"Now!" she exclaimed, "come out with it! You've had eleven days, and one can learn a good deal in that time."
He bit sharply at the end of his cigar, but answered without hesitation.
"It is almost impossible to learn anything in Washington to the detriment of the Senate. There seems to be a sort of esprit de corps in the entire city. They look politely horrified if you suggest that a Senator of the United States, honouring Washington with the society of his wives and daughters, is anything that he should not be. I was obliged to go to New York and Boston to get the information I wanted, and even now it is far from complete. I don't believe it is possible to arrive at anything like accurate knowledge on the subject."
"Well, what did you get? Washington is a well-ordered community with a high moral tone—it is said to have fewer scandals than any city in the country—and there is no sordid commercial atmosphere to lower it. It is the great city of leisure in everything but legislation and paying calls; so it seems to me that it would be the last place to fondle in its bosom ninety distinguished scoundrels. But go on. What did you learn in Boston and New York?"
"That a little of everything is represented in the Senate,—that is about what it amounts to. There are unquestionably men there who bought their seats from legislatures, and there are men who are agents for trusts, syndicates, and railroad corporations, as well as three party bosses—"
"Ninety Senators leave a large margin for a number of loose fish. What I want to know is, how do the big men stand—North, Maxwell, Ward, March—and fifteen or twenty others, all the men who are the Chairmen of the big Committees? The New England men seem to have charge of everything of importance in the House and of a good deal in the Senate."
"Some of the Southern and North-western and most of the New England States seem to have honest enough legislatures," said Emory, unwillingly. "But that leaves plenty of others. Only a few of the Western States are above suspicion, and as for New York, Pennsylvania, and Delaware, they would not waste time defending themselves; and as no Senators are better than the people that elect them—"
"Oh, yes, they are sometimes—look at the Senator from Delaware. I too have been asking questions for eleven days. It all comes to this: there are millionaireism and corrupting influences in the Senate, but that element is in the minority, and the greater number of leading, or able Senators are above suspicion. And they seem to have things pretty much all their own way. They could not if the majority in the Senate were scoundrels. No corrupt body was ever led by its irreproachable exceptions—"
"In another ten years there will be no exceptions. All that are making a desperate stand for honesty to-day will be overwhelmed by the unprincipled element—"
"Or have forced it to reform. The good in human nature predominates; we are a healthy infant, and do not know the meaning of the word 'decadent;' and we are extraordinarily clever. Senator Burleigh says that you can always bank on the American people going right in the end. They may not bother for a long time, but when they do wake up they make things hum."
"Senator Burleigh evidently has all the easy-going optimism of this country. But, Betty, I am no more reconciled than I was before to your having anything to do with these people. Politics have a bad name, whatever the truth of the matter. I think myself our sensational press is largely to blame—" "There is nothing so interesting as the pursuit of truth," said Betty, lightly. "Reconcile yourself to the sight of me in pursuit of it—"
"Ah, here you are!" exclaimed a staccato voice. Sally Carter entered the room, kissed Betty, shook hands heartily with Emory, and threw herself into a chair. Her fortune equalled Betty's, but it was her pleasure to wear frocks so old and so dowdy that her friends wondered where they had come from originally. She had been a handsome girl, and her blue eyes were still full of fire, her fair hair abundant, but her face was sallow and lined from many attacks of malarial fever. Her manner was breezy and full of energy, and she was not only popular but a very important person indeed. She lived alone with her father in the old house in K Street and entertained rarely, but she had strawberry leaves on her coronet, and it was currently reported that when she arrived in England, clad in a rusty black serge and battered turban,— which she certainly slept in at intervals during the day,—she was met in state by the entire ducal family—including a prolific connection— whose ancestor had founded the great house of Carter in the British colonies of North America. What their private opinion was of this representative of the American dukedom was never quite clear to the Washington mind, but to know Sally Carter in her own city meant complete social recognition, and not to know her an indifferent success.
"Senator North tells me that he met you the other day and would like to meet you again," she said to Betty, who lifted her head with attention. "I dropped in on my way here for a little call on Mrs. North, poor dear! There's a real invalid for you—something the matter with her spine—is liable to paralysis any minute. It must be so cheerful to sit round and anticipate that. Why on earth do women let their nerves run away with them, in the first place? Nerves in this country are a mixture of climate, selfishness, and stupidity. I could be as nervous as a witch, but I won't. I walk miles every day and don't think about myself. Well! I told Mr. North all about the bold course of the young lady weary of frivolities, and he seemed much interested, paid you some compliment or other, I've forgotten what. He said he would look out for you in the Senate gallery and go up and speak to you—"
Emory rose with an exclamation of disgust. "I hope you told him to do nothing of the kind."
"On the contrary, I told him not to forget, for as Betty would sail her little yacht on the political sea, I wanted her to be recognized by the men-of-war, not by the trading-ships and pirates."
Emory threw away his cigar. "I think I will go in and see my aunt," he said. "All this is most distasteful to me."
He left the room, followed by Betty's mocking laugh. But Miss Carter said with a sigh,—
"He can't expect us all to live up to his ideals. It is better not to have any, like my practical self. But I'm afraid he sits out there in his damp old library and dreams of a world in which all the men are Sir Galahads and all the women Madame Rolands. He is an ideal himself, if he only knew it; I've always been half in love with him. Well, Betty, how do you like your new toy? After all, what is even a Senate but a toy for a pretty woman? That is really your attitude, only you don't know it. Life is serious only for women with babies and bills. As for charities, they were specially invented to give old maids like myself an occupation in life. What—what—should I have done without charities when Society palled?"
"Why did you never marry, Sally?" asked Betty, abruptly. The question never had occurred to her before, but as she asked it her eyes involuntarily moved to the empty chair before the window.
"What on earth should I do with a husband?" asked Miss Carter, lightly. "I only love men when they are in bronze in the public parks. Poor dear old General Lathom proposed to me four times, and the only time I felt like accepting him was when I saw his statue unveiled. I couldn't put a man on a pedestal to save my life, but when my grateful country does it I'm all humble adoration. Could you idealize a live thing in striped trousers and a frock coat?"
"Woolen is hopeless," said Betty, with an attempt at playfulness. "We must do the best we can with the inner man."
"How on earth do you know what a man is like on the inside? Idealize is the right word, though. Women make a god out of what they cannot understand in a man. If he has a bad temper, they think of him as a 'dominant personality.' If he is unfaithful to his wife, he is romantic in the eyes of a woman who has given no man a chance to be unfaithful to her. If he comes to your dinner with an attack of dyspepsia, you compare him sentimentally with the brutes that eat. You haven't married yet, I notice, and you are on the corner of twenty-seven."
"American men don't give you a chance to idealize them," said Betty, plaintively. "They tell you all about themselves at once. And although Englishmen have more mystery and provoke your curiosity, they don't understand women and don't want to; the women can do the adapting. I never could stand that; and as I can't endure foreigners I'm afraid I shall die an old maid. That's the reason I've gone into politics—"
The butler announced that Senator Burleigh was in the parlor.
"What of his inner man?" asked Sally.
"I never have given it two thoughts. But his outer is all that could be desired."
"He would look well in bronze. I understand that his State thinks a lot of him: as you know, I read the Post and Star through every day to papa. I have to know something of politics."
They found Senator Burleigh talking to Mrs. Madison, apparently oblivious of her frigid attempt at tolerance and of Emory's sullen silence. Sally Carter's eyes flashed with amusement, and she shook the Senator warmly by the hand.
"Such a very great pleasure!" she announced in her staccato tones. "Now the only time I really allow myself pride is when I meet the statesmen of my country. I am sure that is the way you feel, dear Cousin Molly—is it not? We are such oysters, the few of us who always have lived here, that a whiff from the political world puts new life into us."
Emory left the room. Burleigh looked surprised but gratified, and assured her that it was the greatest possible pleasure as well as an honour to meet Miss Carter. He appeared to have left his businesslike manner on Capitol Hill, and he was even less abrupt than on the night of the dinner. Only his exuberant vitality seemed out of place in that dark old room, and it was an effort for him to keep his sonorous voice in check.
"Mrs. Madison says she takes no interest in politics," he added, "and fears to be a wet blanket on the conversation. I have been assuring her that on one day of the week politics are non-existent so far as I am concerned."
Mrs. Madison, who had been staring at Sally Carter, replied with an evident attempt to be agreeable, "Of course I always find it interesting to hear people talk about what they understand best." "Politics are what I should like to understand least. Since I have come to the Senate I have endeavoured to forget all I ever knew about them. I rely upon my friends to keep me in office while I am making a desperate attempt to become a fair-minded legislator."
He spoke lightly. Betty could not determine whether he was posing or telling the simple truth to people who would be glad to take him at his word. There was a twinkle of amusement in his eye; but he looked too impatient for even the milder sort of hypocrisy.
Mrs. Madison thawed visibly. "You younger men should try to restore the old ideals," she said.
"Ah, madam," he replied, "if you only knew what the censors said about the old ideals when they were alive! If Time will be as kind to us, we can swallow our own dose with a reasonable amount of philosophy. John Quincy Adams arraigned the politics of his day in the bitterest phrases he could create; but to-day we are asked to remember the glorious past and hide our heads."
The Montgomery's entered the room. Randolph, who was as tall as Senator Burleigh and very slender, looked so distinguished that Mrs. Madison immediately decided to remember only that his family was as old as her own. He had lost none of the repose he had found during his three years' residence in Europe, but the effort to keep it in the House had made his handsome face thin and touched his mouth with cynicism. His hair was still black, and there were no lines about his cool gray eyes.
"Blessed day of rest!" exclaimed his wife. "I got up just one hour ago. Do you know, Miss Madison, I paid twenty-six calls on Thursday, eighteen on Friday and twelve on Saturday? Never marry into political life."
Senator Burleigh, who had been talking to Miss Carter, turned round quickly. "Some women are so manifestly made for it," he said, "that it would be folly for them to attempt to escape their fate."
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.
Betty rose suddenly from the breakfast-table and went into the library, carrying a half-read letter. She had felt her face flush and her hand tremble, and escaped from the servants into a room where she could think alone for hours, if she wished.
The letter ran as follows:—
THE PARSONAGE, ST. ANDREW, VIRGINIA. To MISS ELIZABETH MADISON:
DEAR MADAM,—I have a communication of a somewhat trying nature to make, and believe me; I would not make it were not my end very near. Your father, dear madam, the late Harold Carter Madison, left an illegitimate daughter by a woman whom he loved for many years, an octaroon named Cassandra Lee. Before his death he gave poor Cassie a certain sum of money, and made her promise to leave Washington and never return. She came here and devoted the few remaining years of her life to the care of her child. I and my wife were the only persons who knew her story, and when she was dying we willingly promised to take the little one. For the last ten years Harriet has lived here in the parsonage and has been the only child I have ever known,—a dearly beloved child. She has been carefully educated and is a lady in every sense of the word. I had until the last two years a little school, and she was my chief assistant. But the public school proved more attractive—and doubtless is more thorough—and this passed from me. Last year my wife died. Now I am going, and very rapidly. I have only just learned the nature of my illness, and I may be dead before you receive this letter. I write to beg you to receive your sister. There is no argument I can use, dear lady, which your own conscience will not dictate. You will not be ashamed of her. She shows not a trace of the taint in her blood. The money your father gave Cassie has gone long since, but Harriet asks no alms of you, only that you will help her to go somewhere far from those who know that she is not as white as she looks, and to give her a chance to earn her living. She is well fitted to be a governess or companion, and no doubt you could easily place her. But she is lonely and frightened and miserable. Be merciful and receive her into your home for a time.
"I dare not write this to your mother. She has no cause to feel warmly to Harriet. But you are young, and wealthy in your own right. Her future rests with you. Here in this village she can do absolutely nothing, and after I am buried she will not have enough to keep her for a month. Answer to her—she bears my name."
I am, dear lady, Your humble and obd't servant, ABRAHAM WALKER.
P. S. Harriet is twenty-three. She has letters in her possession which prove her parentage.
Betty's first impulse was to take the next train for St. Andrew. Her heart went out to the lonely girl, deprived of her only protector, wretched under the triple load of poverty, friendlessness, and the curse of race. She remembered vividly those two men in the church whose bearing expressed more forcibly than any words the canker that had blighted their manhood. And this girl bore no visible mark of the wrong that had been done her, and only needed the opportunity to be happy and respected. Could duty be more plain? And was she a chosen instrument to right one at least of the great wrongs perpetrated by the brilliant, warm-hearted, reckless men of her race?
But in a moment she shuddered and dropped the letter, a wave of horror and disgust rising within her. This girl was her half-sister, and was, light or dark, a negress. Betty had seen too much of the world in her twenty-seven years to weep at the discovery of her father's weakness, or to shrink from a woman so unhappy as to be born out of wedlock; but she was Southern to her finger-tips: the blacks were a despised, an unspeakably inferior race, and they had been slaves for hundreds of years to the white man. To be sure, she loved the old family servants, and rarely said a harsh word to them, and it was a matter of indifference to her that they had been freed, as she had plenty of money to pay their wages. But that the negro should vote had always seemed to her incredible and monstrous, and she laughed to herself when she met on the streets the smartly dressed coloured folk out for a walk. They seemed farcically unreal, travesties on the people to whom a discriminating Almighty had given the world. To her the entire race were first slaves, then servants, entitled to all kindness so long as they kept their place, but to be stepped on the moment they presumed. She recoiled in growing disgust from this girl with the hidden drop of black in her body.
But her reasoning faculty was accustomed to work independently of her brain's inherited impressions. She stamped her foot and anathematized herself for a narrow-minded creature whose will was weaker than her prejudices. The girl was blameless, helpless. She might have a mind as good as her own, be as well fitted to enjoy the higher pleasures of life. And she might have a beauty and a temperament which would be her ruin did her natural protectors tell her that she was a pariah, an outcast, that they could have none of her. Betty conjured her up, a charming and pathetic vision; but in vain. The repulsion was physical, inherited from generations of proud and intolerant women, and she could not control it.
She longed desperately for a confidant and adviser. Her mother she could not speak to until she had made up her mind. Emory and Sally Carter would tell her to give the creature an allowance and think no more about her; and the matter went deeper than that. The girl had heart and an educated mind; her demands were subtle and complex. Senator Burleigh? He would laugh impatiently at her prejudices, and tell her that she ought to go out and live in the free fresh air of the West. They probably would quarrel irremediably. Mary Montgomery would only stare. Betty could hear her exclaim: "But why? What? And you say she is quite white? I do not think that negroes are as nice as white people, of course; but I cannot understand your really tragic aversion."
There was only one person to whom it would be a luxury to talk, Senator North. She knew that he would not only understand but sympathize with her, and she was sure he would give her wise counsel. She regretted bitterly that she had not been able to make a friend of him, as she had of several of his colleagues. She would have sent for him without hesitation.
She glanced at the clock; it pointed to ten minutes past ten. He was doubtless at that moment in his Committee Room looking over his correspondence. She knew that Senators received letters at the rate of a hundred a day, and were early risers in consequence. If only she dared to go to him, if only he were not so desperately busy. But he had intimated that he had leisure moments, had taken the trouble to say that it would give him pleasure to serve her. Why should he not? What if he were a Senator? Was she not a Woman? Why should she of all women hesitate to demand a half-hour's time of any man? She needed advice, must have it: a decision should be reached in the next twenty- four hours. Not for a second did she admit that she was building up an excuse for the long-desired interview with Senator North. She was a woman confronted with a solemn problem. Her coupe was at the door; she had planned a morning's shopping. She ran upstairs and dressed herself for the street, wondering what order she would give the footman. She changed her mind hurriedly twenty times, but was careful to select the most becoming street-frock she possessed, a gentian blue cloth trimmed with sable. There were three hats to match it, and she tried on each, to the surprise of her maid, who usually found her easy to please. She finally decided upon a small toque which was made to set well back from her face into the heavy waves of her hair. She was too wise to wear a veil, for her complexion was flawless, her forehead low and full, and her hair arranged loosely about it; she wore no fringe.
As the footman closed the door of the coupe and she said curtly, "The Capitol," she knew that her mind had made itself up in the moment that it had conceived the possibility of a call upon Senator North.
That point settled, she was calm until she reached the familiar entrance to the Senate wing, and rehearsed the coming interview.
But her cheeks were hot and her knees were trembling as she left the elevator and hurried down the corridor to the Committee Room which Burleigh, when showing her over the building one morning, had pointed out as Senator North's. She never had felt so nervous. She wondered if women felt this sudden terror of the outraged proprieties when hastening to a tryst of which the world must know nothing. And she was overwhelmed with the vivid consciousness that she was actually about to demand the time and attention of one of the busiest and most eminent men in the country. If it had not been for a stubborn and long-tried will, she would have turned and run.
A mulatto was sitting before the door. When she asked, with a successful attempt at composure, for Senator North, he demanded her card. She happened to have one in her purse, and he went into the room and closed the door, leaving her to be stared at by the strolling sight-seers.
The mulatto reopened the door and invited her to enter a large room with a long table, a bookcase, and a number of leather chairs. Before he had led her far, Senator North appeared within the doorway of an inner room.
"I am glad to see you," he said. "I know that you are in trouble or you would not have done me this honour. It is an honour, and as I told you before I shall feel it a privilege to serve you in any way. Sit here, by the fire."
Betty felt so grateful for his effort to put her at her ease, so delighted that he was all her imagination had pictured, and had not snubbed her in what she conceived to be the superior senatorial manner, that she flung herself into the easy-chair and burst into tears.
Senator North knew women as well as a man can. He let the storm pass, poked the already glowing fire, and lowered two of the window-shades.
"I feel so stupid," said Betty, calming herself abruptly. "I have no right to take up your time, and I shall say what I have to say and go."
"I have practically nothing to do for the next hour. Please consider it yours."
Betty stole a glance at him. He was leaning back in his chair regarding her intently. It was impossible to say whether his eyes had softened or not, but he looked kind and interested.
"I never have told you that your father was a great friend of mine," he said. "You really have a claim on me." In spite of the fact that the Congressional Directory gave him sixty years, he looked anything but fatherly. Although there never was the slightest affectation of youth in his dress or manner, he suggested threescore years as little. So strong was his individuality that Betty could not imagine him having been at any time other than he was now. He was Senator North, that was the rounded fact; years had nothing to do with him.
"Well, I'm glad you knew papa; it will help you to understand. I—But perhaps you had better read this."
She took the clergyman's letter from her muff, and Senator North put on a pair of steel-rimmed eyeglasses and read it. When he had finished he put the eyeglasses in his pocket, folded the letter, and handed it to her. He had read the contents with equal deliberation. It seemed impossible that he would act otherwise in any circumstance.
"Well?" he said, looking keenly at her. "What are you going to do about it?"
"I am ashamed to tell you how I have felt. But we Southerners feel so strongly on—on—that subject—it is difficult to explain!"
"We Northerners know exactly how you feel," he said dryly. "We should be singularly obtuse if we did not. However, do not for a moment imagine that I am unsympathetic. We all have our prejudices, and the strongest one is a part of us. And for the matter of that, the average American is no more anxious to marry a woman with negro blood in her than the Southerner is, and looks down upon the Black from almost as lofty a height. Only our prejudice is passive, for he is not the constant source of annoyance and anxiety with us that he is with you."
"Then you understand how repulsive it is to me to have a sister who is white by accident only, and how torn I am between pity for her and a physical antipathy that I cannot overcome?"
"I understand perfectly."
"That is why I have come to you—to ask you what I must do. This is the first time I have been confronted by a real problem; my life has been so smooth and my trials so petty. It is too great a problem for me to solve by myself, and I could not think of anybody's advice but yours that—that I would take," she finished, with her first flash of humour.
"I fully expect you to take the advice I am going to give you. Your duty is plain; you must do all you can for this girl. But by no means receive her into your house until you have made her acquaintance. Take the ten o'clock B. & O. to-morrow morning and go to St. Andrew; it is about four hours' journey and on the line of the railroad. Spend several hours with the girl, and, if she is worth the trouble, bring her back with you and do all you can for her: it would be cruel and heartless to refuse her consolation if she is all this old man describes—and you are not cruel and heartless. And if this drop of black blood is abhorrent to you, think what it must be to her. It is enough to torment a high-strung woman into insanity or suicide. On the other hand, if she is common, or looks as if she had a violent temper, or is conceited and self-sufficient like so many of that hybrid race, settle an income on her and send her to Europe: in placing her above temptation you will have done your duty."
"But that is the whole point—to be sure that you do the right thing."
"I almost hope she will be impossible, so that I can wipe her off the slate at once. Otherwise it will be a terrible problem."
"It is no problem at all. There is no problem in plain duty. Problems exist principally in works of fiction and in the minds of unoccupied women. If you meet each development of every question in the most natural and reasonable manner,—presupposing that you possess that highest attribute of civilization, common-sense,—no question will ever resolve itself into a problem. And difficulties usually disappear as the range of vision contracts. If your house takes fire, you save what you can, not what you have elaborately planned to save in case of fire. Train your common-sense and let the windy analysis pertaining to problems alone."
"But how can I ever get over the horror of the thing, Mr. North?"
"You will forget all about it when she has been your daily companion for a few weeks. If she lacked a nose, you would as soon cease to remember it. If this girl is worth liking, you will like her, and soon cease to feel tragic. Leave that to her!"
"I know that you are right, and of course I shall take your advice. I did not come here to trouble you for nothing. But if I liked her at first and not afterward—"
"Pack her off to Europe. Europe will console an American woman for every ill in life. If you take the right attitude in the beginning, it all rests with her after that. You will have but one duty further. If she wishes to marry, you must tell the man the truth, if she will not. Don't hesitate on that point a moment. Her children are liable to be coal-black. That African blood seems to have a curse on it, and the curse is usually visited on the unoffending."
"I will, I will," said Betty. She rose, and he rose also and took her hand in both of his. She felt an almost irresistible desire to put her head on his shoulder, for she was tired and depressed.
"Your attitude in the matter is the important thing to me," he said. "That is why I have spoken so emphatically. You are a child yet, in spite of your twenty-seven years and your admirable intelligence. This is practically your first trial, the first time you have been called upon to make a decision which, either way, is bound to have a strong effect on your character, and to affect still greater decisions you may be called upon to make in the future. You have only one defect; you are not quite serious enough—yet."
"I feel very serious just now," said Betty, with a sigh; and in truth she did, and her new-found sister was not the only thing that perplexed her.
"One of these days you will be a singularly perfect woman," he added, and then he dropped her hand and walked to the door. As he was about to open it, she touched his arm timidly.
"Will you come and see me on Sunday?" she asked. "I shall have been through a good deal between now and then, and I shall want—I shall want to talk to you."
"I will come," he said.
"Not before half-past four. My mother will be asleep then, and my cousin, Jack Emory, have gone home—there will be so many things I shall want to talk to you about."
"I shall be there at half-past four," he said. "Good-bye. Good-bye."
Betty went home to her room and cried steadily for an hour. She would not analyze the complex source of her emotions, but addressed a bitter reproach to her father's shade; and she reassured herself by frankly admitting that it would give her pleasure to win the approval of Senator North.
She bathed her eyes and went to her mother's room. The sooner that ordeal was over, she reflected, the better. Mrs. Madison was reading an amusing novel and looked up with a smile, then pushed the book aside.
"Have you been crying, darling?" she asked. "What can be the matter?"
Betty told her story without preamble. Her mother's nerves could stand a shock, but not three minutes of uncertainty. Mrs. Madison listened with more equanimity than Betty anticipated.
"I suppose I may consider myself fortunate that I have not had one of his brats thrust on me before," she remarked philosophically. "What are we to do about this creature?"
"There is only one human thing to do. It is not her fault, and she is very wretched at present. And now that I know the truth I suppose I am as responsible as my father would be if he were alive. I shall go to see her to-morrow, and if she is presentable and seems good I shall bring her to Washington. Of course I shall not bring her here without your permission—it is your house. Let me read you his letter."
"Do you feel very strongly on the subject?" Mrs. Madison asked when Betty had finished.
"Oh, I do! I do! I will promise not to bring her to Washington at all if she is impossible, but if she is all I feel sure she must be, let me bring her here for a few weeks, until we have decided what to do for her. I know it is a great deal to ask—her presence cannot fail to be hateful to you—"
"My dear, I have outlived any feeling of that sort, and I have not put everything on your shoulders all these years to thwart you now, when you feel so deeply. Moreover, an old memory came to me while you were reading that letter. When I was a little girl, about eight or ten, I spent an entire summer with Aunt Mary Eager at her home in Virginia. She had a house full, and there were five other little girls beside myself. A brook ran across the foot of the plantation, and we were very fond of playing there. Directly across was the hut of a freed slave who had a little girl about our own age. The child was a beautiful octaroon. I can see her plainly, with her honey-coloured skin, her immense black eyes, her long straight black hair, and her stiff little white frock tucked to the waist. Her mother took the greatest pride in her, and was always changing her clothes.
"Every day she used to come to the edge of her side of the brook and watch us. We never noticed her, for although we often played with the little black piccaninnies, the yellow child of a freed slave was another matter. One day—I think she had watched us for about a week— she came half-way across the bridge. We stared at each other, but took no notice of her. The next day she walked straight across and up to us, and asked us very nicely if she might play with us. We turned upon her six scarlet scandalized faces, and what we said, in what brutal child language, I do not care to repeat. The child stared at us for a moment as if she were looking into the Inferno itself, and I expect she was, poor little soul! Then she gave a cry, and tore across the bridge and up the 'pike as hard as she could run. As long as we could see her she was running, and as I never saw her again—we avoided the brook after that—it seemed to me for years as if she must be running still. And for years those flying feet haunted me, and I used to long as I grew older to do penance in some way. I befriended many a poor yellow girl, hoping she might be that child. Then life grew too sad for me to remember the sins of my childhood. But I like the idea of making penance at this late day and receiving this girl for a few weeks into my house: it will be a penance, for I do not fancy sitting at the table with a woman with negro blood in her veins, I can assure you. But I shall do it. I believe if I did not I should be haunted again by those little flying feet. There is no chance of this being her daughter, for she would have been too old to attract your father's fancy. But that is not the point. I make one condition. No one must know the truth, not even Sally or Jack. She must pass for a distant relative, left suddenly destitute." "She would probably be the last to wish the truth known. But you have taken a weight off my mind, Molly dear, and I am deeply grateful to you."
The next day Betty left the train a few minutes after two o'clock and walked up the winding street of a small village to the parsonage. She passed a number of cottages picturesquely dilapidated, a store in which a half-dozen men were smoking, and about thirty lounging negroes. On rising ground was a large house, but the village looked forlorn, neglected, almost lifeless.
The men in the store came out and stared at her; so did the women from the cottages. And the negroes stood still. Doubtless they thought her a wealthy vision; the day was cold, and she wore a brown cloth dress and a sable jacket and toque.
"What a life for an intelligent woman!" she thought, glancing about her with deep distaste. "It would be enough to induce melancholia without the 'taint.'"
She had made a desperate effort in the last twenty-four hours to overcome her repugnance, but had only succeeded in making sure that she could conceal it. She had recalled her interview with Senator North again and again. His indubitable interest gave her courage, and a desire to use the best that was in her. And she had turned her mind more often still to those men in the church and the sentiments they had inspired. The shutters of the parsonage were closed, there was crape on the door. Betty turned the knob and entered. A number of people were in a room on the right of the hall. At the head of the room, barely out-lined in the heavy shadows, was a coffin on its trestle.
The house smelt musty and damp. Betty pushed back the door and let in the bright winter sunlight. Some one rose from the group beside the coffin and came slowly forward. Betty waited, clinching her hands in her muff, her breath coming shorter. The dark figure in the dark room looked like the shadow of death itself. But it was not superstition that made Betty brace herself. In a moment the figure had stepped into the sunlight beside her.
Betty had imagined the girl handsome; she was not prepared for splendid beauty. Harriet Walker was far above the ordinary height of woman, and very slender and graceful. Her hair and eyes were black, her skin smooth and white, her features aquiline. Hauteur should have been her natural expression, but her eyes were dreamy and melancholy, her mouth discontented. Betty, in that first rapid survey, detected but two flaws in her beauty: her chin was weak and her hands were coarse.
"You are Miss Madison," she said, with the monotonous inflection of grief. "Thank you for coming."
"I am your half-sister," said Betty, putting out her hand. And then the desire to use the best that was in her overcame the repugnance that made her very knees shake, and she put her arms about the girl and kissed her.
"You are mighty kind," said the other. "Will you come into my room?" Betty followed her into a small room, simpler than any in her own servants' quarter. But it was neat, and there was an attempt at smartness in the bright calico curtains and bedspread. The furniture looked home-made, and there was no carpet on the floor.
"Poor girl! poor girl!" exclaimed Betty, impulsively. "Have you ever been happy—here?"
"Well, I don't reckon I've been very happy, ever; but I've given some happiness and I've been loved and sheltered. That is something to be thankful for in this world."
"I am going to take you away," said Betty, abruptly. "Mr. Walker wrote me that you'd be willing to come."
"Oh, yes, I'll go, I reckon. I told him I would. I want to hold up my head. Here I never have, for everybody knows. The white men all round here insulted me until they got tired of trying to make me notice them. One of the young men up on the plantation fell in love with me, and they sent him away and he was drowned at sea. He never knew that I had the black in my blood, and he had asked me to marry him. They did not tell him the truth, for they feared he would then wish to make me his mistress."
She spoke without passion, with a deep and settled melancholy, as if her intelligence had forbidden her to combat the inevitable. Betty burst into tears.
"Don't cry," said the other. "I never do—any more. I used to. And if you'll kindly take me away, I know I'll feel as if I were born over. If there is anything in this world to enjoy, be right sure I shall enjoy it. I'm young yet, and I reckon nobody was made to be sad for ever."
"You shall be happy," exclaimed Betty. "I will see to that. I pledge myself to it. I will make you forget—everything."
Harriet shook her head. "Not everything. Somewhere in my body, hidden away, but there, is a black vein, the blood of slaves. I might get to be happy with lots of books and kind people and no one to despise me for what I can't help, but every night I'd remember that, and then I reckon I'd feel mighty bad."
"You think so now," said Betty, soothingly, and longing for consolation herself. "But when you are surrounded by friends who love you for what you are, by all that goes to make life comfortable and— and—gay; it seems terribly soon to speak of it, but I shall take you to all the theatres and buy you beautiful clothes, and I shall settle on you what your father left me: it is only right you should have it and feel independent. You will travel and see all the beautiful things in Europe. Oh, I know that in time you will forget. When you are away from all that reminds, you cannot fail to forget."
Harriet, who had followed Betty's words with an eager lifting of her heavy eyelids and almost a smile on her mouth, brought her lips together as Betty ceased speaking, and held out her hand.
"Do you see nothing?" she asked.
Betty took the hand in hers. "What do you mean?" she demanded. "All that—the roughness—will wear off. It will be gone in a month."
"There is something there that will never wear off. Look right hard at the finger-nails."
Betty lifted the hand to her face, vaguely recalling observations of her mother when discussing suspicious looking brunettes seen in the North. There was a faint bluish stain at the base of the nails; and she remembered. It was the outward and indelible print of the hidden vein within. The nails are the last stronghold of negro blood. She dropped the hand with an uncontrollable shudder and covered her face with her muff.
"I feel so horribly sorry for you," she said hastily. "It seemed to me for the moment as if your trouble were my own."
If the girl understood, she made no sign; hers had been a life of self-control, and she had been despised from her birth.
"Tell me what you wish me to do now," said Betty, lifting her head. "When can you leave here? Do you wish me to stay with you? Is it impossible for you to go to-day?"
"I cannot leave him until he is buried. And you couldn't stay here. This is Tuesday. I'll go Thursday."
Betty thrust a roll of bills into a drawer. "They are yours by right," she said hurriedly. "Go first to Richmond and get a handsome black frock; you will be sure to find what you want ready made, and it will be better—on account of the servants—for you to look well when you arrive. Spend it all. There is plenty more. Buy all sorts of nice things. I will go now. There is a train soon. Telegraph when you start for Washington and I will meet you. Good by, and please be sure that I shall make you happy."
Harriet walked out to the gate, and Betty saw that there were fine lines on her brow and about her mouth. But she was very beautiful, sombre and blighted as she was. She clung to Betty for a moment at parting, then went rapidly into the house.
When Betty reached the street, she restrained an impulse to run, but she walked faster than she had ever walked in her life, persuading herself that she feared to miss her train. She waited three quarters of an hour for it, and there were four dreary hours more before she saw the dome of the Capitol. She arrived at home with a splitting headache and an animal craving to lock herself in her room and get into bed. For the time being no mortal interested her, she was exhausted and emotionless. She described the interview briefly to her mother, then sought the solitude she craved. And as she was young and healthy, she soon fell asleep.
When she awoke next morning she arose and dressed herself at once: in bed the will loses its control over thought, and she wished to think as little as possible. But her mind reverted to the day before, in spite of her will, and she laughed suddenly and went to her desk and wrote on a slip of paper,—
"Every woman writes with one eye on the page and one eye on some man, except the Countess Hahn-Hahn, who has only one eye."—HEINE.
"Some day when I know him better I will give him this," she thought, and put the slip into a drawer by itself.
The load of care had lifted itself and gone. She had done the right thing, the momentous question was settled for the present, and Betty Madison had merely to shake her shoulders and enjoy life again. She threw open the window and let in the sun. There had been a rain-storm in the night and then a severe frost. The ice glistened on the naked trees, encasing and jewelling them. A park near by looked as if the crystal age of the world had come. The bronze equestrian statue within that little wood of radiant trees alone defied the ice-storm, as if the dignity of the death it represented rebuked the lavish hand of Nature.
Betty felt happy and elated, and blew a kiss to the beauty about her. She always had had a large fund of the purely animal joy in being alive, but to-day she was fully conscious that the tremulous quality of her gladness was due to the knowledge that she should see Senator North within five more days and the light of approval in his eyes. Exactly what her feeling for him was she made no attempt to define. She did not care. It was enough that the prospect of seeing him made her happier than she ever had felt before. That might go on indefinitely and she would ask for nothing more. Her recent contact with the serious-practical side of life—as distinct from the serious- intellectual which she had cultivated more than once—had terrified her; she wanted the pleasant, thrilling, unformulated part. For the first time one of her ideals had come forth from the mists of fancy and filled her vision as a man; and he was become the strongest influence in her life. As yet he was unaware of this honour, and she doubtless occupied a very small corner of his thought; but he was interested at last, and he was coming to see her. And then he would come again and again, and she would always feel this same glad quiver in her soul. She felt no regret that she could not marry him; the question of marriage but brushed her mind and was dismissed in haste. That was a serious subject, glum indeed, and dark. She was glad that circumstance limited her imagination to the happy present. She felt sixteen, and as if the world were but as old. Love and the intellect have little in common. They can jog along side by side and not exchange a comment.
"Come down and take a walk," cried a staccato voice. Sally Carter was standing on the sidewalk, her head thrown back. Betty nodded, put on her things and ran downstairs. Miss Carter was wrapped in an old cape, and her turban was on one side, but she looked rosier than usual.
"I've been half-way out to Chevy Chase," she said, "and I was just thinking of paying poor old General Lathom a visit. He does look so well in bronze, poor old dear, and all that ice round him will make him seem like an ogre in fairy-land. He wasn't a bit of an ogre, he was downright afraid of me."
"I suppose a man really feels as great a fool as he looks when he is proposing to a woman he is not sure of. I wonder why they ever do. After I gave up coquetting, came to the conclusion that it wasn't honest, they proposed just the same."
"Some women unconsciously establish a habit of being proposed to. I've had very few proposals, and I know several really beautiful women who have had practically none. As I said, it's a habit, and you can't account for it."
"I went yesterday to Virginia to call on a relative who has just lost her last adopted parent," said Betty, abruptly, "and she looked so forlorn that I asked her to visit us for a while. I hope you'll like her."
"Ah? She must be some relation of mine, too. You and I are third cousins."
"Don't ask me to straighten it out. The ramifications of Southern kinships are beyond me. She is a beauty—very dark and tragic."
"That is kind of you—to run the risk of Senator Burleigh going off at a tangent," said Miss Carter, sharply. "By the way, you cannot deny that you have given him encouragement; you have neither eyes nor ears for any one else when he is round."
"He is usually the most interesting person 'round;' and I have a concentrative mind. But I never intend to marry, and Senator Burleigh has never even looked as if he wanted to propose. By the way, Molly has actually asked him to come to the Adirondacks for a few days. Can't you and your father come for a month or two? Jack has promised to stay with us the whole summer, and we'll be quite a family party."
"Yes, I will," said Miss Carter, promptly. "I haven't been in the Adirondacks for six years and I should love it."
"Harriet Walker—that's our new cousin—will be with us too, most likely. She looks delicate, and I shall try to persuade her that she needs the pines."
"Ah! Look out for the Senator—in the dark pine forests on the mountain."
"I don't know why you should be so concerned for me. I usually have kept an admirer as long as I wanted him."
"Oh, no offence, dear. The dark and tragic lady merely filled my eye at the moment. By the way, Mrs. North thinks of going to the Lake Hotel this summer. Isn't that close by your place?"
"It is just across the lake. There is your old General. He does look like an ogre, and he's got a patch of green mould on his nose. You ought to take better care of him."
"He looks so much better than he did in life that I have no fault to find. The doctor has told Mrs. North that the pine forests may do her all the good in the world, prolong her life, and Mr. North has written to see if he can get an entire wing for her. I hope he can go too, but he always seems to have so much to do at home in summer. I do like him. He's the only man I know who, I feel positive, never could make a fool of himself."
"I am half starved. Come home and have your breakfast with me."
"I should like to. Senator North—"
"There is Mr. Burleigh on horseback—with Mr. Montgomery. He will look well in bronze—but they only put Generals on horseback, don't they? There—he sees me. I am going to ask them to come in to breakfast."
"I believe you like him better than you think, my dear. Your eyes shine like two suns, and I never saw you look so happy."
"The morning is so beautiful and I am so glad that I am alive. I know exactly how much I like Mr. Burleigh."
"Do all Southerners make such delicious coffee?" asked Senator Burleigh, as the four sat about the attractive table in the breakfast- room.
"The Southerners are the only cooks in the United States," announced Miss Carter. "The real difference between the South and the North is that one enjoys itself getting dyspepsia and the other does not."
"There are just six kinds of hot bread on this table," said Burleigh, meditatively.
"And no pie and no doughnuts. Mr. Montgomery, you are really a Southerner—ar'n't you glad to get back to darky cooks?"
"I was until we began on this tariff bill, and now there is not an object you can mention, edible or otherwise, that I don't loathe."
"The details of such a bill must be maddening," said Betty, sympathetically, "but, after all, it is an honour to be on the Ways and Means Committee. There is compensation in everything."
"I don't know. When a man lobbyist tries to find out your weak spot and play on it, you can kick him out of the house, but when they set a woman at you, all you can do is to bow and say: 'My dear madam, it is with the greatest regret I am obliged to inform you that I have sat up every night until three o'clock studying this subject, and that I have made up my mind.' Whereupon she talks straight ahead and hints at trouble with certain constituents next year who want free coal and an exorbitant duty on Zante currants, raisins, wine, and wool. The whole army of lobbyists have camped on my doorstep ever since we began to draw up this bill. How they find time to camp on any one's else would make an interesting study in ubiquity."
"I am afraid some of your ideals have been shattered, and I am afraid you are shattering some of Miss Madison's," said Burleigh, smiling into Betty's disgusted face.
"I hate the dirty work of politics," said Montgomery, gloomily. "Of course it doesn't demoralize you so long as you keep your own hands clean, but it is sickening to suspect that you are sitting cheek by jowl in the Committee Room with a man whose pocket is stuffed with some Trust Company's shares."
"I used to hate it, but I don't see any remedy until we have an educated generation of high-class politicians, and I think that millennium is not far off. As matters stand, there is bound to be a certain percentage of scoundrels and of men too weak to resist a bribe in a great and shifting body like the House. Any scoundrel feels that he can slink among the rest unseen. The old members who have been returned term after term since they began to grow stubby beards on their cast-iron chins are an argument against rotation; they have had a chance to acquire the confidence of the public, they are experienced legislators, and they are incorruptible."
Betty drew a long sigh of relief. "You have cleared up the atmosphere a little," she said. "I thought I was going to learn that the House, at least, was one hideous mass of corruption, praying for burial."
"That is what they think of us outside," said Montgomery. "We might as well all be gangrene, for we get the credit of it."
"I don't like your similes," said Miss Carter; "I haven't finished my breakfast. Mr. Burleigh, you've put on your senatorial manner and I like you better without it. I thought you were going to say, 'Don't interrupt, please,' or 'Would you kindly be quiet until I finish?' at least twice."
"I beg pardon humbly. I am flattered to know that you have thought it worth while to listen to any remarks I may have been forced to make in the Senate."
"I have been twice to the gallery with Betty, and both times you were talking like a steam-engine and warning people off the track."
It was so apt a description of Burleigh's style when on his feet that even he laughed.
"I don't like to be interrupted or contradicted," he said, "I frankly admit it."
"Better not marry an American girl."
"Some Englishwomen have wills of their own," remarked Mr. Montgomery.
"Some men are tyrants in public life and slaves at home—to a beautiful woman," remarked Senator Burleigh.
"Some men are so clever," said Miss Carter. "Give me another waffle, please."
Betty went to the Senate Gallery that afternoon for the first time in several days. It was hard work to keep up with the calling frenzy of Washington and cultivate one's intellect at the same time. There was no one in the private gallery but an old man with a hayseed beard and horny hands. He sat on the first chair in the front row, but rose politely to let Betty pass; and she took off her veil and jacket and gloves and settled herself for a comfortable afternoon. She felt almost as much at home in this family section of the Senate Gallery as in her own room with a copy of the Congressional Record in her hand. Sometimes save for herself it would be empty, when every other gallery, but the Diplomats', of that fine amphitheatre would be nearly full. It was crowded, however, when it was unofficially known that a favourite Senator would speak, or an important bill on the calendar provoke a debate. Leontine no longer accompanied her mistress; she had threatened to leave unless exempted from political duty.
To-day a distinguished Senator on the other side of the Chamber was attacking with caustic emphasis a Republican measure. He was the only man in the Senate with a real Uncle Sam beard. Senator Shattuc's waved like a golden fan from his powerful jaw; but the Democratic appendage opposite was long and narrow, and whisked over the Senator's shoulder like the tail of a comet, when he became heated in controversy. It was flying about at a great rate to-day, and Betty was watching it with much interest, when a proud voice remarked in her ear,—
"That's my Senator, marm. He's powerful eloquent, ain't he?"
Betty nodded. "He's quite a leader."
"I allow he is. He's been leadin' in our State fur twenty years. I allus wanted to hear him speak in Congress, and when I called on him last Monday—when I come to Washington—he told me to come up here to- day and hear him, and he would set me in the Senators' Gallery. And he did."
His voice became a distant humming in Betty's ears. Senator North had entered and taken his seat. He apparently settled himself to listen to the speech, and he looked as calm and unhurried as usual.
"That's North," whispered the old man. "There wuz a lady in here a spell since who pinted a lot of 'em out to me. He looks a little too hard and stern to suit me. I like the kind that slaps you on the back and says 'Howdy.' Now Senator North, he never would: I know plenty that knows him. He's aristocratic; and I don't like his politics, neither. I allus suspicion that politicians ain't all right when they're aristocratic."
"He does not happen to be a politician."
"Don't you want to listen to your Senator? He is very eloquent."
"He's been speakin' fur an hour steady," said the visitor to Washington, philosophically. "I kinder thought I'd like to talk to you a spell. Hev you seen the new library?" "Oh, yes; I live here."
"Do ye? Well, you're lucky. For this city's so grand it's jest a pleasure to walk around. And that Library's the most beautiful buildin' I ever saw in all my seventy-two years. I've been twice a day to look at it, and it makes me feel proud to be an Amurrican. If Paradise is any more beautiful than that there buildin', I do want to go there."
Betty smiled with the swift sympathy she always felt for genuine simplicity, and the old man's pride in his country's latest achievement was certainly touching. She refrained from telling him that she thought the red and yellow ceilings hideous, and delighted him with the assurance that it was the finest modern building in the world.
"What's happened to ye?" he asked sharply, a moment later. "You've straightened up and thrown back your head as if ye owned the hull Senate."
Senator North had wheeled about slowly and glanced up at the private gallery. Then he had risen abruptly and gone into the cloak-room.
"Perhaps I do," said Betty.
She spoke thickly. It seemed incredible that he was coming up to the gallery at last. She had another humble moment and felt it to be a great honour. But she smiled so brilliantly at the old man that he grinned with delight.
"I presume you're the darter of one of these here Senators," he said; "one of the rich ones. You look as if ye hed it all your own way in life, and seein' as you're young and pretty, meanin' no offence, I'm glad you hev. Is your pa one of the leadin' six?"
"My father is dead." She heard the door open and turned her head quickly. It was Senator Shattuc who had entered. He walked rapidly down the aisle, took a seat in the second row of chairs, and gave her a hearty grip of the hand.
"How are you?" he asked. "I was glad to see you were up here. You always look so pleased with the world that it does me good to get a glimpse of you."
Betty liked Senator Shattuc, and held him in high esteem, but at that moment she would willingly have set fire to his political beard. She was used to self-control, however, and she chatted pleasantly with him for ten minutes, while her heart seemed to descend to a lower rib, and her brain reiterated that eternal question of woman which must reverberate in the very ears of Time himself.
He came at last, and Senator Shattuc amiably got up and let him pass in, then took the chair behind the old man and asked him a few good- natured questions before turning to Betty again.
"I started to come some time ago," said Senator North, "but I was detained in one of the corridors. It is hard to escape being buttonholed. This time it was by a young woman from my State who wants a position in the Pension Office. If it had been a man I should have ordered him about his business, but of course one of your charming sex in distress is another matter. However, I got rid of her, and here I am."
"I knew you were coming. I should have waited for you." Now that he was there she subdued her exuberance of spirit; but she permitted her voice to soften and her eyes to express something more than hospitality. He was looking directly into them, and his hard powerful face was bright with pleasure.
"It suddenly occurred to me that you might be up here," he said; "and I lost no time finding out." He lowered his voice. "Did you go? Has it turned out all right?"
"Yes, I went! I'll tell you all about it on Sunday. I never had such a painful experience."
"Well, I'm glad you had it. You would have felt a great deal worse if you had shirked it. However—Yes?"
Senator Shattuc was asking him if he thought the Democratic Senator was in his usual form.
"No," he said, "I don't. What is he wasting his wind for, anyway? We'll pass the bill, and he's all right with his constituents. They know there's no more rabid watch-dog of the Treasury in America."
"I suspect it does him good to bark at us," said Senator Shattuc.
The old man looked uneasy. "Ain't that a great speech?" he asked.
The two Senators laughed. "Well, it's better than some," said Shattuc. "And few can make a better when he's got a subject worthy of him," he added kindly.
"That's perlite, seein' as you're a Republican. I allow as I'll go. Good-day, marm. I'll never forgit as how you told me you'd bin all over Yurrup and that there ain't no modern buildin' so fine as our new Library. Good-day to ye, sirs."
Senator Shattuc shook him warmly by the hand. Senator North nodded, and Betty gave him a smile which she meant to be cordial but was a trifle absent. She wished that Senator Shattuc would follow him, but he sat down again at once. He, too, felt at home in that gallery, and it had never occurred to him that one Senator might be more welcome there than another. Senator North's face hardened, and Betty, fearing that he would go, said hurriedly,—
"Ar'n't you ever going to speak again? I have heard you only once."
"I rarely make set speeches, although I not infrequently engage in debate—when some measure comes up that needs airing."
"You ought to speak oftener, North," said Senator Shattuc. "You always wake us up."
"You have no business to go to sleep. If I talked when I had nothing to say, you'd soon cease to be waked up. Our friend over there has put three of our esteemed colleagues to sleep. He'll clear the galleries in a moment and interfere with Norris's record.—I suppose you have never seen that memorable sight," he said to Betty: "an entire gallery audience get up and walk out when a certain Senator takes the floor?"
"How very rude!"
"The great American public loves a show, and when the show is not to its taste it has no hesitation in making its displeasure known."
"Why do you despise the great American public? You never raise your voice so that any one in the second row up here can hear you."
"I have no love for the gallery. Nor do I talk to constituents. When it is necessary to talk to my colleagues, I do so, and it matters little to me whether the reporters and the public hear me or not. When my constituents are particularly anxious to know what stand I have taken on a certain question, I have the speech printed and send it to them; but as a rule they take my course for granted and let me alone."
"But tell me, Mr. North," said Betty, squaring about and putting her questions so pointedly that he, perforce, must answer them, "would you really not like to make a speech down there that would thrill the nation, as the speeches of Clay and Webster used to? And you could make a speech like that. Why don't you?"
"My dear Miss Madison, if I attempted to thrill the American people by lofty emotions and an impassioned appeal to their higher selves, I should only bring down a storm of ridicule from seven-eighths of the American press. I could survive that, for I should not read it, but my effort would be thrown away. The people to whom it was directed would feel ashamed of what thrill was left in it after it had reached them through the only possible medium. This is the age—in this country—of hard practical sense without any frills, or thrills. It is true that there is a certain amount of sham oratory surviving in the Senate, but the very fact that it is sham protects it from the press. The real thing would irritate and alarm the spirits of mediocrity and sensationalism which dominate the press to-day. A sensational speech, one in which a man makes a fool of himself, it delights in, and it encourages him by half a column of head-lines. A speech by a great man, granted that we had one, carried away by lofty patriotism and striving to raise his country, if only for a moment, to his own pure altitude, would make the press feel uneasy and resentful, and it would neutralize every word he uttered by the surest of all acids, ridicule. An American statesman of to-day must be content to legislate quietly, to use his intellect and his patriotism in the Committee Room, and to keep a sharp eye on the bills brought forward by other Committees. As for speeches, those look best in the Record which make no appeal to the gallery. There, you cannot say I have not made you a speech!" "Well, make me another, and tell me why you even consider the power of the press. I mean, how you bring yourself even to think about it. You have defied public opinion more than once. You have stood up and told your own State that it was wrong and that you would not legislate as it demanded. I am sure you would defy the whole country, if you felt like it."
"Ah, that is another matter. The hard-headed American respects honest convictions, especially when they are maintained in defiance of self- interest. I never shall lose my State by an unwavering policy, however much I may irritate it for the moment. I could a heterogeneous Western State, of course, but not a New England one. We are a conservative, strong-willed race, and we despise the waverer. We are hard because it always has been a hard struggle for survival with us. Therefore we know what we want, and we have no desire to change when we get it. There goes the bell for Executive Session. You and I must go our different ways."
"Do you dislike her?" asked Betty anxiously of her mother on the night of Harriet's arrival. "I do not, and yet I feel that I never can love her—could not even if it were not for that."
"It is that. You never will love her. I cannot say that she has made any impression on me whatever, so far. She seems positively congealed. I suppose she is frightened and worn out, poor thing! She may improve when she is rested and happier."
And the next day, as Betty drove her about the city and showed her the classic public buildings, the parks, white and glittering under a light fall of snow, the wide avenues in which no one seemed to hurry, and the stately private dwellings, Harriet's eyes were wide open with pleasure, and she sat up straight and alert.
"And I am really to live in this wonderful city?" she exclaimed. "How long will it be before I shall have seen all the beautiful things inside those buildings? Do you mean that I can go through all of them? Why, I never even dreamed that I'd really see the world one day. All I prayed for was books, more books. And now I'm living in a house with a right smart library, and you will let me read them all. I don't know which makes me feel most happy."
"I will ask my cousin, Mr. Emory, to take you to all the galleries, and you must go to the White House and shake hands with the President."
"Oh, I should like to!" she exclaimed. "I should like to! I should indeed feel proud." She flushed suddenly and turned away her head. Betty called her attention hastily to a shop window: they had turned into F Street. She was determined that the obnoxious subject should never be mentioned between them if she could help it.
"I'll take you to New York and show you the shops there," she continued. "New York was invented that woman might appreciate her superiority over man."
"I'd love a yellow satin dress trimmed with red and blue beads," said Harriet, thoughtfully.
Betty shuddered. For the moment F Street seemed flaunting with old Aunty Dinah's bandannas. She replied hurriedly,—
"You will have all sorts of new ideas by the time you go out of mourning. I suppose you will wear black for a year."
"That makes me think. While I'm in black I can't see your fine friends. I'd like to study. Could I afford a teacher?"
"You can have a dozen. I've told you that I intend to turn over to you the money father left me. Mr. Emory will attend to it. You will have about five hundred dollars a month to do what you like with."
The girl gasped, then shook her head. "I can't realize that sum," she said. "But I know it's riches, and I wish—I wish he were alive."
"If he were you would not have it, for I should not know of you. You will enjoy having a French teacher and a Professor of Belles Lettres. Have you any talent for music?"
"I can play the banjo—"
"I mean for the piano."
"I never saw one till yesterday, so I can't say. But I reckon I could play anything."
Her Southern brogue was hardly more marked than Jack Emory's, but she mispronounced many of her words and dropped the final letters of others: she said "hyah" for "here" and "do'" for "door," and once she had said "done died." Betty determined to give special instructions to the Professor.
Senator Burleigh and Emory dined at the house that evening, and although Harriet was shy, and blushed when either of the men spoke to her the deep and tragic novelty of their respectful admiration finally set her somewhat at her ease, and she talked under her breath to Emory of the pleasurable impression Washington had made on her rural mind. After dinner she went with him to the library, where he showed her his favourite books, and advised her to read them.
"Will you have a cigarette?" he asked. "Betty accuses me of being old- fashioned, but I am modern enough to think that a woman and a cigarette make a charming combination: she looks so companionable."
"I've smoked a pipe," said Harriet, doubtfully; "but I've never tried a cigarette. I reckon I could, though."
He handed her a cigarette, and she smoked with the natural grace which pervaded all her movements. She sank back in the deep chair she had chosen, and puffed out the smoke indolently.
"I am so happy," she said. "I reckoned down there that the world was beautiful somewhere, but I never expected to see it. And it is, it is. Poor old uncle used to say that nothing amounted to much when you got it, but he didn't know, he didn't know. This room is so big, and the light is so soft, and this chair is so lazy, and the fire is so warm—" She looked at Emory with the first impulse of coquetry she had ever experienced; and her eyes were magnificent.
"Are you, too, happy?" she asked softly.
He stood up suddenly and gave a little nervous laugh, darting an embarrasing glance over his shoulder.
"I feel uncommonly better than usual," he admitted.
Betty awoke the next morning with the impression that she was somewhere on the border of a negro camp-meeting. She had passed more than one when driving in the country, and been impressed with the religious frenzy for which the human voice seemed the best possible medium. As she achieved full consciousness, she understood that it was not a chorus of voices that filled her ear, but one,—rich, sonorous, impassioned. It was singing one of the popular Methodist hymns with a fervour which not even its typical African drawl and wail could temper. It was some moments before Betty realized that the singer was Harriet Walker, and then she sprang out of bed and flung on her wrapper.
"Great heaven!" she thought. "How shall we ever be able to keep her secret? A bandanna gown and a voice like a cornfield darky's! I suppose all the servants are listening in the hall."
They were,—even the upper servants, who were English,—but they scuttled away as their mistress appeared. She crossed the hall to Harriet's room, rapped loudly, and entered. Her new sister, still in her nightgown, was enjoying the deep motion of a rocking-chair, hymn- book in hand. She brought her song to a halt as Betty appeared, but it was some seconds before the inspired expression in her eyes gave place to human greeting. Her face happened to be in shadow, and for the moment Betty saw her black. Her finely cut features were indistinct, and the ignorant fanaticism of a not remote grandmother looked from her eyes. "Harriet!" exclaimed Betty. "I don't want to be unkind, but you must not do that again. If you want to keep your secret, never sing a hymn again as long as you live."
"Ah!" Harriet gave a gasp, then a half-sob. "Ah! But I love to sing them, honey. I have sung them every Sunday all my life, and he loved them. He said I could sing with anybody, he wouldn't except angels. I 'most felt he was listening."
"You have a magnificent voice, and you must have it cultivated. But never sing another hymn."
"When I go to church I know I'll just shout—without knowing what I'm doing."
"Then don't go to church," said Betty, desperately.
"I must! I must! What'll the Lode say to me? Oh, my po' old uncle!"
She was weeping like a passionate child. Betty sat down beside her and took her hand.
"Come," she said, "listen to me. The first time I saw you the deepest impression I received of you was one of fine self-control. Doubtless you wept and stormed a good deal before you acquired it—at all the different stages of what was both renunciation and acquisition. The last few days have unsettled you a little because you have found yourself in a new world, minus all your old responsibilities and trials, and the experience has made you feel younger, robbed you of some of your hold on yourself. But that habit of self-control is in your brain,—it is the last to leave us,—and all you have to do is to sit down and think hard and adjust yourself. It is even more important that you make no mistakes now than it was before. Fate seldom gives any one two chances to begin life over again. Think hard and keep a tight rein on yourself."
Betty had more than negro hymns in her mind, but she did not care to be explicit. The generalities of the subject were disagreeable enough.
Harriet had ceased her sobbing and was listening intently. She dried her eyes as Betty finished speaking.
"You are right, honey," she said. "And I reckon you haven't spoken any too soon, for I was likely to get my head turned. I'll go to church and I won't sing. First I'll tie a string round my neck to remember, and after that it'll be easy. I'm afraid I'm just naturally lazy, and if I didn't watch myself I'd soon forget all the hard lessons I've learned and get to be like some fat ornary old nigger who's got an easy job."
Betty shuddered. "The white race is not devoid of laziness. If you want a reason for yours, just remember that the Southern sun has prevented many a man from becoming great. Keep your mind as far away from the other thing as possible."
"Oh, I think I'll forget it. I felt that way yesterday. But perhaps I'd better not," she added anxiously, as her glance fell on the hymn- book. "No cross, no crown."
"You will find crosses enough as you go through life," said Betty, dryly. She rose to go, and Harriet rose also and drew herself up to her full height. For the moment she looked again the tragic figure of the first day of their acquaintance.
"You must have seen by this time how ignorant I am," she said mournfully. "Poor old uncle gave me all the schooling he had himself, but I knew even then it wasn't what they have nowadays. And I've had so few books to read. Once I found a five-dollar bill, and as he wouldn't take it—the most I could do—I tramped all the way to the nearest town and back, twenty miles, and bought a big basket full of cheap reprints of English standard novels. Those and the few old Latin books and the Bible and the Pilgrim's Progress are about all I've ever read. I felt like writing you that when I read his letter, and also telling you that I was afraid you wouldn't find me a lady in your sense of the word—"
"You are my sister," interrupted Betty; "of course you are a lady. Dismiss any other idea from your mind. And in a year you will know so much that I shall be afraid of you. I have neglected my books for several years."
"You are mighty good, and I'll humbly take all the advice you'll give me."
Betty went back to her room and sought the warm nest she had left. "She makes me feel old," she thought. "Am I to be responsible for the development of her character? I can't send her off to Europe yet. There's nothing to do but keep her for at least a year, until she knows something of the world and feels at home in it. Meanwhile I suppose I must be her guide and philosopher! I believe that my acquaintance with Senator North has made me feel like a child. He is so much wiser in a minute than I could be in a lifetime; and as I have made him the pivot on which the world revolves, no wonder I feel small by contrast.
"But after all, I am twenty-seven, and what is more, I have seen a good deal of men," she added abruptly. And in a moment she admitted that she had allowed her heart, full of the youth of unrealities and dreams, to act independently of her more mature intelligence.
"And that is the reason I have been so happy," she mused. "There is a facer for the intelligence. As long as I have exercised it I have never felt as if I were walking on air and song."
But still her imagination did not wander beyond today's meeting and many like it. He was married, and, independent as she was, she had received that sound training in the conventions from which the mind never wholly recovers. She registered a vow then and there that she would become his friend of friends, the woman to whom he came for all his pleasant hours, in time his confidante. She would devote her thought to the making of herself into the companion he most needed and desired; and she would conceal her love lest he conceive it his duty to avoid her. She wondered if she had betrayed herself, and concluded that she had not. Even he could not guess how much of her admiration emanated from frankness and how much from coquetry. She would be careful in the future.
"That point settled," she thought, curling down deeper into her bed and preparing for a nap, "I'll anticipate his coming and think about him with all the youthful exuberance I please."
Betty had invited Senator Burleigh to dinner on Saturday, that he might feel free to call elsewhere on Sunday. At four o'clock, when Mrs. Madison had retired for her nap, she commanded Jack Emory to take Harriet for a long walk and a long ride on the cable cars, and to stop for Sally Carter. No one else was likely to call, and she retired to her boudoir, a three-cornered room in an angle between the parlor and library, to await Senator North.
The boudoir was a room that any man might look forward to after a hard day on Capitol Hill. Its easychairs were very soft and deep, its rugs were rosy and delicate, and the walls and windows and doors were hung with one of those old French silk stuffs with a design of royal conventionality and uniformly old rose in colour. All of Betty's own books were there, her piano, several handsome pieces of carved oak, and a unique collection of ivory. Betty had banished the former girlish simplicity of this room a few days after her introduction to the Montgomery house. She had imagined herself greeting Senator North in it many times, and had received no other man within its now sacred walls.
She wore a white cloth gown today and a blue ribbon in her hair. There was also a touch of blue at the neck, to make her throat look the whiter. Otherwise, the long closely fitting gown was without ornament as far down as the hem, which was lightly embroidered in white. She looked tall and lithe, but her figure was round, and did not sway like a reed that a strong wind would beat to the ground, as Harriet's did. Although that possible descendant of African kings possessed the black splendour of eyes and hair and a marble regularity of feature, Betty was the more beautiful woman of the two; for her colour filled and warmed the eye, she seemed typical of womanhood in its highest development, and she was a chosen receptacle of enchantment. Moreover, she was more modern and original, and as healthy as had been the fashion for the past generation, Harriet looked like an old Roman coin come to life, with a blight on her soul and little blood in her thin body. It was not in Betty's nature to fear any woman, much less to experience petty jealousy, but it was not without satisfaction she reflected that she and Harriet would hardly attract the same sort of man. Jack was doing his duty nobly, and he liked vivacious women who amused him, poor soul! As for Senator Burleigh, he had said politely that she was handsome but looked delicate, and then unquestionably dismissed her from his mind. He and Betty had talked politics on the previous evening until Mrs. Madison had slipped off to bed an hour earlier than usual.
Betty dismissed them all from her mind and glanced at the clock. It was half-past four. She thrust the poker between the glowing logs, and the flames leaped and sent a quivering glow through the charming room. Betty leaned back in her chair and closed her eyes, almost holding her breath that she might hear the advancing step of the butler the sooner. In what seemed to her exactly thirty minutes she looked at the clock again. It was twenty-five minutes to five. She nestled down, assuring herself that nobody could be expected to come on the moment, but this time she did not close her eyes; she watched the clock.
And the joy imperceptibly died out of her; the hands travelled inexorably round to ten minutes to five; she remembered that she had not seen Senator North since Wednesday, and that in four days a busy legislator might easily forget the existence of every woman he knew, except perhaps of the woman he loved. Within her seemed to rise a tide of bitter memories, the memories of all those women who had sat and waited through dreary hours for man's uncertain coming. She shivered and drew close to the fire and covered her face with her hands. Her heart ached for the helpless misery of her sex.
But she sprang suddenly to her feet. The butler was coming down the hall. A moment later he had ushered in Senator North, and Betty forgot the misery of the world, forgot it so completely that there was no violent reaction; she was merely what she had been at half-past four, full of pleasurable excitement held down and watched over by the instinct of caution.
"I must apologize humbly for being late," he said, "but on Sunday I always sit with my wife until she falls asleep, and to-day she was nearly an hour later than usual. What a room to come into out of a biting wind! Thank heaven I was able to get here."