Part II
Chapter II
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"I certainly shall extinguish her."

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

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

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

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

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

She closed the window and wrote the following letter:--

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

BETTY MADISON.

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