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- Senator North - 40/56 -
had been half quiescent so long as its superficial wants were gratified. Troubled times were coming when he would need her, would seek her whenever he could, and yet when their meetings must be short and unsatisfactory. When hours are no longer possible, minutes become precious, and the more precious the more dangerous. If she were older, if tragedy and thought had sobered and matured her character, if she were deprived of the protection of the lighter moods of her mind, would not the danger be greater still? The childish remnant upon which she had instinctively relied had gone out of her, she had a deeper and grimmer knowledge of what life would be without the man who had conquered her through her highest ideals and most imperious needs; and of what it would be with him.
She had no intention of making a problem out of the matter, constantly as her mind dwelt upon the future. Senator North had told her once that problems fled when the time for action began. She supposed that one of two things would happen after her return to Washington: great events would absorb his mind and leave him with neither the desire nor the time for more than an occasional friendly hour with her; or after a conscientious attempt to take up their relationship on the old lines and give each other the companionship both needed, all intercourse would abruptly cease.
"I am going to have my _salon,_ or at all events the beginning of it, at once," said Betty to Sally Carter on the afternoon of her arrival, "and I want you to help me."
"I am ready for any change," said Miss Carter. Her appearance was unaltered, and she had spoken of Emory's death without emotion. Whether she had put the past behind her with the philosophy of her nature, or whether his marriage with a woman for whose breed she had a bitter and fastidious contempt had killed her love before his death, Betty could only guess. She made no attempt to learn the truth. Sally's inner life was her own; that her outer was unchanged was enough for her friends.
"I am going to give a dinner to thirty people on the sixth of January. Here is the list. You will see that every man is in official life. There are eight Senators, five members of the House, the British Ambassador, and the Librarian of Congress. Some of them know my desire for a _salon_ and are ready to help me. I shall talk about it quite freely. In these days you must come out plainly and say what you want. If you wait to be too subtle, the world runs by you. I am determined to have a _salon,_ and a famous one at that. This is an ambitious list, but half-way methods don't appeal to me."
"Nobody ever accused you of an affinity for the second best, my dear; but you may thank your three stars of luck for providing you with the fortune and position to achieve your ambitions: beauty and brains alone wouldn't do it. Senator North," she continued from the list in her hand: "Mrs. North is wonderfully improved, by the way; has not been so well in twenty years. Senator Burleigh: he is out flat-footed against free silver since the failure of the bi-metallic envoys, and his State is furious. Senator Shattuc is for it, so they probably don't speak. Senator Ward might be induced to fall in love with Lady Mary and turn his eloquence on the Senate in behalf of a marriage between Uncle Sam and Britannia. There is no knowing what your _salon_ may accomplish, and that would be a sight for the gods. Senator Maxwell will inveigh in twelve languages against recognizing the belligerency of the Cubans. Senator French will supply the distinguished literary element. Senator March represents the conservative Democrat who is too good for the present depraved condition of his State. If you want to immortalize yourself, invent a political broom. Senator Eustis: he thinks the only fault with the Senate is that it is too good-natured and does not say No often enough. Who are the Representatives? The only Speaker, the immortal Chairman of the Committee on Ways and Means--don't place me near him, for I've just paid a hideous bill at the Custom House and I'd scratch his eyes out. Mr. Montgomery: he and Lady Mary are getting almost devoted. Trust a clever woman to pinch the memory of any other woman to death. The redoubtable Mr. Legrand, also of Maine, upon whom the shafts of an embittered minority seem to fall so harmlessly; and Mr. Armstrong--who is he? I thought I knew as much about politics as you, by this time, but I don't recall his name."
"I met him at Narragansett, and had several talks with him. He is a Bryanite, but very gentlemanly, and his convictions were so strong and so unquestionably genuine that he interested me. I want the best of all parties. We can't sit up and agree with each other."
"Don't let that worry you, darling. Mr. North has been contradicting everybody in the Senate for twenty years. Your devoted Burleigh quarrels with everybody but yourself. Mr. Maxwell snubs everybody who presumes to disagree with him, and French is so superior that I long for some naughty little boys to give him a coat of pink paint. Your _salon_ will probably fight like cats. If the war cloud gets any bigger, your mother will go to bed early on _salon_ nights and send for a policeman. I look forward to it with an almost painful joy. I want to go in to dinner with Mr. March, by the way. He is the noblest-looking man in Congress--looks like what the statues of the founders of the Republic would look like if they were decently done. I'll paint the menu cards for you, and I'll wear a new gown I've just paid ninety-three dollars duty on--I certainly shall tear out the eyes of 'the honourable gentleman from Maine.'"
When Sally had gone, after an hour of consultation on the various phases of the dinner, Betty sat for some moments striving to call up something from the depths of her brain, something that had smitten it disagreeably as it fell, but sunk too quickly, under a torrent of words, to be analyzed at the moment. It had made an extremely unpleasant impression;--painful perhaps would be a better word.
In the course of ten minutes she found the sentence which had made the impression: "Mrs. North is wonderfully improved, by the way; has not been so well in twenty years."
The words seemed to hang themselves up in a row in her mind; they turned scarlet and rattled loudly. Betty made no attempt to veil her mental vision; she stared hard at the words and at the impression they had produced. Mrs. North was out of danger, and the fact was a bitter disappointment to her. In spite of the resolute expulsion of the very shadow of Mrs. North from her thought, her sub-consciousness had conceived and brought forth and nurtured hope. What had made her content to drift, what had made her look with an almost philosophical eye on the future, was the unadmitted certainty that in the natural course of events a woman with a shattered constitution must go her way and leave her husband free. Had he thought of this? He must have, she concluded. She was beginning to look facts squarely in the face; it was an old habit with him, older than herself. There never was a more practical brain.
For the first time in her life she almost hated herself. She had done and felt many things which she sincerely regretted, but this seemed incomparably the worst. And despite her protest, her bitter self- contempt, the sting of disappointment remained; she could not extract it.
She went out and walked several miles, as she always did when nervous and troubled. She came to the conclusion that she was glad to have heard this news to-day. She and Senator North were to meet in the evening for the first time in five months. She had looked forward to this meeting with such a mingling of delight and terror that several times she had been on the point of sending him word not to come. But the impression Sally's information had made had hardened her. She was so disappointed in herself, so humiliated to find that a mortal may fancy himself treading the upper altitudes, only to discover that the baser forces in the brain are working independently of the will, that she felt in anything but a melting mood. She knew that this mood would pass; she had watched the workings of the brain, its abrupt transitions and its reactions, too long to hope that she suddenly had acquired great and enduring strength. The future had not expelled one jot of its dangers, perhaps had supplemented them, but for the hour she not only was safe from herself, but the necessity to turn him from her door had receded one step.
She had intended to receive him in the large and formal environment of the parlor, but in her present mood the boudoir was safe, and she was glad not to disappoint him; she knew that he loved the room. And if her brain had sobered, her femininity would endure unaltered for ever. She wore a charming new gown of white crepe de chine flowing over a blue petticoat, and a twist of blue in her hair. She had written to him from New York when to call, and he had sent a large box of lilies of the valley to greet her. She had arranged them in a bowl, and wore only a spray at her throat. Women with beautiful figures seldom care for the erratic lines and curves of the floral decoration. She heard him coming down the corridor and caught her breath, but that was all. She did not tremble nor change colour.
When he came in, he took both her hands and looked at her steadily for a moment. They made no attempt at formal greeting, and there was no need of subterfuge of any sort between them. No two mortals ever understood each other better.
"I see the change in you," he said. "I expected it. You have given me a great deal, and your last survival of childhood was not the least. The serious element has developed itself, and you look the embodiment of an Ideal." He dropped her hands and walked to the end of the room. When he returned and threw himself into a chair, she knew that his face had changed, then been ordered under control.
"What shall I talk to you about?" he asked with an almost nervous laugh. "Politics? Comparatively little happened in the Senate before the holidays. The President's message was of peculiar interest to me, inasmuch as it indicated that he is approaching Spain in the right way and will succeed in both relieving the Cubans and averting war if the fire-eaters will let him alone. The Cubans probably will not listen to the offer of autonomy, for it comes several years too late and their confidence in Spain has gone forever; but I am hoping that while this country is waiting to see the result, it will come to its senses. The pressure upon us has been intolerable. Both Houses have been flooded with petitions and memorials by the thousands: from Legislatures, Chambers of Commerce, Societies, Churches, from associations of every sort, and from perhaps a million citizens. The Capitol looks like a paper factory. If autonomy fails soon enough, or if some new chapter of horrors can be concocted by the Yellow Press, or if the unforeseen happens, war will come. The average Congressman and even Senator does
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