Part II
Chapter XIX
 

Senator Burleigh came up for a few days to the hotel before going West, and Betty, who had anticipated his visit, invited two of the prettiest girls she knew to assist her to entertain him. They had been at one of the hotels on the lower lake, and came to her for a few days before joining their parents. She showed Burleigh every possible attention, permitting him to eat nothing but breakfast at his hotel; but he did not see her alone for a moment. When he left, he felt that he had had three cheerful days among warm and admiring friends, but his satisfaction was far from complete.

"Betty," said Senator North, one morning a fortnight later, "how much do you like Burleigh? If you had not met me, do you think you could have loved him?"

"I think I could have persuaded myself that I liked him better than I ever could have liked anybody; but it would not have been love."

"Are you sure?"

"Oh, yes, I am sure! You know that I am sure. It may be possible to mistake liking for love, but it is not possible to mistake love for anything else. And you cannot even pretend to believe that I do not know what love is."

"Oh, yes," he said softly, "I think you know." He resumed in a moment: "You are so young--I would leave you in a moment if I thought that you did not really love me, that you were deluding yourself and wasting your life. But I believe that you do; and you are happier than you would be with a man who could give you only the half that you demand. Marriage is not everything. I love you well enough to make any sacrifice for you but a foolish one. And I know that there is much less in the average marriage than in the incomplete relation we have established. And there is another marriage that is incomparably worse. I shall never let you go--so long as I can hold you--unless I am satisfied that it is for your good."

"If you leave me for any Quixotic idea, I'll marry the first man that proposes to me," said Betty, lightly. "I am too happy to even consider such a possibility. There are no to-morrows when to-day is flawless-- Hark! What is that?"

They were on the upper lake. Over the mountains came the sonorous yet wailing, swinging yet rapt, intonation of the negro at his hymns.

"There is a darky camp-meeting somewhere," said Senator North, indifferently. "I hope they don't fish."

The fervent incantation rose higher. It seemed to fill the forest, so wide was its volume, so splendid its energy. The echoes took it up, the very mountains responded. Five hundred voices must have joined in the chorus, and even Senator North threw back his head as the columns of the forest seemed to be the pipes of some stupendous organ. As for Betty, when the great sound died away in a wail that was hardly separable from the sighing of the pines, she trembled from head to foot and burst into tears.

He took hold of the oars, and rowed out of the lake and down to the spot where he was in the habit of landing. She had quite recovered herself by that time, and nodded brightly to him as he handed her the oars and stepped on shore.

At the breakfast-table she mentioned casually that there was a negro camp-meeting in the neighborhood, and that she never had heard such magnificent singing. She saw an eager hungry flash leap into Harriet's eyes, but they were lowered immediately. Harriet had lost much of her satisfied mien in the last few weeks, and of late had looked almost haggard. But she had fallen back into her old habit of reticence, a condition Betty always was careful not to disturb. That afternoon, however, she asked Betty if she could speak alone with her, and they went out to the summer-house.

"I want to go to that camp-meeting," she began abruptly. "Betty, I am nearly mad." She began to weep violently, and Betty put her arms about her.

"Is there any new trouble?" she asked. "Tell me and I will do all I can to help you. Why do you wish to go to this camp-meeting?"

"So that I can shout and scream and pray so loud perhaps the Lord'll hear me. Betty, I don't have one peaceful minute, dreading your mother will tell him, and that if she doesn't that dreadful Miss Trumbull will. She hated me, and she laughed that dry conceited laugh of hers when she said good-bye to me. What's to prevent her writing to Jack any minute? I lost her a good place, and we both insulted her common morbid vanity. What's to prevent her taking her revenge? Ever since that thought entered my head it has nearly driven me mad."

The same thought had occurred to Betty more than once, but she assured Harriet as earnestly as she could that there was no possible danger, that the woman was conscientious in her way, and prided herself on being better than her neighbors.

"You must put these ideas out of your head," she continued. "Any fixed idea soon grows to huge proportions, and dwarfs all the other and more reasonable possibilities. You sail now in a few weeks. Keep up your courage till then--"

"That's why I want to go to the camp-meeting. I used to go to them regularly every year with Uncle, and they always did me good. I'm right down pious by nature, and I loved to shout and go on and feel as if the Lord was right there: I could 'most see him. Of course I gave up the idea of going to camp-meetings after you made a high-toned lady of me, and I've never sung since you objected that morning; but it's hurt me not to--it's all there; and if it could come out in camp- meeting along with all the rest that's torturing me, I think I'd feel better. You've always been fine and happy, you don't know the relief it is to holler."

Betty drew a long breath. "But, Harriet, I thought you did not like negroes. I don't think any white people are at this camp."

"I despise them except when they're full of religion, and then we're all equal. Betty, I must go. Can you think of an excuse to make to Jack? Couldn't I pretend to stay at the hotel all day?"

"There is no reason to lie about it. Nothing would induce him to go to a camp-meeting. But he knows that you are a Methodist, and that you were raised in the thick of that religion. I will row you to the next lake to-morrow morning before he is up, and tell him that I am to return for you. I don't approve of it at all. I think it is a horrid thing for you to do, if you want to know the truth, and there are certain tastes you ought to get rid of, not indulge. But if you must go, you must, I suppose."