Senator North by Gertrude Franklin Horn Atherton
Betty slept late on the following morning, but arose as soon as she awoke and dressed herself hurriedly. Senator North was an early visitor. Doubtless he was waiting for her on the veranda.
She ran downstairs, feeling that she could hum a tune. The morning was radiant, and for the last five days it had seemed to her that the atmosphere was as black as Harriet's veil. She wanted the fresh air and the sunshine, the lake and the forest again. She wanted to talk for long hours with the one man who she was sure could never do a weak or cowardly act. She wanted to feel that her heavy responsibilities were pushed out of sight, and that she could live her own life for a little.
She almost had reached the front door when a man sprang up the steps and through it, closing it behind him. It was John, the butler, and his face was white.
"What is it?" she managed to ask him. "What on earth has happened now?" "It's Miss Walker, Miss. They found her three hours ago--on the lake. The coroner's been here. They're bringing her in. I told them to take her in the side door. I hoped we'd get her to her room before you come down. I'll attend to everything, Miss."
Betty heard the slow tramp of feet on the side veranda. It was the most horrid sound she ever had heard, and she wondered if she should cease to hear it as long as she lived. She went into the living-room and covered her face with her hands. She had not cried for Jack Emory, but she cried passionately now. She felt utterly miserable, and crushed with a sense of failure; as if all the wretchedness and tragedy of the past fortnight were her own making. Two lives had almost been given into her keeping, and in spite of her daring and will the unseen forces had conquered. And then she wondered if the water had been very cold, and shivered and drew herself together. And it must have been horribly dark. Harriet was afraid of the dark, and always had burned a taper at night.
She heard Senator North come up the front steps and knock. As no one responded, he opened the door and came into the living-room.
"I have just heard that she has drowned herself," he said; and if there was a note of relief in his voice, Betty did not hear it. She ran to him and threw herself into his arms and clung to him.
"You said you would," she sobbed. "And I never shall be in greater grief than this. I feel as if it were my entire fault, as if I were a terrible failure, as if I had let two lives slip through my hands. Oh, poor poor Harriet! Why are some women ever born? What terrible purpose was she made to live twenty-four wretched years for? You wanted me to become serious. I feel as if I never could smile again."
He held her closely, and in that strong warm embrace she was comforted long before she would admit; but he soothed her as if she were a child, and he did not kiss her.