Senator North by Gertrude Franklin Horn Atherton
He came over to dinner that night, and Betty, who had walked about in a vague dreamy state all day, dressed herself again in white. She woke up suddenly as she came into his presence, and was the life of the dinner. Harriet seemed absent of mind and nervous, but Emory's spirits were normal, and he was more attentive to Sally Carter than she to him. But Betty's interest in her friends' affairs had dropped to a very low ebb. She was in a new mental world, stranger than that entered by most women, for her hands were empty, but she was happy. She had reflected again--in so far as she had been capable of reflection--that most marriages were prosaic, and that her own high romance, her inestimable happiness in loving and being loved by a man in whom her pride was so great, was a lot to be envied of all women. It was not all the destiny she herself would have chosen, but it compassed a great deal. She would have made him wholly happy, been his whole happiness; marriage between them never would have been prosaic, and she would not have cared if it were; she would have made him forget the deep trials and sorrows of his past and the worries and annoyances of the present. But this was not to be, and there was much she could do for him and would.
They talked politics through dinner, and Mrs. Madison noted with a sigh that Betty's interest in the undesirable institution was unabated. She admired Senator North, however, and felt pride in his appreciation of her brilliant daughter. She expressed her regret amiably at not being able to meet again Mrs. North, who would see none but old friends in these days, and Senator North assured her of his wife's agreeable remembrance of her brief acquaintance with Mrs. Madison.
"How wonderfully well people behave whose common secret would set their world by the ears," thought Betty. "Our worst enemies could detect nothing; and on what there is heaven knows a huge scandal could be built."
After dinner she played to him for an hour, while the others, with the exception of Mrs. Madison, who went to sleep, became absorbed in whist. But she did not see him for a moment alone, and Jack rowed him across the lake.
She went to her bed, but not to sleep. She hardly cared if she never slept again. Night in a measure gave him to her, and to sleep was to forget the wonder that he loved her.
It was shortly after midnight that she heard a faint but unmistakable creaking on the tin roof of the veranda. She sat up. Some one was about to pass her window. She sprang out of bed, crossed the room softly, and lifted the edge of the curtain. A figure was almost crawling past. It was a woman's figure; the stars gave enough light to define its outlines at close range. She had a shawl over her head, but her angular body was unmistakable. She was Miss Trumbull.
Betty dropped the curtain and stared into the darkness. "Whom is she watching?" she thought. "Whom is she watching?"
She went back to bed and listened intently. In half an hour she heard the same sound again.
"She is going back to her room," thought Betty. "What has she seen?"
The next morning she sent for Miss Trumbull to come to her room. She had no intention of asking her to sit down, but the woman did not wait to be invited. She took a chair and fanned herself with a palm leaf that she picked from the table.
"Lawsy, but it's hot," she said. "I had a long argument with Miss Walker yesterday about New York State bein' hotter 'n down South, and she wouldn't believe it. But I usually know what I'm talkin' about, and hotter it is. I near lost my temper, for I guess I know when it's hot--"
"What were you doing on the roof of the veranda last night?" asked Betty, abruptly.
Miss Trumbull turned the dark ugly red of her embarrassed condition.
"I--" she stammered.
"I saw you. Whom were you watching?"
"I warn't watchin' anybody. I was takin' a walk. I couldn't sleep."
"You know perfectly well that the roof of a veranda is not intended to be walked on. Your curiosity is insufferable. I suppose it has become professional. Or are you hoping for blackmail? If so, the hotel is the place for you."
This time Miss Trumbull turned purple.
"I like money as well as anybody, I guess," she stuttered; 'but I'd never sell a secret to get it. I ain't low down and despicable if I am poor." "Then you admit it is mere curiosity? I would rather you stole."
"Well, I don't steal, thank heaven. And I don't see any harm in tryin' to know what's goin' on in the world."
"Read the newspapers and let your neighbours alone, at all events the people in this house. I have twice seen you reading over the addresses of the letters of the outgoing mail. Don't you ever do it again. You are a good housekeeper, but if I find you attending to anything but your own business, once more, you go on the moment. That is all I have to say."
The woman left the room hurriedly. An hour or two later Betty met Harriet on the terrace.
"I am sorry to appear to be always admonishing you," she said, "but I must ask you to have nothing more to do with Miss Trumbull."
"I don't want to have anything more to do with her, honey. She has taken to arguing with me in that long self-satisfied drawl, and I have 'most got to hate her. I wouldn't mind so much if she was ever right, but she is a downright fool, and I reckon all fools are pretty much alike. And I have a horrible idea that she suspects something. I have seen her staring at my finger-nails two or three times. And I am 'most sure some one has gone through the little trunk I keep my letters in. Of course the key is always in my purse, but she may have had one that fits, and the things are not like I left them, I am 'most sure."
"She probably envies your finger-nails, and the trunk, doubtless, was upset in travelling. Besides, I don't think she's malignant. Like most underbred persons, she is curious, and she has cultivated the trait until it has become a disease."
"But there's no knowing what she might do if she took a dislike to me. She's not bad-hearted at all, but she could be spiteful, and I can't and won't stand her any longer. I reckon I'd like to go to Europe, anyhow. I feel as if every one was guessing my secret. Over there you say they don't mind those things, and I'd enjoy being in that kind of a place."
"Go, by all means. I'll write at once and inquire about a chaperon--"
"Oh, I don't want to go just yet. September will do. I reckon these mountains are about as cool at this time of the year as anywhere, and they make me feel strong." She added abruptly: "Does Sally suspect?"
Betty nodded. "Yes, she surprised the truth out of me. I am more sorry--"
Harriet had gripped her arm with both hands. Her face was ghastly. "She knows? She knows?" she gasped. "Then she will tell him. Oh! Why was I ever born?"
Betty made her sit down and took her head in her arms. Harriet was weeping with more passion than she ever had seen her display.
"You believe me always, don't you?" she said. "For Miss Trumbull I cannot answer, but for Sally I can--positively. She never would do a mean and ignoble thing."
"She loves him!"
That is the more reason for not telling him. Cannot you understand high-mindedness?"
"Oh, yes. You are high-minded, and he--that is the reason I should die if he found out; for he hates, he loathes deceit. Oh, I've grown to hate this country. I love you, but I'd like to forget that it was ever on the map. I wish I was coal black and had been born in Africa."
"Why don't you go there and live, set up a sort of court?" asked Betty, seized with an inspiration.
"And live among niggers? I despise and abhor niggers! If one put his dirty black paw on me, I'd 'most kill him!"
Betty turned away her head to conceal a smile; but Harriet, who was wholly without humour, continued:
"Betty, honey, I want you to promise me that if I ever do anything to disappoint you, you'll forgive me. I love you so I couldn't bear to have you despise me."
"What have you been doing?" asked Betty, anxiously.
"Nothing, honey," replied Harriet, promptly. "I mean if I did."
"Don't do anything that requires forgiveness. It makes life so much simpler not to. And remember the promise you made me."
"Oh, I don't reckon I'll ever forget that."