Senator North by Gertrude Franklin Horn Atherton
He did not allude to the subject again by so much as a tender glance, and Betty, who knew the power of man to exasperate, appreciated his consideration. She wondered how deep his actual knowledge of women went, how much of his success with them he owed to the strong manly instincts springing from a subsoil of sound common-sense which had carried him safely past so many of the pitfalls of life.
Nor did his high spirits wane. He stayed out of doors, in the forest or on the lake, until midnight, and was up again at five in the morning. Betty was fond of fresh air and exercise, but she had so much of both during the two days of his visit that she went to bed on the night of his departure with a sense of being drugged with ozone and battered with energy. The next day she did not rise until ten, and was still enjoying the dim seclusion of her room when Sally tapped and entered. Miss Carter looked nervous, and her usually sallow cheeks were flushed.
"I've come to say something I'm almost ashamed to say, but I can't help it," she began abruptly. "I'm going away. I can't, I can't sit down at the table any longer with her, and treat her as an equal. I writhe every time she calls me 'Sally.' I know it's a silly senseless prejudice--no, it isn't. Black blood is loathsome, horrible!--and the less there is of it the worse it is. I don't mind the out-and-out negroes. I love the dear old darkies in the country; and even the prosperous coloured people are tolerable so long as they don't presume; but there is something so hideously unnatural, so repulsive, so accursed, in an apparently white person with that hidden evidence in him of slavery and lechery. Paugh! it is sickening. They are walking shameless proclamations of lust and crime. I'm sorry for them. If by any surgical process the taint could be extracted, I'd turn philanthropic and devote half my fortune to it; but it can't be, and I'm either not strong-minded enough, or have inherited too many generations of fastidiousness and refinement to bring myself to receive these outcasts as equals. I feel particularly sorry for Harriet. She shows her cursed inheritance in more ways than one, but without it, think what she would be,--a high-bred, intellectual, charming woman. She just escapes being that now, but she does escape it. The taint is all through her. And she knows it. In spite of all you've done for her, of all you've made possible for her, she'll be unhappy as long as she lives." "She certainly will be if everybody discovers her secret and is as unjust as you are." Betty, like the rest of the world, had no toleration for the weaknesses herself had conquered. "We cannot undo great wrongs, but it is our duty to make life a little less tragic for the victims, if we can."
"I can't. I've tried, I've struggled with myself as I've never struggled before, ever since I learned the truth. It sickens me. It makes me feel the weak, contemptible, common clay of which we all are made, and our only chance of happiness is to forget that. But I've said all I've got to say about myself. I'm going, and that is the end of it. I'll wear a mask till the last minute, for I wouldn't hurt the poor thing's feelings for the world. And I'd die sixteen deaths before I'd betray her. But, Betty, get rid of her. She wants to go to Europe. Let her go. Keep her there. For as sure as fate her secret will leak out in time. She breathes it. If I felt it, others will, and certainty soon follows suspicion. Jack would have felt it long since if he were not blinded and intoxicated by her beauty; but you can't count on men. He'll soon forget her if you send her away in time, and for your own sake as well as his get rid of her. You don't want people avoiding your house!"
"She is going. She has no desire to stay, poor thing! Of course, I know how you feel. I felt that way myself at first, but I conquered it. Others won't, I suppose, and it is best that she should go where such prejudices don't exist. I spoke to her again a day or two ago about it--for your idea that Jack loves her has made me nervous, although I can see no evidence of it--and I suggested that she should go at once; but she seems to have made up her mind to September, and I cannot insist without wounding her feelings. I wish Jack would go away, but he always is so much better up here than anywhere else that I can't suggest that, either."
"Well, I'm going now to tell papa he must prepare his mind for Bar Harbor. Say that you forgive me, Betty, for I love you."
"Oh, yes, I forgive you," said Betty, with a half laugh, "for a wise man I know once said that our strongest prejudice is a part of us."