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- Senator North - 6/56 -
to-morrow and study up the record of every man in that Senate, as well as the legislative methods of his State. When you know all about it, I shall be delighted to be instructed. But I don't want any more air. Now come in to dinner, and if you allude to the subject before Molly, I'll leave the table."
He bowed over her hand again with his old-fashioned courtesy. "When you issue a command I am bound to obey," he said, "and although you have set me an unpleasant, an obnoxious task, I certainly shall accomplish that also to the best of my ability. You belong to this old house, Betty, to this old set; I love to think of you as the last rose on the old Southern tree, and you shall not be blighted if I can help it."
Betty tapped him lightly with her fan.
"I belong to the whole country, my dear boy; I am no old cabbage rose on a half-dead bush, but the same vegetable under a new name,--the American Beauty Rose. Do you see the parable? And I've a great many thorns on my long stem. Remember that also."
Betty, in accordance with a time-honoured habit, was the last to arrive at the dinner-party on the following evening. She had arranged her heavy large-waved hair low on her neck, and the pale green velvet of her gown lifted its dull mahogany hue and the deep Southern whiteness of her skin. She did not take a beautiful picture, for her features had the national irregularity, but she seldom entered a room that several men did not turn and stare at her. She carried herself with the air of one used to commanding the homage of men, her lovely colouring was always enhanced by dress, and she radiated magnetism. It was such an alive, warm, buoyant personality that men turned to her as naturally as children do to the maternal woman; even when they did not love her they liked to be near her, for she recalled some vague ideal. She knew her power perfectly, and after one or two memorable lessons had put from her the temptation to give it active exercise. It should be the instrument of unqualified happiness when her hour came; meanwhile she cultivated an impersonal attitude which baffled men unable to propose and tempered the wind to those that could.
During the few moments in the drawing-room she could gather only a collective impression of the men who stared at her to-night. There was a general suggestion of weight, in the sculptor's sense, and repose combined with alertness, and they stood very squarely on their feet. Betty had only had time to single out one long beard dependent from a visage otherwise shorn, and to observe further that some of the women were charmingly dressed, while others wore light silk afternoon frocks, when dinner was announced.
Her partner was evidently one of the younger Senators, one of those juvenile enthusiasts of forty-five who beat their breasts for some years upon the Senate's impassive front. He was extremely good- looking, with a fair strong impatient face, trimmed with a moustache only, and a well-built figure full of nervous energy. He had less repose than most of the men about him, but he suggested the same solidity. He might fail or go wrong, but not because there was any room in his mind for shams. His name was Burleigh, but what his section was, Betty, as they exchanged amenities and admired the lavish display of flowers, could not determine; he had no accent whatever, and although his voice was deep and sonorous, it had not the peculiar richness of the South. His gray eyes smiled as they met hers, and his manners were charming; but Betty, accustomed to grasp the salient points of character in a first interview, fancied that he could be overbearing and truculent.
"Are they going to talk politics to-night?" she asked, when the platitudes had run their course.
"I hope not. I've had enough of politics, all day."
"Oh, I hoped you would," said Betty, in a deeply disappointed tone.
He looked amused.
"Why?" he asked.
"Oh, I am so interested. That sounds very vague, but I am. When Lady Mary told me she was dining members of the two Committees, I thought it was to talk politics, and--and--settle it amicably or something." Betty could look infantile when she chose, and was always ready to cover real ignorance with an exaggerated assumption which inspired doubt.
"We have the excessive pleasure of discussing the bill in Senator North's comfortable Committee room for several hours every few days, and we usually are amiable. We are merely dining out to-night in each other's good company. Still, I guess your desire will be more or less gratified. Second nature is strong, and one or two will probably get down to it about the middle of dinner."
"You are from New England," exclaimed Betty, triumphantly. "I have been waiting for you to say 'I reckon' or 'I guess.'"
"I was born and educated in Maine, but I went west to practise law as soon as I knew enough, and I am Senator from one of the Middle Western States."
"Ah!" Betty gave him a swift side glance. He looked anything but "corrupt," and that truculent note in his voice did not indicate subservience to party bosses. She determined to write to Jack Emory in the morning and command him to look up Senator Burleigh's record at once.
"I suppose all the Senators here to-night are the--big ones?"
"Oh, no; North and Ward are the only two on this Committee belonging to the very first rank. The other four here are in that group that is pressing close upon their heels; and myself, who am a new member: I've been here four years only. Would you mind telling me who you are? Of course American women don't take much interest in politics, but--do you know as little as you pretend?"
"I wish I knew more; but I've been abroad for the last two years, and my mother prefers rattlesnakes to politics. Which is Senator North?"
"He is at the head of the table with Lady Mary, but that rosebush is in the way; you cannot see him."
"And which is Senator Ward?" "Over there by Mrs. Shattuc,--the woman in ivory-white and heliotrope."
Betty flashed him a glance of renewed interest. "You like women," she exclaimed. "And you must be married, or have sisters."
"I like women and I am not married, nor have I any sisters. I particularly like woman's dress. If you'll pardon me, that combination of pale green and white lace and soft stuff is the most stunning thing I've seen for a long while."
"Law, politics, and woman's dress! How hard you must have worked!"
"Our strong natural inclinations help us so much!" He gave her an amused glance, and his manner was a trifle patronizing, as of a prominent man used to the admiration of pretty girls. It was evident that he knew nothing of her and her long line of conquests.
"Senator Ward looks half asleep," she remarked abruptly.
"He usually does until dinner is two-thirds over. He is Chairman of one Committee and serving on two others; and all have important bills before them at present. So he is tired."
"He doesn't look corrupt."
"Corrupt? Who? Ward? Who on earth ever said he was corrupt?"
"Well, I heard his State was."
"'Corruption' is the father of more platitudes than any word in the American language. There are corrupt men in his State, no doubt, and one of the Trusts with which we are ridden at present tried to buy its Legislature and put their man in. But Ward won his fight without the expenditure of a dollar beyond paying for the band and a few courtesies of that sort. His State is proud of him both as a statesman and a scholar, and he is likely to stay in the Senate until he drops in his tracks."
"Then he comes here with the intention of remaining for life? I think you should all do that."
"You are quite right. When a man achieves the honour of being elected honestly to the United States Senate,--it is the highest honour in the Republic,--he should feel that he is dedicating himself to the service of the country, and should have so arranged his affairs that he can stay there for life."
Betty's eyes kindled with approval. "Oh, I am glad," she said, "I am glad."
"Glad of what, may I ask?"
"Oh--" And then she impulsively told him something of her history, of her determination to take up politics as her ruling interest, and of the opposition of her mother and cousin. Senator Burleigh listened with deep attention, and if he was amused he was too gallant to betray the fact, now that she had honoured him with her confidence.
"Well," he said, "that is very interesting, very. And you are quite right. You'll do yourself good and us good. Mind you stand to your guns. Would you mind telling me your name? Lady Mary never thinks a mere name worth mentioning."
"Madison--Elizabeth Madison. I had almost forgotten the Elizabeth. I have always been called Betty."
"Ah!" he said, "ah!" He turned and regarded her with a deeper interest.
"Have you heard of me?" she asked irresistibly. "Who has not?" he said gallantly. "And although you are a great deal younger than I,--I am forty-four,--my father, who was in Congress before me, was a great friend of your father's. He wears a watch to this day that Mr. Madison gave him. He always expressed regret that he never met your mother, but she seemed to have an unconquerable aversion to politics."
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