Part II
Chapter XII
 

After Major Carter and Sally left, Betty had less freedom, for her mother was lonely; moreover, she dared not leave Emory and Harriet too much together. The danger still might be averted if she did her duty and stood guard. She never had seen Jack look so well as he looked this summer. The very gold of his hair seemed brighter, and his blue eyes were often radiant. His beauty was conventional, but Betty could imagine its potent effect on a girl of Harriet Walker's temperament and limited experience. But he had appeared to prefer Sally's society to Harriet's, and his spirits dropped after her departure.

It was only when Harriet offered to read to Mrs. Madison and settled down to three hours' steady work a day, that Betty allowed herself liberty after the early morning. From five till eight in the evening and for an hour or two before breakfast she roamed the forest or pulled indolently about the lake. The hours suited her, for the hotel people were little given to early rising; and although they boated industriously by day, they preferred the lower and more fashionable lake, and dined at half-past six.

Life with her no longer was a smooth sailing on a summer lake. There was a roar below, as if the lake rested lightly on a subterranean ocean; and the very pines seemed to have developed a warning note.

Harriet looked like a walking Fate, nothing less. Since Sally's abrupt departure she had not smiled, and Betty knew that instinct divined and explained the sudden aversion of a girl who did so much to add to the cheerfulness of her friends. Emory also looked more like his melancholy self, and wandered about with a volume of Pindar and an expression of discontent. Did he love Harriet? and were her spirits affecting his? Since Harriet's promise Betty felt that she had no right to speak. He had weathered one love affair, he could weather another. When Harriet was safe in Europe, she would turn matchmaker and marry him to Sally Carter. Betty thought lightly of the disappointments of men, having been the cause of many. So long as Jack did not dishonour himself and his house by marriage with a proscribed race, nothing less really mattered. But she played his favourite music and strove to amuse him.

She rallied him one day about the change in his spirits since the departure of Sally Carter, and he admitted that he missed her, that he always felt his best when with her.

"Not that I love her more than I do you," he added, fearing that he had been impolite. "But she strikes just that chord. She always makes me laugh. She is a sort of sun and warms one up--"

"The truth of the matter is that she strikes more chords than you will admit. She's just the one woman you ought to marry. If you'd make up your mind to love her, you'd soon find it surprisingly easy, and wonder why it never had occurred to you before." Betty thought she might as well begin at once.

He shook his head, and his handsome face flushed. It was not a frank face; he had lived too solitary and introspective a life for frankness; but he met Betty's eyes unflinchingly.

"She is not in the least the woman for me. She lacks beauty, and I could not stand a woman who was gay--and--and staccato all the time. It is delightful to meet, but would be insufferable to live with."

"What is your ideal type?"

He rose and raised her hand to his lips with all his old elaborate gallantry. "Oh, Betty Madison! Betty Madison!" he exclaimed. "That you should live to ask me such a question as that?"

"I'd like to box his ears if he did not mean that," thought Betty. "I particularly should dislike his attempting to blind me in that way."

And herself? She asked this question more than once as she rowed toward the northern end of the lake in the dawn, or in the heavier shadows at the close of the day. Could it last? And how long? And did he believe that it could last? Or was he, with the practical instinct of a man of the world, merely determined to quaff that fragrant mildly intoxicating wine of mental love-making, until the gods began to grin?

She had many moods, but when a woman is sure that her love is returned and is not denied the man's occasional presence, she cannot be unhappy for long, perhaps never wholly so. For while there is love there is hope, and while there is hope tears do not scald. Betty dared not let her thought turn for a moment to Mrs. North. Her will was strong enough to keep her mind on the high plane necessary to her self- respect. She would not even ask herself if he knew how low the sands had dropped in that unhappy life. The horizon of the future was thick with flying mist. Only his figure stood there, immovable, always.

"And it is remarkable how things do go on and on and on," she thought once. "They become a habit, then a commonplace. It is because they are so mixed up with the other details of life. Nothing stands out long by itself. The equilibrium is soon restored, and unless one deliberately starts it into prominence again, it stays in its proper place and swings with the rest."

She knew her greatest danger. She had it in her to be one of the most intoxicating women alive. Was this man she loved so passionately to go on to the end of his life only guessing what the Fates forbade him? The years of the impersonal attitude to men which she had thought it right to assume had made her anticipate the more keenly the freedom which one man would bring her. She frankly admitted the strength of her nature, she almost had admitted it to him; should she always be able to control the strong womanly vanity which would give him something more than a passing glimpse of the woman, making him forget the girl? If she did anything so reprehensible, it would be the last glimpse he would take of her, she reflected with a sigh, She wondered that passion and the spiritual part of love should be so hopelessly entangled. She was ready to live a life of celibacy for his sake; she delighted in his mind, and knew that had it been commonplace she could not have loved him did he have every other gift in the workshop of the gods; she worshipped his strength of character, his independence, his lofty yet practical devotion to an ideal; she loved him for his attitude to his wife, the manly and uncomplaining manner with which he accepted his broken and shadowed home life, when his temperament demanded the very full of domestic happiness, and the heavy labours of his days made its lack more bitter; and she sympathized keenly in his love for and pride in his sons. There was nothing fine about him that she did not appreciate and love him the more exaltedly for; and yet she knew that had he been without strong passions she would have loved him for none of these things. For of such is love between man and woman when they are of the highest types that Nature has produced. Betty hated the thought of sin as she hated vulgarity, and did not contemplate it for a moment, but if she had roused but the calm affection of this man she would have been as miserable as for the hour, at least, she was happy.