his arrival.
Betty knew what others divined; for the friends were inseparable, and Mary Montgomery was very frank with her few intimates. "Of course I want the treaty to go through," she had said to Betty, only the day before her reception; "and I am quite wild to know what the Committee are doing with it. But of course they will say nothing. Senator Ward kisses my hand and talks Shakespeare and Socrates to me, and when I use all my eloquence in behalf of a closer relationship between the two greatest nations on earth--for I want an alliance to follow this treaty--he says: 'Ma belle dame sans merci, the American language shall yet be spoken in the British Isles; I promise you that.' He is one of the few Americans I cannot understand. He has eyes so heavy that he never looks quite awake, and he is as quick as an Italian's blade in retort. He has a large and scholarly intellect, and it is almost impossible to make him serious. You never see him in his chair on the floor of the Senate, although he sometimes drifts across the room with a cigar in the hollow of his hand, and he is admittedly one of its leading spirits, and the idol of a Western State--of all things! Senator North is the reverse of transparent, but sometimes he goes to the point in a manner which leaves nothing to be desired. He is not on the Committee of Foreign Relations, so I asked him point blank the other day if he thought the treaty would go through and if he did not mean to vote for it. He is usually as polite as all men who are successful in politics and like women, but he gave a short and brutal laugh. 'Lady Mary,' he said, 'when some of my colleagues were cultivating their muscles on the tail of your lion in the winter of 1895, I told them what I thought of them in language which only senatorial courtesy held within bounds. If the Committee on Foreign Relations--for whose members I have the highest respect: they are picked men--should do anything so foolish and so unpatriotic as to report back that treaty in a form to arouse the enthusiasm of the British press, I fear I should disregard senatorial courtesy. But the United States Senate does not happen to be composed of idiots, and the President may amuse himself writing treaties, but he does not make them.'
"Then I asked him if he had no sentiment, if he did not think the spirit of the thing fine: the union of the great English-speaking races; and he replied that he saw no necessity for anything of the sort: we did very well on our separate sides of the water; and as for sentiment, we were like certain people,--much better friends while coquetting than when married. He added that the divorce would be so extremely painful. I asked him what was to prevent another lover's quarrel, if there were no ring and no blessing, and he replied: 'Ah that is another question. To keep out of useless wars with the old country and to tie our hands fast to her quarrels are two things, and the one we will do and the other we won't do.'
"That is all he would say, but fortunately there is a less conservative element in the Senate than his, although I believe they all become saturated with that Constitution in time. I can see it growing in Senator Burleigh."
All elements had come to her reception to-night. Ambassadors and Envoys Extraordinary were there in the full splendour of their uniforms. So were Generals and Admirals; and the women of the Eastern Legations had come in their native costumes. The portly ladies of the Cabinet were as resplendent as their position demanded, and the aristocracy of the Senate and the women of fashion were equally fine. Other women were there, wives of men important but poor, who walked unabashed in high-neck home-made frocks; and their pretty daughters, were as simple as themselves. One wore a cheese-cloth frock, and another a blue merino. The dames of the Plutocracy were there, blazing with converted capital,--Westerners for the most part, with hogsheads of money, who had come to the City of Open Doors to spend it. It was seldom they were in the same room with the Old Washingtonians, and when they were they sighed; then reminded themselves of recent dinners to people whose names were half the stock in trade of the daily press. Sally Carter, who regarded them through her lorgnette with much the same impersonal interest as she would accord to actors on the boards, wore a gown of azure satin trimmed with lace whose like was not to be found in the markets of the world. Her hair was elaborately dressed, and her thin neck sufficiently covered by a curious old collar of pearls set with tiny miniatures. Careless as she was by day, it often suited her to be very smart indeed by night. She looked brilliant; and Jack Emory, who had been commanded by Betty to accept Lady Mary's invitation, did not leave her side. And she snubbed her more worldly- minded followers and devoted herself to his amusement.
All the men wore evening clothes. It seemed to be an unwritten law that the politician should have his dress-suit did his wife wear serge for ever. Consequently they presented a more uniformly fine appearance than their women, and most of them held themselves with a certain look of power. Their faces were almost invariably keen and strong. Few of the younger members of the House were here to-night, only those who had been in it so many years that they were high in political importance. Among them the big round form and smooth round head of their present and perhaps most famous Speaker were conspicuous: the United States was moving swiftly to the parting of the ways, and there are times when a Speaker is a greater man than a President.
What few authors Washington boasts were there, as well as Judges of the Supreme Court, scholars, architects, scientists, and journalists. And they moved amid great splendour. Lady Mary had thrown open her ball-room, and the walls looked like a lattice-work of American Beauty roses and thorns. Great bunches of the same expensive ornament swung from the ceiling, and the piano was covered with a quilt of them deftly woven together. The pale green drawing-room was as lavishly decorated with pink and white orchids and lilies of the valley. Lady Mary felt that she could vie in extravagance with the most ambitious in her husband's ambitious land.
Betty was entertaining four Senators, the Distinguished Guest, and the Speaker of the House when she caught a glimpse of Senator North. She immediately became a trifle absent, and permitted Senator Shattuc, who liked to tell anecdotes of famous politicians, to take charge of the conversation. While he was thinking her the one woman in Washington charming enough to establish a salon, she was congratulating herself that she should meet Senator North again when she looked her best. She wore a wonderful new gown of mignonette green and ivory white, and many pearls in her warm hair and on her beautiful neck. She looked both regal and girlish, an effect she well knew how to produce. Her head was thrown back and her eyes were sparkling with triumph as they met Senator North's. He moved toward her at once.
"I should be stupid to inquire after your health," he said as he shook her hand. "You are positively radiant. I shall ask instead if you still find time to come up and see us occasionally, and if we improve on acquaintance?"
"I go very often indeed, but I have seen you only three times."
"I have been North for a week, and in my Committee Room a good deal since my return."
Betty was determined not to let slip this opportunity. She resented the platitudes that are kept in stock by even the greatest minds, and wished that he would hold out a peremptory arm and lead her to some quiet corner and talk to her for an hour. But he evidently had a just man's appreciation of the rights of others, for he betrayed no intention to do anything of the kind. His eyes dwelt on her with frank admiration, but Washington is the national headquarters of pretty women, and he doubtless contented himself with a passing glimpse of many. And this time Betty felt the full force of the man's magnetism. She would have liked to put up a detaining hand and hold him there for the rest of the evening. Even were there no chance for conversation, she would have liked to be close beside him. She forgot, that he was an ideal on a pedestal and shot him a challenging glance. "I have hoped that you would come up to the gallery and call on me," she said pointedly.
He moved a step closer, then drew back. His face did not change.
"I certainly shall when I am so fortunate as to see you up there," he said. "But the fourth of March is not far off, and the pressure accumulates. I am obliged to be in my Committee Room, as well as in other Committee Rooms, for the better part of every day. But if I can do anything for you, if there is any one you would care to meet, do not fail to let me know. Send word to my room, and if possible I will go to you."
Betty looked at him helplessly. She wanted to ask him to call at her house on Sunday, but felt a sudden diffidence. After all, why should he care to call on her? He had more important things to think of; and doubtless he spent his few leisure hours with some woman far more brilliant than herself. Her head came down a trifle and she turned it away. He stood there a moment longer, then said,--
"Good-night," and, after a few seconds' hesitation, and with unmistakable emphasis: "Remember that it would give me the greatest possible pleasure to do anything for you I could." Immediately after, he left the room.
When she was alone an hour later, she anathematized herself for a fool. Diffidence had no permanent part in her mental constitution. She was sure that if she could talk with him for thirty consecutive minutes she could interest him and attach him to her train. Her pride, she felt, was now involved. She should estimate herself a failure unless she compelled Senator North to forget the more experienced women of the political world and spend his leisure hours with her. She had been a brilliant success in other spheres, she would not fail in this.
But two more weeks passed and she did not see him. He came neither to the floor of the Senate within her experience of it, nor to the gallery. Nor did he appear to care for Society. Few of the Senators did, for that matter. They did not mind dining out, as they had to dine somewhere, and an agreeable and possibly handsome partner would give zest to any meal; but they were dragged to receptions and escaped as soon as they could.