Senator North by Gertrude Franklin Horn Atherton
As soon as she awoke next morning, she dressed and went downstairs. A woman stood in the lower hall, and from Sally's description Betty recognized Miss Trumbull. The woman's large mouth expanded in a smile, which, though correct enough, betrayed the self-satisfaction which pervaded her being. She was youngish-looking, and not as ugly as Miss Carter's bald description had implied.
"Good-mornin'," She drawled. "I had a mind to set up for you last night, but I was tired. You like to get up early, don't you? It's just six. Miss Walker and Miss Carter don't git up till eight, Mr. Emory till nine fifteen, and your ma till eleven. The Major's uncertain. But I'm real glad you like gittin' up early--"
"Will you kindly send me a boy?" interrupted Betty. "I wish a letter taken to the post-office."
The woman came forward and extended her hand. "I'll give it to him," she said.
"Send the boy to me. I have other orders to give him."
As the woman turned away, Betty thought she detected a shade of disappointment on her face. "Has she that most detestable vulgarity of her class, curiosity?" she thought. "She seems to have observed the family very closely."
The boy came, accompanied by Miss Trumbull, who made a slight but perceptible effort to see the address of the letter as Betty handed it to him.
"Take this at once and bring me back a dollar's worth of stamps; and go also to the village store and bring me some samples of worsted."
She thought of several other things she did not want, reflecting that she must in the future herself take to the post-office such letters as she did not wish Miss Trumbull to inspect and possibly read. The boy went his way, and Betty turned to the housekeeper and regarded her sharply.
"I'm afraid you will find this a lonely situation," she said. "We are only here for a few months in the summer."
"Well, of course I like the society of nice people, but I guess I can stand it. Poor folks can't pick and choose, and I suppose you wouldn't mind my havin' a friend with me in the winter, would you?"
"Certainly not," said Betty, softening a little. But she did not like the woman, who was not frankly plebeian, but had buttered herself over with a coat of third-rate pretentiousness. And her voice and method of speech were irritating. She had a fat inflection and the longest drawl Betty had ever heard. Upon every fourth or fifth word she prolonged the drawl, and accomplished the effect of smoothing down her voice with her tongue. Capable as she might be, Betty wondered if she could stand Miss Trumbull through the summer. But the position was a very difficult one to fill. Even an old couple found it lonely, and a woman with a daughter never had been permitted to remain for two consecutive years. If the woman could be kept in the background, it might be worth while to give her a trial.
Betty went out of doors and down to the lake. It lay in the cup of a peak, and about it towered higher peaks, black with pine forests, only a path here and there cutting their primeval gloom. Betty stepped into a boat and rowed beyond sight of her house and the hotel. Then she lay down, pushed a cushion under her head, and drifted. It had been a favourite pastime of hers since childhood, but this morning her mind for the first time opened to the danger of a wild and brooding solitude, still palpitating with the passions which had given it birth, for those whose own were awake.
"Civilization does wonders for us," she said aloud; she could have raised her voice and been unheard, and she revelled in her solitude. "It makes us really believe that conventions are the only comfortable conditions in the world, certainly indispensable. Up here--"
"If he and I were here alone for one week," she continued uncompromisingly and aloud to the mountains, "the world would cease to exist as far as we both were concerned. And I wish he were here and the Adirondacks adrift in space!"
She sat up suddenly after this wish; but although it had flushed her face, she had said the words deliberately and made no haste to unsay them. She looked ahead to the north end of the lake and the dark quiet aisles above. And when she met him there on Saturday morning, she must hold down her passion as she would hold down a mad dog. She must look with bright friendly eyes at the man to whose arms her imagination had given her unnumbered times. It seemed to her that she was an independent intellect caught and tangled in a fish-net of traditions. To violate the greatest of social laws was abhorrent to every inherited instinct. Her intellect argued that man was born for happiness and was a fool to put it from him. The social laws were arbitrary and had their roots in expediency alone; man and his needs were made before the community. But the laws had been made long before her time, and they were bone of her bone.
She knew that he would not be the one to break down the barrier, that he would leave her if she manifested uncontrollable weakness,--not from the highest motives only, but because he had long since ceased to court ruin by folly; his self-control was many years older than herself. Doubtless he would never betray himself to her, no matter how much he might love her, unless she so tempted him that passion leaped above reason. And she knew that this was possible. There was no mistaking the temperament of the man. He was virile and sensual, but he had ordered that his passions should be the subjects of his brain; and so no doubt they were.
Betty had no intention of forcing any such crisis, often as she might toy with the idea in her mind. But for the first time she compelled herself to look beyond the present, beyond the time when she could no longer sit in her boudoir and play to him, and shake him lightly by the hand as he left her. Perhaps she could not even get through this summer without betraying the flood that shook her nerves. If the barriers went down she must look into what? She gave her insight its liberty, and turned white. It seemed to her that the lake and the forest disappeared and a blank wall surrounded her. She lay down in the boat and pressed the corner of the cushion against her eyes. A thousand voices in her soul, for generations dumb and forgotten, seemed to awake and describe the agony of women, an agony which survived the mortal part that gave it expression, to live again and again in unwary hearts.
She sat up suddenly and took hold of the oars. "That will do for this morning," she said. "It is so true that none of us can stand more than just so much intensity that I suppose if this dear dream of mine went to pieces I should have intervals when life would seem brilliant by contrast with my misery. I might even find mental rest in pouring tea again for attaches. And there is always the pleasure of assuaging hunger. I am ravenous."