Senator North by Gertrude Franklin Horn Atherton
As Betty ascended the terrace, she was amazed to see Jack Emory sitting on the veranda. He threw aside his cigarette and came to meet her.
"Anderson had gone to the other end of Long Island--Sag Harbor," he said; "and as I did not like to follow him into his home on a matter of business, I came back. New York is one vast oven; I could not make up my mind to wait there. I'd rather take the trip again."
Betty concealed her vexation, and replied that she was sorry he had had a disagreeable journey for nothing, while wondering if her conscience would permit her to absent herself for seven hours on the morrow.
But Harriet had read one novel through and begun another. It was evident that she had not left Mrs. Madison's side, and Jack had been home for two hours. Betty lightly forbade her to tire herself further that day, and after luncheon they all went for a drive. When Mrs. Madison retired for her nap at four o'clock, Betty, who longed for the seclusion of her room and the delight of re-living the morning hours, established herself in the middle of the veranda, with Harriet beside her and Jack swinging in a hammock at the corner. "Thank heaven she wants to go to Europe in September," she thought. "If I had to be duenna for six months, I should become a cross old-maid. I'll never forgive Sally for deserting me."
She could have filled the house with company, but that would have meant late hours and the sacrifice of such solitude as she now could command. She had always disliked the burden of entertaining in summer, never more so than during this, when her loneliest hours were, with the exception of just fifteen others and twenty-one minutes, the happiest she ever had known.
Jack and Harriet manifested not the slightest desire to be together, and Betty went to bed at nine o'clock, wondering if she were not boring herself unnecessarily.
She was deep in her first sleep when her consciousness struggled toward an unaccustomed sound. She awoke suddenly at the last, and became aware of a low, continuous, but peremptory knocking. She lit a candle at once and opened the door. Miss Trumbull stood there, her large bony face surrounded by curl-papers that stood out like horns, and an extremely disagreeable expression on her mouth. She wore a grey flannel wrapper and had a stocking tied round her throat. Betty reflected that she never had seen a more unattractive figure, but asked her if she were ill--if her throat were ailing--
Miss Trumbull entered and closed the door behind her.
"I'm a Christian woman," she announced, "and an unmarried one, and I ain't goin' to stay in a house where there's sech goin's on." "What do you mean?" asked Betty coldly, although she felt her lips turn white.
"I mean what I say. I'm a Christian--"
"I do not care in the least about your religious convictions. I want to know what you wish to tell me. There is no necessity to lead up to it."
"Well--I can't say it. So there! I warn't brought up to talk about sech things. Just you come with me and find out for yourself."
"You have been prying in the servants' wing, I suppose. Do I understand that that is the sort of thing you expect me to do?"
"It ain't the servants' wing--where I've been listenin' and watchin' till I've made sure--out of dooty to myself." She lowered her voice and spoke with a hoarse wheeze. "It's the room at the end of the second turning."
Betty allowed the woman to help her into a wrapper, for her hands were trembling. She followed Miss Trumbull down the hall, hardly believing she was awake, praying that it might be a bad dream. They turned the second corner, and the housekeeper waved her arm dramatically at Harriet's door.
"Very well," said Betty. "Go to your room. I prefer to be alone."
Miss Trumbull retired with evident reluctance. Betty heard a door close ostentatiously, and inferred that her housekeeper was returning to a point of vantage. But she did not care. She felt steeped in horror and disgust. She wished that she never had felt a throb of love. All love seemed vulgar and abominable, a thing to be shunned for ever by any woman who cared to retain her distinction of mind. She would not meet Senator North to-morrow. She did not care if she never saw him again. She would like to go into a convent and not see any man again.
She never ceased to be grateful that she was spared hours of musing that might have burnt permanently into her memory. She had not walked up and down the hall for fifteen minutes before the door at the end of the side corridor opened and Emory came out.
Betty did not hesitate. She advanced at once toward him. He did not recoil, he stood rigid for a moment. Then he said distinctly,--
"We have been married three months. Will you come downstairs for a few moments?"
She followed him down the stair, trembling so violently that she could not clutch the banisters, and fearing she should fall forward upon him. But before she had reached the living-room she had made a desperate effort to control herself. She realized the danger of betraying Harriet's secret before she had made up her mind what course was best, but she was not capable of grappling with any question until the shock was over. Her brain felt stunned.
Emory lit one of the lamps, and Betty turned her back to it. He was very white, and she conceived a sudden and violent dislike to him. She never before had appreciated fully the weakness in that beautiful high-bred intellectual face. It was old-fashioned and dreamy. It had not a suggestion of modern grip and keenness and determination.
"I have deceived you, Betty," he began mournfully; but she interrupted him.
"I am neither your mother nor your sister," she said cuttingly. "I am only your cousin. You were under no obligation to confide in me. I object to being made use of, that is all."
"I am coming to that," he replied humbly. "Let me tell you the story as best I can. We did not discover that we loved each other until after you left. It had taken me some time to realize it--for--for--I did not think I ever could change. I was almost horrified; but soon I made up my mind it was for the best. I had been lonely and miserable long enough, and I had it in my power to take the loneliness and misery from another. I was almost insanely happy. I wanted to marry at once, but for a few days Harriet would not consent. She wanted to be an accomplished woman when she became my wife. Then she suggested that we should be married secretly, and the next day we went over into Virginia and were married--in a small village. She begged me not to tell you till you came back. When you returned, her courage failed her, for after all you were her benefactor and she had deceived you. She protested that she could not, that she dared not tell you. It has been an extremely disagreeable position to me, for I have felt almost a cad in this house, but I understood her feeling, for you had every reason to be angry and scornful. So we agreed to go to Europe in September and write to you from there. She wanted to go at once--soon after you returned; but I must wait till certain money comes in. I cannot live on what you so generously gave her. She would not go without me, and in spite of everything, I am almost ashamed to say, I have been very happy here--"
"Is that all? I will go to my room now. Goodnight." She hurried upstairs, wishing she had a sleeping powder. As she closed the door of her room, the tall sombre figure of Harriet rose from a chair and confronted her. Betty hastily lit two lamps. She could not endure Harriet in a half light,--not while she wore black, at all events.
"He has told me," she said briefly, answering the agonized inquiry in those haggard eyes. "I told him nothing."
Harriet drew a long breath and swayed slightly. "Ah!" she said. Ah! Thank the Lord for that. I hope you will never have to go through what I have in this last half-hour." She seemed to recover herself rapidly, for after she had walked the length of the room twice, she confronted Betty with a tightening of the muscles of her face that gave it the expression of resolution which her features always had seemed to demand.
"This is wholly my affair now," she said. "It is all between him and me. It would be criminal for you to interfere. When I realised I loved him, I made up my mind to marry him at once. I knew that you would not permit it, and although I hated to deceive you, I made up my mind that I would have my happiness. I intended to tell you when you got back, but after what you said to me that day I was scared you'd tell him. If you do--if you do--I swear before the Lord that I'll drown myself in that lake--"
"I have no intention of telling him. As you say, it is now your own affair."
"It is; it is. And although I may have to pay the price one day, I'll hope and hope till the last minute. I shall not let him return to America, and perhaps he will never guess. Somehow it seems as if everything must be right different over there, as if all life would look different."
"You will find your point of view quite the same when you get there, for you take yourself with you. I'd like to go to bed now, Harriet, if you don't mind. I'm terribly tired."
"I'll go. There is only one other thing I want to say. I shall have no children. I vowed long ago that the curse I had been forced to inherit should not poison another generation. Your cousin's line will die, undishonoured, with him. The crimes of many men will die in me. No further harm will be done if Jack never knows. And I hope and believe he never will. Good-night."