Senator North by Gertrude Franklin Horn Atherton
After breakfast--an almost hilarious meal, for Emory and Sally Carter were in the highest spirits and sparred with much vigour--Betty and Harriet went for a walk. There was a long level path about the lake for a mile or more before they turned into the forest, and Betty noted that Harriet, although her gait still betrayed indolence, held herself with an air of unmistakable pride. She had improved in other respects; her arrangement of dress and hair no longer looked rural, she not only had ceased to bite her nails, but had put them in vivid order, and the pronunciation of her words was wholly white.
"She will be a social success one of these days," thought Betty, "or with that voice and beauty she could doubtless win fame and wealth, and have a brilliant and enjoyable life. The tug will come when she wants to marry; but perhaps she won't want to for a long while--or will fall in love with a foreigner who won't mind."
She longed to ask Harriet if she were happy, if she had forgotten; but she dreaded reviving a distasteful subject. She would be glad never to hear it alluded to again.
Harriet did not allude to it. She talked of her studies, of the many pleasures she had found in Washington, of the kindness of Mr. Emory and Sally Carter, and of her delight to see Betty again. As she talked, Betty decided that the change in her went below the surface. She had regained all the self-control that her sudden change of circumstances had threatened, and something more. It was not hardness, nor was it exactly coldness. It was rather a studied aloofness. "Has she decided to shut herself up within herself?" thought Betty. "Does she think that will make life easier for her?"
Aloud she said,--"Would not you like to go to Europe for a year or so? I could easily find a chaperon, and you would enjoy it."
"Oh, yes, I shall enjoy it. I feel as if I held the world in the hollow of my hand, now that I have got used to gratifying every wish;" and she threw back her head and dilated her nostril.
"What have I launched upon the world?" thought Betty. "She certainly will even with Fate in some way." But she said, "I am glad you and Sally get on well. She has her peculiarities."
"I reckon I could get on with any one; but she doesn't like me, all the same."
"Are you sure? Why shouldn't she?"
"I don't know," replied Miss Walker, dryly. "Women don't always understand each other."
Sally's name suggested the housekeeper to Betty.
"I don't want you to be offended with me, Harriet," she said hesitatingly, "if I ask you not to be familiar with Miss Trumbull. You have not had the experience with that type that I have had. You cannot give them an inch. If you treat them consistently as upper servants when they are in your employ, and ignore them if they are not, they will keep their place and give you no annoyance; but treat them with something more than common decency and they leap at once for equality."
"Well--you must remember that I was not always so fine as I am now, and Miss Trumbull does not seem so much of an inferior to me as she does to you. To tell you the truth, it does me good to come down off my high horse occasionally. I reckon I'll get over that; sometimes I want to so hard I could step on everybody that is common and second- class. I don't deny I'm as ambitious as I reckon I've got a right to be, but old habits are strong, and I'm lazy, and it's lonesome up here. Your mother and Major Carter talk from morning till night about the South before the War. Mr. Emory and Sally are always together, and talk so much about things I don't understand that I feel in the way. Miss Trumbull knows the private affairs of most every one in her village, and amuses me with her gossip; that is all."
Betty pricked up her ears at one of Harriet's revelation, and let the painful fact of her hospitality for vulgar gossip pass unnoticed.
"Do you mean," she asked, "do you think that Mr. Emory is beginning to care for Sally?"
"One can never be sure. I am certain he likes and admires her."
"Oh, yes, he always has done that. But I wish he would fall in love with her. I am nearly sure that she more than likes him."
"I am quite sure," said Harriet, dryly. "She would marry him about as quickly as he asked her. I knew that the first time I saw them together."
"And she certainly would make him happy," said Betty, thinking aloud. "She is so bright and amusing and cheerful. She is the only person I know who can always make him laugh, and the more he laughs the better it is for him, poor old chap! And I think he is too old now for the nonsense of ruining his happiness because a woman has more money-- Harriet!"
Harriet had one of those mouths that look small in repose, but widen surprisingly with laughter. Betty, who had only seen her smile slightly at rare intervals, happened to glance up. Harriet's mouth had stretched itself into a grin revealing nearly every tooth in her head. And it was the fatuous grin of the negro, and again Betty saw her black. She gasped and covered her face with her hands.
"Oh, never do that again," she said sharply. "Never laugh again as long as you live. Oh, poor girl! Poor girl!"
"I won't ask you what you mean," said Harriet, hurriedly. "I reckon I can guess. Thank you for one more kindness."
And the horror of that grin remained so long with Betty that it was some time before she thought to wonder what had caused it.