Betty glanced over her shoulder. There was to be no interruption. She was mistress of herself at once.
"I cannot marry you," she said. "I almost wish I could, but I cannot."
He swung into the middle of the path and stood still, looking down upon her squarely. There was nothing of the suppliant in his attitude. He looked unconquerable.
"I did not expect to win you in a moment," he said. "I should not have expected it if I had waited another year. I knew from the beginning that it would be hard work, for if a woman does not love at once it takes a long time to teach her what love is. I have tried to make you like me, and I think I have succeeded. That is all I can hope for now. You have been surfeited and satiated with admiration, and you regard all men as having been born to burn incense before you. I love you for that too. I should hate a woman who even had it in her to love a man out of gratitude. You have your world at your feet, and I want mine at my feet. You have won yours without effort, for you were born with the crown and sceptre of fascination, I have to fight for mine. But the same instinct is in us both, the same possibilities on different lines. I am not making you the broken passionate appeal of the usual lover, because so long as I know you do not love me I could not place myself at the mercy of emotion—I have no thought of making a fool of myself. But when I do win you—then—ah! that will be another matter."
She shook her head, but smiling, for she never had liked and admired him more. She knew of what passion he was capable, and how absurd he would have looked if lashed by it while her cool eyes looked on. His self-control made him magnificent.
"I never shall marry," she said, and then laughed, in spite of herself, at the world-old formula. Burleigh laughed also.
"There isn't time enough left before chaos comes again to argue with a woman a question which means absolutely nothing. I am going to marry you. I have accomplished everything big I have ever strived for. I never have wanted to marry any other woman, and I want to marry you more than I wanted to become a Senator of the United States. Nothing could discourage me unless I thought you loved another man, but so far as I can see there is no other suitor in the field. You appear to have refused every proposing man in Washington. Is there any one on the other side?" he asked anxiously.
"No one. I have no suitor beside yourself; but—"
"I don't understand that word, any more than I understand the word 'fail,'" he said in his rapid truculent tones. Then he added more gently: "I am afraid you think I should be a tyrant, but no one would tyrannize over you, for you are any man's equal, and he never would forget it. I could not love a fool. I want a mate. And I should love you so much that I never should cease atoning for my fractious and other unpleasant qualities—"
"You have none! I cannot do less than tell you I think you are one of the finest men this country has produced, and that I am as proud of you as she will be—"
"Let me interrupt you before you say 'but.' That I have won so high an opinion from you gives me the deepest possible gratification. But I want much more than that. Let us go on with our walk. I'll say no more at present."
He did not allude to the subject again by so much as a tender glance, and Betty, who knew the power of man to exasperate, appreciated his consideration. She wondered how deep his actual knowledge of women went, how much of his success with them he owed to the strong manly instincts springing from a subsoil of sound common-sense which had carried him safely past so many of the pitfalls of life.
Nor did his high spirits wane. He stayed out of doors, in the forest or on the lake, until midnight, and was up again at five in the morning. Betty was fond of fresh air and exercise, but she had so much of both during the two days of his visit that she went to bed on the night of his departure with a sense of being drugged with ozone and battered with energy. The next day she did not rise until ten, and was still enjoying the dim seclusion of her room when Sally tapped and entered. Miss Carter looked nervous, and her usually sallow cheeks were flushed.
"I've come to say something I'm almost ashamed to say, but I can't help it," she began abruptly. "I'm going away. I can't, I can't sit down at the table any longer with her, and treat her as an equal. I writhe every time she calls me 'Sally.' I know it's a silly senseless prejudice—no, it isn't. Black blood is loathsome, horrible!—and the less there is of it the worse it is. I don't mind the out-and-out negroes. I love the dear old darkies in the country; and even the prosperous coloured people are tolerable so long as they don't presume; but there is something so hideously unnatural, so repulsive, so accursed, in an apparently white person with that hidden evidence in him of slavery and lechery. Paugh! it is sickening. They are walking shameless proclamations of lust and crime. I'm sorry for them. If by any surgical process the taint could be extracted, I'd turn philanthropic and devote half my fortune to it; but it can't be, and I'm either not strong-minded enough, or have inherited too many generations of fastidiousness and refinement to bring myself to receive these outcasts as equals. I feel particularly sorry for Harriet. She shows her cursed inheritance in more ways than one, but without it, think what she would be,—a high-bred, intellectual, charming woman. She just escapes being that now, but she does escape it. The taint is all through her. And she knows it. In spite of all you've done for her, of all you've made possible for her, she'll be unhappy as long as she lives." "She certainly will be if everybody discovers her secret and is as unjust as you are." Betty, like the rest of the world, had no toleration for the weaknesses herself had conquered. "We cannot undo great wrongs, but it is our duty to make life a little less tragic for the victims, if we can."
"I can't. I've tried, I've struggled with myself as I've never struggled before, ever since I learned the truth. It sickens me. It makes me feel the weak, contemptible, common clay of which we all are made, and our only chance of happiness is to forget that. But I've said all I've got to say about myself. I'm going, and that is the end of it. I'll wear a mask till the last minute, for I wouldn't hurt the poor thing's feelings for the world. And I'd die sixteen deaths before I'd betray her. But, Betty, get rid of her. She wants to go to Europe. Let her go. Keep her there. For as sure as fate her secret will leak out in time. She breathes it. If I felt it, others will, and certainty soon follows suspicion. Jack would have felt it long since if he were not blinded and intoxicated by her beauty; but you can't count on men. He'll soon forget her if you send her away in time, and for your own sake as well as his get rid of her. You don't want people avoiding your house!"
"She is going. She has no desire to stay, poor thing! Of course, I know how you feel. I felt that way myself at first, but I conquered it. Others won't, I suppose, and it is best that she should go where such prejudices don't exist. I spoke to her again a day or two ago about it—for your idea that Jack loves her has made me nervous, although I can see no evidence of it—and I suggested that she should go at once; but she seems to have made up her mind to September, and I cannot insist without wounding her feelings. I wish Jack would go away, but he always is so much better up here than anywhere else that I can't suggest that, either."
"Well, I'm going now to tell papa he must prepare his mind for Bar Harbor. Say that you forgive me, Betty, for I love you."
"Oh, yes, I forgive you," said Betty, with a half laugh, "for a wise man I know once said that our strongest prejudice is a part of us."
After Major Carter and Sally left, Betty had less freedom, for her mother was lonely; moreover, she dared not leave Emory and Harriet too much together. The danger still might be averted if she did her duty and stood guard. She never had seen Jack look so well as he looked this summer. The very gold of his hair seemed brighter, and his blue eyes were often radiant. His beauty was conventional, but Betty could imagine its potent effect on a girl of Harriet Walker's temperament and limited experience. But he had appeared to prefer Sally's society to Harriet's, and his spirits dropped after her departure.
It was only when Harriet offered to read to Mrs. Madison and settled down to three hours' steady work a day, that Betty allowed herself liberty after the early morning. From five till eight in the evening and for an hour or two before breakfast she roamed the forest or pulled indolently about the lake. The hours suited her, for the hotel people were little given to early rising; and although they boated industriously by day, they preferred the lower and more fashionable lake, and dined at half-past six.
Life with her no longer was a smooth sailing on a summer lake. There was a roar below, as if the lake rested lightly on a subterranean ocean; and the very pines seemed to have developed a warning note.
Harriet looked like a walking Fate, nothing less. Since Sally's abrupt departure she had not smiled, and Betty knew that instinct divined and explained the sudden aversion of a girl who did so much to add to the cheerfulness of her friends. Emory also looked more like his melancholy self, and wandered about with a volume of Pindar and an expression of discontent. Did he love Harriet? and were her spirits affecting his? Since Harriet's promise Betty felt that she had no right to speak. He had weathered one love affair, he could weather another. When Harriet was safe in Europe, she would turn matchmaker and marry him to Sally Carter. Betty thought lightly of the disappointments of men, having been the cause of many. So long as Jack did not dishonour himself and his house by marriage with a proscribed race, nothing less really mattered. But she played his favourite music and strove to amuse him.
She rallied him one day about the change in his spirits since the departure of Sally Carter, and he admitted that he missed her, that he always felt his best when with her.
"Not that I love her more than I do you," he added, fearing that he had been impolite. "But she strikes just that chord. She always makes me laugh. She is a sort of sun and warms one up—"
"The truth of the matter is that she strikes more chords than you will admit. She's just the one woman you ought to marry. If you'd make up your mind to love her, you'd soon find it surprisingly easy, and wonder why it never had occurred to you before." Betty thought she might as well begin at once.
He shook his head, and his handsome face flushed. It was not a frank face; he had lived too solitary and introspective a life for frankness; but he met Betty's eyes unflinchingly.
"She is not in the least the woman for me. She lacks beauty, and I could not stand a woman who was gay—and—and staccato all the time. It is delightful to meet, but would be insufferable to live with."
"What is your ideal type?"
He rose and raised her hand to his lips with all his old elaborate gallantry. "Oh, Betty Madison! Betty Madison!" he exclaimed. "That you should live to ask me such a question as that?"
"I'd like to box his ears if he did not mean that," thought Betty. "I particularly should dislike his attempting to blind me in that way."
And herself? She asked this question more than once as she rowed toward the northern end of the lake in the dawn, or in the heavier shadows at the close of the day. Could it last? And how long? And did he believe that it could last? Or was he, with the practical instinct of a man of the world, merely determined to quaff that fragrant mildly intoxicating wine of mental love-making, until the gods began to grin?
She had many moods, but when a woman is sure that her love is returned and is not denied the man's occasional presence, she cannot be unhappy for long, perhaps never wholly so. For while there is love there is hope, and while there is hope tears do not scald. Betty dared not let her thought turn for a moment to Mrs. North. Her will was strong enough to keep her mind on the high plane necessary to her self- respect. She would not even ask herself if he knew how low the sands had dropped in that unhappy life. The horizon of the future was thick with flying mist. Only his figure stood there, immovable, always.
"And it is remarkable how things do go on and on and on," she thought once. "They become a habit, then a commonplace. It is because they are so mixed up with the other details of life. Nothing stands out long by itself. The equilibrium is soon restored, and unless one deliberately starts it into prominence again, it stays in its proper place and swings with the rest."
She knew her greatest danger. She had it in her to be one of the most intoxicating women alive. Was this man she loved so passionately to go on to the end of his life only guessing what the Fates forbade him? The years of the impersonal attitude to men which she had thought it right to assume had made her anticipate the more keenly the freedom which one man would bring her. She frankly admitted the strength of her nature, she almost had admitted it to him; should she always be able to control the strong womanly vanity which would give him something more than a passing glimpse of the woman, making him forget the girl? If she did anything so reprehensible, it would be the last glimpse he would take of her, she reflected with a sigh, She wondered that passion and the spiritual part of love should be so hopelessly entangled. She was ready to live a life of celibacy for his sake; she delighted in his mind, and knew that had it been commonplace she could not have loved him did he have every other gift in the workshop of the gods; she worshipped his strength of character, his independence, his lofty yet practical devotion to an ideal; she loved him for his attitude to his wife, the manly and uncomplaining manner with which he accepted his broken and shadowed home life, when his temperament demanded the very full of domestic happiness, and the heavy labours of his days made its lack more bitter; and she sympathized keenly in his love for and pride in his sons. There was nothing fine about him that she did not appreciate and love him the more exaltedly for; and yet she knew that had he been without strong passions she would have loved him for none of these things. For of such is love between man and woman when they are of the highest types that Nature has produced. Betty hated the thought of sin as she hated vulgarity, and did not contemplate it for a moment, but if she had roused but the calm affection of this man she would have been as miserable as for the hour, at least, she was happy.
Betty was determined that Saturday and Sunday should be her own, free of care. She sent Emory to New York to talk over an investment with her man of business, and she provided her mother with eight new novels. As Harriet loved the novel only less than she loved the studies which furnished her ambitious mind, Betty knew that she would read aloud all day without complaint. Miss Trumbull, of whom she had seen little of late, and who had looked sullen and haughty since Harriet with untactful abruptness had placed her at arm's length, she requested to superintend in person the cleaning of the lower rooms.
Her mind being at rest, she arose at four on the morning of Saturday. She rowed across the lake this time and picked up Senator North about a half-mile from the hotel. His hands were full of fishing-tackle.
"Will you take me fishing?" he said. "Can you give me the whole morning? I hear there is better fishing in the lake above, and a farmhouse where we can get breakfast. Do you know the way?"
She nodded, and he took the oars from her and rowed up the lake.
"My wife always sleeps until noon," he said. "We can have seven hours if you will give them to me."
"Of course I'll give them to you. I may as well admit that I intended to have them. I made an elaborate disposition of my household to that end."
They were smiling at each other, and both looked happy and free of desire for anything but seven long hours of pleasant companionship. The morning, bright and full of sound, mated itself with the superficial moods of man, and was not cast for love-making.
"Well, what have you been doing?" he asked. "I have had you in a permanent and most refreshing vision, floating up and down this lake, or flitting through the forest, in that white frock. I know that Burleigh was here—"
"I did not wear white for him."
"Ah! He has looked very vague, not to say mooning, since his return. I am thankful he is not seeing you exactly as I do. How is the lady of the shadows?"
"Sally's Southern gorge rose so high, after she discovered the taint, that she left precipitately. She couldn't sit at the table with even a hidden drop of negro blood."
"You Southerners will solve the negro problem by inspiring the entire race with an irresistible desire to cut its throat. If a tidal wave would wash Ireland out of existence and the blacks in this country would dispose of themselves, how happy we all should be! What else have you been doing?"
"I have read the Congressional Record every day, and the Federalist and State papers of Hamilton; to say nothing of the monographs in the American Statesmen Series. Mr. Burleigh insisted that I must acquire the national sense, and I have acquired it to such an extent that half the time I don't know whether I am living in history or out of it. Even the Record makes me feel impersonal, and as 'national' as Mr. Burleigh could wish."
"Burleigh intends that his State shall be proud of you."
Betty flushed. "Don't prophesy, even in fun. I believe I am superstitious. His idea is that politics are to become a sort of second nature with me before I start my salon—Why do you smile cynically? Don't you think I can have a salon?" "You might build up one in the course of ten years if you devoted your whole mind to it and made no mistakes; nothing is impossible. But for a long while you merely will find yourself entertaining a lot of men who want to talk on any subject but politics after they have turned their backs on Capitol Hill. They will be extremely grateful if you will provide them with some lively music, a reasonable amount of punch, and an unlimited number of pretty and entertaining women. But don't expect them to invite you down the winding ways of their brains to the cupboards where they have hung up their great thoughts for the night. I do not even see them standing in groups of three, their right hands thrust under their coat fronts, gravely muttering at each other. I see them invariably doing their poor best to make some pretty woman forget they could be bores if they were not vigilant."
"The pretty women I shall ask will not think them bores. The thing to do at first, of course, is to get them there."
"Oh, there will be no difficulty about that. Why do you want a salon? Are you ambitious?"
Betty nodded. "Yes, I think I am. At first I only wanted a new experience. Now that I have met so many men with careers, I want one too. If I succeed, I shall be the most famous woman in America."
"You certainly would be. Very well, I will do all I can to help you. It is possible, as I said. And you have many qualifications—"
"Ah!" Betty's face lit up. "If there is war with Spain, they will talk of nothing else—Don't frown so at me. I'm sure I don't want a war if you don't. Those are my politics. Here is the water lane between the two lakes. I almost had forgotten it. I hope it isn't overgrown."
She spoke lightly, but more truly than she was wholly willing to admit. Women see political questions, as they see all life, through the eyes of some man. If he is not their lover, he is a public character for whom they have a pleasing sentiment.
Senator North pulled into the long winding lane of water in a cleft of the mountains. It was dark and chill here they were in the heart of the forest; they had but to turn their heads to look straight into the long vistas, heavy with silence and shadows.
He rowed for some moments without speaking. He felt their profound and picturesque isolation, and had no desire to break the spell of it. She recalled her wish that the Adirondacks would swing off into space, but smiled: she was too happy in the mere presence of the man to wish for anything more. He let his eyes meet hers and linger in their depths, and when he smiled at the end of that long communion it was with tenderness. But when he spoke he addressed himself to her mind alone.
"No, you must not wish for war with Spain. If we ever are placed in a position where patriotism commands war, I shall be the last to oppose it. If England had not behaved with her calm good sense at the time of the Venezuela difficulty, but had taken our jingoes seriously and returned their insults, we should have had no alternative but war,— the serious and conservative of the country would have had to suffer from the errors of its fools, as is often the case. But for this war there would be no possible excuse. Spain at one time owned nearly two- thirds of the earth's surface. She has lost every inch of it, except the Peninsula and a few islands, by her cruelty and stupidity. Her manifest destiny is to lose these islands in the same manner and for the same reasons. And brutal and stupid as she is, we have no more right to interfere in her domestic affairs than had Europe to interfere in ours when we were torn by a struggle that had a far greater effect on the progress of civilization than the trouble between dissatisfied colonists and decadent Spaniards in this petty island. God only knows how many intellects went out on those battlefields in the four years of the Civil War, which, had they persisted and developed, would have added to the legislative wisdom of this country. We knew what we were losing, knew that the longer the struggle lasted the longer would our growth as a nation be retarded, and the horrors of our battlefields were quite as ghastly as anything set forth in the reports from Cuba. And yet every thinking man among us, young and old, turned cold with apprehension when we were threatened with a European interference which would have dishonoured us. That Spain is behaving with wanton brutality would not be to the point, even if the reports were not exaggerated, which they are,—for the matter of that, the Cubans are equally brutal when they find the opportunity. The point is that it is none of our business. The Cubans have rebelled. They must take the consequences, sustained by the certainty of success in the end. Moreover, we not only are on friendly terms with Spain, we not only have no personal grievance as a nation against her, but we are a great nation, she is a weak one. We have no moral right, we a lusty young country, to humiliate a proud and ancient kingdom, expose the weaknesses and diseases of her old age to the unpitying eyes of the world. It would be a despicable and a cowardly act, and it horrifies me to think that the United States could be capable of it. For Spain I care nothing. The sooner she dies of her own rottenness the better; but let her die a natural death. My concern is for my own country. I don't want her to violate those fundamental principles to whose adherence alone she can hope to reach the highest pitch of development."
Betty smiled. "Mr. Burleigh says that Washington had a brain of ice, and that his ideal of American prosperity was frozen within it. I suppose he would say the same of you."
"I have not a brain of ice. I know that the only hope for this Republic is to anchor itself to conservatism. The splits in the Democratic party have generated enough policies to run several virile young nations on the rocks. The Populist is so eager to help the farmer that he is indifferent to national dishonour. The riff-raff in the House is discouraging. The House ought to be a training-school for the Senate. It is a forum for excitable amateurs. The New England Senators are almost the only ones with a long—or any—record in the House."
"They are bright, most of those Representatives—even the woolly ones; as quick as lightning."
"Oh, yes, they are bright," he said contemptuously. "The average American is bright. If one prefixes no stronger adjective than that to his name, he accomplishes very little in life. Don't think me a pessimist," he added, smiling. "All over the country the Schools and colleges are instilling the principles of conservatism and practical politics on the old lines, and therein lies hope. I feel sure I shall live to see the Republic safely past the dangers that threaten it now. The war with Spain is the worst of these. No war finishes without far- reaching results, and the conscience of a country, like the conscience of a man, may be too severely tried. If we whip Spain—the 'if,' of course, is a euphemism—we not only shall be tempted to do things that are unconstitutional, but we are more than liable to make a laughing- stock of the Monroe doctrine. For reasons I am not going into this beautiful summer morning, with fish waiting to be caught, we are liable to be landed in foreign waters with all Europe as our enemy and our second-rate statesmen at home pleading for a new Constitution— which would mean a new United States and unimaginable and interminable difficulties. Have I said enough to make you understand why I think we owe a higher duty to a country that should and could be greater than it is, than even to two hundred thousand Cubans whom we should but starve the faster if we hemmed them in? Very well, if you will kindly bait that hook I will see what I can get. The rest of the world may sink, for all I care this morning."
They had entered another lake, smaller and even wilder in its surroundings, for there was no sign of habitation.
"Few people know of this lake, I am told," said Senator North, contentedly; "and we are unlikely to see a living soul for hours, except while we are discovering that farmhouse. Are you hungry?"
"Yes, but catch a lot of fish before we go to the farmhouse—I know where it is—for I detest bread and milk and eggs."
The fish were abundant, and he had filled his basket at the end of an hour. Then they tied up their boat and went in search of the farmhouse. It was a poor affair, but a good-natured woman fried their fish and contributed potatoes they could eat. Betty was rattling on in her gayest spirits, when her glance happened to light on a photograph in a straw frame. She half rose to her feet, then sank back in her chair with a frown of annoyance.
"What is it?" he asked anxiously.
"A photograph of my housekeeper, a woman who is all curiosity where her brain ought to be."
"Well, it is only her photograph, not herself, and this woman does not know my name. You are not to bother about anything this morning."
They went back to the lake. He caught another basket of fish, and then they floated about idly, sometimes silent, sometimes talking in a desultory way about many things that interested them both. Betty wondered where he had found time to read and think so much on subjects that belong to the literary wing of the brain and have nothing to do with the vast subjects of politics and statesmanship, of which he was so complete a master. She recalled what her mother had said about her brain being her worst enemy when she fell in love. It certainly made her love this man more profoundly and passionately, for her own was of that high quality which demanded a greater to worship. And if she loved the man it was because his whole virile magnetic being was the outward and visible expression of the mind that informed it. It was almost noon when they parted, pleased with themselves and with life. They agreed to meet again on the following morning.
As Betty ascended the terrace, she was amazed to see Jack Emory sitting on the veranda. He threw aside his cigarette and came to meet her.
"Anderson had gone to the other end of Long Island—Sag Harbor," he said; "and as I did not like to follow him into his home on a matter of business, I came back. New York is one vast oven; I could not make up my mind to wait there. I'd rather take the trip again."
Betty concealed her vexation, and replied that she was sorry he had had a disagreeable journey for nothing, while wondering if her conscience would permit her to absent herself for seven hours on the morrow.
But Harriet had read one novel through and begun another. It was evident that she had not left Mrs. Madison's side, and Jack had been home for two hours. Betty lightly forbade her to tire herself further that day, and after luncheon they all went for a drive. When Mrs. Madison retired for her nap at four o'clock, Betty, who longed for the seclusion of her room and the delight of re-living the morning hours, established herself in the middle of the veranda, with Harriet beside her and Jack swinging in a hammock at the corner. "Thank heaven she wants to go to Europe in September," she thought. "If I had to be duenna for six months, I should become a cross old-maid. I'll never forgive Sally for deserting me."
She could have filled the house with company, but that would have meant late hours and the sacrifice of such solitude as she now could command. She had always disliked the burden of entertaining in summer, never more so than during this, when her loneliest hours were, with the exception of just fifteen others and twenty-one minutes, the happiest she ever had known.
Jack and Harriet manifested not the slightest desire to be together, and Betty went to bed at nine o'clock, wondering if she were not boring herself unnecessarily.
She was deep in her first sleep when her consciousness struggled toward an unaccustomed sound. She awoke suddenly at the last, and became aware of a low, continuous, but peremptory knocking. She lit a candle at once and opened the door. Miss Trumbull stood there, her large bony face surrounded by curl-papers that stood out like horns, and an extremely disagreeable expression on her mouth. She wore a grey flannel wrapper and had a stocking tied round her throat. Betty reflected that she never had seen a more unattractive figure, but asked her if she were ill—if her throat were ailing—
Miss Trumbull entered and closed the door behind her.
"I'm a Christian woman," she announced, "and an unmarried one, and I ain't goin' to stay in a house where there's sech goin's on." "What do you mean?" asked Betty coldly, although she felt her lips turn white.
"I mean what I say. I'm a Christian—"
"I do not care in the least about your religious convictions. I want to know what you wish to tell me. There is no necessity to lead up to it."
"Well—I can't say it. So there! I warn't brought up to talk about sech things. Just you come with me and find out for yourself."
"You have been prying in the servants' wing, I suppose. Do I understand that that is the sort of thing you expect me to do?"
"It ain't the servants' wing—where I've been listenin' and watchin' till I've made sure—out of dooty to myself." She lowered her voice and spoke with a hoarse wheeze. "It's the room at the end of the second turning."
Betty allowed the woman to help her into a wrapper, for her hands were trembling. She followed Miss Trumbull down the hall, hardly believing she was awake, praying that it might be a bad dream. They turned the second corner, and the housekeeper waved her arm dramatically at Harriet's door.
"Very well," said Betty. "Go to your room. I prefer to be alone."
Miss Trumbull retired with evident reluctance. Betty heard a door close ostentatiously, and inferred that her housekeeper was returning to a point of vantage. But she did not care. She felt steeped in horror and disgust. She wished that she never had felt a throb of love. All love seemed vulgar and abominable, a thing to be shunned for ever by any woman who cared to retain her distinction of mind. She would not meet Senator North to-morrow. She did not care if she never saw him again. She would like to go into a convent and not see any man again.
She never ceased to be grateful that she was spared hours of musing that might have burnt permanently into her memory. She had not walked up and down the hall for fifteen minutes before the door at the end of the side corridor opened and Emory came out.
Betty did not hesitate. She advanced at once toward him. He did not recoil, he stood rigid for a moment. Then he said distinctly,—
"We have been married three months. Will you come downstairs for a few moments?"
She followed him down the stair, trembling so violently that she could not clutch the banisters, and fearing she should fall forward upon him. But before she had reached the living-room she had made a desperate effort to control herself. She realized the danger of betraying Harriet's secret before she had made up her mind what course was best, but she was not capable of grappling with any question until the shock was over. Her brain felt stunned.
Emory lit one of the lamps, and Betty turned her back to it. He was very white, and she conceived a sudden and violent dislike to him. She never before had appreciated fully the weakness in that beautiful high-bred intellectual face. It was old-fashioned and dreamy. It had not a suggestion of modern grip and keenness and determination.
"I have deceived you, Betty," he began mournfully; but she interrupted him.
"I am neither your mother nor your sister," she said cuttingly. "I am only your cousin. You were under no obligation to confide in me. I object to being made use of, that is all."
"I am coming to that," he replied humbly. "Let me tell you the story as best I can. We did not discover that we loved each other until after you left. It had taken me some time to realize it—for—for—I did not think I ever could change. I was almost horrified; but soon I made up my mind it was for the best. I had been lonely and miserable long enough, and I had it in my power to take the loneliness and misery from another. I was almost insanely happy. I wanted to marry at once, but for a few days Harriet would not consent. She wanted to be an accomplished woman when she became my wife. Then she suggested that we should be married secretly, and the next day we went over into Virginia and were married—in a small village. She begged me not to tell you till you came back. When you returned, her courage failed her, for after all you were her benefactor and she had deceived you. She protested that she could not, that she dared not tell you. It has been an extremely disagreeable position to me, for I have felt almost a cad in this house, but I understood her feeling, for you had every reason to be angry and scornful. So we agreed to go to Europe in September and write to you from there. She wanted to go at once—soon after you returned; but I must wait till certain money comes in. I cannot live on what you so generously gave her. She would not go without me, and in spite of everything, I am almost ashamed to say, I have been very happy here—"
"Is that all? I will go to my room now. Goodnight." She hurried upstairs, wishing she had a sleeping powder. As she closed the door of her room, the tall sombre figure of Harriet rose from a chair and confronted her. Betty hastily lit two lamps. She could not endure Harriet in a half light,—not while she wore black, at all events.
"He has told me," she said briefly, answering the agonized inquiry in those haggard eyes. "I told him nothing."
Harriet drew a long breath and swayed slightly. "Ah!" she said. Ah! Thank the Lord for that. I hope you will never have to go through what I have in this last half-hour." She seemed to recover herself rapidly, for after she had walked the length of the room twice, she confronted Betty with a tightening of the muscles of her face that gave it the expression of resolution which her features always had seemed to demand.
"This is wholly my affair now," she said. "It is all between him and me. It would be criminal for you to interfere. When I realised I loved him, I made up my mind to marry him at once. I knew that you would not permit it, and although I hated to deceive you, I made up my mind that I would have my happiness. I intended to tell you when you got back, but after what you said to me that day I was scared you'd tell him. If you do—if you do—I swear before the Lord that I'll drown myself in that lake—"
"I have no intention of telling him. As you say, it is now your own affair."
"It is; it is. And although I may have to pay the price one day, I'll hope and hope till the last minute. I shall not let him return to America, and perhaps he will never guess. Somehow it seems as if everything must be right different over there, as if all life would look different."
"You will find your point of view quite the same when you get there, for you take yourself with you. I'd like to go to bed now, Harriet, if you don't mind. I'm terribly tired."
"I'll go. There is only one other thing I want to say. I shall have no children. I vowed long ago that the curse I had been forced to inherit should not poison another generation. Your cousin's line will die, undishonoured, with him. The crimes of many men will die in me. No further harm will be done if Jack never knows. And I hope and believe he never will. Good-night."
Betty slept fitfully, her dreams haunted by Miss Trumbull's expression of outraged virtue surrounded by curl-papers. She rose at four, almost mechanically, rather glad than otherwise that she had some one with whom to talk over the events of the night. But although she admired Senator North the more for his distinguished contrast to Jack Emory, she felt as if all romance and love had gone out of her. Harriet's case was romantic enough in all conscience, and it was hideous.
She met Miss Trumbull in the lower hall. Outraged virtue had given way to an expression of self-satisfied importance. "Well, I'm real glad they're married," she drawled. "It warn't in human nature not to listen, and I did—I ain't goin' to deny it, but I couldn't have slept a wink if I hadn't. Ain't you glad I told you?"
"I certainly am not glad that you told me, and I wish I had dismissed you three weeks ago. When I return I shall give you a month's wages and you can go to-day."
She hurried down to the lake and unmoored her boat. Her conscience was abnormally active this morning, and she reflected that she too was going to a tryst of which the world must know nothing. True, it was kept on the open lake and was as full of daylight as it was of impeccability, but it was not for the world to discover, for all that. She made no attempt to smile as Senator North stepped into the boat, and he took the oars without a word and pulled rapidly up the lake. When they were beyond all signs of human habitation, he brought the boat under the spreading limbs of an oak and crossed his oars.
"Now," he said, "what is it? Something very serious indeed has happened."
"Jack Emory and Harriet have been married three months." She filled in the statement listlessly and added no comment.
"And your conscience is oppressed and miserable because you feel as if you were the author of the catastrophe," he replied. "What have you made up your mind to do?" It was evident that her attitude alone interested him, but he understood her mood perfectly. His voice was friendly and matter-of-fact; there was not a hint of the sympathizing lover about him.
"It seems to me that as I did not act at the right time I only should make things worse by interfering now. As she said, it is a matter between her and him."
"You are quite right. Any other course would be futile and cruel. And remember that you have acted wisely and well from the beginning. You have nothing to reproach yourself for. You brought the girl to your house for a period, because justice and humanity demanded it. The same principles demanded that you should keep her secret—for the matter of that your mother made secrecy one of the conditions of her consent. I had hoped that you would get rid of her before she obeyed the baser instincts of her nature. For she was bound to deceive some man, and her victim is your cousin by chance only. Have you noticed in Washington—or anywhere in the South—that a negro is always seen with a girl at least one shade whiter than himself? The same instinct to rise, to get closer to the standard of the white man, whom they slavishly admire, is in the women as well as in the men. They are the weaker sex and must submit to Circumstance, but they would sacrifice the whole race for marriage with a white man. If you had left this girl to her fate, she would have gone to the devil, for a woman as white as that would have starved rather than marry a negro. If you had given her money and told her to go her way, she would have established herself at once in some first-class hotel where she would be sure to meet men of the upper class. And she would have married the first that asked her and told him nothing. I am sorry that your cousin happens to be the victim, because he is your cousin. But if you will reflect a moment you will see that he is no better, no more honourable or worthy than many other men, one of whom was bound to be victimized. I don't think she would have been attracted to a fool or a cad; I am positive she would have married a gentleman. These women have a morbid craving for the caste they are so close upon belonging to."
"I hate men," said Betty, viciously.
"I am sure you do, and I shall not waste time on their defence. I am concerned only in setting you right with yourself."
"I always feel that what you say is true—must be true. I suppose it will take possession of my mind and I shall feel better after a while."
"You will feel better after several hours' sleep. I am going to take you home now. Go to bed and sleep until noon."
"My conscience hurts me. I have spoiled your visit."
"I can live on the memory of yesterday for some time, and I shall return in a fortnight."
"Well, I am glad you were here when it happened. I don't know what I should have done if I couldn't have talked to you about it. I feel a little better—but cross and disagreeable, all the same."
"You are a woman of contrasts," he said, smiling. "A machine is not my ideal."
He rowed her back to the point where he had boarded the boat, and shook her warmly by the hand.
"Good-bye," he said. "Be sensible and take the only practical view of it. If you care to write to me about anything, I need not say that I shall answer at once." When she reached home, she took his advice and went to bed; and whether or not her mind obeyed his in small matters as in great, she slept soundly for five hours. When she awoke, she felt young and buoyant and untarnished again. She went at once to her mother's room and told the story. Mrs. Madison listened with horror and consternation.
"It cannot be!" she exclaimed. "It cannot be! Jack Emory? It never could have been permitted. The very Fates would interfere. His father will rise from his grave. Why, it's monstrous. The woman ought to be hanged. And I thought her buried in her books! I never heard of such deceit."
"It was the instinct of self-defence, I suppose."
"He too! It never occurred to me to watch him or to warn him; for that such a thing could ever threaten a member of my family never entered my head. What on earth is to be done?"
It took Betty an hour to persuade her mother that Jack must be left to find out the truth for himself; that they had no right, after placing Harriet in the way of temptation, to make her more wretched than she was when they had rescued her. But she succeeded, as she always did; and Mrs. Madison said finally, with her long sigh of surrender,—
"Well, perhaps he is paying for some of the sins of his fathers. But I wish he did not happen to be a member of our family. As the thing is done, I suppose I may as well be philosophical about it. It is so much easier to be philosophical now that I have let go my hold on most of the responsibilities of life. As long as nothing happens to you, I can accept everything else with equanimity. What story of her birth and family do you suppose she told him? He must have asked her a good many questions."
"Heaven knows. She is capable of concocting anything; and you must remember that we had accepted her as a cousin. She could put him off easily, for he had no suspicion to start with. I must now go and have a final delightful interview with Miss Trumbull."
She met her in the hall, and experienced a sudden sense of helplessness in the face of that mighty curiosity. She almost respected it.
"I just want to say," drawled Miss Trumbull, tossing her head, "that I know more'n you think I do. There just ain't nothin' I don't know, I'll tell you, as you've turned me out as if I was a common servant. I know who you meet up the lake and take breakfast in farmhouses with, and I know why Miss Harriet was so dreadful scared you'd find out—"
Betty understood then why some people murdered others. Her eyes blazed so that the woman quailed.
"Oh, I ain't so bad as you think," she stammered. "I'd never think any harm of you, and I'd never be so despisable as to take away any woman's character. I'm a Christian and I don't want to hurt any one. likewise, I'd never tell him that. Bad as she's treated me—I who am as good and better'n she is any day—I wouldn't do any woman sech a bad turn as that. Only I'm just glad I do know it. When I'm settin' in my poor little parlor waitin' for another position to turn up—six months, mebbe—it'll be a big satisfaction to me to think that I could ruin her if I had a mind to—a big satisfaction."
Betty went to her room, wrote a cheque for three months' wages and returned with it. "Take this and go," she said. "And be kind enough not to look upon the amount as a bribe. The position of housekeeper is not an easy one to find, and I do not wish to think of any one in distress."
Miss Trumbull left that afternoon, and although Betty half expected the woman, who had possessed some of the attributes of the villain in the play, to reappear at intervals in the interest of her role, the grave might have closed over her for all the sign she gave. But Miss Trumbull had done enough, and the Fates do not always linger to complete their work. The housekeeper, with all her self-satisfaction, never would have thought of calling herself a Fate; but motives are not always commensurate with results. She was only a common fool, and there were thousands like her, but her capacity for harm-doing was as far-reaching as had she had the brain of a genius and the soul of a devil.
As Emory positively refused to go to Europe until money of his own came in, although Betty offered to lend him what he needed, and as he was really well only when in the Adirondacks, and an abrupt move to one of the hotels would have animated the gossips, it was decided finally that he and his wife should remain where they were until it was time to sail. Harriet offered to take charge of the servants until another housekeeper could be found; and as she seemed anxious to do all she could to make amends for deceiving her benefactress, Betty let her assume what would have been to herself an onerous responsibility. After a day or two of constraint and awkwardness, the little household settled down to its altered conditions; and in a week everybody looked and acted much as usual, so soon does novelty wear off and do mortals readjust themselves. Jack and Harriet seemed happy; but the former, at least, was too fastidious to vaunt his affections in even the little public of his lifelong friends. He spent hours swinging in a hammock, reading philosophy and smoking; occasionally he read aloud to his aunt and Harriet, and in the afternoon he usually took his wife for a walk.
Harriet at this period was a curious mixture of humility and pride. She could not demonstrate sufficiently her gratitude to Betty, but the very dilation of her nostril indicated gratified ambition. She had held her head high ever since her marriage; since her acknowledgment by the world as a wife, her carriage had been regal. Betty gave a luncheon one day to some acquaintances at the hotel, and when she introduced Harriet as Mrs. Emory, she saw her quiver like a blooded horse who has won a doubtful race.
As for Mrs. Madison, she finished by regarding the whole affair in the light of a novel, and argued with Betty the possible and probable results. Her interest in the plot became so lively that she took to discussing it with Harriet; and although the heroine was grateful at first for her interest, there came a time when she looked apprehensive and careworn. Finally she begged Mrs. Madison, tearfully, not to allude to the subject again, and Mrs. Madison, who was the kindest of women, looked surprised and hurt, but replied that of course she would avoid the subject if Harriet wished.
"It's just this," said Mrs. Emory, bluntly; "the subject is so much on your mind that I'm in constant terror you'll begin talking of it before Jack."
"My dear girl, I never would tell him; for his sake as well as your own, you can rely on me."
"I know you would never do it intentionally, ma'am, but I'm scared you'll do it without thinking; you talk of it so much, more than anything. The other night when you began to talk of the crime of miscegenation, I thought I should die."
"That was very inconsiderate of me. Poor girl, I'll be more careful." But in her secluded impersonal life few romantic interests entered, and although she was too courteous to harp upon a painful subject, it was evident that she avoided it with an effort, and that it dwelt in the forefront of her mind. One evening after Betty had been playing some of the old Southern melodies, she caught Jack's hand in hers, and assured him brokenly that no people on earth were bound together as Southerners were, and that he must think of her always as his mother and come to her in the dark and dreadful hours of his life. He pressed her hand, and continued smoking his cigarette; he never had doubted that his aunt loved him as a mother. Harriet rose abruptly and left the room. She returned before long, however, and after that night she never left her husband alone with Mrs. Madison for a moment.
Betty herself was happy again. She hated the dark places of life, and got away from them and out into the sunshine as quickly as possible. Although she was too well disciplined to shirk her duty, she did it as quickly as possible and pushed it to the back of her mind. Jack and Harriet were married; that was the end of it for the present. Let life go on as before. She gave several hours of the day to her mother, the rest to the forest and the lake. When Senator North came up again, she was her old gay self, the more attractive perhaps for the faint impression which contact with deep seriousness is bound to leave. If Jack and Harriet had been safely out of the country, she would have felt like a Pagan, especially after the Tariff Bill passed and Senator North came up to stay.
"I shouldn't have a care in the world," she said to him one morning, "if I did not know, little as I will permit myself to think of it, that exposure may come any day. There is only a chance that somebody at St. Andrew will hear of the marriage and denounce her, but it might happen. If only they were in Europe! She told me the other night that she knows she can keep him there, her influence is so great. I hope that is true, but she cannot make him go till he has his own money to go with."
"What she means is that he won't leave her. He has her here now and is in no hurry to move. He should be able to rent his farm. It is a very good one." "He has rented it for a year—from September. He gets nothing till then. If pride were not a disease with him, he would let me advance the money, but he is not as sure as he might be of the man who has rented the farm and he will not take any risks, I am sorry for Harriet. She has the idea on her mind now that Molly will blurt it out, and she has the sort of mind that broods and exaggerates. I sincerely wish they had got off to Europe undiscovered and sent the news back by the pilot. I had to speak to Molly once or twice myself; I never knew her so garrulous about anything."
Senator North laughed. "You have a great deal of trouble with your parent," he said. "I fear you have not been firm enough with her in the past. Will you come into the next lake? I like the fish better there. You are not to worry about anything, my dear, while we have the Adirondacks to imagine ourselves happy in."
"Ar'n't you really happy?" she asked him quickly.
"Not wholly so," he replied. "But that is a question we are not to discuss."
Senator North had been formally invited by Mrs. Madison for dinner that evening, and Betty, who had parted from him just seven hours before, restrained an impulse to run down the terrace as his boat made the landing. Emory and Harriet were on the veranda, however, and she managed to look stately and more or less indifferent at the head of the steps. There were pillars and vines on either side of her, and bunches of purple wistaria hung above her head. It was a picturesque frame for a picturesque figure in white, and a kindly consideration for Senator North's highly trained and exacting eye kept her immovable for nearly five minutes. As he reached the steps, however, self- consciousness suddenly possessed her and she started precipitately to meet him. She wore slippers with high Louis Quinze heels. One caught in a loosened strand of the mat. Her other foot went too far. She made a desperate effort to reach the next step, and fell down the whole flight with one unsupported ankle twisted under her.
For a moment the pain was so intense she hardly was aware that Senator North had his arm about her shoulders while Emory was straightening her out. Harriet was screaming frantically. She gave a sharp scream herself as Emory touched her ankle, but repressed a second as she heard her mother's voice.
Mrs. Madison stood in the doorway with more amazement than alarm on her face.
"Betty?" she cried. "Nothing can have happened to Betty! Why, she has not even had a doctor since she was six years old."
"It's nothing but a sprained ankle," said Emory. "For heaven's sake, keep quiet, Harriet," he added impatiently, "and go and get some hot water. Let's get her into the house."
Betty by this time was laughing hysterically. Her ankle felt like a hot pincushion, and the unaccustomed experience of pain, combined with Harriet's shrieks, delivered with a strong darky accent, and her mother's attitude of disapproval, assaulted her nerves.
When they had carried her in and put her foot into a bucket of hot water, she forgot them completely, and while her mother fanned her and Senator North forced her to swallow brandy, she felt that all the intensity of life's emotions was circumferenced by a wooden bucket. But when they had carefully extended her on the sofas and Emory, who had a farmer's experience with broken bones, announced his intention of examining her ankle at once, Betty with remarkable presence of mind asked Senator North to hold her hand. This he did with a firmness which fortified her during the painful ordeal, and Mrs. Madison was not terrified by so much as a moan.
"You have pluck!" exclaimed Senator North when Emory, after much prodding, had announced that it was only a sprain. "You have splendid courage."
Emory assured her that she was magnificent, and Betty felt so proud of herself that she had no desire to undo the accident.
In the days that followed, although she suffered considerable pain, she enjoyed herself thoroughly. It was her first experience of being "fussed over," as she expressed it. She never had had so much as a headache, no one within her memory had asked her how she felt, and she had regarded her mother as the centre of the medical universe. Now a clever and sympathetic doctor came over every day from the hotel and felt her pulse, and intimated that she was his most important patient. Mrs. Madison insisted upon bathing her head, Emory and Harriet treated her like a sovereign whose every wish must be anticipated, even the servants managed to pass the door of her sitting-room a dozen times a day. Senator North came over every morning and sat by her couch of many rose-coloured pillows; and not only looked tender and anxious, but suggested that the statesman within him was dead.
"It is hard on you, though," she murmured one day, when they happened to be alone for a few moments. "Two invalids are more than one man's portion. And no one ever enjoyed the outdoor life as you do."
"This room is full of sunshine and fresh air, and I came up here to be with you. I don't know but what I am heartless enough to enjoy seeing such an imperious and insolently healthy person helpless for a time, and to be able to wait on her."
"I feel as if the entire order of the universe had been reversed."
"It will do you good. I hope you will have every variety of pleasure at least once in your life."
"You are laughing at me—but as I am a truthful person I will confide to you that I almost hate the idea of being well again."
"Of course you do. And as for the real invalids they enjoy themselves thoroughly. The great compensation law is blessed or cursed, whichever way you choose to look at it."
"I wonder if you had happened to be unmarried, what price we would have had to pay."
"God knows. The compensation law is the most immutable of all the fates."
"I have most of the gifts of life,—good looks, wealth, position, brains, and the power of making people like me. So I am not permitted to have the best of all. If I could, I wonder which of the others I'd lose. Probably we'd have an accident on our wedding journey, which would reduce my nerves to such a state that I'd be irritable for the rest of my life and lose my good looks and power to make you happy. It's a queer world."
He made no reply.
"What are you thinking of?" she asked, meeting his eyes.
"That you are not to become anything so commonplace as a pessimist. Get everything out of the present that is offered you and give no thought to the future. What is it?" he added tenderly, as the blood came into her cheeks and she knit her brows.
"I moved my ankle and it hurt me so!" She moved her hand at the same time, and he took it, and held it until her brows relaxed, which was not for some time.
The best of women are frauds. Betty made that ankle the pivot of her circle for the rest of the summer. When she wanted to see Senator North look tender and worried, she puckered her brows and sighed. When she felt the promptings of her newly acquired desire to be "fussed over," she dropped suddenly upon a couch and demanded a cushion for her foot, or asked to be assisted to a hammock. She often laughed at herself; but the new experience was very sweet, and she wondered over Life's odd and unexpected sources of pleasure.
Senator Burleigh came up for a few days to the hotel before going West, and Betty, who had anticipated his visit, invited two of the prettiest girls she knew to assist her to entertain him. They had been at one of the hotels on the lower lake, and came to her for a few days before joining their parents. She showed Burleigh every possible attention, permitting him to eat nothing but breakfast at his hotel; but he did not see her alone for a moment. When he left, he felt that he had had three cheerful days among warm and admiring friends, but his satisfaction was far from complete.
"Betty," said Senator North, one morning a fortnight later, "how much do you like Burleigh? If you had not met me, do you think you could have loved him?"
"I think I could have persuaded myself that I liked him better than I ever could have liked anybody; but it would not have been love."
"Are you sure?"
"Oh, yes, I am sure! You know that I am sure. It may be possible to mistake liking for love, but it is not possible to mistake love for anything else. And you cannot even pretend to believe that I do not know what love is."
"Oh, yes," he said softly, "I think you know." He resumed in a moment: "You are so young—I would leave you in a moment if I thought that you did not really love me, that you were deluding yourself and wasting your life. But I believe that you do; and you are happier than you would be with a man who could give you only the half that you demand. Marriage is not everything. I love you well enough to make any sacrifice for you but a foolish one. And I know that there is much less in the average marriage than in the incomplete relation we have established. And there is another marriage that is incomparably worse. I shall never let you go—so long as I can hold you—unless I am satisfied that it is for your good."
"If you leave me for any Quixotic idea, I'll marry the first man that proposes to me," said Betty, lightly. "I am too happy to even consider such a possibility. There are no to-morrows when to-day is flawless— Hark! What is that?"
They were on the upper lake. Over the mountains came the sonorous yet wailing, swinging yet rapt, intonation of the negro at his hymns.
"There is a darky camp-meeting somewhere," said Senator North, indifferently. "I hope they don't fish."
The fervent incantation rose higher. It seemed to fill the forest, so wide was its volume, so splendid its energy. The echoes took it up, the very mountains responded. Five hundred voices must have joined in the chorus, and even Senator North threw back his head as the columns of the forest seemed to be the pipes of some stupendous organ. As for Betty, when the great sound died away in a wail that was hardly separable from the sighing of the pines, she trembled from head to foot and burst into tears.
He took hold of the oars, and rowed out of the lake and down to the spot where he was in the habit of landing. She had quite recovered herself by that time, and nodded brightly to him as he handed her the oars and stepped on shore.
At the breakfast-table she mentioned casually that there was a negro camp-meeting in the neighborhood, and that she never had heard such magnificent singing. She saw an eager hungry flash leap into Harriet's eyes, but they were lowered immediately. Harriet had lost much of her satisfied mien in the last few weeks, and of late had looked almost haggard. But she had fallen back into her old habit of reticence, a condition Betty always was careful not to disturb. That afternoon, however, she asked Betty if she could speak alone with her, and they went out to the summer-house.
"I want to go to that camp-meeting," she began abruptly. "Betty, I am nearly mad." She began to weep violently, and Betty put her arms about her.
"Is there any new trouble?" she asked. "Tell me and I will do all I can to help you. Why do you wish to go to this camp-meeting?"
"So that I can shout and scream and pray so loud perhaps the Lord'll hear me. Betty, I don't have one peaceful minute, dreading your mother will tell him, and that if she doesn't that dreadful Miss Trumbull will. She hated me, and she laughed that dry conceited laugh of hers when she said good-bye to me. What's to prevent her writing to Jack any minute? I lost her a good place, and we both insulted her common morbid vanity. What's to prevent her taking her revenge? Ever since that thought entered my head it has nearly driven me mad."
The same thought had occurred to Betty more than once, but she assured Harriet as earnestly as she could that there was no possible danger, that the woman was conscientious in her way, and prided herself on being better than her neighbors.
"You must put these ideas out of your head," she continued. "Any fixed idea soon grows to huge proportions, and dwarfs all the other and more reasonable possibilities. You sail now in a few weeks. Keep up your courage till then—"
"That's why I want to go to the camp-meeting. I used to go to them regularly every year with Uncle, and they always did me good. I'm right down pious by nature, and I loved to shout and go on and feel as if the Lord was right there: I could 'most see him. Of course I gave up the idea of going to camp-meetings after you made a high-toned lady of me, and I've never sung since you objected that morning; but it's hurt me not to—it's all there; and if it could come out in camp- meeting along with all the rest that's torturing me, I think I'd feel better. You've always been fine and happy, you don't know the relief it is to holler."
Betty drew a long breath. "But, Harriet, I thought you did not like negroes. I don't think any white people are at this camp."
"I despise them except when they're full of religion, and then we're all equal. Betty, I must go. Can you think of an excuse to make to Jack? Couldn't I pretend to stay at the hotel all day?"
"There is no reason to lie about it. Nothing would induce him to go to a camp-meeting. But he knows that you are a Methodist, and that you were raised in the thick of that religion. I will row you to the next lake to-morrow morning before he is up, and tell him that I am to return for you. I don't approve of it at all. I think it is a horrid thing for you to do, if you want to know the truth, and there are certain tastes you ought to get rid of, not indulge. But if you must go, you must, I suppose."
She sent a note over to Senator North that evening, explaining why she could not meet him in the morning; but as she rowed Harriet up the lake, she saw him standing on the accustomed spot. He beckoned peremptorily, and she pulled over to the shore, wondering if he had not received her note.
"Will you take me with you?" he asked. "I cannot get a boat, and I should like to row for you, if you will let me."
He boarded the boat, and Betty meekly surrendered the oars. She sat opposite him, Harriet in the bow, and he smiled into her puzzled and disapproving eyes. But he talked of impersonal matters until they had entered the upper lake, and explained to Harriet the whereabouts of the farmhouse whence she might be directed to the camp. Harriet had not parted her lips since she left home. She sprang on shore the moment Senator North beached the boat, and almost ran up the path.
"Well!" he exclaimed. "Did you suppose that I should allow you to row through that lane alone? There is no lonelier spot in America; and with the forest full of negroes—were you mad to think of such a thing?"
"I never thought about it," said Betty, humbly. "I am not very timid."
"I never doubted that you would be heroic in any conditions, but that is not the question. You must not take such risks. I shall return with you tonight—"
"And Harriet!" exclaimed Betty, in sudden alarm. "Perhaps we should not leave her."
"She will be with the crowd. Besides, it is her husband's place to look after her. I am concerned about you only. And I certainly shall not permit you to go to a camp-meeting, nor shall I leave you to take care of her. So put her out of your mind for the present."
And Betty Madison, who had been pleased to regard the world as her football, surrendered herself to the new delight of the heavy hand. He re-entered the long water lane in the cleft of the mountain, and she did not speak for some moments, but his eyes held hers and he knew of what she was thinking.
"I wonder if you always will do what I tell you," he said at length. She recovered herself as soon as he spoke.
"Too much power is not good for any man! Nothing would induce me to assure you that you held my destiny in your hands, even did you!"
His face did not fall. "You are the most spirited woman in America, and nothing becomes you so much as obedience."
"Nevertheless, you always will do exactly what I tell you."
"Even if you told me to marry another man?"
"Ah! I never shall tell you to do that. On your head be that responsibility." He did not attempt to speak lightly. His face hardened, and his eyes, which could change in spite of their impenetrable quality, let go their fires for a moment.
"Of course, if you wanted to go, I should make no protest. But so long as you love me I shall hold you—should, if we ceased to meet. And whatever you do, don't marry some man suddenly in self-defence. No man ever loved a woman more than I love you, but you can trust me."
"Ah!" she said with her first moment of bitterness, "you are strong. And you believe that if you held out your arms to me now, in the depths of this forest, I would spring to them. I might not stay. I believe, I hope I never should see you alone again; but-"
"You are deliberately missing the point," he said gravely. "I am not willing to pay the price of a moment's incomplete happiness. I have lived too long for that. And I should not have ventured even so far on dangerous ground," he added more lightly, "if it were not quite probable that five hundred people are ranging the forest this minute. We are later than we were yesterday, and they are not at their hymns. This evening when we return I shall discuss with you the possible age of the Adirondacks, or tell you one of Cooper's yarns." She leaned toward him, her breath coming so short for a moment that she could not speak. Finally, with what voice she could command she said,—
"Then, as we are safe here and you have broken down the reserve for a moment, let me ask you this: Do you know how much I love you? Do you guess? Or do you think it merely a girl's romantic fancy—"
"No!" he exclaimed. "No! No!" This time she did not cower before the passion in his face. She looked at him steadily, although her eyes were heavy. "Ah!" she said at last. "I am glad you know. It seemed to me a wicked waste of myself that you should not. And if you do—the rest does not matter so much. For the matter of that, life is always making sport of its ultimates. The most perfect dream is the dream that never comes true."
He did not answer for a moment, but when he did he had recovered himself completely.
"That is true enough," he said. "We who have lived and thought know that. But there never was a man so strong as to choose the dream when Reality cast off her shackles and beckoned. Imagination we regard as a compensation, not as the supreme gift. The wise never hate it, however, as the failures so often do. For what it gives let us be as thankful as the poet in his garret. If we awake in the morning to find rain when we vividly had anticipated sunshine, it is only the common mind who would regret the compensation of the dream."
Jack had almost finished his breakfast when Betty entered the dining- room. He looked beyond her with the surprised and sulky frown of the neglected husband.
"Where on earth is Harriet?" he asked. "Her natural inclination is to lie in bed all day. What induced her—"
"She wanted to go to the camp-meeting," said Betty, not without apprehension. "You know she always went with her adopted father, who was a Methodist clergyman—"
"Great heaven!" Her apprehension was justified. His face was convulsed with disgust. "My wife at a camp-meeting! And you let her go?"
"Harriet is not sixteen. And when a person has been brought up to a thing, you cannot expect her to change completely in a few months. Poor Harriet lived in a forsaken village where she had no sort of society; I suppose the camp-meeting was her only excitement. And you know how emotionally religious the—the Methodists are—You glare at me so I scalded my throat."
"I am sorry, and I am afraid I have been rude. But you must—you must know how distasteful it is for me to think of my wife at a camp- meeting. Great heaven!"
"It is even worse than my going over to politics, isn't it? Don't take it so tragically, my dear. The truth is, I suspect, Harriet worries about having deceived Molly and me, and the camp-meeting is probably to the Methodist what the confessional is to the Catholic. Both must ease one's mind a lot."
"Harriet will have to ease her mind in some other way in the future. And it will be some time before I can forget this." "Thank heaven I am not married. Are you going after her? Shall you march her home by the ear?"
"I certainly shall not go after her—that is, if she is in no danger. Where is this camp-meeting?"
"Oh, there are five hundred or so of them, and it is near a farmhouse." It was evident that he had forgotten the colour of the camp. "Seriously, I would let her alone for to-day. That form of hysteria has to wear itself out. I did not like the idea of her going, and told her so, but I saw what it meant to her, and took her. When you get her over to Europe, settle in some old town with a beautiful cathedral and a dozen churches, where the choir boys are ducky little things in scarlet habits and white lace capes, and there are mediaeval religious processions with gorgeous costumes and solemn chants, and the bells ring all day long, and there is a service every five minutes with music, and a blessed relic to kiss in every church. She will be a Catholic in less than no time, and look back upon the camp-meeting with a shudder of aristocratic disgust."
"I hope so. If you will excuse me I will go out and smoke a cigarette."
She said to Senator North as they approached the head of the lake that evening, "A tempest is brewing in our matrimonial teapot. He looked ready to divorce her when I told him where she had gone."
"I hope he won't divorce her when she gets home. Keep them apart if you can. She has developed more than one characteristic of the race to which she is as surely forged as if her fetters were visible. If she has all its religious fanaticism in her, she is quite likely to work up to that point of hysteria where she will proclaim the truth to the world."
"Ah!" cried Betty, sharply. "Why did I not think of that? What a poor guardian I am! If I had warned her, she never would have gone—but probably she won't, as we have thought of it. The expected so seldom happens."
"Don't count too much on that when great crises threaten," he said grimly. "The law of cause and effect does not hide in the realm of the unexpected when intelligent beings go looking for it. To tell you the truth, I have been apprehensive ever since I saw her face this morning. All the intelligence had gone out of it. With her race, religion means the periodical necessity to relapse into barbarism, to act like shouting savages after the year of civilized restraints. I will venture to guess that Harriet has forgotten to-day everything she has learned since she entered your family. Within that sad, calm, high-bred envelope is—I am afraid—a mind which has the taint of the blood that feeds it."
"I have thought that for a long while. Poor thing, why was she ever born?"
"Because sin has a habit of persisting, and is remorseless in its choice of vehicles. I do not see anything of her."
They waited almost an hour before she came hurrying down the path. She barely recognized them, but dropped on her seat in the bow and crouched there, sobbing and groaning.
It was a cheerless journey through the forest and down the lake, and the element of the grotesque did nothing to relieve it. Betty, distracted at first, soon realized that upon her lay the responsibility of averting a tragedy, and she ordered her brain to action. She leaned forward finally and whispered to Senator North:
"Row me to my boat-house and I will ask Jack to row you home. He is too courteous to suggest sending a servant if I make a point of his taking you."
He nodded. She saw the confidence in his eyes, and even in that hour of supreme anxiety her mind leapt forward to the winning of his approval as the ultimate of her struggle to save the happiness of two human beings who were almost at her mercy.
Jack was walking on the terrace. Betty called to him, and he consented with no marked grace to be boatman. He had taken the oars before he noticed that his wife, whom he was not yet ready to forgive, was being hurried off by his cousin.
"Mrs. Emory is very tired and her head aches," said Senator North. "Miss Madison is anxious to get her into bed. Can't you dine with me to-night? It would give me great pleasure, and men are superfluous, I have observed, when women have headaches."
And Jack, who was not sorry to punish his wife, accepted the invitation and did not return home till midnight.
Betty took Harriet to her own room and put her to bed. She had dinner for both sent upstairs, but Harriet would not eat; neither would she speak. She lay in the bed, half on her face, as limp as the newly dead. Occasionally she sighed or groaned. Betty tried several times to rouse her, but she would not respond. Finally she shook her.
"You shall listen," she said sternly. "As you seem to have left your common-sense up there with those negroes, you are not to leave this room until you have recovered it—until I give you permission. Do you understand?" She had calculated upon striking the slavish chord in the demoralized creature, and her intelligence had acted unerringly. Harriet bent her head humbly, and muttered that she would do what she was told.
When Betty heard Jack return, she went out to meet him, locking the door behind her.
"Harriet is with me for to-night," she said. "She needs constant care, for she is both excited and worn out; and as you still are angry with her—"
"Oh, I am sorry if she is really ill, and I will do anything I can—"
"Then leave her with me for to-night. You know nothing about taking care of women."
Jack, who was sleepy and still sulky, thanked her and went off to his room. She returned to Harriet, who finally appeared to sleep.
Betty took the key from the door and put it in her pocket, then lay down on the sofa to sleep while she could: she anticipated a long and difficult day with Harriet. She was awakened suddenly by the noise of a door violently slammed. Immediately, she heard the sound of running feet.
She looked at the bed. Harriet was not there. A draught of cold air struck her, and she saw a curtain flutter. She ran to the window. It was open. She stepped out upon the roof of the veranda, and went rapidly round the corner to Emory's room. One of the windows was open. Betty looked up at the dark forest behind the lonely house and caught her breath. What should she see? But she went on. A candle burned in the room. Harriet sat on a chair in her nightgown, her black hair hanging about her.
"I told him," she said, in a hollow but even voice. "I was drunk with religion, and I told him. I didn't come to my senses till I looked up —I was on the floor—and saw his face. He has gone away."
"What did he say?"
"Nothing. Not a word."
She drew a long sigh. "I'm so tired," she said. "I reckon I'll go to bed."
For four days they had no word from Jack Emory. Harriet slept late on the first day. When she awoke she was an intelligent being again, and strove for the controlled demeanor which she always had seemed to feel was necessary to her self-respect. But more than once she let Betty see how nervous and terrified she was.
"I am sure he will come back," she said, with the emphasis of unadmitted doubt. "Sure! He adores me. Of course he would not have married me if he had known, but that is done and cannot be undone. When he realizes that, he will come back, for he loves me. We are bound together and he will return in time."
Betty, who scarcely left her, gave her what encouragement she could. Men were contradictory beings. Jack had the fanatical pride and prejudices of his race, but he was in love. It was possible that after a few months of loneliness in his old house he would give way to an uncontrollable longing and send for his wife. She had made inquiries at the railroad station, and ascertained that he had taken a ticket for New York. Undoubtedly he had gone on to Washington.
She reproached herself bitterly for having slept and allowed Harriet to escape; but Harriet, to whom she did not hesitate to express herself, shook her head.
"You could not have stayed awake for twenty-four hours, and I should have found a chance sooner or later. The idea came to me up there while I was shouting and nearly crazy with excitement and the excitement of all those half-mad negroes in that wild forest,—the idea came to me that I must tell him, and I believed that it came straight from the Lord. It seemed to me that He was there and told me that was my only hope,—to tell him myself before he found it out from your mother or Miss Trumbull. The idea never left me for a minute; it possessed me. I was so afraid you wouldn't have waited when I found out I was late,—that they would tell him before I got home. But I wanted to tell him alone. When you ordered me not to leave the room, I felt like I wanted to do anything you told me, but when I found you'd gone to sleep, I felt like I couldn't wait another minute. I crawled out of the window and went to him. And perhaps I did right. I can't think it wasn't an inspiration to confess and be forgiven before he found out for himself."
Betty was in the living-room with Senator North when a letter from Jack Emory was brought to her. With it, also bearing the Washington postmark, was another, directed in an unfamiliar and illiterate hand. Betty, cold with apprehension, tore open Emory's letter. It read:—
Dear Betty,—You know, of course, that my wife confessed to me the terrible fact that she has negro blood in her veins. My one impulse when she told me was to get back to my home like a beaten dog to its kennel. I did little thinking on the train; whether I talked to people or whether I was too stupefied to think, I cannot tell you. But here I have done thinking enough. At first I hated, I loathed, I abhorred her. I resolved merely never to see her again, to ask you to send her to Europe as quickly as possible, to threaten her with exposure and arrest if she ever returned. But, Betty, although I have not yet forgiven her, although the thought of her awful hidden birthmark still fills me with horror and disgust, I know the weakness of man. The marriage is void according to the laws of Virginia, and I know that if I returned to her she would insist upon remarriage in a Northern State—and I might succumb. And rather than do that, rather than dishonour my blood, rather than do that monstrous wrong, not only to my family but to the South that has my heart's allegiance—as passionate an allegiance as if I had fought and bled on her battlefields—I am going to kill myself.
Do not for a moment imagine, Betty, that I hold you to account. I can guess why you did not warn me in the beginning, why you did not tell me when it was too late. Would that I had gone on to the end faithful to my ideal of you! My lonely years in this old house were brightened and made endurable with the mere thought of you. But man was not made to live on shadows, and I loved again, so deeply that I dare not trust myself to live.
I send her only one message—she must drop my name. She has no legal title to it according to the laws of Virginia; the marriage would be declared void were it known that she had black blood in her. I would spare her shame and exposure, but she shall not bear my name, and it is my dying request that you use any means to make her drop it. Good- bye. JACK EMORY.
Betty thrust the letter into Senator North's hand. "Read it!" she said. "Read it! Oh, do you suppose he has—"
Her glance fell on the other letter and she opened it with heavy fingers. It read:—
Mis Betty,—Marse Jack done shot himself. He tole me not to telegraf. Yours truly, JIM.
Betty stood staring at Senator North as he read Jack's letter. When he had finished it, she handed him the other. He read it, then took her cold hands in his.
"You must tell her," he said. "It is a terrible trial for you, but you must do it."
"Ah!" she cried sharply. "I believe you are thinking of me only, not of that poor girl."
"My dear," he said, "that poor creature was doomed the moment she entered the world. No amount of sympathy, no amount of help that you or I could give her would alter her fate one jot. For all the women of that accursed cross of black and white there is absolutely no hope—so long as they live in this country, at all events. They almost invariably have intelligence. If they marry negroes, they are humiliated. If they pin their faith to the white man, they become outcasts among the respectable Blacks by their own act, as the act of others has made them outcasts among the Whites, Their one compensation is the inordinate conceit which most of them possess. Do not think I am heartless. I have thought long and deeply on the subject. But no legislation can reach them, and the American character will have to be born again before there is any change in the social law. It is one of those terrible facts of life that rise isolated above the so-called problems. If Harriet lives through this, she will fall upon other miseries incidental to her breed, as sure as there is life about us, for she has the seeds of many crops within her. So it is true that all my concern is for you. In a way I helped to bring this on you; but you did what was right, and I have no regrets. And you must think of me as always beside you, not only ready to help you, but thinking of you constantly."
She forgot Harriet for the moment. "Oh, I do," she said, "I do! I wonder what strength I would have had through this if you had not been behind me."
"You are capable of a great deal, but no woman is strong enough to stand alone long. Send for Harriet to come here. I don't wish you to be alone with her when she hears this news."
Betty rang the bell, and sent a servant for Harriet. She put Emory's letter in her pocket.
"I shall not give her that terrible message of his until she quite has got over the shock of his death," she said. "Let her be his widow for a little while. Then she can go to Europe and resume her own name. She soon will be forgotten here."
Harriet came in a few moments. She barely had sat down since she had risen after a restless night. But she had refused to talk even to Betty. As she entered the room and was greeted by one of those silences with which the mind tells its worst news, she fell back against the door, her hands clutching at her gown. Betty handed her the servant's letter.
She took it with twitching fingers, and read it as if it had been a letter of many pages. Then she extended her rigid arms until she looked like a cross.
"Oh!" she articulated. "Oh! Oh!"
But in a moment she laughed. "I don't feel surprised, somehow," she said sullenly. "I suppose I knew all along he'd do it. Every day that I live I'll curse your unjust and murderous race while other people are saying their prayers. May the black race overrun the world and taint every vein of blood upon it. For me, I accept my destiny. I'm a pariah, an outcast. I'll live to do evil, to square accounts with the race that has made me what I am. I'll go back to that camp, and leave it with whatever negro will have me, and when I'm so degraded I don't care for anything, I'll go out and ruin every white man I can. I'll keep the money you gave me, so that I'll be able to do more harm—"
"You can go," said Betty, "but not yet. You shall go with me first and bury your husband. If you attempt to escape until I give you permission, I shall have you locked up. I shall take two menservants with us. Now come upstairs with me and pack your portmanteau."
She slipped her hand into Senator North's. "Good-bye," she said hurriedly. "I shall return Friday night. Please come over Saturday morning."
Harriet preceded Betty upstairs, and obeyed her orders sullenly. Betty locked her in her room, and went to break the news to her mother. Mrs. Madison received it without excitement, remarking among her tears that it was one of the denouements she had imagined, and that on the whole it was the best thing he could have done. She consented to go with her maid to the hotel till Friday, and the party left for Washington that evening.
They returned late on Friday night. As Betty had anticipated, Harriet's exhausted body had not harboured a violent spirit for long. When they arrived in New York, she bought herself a crape veil reaching to her toes, and when she entered the dilapidated old house where her husband lay dead, she began to weep heavily. Her tears scarcely ceased to flow until she had started on her way to the mountains again, and, hot as it was, she never raised her veil during the nine hours' train journey from New York to the lake, except to eat the food that Betty forced upon her.
Mrs. Madison had returned, and Betty, after telling her those details of the funeral which elderly people always wish to know, went to her room, for she was tired and longed for sleep. But Harriet entered almost immediately and sat down. She barely had spoken since Monday; but it was evident that she was ready to talk at last, and Betty stifled a yawn and sat upon the edge of her bed. Harriet was a delicate subject and must be treated with vigilant consideration, except at those times where an almost brutal firmness was necessary. She looked sad and haggard, but very beautiful, and Betty reflected that with her voice she might begin life over again, and in a public career forget her brief attempt at happiness. If she failed, it would be because there was so little grip in her; Nature had been lavish only with the more brilliant endowments.
"Betty," she began, "I want to tell you that I'm sorry I said those dreadful words when I learned he was dead. But suspense and the doubt that had begun to work had nearly driven me crazy. I don't mind saying, though, that I wish I had kept on meaning them, that I could do what I said I'd do, for I meant them then—I reckon I did! But I haven't any backbone, my will is a poor miserable weak thing that takes a spurt and then fizzles out. And I'd rather be good than bad. I reckon that has something to do with it. I'd have gone to the bad, I suppose, if you hadn't taken hold of me; I'd have just drifted that way, although I liked teaching Sunday-school, and I liked to feel I was good and respectable and could look down on people that were no better than they should be. And now that I've been living with such respectable and high-toned people as you all are, I don't think I could stand niggers and poor white trash again—"
"I am sure you will be good," interrupted Betty, encouragingly. "And you owe him respect. Don't forget that, and make allowances for him."
"Ah, yes!" "Her face convulsed, but she calmed herself and went on. "You will never know how I loved him. I was proud enough of the name, but I worshipped him; and he killed himself to get rid of me! Oh, yes, I'll make allowances, for I killed him as surely as if I had pulled that trigger—" "Put the heavier blame on those that went before you," said Betty, with intent to soothe. "You did wrong in deceiving him, but helpless women should be forgiven much that they do, in their desperate battle with Circumstance. Think of it as a warning, but not as a crime." Don't let anything make you morbid. Life is full of pleasure. Go and look for it, and put the past behind you."
Harriet shook her head. "I am not you," she said. "I am I. And I feel as if there was a heavy hand on my neck pressing me down. If I should live to be a toothless old woman, I should never feel that I had any right to be happy again. Heaven knows what I might be tempted to do, but I should laugh at myself for a fool, all the same."
The colour rushed over her face, but she continued steadily: "There's something else I must tell you before I can sleep to-night. I've read his letter to you. I knew he'd written it, and down there while you were asleep I took it out of your pocket and read it. It was I who suggested going over to Virginia, for I was afraid some newspaper would get hold of it if we were married in Washington, where he was so well known. I didn't know there was such a law in Virginia. So, you see, the Lord was on his side a little. I don't bear his name. I'm as much of an outcast as the vengeance of a wronged man could wish—"
"I am sure he thought of you kindly at the last, and I never shall think of you in that—that other way. You must go to Europe and begin life over again."
Harriet rose and kissed Betty affectionately. "Good-night," she said. "You are just worn out, and I have kept you up. But I felt I wanted to tell you—and that no matter how ungrateful I sometimes appear I always love you; and I'd rather be you than any one in the world, because you're so unlike myself."
Betty went with her to the door. "Go to sleep," she said. "Don't lie awake and think."
"Oh, I will sleep," she said. "Don't worry about that."
Betty slept late on the following morning, but arose as soon as she awoke and dressed herself hurriedly. Senator North was an early visitor. Doubtless he was waiting for her on the veranda.
She ran downstairs, feeling that she could hum a tune. The morning was radiant, and for the last five days it had seemed to her that the atmosphere was as black as Harriet's veil. She wanted the fresh air and the sunshine, the lake and the forest again. She wanted to talk for long hours with the one man who she was sure could never do a weak or cowardly act. She wanted to feel that her heavy responsibilities were pushed out of sight, and that she could live her own life for a little.
She almost had reached the front door when a man sprang up the steps and through it, closing it behind him. It was John, the butler, and his face was white.
"What is it?" she managed to ask him. "What on earth has happened now?" "It's Miss Walker, Miss. They found her three hours ago—on the lake. The coroner's been here. They're bringing her in. I told them to take her in the side door. I hoped we'd get her to her room before you come down. I'll attend to everything, Miss."
Betty heard the slow tramp of feet on the side veranda. It was the most horrid sound she ever had heard, and she wondered if she should cease to hear it as long as she lived. She went into the living-room and covered her face with her hands. She had not cried for Jack Emory, but she cried passionately now. She felt utterly miserable, and crushed with a sense of failure; as if all the wretchedness and tragedy of the past fortnight were her own making. Two lives had almost been given into her keeping, and in spite of her daring and will the unseen forces had conquered. And then she wondered if the water had been very cold, and shivered and drew herself together. And it must have been horribly dark. Harriet was afraid of the dark, and always had burned a taper at night.
She heard Senator North come up the front steps and knock. As no one responded, he opened the door and came into the living-room.
"I have just heard that she has drowned herself," he said; and if there was a note of relief in his voice, Betty did not hear it. She ran to him and threw herself into his arms and clung to him.
"You said you would," she sobbed. "And I never shall be in greater grief than this. I feel as if it were my entire fault, as if I were a terrible failure, as if I had let two lives slip through my hands. Oh, poor poor Harriet! Why are some women ever born? What terrible purpose was she made to live twenty-four wretched years for? You wanted me to become serious. I feel as if I never could smile again."