Senator North by Gertrude Franklin Horn Atherton
"Do you dislike her?" asked Betty anxiously of her mother on the night of Harriet's arrival. "I do not, and yet I feel that I never can love her--could not even if it were not for that."
"It is that. You never will love her. I cannot say that she has made any impression on me whatever, so far. She seems positively congealed. I suppose she is frightened and worn out, poor thing! She may improve when she is rested and happier."
And the next day, as Betty drove her about the city and showed her the classic public buildings, the parks, white and glittering under a light fall of snow, the wide avenues in which no one seemed to hurry, and the stately private dwellings, Harriet's eyes were wide open with pleasure, and she sat up straight and alert.
"And I am really to live in this wonderful city?" she exclaimed. "How long will it be before I shall have seen all the beautiful things inside those buildings? Do you mean that I can go through all of them? Why, I never even dreamed that I'd really see the world one day. All I prayed for was books, more books. And now I'm living in a house with a right smart library, and you will let me read them all. I don't know which makes me feel most happy."
"I will ask my cousin, Mr. Emory, to take you to all the galleries, and you must go to the White House and shake hands with the President."
"Oh, I should like to!" she exclaimed. "I should like to! I should indeed feel proud." She flushed suddenly and turned away her head. Betty called her attention hastily to a shop window: they had turned into F Street. She was determined that the obnoxious subject should never be mentioned between them if she could help it.
"I'll take you to New York and show you the shops there," she continued. "New York was invented that woman might appreciate her superiority over man."
"I'd love a yellow satin dress trimmed with red and blue beads," said Harriet, thoughtfully.
Betty shuddered. For the moment F Street seemed flaunting with old Aunty Dinah's bandannas. She replied hurriedly,--
"You will have all sorts of new ideas by the time you go out of mourning. I suppose you will wear black for a year."
"That makes me think. While I'm in black I can't see your fine friends. I'd like to study. Could I afford a teacher?"
"You can have a dozen. I've told you that I intend to turn over to you the money father left me. Mr. Emory will attend to it. You will have about five hundred dollars a month to do what you like with."
The girl gasped, then shook her head. "I can't realize that sum," she said. "But I know it's riches, and I wish--I wish he were alive."
"If he were you would not have it, for I should not know of you. You will enjoy having a French teacher and a Professor of Belles Lettres. Have you any talent for music?"
"I can play the banjo--"
"I mean for the piano."
"I never saw one till yesterday, so I can't say. But I reckon I could play anything."
Her Southern brogue was hardly more marked than Jack Emory's, but she mispronounced many of her words and dropped the final letters of others: she said "hyah" for "here" and "do'" for "door," and once she had said "done died." Betty determined to give special instructions to the Professor.
Senator Burleigh and Emory dined at the house that evening, and although Harriet was shy, and blushed when either of the men spoke to her the deep and tragic novelty of their respectful admiration finally set her somewhat at her ease, and she talked under her breath to Emory of the pleasurable impression Washington had made on her rural mind. After dinner she went with him to the library, where he showed her his favourite books, and advised her to read them.
"Will you have a cigarette?" he asked. "Betty accuses me of being old- fashioned, but I am modern enough to think that a woman and a cigarette make a charming combination: she looks so companionable."
"I've smoked a pipe," said Harriet, doubtfully; "but I've never tried a cigarette. I reckon I could, though."
He handed her a cigarette, and she smoked with the natural grace which pervaded all her movements. She sank back in the deep chair she had chosen, and puffed out the smoke indolently.
"I am so happy," she said. "I reckoned down there that the world was beautiful somewhere, but I never expected to see it. And it is, it is. Poor old uncle used to say that nothing amounted to much when you got it, but he didn't know, he didn't know. This room is so big, and the light is so soft, and this chair is so lazy, and the fire is so warm--" She looked at Emory with the first impulse of coquetry she had ever experienced; and her eyes were magnificent.
"Are you, too, happy?" she asked softly.
He stood up suddenly and gave a little nervous laugh, darting an embarrasing glance over his shoulder.
"I feel uncommonly better than usual," he admitted.