Part II
Chapter XVIII
 

Senator North had been formally invited by Mrs. Madison for dinner that evening, and Betty, who had parted from him just seven hours before, restrained an impulse to run down the terrace as his boat made the landing. Emory and Harriet were on the veranda, however, and she managed to look stately and more or less indifferent at the head of the steps. There were pillars and vines on either side of her, and bunches of purple wistaria hung above her head. It was a picturesque frame for a picturesque figure in white, and a kindly consideration for Senator North's highly trained and exacting eye kept her immovable for nearly five minutes. As he reached the steps, however, self- consciousness suddenly possessed her and she started precipitately to meet him. She wore slippers with high Louis Quinze heels. One caught in a loosened strand of the mat. Her other foot went too far. She made a desperate effort to reach the next step, and fell down the whole flight with one unsupported ankle twisted under her.

For a moment the pain was so intense she hardly was aware that Senator North had his arm about her shoulders while Emory was straightening her out. Harriet was screaming frantically. She gave a sharp scream herself as Emory touched her ankle, but repressed a second as she heard her mother's voice.

Mrs. Madison stood in the doorway with more amazement than alarm on her face.

"Betty?" she cried. "Nothing can have happened to Betty! Why, she has not even had a doctor since she was six years old."

"It's nothing but a sprained ankle," said Emory. "For heaven's sake, keep quiet, Harriet," he added impatiently, "and go and get some hot water. Let's get her into the house."

Betty by this time was laughing hysterically. Her ankle felt like a hot pincushion, and the unaccustomed experience of pain, combined with Harriet's shrieks, delivered with a strong darky accent, and her mother's attitude of disapproval, assaulted her nerves.

When they had carried her in and put her foot into a bucket of hot water, she forgot them completely, and while her mother fanned her and Senator North forced her to swallow brandy, she felt that all the intensity of life's emotions was circumferenced by a wooden bucket. But when they had carefully extended her on the sofas and Emory, who had a farmer's experience with broken bones, announced his intention of examining her ankle at once, Betty with remarkable presence of mind asked Senator North to hold her hand. This he did with a firmness which fortified her during the painful ordeal, and Mrs. Madison was not terrified by so much as a moan.

"You have pluck!" exclaimed Senator North when Emory, after much prodding, had announced that it was only a sprain. "You have splendid courage."

Emory assured her that she was magnificent, and Betty felt so proud of herself that she had no desire to undo the accident.

In the days that followed, although she suffered considerable pain, she enjoyed herself thoroughly. It was her first experience of being "fussed over," as she expressed it. She never had had so much as a headache, no one within her memory had asked her how she felt, and she had regarded her mother as the centre of the medical universe. Now a clever and sympathetic doctor came over every day from the hotel and felt her pulse, and intimated that she was his most important patient. Mrs. Madison insisted upon bathing her head, Emory and Harriet treated her like a sovereign whose every wish must be anticipated, even the servants managed to pass the door of her sitting-room a dozen times a day. Senator North came over every morning and sat by her couch of many rose-coloured pillows; and not only looked tender and anxious, but suggested that the statesman within him was dead.

"It is hard on you, though," she murmured one day, when they happened to be alone for a few moments. "Two invalids are more than one man's portion. And no one ever enjoyed the outdoor life as you do."

"This room is full of sunshine and fresh air, and I came up here to be with you. I don't know but what I am heartless enough to enjoy seeing such an imperious and insolently healthy person helpless for a time, and to be able to wait on her."

"I feel as if the entire order of the universe had been reversed."

"It will do you good. I hope you will have every variety of pleasure at least once in your life."

"You are laughing at me--but as I am a truthful person I will confide to you that I almost hate the idea of being well again."

"Of course you do. And as for the real invalids they enjoy themselves thoroughly. The great compensation law is blessed or cursed, whichever way you choose to look at it."

"I wonder if you had happened to be unmarried, what price we would have had to pay."

"God knows. The compensation law is the most immutable of all the fates."

"I have most of the gifts of life,--good looks, wealth, position, brains, and the power of making people like me. So I am not permitted to have the best of all. If I could, I wonder which of the others I'd lose. Probably we'd have an accident on our wedding journey, which would reduce my nerves to such a state that I'd be irritable for the rest of my life and lose my good looks and power to make you happy. It's a queer world."

He made no reply.

"What are you thinking of?" she asked, meeting his eyes.

"That you are not to become anything so commonplace as a pessimist. Get everything out of the present that is offered you and give no thought to the future. What is it?" he added tenderly, as the blood came into her cheeks and she knit her brows.

"I moved my ankle and it hurt me so!" She moved her hand at the same time, and he took it, and held it until her brows relaxed, which was not for some time.

The best of women are frauds. Betty made that ankle the pivot of her circle for the rest of the summer. When she wanted to see Senator North look tender and worried, she puckered her brows and sighed. When she felt the promptings of her newly acquired desire to be "fussed over," she dropped suddenly upon a couch and demanded a cushion for her foot, or asked to be assisted to a hammock. She often laughed at herself; but the new experience was very sweet, and she wondered over Life's odd and unexpected sources of pleasure.