Senator North by Gertrude Franklin Horn Atherton
Jack had almost finished his breakfast when Betty entered the dining- room. He looked beyond her with the surprised and sulky frown of the neglected husband.
"Where on earth is Harriet?" he asked. "Her natural inclination is to lie in bed all day. What induced her--"
"She wanted to go to the camp-meeting," said Betty, not without apprehension. "You know she always went with her adopted father, who was a Methodist clergyman--"
"Great heaven!" Her apprehension was justified. His face was convulsed with disgust. "My wife at a camp-meeting! And you let her go?"
"Harriet is not sixteen. And when a person has been brought up to a thing, you cannot expect her to change completely in a few months. Poor Harriet lived in a forsaken village where she had no sort of society; I suppose the camp-meeting was her only excitement. And you know how emotionally religious the--the Methodists are--You glare at me so I scalded my throat."
"I am sorry, and I am afraid I have been rude. But you must--you must know how distasteful it is for me to think of my wife at a camp- meeting. Great heaven!"
"It is even worse than my going over to politics, isn't it? Don't take it so tragically, my dear. The truth is, I suspect, Harriet worries about having deceived Molly and me, and the camp-meeting is probably to the Methodist what the confessional is to the Catholic. Both must ease one's mind a lot."
"Harriet will have to ease her mind in some other way in the future. And it will be some time before I can forget this." "Thank heaven I am not married. Are you going after her? Shall you march her home by the ear?"
"I certainly shall not go after her--that is, if she is in no danger. Where is this camp-meeting?"
"Oh, there are five hundred or so of them, and it is near a farmhouse." It was evident that he had forgotten the colour of the camp. "Seriously, I would let her alone for to-day. That form of hysteria has to wear itself out. I did not like the idea of her going, and told her so, but I saw what it meant to her, and took her. When you get her over to Europe, settle in some old town with a beautiful cathedral and a dozen churches, where the choir boys are ducky little things in scarlet habits and white lace capes, and there are mediaeval religious processions with gorgeous costumes and solemn chants, and the bells ring all day long, and there is a service every five minutes with music, and a blessed relic to kiss in every church. She will be a Catholic in less than no time, and look back upon the camp-meeting with a shudder of aristocratic disgust."
"I hope so. If you will excuse me I will go out and smoke a cigarette."
She said to Senator North as they approached the head of the lake that evening, "A tempest is brewing in our matrimonial teapot. He looked ready to divorce her when I told him where she had gone."
"I hope he won't divorce her when she gets home. Keep them apart if you can. She has developed more than one characteristic of the race to which she is as surely forged as if her fetters were visible. If she has all its religious fanaticism in her, she is quite likely to work up to that point of hysteria where she will proclaim the truth to the world."
"Ah!" cried Betty, sharply. "Why did I not think of that? What a poor guardian I am! If I had warned her, she never would have gone--but probably she won't, as we have thought of it. The expected so seldom happens."
"Don't count too much on that when great crises threaten," he said grimly. "The law of cause and effect does not hide in the realm of the unexpected when intelligent beings go looking for it. To tell you the truth, I have been apprehensive ever since I saw her face this morning. All the intelligence had gone out of it. With her race, religion means the periodical necessity to relapse into barbarism, to act like shouting savages after the year of civilized restraints. I will venture to guess that Harriet has forgotten to-day everything she has learned since she entered your family. Within that sad, calm, high-bred envelope is--I am afraid--a mind which has the taint of the blood that feeds it."
"I have thought that for a long while. Poor thing, why was she ever born?"
"Because sin has a habit of persisting, and is remorseless in its choice of vehicles. I do not see anything of her."
They waited almost an hour before she came hurrying down the path. She barely recognized them, but dropped on her seat in the bow and crouched there, sobbing and groaning.
It was a cheerless journey through the forest and down the lake, and the element of the grotesque did nothing to relieve it. Betty, distracted at first, soon realized that upon her lay the responsibility of averting a tragedy, and she ordered her brain to action. She leaned forward finally and whispered to Senator North:
"Row me to my boat-house and I will ask Jack to row you home. He is too courteous to suggest sending a servant if I make a point of his taking you."
He nodded. She saw the confidence in his eyes, and even in that hour of supreme anxiety her mind leapt forward to the winning of his approval as the ultimate of her struggle to save the happiness of two human beings who were almost at her mercy.
Jack was walking on the terrace. Betty called to him, and he consented with no marked grace to be boatman. He had taken the oars before he noticed that his wife, whom he was not yet ready to forgive, was being hurried off by his cousin.
"Mrs. Emory is very tired and her head aches," said Senator North. "Miss Madison is anxious to get her into bed. Can't you dine with me to-night? It would give me great pleasure, and men are superfluous, I have observed, when women have headaches."
And Jack, who was not sorry to punish his wife, accepted the invitation and did not return home till midnight.