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- Senator North - 10/56 -
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."
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