HotFreeBooks.com
Senator North
by Gertrude Atherton
Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

Betty thought of the sister and cousin she had turned out into the cruel afternoon, and then looked at Senator North deep in the chair where she had so often imagined him, and forgot their existence. This was her hour—her first, at least—and visions of pneumonia and possible consumption should not mar it. She sat opposite him in a straight dark high-backed chair, and she was quite aware that she made a delightful picture.

"Well?" he asked. "What of your visit and its consequences?"

Betty told the story; and her description of the dilapidated parsonage at the head of the miserable village, the group of silent women about the coffin in the dark room, and her interview with her melancholy relative was as dramatic as she had felt at the time.

"I thought I was running from a nightmare when I left the house," she concluded, smiling at him as if to demonstrate that it had left no shadow in her brain; "but now we both feel better. She wants a gown of many colours, and this morning she roused the house at five o'clock singing camp-meeting hymns. But I think she is quick and observant, and will soon cease to be in any danger of betraying herself. But she is a great responsibility, and I really felt old this morning."

Senator North laughed. "I hope she won't give you any real trouble. If she does, I shall feel more than half responsible. But otherwise she will be an interesting study for you. She is nearly all white; how much of racial lying, and slothfulness, barbarism, and general incapacity that black vein of hers contains will give you food for thought, for she certainly will reveal herself in the course of a year."

"You must admit that a nature like that is a great responsibility."

"Yes, but she alone can work through all the contradictions to the light, and she will do it naturally, under pressure of new experiences, within and without. Don't suggest even the word 'problem' to her, and don't look upon her as one, yourself. You have put her in the right conditions. Leave her alone and Time will do the rest. His work is indubious; never forget that. Are you going to marry Burleigh?" he added abruptly.

She answered vehemently, "No! No!" "I thought not. I know you very little, so far, but I was willing to deny the report."

"I often wonder why I don't fall in love with him. He really has every quality I admire. But much as I like him I should not mind if I knew I never should see him again. I have thought a good deal about it and I should like to understand it."

She looked at him coaxingly, and he smiled, for he understood women very well; but he gave her the explanation she desired.

"The reason is simple enough. The admired qualities, even when they are the component parts of a personality of one who more or less resembles a cherished ideal, never yet inspired love. Love is the result of two responsive sparks coming within each other's range of action. Their owners may be in certain ways unfitted for one another, but the responsive sparks, rising Nature only knows out of what combination of elements, fly straight, and Reason sulks. To put it in another way: Love is merely the intuitive faculty recognizing in another being the power to give its own lord happiness. It is a faculty that is very active in some people," he added with a laugh, "and when it is overworked it often goes wrong, like any other machinery. That is the reason why men who have loved many women make a mistake in marrying; the intuitive faculty is both dulled and coarsened by that time. They are still susceptible to charm, and that is about all."

"Have you loved many women?" asked Betty, without preamble.

He stood up and turned his back to the fire. Betty noted again how squarely he planted himself on his feet. "A few," he said bluntly. "Not many. I have not overworked my intuitive faculty, if that is what you mean. I was not thinking of myself when I spoke."

He stared down at her for a few moments, during which it seemed to Betty that the air vibrated between them. Her breath began to shorten, and she dropped her eyes, lest their depths reveal the spark which was active enough in her.

"Will you play for me?" he asked. "I lost a little girl a few years ago who played well, although she was only sixteen. I have disliked the piano ever since, but I should like to hear you play."

She played to him for an hour, with tenderness, passion, and brilliancy. A gift had been cultivated by the best masters and hours of patient study.

When he thanked her and rose to go and she put her hand in his, her face expressed all the bright earnestness of genuine friendship; there was not a sparkle of coquetry in her eyes.

"Will you come in often on your way home when you are tired and would like to forget bills and things, and let me play to you? I won't talk —you must get so tired of voices!—and the practice will do me good."

"Of course I will come. The pleasantest thing in life is a charming woman's face at the close of a busy day. Good-bye."

When he had gone, Betty got into the depths of a chair and covered her eyes with her hand. For the first time she knew out of her own experience that love means a greater want than the satisfaction of the eye and mind. She would have given anything but her inherited ideals of right and wrong if he had come back and taken her in his arms and kissed her; and she loved him with adoration that he did not, that in all probability he never would, that although he had the great passions which stimulate all great brains, the inflexible honour which his State had rewarded and never questioned for thirty-five years must make short work of struggles with the ordinary temptations of man.

As soon as a man awakens a woman's passions she begins to idealize him and there is no limit to the virtues he will be made to carry. But let a man be endowed by Nature with every noble and elevated attribute she has in her power to bestow, if he lacks sensuality a woman will see him in the clear cold light of reason. Betty Madison, having something of the intuitive faculty, in addition to that knowledge of man which any girl of twenty-seven who has had much love offered her must possess, made fewer mistakes even in the thick of a throbbing brain than most women make; the great danger she did not foresee until time had accustomed her somewhat to the wonder of being able to love at last, and Reason had resumed her place in a singularly clear and logical mind.



XIX



When Betty awoke next morning, she made up her mind that she would not suffer so long as she could see him. Beyond the present she absolutely refused to look. She had found more on the political sea than she had gone in search of, but if she could have foreseen this tumult that would have overwhelmed a weaker woman, she would not have clung to the shore. For although the ultimate of love was forbidden her, she had come into her kingdom, and was immeasurably happier than the millions of women whose love had run its course and turned cold, or been cast back at them. After all, there were so few people who were really happy, why should she complain because her love could not come to rice and old shoes, instead of being a beautiful secret thing, the more perfect, perhaps, because Commonplace, that ogre whose girth increases from year to year, and who sits remorseless in the dwellings of the united, could not breathe upon it?

Harriet had returned without a cold, and the next morning Emory came in and took her to the Congressional Library, where they had luncheon. He also engaged her masters, and before the week was over she had settled down to steady work.

"She has a wonderful mind, I am positive of that," he said to Betty. "She has made so much out of so few advantages. I shall take the greatest interest in watching a mind like that unfold. What relation is she to us, anyway? I can't make out, for the life of me. There was Cousin Amelia—"

"For heaven's sake, don't ask me to write up the genealogical tree. Didn't I refuse to join the Colonial Dames because it meant raking over the bones of all my ancestors—whom may the Saints rest! Most Southern relationships amount to no relationship at all, and Harriet's is too insignificant to mention."

"Well, I must say it is angelic in you to take her in and shower blessings on her in this way—" "Her father had a great claim on us, but that is a family secret, even from you. Mind you take her tomorrow to see the 'Declaration of Independence' and the portrait of Hamilton."

The days passed very quickly to the end of the session. It was the short term; Congress would adjourn on the fourth of March. Although the great official receptions were over, dinners and luncheons crowded each other as closely as before, for Washington pays little attention to Lent beyond releasing its weary hostesses from weekly reception days, and their callers from an absurd and antiquated custom. Betty went frequently to the gallery on Capitol Hill, and although she sometimes was bored by "business," she seldom heard a dull speech, for the intellectual average of the Senate is very high, and its aptitude and the variety of its information unexcelled. Harriet accompanied her two or three times, but her mind turned naturally to the past and concerned itself little with the present. She found the history of the Roman Empire vastly more entertaining than debates on the Arbitration Treaty.

Betty had recently met a Mrs. Fonda, a handsome widow in the vague thirties, who had that fascination of manner and that brilliant talent for politics which went to make up Miss Madison's ideal of the women with whom tired statesmen spent their leisure hours. She was the daughter of a former distinguished member of the House and the widow of a naval officer, and her life may be said to have been passed in Washington with intervals of Europe. Although the Old Washingtonians knew her not, her position in the kaleidoscope of official society was always brilliant. She professed to have no party politics, but to be profoundly interested in all great questions affecting the nation. During the early winter she had visited Cuba and had announced upon her return that no other subject would command her attention until the United States had exterminated Spanish rule in that unhappy island. She occupied one of the smaller houses in Massachusetts Avenue, and her dining-room seated only ten people with comfort. Betty had heard that as many as nine of her country's chosen men had sat about that board at the same time and decided upon matters of state; and she envied her deeply. As Mrs. Fonda lived with no less than two elderly aunts who wore caps, and was a devout member of St. John's Church, Mrs. Madison, with a sigh, concluded that there was no reason why Betty should not go to her house.

"I suppose she is no worse than the rest," she added. "I prefer people with husbands, but the more you see of this new life the sooner you may get tired of it."

Mrs. Fonda paid Betty marked attention whenever they happened to meet, and upon the last occasion had offered playfully to tell her "all she knew" about politics. "They are engrossing," she added with a sigh, "so engrossing that they have taken the best of my years. A woman should be married and happy, I think, but I have become quite depersonalized. And I really think I have done a little good. You will marry, of course; you are young and so beautiful; but let politics be your second great interest. You will, indeed, never give them up if you let them absorb you for one year, and I am more glad than I can say that you already have gone so far." She then invited Betty to a dinner she was giving, and even made an appointment for an hour's "talk" beforehand; but this appointment Betty was unable to keep, as her mother fell ill for a day or two, and Mrs. Fonda's hour occurred while Mrs. Madison desired to have her hand held.

Betty went to the dinner, however, and expected brilliant and unusual things. Mrs. Fonda, who was tall and dark and distinguished looking, and too wise in her unprotected position to annul the attentions of Time with those artifices which are rather a pity but quite condonable in the married woman, was handsomely dressed in black net embroidered with gold, and received with an aunt on either side of her. Her manner was very fine, and, without any relaxation of the dignity which was an integer of her personality, she made each comer feel the guest of the evening. To Betty she was almost affectionate, and surrounded her with the aunts, who looked at her with such kindly and cordial, albeit sadly patient eyes, that Betty almost loved them.

The dining-room accommodated twelve tonight, and two were not the aunts. Betty wondered if they were picking up crumbs in the pantry. She suspected that Mrs. Fonda was more worldly than she would admit, and that ambition and love of admiration had somewhat to do with her patriotism.

There were four members of the Senate present, two wives of members who had been unable to come, and three eminent Representatives. It was seldom that Mrs. Fonda's invitations were declined, for no man went to her house with the miserable conviction that he was about to eat his twenty-seventh dinner by the same cook. Mrs. Fonda had picked up a woman in Belgium who was a genius.

Betty went in with Senator Burleigh, and they examined the menu together.

"By Jove," he said, "it's even more gorgeous than usual. And did you ever see so many flowers outside of a conservatory?"

The room was a bower of violets and lilies of the valley. The mantelpiece was obliterated, the table looked like a garden, and great bunches of the flowers swung from the ceiling. As what could be seen of the room was green and gold, the effect was very beautiful. The lights were pink, and in this room Mrs. Fonda defied Time and looked so wholly attractive that it was not difficult to fancy her the cause of another war, albeit not its Helen.

But much to Betty's disappointment the conversation, which was always general when that radiant hostess presided, soon wandered from the suffering Cuban and fixed itself interminably about a certain measure which had been agitating Congress for the last four years. It was a measure which demanded an immense appropriation, and so far Senator North had kept it from passing the upper chamber; it was generally understood that it would fare still worse at the hands of the Speaker, did it ever reach the House. These two intractable gentlemen had evidently not been bidden to the feast; but three of the Senators, Betty suddenly observed, were members of the Select Committee for the measure under discussion.

Five courses had come and gone, and still the conversation raged along a tiresome bill that happened to be Betty's pet abomination, the only subject discussed in the Senate that bored her. Mrs. Fonda, in the brightest, most impersonal way, defended the unpopular measure, pointing out the immense advantage the country at large must derive from the success of the bill, and, while appealing to the statesmen gathered at her board to set her right when she made mistakes,—she couldn't be expected to keep up with every bill while her head was full of Cuba,—assailed the weak points in those statesmen's arguments.

"I'm bored to death," muttered Betty, finally. "I wish I hadn't come. You won't talk to me and I can't eat any more."

Burleigh turned to her at once. "I've merely been watching her game," he whispered. "Now, I'm nearly sure."

"What?" asked Betty, interested at once.

"She has given a dinner a week this winter, and there is a rumour that she is spending the money of the syndicate interested in this much desired appropriation. Heretofore, when I have been here, at least, although she has always graciously permitted the subject to come up and has delivered herself of a few trenchant and memorable remarks, this is the first time she has deliberately made it run through an entire dinner; every attempt to turn the conversation has been a sham. She's in the ring for votes, there's no further doubt in my mind on that subject; and she's getting desperate, as it is so near the end of the session."

"Then she is a lobbyist," said Betty, in a tone of deep disgust, and pushing away her plate.

"'Sh! She is too clever to have got herself called that. She has very successfully made the world believe that the great game alone interests her; there never has been a more subtle woman in Washington. During the last two years there has been one of those vague rumours going about that she has lost heavily through certain investments; but one hasn't much time for gossip in Washington, and it is only lately that this other rumour has been in the wind. How long she has been doing this sort of thing, of course no one knows."

"But do you mean to say these other men don't see through her?"

"More than one does, no doubt. If he is against the bill he will be amused, as I am, and probably decline her invitations in the future. If he is for it—and there is a good deal to be said in favour of the bill, only we cannot afford the appropriation at present—he will make her think, as a reward for her excellent dinner, that she has secured his vote. Others may be influenced by having it thrashed out in these luxurious surroundings, so different from the chill simplicity of legislative halls. Those that she may be able to get in love with her, of course will believe nothing that is said of her, and when she travels from the Committees to the more or less indifferent members of both chambers, and gets to work on the nonentities whose convictions can always be readjusted by a clever and pretty woman,—and whose vote is as good as North's or Ward's,—you see just how much she can accomplish."

"And if I have my salon, shall I come under suspicion of being a high-class lobbyist?"

"There is not the slightest danger if you are careful to have only first-rate men, and avoid the temptation to make a pet of any bill. Besides, as I have told you, your position peculiarly fits you for having a salon. No one could question your motive in the beginning, and your tact would protect you always. Don't give up the idea, for its success would mean not only the best political society in the country, but a famous salon would tend to draw art and literature to Washington. And you are just the one woman who could make it famous; and we'd all help you. North would be sure to, his ambition for Washington is so great. He won't put his foot in this house. I never heard him discuss her, but I am convinced that he has seen through her for a long while."

The next day Betty left a card on Mrs. Fonda and struck her from her list; but she carefully secluded her discovery from Mrs. Madison.



XX



Senator North, until the last six days of the session, came twice a week to see her. She played for him, and they talked on many subjects, in which they discovered a common interest, usually avoiding politics, of which he might reasonably be supposed to have enough on Capitol Hill. He told her a good deal about himself, of his early determination to go into public life, the interest that several distinguished men in his State had taken in him, and of the influence they had had on his mind.

"They were almost demi-gods to my youthful enthusiasm," he said, "and doubtless I exaggerated their virtues, estimable as is the record they have left. But the ideals this conception of them set up in my mind I have clung to as closely as I could, and whatever the trials of public life—I will tell you more about them some day—the rewards are great enough if no one can question your sense of public duty, if no accusation of private interest or ignoble motive has ever been able to stand on its feet after the usual nine days' babble."

"Would you sacrifice yourself absolutely to your country?" asked Betty, who kept him to the subject of himself as long as she could.

He laughed. "That is not a fair question to ask any man, for an affirmative makes a prig of him and a negative a mere politician. I will therefore generalize freely and tell you that a man who believes himself to be a statesman considers the nation first, as a matter of course. Howard, for instance, nearly killed himself at the end of last session over a measure which was of great national importance. He should have been in his bed, and he worked day and night. But although it was touch and go with him afterward, it was no more than he should have done, for almost everything depends on the Chairman of a Committee; and as Howard is a man of enormous personal influence and knows more about the subject than any man in Congress, he dared not resign in favour of any one. And yet he is accused of being hand-in- glove with one of the greatest moneyed interests in the country."

"Is he?" asked Betty, pointedly.

"Those are accusations that it is almost impossible to prove. Howard is a rich man, and his wealth is derived from the principal industry of his State, which is unquestionably monopolized by a Trust. It would be his duty to look after it in Congress in any case, as it is his State's great source of wealth; so it is hard to tell. It does not interfere with his being one of the ablest legislators and hardest workers in the Senate—and over matters from which he can derive no possible gain. But the suspicion will lower his position in the history of the Senate."

"Does any one know the truth about the Senate? Even Bryce says it is impossible to get at it, the country is so prone to exaggeration; but estimates that one-fifth of the Senate is corrupt."

"No one knows. The whole point is this: the Senate is the worst place in the world for a weak man, and there are weak men in it. A Senatorship is the highest honour to-day in the gift of the Republic; therefore ambitious men strive for it. A man no sooner achieves this ambition than he finds himself beset by many temptations. He is tormented by lobbyists who will never let him alone until he has proved himself to be a man of incorruptible character and iron will; and that takes time. He also finds that the Senate is a sort of aristocracy, the more so as many of its members are rich men and live well. If he never wanted money before, he wants it then, and if he does not, his wife and daughters do. Then, if he is weak, he finds his way into the pocket of some Trust Company or Railroad Corporation, and his desire for re-election—to retain his brilliant position— multiplies his shackles; for if he proves himself useful, the Trust will buy his Legislature—if it happens to be venal—and keep him in his place. But these instances I know must be rare, for I know the personal character of every man in the Senate. One Senator who is nearing the end of his first term told me the other day that he should not return, for his experience in the Senate had given him such a keen desire to be a rich man that he should go into Wall Street and try to make a fortune. He is honest, but his patriotism is a poor affair. But if the Senate makes a weak man weaker, it makes a strong man stronger, owing to the very temptations he must resist from the day he enters, the compromises he is forced to make, and the danger to his convictions from the subtler brains of older men. And the Senate is full of strong men. But they don't make picturesque 'copy' for the enterprising press; the weak and the corrupt do, and so much space is given them, as well as so much attention by the comic weeklies,—which are regarded as a sort of current history,—that the average man, who does not do his own thinking, accepts the minority as the type."

He talked to her sometimes about his family life. His wife had been a beautiful and accomplished girl, the daughter of a Governor of his State, and he had married her when he was twenty-four. She had been a great help to him, both at home and in Washington, during those years when he needed help. She had not broken down until after the birth of his daughter, but that was twenty years ago, and she had been an invalid ever since. He spoke of this long period of imperfect happiness in a matter-of-fact way, and Betty assumed that by this time he was used to it. He alluded to his wife once as "a very dear old friend," but Betty guessed that she was nearly obliterated from his life. Of his sons he expected great things, but the larger measure of his affections had been given to his daughter, or it seemed so, now that he had lost her.

During the last week of the Session she saw him from the Senate Gallery only, but she consoled herself by admiring the cool deliberation with which he worked his bills through, with Populists thundering on either side of him.



XXI



On Thursday she not only witnessed the last moments of the last session of the Fifty-fourth Congress, but the initial ceremonies of the inauguration of a President of the United States. She had seen the galleries crowded before, but never as they were to-day. Even the Diplomatists' Gallery, usually empty, was full of women and attaches, and the very steps of the other galleries were set thick with people. Thousands had stood patiently in the corridors since early morning, and thousands stood there still, or wandered about looking at the statues and painted walls. The Senators were all in their seats; most of them would gladly have been in bed, for they had been up all night; and the Ambassadors and Envoys were brilliant and glittering curves of colour: the effect greatly enhanced by the Republican simplicity of the men to whose country they were accredited. The Judges of the Supreme Court, in their flowing silk gowns, alone reminded the spectator that the United States had not sprung full-fledged from nothing, without traditions and without precedent.

What little is left of form in the Republic was observed. Two Senators and one Representative, the Committee appointed to call on the retiring President, who had just signed his last bill in his room close by, entered and announced that Mr. Cleveland had no further messages for the Senate, and extended his congratulations to both Houses of Congress upon the termination of their labours. The United States had been without a ruler for twenty minutes when the assistant doorkeeper announced the Vice-President, two pages drew back the doors, and Mr. Hobart entered on the arm of a Senator and took the seat on the dais beside his predecessor, who still occupied the chair of the presiding officer of the Senate. Then there was another long wait, during which the people in the galleries gossiped loudly and the Senators yawned. Finally the President elect and the ex-President, after being formally announced, entered arm in arm. Both looked very Republican indeed, especially poor Mr. Cleveland, who toiled along with the gout, leaning what he could of his massive figure upon an umbrella. The women stood up, and with one accord pronounced their President-elect as good-looking as he undoubtedly was strong and amiable and firm and calm and pious. Mr. Hobart took the oath of office, and after the necessary speeches and the proclamation for an Extra Session, the new Senators were sworn in by the new Vice- President, and Betty wondered how any man would dare to break so solemn an oath.

As soon as the move began toward the platform outside, Betty escaped through the crowd and went home. As she drove down the Avenue, she heard the stupendous shout of joy, some fifty thousand strong, with which the American public ever greets its new President and the consequent show. Be he Republican or Democrat, it is all one for the day; he is an excuse to gather, to yell, and to gaze.

Betty turned her head and caught a glimpse of a bareheaded man on his feet, bowing and bowing and bowing, and of a heavy figure with its hat on seated beside him. She speculated upon the sardonic reflections active inside of that hat.

She did not expect to see Senator North for at least twenty-four hours, but his card was brought to her while she was still at luncheon. She went rapidly to her boudoir, and found him standing with his overcoat on and his hat in his hand.

Although he had been up all the night before and had not had his full measure of rest for a week, he looked as calm as usual, and there was not a hint of fatigue in his face nor of disorder in his dress.

"You deserted us last night," he said, smiling. "I thought perhaps you would sit up and see us through."

"I was up there at nine this morning and saw the Senate floor littered with papers. It had a very allnight look. Have you had luncheon? Won't you come in?"

"I should be glad to, but I haven't time. I find I must go North to- night, and am on my way home to get a few hours' rest. I wanted to thank you for many pleasant hours—in this room." His eyes moved about slowly and softened somewhat. It is not improbable that he would have liked to throw himself among the cushions of the divan and go to sleep.

"Well! You might postpone that until we part for life," said Betty, lightly. "You forget that Congress will convene in Extra Session on the fifteenth."

"Yes, but there is no necessity for me to be here until some time in May at earliest. The principal object of the Session is the revision of the Tariff, and the new bill originates with the Ways and Means Committee. After it has been thrashed out in the House and returned to the Committee for amendments, it will be referred to the Finance Committee of the Senate. All that takes time. I am not a member of the Finance Committee this term, and I shall not return until the debate opens in the Senate. As to the Arbitration business, Ward will look after that. I would not stir if there were a chance of the Treaty coming back to the Senate in its original form, but there is not. When Ward telegraphs me I shall come down and cast my vote."

His long speech had given Betty time to recover from his first announcement, and her eyes were full of the frank earnestness which had established the desired relation between herself and Senator North.

"I am glad you are going to have a rest," she said; "that is, if you are."

"Oh, it is work that sits very lightly on me, and is very congenial: I am going to do all I can to allay this war fever in my own State. It is not too late to appeal to their reason; but it might be at any moment."

"Well, at all events, you go to the bracing climate of the North. But I am sorry you go so soon. Mother cannot stay in Washington after the third week in May. I am afraid we shall not meet again until you come to the Adirondacks."

"Ah, the Adirondacks!" he said. "Yes, I shall see you there. Good- bye."

He did not smile. There were times when he seemed to turn a key and lock up his features. This was one of them. Betty felt as if she were looking at a mask contrived with unusual skill.

He shook her warmly by the hand, however. "I forgot to say that I shall be in Washington off and on—for a day or so. My wife remains here. It is still too cold for her in the North. Good-bye again."

He left her, and she did not return to her luncheon.



XXII



Betty, after several long and restless nights, decided that she was not equal to the ordeal of sitting down patiently in Washington awaiting the rare and flying visits of Senator North. If she could place herself quite beyond the possibility of seeing him before the first of June, she could get through the intervening months with a respectable amount of endurance, but not otherwise. Hers was not the nature of the patient watcher, the humble applicant for crumbs. She might put up with slices where she could not get the whole loaf, but her head lifted itself at the notion of crumbs. Her heart had not yet begun to ache. She determined that it should not until it was in far more desperate straits than now. When Lady Mary Montgomery, who was tired and wanted a long rest before December, invited her to go to California, she accepted at once; and, a week after the adjournment of Congress, went through the formality of obtaining her mother's consent. "Well," said Mrs. Madison, philosophically, "I have lost you for three months at a time before, and I suppose I can stand it again. I think you need a change. You've been nervous lately, and you're thinner than you were. As long as you don't marry I can resign myself quite gracefully to these little partings."

"You're a dear, Mollyanthus. I only wish you were going with me, but I'll keep a journal for you and post it every night. I am glad you do not dislike Harriet. Of course if you did I should not go, for it is too soon to turn her adrift."

"She is inoffensive enough, poor soul, and so deep in her books that I should not know she was in the house if she didn't come to the table."

"Make Jack take her to the theatre once a week. She has promised me that she will go for a walk every day with Sally."

"Sally says she is convinced Harriet is a Roman empress reborn, and may astonish Washington at any moment," said Mrs. Madison, anxiously. "Do you believe in reincarnation?"

"I don't believe or disbelieve anything I don't understand. We none of us can even guess what is latent in Harriet—for the matter of that I don't know what is latent in myself. I can only suspect. I don't think Harriet will ever go very deep into herself; she has not imagination enough. If circumstances are not too unfavourable, she may slip through life happy and respected, in spite of her tragic appearance: she is so slothful by nature, so much more susceptible to good influences than to bad. All of us possess every good and bad instinct in the whole book of human nature, but few of us have imagination enough to find it out. And the less we know of ourselves the better."

"Betty, you certainly do need a change. You looked tragic yourself as you said that; and if you became tragic it would mean something. I'm afraid your conscience is tormenting you about Mr. Burleigh, and perhaps I did not do right in asking him to come to the Adirondacks; but probably he would have come to the hotel, anyhow; and if I did have to lose you—"

"You'll never get rid of me." And she went to her room to consult with Leontine.

The night before she left Harriet came into her room and said timidly,—

"Betty, I sometimes wonder if you have told Mr. Emory the truth about myself—"

"Certainly not. Why should I tell Mr. Emory—or anyone else?"

"Well, he is so kind to me and we have become such friends, I thought perhaps you would think he ought to know."

"That is pure nonsense. Do you suppose I tell my friends everything I know? No friend is so close as to demand to know more than you choose to tell him."

"All right, honey; but I am always afraid he will see my finger-nails when he is helping me with my lessons—"

"He is very near-sighted; and I doubt if anyone would notice those faint blue marks unless they were looking for them."

"Of course they seem the most conspicuous things I've got, to me."

"Are you happy here, Harriet?" asked Betty, gently. Harriet nodded and looked at her benefactor with glowing eyes. "Oh, yes," she said. "Yes —yes. It is like heaven, in spite of the hard work they make me do. I'm right down afraid of that old Frenchman, and when Professor Morrow shuts his eyes and groans, 'Door—d-o-o-r, Miss Walker, not d-o-u-g- h,' I could cry. But I'm happy all the same, and I forgot that for a whole week."

"Well, forget it altogether. And remember to have a thin travelling dress and a lot of summer things made. And of all people do not confide in Jack Emory or Sally Carter—or any other Southerner."



Part II



Senator North, Miss Betty Madison, and several other Characters in this History go in search of a Mountain Lake and find an Ocean.



I



Betty never denied that she enjoyed her visit to California, despite the several thousand miles between the Atlantic and the Pacific coasts, and Senator North's rooted aversion to writing letters. She received exactly three brief epistles from him in almost as many months, but in one he said that he missed her even in the North, in another that Washington was not Washington without her, and in the third that he looked forward with pleasure to the cool Adirondacks and herself. And a woman can live on less than that. Betty read and re- read these simple and possibly perfunctory statements until they were weighted with love.

And although she visited all the wonders of the most wonderful State in the Union, and was deeply grateful to them, they never pushed the man from the forefront of her mind for a moment. The egoism of love reduces scenery to a setting and the splendours of sunset to a background. Betty thought of him by day and by night, in company and in solitude, but even the agony of longing to which her imagination sometimes rose contained no heartbreak. For the future was all over there, on the far side of the continent; its grave-clothes were deep under lavender and rosemary. To think of him was a luxury and a delight, and would remain so until Imagination had been pushed aside by the contradictory details of Reality. Sometimes she wept pleasurably, but she smiled oftener. And still, although she laid no reins on her imagination, she refused to look beyond the summer among the Adirondack pines, the frequent and more frequent hours at the close of busy days. If pressed, she would doubtless have answered that she must bow to Circumstance, but that in Thought he was wholly hers.



II



Betty reached her part of the Adirondacks late at night. There were two miles between the station and the house, and Jack Emory and Sally Carter came to meet her. They told her the recent news of the family as the horses toiled up the steep road cut through the dark and fragrant forest.

"Aunt is unusually well and seems to enjoy interminable talks with Major Carter," said Emory. "Harriet is very much improved; she holds herself regally and sometimes has a colour. She studied until the last minute, and even here is always at her books. I don't say she hasn't intervals of laziness," he added with a laugh, "but she always pulls up; and it is very creditable of her, for she is full of Southern indolence. She would like to lie in the sun all day and sleep, I am sure; although she won't admit it."

"Does she seem any happier? She had suffered too much privation to have become really happy before I left."

"I am sure she is—" Jack began, but Sally interrupted him.

"I think she is one of those people who hardly know whether they are happy or not. She seems to me to be in a sort of transition state. One moment she will be gay with the natural gayety of a girl, and the next she will look puzzled, and occasionally tragic. I think there must be a big love affair somewhere in her past."

"I am sure there is nothing of the sort. Have the Norths come?"

"Mrs. North is here, and the Senator brought her, but he had to go back; for that disgraceful Tariff bill still hangs on. I believe we are to pay for the very air we breathe: a Trust company has bought it up. Oh, by the way, you have a new housekeeper;" and both she and Emory laughed. "Do you mean that old Mrs. Sawyer has left? She was invaluable."

"Her son wanted her to keep house for him, and she secured the services of a female from a neighboring village. Miss Trumbull is forty-odd and unmarried. She has a large bony face, the nondescript colouring of the average American, and a colossal vanity. We amuse ourselves watching her smirk as she passes a looking-glass. But she is an excellent housekeeper, and her vanity would be of no consequence if she would keep her place. The day we arrived she hinted broadly that she wanted to sit at table with us, and one night when John was ill and she had to help wait, she joined in the conversation. She's a good-natured fool, but an objectionable specimen of that 'I'm-as-good- as-you-are' American. I've been waiting for you to come and extinguish her."

"I certainly shall extinguish her."

"She victimizes poor Harriet, whom she seems to think more on her level," said Miss Carter, not without unction.

Betty could feel her face flush. "The sooner she puts that idea out of her head the better," she said coldly. "I am surprised that Harriet permits a liberty of that sort."

"Harriet lacks pride, my dear, in spite of her ambition and what Nature has done for her outside. She is curiously contradictory. But that lack is one which persons of Miss Trumbull's sort are quick to detect and turn to their own account. Your housekeeper's variety of pride is common and blatant, and demands to be fed, one way or another."

Mrs. Madison had not retired and was awaiting her daughter in the living-room. Betty found the household an apparently happy one. The Major was a courtly gentleman who told stories of the war. Harriet in her soft black mull with a deep colour in her cheeks looked superb, and Betty kissed and congratulated her warmly; as Senator North had predicted, the physical repulsion had worn away long since. The big room with its matting and cane divans and chairs, heaped with bright cushions, and the pungent fire in the deep chimney—for the evenings were still cold—looked cosey and inviting; no wonder everybody was content. Even Jack looked less careworn than usual; doubtless the pines, as ever, had routed his malaria. Only Sally's gayety seemed a little forced, and there was an occasional snap in her eye and dilation of her nostril.

When Betty had put her mother to bed and talked her to sleep, she went to her own room and opened the window. She could hear the lake murmuring at the foot of the terrace, the everlasting sighing of the pines; but it was very dark: she could hardly see the grim mountains across the water. Just below them was a triple row of lights. He should have been behind those lights and he was not. For the moment she hated politics.

She closed the window and wrote the following letter:—

DEAR MR. NORTH,—I am home, you see. Don't reply and tell me that the Tariff Bill surrounds you like a fortress wall. I am going for a walk at five o'clock on Saturday morning, and I expect to meet you somewhere in the forest above the north end of the lake. You can reach it by the path on your side. I shall row there. Do not labour over an excuse, my friend. I know how you hate to write letters, and you know that I am a tyrant whose orders are always obeyed.

BETTY MADISON.

"That should not worry him," she thought, "and it should bring him."



III



As soon as she awoke next morning, she dressed and went downstairs. A woman stood in the lower hall, and from Sally's description Betty recognized Miss Trumbull. The woman's large mouth expanded in a smile, which, though correct enough, betrayed the self-satisfaction which pervaded her being. She was youngish-looking, and not as ugly as Miss Carter's bald description had implied.

"Good-mornin'," She drawled. "I had a mind to set up for you last night, but I was tired. You like to get up early, don't you? It's just six. Miss Walker and Miss Carter don't git up till eight, Mr. Emory till nine fifteen, and your ma till eleven. The Major's uncertain. But I'm real glad you like gittin' up early—"

"Will you kindly send me a boy?" interrupted Betty. "I wish a letter taken to the post-office."

The woman came forward and extended her hand. "I'll give it to him," she said.

"Send the boy to me. I have other orders to give him."

As the woman turned away, Betty thought she detected a shade of disappointment on her face. "Has she that most detestable vulgarity of her class, curiosity?" she thought. "She seems to have observed the family very closely."

The boy came, accompanied by Miss Trumbull, who made a slight but perceptible effort to see the address of the letter as Betty handed it to him.

"Take this at once and bring me back a dollar's worth of stamps; and go also to the village store and bring me some samples of worsted."

She thought of several other things she did not want, reflecting that she must in the future herself take to the post-office such letters as she did not wish Miss Trumbull to inspect and possibly read. The boy went his way, and Betty turned to the housekeeper and regarded her sharply.

"I'm afraid you will find this a lonely situation," she said. "We are only here for a few months in the summer."

"Well, of course I like the society of nice people, but I guess I can stand it. Poor folks can't pick and choose, and I suppose you wouldn't mind my havin' a friend with me in the winter, would you?"

"Certainly not," said Betty, softening a little. But she did not like the woman, who was not frankly plebeian, but had buttered herself over with a coat of third-rate pretentiousness. And her voice and method of speech were irritating. She had a fat inflection and the longest drawl Betty had ever heard. Upon every fourth or fifth word she prolonged the drawl, and accomplished the effect of smoothing down her voice with her tongue. Capable as she might be, Betty wondered if she could stand Miss Trumbull through the summer. But the position was a very difficult one to fill. Even an old couple found it lonely, and a woman with a daughter never had been permitted to remain for two consecutive years. If the woman could be kept in the background, it might be worth while to give her a trial.

Betty went out of doors and down to the lake. It lay in the cup of a peak, and about it towered higher peaks, black with pine forests, only a path here and there cutting their primeval gloom. Betty stepped into a boat and rowed beyond sight of her house and the hotel. Then she lay down, pushed a cushion under her head, and drifted. It had been a favourite pastime of hers since childhood, but this morning her mind for the first time opened to the danger of a wild and brooding solitude, still palpitating with the passions which had given it birth, for those whose own were awake.

"Civilization does wonders for us," she said aloud; she could have raised her voice and been unheard, and she revelled in her solitude. "It makes us really believe that conventions are the only comfortable conditions in the world, certainly indispensable. Up here—"

"If he and I were here alone for one week," she continued uncompromisingly and aloud to the mountains, "the world would cease to exist as far as we both were concerned. And I wish he were here and the Adirondacks adrift in space!"

She sat up suddenly after this wish; but although it had flushed her face, she had said the words deliberately and made no haste to unsay them. She looked ahead to the north end of the lake and the dark quiet aisles above. And when she met him there on Saturday morning, she must hold down her passion as she would hold down a mad dog. She must look with bright friendly eyes at the man to whose arms her imagination had given her unnumbered times. It seemed to her that she was an independent intellect caught and tangled in a fish-net of traditions. To violate the greatest of social laws was abhorrent to every inherited instinct. Her intellect argued that man was born for happiness and was a fool to put it from him. The social laws were arbitrary and had their roots in expediency alone; man and his needs were made before the community. But the laws had been made long before her time, and they were bone of her bone.

She knew that he would not be the one to break down the barrier, that he would leave her if she manifested uncontrollable weakness,—not from the highest motives only, but because he had long since ceased to court ruin by folly; his self-control was many years older than herself. Doubtless he would never betray himself to her, no matter how much he might love her, unless she so tempted him that passion leaped above reason. And she knew that this was possible. There was no mistaking the temperament of the man. He was virile and sensual, but he had ordered that his passions should be the subjects of his brain; and so no doubt they were.

Betty had no intention of forcing any such crisis, often as she might toy with the idea in her mind. But for the first time she compelled herself to look beyond the present, beyond the time when she could no longer sit in her boudoir and play to him, and shake him lightly by the hand as he left her. Perhaps she could not even get through this summer without betraying the flood that shook her nerves. If the barriers went down she must look into what? She gave her insight its liberty, and turned white. It seemed to her that the lake and the forest disappeared and a blank wall surrounded her. She lay down in the boat and pressed the corner of the cushion against her eyes. A thousand voices in her soul, for generations dumb and forgotten, seemed to awake and describe the agony of women, an agony which survived the mortal part that gave it expression, to live again and again in unwary hearts.

She sat up suddenly and took hold of the oars. "That will do for this morning," she said. "It is so true that none of us can stand more than just so much intensity that I suppose if this dear dream of mine went to pieces I should have intervals when life would seem brilliant by contrast with my misery. I might even find mental rest in pouring tea again for attaches. And there is always the pleasure of assuaging hunger. I am ravenous."



IV



After breakfast—an almost hilarious meal, for Emory and Sally Carter were in the highest spirits and sparred with much vigour—Betty and Harriet went for a walk. There was a long level path about the lake for a mile or more before they turned into the forest, and Betty noted that Harriet, although her gait still betrayed indolence, held herself with an air of unmistakable pride. She had improved in other respects; her arrangement of dress and hair no longer looked rural, she not only had ceased to bite her nails, but had put them in vivid order, and the pronunciation of her words was wholly white.

"She will be a social success one of these days," thought Betty, "or with that voice and beauty she could doubtless win fame and wealth, and have a brilliant and enjoyable life. The tug will come when she wants to marry; but perhaps she won't want to for a long while—or will fall in love with a foreigner who won't mind."

She longed to ask Harriet if she were happy, if she had forgotten; but she dreaded reviving a distasteful subject. She would be glad never to hear it alluded to again.

Harriet did not allude to it. She talked of her studies, of the many pleasures she had found in Washington, of the kindness of Mr. Emory and Sally Carter, and of her delight to see Betty again. As she talked, Betty decided that the change in her went below the surface. She had regained all the self-control that her sudden change of circumstances had threatened, and something more. It was not hardness, nor was it exactly coldness. It was rather a studied aloofness. "Has she decided to shut herself up within herself?" thought Betty. "Does she think that will make life easier for her?"

Aloud she said,—"Would not you like to go to Europe for a year or so? I could easily find a chaperon, and you would enjoy it."

"Oh, yes, I shall enjoy it. I feel as if I held the world in the hollow of my hand, now that I have got used to gratifying every wish;" and she threw back her head and dilated her nostril.

"What have I launched upon the world?" thought Betty. "She certainly will even with Fate in some way." But she said, "I am glad you and Sally get on well. She has her peculiarities."

"I reckon I could get on with any one; but she doesn't like me, all the same."

"Are you sure? Why shouldn't she?"

"I don't know," replied Miss Walker, dryly. "Women don't always understand each other."

Sally's name suggested the housekeeper to Betty.

"I don't want you to be offended with me, Harriet," she said hesitatingly, "if I ask you not to be familiar with Miss Trumbull. You have not had the experience with that type that I have had. You cannot give them an inch. If you treat them consistently as upper servants when they are in your employ, and ignore them if they are not, they will keep their place and give you no annoyance; but treat them with something more than common decency and they leap at once for equality."

"Well—you must remember that I was not always so fine as I am now, and Miss Trumbull does not seem so much of an inferior to me as she does to you. To tell you the truth, it does me good to come down off my high horse occasionally. I reckon I'll get over that; sometimes I want to so hard I could step on everybody that is common and second- class. I don't deny I'm as ambitious as I reckon I've got a right to be, but old habits are strong, and I'm lazy, and it's lonesome up here. Your mother and Major Carter talk from morning till night about the South before the War. Mr. Emory and Sally are always together, and talk so much about things I don't understand that I feel in the way. Miss Trumbull knows the private affairs of most every one in her village, and amuses me with her gossip; that is all."

Betty pricked up her ears at one of Harriet's revelation, and let the painful fact of her hospitality for vulgar gossip pass unnoticed.

"Do you mean," she asked, "do you think that Mr. Emory is beginning to care for Sally?"

"One can never be sure. I am certain he likes and admires her."

"Oh, yes, he always has done that. But I wish he would fall in love with her. I am nearly sure that she more than likes him."

"I am quite sure," said Harriet, dryly. "She would marry him about as quickly as he asked her. I knew that the first time I saw them together."

"And she certainly would make him happy," said Betty, thinking aloud. "She is so bright and amusing and cheerful. She is the only person I know who can always make him laugh, and the more he laughs the better it is for him, poor old chap! And I think he is too old now for the nonsense of ruining his happiness because a woman has more money— Harriet!"

Harriet had one of those mouths that look small in repose, but widen surprisingly with laughter. Betty, who had only seen her smile slightly at rare intervals, happened to glance up. Harriet's mouth had stretched itself into a grin revealing nearly every tooth in her head. And it was the fatuous grin of the negro, and again Betty saw her black. She gasped and covered her face with her hands.

"Oh, never do that again," she said sharply. "Never laugh again as long as you live. Oh, poor girl! Poor girl!"

"I won't ask you what you mean," said Harriet, hurriedly. "I reckon I can guess. Thank you for one more kindness."

And the horror of that grin remained so long with Betty that it was some time before she thought to wonder what had caused it.



V



Betty amused herself for the next day or two observing Jack Emory and Sally Carter. They unquestionably enjoyed each other's society, and Sally at times looked almost pretty again. But at the end of the second day Miss Madison shook her head.

"He is not in love," she thought. "It does not affect him in that way." And she felt more satisfaction in her discovery than she would have anticipated. A woman would have a man go through life with only a skull cap where his surrendered scalp had been. To grow another is an insult to her power and pains her vanity.

It occurred to Betty that she was not the only observant person in the house. She seemed always stumbling over Miss Trumbull, who did not appear to listen at doors but was usually as closely within ear-shot as she could get. It was idle to suppose that the woman had any malignant motive in that well-conducted household, and she seemed to be good-natured and even kindly. Interest in other people's affairs was evidently, save vanity, her strongest passion. It was the natural result of an empty life and a common mind. But simple or not, it was objectionable.

Her vanity, her mistress had cause to discover, was more so. On Wednesday morning Betty returned home from a long tramp, earlier than was her habit, and went to her room. Miss Trumbull was standing before the mirror trying on one of her hats.

"That's real becomin' to me," she drawled, as Miss Madison entered the room. "I always could wear a hat turned up on one side, and most of your colours would suit me."

Betty controlled her temper, but the effort hurt her. She would have liked to pour her scorn all over the creature.

"You may have the hat," she said. "Only do me the favour not to enter my room again unless I send for you. The maid is very neat, and it needs no inspection."

The woman's face turned a dark red. "I'm sorry you're mad," she said, "but there's no harm, as I can see, in tryin' on a hat."

"It is a matter of personal taste, not of right or wrong. I particularly dislike having my things touched."

"Oh, of course I won't, then; but I like nice things, and I haven't seen too many of them."

Again Betty relented. "I will leave you a good many at the end of the summer," she said. And the woman thanked her very nicely and went away.

"I am glad I was not brutal to her," thought Betty. "Democracy is a great institution in spite of its nuisances. Still, I admire Hamilton more than Jefferson."

When, that night, Mrs. Madison had a painful seizure, and Miss Trumbull was sympathetic and efficient, sacrificing every hour of her night's rest, Betty was doubly thankful that she had not been brutal. In the morning she gave her a wrap that matched the hat. Miss Trumbull tried it on at once, and revolved three times before the mirror, then strutted off with such evident delight in her stylish appearance that Betty's smile was almost sympathetic. But she dared not be more gracious, and Miss Trumbull only approached her when it was necessary.

On Thursday afternoon Betty and Sally were rowing on the lake when the latter said abruptly,—

"Have you noticed anything between Jack and Harriet?"

Betty nearly dropped her oars. "What—Jack and Harriet?"

Sally nodded. Her mouth was set. There was an angry sparkle in her eyes. "Yes, yes. They pretend to avoid each other, but they are in love or I never saw two people in love. I suspected it in Washington, but I have become sure of it up here. What is the matter? I don't think she is his equal, if she is our thirty-first cousin, for I would bet my last dollar there was a misalliance somewhere—but you look almost horror-struck."

"I was, but I can't tell you why. I don't believe it's true, though. She is not Jack's style. She hasn't a grain of humour in her."

"When a man's imagination is captured by a beauty as perfect as that, he doesn't discover that it is without humour till he has married it. Besides, any man can fall in love with any woman; I'm convinced of that. You might as well try to turn this lake upside down as to mate types."

"I don't think she would deceive me," exclaimed Betty, hopefully. "I cannot tell you all, but I am nearly sure she would never do that."

"Any woman who has a secret constantly on her mind is bound to become secretive, not to say deceitful in other ways. What is her secret?" she asked abruptly. "Has she negro blood in her veins?"

"Oh, Sally!" This time Betty did drop the oars, and her face was scarlet as she lunged after them. She was furious at having betrayed Harriet's secret, but Sally Carter had a fashion of going straight for the truth and getting it.

"I thought so," said Miss Carter, dryly. "Don't take the trouble to deny it. And don't think for a moment, Betty dear, that I am going to embarrass you with further questions. I could never imagine you actuated by any but the highest motives. I should consider the whole thing none of my business if it were not for Jack. Faugh! how he would hate her if he knew!"

"I am afraid he would. I don't believe he is man enough to love her better for her miserable inheritance."

"He is a Southern gentleman; I should hope he would not. I am by no means without sympathy for her. I pity her deeply, and have ever since I discovered that she loved him. For he must be told."

"Shall you tell him?"

Sally did not answer for a moment, and her face flushed deeply. Then she said unsteadily: "No; for I could not be sure of my motive. Here is my secret. I have loved Jack Emory ever since I can remember. It is impossible for me to assure myself that I would consider interference in their affairs warrantable if I cared nothing for him. I cannot afford to despise myself for tattling out of petty jealousy. But you are responsible for her. You should tell him."

"I will speak to her as soon as we go back. If it is true that they are engaged, and if she refuses to tell him, I shall. But I'd almost rather come out here and drown myself."

"So should I."

"You're a brick, Sally, and I wish to heaven you were going to marry Jack to-morrow. That would be a really happy marriage."

"So I have thought for years! When he got over his attack of you, I began to hope, although I'd got wrinkles crying about him. I never thought of any other woman in the case." She laughed, with a defiant attempt to recover her old spirits. "And I cannot have the happiness of seeing him one day in bronze, and feeling that he is all mine! For he hasn't even that spark of luck which so often passes for infinitesimal greatness, poor dear!"

"How did you guess that she had the taint in her?" asked Betty, as they were about to land. "She has not a suggestion of it in her face."

"I felt it. So vaguely that I scarcely put it in words to myself until lately. And I never saw such an amount of pink on finger-nails in my life."



VI



Betty went in search of Harriet, and found her in a summer-house reading an innocuous French romance which her professor had selected. There was no place near by where Miss Trumbull might lie concealed, and Betty went to the point at once.

"Harriet," she said, "I am obliged to say something horribly painful— if you want to marry any man you must tell him the truth. It would be a crime not to. The prejudices of—of—Southerners are deep and bitter; and—and—Oh, it is a terrible thing to have to say—but I must—if you had children they might be black."

For a moment Betty thought that Harriet was dead, she turned so gray and her gaze was so fixed. But she spoke in a moment.

"Why do you say this to me—now?"

"Because I fear you and Jack—Oh, I hope it is not true. The person who thinks you love each other may have been mistaken. But I could not wait to warn you. I should have told you in the beginning that when the time came either you must tell the man or I should; but it was a hateful subject. God knows it is hard to speak now."

Harriet seemed to have recovered herself. The colour returned slowly to her face, her heavy lids descended. She rose and drew herself up to her full height with the air of complete melancholy which recalled one or two other memorable occasions. But there was a subtle change. The attitude did not seem so natural to her as formerly.

"Your informant was only half right," she said sadly. "I love him, but he cares nothing for me. He is the best, the kindest of friends. It is no wonder that I love him. I suppose I was bound to love the first man who treated me with affectionate respect. I reckon I'd have fallen in love with Uncle if he'd been younger. Perhaps—in Europe—I may get over it. But he does not love me."

Betty rose and looked at her steadily. What was in the brain behind those sad reproachful eyes? She laid her hand on the girl's shoulder.

"Harriet," she said solemnly, "give me your word of honour that you will not marry him without telling him the truth. It may be that he does not love you, but he might—and if you were without hope you would be unhappy. Promise me."

Down in the depths of those melancholy eyes there was a flash, then Harriet lifted her head and spoke with the solemnity of one taking an oath.

"I promise," she said. "I will marry no man without telling him the truth."

This time her tone carried conviction, and Betty, relieved, sought Sally Carter.

"Nonsense!" exclaimed Miss Carter, when Betty had related the interview. "He is in love with her, although for some reason or other he is making an elaborate effort to conceal it."

"She spoke very convincingly," said Betty, who would not admit doubt.

"Anything with a drop of negro blood in it will lie. It can't help it. I wish the race were exterminated."

"I wish the English had left it in Africa. They certainly saddled us with an everlasting curse."

She was tempted to wish that Mr. Walker had never discovered her address; but although she did not love Harriet, she was grateful still for the opportunity to rescue her from the usual fate of her breed. But assuredly she did not wish her old friend to be sacrificed.

Again she observed him closely, and came to the conclusion that Harriet had spoken the truth. He was gayer than of old, but his health was better and he was in cheerful company, not living his days and nights in his lonely damp old house on the Potomac River. He appeared to enjoy talking to Harriet, but there was nothing lover-like in his attitude, and he was almost her guardian. True, he was occasionally moody and absent, but a man must retain a few of his old spots; and if he avoided somewhat the cousin whom he had once loved to melancholy, it was doubtless because she found him as uninteresting as she found all men but one, and was not at sufficient pains to conceal her indifference. And then she admitted with a laugh that in the back of her mind she had never acknowledged the possibility of his loving another woman.

She but half admitted that she wished to believe no storm was gathering under her roof. She had no desire to handle a tragedy.



VII



It was Saturday morning. Betty arose at four, brewed herself a cup of coffee over a spirit lamp, and ate several biscuit with it. She hoped Senator North would take the same precaution. Healthy animals when hungry cannot take much interest in each other.

She dressed herself in airy white with a blue ribbon in her hair. There was no necessity for a hat at that hour in the morning, but she took a white organdie one down to the boat and put it under a seat, lest she be late in returning and the sun freckling.

It was faintly dawn as she pulled out into the middle of the lake and rowed toward its northern end. Even the trailing thickets on the water's edge looked black, and the dark forest rising on every side seemed to whisper of old deeds of war and heroism, the bravery and the treachery of Indian tribes, the mortal jealousies of French and English. Every inch of ground about her was historical. These forests had resounded for years with the ugly sounds of battle, and more than once with the shrieks of women and children. To-day the woodpecker tapped, the bluejay cried in those depths unaffrighted; the singing of a mountain stream, the roar of a distant waterfall alone lifted a louder voice to the eternal whisper of the pines. The forest looked calmly down upon this flower of a civilization which no man in its first experience of man would have ventured to forecast, skimming the water to keep tryst with one whose ancestors had hewn a rougher wilderness than this down to a market-place that their inheritor might win the higher honours of the great Republic to come.

But Betty was not thinking of the honours he had won. She was wondering if by so much as a glance he would betray that he cared a little for her. Or did he care? In her thought he had been as full of love as herself. But reality was waiting for her there in the forest, —reality after three months of uninterrupted imaginings. Perhaps he merely found her agreeable and amusing. But the idea did not start a tear. The uncertainty of his affections and the certainty that she was about to see him again were alike thrilling and gladdening. Pleasurable excitement possessed her, and her hands would have trembled but for their tight grip on the oars.

He stood watching her as she rowed toward him, and she was sure that she made a charming picture out on that great dark lake below the pines. The forest rose almost straight behind him, but she knew the winding paths which made ascent easy, and many a dry leafy platform where one might sit. A hundred times she had imagined herself in that forest with him; its dim vast solitude had become almost his permanent setting in her fancy. But as the boat grazed the shore, she said hurriedly,—

"Get in and let us float about. I am sure it is cold in there. I am so glad to see you again." As her hands were occupied, he took the seat in the stern at once, and she pulled out a few yards, then crossed her oars.

"You see, I have obeyed orders," he said, smiling. "Fortunately, I am an early riser, particularly in the country."

"I thought the change would do you good. It must be hot in Washington."

"It is frightful."

He looked as well as usual, however, and his thin grey clothes became his spare though thickset figure. He was smiling humorously into Betty's eyes, but his own were impenetrable. They might harbour the delight of a lover at a precious opportunity, or the amusement of a man of the world. But there was no doubt that he was glad to see her and that he appreciated the picture she made.

"I hope I never may see you in anything but white again," he said. "You are a gracious vision to conjure up on stifling afternoons in the Senate."

Betty did not want to talk about herself. "Tell me the news," she said. "How is that Tariff Bill going?"

"A story has just leaked out that a stormy scene occurred in the Ways and Means Committee Room between our friend Montgomery and two members of the Committee whose names I won't mention. He openly accused them of accepting bribes from certain Trusts. It even is reported that they came to blows, but that is probably an exaggeration. We have had our sensation also. One of our fire-eaters accused—- at the top of his voice—the entire Senate of bribery and corruption. He is new and will think better of us in time. Meanwhile he would amuse us if such things did not affect the dignity of the Senate with the outside world. Unfortunately we are obliged to accept whomsoever the people select to represent them, and can only possess our souls in patience till time and the Senate tone the raw ones down."

"Is he representative, that man? And those hysterical members of the House, whose speeches make me wonder if humour is really a national quality?"

"They are only too representative, unfortunately, but they are more hysterical than the average because they have the opportunity their constituents lack, of shouting in public. The House is America let loose. When a former private citizen belonging to the party out of power gets on his feet in it, he develops a species of hysteria for which there is no parallel in history. He seems to think that the louder he shouts and the more bad rhetoric he uses, the less will his party feel the stings of defeat. Some of them tone down and become conscientious and admirable legislators, but these are the few of natural largeness of mind. Party spirit, a magnificent thing at its best, warps and withers the little brain in the party out of power. But politics are out of place in this wilderness. There should be redskins and bows and arrows on all sides of us. I used to revel in Cooper's yarns, but I suppose you never have read them."

Betty shook her head. "When can you come up here to stay?"

"Probably not for a month yet. There will be a good deal more wrangling before the bill goes through. I don't like it in its present shape and don't expect to in its ultimate; neither do a good many of us. But I shall vote for it, because the country needs a high tariff, and anything will be better than nothing for the present. Later, the whole matter will be reopened and war waged on the Trusts."

"Sally says they have bought up the atmosphere."

"They may be said to have bought up several climates. I have spent a great many hours puzzling over that question, for they have put an end to the old days when young men could go into business with the hope of a progressive future. Now they are swallowed up at once, depersonalized, and the whole matter is one of the great questions affecting the future development of the Republic."

He was not looking at Betty; he was staring out on the lake. His eyes and mouth were hard again; he looked like a mere intellect, nothing more.

As Betty watched him, she experienced a sudden desire to put him back on the pedestal he had occupied in the first days of their acquaintance, and to worship him as an ideal and forget him as a man. That had been a period of intellectual days and quiet nights. And as he looked now, he seemed to ask no more of any woman.

But in a moment he had turned to her again with the smile and the peculiar concentration of gaze which made women forget he was a statesman.

"Not another word of politics," he said. "I did not get up at four in the morning to meet the most charming woman in America and talk politics. Do you know that it is over three months since I saw you last?"

"You left Washington, so, naturally, I left it too."

"I wonder, how much you mean? If I were to judge you by myself—Your few notes were very interesting. Did you enjoy California?"

"California was made to enjoy, but I felt very much alone in it."

"Of course you did. Nature is a wicked old matchmaker. You have felt quite as lonely up here since your return."

"Yes, I have! But I have had a good deal to occupy my mind. Sally terrified me by asserting that Harriet and my cousin Jack Emory were in love with each other."

"Who is Harriet?"

"Oh, you have forgotten! And you made me take her into the bosom of my family."

"Oh—yes; I had forgotten her name. I hope she is not making trouble for you."

"She admitted that she loves him, but insists that he does not love her, and I don't think he does."

"Probably not. I should as soon think of falling in love with a weeping figure on a tombstone."

"What kind of women do you fall in love with?" asked Betty, irresistibly. She was sure of herself now. The passions of women are often calmed by the presence of their lover. Passion is so largely mental in them that it reaches heights in the imagination that reality seldom justifies and mere propinquity quells. For this reason they often are recklessly unfair to men, who are made on simpler lines.

They had floated under the spreading arms of a thicket on the water's edge, and she was a brilliant white figure in the gloom.

"I have no recipe," he said, smiling. "Certainly not with the women that weep, poor things!" Betty wondered what his personal attitude was to the tears of twenty years. She knew from Sally that Mrs. North had long attacks of depression. But his mind had been occupied; that meant almost everything. And his heart?

"Do you love anybody now?" she broke out. "Is there a woman in your life? Some one who makes you happy?"

The smile left his lips. It was too much to say that it had been in his eyes, but they changed also.

"There is no woman in my life, as you put it. Why do you ask?"

"Because I want to know."

They regarded each other squarely. In a moment he said deliberately: "The greatest happiness that I have had in the past few months has been my friendship with you. If I were free, I should make love to you. If you will have the truth, I can conceive of no happiness so great as to be your husband. I have caught myself dreaming of it—and over and over again. But as it is I am not going to make love to you. When the strain becomes too great, I shall leave you. Until then—Ah, don't!"

Betty, who had dropped her head when he began to speak, had raised it slowly, and her face concealed nothing.

"I, too, love you," she said in a moment. "I love you, love you, love you. If you knew what a relief it is to say it. That is the reason I would not go up into the forest with you just now. I was afraid. I have been with you there too often!"

For the first time she saw the muscles of his face relax, and she covered her face with her hands. "I shouldn't have told you," she whispered, "I shouldn't have told you. I have made it harder. You will go away at once."

He did not speak for some minutes. Then he said,—

"Can you do without what we have?"

"Oh, no!" she said passionately. "Oh, no! No!"

"Nor can I—without the hope and the prospect of an occasional hour with you, of the sympathy and understanding which has grown up between us. I have conquered myself many times, relinquished many hopes, and I think and believe that my self-control is as great as a man's can be. I shall not let myself go with you unless you tempt me beyond endurance; for as I said before, if I find that I am not strong enough, I shall leave you. You are a beautiful and seductive woman, and your power if you chose to exert it would madden any man. Will you forget it? Will you help me?"

She dropped her hands. "Yes," she said, "I'd rather suffer anything; I'd rather make myself over than do without you. And I couldn't! I couldn't! Every least thing that happens, I want to go straight to you about it. I know that trouble is ahead, although I haven't admitted it before. I want you in every way! in every way! And I can't even have you in that. I never will speak like this again, but I'd like you to know. If you love me, you must know how terrible it is. I am not a child. I am twenty-seven years old."

"I know," he replied; and for a few moments he said no more, but looked down into the water. "I am not a believer in people parting because they can't have everything," he continued finally. "It is only the very young who do that. They take the thing tragically; passion and disappointment trample down common-sense. If love is the very best thing in life, it is not the only thing. Every time I have seen you I have wanted to take you in my arms, and yet I have enjoyed every moment spent in your presence. The thought of giving you up is intolerable. We both are old enough to control ourselves. And I believe that any habit can be acquired."

"And will you never take me in your arms? Have I got to go through life without that? I must say everything to-day—I will row out into the middle of the lake if you like, but I must know that."

"You can stay here. There are certain things that no man can say, Betty, even to the most loved and trusted of women. The only answer that I can make to your question is, that if I find I must leave you, I certainly shall take you in my arms once."

"Are you sorry I told you I loved you? Would it be easier if I had not?"

"Probably. But I am not sorry! Love can give happiness even when one is denied the expression of it."

"I never intended to tell you. I was afraid if I did you would leave me at once."

"So I should if you were not—you. But I should think myself a fool if I did not make an attempt to achieve the second best. I may fail, but I shall try. And life is made up of compromises."

"You are more certain of smashing the Trusts," she said with the humour which never bore repression for long. "In dealing with methodical scoundrels you know at least where you are. A man and woman never can be too certain of what five minutes will bring forth. That ends it. We never will discuss the question again until it comes up for the last time—if it does. I do not mean that I shall not tell you again that I love you, for I shall. I have no desire that you shall forget it. I mean that we will not discuss possibilities again, nor give expression to the passionate regret we both must feel. Is it a compact?"

"I will keep my part in it. I promise to be good. I have prided myself on my intelligence. I am not going to disgrace it by ruining the only happiness I ever shall have. I love you, and I will prove it by making your part as easy as I can, and by giving you all the happiness I am permitted to give you."

He leaned toward her for the first time, but he did not touch her.

"And I promise you this, my darling," he said softly: "if you ever should be in great trouble and should send for me—as of course you would do—I will take you in my arms then and forget myself. Now, change seats with me and I will row you part of the way home; I shall get out a half-mile from the hotel. There really was no reason why you should have made me walk nearly the entire length of the lake."

"I had fancied you in this particular part of the forest, and I wanted to find you here."

"That is so like a woman," he said humorously. "But all of us make an occasional attempt to realize a dream, I suppose."



VIII



He came over to dinner that night, and Betty, who had walked about in a vague dreamy state all day, dressed herself again in white. She woke up suddenly as she came into his presence, and was the life of the dinner. Harriet seemed absent of mind and nervous, but Emory's spirits were normal, and he was more attentive to Sally Carter than she to him. But Betty's interest in her friends' affairs had dropped to a very low ebb. She was in a new mental world, stranger than that entered by most women, for her hands were empty, but she was happy. She had reflected again—in so far as she had been capable of reflection—that most marriages were prosaic, and that her own high romance, her inestimable happiness in loving and being loved by a man in whom her pride was so great, was a lot to be envied of all women. It was not all the destiny she herself would have chosen, but it compassed a great deal. She would have made him wholly happy, been his whole happiness; marriage between them never would have been prosaic, and she would not have cared if it were; she would have made him forget the deep trials and sorrows of his past and the worries and annoyances of the present. But this was not to be, and there was much she could do for him and would.

They talked politics through dinner, and Mrs. Madison noted with a sigh that Betty's interest in the undesirable institution was unabated. She admired Senator North, however, and felt pride in his appreciation of her brilliant daughter. She expressed her regret amiably at not being able to meet again Mrs. North, who would see none but old friends in these days, and Senator North assured her of his wife's agreeable remembrance of her brief acquaintance with Mrs. Madison.

"How wonderfully well people behave whose common secret would set their world by the ears," thought Betty. "Our worst enemies could detect nothing; and on what there is heaven knows a huge scandal could be built."

After dinner she played to him for an hour, while the others, with the exception of Mrs. Madison, who went to sleep, became absorbed in whist. But she did not see him for a moment alone, and Jack rowed him across the lake.

She went to her bed, but not to sleep. She hardly cared if she never slept again. Night in a measure gave him to her, and to sleep was to forget the wonder that he loved her.

It was shortly after midnight that she heard a faint but unmistakable creaking on the tin roof of the veranda. She sat up. Some one was about to pass her window. She sprang out of bed, crossed the room softly, and lifted the edge of the curtain. A figure was almost crawling past. It was a woman's figure; the stars gave enough light to define its outlines at close range. She had a shawl over her head, but her angular body was unmistakable. She was Miss Trumbull.

Betty dropped the curtain and stared into the darkness. "Whom is she watching?" she thought. "Whom is she watching?"

She went back to bed and listened intently. In half an hour she heard the same sound again.

"She is going back to her room," thought Betty. "What has she seen?"

The next morning she sent for Miss Trumbull to come to her room. She had no intention of asking her to sit down, but the woman did not wait to be invited. She took a chair and fanned herself with a palm leaf that she picked from the table.

"Lawsy, but it's hot," she said. "I had a long argument with Miss Walker yesterday about New York State bein' hotter 'n down South, and she wouldn't believe it. But I usually know what I'm talkin' about, and hotter it is. I near lost my temper, for I guess I know when it's hot—"

"What were you doing on the roof of the veranda last night?" asked Betty, abruptly.

Miss Trumbull turned the dark ugly red of her embarrassed condition.

"I—" she stammered.

"I saw you. Whom were you watching?"

"I warn't watchin' anybody. I was takin' a walk. I couldn't sleep."

"You know perfectly well that the roof of a veranda is not intended to be walked on. Your curiosity is insufferable. I suppose it has become professional. Or are you hoping for blackmail? If so, the hotel is the place for you."

This time Miss Trumbull turned purple.

"I like money as well as anybody, I guess," she stuttered; 'but I'd never sell a secret to get it. I ain't low down and despicable if I am poor." "Then you admit it is mere curiosity? I would rather you stole."

"Well, I don't steal, thank heaven. And I don't see any harm in tryin' to know what's goin' on in the world."

"Read the newspapers and let your neighbours alone, at all events the people in this house. I have twice seen you reading over the addresses of the letters of the outgoing mail. Don't you ever do it again. You are a good housekeeper, but if I find you attending to anything but your own business, once more, you go on the moment. That is all I have to say."

The woman left the room hurriedly. An hour or two later Betty met Harriet on the terrace.

"I am sorry to appear to be always admonishing you," she said, "but I must ask you to have nothing more to do with Miss Trumbull."

"I don't want to have anything more to do with her, honey. She has taken to arguing with me in that long self-satisfied drawl, and I have 'most got to hate her. I wouldn't mind so much if she was ever right, but she is a downright fool, and I reckon all fools are pretty much alike. And I have a horrible idea that she suspects something. I have seen her staring at my finger-nails two or three times. And I am 'most sure some one has gone through the little trunk I keep my letters in. Of course the key is always in my purse, but she may have had one that fits, and the things are not like I left them, I am 'most sure."

"She probably envies your finger-nails, and the trunk, doubtless, was upset in travelling. Besides, I don't think she's malignant. Like most underbred persons, she is curious, and she has cultivated the trait until it has become a disease."

"But there's no knowing what she might do if she took a dislike to me. She's not bad-hearted at all, but she could be spiteful, and I can't and won't stand her any longer. I reckon I'd like to go to Europe, anyhow. I feel as if every one was guessing my secret. Over there you say they don't mind those things, and I'd enjoy being in that kind of a place."

"Go, by all means. I'll write at once and inquire about a chaperon—"

"Oh, I don't want to go just yet. September will do. I reckon these mountains are about as cool at this time of the year as anywhere, and they make me feel strong." She added abruptly: "Does Sally suspect?"

Betty nodded. "Yes, she surprised the truth out of me. I am more sorry—"

Harriet had gripped her arm with both hands. Her face was ghastly. "She knows? She knows?" she gasped. "Then she will tell him. Oh! Why was I ever born?"

Betty made her sit down and took her head in her arms. Harriet was weeping with more passion than she ever had seen her display.

"You believe me always, don't you?" she said. "For Miss Trumbull I cannot answer, but for Sally I can—positively. She never would do a mean and ignoble thing."

"She loves him!"

That is the more reason for not telling him. Cannot you understand high-mindedness?"

"Oh, yes. You are high-minded, and he—that is the reason I should die if he found out; for he hates, he loathes deceit. Oh, I've grown to hate this country. I love you, but I'd like to forget that it was ever on the map. I wish I was coal black and had been born in Africa."

"Why don't you go there and live, set up a sort of court?" asked Betty, seized with an inspiration.

"And live among niggers? I despise and abhor niggers! If one put his dirty black paw on me, I'd 'most kill him!"

Betty turned away her head to conceal a smile; but Harriet, who was wholly without humour, continued:

"Betty, honey, I want you to promise me that if I ever do anything to disappoint you, you'll forgive me. I love you so I couldn't bear to have you despise me."

"What have you been doing?" asked Betty, anxiously.

"Nothing, honey," replied Harriet, promptly. "I mean if I did."

"Don't do anything that requires forgiveness. It makes life so much simpler not to. And remember the promise you made me."

"Oh, I don't reckon I'll ever forget that."



IX



Senator North started for Washington that afternoon. Betty did not see him again. He did not write, but she hardly expected that he would. He had remarked once that two-thirds of all the trouble in the world came out of letters, and Betty, with Miss Trumbull in mind, was inclined to agree with him. He would not return for a fortnight.

On Friday, very late, Senator Burleigh arrived. He was on the Finance Committee, but had written that he should break his chains for this brief holiday if he never had another. He had sent her two boxes of flowers since her return, and had written her a large number of brief, emphatic, but impersonal letters during her sojourn in California.

He looked big and breezy and triumphant as he entered the living-room, and he sprinkled magnetism like a huge watering-pot. Betty knew by this time that all men successful in American politics had this qualification, and had come in contact with it so often since her introduction to the Senate that it had ceased to have any effect on her except when emanating from one man.

"Are you not frightfully tired?" she asked. "What a journey!"

"Anything, even a fourteen hours' train journey, is heaven after Washington in hot weather. The asphalt pavements are reeking, and your heels go in when you forget to walk on your toes—and stick. But it is enchanting up here."

His eyes dwelt with frank delight on her fresh blue organdie. "Oh, Washington does not exist," he exclaimed. "I thought constantly of you when we were struggling over that Tariff Bill in Committee, and I wanted to put all the fabrics you like on the free list, as a special compliment to you."

"The unwritten history of a Committee Room! Law does not seem like law at all when one knows the makers of it. But you must be starved. If you will follow me blindly down the hall, I promise that you will really be glad you came."

Miss Trumbull had attended personally to the supper, and he did it justice, although he continued to talk to Betty and to let his eyes express a more fervent admiration than had been their previous habit.

"There's no hope for me," thought Betty, when Emory had taken him to his room. "He has made up his mind to propose during this visit. If I can only stave it off till the last minute!"

As she went up the stair, she met Miss Trumbull, who was coming down.

"Your supper was very good," she said kindly. "Thank you for sitting up."

That was enough for the housekeeper, who appeared to have conceived a worship of the hand that had smitten her. It had seemed to Betty in the last few days that she met her admiring eyes whichever way she turned. Miss Trumbull put out her hand and fumbled at the lace on Miss Madison's gown.

"Tell me," she drawled wheedlingly, "that's your beau, ain't it? I guessed he was when those flowers come, and the minute I set eyes on him, I said to myself, 'That's the gentleman for Miss Madison. My! but you'll make a handsome couple."

"Oh!" exclaimed Betty. "Oh!" Then she laughed. The woman was too ridiculous for further anger. "Good-night," she said, and went on to her room.



X



Betty had organized a picnic for the following day, inviting several acquaintances from the hotel; and they all drove to a favourite spot in the forest. Mrs. Madison's maid had charge of many cushions, and disposed her tiny mistress—who looked like a wood fairy in lilac mull—comfortably on a bed of pine needles. Major Carter felt young once more as he grilled steaks at a camp-fire, and Harriet enchanted him with her rapt attention while his memory rioted in deeds of war.

Senator Burleigh had never appeared so well, Betty thought. There was an out-of-door atmosphere about him at any time; no doubt he had been a mighty wind in the Senate more than once during the stormy passage of the Tariff Bill; but with all out-doors around him he looked nothing less than a mountain king. His large well-knit frame, full of strength and energy, was at its triumphant best in outing tweeds and Scotch stockings; his fair handsome face was boyish, despite its almost fierce determination, as he pranced about, intoxicated with the mountain air.

"If you ever had spent one summer in Washington, you would understand," he said to Betty. "This is where I'd like to spend the rest of my life. I'd like to think I'd never see a city or the inside of a house again."

"Then you'd probably hew down the forest, which would be a loss to the State: you would have to do something with your superfluous energy. And what would you do with your brain? Mere reading, when your arm ached from chopping, never would content you."

"No, that is the worst of civilization. It either produces discontented savages like myself or goes too far and turns the whole body into brain. I have managed to get a sort of steam-engine into my head which gives me little rest and would wear out my body if I didn't happen to have the constitution of a buffalo. But I doubt if I shall be what North is, sixteen years hence. That man is the best example of equilibrium I have ever seen. His mental activity is enormous, but his control over himself is so absolute that he never wastes an ounce of force. I've seen him look as fresh at the end of a long day of debate as he was when he got on his feet. He never lets go of himself for a moment."

That was the only time Betty heard Senator North's name mentioned during Burleigh's visit, for the younger man was much more interested in himself and the object of his holiday.

"I think if it hadn't been for this Extra Session I should have followed you to California," he said abruptly. "I didn't know how much I depended for my entire happiness upon my frequent visits to your house until I came back after the short vacation and found you gone."

"It would have been jolly to have had you in California. But you must feel that your time has not been thrown away. Are you satisfied with the Tariff Bill?"

"I liked it fairly well as we re-wrote it, but I don't expect to care much about it after it comes out of conference. But there are no politics in the Adirondacks, and when a weary Senator is looking at a woman in a pale green muslin—"

"You look anything but weary. I expect you will tramp over half the Adirondacks before you go back. And I am sure you will eat one of those beefsteaks. Come, they are ready."

But although she managed to seat him between Sally Carter and an extremely pretty girl, he was at her side again the moment the gay party began to split into couples.

"Will you come for a walk?" he asked. "I do want to roam about on the old trails the Indians made, and to get away from these hideous emblems of modern civilization—sailor hats. Thank heaven you don't wear a sailor hat."

Betty shot a peremptory glance at Sally Carter, who nodded and started to follow with a small dark attache who had pursued herself and her million for five determined years. He was titled if not noble, a clever operator of a small brain, and a high-priest of teas. He knew the personnel of Washington Society so thoroughly that he never had been known to waste a solitary moment on a portion-less girl, and he had successfully cultivated every art that could commend him to the imperious favourites of fortune. Betty Madison had disposed of him in short order, but Miss Carter, although she refused him periodically, allowed him to hang on, for he amused her and read her favourite authors. They had not walked far when he seized the picturesque opportunity to press his suit, and Miss Carter, while scolding him soundly, forgot the rapid walkers in front.

Betty, as she tramped along beside the large swinging presence the forest seemed to embrace as its own, wondered why she did not love him, wondered if she should, had she never met the other man. Doubtless, for he possessed all the attributes of the conquering hero, and she would have excavated the ideals of her romantic girlhood, brushed and re-cut their garments, and then deliberately set fire to her imagination. If the responsive spark had held sullenly aloof, awaiting its time, she, knowing nothing of its existence, would soon have ceased to remember the half-conscious labours of the initial stage of her affections, and doubtless would have married this fine specimen of American manhood, and been happy enough. But the responsive spark had struck, and illumined the deepest recesses of her heart in time to burn contempt into any effort of her brain, now or hereafter. The question did assail her—as Burleigh talked of his summer outings among the stupendous mountains of his chosen State— could she turn to him in time were she suddenly and permanently separated from the other? She shook her head in resentment at the treasonable thought; but her brain had received every advantage of the higher civilization for twenty-seven years, and worked by itself. She was young and she had much to give; in consequence, much to receive. She could find the highest with one man only, for with him alone would her imagination do its final work. But Nature is inexorable. She commands union; and as the years went by and one memory grew dimmer— who knew? But the thought gave her a moment of sadness so profound that she ceased to hear the voice of the man beside her. She had had moments of deep insight before, and again she stared down into the depths where so many women's agonized memories lie buried. She suddenly felt a warm clasp round her hand, and for a second responded to it gratefully, for hers had turned cold. Then she realized that she was in the present, and withdrew her hand hurriedly.

"Forgive me," he said. "I simply couldn't help it. I could in Washington, and I felt that I must wait. But up here—I want to marry you. You know that, do you not?"

Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6     Next Part
Home - Random Browse