Senator North by Gertrude Franklin Horn Atherton
They returned late on Friday night. As Betty had anticipated, Harriet's exhausted body had not harboured a violent spirit for long. When they arrived in New York, she bought herself a crape veil reaching to her toes, and when she entered the dilapidated old house where her husband lay dead, she began to weep heavily. Her tears scarcely ceased to flow until she had started on her way to the mountains again, and, hot as it was, she never raised her veil during the nine hours' train journey from New York to the lake, except to eat the food that Betty forced upon her.
Mrs. Madison had returned, and Betty, after telling her those details of the funeral which elderly people always wish to know, went to her room, for she was tired and longed for sleep. But Harriet entered almost immediately and sat down. She barely had spoken since Monday; but it was evident that she was ready to talk at last, and Betty stifled a yawn and sat upon the edge of her bed. Harriet was a delicate subject and must be treated with vigilant consideration, except at those times where an almost brutal firmness was necessary. She looked sad and haggard, but very beautiful, and Betty reflected that with her voice she might begin life over again, and in a public career forget her brief attempt at happiness. If she failed, it would be because there was so little grip in her; Nature had been lavish only with the more brilliant endowments.
"Betty," she began, "I want to tell you that I'm sorry I said those dreadful words when I learned he was dead. But suspense and the doubt that had begun to work had nearly driven me crazy. I don't mind saying, though, that I wish I had kept on meaning them, that I could do what I said I'd do, for I meant them then--I reckon I did! But I haven't any backbone, my will is a poor miserable weak thing that takes a spurt and then fizzles out. And I'd rather be good than bad. I reckon that has something to do with it. I'd have gone to the bad, I suppose, if you hadn't taken hold of me; I'd have just drifted that way, although I liked teaching Sunday-school, and I liked to feel I was good and respectable and could look down on people that were no better than they should be. And now that I've been living with such respectable and high-toned people as you all are, I don't think I could stand niggers and poor white trash again--"
"I am sure you will be good," interrupted Betty, encouragingly. "And you owe him respect. Don't forget that, and make allowances for him."
"Ah, yes!" "Her face convulsed, but she calmed herself and went on. "You will never know how I loved him. I was proud enough of the name, but I worshipped him; and he killed himself to get rid of me! Oh, yes, I'll make allowances, for I killed him as surely as if I had pulled that trigger--" "Put the heavier blame on those that went before you," said Betty, with intent to soothe. "You did wrong in deceiving him, but helpless women should be forgiven much that they do, in their desperate battle with Circumstance. Think of it as a warning, but not as a crime." Don't let anything make you morbid. Life is full of pleasure. Go and look for it, and put the past behind you."
Harriet shook her head. "I am not you," she said. "I am I. And I feel as if there was a heavy hand on my neck pressing me down. If I should live to be a toothless old woman, I should never feel that I had any right to be happy again. Heaven knows what I might be tempted to do, but I should laugh at myself for a fool, all the same."
The colour rushed over her face, but she continued steadily: "There's something else I must tell you before I can sleep to-night. I've read his letter to you. I knew he'd written it, and down there while you were asleep I took it out of your pocket and read it. It was I who suggested going over to Virginia, for I was afraid some newspaper would get hold of it if we were married in Washington, where he was so well known. I didn't know there was such a law in Virginia. So, you see, the Lord was on his side a little. I don't bear his name. I'm as much of an outcast as the vengeance of a wronged man could wish--"
"I am sure he thought of you kindly at the last, and I never shall think of you in that--that other way. You must go to Europe and begin life over again."
Harriet rose and kissed Betty affectionately. "Good-night," she said. "You are just worn out, and I have kept you up. But I felt I wanted to tell you--and that no matter how ungrateful I sometimes appear I always love you; and I'd rather be you than any one in the world, because you're so unlike myself."
Betty went with her to the door. "Go to sleep," she said. "Don't lie awake and think."
"Oh, I will sleep," she said. "Don't worry about that."