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- Senator North - 3/56 -
corner comfortably and setting a worthy example to the less favoured of Mammon.
But Betty's attention suddenly was arrested and held by two men who sat on the opposite side of the aisle, although not together, and apparently were unrelated. There were no others quite like them in the church, but the conviction slowly forced itself into her mind, magnetic for new impressions, that there were many elsewhere. They were men who were descending the fifties, tall, with straight gray hair. One was very slender, and all but distinguished of carriage; the other was heavier, and would have been imposing but for the listless droop of his shoulders. The features of both were finely cut, and their complexions far removed from the reproach of "yellow." They looked like sun-burned gentlemen.
For nearly ten minutes Betty stared, fascinated, while her mind grappled with the deep significance of all those two sad and patient men expressed. They inherited the shell and the intellect, the aspirations and the possibilities of the gay young planters whose tragic folly had called into being a race of outcasts with all their own capacity for shame and suffering.
Betty went home and for twenty-four hours fought with the desire to champion the cause of the negro and make him her life-work. But not only did she abominate women with missions; she looked at the subject upon each of its many sides and asked a number of indirect questions of her cousin, Jack Emory. Sincere reflection brought with it the conclusion that her energies in behalf of the negro would be superfluous. The careless planters were dead; she could not harangue their dust. The Southerners of the present generation despised and feared the coloured race in its enfranchised state too actively to have more to do with it than they could help; if it was a legal offence for Whites and Blacks to marry, there was an equally stringent social law which protected the coloured girl from the lust of the white man. Therefore, as she could not undo the harm already done, and as a crusade in behalf of the next generation would be meaningless, not to say indelicate, she dismissed the "problem" from her mind. But the image of those two sad and stately reflections of the old school sank indelibly into her memory, and rose to their part in one of the most momentous decisions of her life.
The Montgomerys had come to Washington for the first time at the beginning of the previous winter, while the Madisons were in England. Lady Mary had left her note of introduction the day before Betty's declaration of independence.
Betty was anxious to meet the young Englishwoman, not only because she possessed the charmed key to political society, but her history as related by certain gossips of authority commanded interest.
Randolph Montgomery, a young Californian millionaire, had followed his mother's former ward, Lady Maundrell, to England, nursing an old and hopeless passion. What passed between him and the beautiful young countess the gossips did not attempt to state, but he left England two days after the tragedy which shelved Cecil Maundrell into the House of Lords, and returned to California accompanied by his mother and Lady Barnstaple's friend, Lady Mary Montgomery. Bets were exchanged freely as to the result of this bold move on the part of a girl too fastidious to marry any of the English parvenus that addressed her, too poor to marry in her own class. The wedding took place a few months later, immediately after Mrs. Montgomery's death; an event which left Lady Mary the guest in a foreign country of a young bachelor.
From all accounts, the marriage, although a wide deflection from the highest canons of romance, was a successful one, and the Montgomerys were living in splendid state in Washington. Lady Mary was approved by even the "Old Washingtonians"--a thoughtful Californian of lineage had given her a letter to Miss Carter, who in turn had given her a tea-- and as her husband was brilliant, accomplished, and of the best blood of Louisiana, the little set, tenaciously clinging to its traditional exclusiveness amidst the whirling ever-changing particles of the political maelstrom, found no fault in him beyond his calling. And as he was a man of tact and never mentioned politics in its presence, and as his wife was not at home to the public on the first Tuesday of the month, reserving that day for such of her friends as shunned political petticoats, the young couple were taken straight into the bosom of that inner set which the ordinary outsider might search for a very glimpse of in vain.
How Lady Mary stood with the large and heterogeneous political set Betty had no means of knowing, and she was curious to ascertain; she could think of no position more trying for an Englishwoman of Mary Gifford's class.
As she drove toward the house several hours after announcing her plan of campaign to her mother, she found Massachusetts Avenue blocked with carriages and recalled suddenly that Tuesday was "Representatives' day." She gave a little laugh as she imagined Mrs. Madison's plaintive distaste. And then she felt the tremor and flutter, the pleasurable desire to run away, which had assailed her on the night of her first ball. That was eight years ago, and she had not experienced a moment of nervous trepidation since.
"Am I about to be re-born?" she thought. "Or merely rejuvenated? I certainly do feel young again."
She looked about critically as she entered the house. Her own home, which was older than the White House, was large and plain, with lofty rooms severely trimmed in the colonial style. There were no portieres, no modern devices of decoration. Everything was solid and comfortable, worn, and of a long and honourable descent. The dining-room and large square hall were striking because of the blackness of their oak walls, the many family portraits, and certain old trophies of the chase, as vague in their high dark corners as fading daguerreotypes.
So imbued was Betty with the idea that anything more elaborate was the sign manifest of too recent fortune, that she had indulged in caustic criticism of the modern palaces of certain New York friends. But although the immediate impression of the Montgomery house was of soft luxurious richness, and it was indubitably the home of wealthy people determined to enjoy life, Miss Madison's dainty nose did not lift itself.
"At all events, the money is not laid on with a trowel," she thought. And then she became aware of a curious sensuous longing as she looked again at the dim rich beauty about her, the smothered windows, the suggested power of withdrawal from every vulgar or annoying contact beyond those stately walls.
"I should like--I should like--" thought Betty, striving to put her vague emotion into words, "to live in this sort of house when I marry." And then her humour flashed up: it was a sense that sat at the heels of every serious thought. "What a combination with the twang and the toothpick! Can they really be my fate? Of course I might reform both, and cut off his Uncle Sam beard while he slept."
She had taken the wrong direction and entered a room in which there was not even a stray guest. A loud buzz of voices rose and fell at the end of a long hall, and she slowly made her way to the drawing-room, pausing once to watch a footman who was busily sorting visiting-cards into separate packs at a table. She handed him her card, and he slipped it into a pack marked "I Street."
The drawing-room was thronged with people, and as many of them surrounded the hostess, while constant new-comers pressed forward to shake a patient hand, Betty decided to stand apart for a few moments and look at the crowd. She was in a new world, and as eager and curious as if she had been shot from Earth to Mars.
Lady Mary was quite as handsome as her portraits: a cold blue and white and ashen beauty whose carriage and manifest of race were in curious contrast, Lee had told Betty, to a nervous manner and the loud voice of one who conceived that social laws had been invented for the middle class. But there was little vivacity in her manner to-day, and her voice was not audible across the large room. She looked tired. It was half-past five o'clock, and doubtless she had been on her feet since three. But she was smiling graciously upon her visitors, and gave each a warmth of welcome which betrayed the wife of the ambitious politician.
"Her mouth is not so selfish as in her photographs," observed the astute Betty. "I suppose in the depths of her soul she hates this, but she does it; and if she loves the man, she must think it well worth while."
She turned her attention to the visitors. There were many women superbly dressed, in taste as perfect as her own. She never had seen any of them before, but they had the air of women of importance. The majority looked frigid and bored, a few dignified and easy of manner. The younger women of the same class were more animated, but no less irreproachable in style.
There were others, middle-aged and young, with all the native style of the second-class, and still others who were clad in coarse serges, cashmeres, or cheap silks, shapelessly made with the heavy hand of many burdens. These did not detain the hostess in conversation, but gathered in groups, or walked about the room gazing at the many beautiful pictures and ornaments. There were only three or four really vulgar-looking women present, and they were clothed in conspicuous raiment. One, and all but her waist was huge, wore a bodice of transparent gauze; another, also of middle years, had crowned her hard over-coloured face with a large gentian-blue hat turned up in front with a brass buckle. Another was in pink silk and heavily powdered. But although these women were offensively loud, they did not suggest any lack of that virtue whose exact proportions so often elude the most earnest seeker after truth.
Betty turned impulsively to an old woman clad in shabby black who stood besides her gazing earnestly at the crowd. Her large bony face was crossed by the lines and wrinkles of long years of care, and her eyes were dim; but her mouth was smiling.
"Tell me," exclaimed Betty, "please--are all these people in politics? I--I--am a stranger, and I should like to know who they are."
"Well, I can tell you pretty near everything you want to know, I guess," replied the old lady. She had the drawl and twang and accent of rural New England. "I guess you've come here, like myself, jest to see the folks. A few here, like you and me, ar'n't in official life, but the most are, I guess. Nearly all the Cabinet ladies are here to- day and a good many Senators' wives and darters. That there lady in heliotrope and fur is the wife of the Secretary of War, and the one in
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