Part II
Chapter XX
 

She sent a note over to Senator North that evening, explaining why she could not meet him in the morning; but as she rowed Harriet up the lake, she saw him standing on the accustomed spot. He beckoned peremptorily, and she pulled over to the shore, wondering if he had not received her note.

"Will you take me with you?" he asked. "I cannot get a boat, and I should like to row for you, if you will let me."

He boarded the boat, and Betty meekly surrendered the oars. She sat opposite him, Harriet in the bow, and he smiled into her puzzled and disapproving eyes. But he talked of impersonal matters until they had entered the upper lake, and explained to Harriet the whereabouts of the farmhouse whence she might be directed to the camp. Harriet had not parted her lips since she left home. She sprang on shore the moment Senator North beached the boat, and almost ran up the path.

"Well!" he exclaimed. "Did you suppose that I should allow you to row through that lane alone? There is no lonelier spot in America; and with the forest full of negroes--were you mad to think of such a thing?"

"I never thought about it," said Betty, humbly. "I am not very timid."

"I never doubted that you would be heroic in any conditions, but that is not the question. You must not take such risks. I shall return with you tonight--"

"And Harriet!" exclaimed Betty, in sudden alarm. "Perhaps we should not leave her."

"She will be with the crowd. Besides, it is her husband's place to look after her. I am concerned about you only. And I certainly shall not permit you to go to a camp-meeting, nor shall I leave you to take care of her. So put her out of your mind for the present."

And Betty Madison, who had been pleased to regard the world as her football, surrendered herself to the new delight of the heavy hand. He re-entered the long water lane in the cleft of the mountain, and she did not speak for some moments, but his eyes held hers and he knew of what she was thinking.

"I wonder if you always will do what I tell you," he said at length. She recovered herself as soon as he spoke.

"Too much power is not good for any man! Nothing would induce me to assure you that you held my destiny in your hands, even did you!"

His face did not fall. "You are the most spirited woman in America, and nothing becomes you so much as obedience."

"Nevertheless--"

"Nevertheless, you always will do exactly what I tell you."

"Even if you told me to marry another man?"

"Ah! I never shall tell you to do that. On your head be that responsibility." He did not attempt to speak lightly. His face hardened, and his eyes, which could change in spite of their impenetrable quality, let go their fires for a moment.

"Of course, if you wanted to go, I should make no protest. But so long as you love me I shall hold you--should, if we ceased to meet. And whatever you do, don't marry some man suddenly in self-defence. No man ever loved a woman more than I love you, but you can trust me."

"Ah!" she said with her first moment of bitterness, "you are strong. And you believe that if you held out your arms to me now, in the depths of this forest, I would spring to them. I might not stay. I believe, I hope I never should see you alone again; but-"

"You are deliberately missing the point," he said gravely. "I am not willing to pay the price of a moment's incomplete happiness. I have lived too long for that. And I should not have ventured even so far on dangerous ground," he added more lightly, "if it were not quite probable that five hundred people are ranging the forest this minute. We are later than we were yesterday, and they are not at their hymns. This evening when we return I shall discuss with you the possible age of the Adirondacks, or tell you one of Cooper's yarns." She leaned toward him, her breath coming so short for a moment that she could not speak. Finally, with what voice she could command she said,--

"Then, as we are safe here and you have broken down the reserve for a moment, let me ask you this: Do you know how much I love you? Do you guess? Or do you think it merely a girl's romantic fancy--"

"No!" he exclaimed. "No! No!" This time she did not cower before the passion in his face. She looked at him steadily, although her eyes were heavy. "Ah!" she said at last. "I am glad you know. It seemed to me a wicked waste of myself that you should not. And if you do--the rest does not matter so much. For the matter of that, life is always making sport of its ultimates. The most perfect dream is the dream that never comes true."

He did not answer for a moment, but when he did he had recovered himself completely.

"That is true enough," he said. "We who have lived and thought know that. But there never was a man so strong as to choose the dream when Reality cast off her shackles and beckoned. Imagination we regard as a compensation, not as the supreme gift. The wise never hate it, however, as the failures so often do. For what it gives let us be as thankful as the poet in his garret. If we awake in the morning to find rain when we vividly had anticipated sunshine, it is only the common mind who would regret the compensation of the dream."