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- Senator North - 30/56 -
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
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