The federated women’s clubs of the State had the suffrage matter in their keeping. The delegates were not hard-faced women clutching umbrellas. They were the strictly modern suffragists—radiant matrons, fresh-complexioned girls, women who led in culture and fashion in their respective communities.
At the previous session the Legislative Committee had asked that the delegation of women be restricted to the usual number of persons that appeared at legislative hearings. When a dozen came with their petitions and arguments the Committee blandly stated that there seemed to be no general demand in the State for woman’s suffrage—witness the attendance of women interested!
This year the women proposed to disprove that assumption. Every woman’s literary, social, art, and economic club in the State sent two delegates. The State was raked for women, even the schools were ransacked. At ten o’clock in the forenoon the State House was packed and women were still crowding in. The galleries, aisles, and standing-room of House and Senate were choked with silks, furs, and feathers which decorated the beauty and brains of the State.
The routine was hurried through. Callous man, gasping for breath, wanted to escape.
The few in the lobby who dared to smoke soon hid their cigars under their coat-tails and departed to the hotels. The cuspidors were hidden. Gay frocks swept cigar stubs out of sight.
When the members of the Judiciary Committee attempted to enter the House chamber to conduct the hearing on suffrage, it required full ten minutes of persuasive eloquence and courteous pushing on the part of the messengers to break the jam of women that filled the door and packed the lobby floor adjacent. The fair lobbyists did not want to give up even that vantage-point in order to admit the men who were to listen. And after the committee had managed to wriggle its way in single file to the platform they had not the heart to expel the women who were occupying their chairs. They gallantly stood in a row against the rear wall of the Speaker’s alcove and listened to the petitioners—each woman allowed two minutes! Not one member of the legislature, outside the committee, heard. It would have been an ungallant man, indeed, who did not surrender his place in the chamber to a woman who had come to present her cause. So the women amiably listened to themselves, and the committee listened to them in all politeness, and both sides understood that it was only a genial social diversion out of which nothing would come. In that gathering a suffragette would have been squelched by her own sex.
Harlan Thornton came to the State House early.
Morning had brought him wiser counsel. He felt no impulse to rush to the Presson house. He wondered now what he would have said if he had gained access to Madeleine Presson the night before. The astounding insult by Herbert Linton troubled him less. It had been a jealous outburst—Linton’s confession of his love for the girl had revealed his animus. Probably Linton regretted it—in Harlan’s calmer mood he trusted that such was the case. Conscious of his innocence, it did not seem to Harlan that any man would dare to deal further in such outrageous slander after what had been said in their interview.