HIS HEART'S QUEEN
By MRS. GEORGIE SHELDON
"Dorothy's Jewels," "Earl Wayne's Nobility," "The False and the True," "Helen's Victory," "Tina," "Trixy," etc.
A. L. BURT COMPANY, PUBLISHERS 52 Duane Street New York
Copyright 1890, 1903 By Street & Smith
A. L. BURT COMPANY Publishers New York
Popular Books By MRS. GEORGIE SHELDON
In Handsome Cloth Binding Price per Volume, 60 Cents
Audrey's Recompense Magic Cameo, The Brownie's Triumph Marguerite's Heritage Churchyard Betrothal, The Masked Bridal, The Dorothy Arnold's Escape Max, A Cradle Mystery Dorothy's Jewels Mona Earl Wayne's Nobility Mysterious Wedding Ring, A Edrie's Legacy Nora Faithful Shirley Queen Bess False and The True, The Ruby's Reward For Love and Honor, Shadowed Happiness, A, Sequel to Geoffrey's Victory Sequel to Wild Oats Forsaken Bride, The Sibyl's Influence Geoffrey's Victory Stella Roosevelt Girl in a Thousand, A Thorn Among Roses, A, Golden Key, The Sequel to a Girl in a Thousand Heatherford Fortune, The, Threads Gathered Up, Sequel to The Magic Cameo Sequel to Virgie's Inheritance He Loves Me For Myself, Thrice Wedded Sequel to the Lily of Mordaunt Tina Helen's Victory Trixy Her Faith Rewarded, True Aristocrat, A Sequel to Faithful Shirley True Love Endures, Her Heart's Victory, Sequel to Dorothy Arnold's Escape Sequel to Max True Love's Reward, Heritage of Love, A, Sequel to Mona Sequel to The Golden Key True to Herself, His Heart's Queen Sequel to Witch Hazel Hoiden's Conquest, A Two Keys How Will It End, Virgie's Inheritance Sequel to Marguerite's Heritage Wedded By Fate Lily of Mordaunt, The Welfleet Mystery, The Little Marplot, The Wild Oats Little Miss Whirlwind Winifred's Sacrifice Lost, A Pearle Witch Hazel Love's Conquest, With Heart so True, Sequel to Helen's Victory Sequel to His Heart's Queen Love Victorious, A
For Sale by all Booksellers or will be sent postpaid on receipt of price
Transcriber's Note: Variant spellings, particularly bowlder (boulder), clew (clue) and vail (veil), have been retained. Also, the Table of Contents was missing so it has been created.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
CHAPTER I. A FRIGHTFUL ACCIDENT. CHAPTER II. V. D. H. IS CLAIMED BY HER FRIENDS. CHAPTER III. WILLFUL VIOLET HAS HER OWN WAY. CHAPTER IV. A PARTING SOUVENIR. CHAPTER V. VIOLET ASSERTS HERSELF. CHAPTER VI. A CONFESSION AND ITS REPLY. CHAPTER VII. "HE IS MY AFFIANCED HUSBAND." CHAPTER VIII. "I'LL BREAK HER WILL!" CHAPTER IX. VIOLET BECOMES A PRISONER. CHAPTER X. "YOU WILL BE TRUE THOUGH THE OCEAN DIVIDES US." CHAPTER XI. "DEATH HAS RELEASED YOU FROM YOUR PROMISE." CHAPTER XII. "YOU HAVE GIVEN YOUR PROMISE AND YOU MUST STAND BY IT." CHAPTER XIII. THE DAY IS SET FOR VIOLET'S MARRIAGE. CHAPTER XIV. "THERE WILL BE NO WEDDING TO-DAY" CHAPTER XV. "SHE IS MY WIFE." CHAPTER XVI. "I MUST FIND HER—I MUST FOLLOW HER." CHAPTER XVII. LORD CAMERON AND WALLACE BECOME FIRM FRIENDS. CHAPTER XVIII. THE FACE AT THE WINDOW. CHAPTER XIX. A RETROSPECTIVE GLANCE. CHAPTER XX. VIOLET RETURNS TO AMERICA. CHAPTER XXI. VIOLET MAKES AN ENGAGEMENT. CHAPTER XXII. VIOLET AND HER UNRULY PUPIL. CHAPTER XXIII. VIOLET GAINS A SIGNAL VICTORY. CHAPTER XXIV. VIOLET MEETS WITH AN ACCIDENT.
HIS HEART'S QUEEN
A FRIGHTFUL ACCIDENT.
Just at sunset, one bright spring day, the car that plies up and down the inclined plane leading from the foot of Main street up the hills to the Zoological Gardens, of Cincinnati, started to make the ascent with its load of precious human freight.
The car was full of passengers, though not crowded, while among the occupants there were several young people, whose bright faces and animated manner bespoke how light of heart and free from care they were—what a gladsome, delightful place the world seemed to them.
One young lady, who was seated about midway upon one side of the car, attracted especial attention.
She was, perhaps, seventeen years of age, slight and graceful in form, with a lovely, piquant face, merry blue eyes, and a wealth of curling golden hair, that clustered about her white forehead in bewitching little rings.
She was richly dressed in a charming costume of tan-brown, trimmed with a darker shade of the same color. Upon her head she wore a jaunty hat of fine brown straw, with a wreath of pink apple-blossoms partially encircling it, and fastened on one side with a pretty bow of glossy satin ribbon, also of brown. A dainty pair of bronze boots incased her small feet, and her hands were faultlessly gloved in long suede gauntlets. A small, brown velvet bag, with silver clasps, hung at her side, and in her lap lay an elegant music-roll of Russian leather.
Everything about her indicated that she was the petted child of fortune and luxury. Her beautiful eyes were like limpid pools of water reflecting the azure sky; her lips were wreathed with smiles; there was not a shadow of care upon her delicate, clear-cut face.
Directly opposite her sat a young man whose appearance indicated that his circumstances were just the reverse, although no one could ever look into his noble face without feeling impelled to take a second glance at him.
He was tall and stalwart of form, broad-shouldered, full-chested, straight of limb, with a massive head set with a proud poise above a well-shaped neck. He looked the personification of manly beauty, strength, and health.
His face was one that, once seen, could never be forgotten. It was grave and sweet, yet having a certain resolute expression about the mouth which might have marred its expression somewhat had it not been for the mirthful gleam which now and then leaped into his clear, dark-brown eyes, and which betrayed that, beneath the gravity and dignity which a life of care and the burden of poverty had chiseled upon his features and imparted to his bearing, there lurked a spirit of quiet drollery and healthy humor.
His features were strong and regular; the brow full and shapely, the nose aquiline, the mouth firm, the chin somewhat massive. It was a powerful face—a good face; one to be trusted and relied on.
The young man was, perhaps, twenty-three or twenty-four years of age, though at first his dignified bearing might lead one to imagine him to be even older than that.
He was clad in a very common suit, which betrayed his poverty, while at his feet, in a basket, lay a plane and saw, which indicated that he belonged to the carpenters' guild.
The pretty girl opposite stole more than one curious and admiring look at this poor young Apollo, only to encounter a similar, though wholly respectful glance from his genial and expressive eyes, whereupon the lovely color would come and go on her fair, round cheek, and her eyes droop shyly beneath their white lids.
When the car left its station at the base of the plane and began to make its ascent, not one among all its passengers had a thought of the terrible experience awaiting them—of the tragedy following so closely in their wake.
It had nearly reached the top; another minute, and it would have rolled safely into the upper station and have been made fast at the terminus.
But, suddenly, something underneath seemed to let go; there was an instant's pause, which sent a thrill of terror through every heart; then there began a slow retrograde movement, which rapidly increased, until, with a feeling of terror that is utterly indescribable the ill-fated people in that doomed car realized that they were being hurried swiftly toward a sure and frightful destruction.
Cries and shrieks and groans filled the place. There was a frantic rush for the door, the doomed victims seeking to force their way out of the car to leap recklessly from the flying vehicle, and trust thus to the faint hope of saving their lives.
But both doors were securely fastened—they were all locked within their prison; there was no hope of escape from it and the terrible crash awaiting them.
When the beautiful girl whom we have described realized the hopeless situation, she gave one cry of horror, then seemed to grow suddenly and strangely calm, though a pallor like that of death settled over her face, and a look of wild despair leaped into her eyes.
Involuntarily she glanced at the young man opposite her, and she found his gaze riveted upon her with a look of intense yearning, which betrayed that he had no thought for himself; that all his fear was for her; that the idea of seeing her, in all her bright young beauty, dashed in pieces, crushed and mangled, had overpowered all sense of his own personal doom.
She seemed to read his thoughts, and, like one in a dream or nightmare, she almost unconsciously stretched forth her hands to him with a gesture which seemed to appeal to him to save her.
Instantly he arose to his feet, calm, strong, resolute.
His face was as pale as hers, but there was a gleam in his eyes which told her that he would not spare himself in the effort to save her.
"Will you trust me?" he murmured hoarsely in her ear, as he caught her trembling hands in his.
Her fingers closed over his with a frantic clutch; her eyes sought his in desperate appeal.
"Yes! yes!" Her white lips framed the words, but no sound issued from them.
The car had now attained a frightful velocity; a moment or two more and all would be over, and there was not an instant to lose.
The young man reached up and grasped with his strong, sinewy hands the straps which hung from the supports above his head.
"Quick now!" he said to his almost paralyzed companion; "stand up, put your arms about my neck, and cling to me for your life."
She looked helplessly up into his face; it seemed as if she had not the power to move—to obey him.
With a despairing glance from the window and a groan of anguish, he released his hold upon the straps, seized her hands again, and locked them behind his neck.
"Cling! Cling!" he cried, in a voice of agony.
The tone aroused her; strength came to her, and she clasped him close—close as a person drowning might have done.
He straightened himself thus, lifting her several inches from the floor of the car, seized again the straps above, and swung himself also clear, hoping thus to evade somewhat the terrible force of the shock which he knew was so near.
He was not a second too soon; the crash came, and with it one frightful volume of agonizing shrieks and groans; then all was still.
The car had been dashed into thousands of pieces, burying beneath the debris twenty human beings.
A group of horrified spectators had gathered in the street at the base of the plane when it was rumored that the car had lost its grip upon the cable, and had watched, with quaking hearts and bated breath, the awful descent.
When all was over, kind and reverent hands began the sad work of exhuming the unfortunate victims of the accident.
It was thought at first that all were dead—that not one had escaped; that every soul had been hurled, with scarcely a moment's warning, into eternity.
The brave young carpenter was found lying beneath two mangled bodies, with the beautiful girl whom he had tried to save clasped close in one of his arms; the other lay crushed beneath him.
"Brother and sister," some one had said, as, bending over them, he had tried to disengage the lovely girl from his embrace.
He had only been stunned, however, by the shock, when the car struck, and he now opened his great brown eyes, drawing in a deep, deep breath, as if thus taking hold anew of the life that had so nearly been dashed out of him.
This was followed by a groan of pain, and he became conscious that he had not escaped altogether unscathed.
"Is she safe?" he gasped, his first thought, in spite of his own sufferings, being for the girl for whom he had braved so much, while he tried to look into the white, still face hidden upon his breast.
They tried to lift her from him, but her little hands were so tightly locked at the back of his neck that it was no easy task to unclasp them.
"She is dead," a voice said, when at last she was removed, and some one tried to ascertain if her heart was still beating; "the shock has killed her."
"No, no!" sobbed the now completely unnerved young carpenter; "do not tell me that she is—dead."
"Who are you, my poor fellow? Where do you live? Shall we take you to the hospital, or do you want to go home?" they asked him.
"Oh, no, not to the hospital—home to my mother," the young man returned, with difficulty, for his sufferings seemed to increase as he came to himself more fully.
"No. —— Hughes street," the poor fellow gasped, and then fainted dead away.
They had not thought to inquire if the young girl was his sister, but they took it for granted that she was, so they laid them side by side and bore them away to Hughes street.
They found, upon inquiry, that the house referred to was occupied by a Mrs. Richardson.
The woman was away when the sad cortege arrived at her home, but a latch-key was found in the pocket of the young man, by which an entrance was effected, and they deposited him upon a bed in a small room leading from the sitting-room, while the young girl was laid upon a lounge in the neat and cozy parlor. Then they hastened away to procure a physician to examine the injuries of the two sufferers.
Mrs. Richardson returned, just about the time that the surgeon arrived, to find that her only son had been one of the victims of the horrible tragedy, a rumor of which had reached her while she was out, and that a strange but lovely girl had also been brought, through mistake, to her home.
The surgeon turned his attention at once to this beautiful stranger, who, to all appearance, seemed beyond all human aid; but during his examination his face suddenly lighted.
"She is not dead," he said; "the shock has only caused suspension of animation. Her heart beats, her pulse is faint, but regular, and I cannot find a bruise or a scratch anywhere about her."
He gave her into the hands of some women, who had come in to offer their services, with directions how to apply the restoratives he prescribed, and then turned his attention to the son of the house, who by this time had recovered consciousness and was suffering intense pain from his injuries.
His mother was bending over him in an agony of anxiety and suspense, while she strove, in various ways, to relieve his sufferings.
"Wallace—Wallace!" she cried; "how did it happen that you were going up in that car at this time of the day?"
"I cannot tell you now—some other time," he returned.
Then turning to the surgeon, who entered at that moment, while he strove to stifle his groans in his anxiety to learn how it fared with the girl whom he had so bravely tried to save, he asked, eagerly.
"How is she?"
"She is not injured; there is not a bone broken that I can discover, and she will do well enough unless the shock to her nerves should throw her into a fever or bring on prostration," the doctor replied.
"Thank Heaven!" murmured the carpenter, and then fainted away again.
A thorough examination of his condition revealed the fact that two ribs had been fractured and his left arm broken in two places, while it was feared that there might be other internal injuries.
All that could be done for him was done at once, and, though weak and exhausted, he was otherwise comparatively comfortable when the surgeon got through with him.
He then turned his attention once more to the fair girl in the other room.
"You will have your hands more than full, Mrs. Richardson, with your son and daughter ill at once," he remarked. "You must have an experienced nurse to assist you."
"The poor girl is not my daughter; I do not even know who she is," the woman replied, as she bent over the beautiful stranger with a tender, motherly face.
"Not your child! Who can she be, then?" her companion inquired, in surprise.
They searched in her pretty velvet bag, hoping to find her card or some address; but nothing was found save some car tickets and a generous sum of money.
The inscription upon her music-roll revealed scarcely more—only the initials "V. D. H." being engraven upon its silver clasp.
She had recovered consciousness, but still lay so weak and faint that the surgeon did not think it best to question her just then, and, after taking one more look at his other patient, he went away to other duties, but promised to look in upon them again in a couple of hours.
When he did return he found Wallace comfortable and sleeping; but the young girl was in a high fever and raving with delirium.
"Shall I have her taken to the hospital?" Doctor Norton asked of Mrs. Richardson. "The care of both patients will be far too much for you, and her friends will probably find her there before long."
"I cannot bear to let her go," Mrs. Richardson replied, with staring tears. "She is so young, and has been so delicately reared. I know that she would have the best of care; still I recoil from the thought of having her moved. Leave her here for a day or two, and, if my son is comfortable, perhaps I can take care of her without neglecting him."
Thus it was arranged, and the physician went away thinking that women like Mrs. Richardson were rare.
Two days later the following advertisement appeared in the Cincinnati papers:
Wanted, information regarding Miss Violet Draper Huntington, who left her home, No. —— Auburn avenue, on Tuesday afternoon, to take a music lesson in the city. Fears have been entertained that she might have been one of the victims of the Main street accident, but though her friends have thoroughly searched the morgue and hospitals, no tidings of her have as yet been obtained.
Doctor Morton read the above while on his way to visit his two patients in Hughes street, and instantly his mind reverted to the initials engraved upon the unknown girl's music-roll.
"V. D. H.," he said, musingly, as his eyes rested upon the name Violet Draper Huntington in the advertisement. "That is my pretty patient, poor child! and now we will have your friends looking after you and relieving that poor overworked woman before another twelve hours pass."
He showed the advertisement to Mrs. Richardson upon his arrival at the house, and she agreed with him that her lovely charge must be the Miss Huntington referred to in the paper.
The girl continued to be in a very critical state. She was burning with fever, was unconscious of her surroundings, was constantly calling upon "Belle" and "Wilhelm" to "help her—to save her."
"She is not so well," the physician said, gravely, as he felt the bounding pulse, "her fever is increasing. I shall go at once to Auburn avenue and inform her relatives of her condition."
V. D. H. IS CLAIMED BY HER FRIENDS.
Doctor Norton easily found the residence of Violet Huntington's friends on Auburn avenue, and as he mounted the massive granite steps and rang the bell of the handsome house he read the name of Mencke on the silver door-plate.
"Aha! Germans," mused the physician, "wealthy people, too, I judge."
A trim servant in white cap and apron answered his summons, and, upon inquiring for Mrs. Mencke, he was invited to enter.
He was ushered into a handsome drawing-room, where, upon every hand, evidence of wealth met his eye, and after giving his card to the girl, he sat down to await the appearance of the lady of the house.
She did not tax his patience long; the "M. D." upon his card had evidently impressed Mrs. Mencke with the belief that the physician had come to bring her some tidings of the beautiful girl who had so strangely disappeared from her home a few days previous. She came into the room presently, followed by a man whom Doctor Norton surmised to be her husband.
Mrs. Mencke was a large, rather fine-looking woman of perhaps thirty years. Her bearing was proud and self-possessed, and, while there was a somewhat anxious expression on her face, she nevertheless impressed the kind-hearted doctor as a person of selfish nature, and lacking in womanly sympathy.
Her husband was a portly man, dark-complexioned, and German in appearance. There was a cunning, rather sinister expression on his face; he had small, black eyes, and a full, shaggy beard, while a pompous swagger in his bearing betrayed an arrogant disposition and excessive pride of purse.
"Doctor Norton," Mrs. Mencke began, without waiting for him to state the errand that had brought him there, "have you come to bring me news of my sister? Was she in that fatal car—is she injured—dead?"
"If my surmises are correct, and Miss Violet Huntington is your sister, I can give you tidings of her," Doctor Norton returned.
"Yes, yes; that is her name," Mrs. Mencke interposed.
"Then I am happy to tell you that a young lady of perhaps seventeen or eighteen years was rescued."
"Rescued!" cried Mrs. Mencke, eagerly. "William," turning to her husband, "do you hear? How was she rescued?"
"Perhaps I should not have spoken with quite so much confidence," corrected the doctor. "But the young lady to whom I refer had with her a music-roll upon the clasp of which the letters 'V. D. H.' were engraved."
"That must have been Violet," said Mrs. Mencke. "She went to the city that afternoon to take her music lesson at four o'clock."
"Then she was saved by a young man—a Mr. Wallace Richardson—in the recent accident on the inclined plane. Mr. Richardson was severely injured, but he has been able to give an account of how he prevented the young lady from being dashed to pieces like many of the other victims," Doctor Norton returned.
He then proceeded to relate what Wallace had told him had occurred during those few horrible moments when that ill-fated car was plunging at such a fearful rate toward its doom.
Mrs. Mencke appeared to be greatly affected by the thrilling account; but her phlegmatic husband listened to the recital with a stolidity which betrayed either a strange indifference or a wonderful control over his nerves and sympathies.
"Oh! it is the most wonderful thing in the world that she was not killed outright," Mrs. Mencke remarked, with a shiver of horror, "and we have been very anxious. You say that she is seriously ill?" she questioned, in conclusion.
"Yes; the shock to her system has been a serious one, madame," the physician replied, "and, although there is not a scratch nor a bruise upon her, she is very ill and delirious at the home of this brave young carpenter to whom she owes so much."
"Young!" repeated Mrs. Mencke, remarking the adjective for the first time, and looking somewhat annoyed. "How old is he?"
"About twenty-three or twenty-four, I should judge," was the reply.
A frown settled upon the woman's brow; but after a moment she asked:
"Do you consider her dangerously ill, Doctor Norton?"
"Yes, madame, she is. Your sister is delicately organized, and her system has had a terrible shock; the horror and fright alone, of those few dreadful moments, were sufficient to unhinge the strongest nerves," the physician gravely replied.
As he said this he happened to glance at Mr. Mencke, and was astonished, amazed, to observe a look of unmistakable satisfaction, if not of absolute triumph, flash from his eyes.
What could it mean?
Was it possible that the man, for any secret reason, could desire the death of this young and beautiful girl?
He had not once spoken as yet, having simply nodded to the doctor, with a half-suppressed grunt, in answer to his courteous salutation.
"William, do you hear?" his wife now said, turning to him. "Violet is dangerously ill down on Hughes street. I must go to her at once."
"Certainly, of course," responded her better half, with a shrug of his corpulent shoulders.
"She is my sister, though much younger than myself, and I have had the care of her ever since the death of our parents," Mrs. Mencke explained. "What can I do? Will it be possible to bring her home?"
"I fear not at present," Doctor Norton returned, "but it would be well to provide a competent nurse for her where she is, as Mrs. Richardson has her hands more than full with the care of both patients and her domestic duties also."
"Certainly, Violet shall have every attention," the woman responded, somewhat haughtily, while the frown deepened upon her brow at the mention of the people upon whose care her sister had been so strangely thrown.
Doctor Norton was inwardly indignant that neither of his listeners should express the slightest gratitude or appreciation for what brave Wallace Richardson had done to save the young girl's life. Evidently they were not pleased that she should owe so great a debt to so plebeian a source.
Mrs. Mencke now arose and excused herself, saying that she would make ready to accompany the physician to Hughes street to attend to her sister's needs.
"That was a horrible affair," Doctor Norton observed to Mr. Mencke, as she left the room, determined to draw out his reticent companion if that were possible.
"It was beastly," grunted the man, with another shrug; "and the corporation will have a pretty sum to pay for damages. Will—do you think the girl—Violet—will die?" and the man leaned eagerly forward, a greedy sparkle in his small, black eyes.
A flush of anger and disgust mounted to the good doctor's brow at this question, and like a flash the man's character was revealed to him.
He saw that he was a shrewd, grasping, money-making man, who measured everything and everybody by dollars and cents; that already, instead of feeling gratitude, he was computing the chances of making something out of the "corporation" in the event of the death of his wife's sister, if, indeed, the girl herself did not possess a fortune which would also fall into his hands should she die.
"I shall do my best to save her, sir; that is, if I am allowed to retain the case—and I see no reason why, with proper care, she should not recover," he forced himself to reply, as courteously as possible.
"Humph!" grunted Mr. Mencke, and then he fell to musing again, doubtless computing the chances upon some other money-making scheme.
Presently Mrs. Mencke returned, dressed to go out and bearing a well-filled satchell in her hands. She had hastily gathered a few articles of comfort for her sister's use.
Doctor Norton and his companion proceeded directly to Hughes street, where Mrs. Richardson welcomed Mrs. Mencke with motherly kindness and interest, and then conducted her at once to the bedside of the unconscious Violet, who was still calling piteously upon Belle and Wilhelm to save her.
"Belle is here, Violet," said her sister, bending over the sufferer; "you are safe, and nothing can hurt you now."
At the sound of her familiar voice the sick girl glanced up at her, and a flash of recognition and consciousness returned for a moment.
"Oh, Belle!" she cried, with a sigh of relief, as she seemed to realize for the first time that she was safe. "It was so horrible—horrible! But he was so brave—a hero, and so handsome——"
"Hush, dear; you must not talk about it," interrupted the proud woman, her brow contracting instantly at this mention of the young carpenter, while she glanced about the humble though pretty room with an air of disdain that brought the sensitive color into Mrs. Richardson's cheeks, and made the physician glare angrily at her for her rudeness.
"Will you remove your hat and wrap, Mrs. Mencke? You will probably like to remain with your sister for a while," her hostess remarked, with a lady-like courtesy which betrayed that, whatever her present circumstances might be, she had at some time moved in cultured society.
"Yes, I shall remain until a suitable nurse can be obtained," the woman said, coldly, as she gave her hat and mantle into her hands.
Then she turned to Doctor Norton and remarked:
"Doubtless you know of some one who would be competent to take charge of Miss Huntington?"
"Yes, I know of just the person—she is a trained hospital nurse; but her compensation is fifteen dollars a week besides her living," Doctor Norton responded.
"I do not care what her compensation is," replied Mrs. Mencke, with a slightly curling lip; "I wish Violet to have the best of care. Are you sure it will not do to have her taken home?" she concluded, with an anxious glance toward the room, where she had caught a glimpse of the other patient as she entered.
"Very sure, madame," returned the physician, decidedly. "I would not be answerable for the consequences if she were removed. With an efficient nurse, the young lady can be made very comfortable here. Mrs. Richardson has kindly resigned this room—the best she had—for her use. It is cool and airy, and you do not need to have any anxiety about her on the score of her accommodations. If you insist upon removing her, however, it must be upon your own responsibility."
Mrs. Mencke thought a moment, then she said:
"Very well; it shall be as you advise, and I will come every day to spend as much time as possible with her. Mrs. Richardson shall be well paid, too, for her room and all inconvenience."
Mrs. Richardson's delicate face flushed again at this coarse reference to their obligation to her. There had not been one word of thanks or appreciation for what she had already done; it seemed as if the haughty woman considered that her money would cancel everything.
"The dear child is welcome to the room and any other comfort that I can give her," she said, quietly; then added: "It is time now for her fever drops."
She leaned over the sufferer, who had again relapsed into her delirious state, and gently put the spoon to her lips.
Violet unclosed her eyes and looked up into the kind, motherly face, hesitated a moment, then swallowed the drops, while she murmured, as her glance lingered on her countenance:
"You are good—I love you," then, with a sigh, she turned her head upon the pillow and dropped into a sleep, while her companions stole from the room to complete their arrangements for her future comfort.
"Your son—how is he?" Mrs. Mencke inquired, as they entered the sitting-room, and she felt that it devolved upon her to make the inquiry.
"Better, thank you. He has not so much pain, and Doctor Norton thinks his bones are going to knit nicely. He suffers more from his bruises and cuts than from the broken bones. I am very thankful that he has escaped with his life," Mrs. Richardson answered, tremulously, and with startling tears.
"Was he badly hurt?" inquired the lady, languidly.
"Well, he has a couple of protuberances upon his head, three serious bruises on one leg, and a deep cut on the other from broken window-glass. Our young hero—and he is a hero, Mrs. Mencke—is pretty well battered up; but, please God, we are going to save him, and he'll come out as good as new in time." Doctor Norton returned, with an energy that made Mrs. Richardson smile, though with tremulous lips.
"It was a frightful accident," murmured Mrs. Mencke, with a slight shiver.
"You may well say that, madame; and it was a happy inspiration on the part of Mr. Richardson to try to save Miss Huntington in the way that he did. By suspending himself from the straps and make her cling to him he broke the force of the crash for both of them; and, if she lives, there is not the slightest doubt in the world that she will owe her life to his thoughtfulness," said the worthy doctor.
"I am sure it was very good of him, and—we are very grateful to him," was the tardy admission of Violet's proud sister; but it lacked the ring of sincerity, and her patronizing manner plainly indicated that her pride rebelled against all feeling of obligation to an humble carpenter.
"You certainly have reason to be," Doctor Norton retorted; then, bowing coldly to her, he went into the small bedroom leading from the sitting-room, to see how his hero fared.
"How is she now, doctor?" Wallace eagerly asked, the moment he crossed the threshold.
It was always his first thought and inquiry whenever the physician made his appearance, and he would never allow him to pay the slightest attention to himself until he had first made an examination of Violet's condition.
"Pretty sick, my boy; but I hope she is going to pull through," he cheerfully replied.
"Thank heaven!" murmured the young man, fervently.
Doctor Norton observed him keenly for a moment, with a kindly yet somewhat anxious gleam in his eyes; then he said:
"Look here, my fine fellow, let me give you a little timely warning; don't you go to falling in love with this pretty Violet—you'll only make mischief for both yourself and her if you do, for her friends are rich, and proud as Lucifer—as hard-hearted, too, if I am not mistaken—and nothing but a fortune will ever tempt them to yield her to the best lover in the world."
The young man flushed a vivid crimson at this blunt speech, and the physician, noticing it, continued:
"No doubt you think I'm meddling with what is none of my business, but I've seen enough to-day to convince me that such a romantic result of this accident would be the worst thing that could possibly happen to you. But how do you find yourself to-day?" he concluded, abruptly changing the subject.
"I have some pain in this right leg, but not enough to fret over," Wallace replied, turning his now pale face away from the doctor's keen eyes.
There had suddenly come a sharper pain in his heart than any physical suffering that he had as yet endured, as, all at once, he became conscious that he had already been guilty of doing exactly what the good surgeon had warned him against.
Already he had begun to love Violet Huntington with all the strength and passion of his manly, honest heart. He had been instantly attracted by her lovely face and lady-like appearance, when he entered the car that bright spring afternoon. When his glance met hers a magnetic current had seemed to be established between them. When she had realized the horror of their situation, after the grip upon the cable had been lost, and thrown out her hands so appealingly to him, his heart had been suddenly thrilled with the desire to save her, even at the expense of his own life; in that one brief instant he had given himself to her, for life or death. When he had clasped her hands about his neck and lifted her upon his breast—when he had felt her head droop upon his shoulder, and the beating of her frightened heart against his own, a feeling almost of ecstasy had taken possession of him, and the strange thought had come to him that he was perhaps going into eternity with the woman who should have been his wife—with the one kindred soul designed for him by his Maker.
But now the doctor's words had given him a rude shock, and he resolved, rather than allow a suspicion of his affection to make trouble for the sweet girl who had become the one coveted object of his life, to bury it so deep in his heart that no other should ever mistrust it.
WILLFUL VIOLET HAS HER OWN WAY.
That same evening a thoroughly competent nurse was installed by Violet's bedside, and Mrs. Mencke, having given certain directions regarding the care of her sister, returned to her home on Auburn avenue.
She came every day afterward, however, to ascertain how Violet was progressing, and though for a week her fever ran very high, and the doctor considered her alarmingly ill, yet at the end of that time she began slowly but surely to mend.
Consciousness returned, and with it the memory of all that had occurred on that never-to-be-forgotten day, while she talked continually of the brave young man who had saved her life.
When she was first told that she was in the same house with him, the rich color suffused her face, and an eager look of interest leaped into her eyes.
"In his home—am I? How strange!" she murmured; "how did it happen that I was brought here?"
"Those who found you thought that you were brother and sister," the nurse told her, thinking it no harm that she should know all the details, if she did not get excited. "They found you together, one of his arms clasping you close to him, and both your hands locked about his neck."
A burning blush shot up to the girl's golden hair at this information.
"He told me to—to cling to him," she said, in a low tone.
"Of course; and it showed his good sense, too, for it was the only thing that saved your life, dear child," replied the nurse; "and it seemed as if he had not one thought for himself, then nor since, for his first question, when the doctor goes to him, is about you."
"How good—how noble of him! and he is so badly hurt, too," Violet said, tremulously.
"Oh, but he is coming out of it finely," the nurse said, reassuringly. "There isn't a scratch on his face, and his broken bones are mending nicely. He is already up and about, though he looks rather peaked, as if he were still a good deal shaken up over the dreadful tragedy—for I suppose you know that you and he are the only ones who came out of it alive."
"Oh! was every one else killed?" said Violet, with a shiver of horror. "How dreadful!"
She lay there, very quiet and thoughtful, for some time after that, but by and by she asked:
"Nurse, when may I get up?"
"In a few days, dear, if you continue to improve as you have done during the last week," the woman replied.
"Then may I see him—Mr. Richardson? I must see him and thank him for what he has done. Just think—he saved me from getting even a scratch or a bruise."
"Um!" returned the nurse, pursing up her lips; "your sister, Mrs. Mencke, has given orders that you are not to receive any visitors while you are here?"
"Well, of course, and I do not care to see company much until I go home; but you must let me see Mr. Richardson," Violet said, with some show of spirit.
"Well, maybe Mrs. Mencke wouldn't object; you can ask her when she comes," said the nurse, doubtfully.
"I shall do no such thing, and I am going to see Mr. Richardson!" retorted Violet, wilfully, and flushing hotly. "The idea of her objecting, when he saved my life, and when dear Mrs. Richardson has been so kind! They would think me very ungrateful not to tell them how very, very thankful I am."
"But Mrs. Mencke said——" began the nurse, objectingly, for Violet's sister had given very strict orders upon this very point.
"I don't care what Belle said—Belle is too fresh sometimes!" Violet cried, spiritedly, and relapsing a trifle into slang, in her irritation over her sister's interference.
The nurse changed the subject, and nothing more was said about the matter.
Three days later Violet was allowed to get up for the first time, and after that she sat up every day.
One morning she seemed to feel much stronger than usual, and the nurse allowed her to be regularly dressed in a pretty pale-blue cashmere wrapper, which Mrs. Mencke had sent the previous day; then she drew her chair beside one of the windows, where she could look out upon the street.
She seemed very bright, and told the woman that she began to feel quite like herself again. She certainly looked very pretty, though somewhat pale and thin, showing that she had lost a little flesh during her illness.
"Now, nurse," Violet said, when the woman had tidied up the room, and there seemed to be nothing more to be done just then, "don't you want to go out and get the air for a little while? You have not been out once since you came, and I am so well and comfortable to-day, you might go just as well as not."
"Thank you, miss; it would be a pleasant change," the woman returned, with a longing look out of the window.
"Then go, by all means, Mrs. Dean," Violet said, eagerly, "and stay an hour if you like. I know Mrs. Richardson would wait upon me if I should need anything, which I am sure I shall not," she concluded, with a furtive glance toward the sitting-room, where, during the last half-hour, she had heard, now and then, the rattle of a newspaper, and surmised that her young hero was engaged in perusing the morning news there.
The temptation proved too strong to be resisted, and Mrs. Dean, taking Violet at her word, yielded, and soon after went forth into the glorious sunshine, to enjoy the privilege so kindly given.
Violet sat and watched her until she was well down the street, a queer little smile on her pretty lips; but her attention was presently attracted by the entrance of Mrs. Richardson, who came to see if she wanted anything, and to bring her a little silver bell, to ring in case she should need her.
"How well you are looking to-day, dear," she said, as she noticed her bright eyes and the faint flush which was just beginning to tinge her cheek, "I am really surprised at your rapid improvement during the last few days."
"I feel almost well. I believe I could do an hour's practice if there was only a piano here," Violet answered, as she glanced wistfully at her music-roll, which lay on the table near her.
"I am sorry that we have none," Mrs. Richardson replied, "but perhaps it is just as well, after all, for the effort might be too much for your strength. Can I do anything for you?"
"Thank you, no," Violet answered, with an appreciative smile.
"Then I am going down into the laundry for a while, but I will leave this bell with you; if you need me, ring, and I will come instantly."
"You are very good," the young girl said, then, with a rising flush and downcast eyes, she asked: "How is Mr. Richardson this morning?"
"Doing finely, dear, thank you, only he gets a trifle impatient, now and then, because his arm is useless, and he cannot go back to work."
"It must be very tedious for him, and I am very sorry," Violet said, with a regretful sigh. Then with a timid, appealing glance: "May I not see him, Mrs. Richardson, and tell him how I appreciate his heroism and the service he rendered me?"
Mrs. Richardson colored at this request, for she had overheard Mrs. Mencke telling the nurse to be sure and not allow any one to see Violet, save those who had the care of her, and she well understood what that injunction meant; consequently her pride and sense of what was right would not allow her to take advantage of the nurse's absence to bring about a meeting between the young people. So she replied, with quiet gravity:
"I would not like to assume the responsibility of granting your request to-day, dear; we must not tax your strength too much at first; some other time, perhaps."
She put the bell where Violet could reach it, telling her to be sure to ring if she needed anything, then she went out, leaving the door slightly ajar.
As she disappeared Violet nodded her sunny head mischievously, and shot a wicked little smile after her.
"You are the dearest darling in the world," she murmured, "and I know you are resolved not to be guilty of doing anything to offend my proud sister. You will not 'assume the responsibility,' but I will. Mrs. Belle just isn't going to have her way, all the same, and I am going to have mine if I can manage it. I wonder if I could walk into the other room."
She glanced toward the door and seemed to be measuring the distance with her eye.
"I am going to try it anyway," said this willful little lady, as she deliberately slipped out of her chair and stood upon her feet.
She found herself still very weak, and for a moment it seemed as if her trembling limbs would not support her, but the determination to outwit her haughty sister had taken possession of her, and she was bound to accomplish her purpose.
She managed to get to a common cane-seat chair, and pushing this before her as a support, sitting down once or twice to rest, she at length reached the door leading into the other room.
Wallace Richardson was sitting by a window, his back toward the parlor where Violet had been ill. He had been reading the morning paper, but it had dropped upon his knees and he had fallen into a fit of musing, his thoughts turning, as they did involuntarily, to that fearful ride down the inclined plane, while he always saw in imagination that wild look of appeal upon the lovely face of Violet Huntington, as she instinctively turned to him for help.
Suddenly he was startled by a slight movement near him, and, glancing up, he beheld the object of his thoughts standing in the door-way just behind him.
"Miss Huntington!" he cried, starting to his feet in amazement and consternation, "I am afraid you are very imprudent. Do you want something? Can I do anything for you?"
"Yes, if you will please help me to that chair I will be much obliged; I am not quite so strong as I thought I was, and find myself a little tired," Violet replied, looking very pale after her unusual exertion.
"I should think so, indeed! Here, take this chair," said Wallace as he gently helped her, with his well hand, to the chair that he had just vacated.
"Thank you," Violet said, as she sank panting into it; then, glancing up at him with a roguish smile, she continued: "Don't look so shocked, Mr. Richardson; I suppose I am a trifle pale, but I am not going to faint, as I see you fear. I was lonely in there by myself and imagined that you were also, so I took a sudden notion that I would pay you a little visit. I—I thought it was about time that we made each other's acquaintance and compared notes upon our injuries."
Wallace thought that he had never seen any one so pretty as she was at that moment. Her golden hair had been carelessly knotted at the back of her head, while a few short locks lay in charming confusion upon her white forehead. Her delicate blue wrapper, with its filmy lace ruffles at the neck and waists, was exceedingly becoming, while the laughing, roguish light in her lovely azure eyes thrilled him with a strange sensation. Then, too, the thought that she had made all this exertion just for the purpose of seeing him made his heart leap with delight.
"I had no idea that you were able to make such an effort," he managed to say in reply, though he could never remember afterward what answer he did make.
Her strength and color were coming back now that she was seated, and she laughed out mischievously.
"It was an experiment," she said, "perhaps a hazardous one, and I must make my visit and get back before nurse returns, or I fear I shall get a vigorous scolding; but I just had to come to see you—I couldn't wait any longer. When I think of how much I owe you, it seems perfectly heartless that I have not told you how thankful I am for the life that you have saved; but for you I might have shared the fate of the others," and tears were in the beautiful eyes uplifted to his face.
"Do not think of it, Miss Huntington," Wallace said, growing pale as his own thoughts went back to those moments of horror.
"Why not?" she cried, impulsively. "Why should I not think of it and speak of it, too, when I see this poor arm"—and she touched it almost reverently with her dainty fingers—"when I realize how thoughtless of self you were in trying to save me? Ah! and that poor hand, too," she added, as she caught sight of his right hand, which had been badly cut by broken glass, and on which she saw a broad strip of court-plaster, "how much you have suffered!"
And carried away by her feelings, forgetful of all but the gratitude that filled her warm, young heart, she suddenly bent forward and impulsively touched her lips to the wounded hand that hung by his side.
Wallace caught his breath. That touch was like electricity to him, and the rich color surged up to his brow.
"Miss Huntington, don't!" he cried; "you overestimate what I did."
"No, indeed I do not," Violet returned, earnestly, and then, overcome by the sudden realization of what she had done—that he was almost a stranger and she had been guilty of a rash and perhaps unmaidenly act—a burning blush leaped to the roots of her hair, and for the moment she was speechless from shame and embarrassment.
"Pardon me," she said, after an awkward silence. "I forgot myself—I forgot everything but that I owe you my life."
Then tossing back her head and shooting a half appealing, half defiant look at him, to cover her confusion, she said, with a bewitching little pout:
"But now that I have come to call upon you, Mr. Richardson, aren't you going to entertain me?"
The change from embarrassment to this pretty piquancy was so instantaneous and so charming that Wallace's face grew luminous with admiration and delight. A smile wreathed his lips, and there came a look into his eyes that made her flush consciously again.
"Certainly; I shall only be too happy. What can I do to amuse you? Shall I read to you?"
Violet shrugged her shoulders.
"No, talk to me," she said, with pretty imperiousness. "I have been shut up so long that I am pining for entertaining society."
Wallace flushed at this. He was not used to talking to fine young ladies; he had been very little in society, and had met but very few people in fashionable life. His days were occupied by work, for he had to support himself and his mother, while his evenings were devoted to study.
But he really desired to amuse his lovely visitor, and so, going to a book-case, he took down a large, square book and brought it to her.
"Have you ever seen any agricultural drawings, Miss Huntington?" he inquired.
"No," Violet said.
"Do you think it would interest you to examine some?"
"Oh, yes," she answered, eagerly.
She would have been interested in anything which he chose to talk about.
"I am glad of that," he returned, "for architecture is to be the business of my life, and I can talk more fluently upon that subject that upon any other."
Then he opened the book and began to show her his drawings.
"Since a little boy I have desired to be an architect," he told her, "and while my father lived I had every advantage which I chose to improve; but after his death misfortune obliged me to give up school and to go to work. I chose the carpenter's trade—my father was a contractor and builder—for I reasoned that a practical knowledge of the construction of buildings would help me in the profession which I hope, even yet, to perfect myself in. All my evenings during the past four years have been spent in the drawing-school, and where, during the last two years I have, a portion of each night, served as a teacher."
He pointed out to Violet several of his own designs, all of which, she could readily see, were very fine, and some exceedingly beautiful.
While discussing some point, Violet casually compared it with something that she had seen in ancient structures abroad, and this led them to enlarge upon the architecture of the old country, until they grew very free and friendly in their conversation.
Neither was aware how rapidly time was passing, until the clock struck the hour of eleven; then, with a sudden start, the young girl exclaimed that she must get back to her own room at once, or run the risk of being scolded should the nurse find her there.
"I can get back to my chair much more quickly, Mr. Richardson, if you will help me," she said, with an arch look, as she arose from her seat by the window; and Wallace, with another thrill of delight, gave her his well arm and assisted her to cross the room, a feat which she accomplished much more easily than before.
When he had seated her comfortably, she gave him a roughish glance, and remarked, playfully:
"I suppose it is polite for people to return calls, isn't it, Mr. Richardson?"
He laughed out heartily, and thought her the most bewitching little piece of humanity he had ever seen.
"I suppose it is," he answered; then growing grave, he added, "but I understand that your sister does not think it advisable for you to have visitors."
"Nonsense!" began Violet, impatiently, then espying the nurse just mounting the steps, she continued, "but there is Mrs. Dean. I will discuss the calling question with you some other time. Good-by."
Wallace took the hint implied in this farewell, returned to the sitting-room, where he was apparently deeply absorbed in the contents of his paper when the refreshed and smiling nurse entered.
A PARTING SOUVENIR.
A week went by, and both patients continued to improve, but the weather being unfavorable—a cold wind prevailing—the physician would not consent to have Violet removed to Auburn avenue until it was milder.
Every pleasant morning, however, Violet insisted upon having the nurse go out for an airing, telling her to remain as long as she liked, and just as often the young girl succeeded in securing an interview with Wallace.
She saw that both he and Mrs. Richardson were averse to his returning her call, and she did not urge it; but in her pretty, imperious way she insisted that he must help her out into the sitting-room or she should get "awfully homesick" staying in the parlor all the time.
They could not well refuse her request, and every morning as soon as the nurse disappeared she went out to them.
Sometimes Mrs. Richardson would remain and join in their conversation, but this could not always be, for her household duties must be attended to, and so they were often left by themselves.
Occasionally Wallace read to her from the daily paper, or from some interesting book; but more frequently they spent the time conversing, growing every day more friendly, and falling more and more under the spell of each other's society.
Wallace realized his danger—knew that every hour spent in the fair girl's presence was serving to make him more wholly her slave.
That first meeting, when she had come upon him so unexpectedly, had assured him that he could not see her often without riveting the chains of his love more hopelessly about him. Her exquisite beauty, her artless, impulsive manner, the glance of her beautiful eyes, all moved him as he had never been moved before, and warned him that danger to both lay in indulging himself in the delight of her society.
Danger! Yes, for he well knew that he—a poor carpenter who had to toil with his hands for his daily bread—ought never to speak words of love to the delicate girl who had been reared amid the luxuries of wealth; knew that her haughty relatives would scorn such an alliance with one in his humble circumstances.
But he seemed powerless to prevent it—powerless to save either himself or her; for Violet, all unconscious of the precipice toward which they were drifting, thinking only of the enjoyment of the moment, persisted in seeing him, day after day, and thus, before she was aware of the fact, becoming entangled in coils from which she was never to escape.
Mrs. Mencke came every afternoon, but never remained long, for she was a woman of many social obligations, and thought if she simply came to inquire regarding Violet's welfare, she was doing her whole duty by her.
She always found her alone with the nurse, or with Mrs. Richardson, if the former was busy, and fondly imagined that everything was all right; never suspecting the mischief—as she would be likely to regard it—that was being brewed by that artful little god of love—Cupid.
Doctor Norton finally gave his consent to having Violet removed, and on the same day, when Mrs. Mencke paid her usual visit, she was told that to-morrow she would be taken home.
The young girl received this unwelcome news in silence, but a great darkness seemed suddenly to have fallen around her.
After her sister's departure she turned to Mrs. Richardson, and the woman saw that her eyes were full of tears.
"Dear Mrs. Richardson," she said, "I am so sorry to leave you! I have been so happy here—it is such a quiet, peaceful place, and you have been so kind to me, I really feel homesick at the thought of going home—and that sounds like a paradox, doesn't it?"
Mrs. Richardson smiled fondly into the fair face lifted to hers, though an expression of pain flitted over her brow at the same time.
"I shall be just as sorry to give you up as you can be to go," she replied. "You have been a very patient invalid, and it has been simply a pleasure to have you here. Still, your home is so delightful, and you have so many kind friends, you will soon forget your quiet sojourn on Hughes street."
"No, indeed—never!" Violet returned, flushing. Then she added, impulsively, while a great longing seemed to sweep over her: "I know that my home is beautiful with everything that money can buy, but—there is no soul in it."
"My dear child! I am sure you do not mean that," said Mrs. Richardson, reprovingly. "That is a very sad thing to say about one's own home."
"Yes, I do mean it," Violet answered, with quivering lips. "Belle is good enough in certain ways, and I suppose she is fond of me, after a fashion; but she is a society woman, and always full of engagements, while Wilhelm cares for nothing but his horses and his business. I wish I had a mother," and a pathetic little sob concluded the sentence.
During the weeks of her illness, the young girl had found a long-felt void filled by the care and tenderness of this motherly woman.
Mrs. Richardson laid her hand caressingly upon the golden head, and her heart yearned over the fair invalid. She also had longed for a loving daughter, to brighten and soothe her declining years, even as Violet longed for a mother.
Violet reached up and clasped the tender hand, and brought it round to her lips. She was naturally an affectionate little thing, and much given to acting upon the impulse of the moment.
"I shall always love you, dear Mrs. Richardson, and you will let me come to see you, will you not?" she asked, appealingly.
"Certainly, dear. I shall be very glad to see you at any time," she answered, heartily, and deeply touched by the young girl's evident affection for her; but she changed the subject, and began to chat entertainingly upon other topics, for she saw that she was really depressed by the thought of going back to her "soulless" home.
The next morning an elegant carriage, drawn by a pair of coal-black horses in silver-mounted harness, drove to the humble home of the Richardsons in Hughes street, and the colored driver presented a note from Mrs. Mencke, saying that Violet was to return home at once; that she had an important engagement and could not come for her herself, but wished that the nurse should attend her instead.
Violet was very pale and quiet as they dressed her for the drive, while her heavy eyes often turned to the door leading into the sitting-room with a wistful, regretful glance.
"I shall miss you so much, Mrs. Richardson. You will come to see me, will you not?" she said, as she put up her lips for her good-by kiss.
"Yes, I will come within a few days. I shall want to know how you are getting on. There, you are all ready now, I believe," she concluded, as she folded a light shawl about her shoulders, for though the day was warm, they wished to guard against all danger of her taking cold.
But Violet stood irresolute a moment, then she said:
"I want—may I go to say good-by to all—to Mr. Richardson?" and a burning flush mounted to her brow as she made the request.
Mrs. Richardson looked grave as she remarked the blush, but she gave the desired permission; and while she went to assist the nurse to put Violet's things in the carriage, the young girl moved slowly toward the sitting-room, where she found Wallace, looking pale and depressed, his fine lips drawn into a firm, white line.
"I have come to say good-by," Violet remarked, as she approached him with downcast eyes. "I—I hope you will soon be quite well again; but, oh! Mr. Richardson, if I could only do something to show you how——"
"Please, Miss Huntington, never refer to the accident in that way again," Wallace returned, speaking almost coldly, because of the restraint he was imposing upon himself.
He had not realized until that morning how very desolate he should feel when Violet was gone, for she might as well be going out of the world altogether, as far as he was concerned, he thought, as back to Auburn avenue.
How could he let her go—resign her to another sphere, as it were, for some favorite of fortune to win? He was suffering torture, and it seemed almost impossible for him to bid her a formal good-by.
Violet lifted a pained, startled look to his face at his cold, reserved tone.
"Forgive me. I did not mean to offend you," she said; "but you must understand something of how I feel. I know that you have saved my life. I shall never forget it as long as I live, and you must let me unburden my heart in some way. At least, I may give you a little keepsake, if nothing more," she pleaded, earnestly.
He smiled into her upturned face. She was so fair, so eager, he had not the heart to repulse her.
"Yes, I should be very glad of some souvenir—you are very good to think of it," he said, with a thrill in his tones which brought the color back to her pale cheeks.
"Thank you for conceding even that much," she returned, brightening; "and now I wonder what it shall be."
"The simplest thing you can think of," Wallace said, hastily; "something that you have worn would be most precious——"
He cut himself short, for he felt that he was betraying too much of what was in his heart.
Violet flashed a sly look at him, and her pulses leaped at his words, and the glance that accompanied them.
"Something that I have worn," she murmured, musingly.
She glanced at her hands, where, upon her white fingers, gleamed several valuable rings, but she instinctively felt that none of these would be a suitable offering.
He certainly would not care for a bracelet—he would not accept her watch.
Then suddenly one dainty hand went up to her throat, where her collar was fastened with a beautiful brooch to which there was attached a pendant as unique as it was lovely.
"Will you have this?" she asked, touching it. "Mamma gave it to me one birthday—you shall have the pendant to wear on your chain, and I will keep the brooch always."
She unfastened the ornament and held it out to him.
The pendant was a small golden medallion with richly enameled pansy, a tiny diamond in its centre, on one side, while upon the other was engraved the name "Violet."
Wallace flushed with pleasure; he could have thought of nothing that would afford him so much gratification. Still he hesitated to take it.
"I do not like to rob you of your mother's gift," he said, gently.
"Please take it; I want you to have it—that is, if you would like it," Violet said, eagerly, and looking so lovely in her earnestness that he longed to take her in his arms and claim her for his own, then and there.
"You are sure you will not regret it?" he asked.
"No—no, indeed; and you can easily detach it, for it is only fastened by this slender ring."
"I think you will have to do that for me," he returned, smiling, and glancing down at his bandaged arm, "for I have only one hand at my disposal."
"True; how thoughtless I am," Violet answered, flushing, and, taking a pair of scissors that lay upon the table, she easily pried the ring apart, detached the pendant and laid it in his hand.
"Thank you," Wallace said, but he was very pale as his fingers closed over the precious gift, and he felt that fate was very cruel to force him to keep silent when his heart was so full of a deathless love. "It is a beautiful little souvenir, and I shall prize it more than I can tell you, Miss Huntington."
Violet tapped her foot impatiently upon the floor and frowned.
"Miss Huntington," she repeated, sarcastically; "how formal! Call me Violet—I do not like to be held at arm's length by my friends. But Mrs. Dean is calling me, and I suppose I must go. I have been very happy here in your home in spite of my illness; I have learned to love your mother dearly, and she has promised to come to see me; will you come with her?"
How sweet and gracious she was! how she tempted him with her beauty and her artless, impulsive ways, and it required all his moral strength to resist her and preserve the secret of his love.
"I am afraid I cannot," he replied.
"Why not?" Violet questioned, in a surprised, hurt tone.
"You forget that I am but a laborer—I have little time for social pleasures."
"But you cannot work now—it will be several weeks yet before your arm will be strong enough to allow you to go back to your duties," Violet returned, searching his face intently.
Wallace flushed hotly; he knew that was a lame excuse to give her; he knew, too, that he must not put himself in the way of temptation; and, believing a straightforward course the wisest, he frankly said:
"Miss—Violet," faltering a little over the name, but not wishing to wound her again by the more formal mode of address, "I do not need to tell you, I am sure, how much pleasure it would give me to meet you now and then, but you well know that poor young men, like myself, are not often welcome in the home of the rich; indeed, I should feel myself out of place among the fashionable people with whom you mingle."
"You need not!" Violet exclaimed, earnestly. "I should feel proud to introduce you to any, or all, of my friends, and I promise that you shall receive a most cordial welcome in my home if you ever honor me by entering it. Now, good-by, Wal—Mr. Richardson, for I must go."
She held out her hand to him, and he took it in a strong, fond clasp—the first time he had ever held it thus, and the last, he told himself—with almost a feeling of despair, for he believed that henceforth they would go their separate ways and have nothing in common.
He accompanied her out and helped her into the carriage, but with a keen pain in his heart, as he saw two diamond-like drops fall upon the velvet cushions as she took her seat, and knew that they were tears of regret over this parting.
The nurse followed her charge, the coachman sprang upon his box, and with one wave of a white hand, one lingering look from a pair of azure eyes, Violet was gone, and that humble home in Hughes street seemed, to one person at least, like a house in which there had been a death, and from which peace and contentment had forever flown.
There was no one but the servants to welcome Violet home, for Mrs. Mencke had not returned, and the poor girl felt forlorn and desolate enough.
After bidding the nurse good-by, for the woman had only been commissioned to see her safely home, she went wearily up to her own room, where, after removing her wraps and dismissing her maid, she threw herself upon her bed in a passion of tears, and longing for the caressing touch of Mrs. Richardson's tender hand and the sound of her affectionate, motherly voice.
When Mrs. Mencke finally returned and went to her she found her sleeping, but looking feverish, the tears still upon her cheeks, and with a mournful droop to her sweet lips that was really pathetic.
She awoke with a start and found herself gazing up into the handsome face of her sister.
"Well, Violet, I suppose you are glad to be at home again," Mrs. Mencke remarked, cheerfully, but regarding her searchingly.
Violet gave utterance to a deep sigh, but hesitated before replying.
"It is very comfortable here," she at last said, glancing around the luxurious apartment.
"I should think so, indeed, after the close quarters you have inhabited of late," said Mrs. Mencke, with a contemptuous laugh. "Why, the servants' rooms here are better than any portion of that house."
"Ye-s, but it was very quiet and peaceful and home-like there, and everything was very neat and clean," said Violet, with another sigh.
"Well, everything is neat and clean here also, isn't it?" demanded her sister, sharply, for cleanliness was one of her especial hobbies.
"Of course; but where have you been, Belle?" Violet asked, anxious to change the subject, and glancing over her sister's richly clad figure.
"Oh, to a grand luncheon given by the Lincoln Club," Mrs. Mencke replied, all animation; "and if you had only been well I certainly should have taken you; I don't know when I have attended so brilliant an affair. But, never mind, you will come out next season, and then we will have plenty of amusement."
Violet did not appear to share her sister's eager anticipation of this event and Mrs. Mencke was secretly much irritated by her languid indifference.
"I sincerely hope that beggarly carpenter hasn't had an opportunity to put any nonsense in her head," she mused. "What a piece of luck!—that she happened to be in that car that day. Of course, the fact that he saved her life has cast a glamour of romance around him—Violet is very impressionable—and it may take time to disenchant her. I hope that nurse was vigilant and did not allow her to see much of him; however, one thing is sure, she won't get a chance to see him henceforth."
Mrs. Mencke was very confident of her ability to put an end to the acquaintance, but she had yet to learn that there were certain events in life which she was powerless to control.
VIOLET ASSERTS HERSELF.
Mrs. Richardson never paid Violet her promised visit, for Mrs. Mencke realized almost immediately that something was very wrong about her young sister, who appeared strangely listless and unhappy, and she often found her in tears.
"This will never do," the worldly woman said, with an energy and decision that governed all her movements. "I'm not going to have Violet moping about like a silly, love-sick damsel."
And after a hasty consultation with the family physician, with scarcely a day's warning, she whisked her off to Saratoga, where she engaged rooms at the Grand Union for two months, and when Mrs. Richardson called to see her recent patient, she found the elegant mansion on Auburn avenue closed and could not ascertain whither the Menckes had gone.
The change proved to be very beneficial. Saratoga was, of course, very gay; there was a constant round of pleasure into which Violet was at once drawn, for Mrs. Mencke was a great lover of society, and she soon became interested as any young girl naturally would under the same circumstances. There was no more moping—there were no more tears; Violet gave herself up, with true girlish abandon, to the allurements that presented themselves on every side, became a great favorite among the guests of the large hotel, grew round, rosy, happy, and more beautiful than ever, much to the satisfaction of her sister, who congratulated herself that the "beggarly young carpenter" was entirely forgotten.
Two months were spent at this fashionable resort, then six weeks more were occupied in visiting other places of interest, and when they returned to Cincinnati, about the middle of September, Violet seemed entirely herself once more; she was full of life and spirits, the old light of mischief and happiness danced in her beautiful eyes, while she was planning for and looking forward to the coming season with all the zeal and enthusiasm of a young debutante.
The day following their arrival at home Violet came in from a round of calls that she had been making, and, feeling too weary to go up to her room just then, she threw herself into a comfortable chair in the library, and took up a paper that lay on the table.
Almost the first words that caught her eye, and sent a thrill of horror through her, were these:
"DIED—On the 12th instant, at her home, No. —— Hughes street, Mary Ida Richardson, aged 48 years and 9 months. Funeral from her late residence, the 14th, at 2 o'clock P. M."
A cry of pain broke from Violet as she read this.
Her dear, kind friend dead! Gone away out of the world into eternity, and she would never see her again!
It did not seem possible; she could not believe it. Poor Wallace, too! how desolate he would be! And, bowing her face upon her hands, the young girl sobbed as if her heart was broken.
All at once, however, she started to her feet.
The fact that this was the 14th had suddenly forced itself upon her. The paper was two days old.
Glancing at the clock she saw that it was half-past twelve; but she might be in time for the last sad services for the dead if she should hasten.
Mrs. Mencke was out, as usual, and Violet was glad of it, for she knew that she would oppose and might even flatly forbid her going.
Hastening to her room, she exchanged her elaborate visiting costume for a simple black cashmere, tore a bright feather from a black hat, drew on a pair of black gloves, and thirty minutes later was in the street again.
She hailed the first car that came in sight, and even though she was obliged to take a second car, she reached Hughes street about twenty minutes of two.
As she entered the home of the Richardsons she was met by a kind-looking woman, a neighbor, whom she had seen once or twice during her illness, and with a quivering lip she begged that she might go into the parlor herself and take a look at her friend before the people began to gather.
Permission was readily given to her, the woman herself leading the way, and considerately shutting the door so that she might be by herself, as she took her last look at the dear friend who had been so kind to her.
Mrs. Richardson must have died suddenly, she thought, for she was not changed in the least, and lay as if calmly asleep. There was nothing ghastly or unpleasant about her. A look of peace and rest was on the sweet face. Her hair had been dressed just as she was in the habit of wearing it, and a mass of soft lace had been filled into the front of her dress, while some one had placed a few sprays of mignonette and lilies of the valley in her still hands.
"Oh, dear Mrs. Richardson, you cannot be dead!" Violet breathed, as she bent over her with streaming eyes. "It is too, too sad; you were so kind, and I had learned to love you so dearly. What will Wallace do? How can he bear it?"
She smoothed her soft hair with her trembling fingers, never thinking of shrinking from the still, cold form, for it was so life-like. She drew the lace a little closer about the neck, and arranged the flowers less stiffly in her hands, murmuring fond words and tender regrets while thus engaged.
But, after a few moments, overcome with her grief, she seated herself upon a low ottoman behind the casket, and leaned her head against it, weeping silently.
She was so absorbed by her sorrow that she did not hear the door as it was softly opened and closed again, and was not conscious that any one else was in the room, until she heard a deep, heart-broken sob, and a familiar voice break forth in the agonized cry:
"Mother! oh, mother!"
Then she realized that Wallace was there, and her heart went forth to him in loving sympathy, for she knew that he had lost the only near friend that he had in the world.
She did not move for a few moments, however, for she felt that his grief was too deep and sacred to be disturbed; but after a little he grew more calm, and then she said, in a low, tremulous tone:
"Wallace, I am so grieved."
He started, and turned his pale face toward her.
"Violet!" he exclaimed, astonished.
"Yes," she said. "I only came home yesterday, and by the merest chance read the news of this to-day. Oh, Wallace, she was a dear, dear woman!"
"She was, indeed," he replied, clasping the hand she extended to him, and feeling inexpressibly comforted by this fair girl's tribute to his loved one.
He noticed, and was touched also by the fact, that Violet was all in black, and he knew that she had robed herself thus out of grief for his dead.
"I loved her," the young girl said, with touching simplicity. Then she added: "I know I cannot say anything to comfort you, but, believe me, my heart is full of sorrow for her loss, and of sympathy for you."
How lovely she was, standing there beside him, her fair face and sunny hair in such striking contrast with her black dress, and with her azure eyes raised in such heartfelt sympathy to his.
Her hand still lay in his, for both had unconsciously retained their clasp after their first greeting, and he knew by her clinging fingers how sincere her sorrow and sympathy were.
"My darling, I know it; and your presence is inexpressibly comforting to me."
"My darling!"—he had said it without thinking.
During all the long weeks that they had been separated he had called her thus to himself, and now the word had slipped from him unawares, and he would have given worlds to have been able to recall them.
Violet's white lids fluttered and then drooped consciously, while a vivid flush arose to her brow.
This brought Wallace to his senses. He also colored hotly, and a feeling of dismay took possession of him. There was a dead silence for a moment; then he added, humbly:
"Forgive me; I did not know what I was saying."
He would have released her hand, but her small fingers closed more firmly over his; she shot one dazzling gleam of light up at him from her lovely eyes and whispered, shyly:
"I am glad!"
And he knew that she was all his own—that she loved him even as he loved her.
A great wave of thankfulness, of sacred joy, swept over his soul, only to be followed by a feeling of despair, darker and deeper than any he had yet experienced, for he knew that he should not, must not accept the priceless boon of her love which she had so freely and so artlessly yielded to him.
But there was no time for explanations, for at that moment the door was opened again, and the woman, Mrs. Keen, whom Violet had met when she first came, entered, to make some inquiry of Wallace, and to tell him that the clergyman had arrived.
Presently others, neighbors and acquaintances, began to gather, and then it was time for the service.
Violet never forgot that simple ceremony, for the clergyman, who knew Mrs. Richardson intimately, seemed to glorify the death of the beautiful woman.
"She had simply stepped," he said, "from darkness into light—from toil and care into rest and peace. The vail betwixt her and the Master, whom she had loved, was lifted; her hitherto fettered soul was free, and in the light of an eternal day no earthly sorrow, doubt, or trial could reach her."
Death, after that, never seemed the cruel enemy that it had previously seemed to Violet.
After it was all over, and Wallace had passed out to his carriage, Mrs. Keen came to the young girl and asked her if she would like to follow her friend to the cemetery.
"If I may," Violet replied. "She was not a relative, but I loved her very much."
"Then come with me," the woman said, and, as she led the way out, she explained that there were no relatives save Mr. Richardson, and it seemed too bad that there should be no one but himself to follow his mother to the grave, and that was why she had asked Violet to go with her.
The next moment Violet found herself in the carriage with, and seated opposite to, Wallace.
A feeling of dismay took possession of her, for she knew that the world would criticise her severely for taking such a step.
She had not dreamed that she would have to ride in the same carriage with Wallace, and she wondered if he would understand how it had happened.
The matter could not be helped now, however, and for herself she did not care; her motives had been good and pure; why then need she care for the criticisms of people?
The ride to Spring Grove Cemetery was a long and sad one, for scarcely a word was spoken either going or returning. Wallace seemed absorbed in his own sorrowful reflections, Mrs. Keen preserved a prim and gloomy silence, and Violet was thus left to her own thoughts.
She could not keep from thinking of those few sad yet sweet moments when she had stood alone with Wallace by the casket of his mother, and heard him speak those words which had changed, in one instant, her whole life.
"My darling, your presence is inexpressibly comforting to me!"
She knew that he had not meant to speak thus, that only a sense of his own desolation and her unexpected sympathy, had made him forget himself, break down all barriers, and betray the secret of his love.
It had been an unexpected revelation to her, however; she had not suspected the nature of his feelings toward her, nor of hers toward him, until then; but now she knew that she loved him—that all the world, with every other blessing and luxury at her command, would be worthless to her without him to share it.
When they reached Hughes street again Violet held out her hand to Wallace, saying it was so late she must go directly home.
Then he suddenly came to himself and realized how very tedious the long, silent ride must have been for her.
"Let me send you home in the carriage," he said, eagerly.
"Thank you, no; I will take a car," Violet replied, so decidedly that he did not press the matter further.
It was very late when she reached home, and she found her sister quite anxious over her prolonged absence.
"Where have you been, Violet?" she demanded, somewhat impatiently; "it is not the proper thing at all for you to be out so late alone. Mercy! and you are all in black, too; I should think you had been at a funeral."
"I have; I have been to Mrs. Richardson's funeral," Violet replied, hot tears rushing to her eyes.
Mrs. Mencke looked startled.
"Mrs. Richardson!" she repeated. "When did she die?"
"Day before yesterday; and it was all by chance that I saw the notice of her death in a paper. She died very suddenly of heart disease."
"I wish I had known it, I would have gone with you," said Mrs. Mencke, looking disturbed.
"Would you?" Violet exclaimed, surprised.
"Yes; it was not proper for you to go alone."
The young girl's face fell; she had hoped her sister wanted to show this tribute of respect to one who had been so kind to her.
"Where was she buried?" Mrs. Mencke inquired.
"At Spring Grove Cemetery."
"Did you go out there?"
"Yes," and Violet flushed slightly.
"With whom did you ride?" demanded her sister, suspiciously.
"With—Mr. Richardson and a Mrs. Keen."
"Violet Draper Huntington!" ejaculated Mrs. Mencke, with indignant astonishment, "you did not do such an unheard of thing?"
Violet bridled at this. She was naturally sweet and gentle, but could show spirit enough if occasion required.
"Yes, I did," she returned, flushing, but tossing her small head defiantly. "There were no friends excepting Mr. Richardson. Mrs. Keen invited me to go with her, and, as I wanted to show the dear woman this mark of respect, I went."
"Don't you know that it was a very questionable act to follow Mrs. Richardson to her grave in the company of her son?" demanded Mrs. Mencke sternly. "What do you suppose the people of our set would say to such a proceeding?"
"I presume the people of 'our set' might consider it a questionable act," Violet returned, with sarcastic emphasis. "Polite society is not supposed to have much heart, anyway. But, to tell the truth, I thought I was to ride in a separate carriage with Mrs. Keen, until I went out and found Mr. Richardson in it. I was not going to wound him then by refusing to go; and 'our set,' if it find it out, can say what it pleases."
"I most earnestly hope that none of our acquaintances will learn of your escapade; they would be sure to couple your name very unpleasantly with that of that low-born carpenter, especially if they should find out that you put on mourning," returned Mrs. Mencke, with an expression of intense disgust.
"'Low-born carpenter,' indeed!" retorted Violet indignantly, and flushing hotly. "Aren't you ashamed of yourself, Belle Mencke, after what he has done for me? Wallace Richardson is a gentleman in every sense of the word, and I am proud to call him my friend."
"Perhaps you would be proud to accord him a more familiar title, even. Our friends would be likely to suspect that he was thus favored if they should discover what you have done to-day," sneered the haughty woman.
Violet blushed vividly at this thrust, and for a moment looked so conscious that her sister became suspicious and secretly alarmed.
"I don't care, Belle," Violet said, hotly, after a moment of awkward silence, "it would have been very ungrateful in me to stay away and I would do the same thing over again to show my regard for dear Mrs. Richardson. Now, if you please, you may let me alone upon the subject."
"Look here, Miss Violet, you are trying me beyond all bounds," Mrs. Mencke returned, losing control of her temper; "and now there is just one thing that I want to say to you, and that is that you are to drop this fellow at once and for all time. I won't have any nonsense or sentiment just because he happened to do what any other man with a germ of humanity would have done to save you from a violent death. It is all very well to feel properly grateful to him, and I intend to pay him handsomely for it, only I don't want to hear anything more about him from you."
Violet had grown very pale during the latter portion of this speech, and her sister, who was observing her closely, could see that she was trembling with suppressed emotions.
"Belle Mencke," she said, in a husky tone, "do you mean to say that you intend to offer Mr. Richardson money in return for my life?"
"Of course. What else can I do? We must make him some acknowledgment, and people in his station think more of money that of anything else," was the coarse response.
"That is false!" cried Violet, with blazing eyes. "Reverse your statement, and say that people in your position think more of money than of anything else, and you would come nearer the truth. Don't you dare to insult that noble fellow by offering him money; if you do, I will never forgive you while I live. Make him all the verbal acknowledgments you please, as will be just and right, but don't forget that he is a gentleman."
Mrs. Mencke saw that she had gone too far, and made an effort to control herself. She knew, from experience, that when Violet was once thoroughly aroused it was not an easy matter to tame her.
"There, Violet, you have said enough," she remarked, with forced calmness. "You are only making yourself ridiculous, and I think we had best drop the subject; only one thing I must insist upon, that you will cut this young man's acquaintance at once."
She arose as she spoke to meet her husband, who entered at that moment, and Violet flew to her own room to remove her black attire, and to ease her aching heart by shedding a few scalding tears, which would not be kept back.
It was very hard to hear Wallace spoken of so contemptuously when she had learned to love him with all the strength of her soul, and knew him to be, by nature and in character, far superior to the man whom her sister called husband.
She did not regret what she had done that day, and she had no idea of dropping Wallace Richardson's acquaintance. No, indeed! Life would be worth but very little to her now if he were taken out of it; and, though she knew she would have many a vigorous battle to fight with her proud sister if she defied her authority, she had no thought of yielding one inch of ground, and was prepared to acknowledge Wallace as her betrothed lover when the proper time to do so should come.
A CONFESSION AND ITS REPLY.
Wallace, in his lonely home, was of course very sad and almost stunned by the blow that had fallen upon him so suddenly.
For many years his mother had been the one object upon which he had lavished the deep, strong affection of his manly nature. He had lost his father when but a youth, but Mrs. Richardson had struggled bravely to keep him at school, and give him as good an education as possible, for he was a lad possessing more than ordinary capabilities and attainments. By the time, however, that he graduated from the high school in the city of Boston, Massachusetts, where they were living at that time, their slender means gave out, and Wallace found that he must relinquish, at least, for the present, his aspiration to perfect himself as an architect, and do something for his own and his mother's support.
He was but seventeen years of age at this time, but he was a strong, manly fellow, and he resolved to take up the carpenter's trade, much about which he already knew, for during his vacations he had often worked, from choice, under the direction of his father.
As he had told Violet, he felt that a practical and thorough knowledge of the construction of buildings would be of inestimable benefit in the future, for he had not by any means given up his intention of ultimately becoming an architect.
He applied to the builder and contractor who had grown up under and succeeded to the business of his father, and the man readily agreed to engage him, provided he would be willing to go to Cincinnati, where he had managed to obtain a very large contract, and, for a lad of Wallace's age, he offered him unusual inducements.
At first Wallace demurred, for he could not bear the thought of leaving his mother, and at that time they could not both afford to make the change.
But he finally concluded to make the trial, and at the end of six months he had made himself so valuable to his employer that the man had increased his wages, and promised him still further promotion if he continued to progress as he had done.
This change in his circumstances enabled Wallace to send for his mother and to provide a comfortable little home for her.
He was very ambitious; every spare moment was spent in study, while he also attended an evening school for drawing, where he could receive instruction in his beloved architecture.
Thus, step by step, he went steadily on, perfecting himself in both his trade and his profession until, at the opening of our story, six years after leaving his native city, Boston, we find him and his mother still residents of Cincinnati, and the young man in a fair way to realize the one grand object of his life.
Already he had executed a number of plans for buildings, which had been approved, accepted, and fairly well paid for, while he had applied for, and hoped to obtain, a lucrative position in the office of an eminent architect, at the beginning of the new year.
His accident had interrupted his business for several weeks, but he knew that he should lose nothing pecuniarily, for the company that controlled the incline-plane railway had agreed to meet all the expenses of his illness, and pay him a goodly sum besides; so his enforced idleness had not tried his patience as severely as it would have otherwise done.
Indeed, he had not been idle, for he had devoted a good deal of time, after he was able to be about, to the study of his beloved art. His right hand, being only slightly injured he could use quite freely, and he executed several designs which he was sure would be useful to him in the future.
His mother's sudden death, however, was a blow which almost crushed him. He had never thought that she could die at least for long years for she had apparently been in the enjoyment of perfect health.
They were sitting together one evening, and had been unusually social and merry, when Mrs. Richardson suddenly broke off in the middle of a sentence, leaned back in her chair as if faint, and before Wallace could reach her side, her spirit was gone.
Wallace would not believe that she was dead until the hastily summoned physician declared that life was entirely extinct and then the heavily afflicted son felt as if his burden were greater than he could bear.
He did not look upon that loved face again until the hour of the funeral, when he went alone into their pretty parlor to take his last farewell, and found Violet there before him.
Her presence there had been "inexpressibly comforting" to him as he had said, and in the sudden reaction and surprise of the moment he had betrayed the secret of his love for her.
He was shocked and filled with dismay when, after his return from the grave of his mother, he had an opportunity to quietly think over what he had done.
He felt that he had been very unwise—that he had no right to aspire to the hand of the beautiful heiress, for he could offer her nothing but his true heart, and this, he well knew, would be scorned by Violet's aristocratic relatives.
Yet, in spite of his remorse, his heart leaped with exultation over the knowledge that the lovely girl returned his affection. She had not spoken her love, but he had seen it in her shy, sweet glance of surprise and joy at his confession; he had felt it in the clinging clasp of her trembling fingers, that would not let him release her hand; he had heard it in every tone of her dear voice when she had told him, simply, but heartily, that she "was glad."
Was she glad to know that she was his "darling," or only glad because her presence was a comfort to him in his hour of trial?
Both, he felt very sure, and he kept repeating those three words over and over until they became sweetest music in his soul.
But he told himself that he must not accept the priceless gift of her love.
"What shall I do?" he cried, in deep distress. "I have compromised myself; I have gone too far to retract, and she would deem unmanly if I should keep silent and let the matter drop here."
He sat for hours trying to decide what course to pursue, and finally he exclaimed, with an air of resolution:
"There is no other way but to make a frank explanation—confess my sorrow for my presumption and ask her forgiveness; then I must take up the burden of my lonely life and bear it as well as I can."
The next morning, after he had partaken of his solitary breakfast, which a kind and sympathizing neighbor sent in to him, he sat down to his task of writing his confession to Violet.
That evening the fair young girl received the following epistle:
"My Dear Miss Huntington:—I am filled with conflicting emotions, which it would be vain for me to try to explain, in addressing you thus; but my mother taught me this motto in my youth—and I have endeavored to make it the rule of my life ever since—'If you do wrong confess it and make what reparation you can.' I realize that I was guilty of great presumption and wrong in addressing you so unguardedly as I did yesterday, when we stood alone by my mother's casket. Pray forgive me, for, while I am bound to confess that the words were forced from me by a true, strong love, which will always live in my heart—a love such as a man experiences but once in his life for a woman whom he would win for his wife, if he could do so honorably—I know that, situated as I am, with a life of labor before me and only my own efforts to help me build up a possible fortune, I should not have betrayed myself as I did. I was unnerved by my great sorrow, and your gentle sympathy, coming as it did like balm to my wounded heart, unsealed my lips before I was aware of it. Again I beg your forgiveness, and with it forgetfulness of aught that could serve to lower me in your esteem.
Violet was greatly excited by the contents of this letter, and burst into a flood of tears the moment she had perused it.
She understood just how matters stood.
She comprehended how Wallace had grown to love her, even as she had, though at the time unconsciously, learned to love him while she was an invalid in his home; how, with his proud, manly sense of honor, he had determined never to reveal his secret, from a fear that he would be regarded as a fortune-hunter, and that her aristocratic relatives would scorn an alliance with him on account of his poverty.
But Violet felt that he was her peer, if not her superior, in every respect save that of wealth; that a grand future lay before him—grand because he would climb to the top-most round in the ladder of his profession, if energy, perseverance, and unswerving rectitude could attain it.
He might be poor in purse now, but what of that? Money was of little value compared with a nature so rich and noble as his; and, more than that—she loved him!
"Yes, I do!" she exclaimed, as she pressed to her lips the precious letter that told of his love for her. "I am not ashamed of it either, and—I am going to tell him of it."
A crimson flush mounted to her brow as she gave expression to this resolution, and, for a moment, a sense of maidenly reserve and timidity oppressed her. The next she tossed back her pretty head with a resolute air.
"Why should I not tell him?" she said. "Why should I conceal the fact when the knowledge will make two true, loving hearts happy? I have money enough for us both, for the present, and by and by I know he will have an abundance. I suppose Belle and Wilhelm will object and scold, but I don't care; it is the right thing to do, and I am going to do it," and she proceeded to put her resolution at once into action.
She drew her writing tablet before her, and, with the tears still glittering on her lashes and a crimson flush on her cheek, she penned the following reply to her lover's letter:
"Dear Wallace:—Your letter has just come to me. I have nothing to 'forgive'—I do not wish to 'forget.' Perhaps I am guilty of what the world would call an unmaidenly act in writing thus, when your communication does not really call for a reply, but I know my happiness, and, I believe, yours also, depends upon perfect truthfulness and candor. Your unguarded words by your mother's casket told me that you love me; your letter to-day reaffirms it, and my own heart goes forth in happy response to all that you have told me.