"Will God bless Daisy, too, and bring her at last to where I shall be waiting for her?"
Then Daisy withdrew herself from him, and without another word went out from his presence and never saw him again. To Bessie, sobbing by the door, she said very little; there was a passionate embrace and a few farewell kisses and then she was gone, and twenty minutes later Bessie heard the train as it passed bearing her mother away.
THE BIRDS WHICH SANG, AND THE SHADOW WHICH FELL.
Daisy wrote to her daughter from Liverpool where they were stopping at the Adelphi, and where Lord Hardy had joined them en route for America and the far West.
"He is not at all the Ted he used to be," Daisy wrote, "and it really seems as if he blames me because he has lost so much at Monte Carlo. In fact, he says if I had not smuggled him in, he should probably never have played there at all. I think I shall know it when I take another young Irishman in hand. By the way, he brought me news of the death of Sir Henry Trevellian, of Trevellian Castle, in the north of England He was thrown from his horse and killed instantly Jack Trevellian was with him, and, it is said, was nearly heart-broken, though by this accident he has become Sir Jack, and is master of a fine old place and a tolerably fair fortune. He will be much sought after now, but if ever he comes in your way again, and you play your cards well you may be my Lady Trevellian. How does that sound to you?"
"Sir Jack Trevellian," Bessie repeated to herself, while there swept over her a great pity for the poor young man, smitten down so suddenly, while for Jack she was glad, knowing how well he would fill the place and how worthy he was of it.
Of herself, as Lady Bessie Trevellian she never thought, though there came to her a strong presentiment that she should see Jack again ere long—that he would come to tell her of his new honor, and would he just as kind and friendly and familiar as he was that day in the park when she first saw him more than two years ago.
Three days later and there came another short letter from her mother, written on shipboard and sent off at Queenstown. The sea had been very rough and the Brownes and Lord Hardy were sick in their state-rooms, as were many of the passengers, but Daisy had never felt better in her life and was enjoying herself immensely. She should cable as soon as she reached New York, and she bade Bessie keep up good courage, and sent her love and a kiss to Archie, who, if Bessie thought best, might now be told where she had gone.
Archie was sleeping very quietly when Bessie went into his room, taking her mother's letter with her. But there was a white pinched look upon his face which she had never seen there before, and it seemed to her that his breath was growing shorter and more labored, as she watched him with a beating heart until she could no longer endure the fear which had seized upon her, and stooping down, she called aloud:
Her voice awoke him, and lifting his eyes to her face, he smiled upon her the old, loving smile she knew so well and which reassured her a little.
"You have slept very sweetly, and you are better," she said to him, and he replied:
"No, Bessie, not better. I shall never be any better in this world. There is a weakness all over me this morning, and I cannot lift my hand to touch you—see?" and he tried to raise the thin, wasted hand lying so helplessly upon the counterpane.
Taking it in her own, Bessie felt that it was cold as ice, but she rubbed it gently, and said:
"It is only numb, I shall soon make it warm again."
"No, Bessie; never any more warmth for me. I know it now; the end is very near, and the birds are singing everywhere, just as they sang in the summer mornings years ago, when I was a boy. I used to lie on the grass under the yews, and listen to them, and think they were singing of my future, which I meant should be so bright. Oh, Bessie, everything has been so different; everything has changed but you and the birds, singing now to me of another future which will be bright and fair. What season is it, Bessie? My mind wanders a little. Is it summer again in the dear old rose-scented-garden?"
"Yes, father; summer everywhere," Bessie answered him with a choking sob, and he continued:
"I am glad. I would rather die in the summer time just as father and mother did. Bury me by them, Bessie; with no expense, and when Daisy dies lay her by me, too, in the grass where the birds are singing. She ought to be here now—to-day; send for her, Bessie; send at once, if a telegram can reach her."
Bessie must tell him now, and kissing his pale forehead, she said:
"A telegram cannot reach her, father, for she is on the sea, going to America."
"Gone to America! When she knew how sick I was. Oh, Daisy, Daisy, I would not have served you so," the sick man cried, with a bitter cry, which rang in Bessie's ears many a day, but did not reach the heartless woman at that very moment coquetting with the doctor of the ship, and tapping his arm playfully with her fan as she told him she had lost her appetite for everything but champagne, and asked what he would advise her to take.
"She was invited to go by some friends, who bear all the expense. She has long wished to see America, and it was such a good opportunity that she took it. She will not be gone long; only through the summer," Bessie said, trying to find excuse for her mother, but Archie shook his head, and replied:
"I shall not be here when she comes back; shall not be here to-morrow; and, oh, my child, what will you do? You cannot live here alone, and my annuity dies with me. Bessie, oh, Bessie, you will not pursue your mother's course?"
"Never! so help me Heaven!" Bessie answered, as she fell on her knees beside him, and bowed her face in her hands.
Surely in this extremity she might tell him of her engagement to Neil, and after a moment she said:
"Father, don't let a thought of my future trouble you. That is provided for. I am to be Neil's wife. We settled that last Christmas, but he did not wish me to tell you till something definite was arranged. He meant you to live with us. We were not to be separated; he is very kind," she added, earnestly, as she felt her father's surprise and possible disapprobation in his silence.
"And you love him? You believe he will make you happy?" Archie said, at last, and Bessie replied:
"I love him; and I believe he will make me as happy as I can be with you gone. Oh, father, you don't like Neil! You never did."
There was reproach in Bessie's voice, as she said this, and the sick man answered her:
"There are many noble traits in Neil's character, but he is a McPherson, with all their foolish pride of birth, and blood, and ancestors. As if paupers like us have any right to such nonsense! Were I to live my life again, I would turn a hand-organ in the street to earn my bread if there were no other way. Yes, Neil is very nice and good, but not the husband I would have chosen for you. I liked the others better, Mr. Trevellian, and the American—what is his name?"
"Jerrold, Grey Jerrold," Bessie replied, and after a moment her father continued:
"Where is Neil? His place is here with you, if he is to be your husband. Send for him at once; there is no time to lose. You must not be alone, and the hours are very few, and the birds are singing so loud; send for Neil at once."
Bessie did not know where Neil was now, as the last time she heard from him he was in Paris, with his mother and Blanche; but she would take the chance that he was at home, and a telegram that her father was dying and he must come immediately was soon speeding along the wires to Trevellian House, in London.
Slowly the hours of that glorious summer day went by, and Archie's pulse grew fainter and his voice weaker, while the real birds without in the yews, and in the hedge-rows, and the imaginary birds within, sang louder and clearer, and the dying man listened to them with a rapt look in his white face, and a light in his eyes which told of peace and a perfectly painless death.
At last the day was ended, and the shades of night crept in and around the old gray house, while a darker shadow than any which night ever brings was in the sick-room where Archie lay, half unconscious, and talking, now of Daisy, now of Bessie, and now of Neil and asking if he had come. He had not nor any answer to the telegram, and Bessie's heart was very heavy and sad with a sense of desertion and terrible loneliness. How could she bear to be alone with her dead father, and only Anthony and Dorothy to counsel her? What should she do, and where was Neil, that he made no response to tell her he was coming? She did not consider that, even had he received the telegram, he could not reach Stoneleigh that night.
She did not realize anything except the dread and pain which weighed her down, as, with her father's hand in hers, she sat waiting for the end, while the old servants stole in and out noiselessly.
Suddenly, as she waited thus, she caught the sound of a footstep without, a quick footstep which seemed familiar to her, and with a cry of "Neil!" on her lips, she arose swiftly, and hastened to the outer door just as the tall form of a young man stood before the threshold.
Bessie's eyes were full of tears, and the lamp on the bracket rather blinded than helped her, and so she could not see the stranger distinctly; but it was Neil, of course—come in response to her summons; and with a great glad cry she sprang toward the young man, and clinging convulsively to him, sobbed out:
"Oh, Neil, Neil! I am so glad you have come, for father is dying, and I am all alone. It is so dreadful, and what shall I do? Oh, oh, it isn't Neil!" and she gave a little scream of terror and surprise, as, looking up, she met Grey Jerrold's face bending over her instead of Neil's.
Grey had been to Carnarvon on the old business, and, moved by a desire to see Bessie's blue eyes again, had come to the "George Hotel" to pass the night, intending to call at Stoneleigh in the morning. But hearing of Mr. McPherson's illness, he had decided to step over that night and inquire for him, and thus it was that he found himself in a very novel position, with Bessie sobbing in his arms, which had involuntarily opened to receive her when she made the rush toward him.
"No, it is not Neil," he said, trying to detain her as she drew herself from him. "It is Grey; but perhaps I can help you. I heard at the 'George' of your father's illness, and came at once. Is he so very bad?" And, leading her to a sofa and sitting down beside her, he continued: "Tell me all your trouble, please, and what I can do for you."
Grey's voice was very low and soft, and had in it all the tenderness and gentleness of a sympathizing woman, and it touched Bessie as Neil's words of love could not have touched her had he been there beside her. Bursting into a fresh fit of sobbing, she told Grey of her father's serious illness, and her loneliness and desolation, and how glad she was he had come.
"I telegraphed to Neil," she said, "and thought you were he, though it is not time for him to be here, even if he received the telegram. Perhaps he is not in London: do you know?"
Grey did not know, as he had not heard from Neil in some time; but he comforted Bessie as well as he could, and said he hoped her father might yet recover.
"No, he cannot," Bessie replied. "He will soon be dead, and I shall be alone, all alone; for mother has gone to America with a Mrs. Rossiter-Browne, who lives in or near Allington? You know her, I believe," and Bessie looked up in time to see the look of surprise and the half-amused smile which flitted over Grey's face as he replied:
"Mrs. Rossiter-Browne? Oh, yes, I know her. I have always known her. She is a good, kind-hearted woman, and your mother is safe with her."
Bessie felt intuitively that Grey was keeping something back, which he might have told her, but she respected him far more for speaking kindly of Mrs. Rossiter-Browne than she would have done, if he had said, as he might have done: "Oh, Yes, I know Mrs. Rossiter-Browne. She was for years my Aunt Lucy's hired girl, Angeline Peters, who married Isaac Brown, the hired man, and became plain Mrs. Ike Brown, until some lucky speculation turned the tide and gave them immense wealth, when she blossomed out into a fine lady, and, dropping the Ike, adopted her husband's middle name, Rossiter, with a hyphen to heighten the effect, and so became Mrs. Rossiter-Browne."
All this Bessie learned afterward, but now she was too full of grief to care what Mrs. Rossiter-Browne had been, or what she was. All her thoughts were with her father, whose weak voice was soon heard calling to her:
"Bessie, are you here?"
"Yes, father," she said, going quickly into the sick-room, followed by Grey, who saw in Archie's face the look which comes once, and but once, to all, and knew that his life was numbered by hours, if not, indeed, by minutes.
"Bessie," the sick man said, as she bent over him "has he come? I heard some one speaking to you."
"Neil has not come; it is not time. It is Mr. Jerrold who is here. He was with us last Christmas, you remember."
"Yes," Mr. McPherson replied, "the American; I remember. I liked him very much. I wish it were he rather than Neil."
Grey looked curiously at Bessie, who knew what her father meant and that his mind was wandering. After a few moments, during which Archie appeared to be sleeping, he started suddenly and seemed to listen intently. Then he said:
"The birds have stopped singing, but I hear other music; the songs of the redeemed, and my mother is there by the gate waiting for me, just as I shall wait one day for you, my child. Give me your hand, Bessie, I want to feel that you are with me to the last."
She put her hand in his, and Grey noticed with a pang how small and thin it was and brown, too, with toil. Some such thought must have been in Archie's mind, for, pressing the fingers to his lips, he continued:
"Poor little tired hands, which have done so much for me. May they have rest by and by. Oh, Bessie, darling, God bless you, the dearest, sweetest daughter a man ever had. Be kind to her, young man. I leave her in your charge; there is no one else to care for her. Good-by; God bless you both."
He did not speak after that, though he lingered for some hours, his breath growing fainter, and fainter until, just as the summer morning was stealing into the room, old Anthony, who, with his wife, had been watching by him, said, in a whisper:
"God help us; the master is dead!"
Bessie uttered no sound, but over her face there crept such a pallor and look of woe that Grey involuntarily passed his arm around her and said:
"Let me take you into the air."
She did not resist him, but suffered him to lead her into the garden, which was sweet with the perfume of roses and cool with the fresh morning dew, and where the birds were singing in the old yew trees as blithely and merrily as if no young heart were breaking in their midst. In a large rustic-chair, where Archie had often sat, Grey made Bessie sit down, and when he saw her shiver as if with cold, he left her a moment while he went to the house for a shawl and a glass of wine, and some eau-de-cologne, which he brought to her himself. Wrapping the shawl around her as deftly as a woman could have done, he made her taste the wine, and dipping her handkerchief in the cologne bathed her forehead with it and pushed back a few locks of her wavy hair, which had fallen over her face. And all the time he did not speak until Bessie said to him:
"Thank you, Mr. Jerrold. You are so kind. I am glad you are here. What should I do without you, and what shall I do anyway? What must I do?"
"Leave it all to me," he answered her. "Don't give the matter a thought, but try and rest; and when you feel that you can, I will take you back to the house."
"No, no," she said quickly. "Let me stay here in the sunshine with the birds who used to sing to him. It seems as if he were here with me."
So he brought her a pillow for her head, and a hassock for her feet, and wrapped her shawl more closely around her, and made her taste the wine again. Then he went back to the house and consulted Anthony and Dorothy with regard to what was to be done. The funeral was fixed for the fourth day, and Grey telegraphed to London, with instructions, that if the family were not in town the message should be forwarded to them immediately. Then he cabled to Daisy, ship Celtic, New York, and lest by any chance she should miss the news at the wharf he asked that a dispatch be sent to her at Allington, Mass., care of Mrs. Rossiter-Browne, who, he knew, would in all probability go at once to her country home.
"Mrs. McPherson can return or remain where she is. I have done my duty to her," he thought, as he busied himself with the many details it was necessary to see to. "If Neil were only here," was his constant thought, as the day wore on, and he found himself in the rather awkward position of master of ceremonies in a strange house, deferred to and advised with not only by Anthony and Dorothy, but by all the people who came to assist.
But Neil did not come, and the night came and went, and it was morning again, and Bessie, who had passed the most of the preceding day in the garden, and had only returned to the house late in the afternoon, seemed a little brighter and fresher, with a look of expectancy in her face whenever a train dashed by. She was watching for Neil, and when at about four o'clock a carriage came through the park gates, she rose and went swiftly to the door, meeting not Neil, but Jack Trevellian, whose face and manner told plainly how great was his sympathy with the desolate young girl. He was in London, he said, and chanced to be calling at the Trevellian house where he learned that all the family, Neil included, were at Vichy, where Lady Jane had gone for the waters and bathing. Just as he was leaving, Grey's telegram was received, and the housekeeper, Mrs. Jervis, told him that another telegram had come two days before for Mr. Neil, from Stoneleigh.
"I did not open it," she said, "as did not suppose it of any consequence. He often has despatches, and as I expect him home within a week or ten days I put it on the table in the hall. You will find it there," she continued, as she saw Jack unceremoniously tear open the envelope just received, and heard his cry of surprise.
Then, quick as thought, he read the first telegram from Bessie, telling of her father's illness and asking Neil to come at once.
"Poor little Bessie, alone with her dead father," he said, and his heart throbbed with a great pity for the girl who, he supposed, was alone, for Grey had not signed his own but Bessie's name to the message he had sent.
In an instant Jack's resolution was taken, and he acted upon it at once. The telegram was forwarded to Vichy, together with the fact that he was going immediately to Stoneleigh, where he would await any orders they chose to send. Then he took the first train for Wales, and reached Bangor about three o'clock the next day. All this he explained after expressing his surprise at finding Grey there, and saying to him, good-humoredly:
"You always manage to get ahead of me. If I ever get to heaven I do believe I shall find you there before me."
"I hope so," Grey answered, laughingly, and then added: "We ought to have heard from Vichy before this time, if they received your message yesterday."
"That's so," Jack replied, adding after a moment: "It may be waiting for me at the 'George.' They would naturally direct it there."
And on sending to inquire if there was anything for him at the hotel, there was brought to him an envelope directed to "Sir Jack Trevellian," received that morning, the bar-maid said. Breaking the seal, Jack read aloud:
"VICHY, July ——, 18—.
"To Sir Jack Trevellian, George Hotel, Bangor, Wales:
"It is impossible for me to come. Will write Bessie soon. Please see that everything is done decently, and send bill to me.
Nothing could have been colder or more matter of fact, and Bessie's cheeks were scarlet as she listened, while Grey involuntarily gave a low whistle, and turning on his heel, walked away, and Jack tore the paper in shreds, which he threw into the empty grate. Then he looked at Bessie, whose face was now very white and quivering with pain and disappointment. Jack's first impulse was to denounce Mr. McPherson for his selfishness and neglect, but his kinder nature prevailed, and he said, apologetically:
"It is a long way from Vichy here, and the weather is very hot. But never mind. Grey and I will do all we can, and both Mr. McPherson and Lady Jane will surely come to you later."
"It is not that. I don't know what it is, only it is dreadful to be without one of your own kindred at such a time as this. Surely Neil might come or write," Bessie said, with such pathos in her voice that Jack looked sharply at her, thinking to himself:
"Is it possible she cares for him more than as a cousin? Doesn't she know Neil is the last one to inconvenience himself, if he can help it? Funerals are not to his taste."
But he did not give expression to his thoughts; he said, instead:
"Perhaps Neil is not there. I hardly think he is, as he does not like Vichy. You will hear from him soon no doubt. I am sorry for your sake that none of your relatives are here. But don't distress yourself. Grey and I will do everything."
"I know you will," she said; "but, Mr. Trevellian," and she laid her hand upon his arm, "you will not send that bill to Neil's father? I have over forty pounds. I can pay it myself. You will not send it?"
"Never!" Jack answered, emphatically, and then he went out to consult with Grey, who was sitting in the porch staring hard at an iron post which Jack began to kick vigorously, as he said: "Well, Jerrold, we are in for it, you and I; and we will see it through in shape. The old curmudgeon! He might come as well as not if he chose. There is plenty of time to get here, and he knows her mother is gone, for I added that to the dispatch I sent, so as to insure his coming. And where is Neil, the milksop? He, at least, might come. I have no patience with the whole tribe. But we will do what we can for the poor little forsaken girl."
"Yes," Grey answered him. "We will do what we can."
WHAT GREY AND JACK DID.
They did everything that it was possible for two men to do under the circumstances. They filled the old house with flowers, until it seemed like one great garden of bloom, and the coffin they ordered would hardly have shamed a duke, while the undertaker had orders to send Bessie only a very small part of the real cost of the funeral. The rest they were to pay between them, though Jack at first insisted upon paying the whole. But in this Grey overruled him, and they agreed to share the expense equally. Nothing could be kinder or more deferential than their demeanor toward Bessie, who, wholly overcome with grief and fatigue, lay perfectly quiet in her room, and let them do what they liked, she was so weary and worn, and it was so good to be cared for; but on the day of the funeral she roused herself, and insisted upon going to the grave and seeing her father buried; so, with Grey and Jack on either side she walked through the yew-shaded garden to the small inclosure which was the family burying-place, and was so full of the McPhersons that after Archie's grave, there was only room for one more between him and the wall, and both Grey and Jack noticed this as they stood there and wondered if it would be Bessie or Daisy who some day would be brought there and laid in her last bed.
"Not Bessie," Grey thought, and there arose before him a beautiful spot far over the sea, where the headstones gleamed white in the sunlight, and the grass was like velvet to the touch, and flowers were blooming in gay parterres and the birds were singing all day long over Mount Auburn's dead.
And "not Bessie," Jack thought, as he, too, remembered a quiet spot away to the north of England, where the tall monuments bore the name of Trevellian, and where his race were buried.
The services over at the grave, they went back to the house, and in the evening Grey said good-by, for on the morrow he was due at Liverpool to meet his Aunt Lucy, who was coming abroad to spend a year with him in travel.
"I shall see you again before I go to America, and it possible will bring my Aunt Lucy with me," he said to her, when at parting he stood a few moments with her small, thin hand in his, while he spoke a few words to her of Him who can heal all pain and cure the sorest heart sorrow, because he has felt it all.
Grey's piety, which was genuine, did not so often manifest itself in words as in deeds, but he felt constrained to speak to Bessie, whose tears fell like rain as she listened to him, and who felt when he was gone a greater sense of loneliness than before, even though Jack was left to her; Jack, who tried so hard to soothe her, and who was tender and thoughtful as a brother, and gave no sign to her of the volcano raging within when he thought of the Hon. John and Neil, neither of whom sent a word to the stricken girl waiting so anxiously for news from them. But he wrote to them both. To the Hon. John, he said:
"DEAR SIR:—Mr. Grey Jerrold and myself saw your nephew buried decently as you suggested, but there is no bill to send you, as Miss Bessie would not allow it. I am sorry you did not find it convenient to come to the funeral. The presence of some one of her family would have been such a comfort to Miss Bessie, who, in that respect, was quite alone, though I may say that hundreds of people attended the funeral, and had the deceased been the eldest son of an earl, instead of your nephew, more respect could not have been paid him. I must leave here to-morrow for Trevellian Castle, and then Miss Bessie will be quite alone, but I dare say you and Lady Jane will soon arrive to take charge of her.
"That will settle him," Jack thought, and taking a fresh sheet, he commenced a letter to Neil, which ran as follows:
"STONELEIGH, July ——.
"OLD BOY; Where in the name of wonder are you, that you neither come, nor write, nor answer telegrams, nor pay any more attention to your Cousin Bessie than if she were not your cousin, and you had never been pretty far gone in regard to her and afraid a chap like me would look at her! Don't you know her mother is on the sea, going to America, sick as a horse, I hope, as she ought to be, and that her father is dead and buried, and not a soul of her kin here to comfort her? But she was not deserted, I assure you, and I call it a dispensation of Providence which sent Grey Jerrold here the night before Mr. McPherson died, and a second dispensation which sent me here the day after. I never pitied anybody in my life as I did the little, tired out, girl, who stood between Jerrold and myself at the grave. And now, the day after the funeral, she is white as a piece of paper and seems as limp and exhausted, as if all the muscle were gone from her. Poor little Bessie! Foolish Bessie, too, to make the moan she does for some of her relatives to be here—for you, old chap, for I heard her say, 'Oh, if Neil were here.' By Jove! if I'd had you by the nape of the neck, I'd have shaken you into shoestrings, for I know well what you are at—saying soft speeches to Blanche as if that were not settled long ago. But no matter, Bessie will not need attention from her relatives much longer if I can have my way. I do not mind telling you that I intend to make her Lady Trevellian, if she will be that. But meantime your mother ought to take her in charge and not leave her here alone. The thing is impossible, and I have no idea that butterfly of a Daisy will come back at once. I shall not ask Bessie now to be my wife, but in a week or two, I shall do so, and will then report success. I think Jerrold is hard hit, too; but I mean to get the start of him. I need not tell you that, notwithstanding I am so disgusted with you, I shall be glad to see you at Trevellian Castle whenever you choose to come. I cannot get accustomed to my change of fortune, and I am so sorry poor Hal is dead.
"Yours truly, JACK."
The next day Jack left Stoneleigh, as it was necessary for him to be at the castle, he said, alluding for the first time to his new home.
"Yes," Bessie replied, looking up at him with the first smile he had seen upon her face since her father died, "you are Sir Jack now. I had scarcely thought of it before, or remembered to give you your title."
"Don't remember it now," he said, with a look of deep pain in his eyes and a tremor in his voice, "Believe me, I'd give worlds to bring poor Hal back to life again, and you do not know what anguish I endured during the few moments I held him in my arms and knew that he was dying. Just an instant before and he had bandied some light jest with me, and I had thought how handsome he was with that bright, winning smile, which death froze so soon upon his lips. It was awful, and the castle seems to be so gloomy without him."
"Is that young girl there still?" Bessie asked, and he replied:
"Yes, Flossie Meredith, the sweetest, prettiest little wild Irish girl you ever saw; but she cannot stay, you know."
"Why not?" Bessie asked, and he replied.
"Mrs. Grundy will not let her live there alone with me. Hal was her cousin, but I am no kin to her, and so she must go back to Ireland, which she hates, unless—Bessie," he cried, impulsively, then checked himself as he saw the startled look in her eyes, and added, quite calmly: "You and Flossie would be the best of friends, and would suit each other exactly. You are so quiet, she so wild and frolicsome. Let me bring her to see you this summer."
"I am sure I should be so glad if you would," Bessie said, and then Jack went away, promising to write her from London, whither he was first going.
And in a few days his letter came, saying he had learned that Neil had gone to Moscow with a party, and so his silence and absence were explained.
"I wrote him a savage letter," he said, "and shall have to apologize for it when I see him, I dare say you will hear from him ere long. Remember, I am coming again to Stoneleigh very soon.
"Always your friend,
Bessie's heart beat rapidly as she read this letter, and comprehended its meaning; but she was true to Neil and waited patiently for the letter she knew was sure to come as soon as he heard of her trouble.
Two weeks went by, and then one lovely July day Jack came again, and sitting with her on the bench in the garden where her father once sat and made love to Daisy, he told her first of his home with its wide-spreading pastures, its lovely views, its terraces and banks of flowers, and of Irish Flossie, who cried so hard because she must give up this home and go back to her old house by the wild Irish sea, with only a cross grandmother for company.
"And so, Bessie," he said, "I have come to ask you to be my wife, and make both Flossie and myself the happiest people in England. It is too soon after your father's death to speak of love and marriage, perhaps; but under the circumstances I trust you will forgive me, and believe it is no hasty step with me. I think I have loved you since the day I first saw you in the park and looked into your bright face, the fairest and truest I ever saw. Flossie is beautiful and sweet and good, and makes one think of a playful kitten, which you wish to capture and caress awhile and then release before you get a spit and scratch; but you, Bessie, are my ideal of a woman, and I could make you so happy. Think what it would be to have no care or thought for the morrow, to do nothing but rest, and you need it so much. You are so tired and worn, and up there among the hills you would grow strong, and I would surround you with every comfort and make you a very queen. Will you come, Bessie? Will you be my wife? and when I ask you to share my home I do not mean to exclude your mother. She shall be welcome there for your sake, and we will try to make her so happy that she will stay with us, or live here if she chooses, and give up her wandering life. Dear Bessie, answer me. Can you not like me a little?"
As he talked Bessie had covered her face with her hands, and he could see the great tears dropping through her fingers.
"Don't cry, darling," he said, winding his arm around her and trying to draw her to him. "Don't cry, but answer me; don't you like me a little?"
"Yes, a great deal, but not that way. I think you one of the noblest, best of men, and always have thought so since I first knew you, and you were so kind to father and me; but I cannot be your wife."
"Oh, Bessie, don't say that," Jack cried, with such bitter pain in his voice that Bessie looked quickly up at him, and asked wonderingly:
"Do you then care so much for me?"
"Care for you!" he exclaimed. "Never man cared for or loved another better than I love and care for you I have staked my all upon you. I cannot give you up. Trevellian Castle will have no charm for me if you are not its mistress. I want you there; we need you there, Flossie and I. Ah! I had forgotten this," and taking a letter from his pocket he handed it to Bessie, saying: "It is from Flossie. She knew of my errand here and wished to send a message. I do not know what she has written, but read it, please. She may be more successful than I have been."
Opening the letter, which was written in a bold, dashing, schoolgirl hand, Bessie read as follows:
"Trevellian Castle, July ——.
"DEAR DARLING BESSIE:—I must call you that, though I have never seen you, but I have heard so much of you from Sir Jack that I feel as if I knew you, and very soon I hope to see you face to face, for you are coming here as Lady Jack, and so save me from that horrid, pokey place on the Irish coast, where I never can be happy, never. I do so want to stay at the castle, but Madam Propriety says it would not be proper. I hate proper things, don't you? and I do love the castle! Such a grand old place, with lovely views from every window. Acres of green sward, smooth as satin, with shade trees here and there, and banks, and borders, and beds of flowers, and from the room I have selected as your sitting-room you can see a broad, grassy avenue nearly a mile long, with the branches of the trees which skirt it meeting overhead. Every day I gallop down that avenue, which they call by my name, on Midnight, my black horse, and I always clear the gate at a bound. I like such things, and there is not a fence or a ditch in the neighborhood which I cannot take. Hoidenish, do you call me? Well, perhaps I am, but I am a pretty nice girl, too, and I love you and want you to come here at once and be happy. Sir Jack has told me how different your life has been from mine, and how tired and worn you are; but here you shall never know weariness again. Your life shall be one long rest, in the loveliest place you ever saw, and we will all care for you so tenderly, and bring the roses back to the dear face Sir Jack says is now so pale. I am seventeen, and not a mere child, though I am not much larger than your thumb, and I can be your companion and friend, if you will only come. You must love Sir Jack. You cannot help loving him when you know how good he is! Why, if I tried real hard I could love him myself! But he looks upon me as a child, though he does not play with and tease me as Cousin Harry did. Poor Hal! There is such a pain in my heart when I think of him so strong and full of fun in the morning, and then dead before noon. Oh, Hal. Hal! My tears are falling fast for him, and I am so lonely without him. Come to me, Bessie, and you shall never have a more devoted friend than little
There were tears in Bessie's eyes when she finished this letter, which told her something of the warm, loving nature of the impulsive Irish Flossie, whom she knew she could love so much, while the perfect rest promised her at Trevellian Castle looked so very pleasant to her and she was so tired, oh, so tired in mind and body, that it seemed to her she could gladly lie down in some quiet spot and die, if only thus she could rest. And Jack had offered her rest and happiness and luxury with him, but she must not take it, must not consider it for a moment. She was promised to Neil. She would be true to Neil, even though he neither wrote nor came. She had loved him always, and tired as she was, she was ready to take up life's work again and battle and toil for him, if need be. And when Jack said to her, "You will be my wife, Bessie?" she answered him, sadly, "No, I cannot. I might learn to love you in time, if I could forget the past—forget that I love another, am promised to another."
"Love another! Promised to another! Not Grey Jerrold?" Jack exclaimed, and Bessie answered him:
"No, not Mr. Jerrold. He never thought of me that way. It surely cannot be wrong to tell you now, though I am pledged to secrecy for awhile. I told father just before he died, I am plighted to my Cousin Neil, and we are only waiting for him to find something to do, or his mother to be reconciled to me, to be married."
"Plighted to Neil! To Neil McPherson! You!" Jack exclaimed, and for a moment his cheek grew pale and then flushed with resentment, as he thought of this fair young girl being thus sacrificed to one who, he knew, was not worthy of her.
Jack was fond of Neil in a certain way, but he knew him thoroughly and knew that supreme selfishness was his ruling principle, and that Bessie's life with him would be quite as hard as it had been with her father; besides this, he could not reconcile this engagement with the fact that he knew Neil to be very attentive to Blanche Trevellian, to whom current rumor said he was certainly engaged. Hence, his astonishment, which Bessie was quick to detect, for she answered him a little proudly:
"Yes, I! Do you think it so very strange that Neil should have chosen me?"
"No, Bessie," he replied; "but strange that you should have chosen him. I cannot help it, Bessie, and I do not mean to be disloyal to Neil, when I say that he will not make you happy, and further, that you will never marry him. I am sure of it, and knowing that he only stands in my way, I can still hope for the future, and when you are free, remember I shall come again. Good-by, Bessie, and forgive me if I have wounded you. In my bitter disappointment I spoke out what I thought. I must go now, and with a heavy heart, Flossie will be so disappointed, too."
He had risen as he spoke, and offered her his hand, which she took, and lifting her eyes full of tears to his face, she said:
"I have faith in Neil; if I had not, I believe I should die. He cannot help his mother's pride and opposition to our marriage. He is true to me through all, and he will come to me as soon as he knows of my trouble, I am sorry for you, Mr. Trevellian, if you really care for me, but you will get over that feeling and be again my friend. I do not wish to lose you, I have so few friends, oh, so few. I am sorry too, for Flossie, and interested in her. Mr. Trevellian, why don't you marry Flossie yourself and so keep her at the castle?"
"I marry Flossie! That child!" Jack exclaimed, staring blankly at Bessie, who smiled faintly and said:
"She is seventeen; I am eighteen, and yet you sought me!"
"Yes, I know," Jack rejoined, "but there is a vast difference between you and Flossie; she is so small and she seems so young. I did not suppose she was seventeen. I have always looked upon her as a mere child to pet and not as a woman to marry."
"Then look upon her in that light now," Bessie said, but Jack only shook his head as he replied:
"I have loved you, Bessie. I shall never love another. Farewell, and God bless you."
Stooping over her, he kissed her forehead, and then walked rapidly away with her question occasionally ringing in his ears and stirring new and strange thoughts in his heart where the pain was still so heavy.
"Why don't you marry Flossie?"
WHAT THE McPHERSONS DID.
They did just as little as they could, at least that portion of the family which was at Vichy when the news of Archie's death was received there. This portion comprised the Hon. John and Lady Jane, for Neil had already started for Moscow with Blanche and a few other young people.
"How very inconvenient that he should die just now when we are so far from Wales. It is quite impossible for you to undertake the long journey in this hot weather; and what good could you do if you were there? You could not pretend to be sorry, and we are not able to do much for the girl; Neil's trip will take all our spare cash," Lady Jane said, as she read the telegram received from Jack, and that decided her better-half at once.
If Lady Jane said he could not go, he could not, but something of his better nature prompted him to say that he would pay the funeral expenses. This, however, he kept from his wife, who, dismissing Stoneleigh from her mind, resumed her daily routine of duties—baths at seven, music in the park at eight, breakfast at ten, gossip till one, sleeping till three, driving at four, dressing for dinner, dining at six, and going to the casino in the evening. This was her life, while the Hon. John bathed, and smoked, and read the newspapers, and called it all a confounded bore, and wished himself at home, and thought not unfrequently of Stoneleigh and what was to become of Bessie.
Meantime Neil was enjoying himself immensely. His mother had given him plenty of money, and his companions and surroundings were most agreeable to him. And still, he never for a moment swerved in his heart from Bessie; that is, he never harbored the thought that she would not one day be his wife, and he still hugged the delusion that he preferred poverty with her to riches with any other woman in all the world. But until the time arrived when he must take her and poverty, he surely might enjoy himself, and he was doing so to the best of his ability when Jack's letter came, informing him of Archie's death and of his intention to make Bessie his wife if she would have him.
Then Neil roused himself, and, telling his party what had happened, said he must start for Stoneleigh at once. Mr. McPherson was dead, and his Cousin Bessie was alone, and it was his duty to go to her; and in spite of Blanche's entreaties and his friends' protestations against it, he started immediately, and, travelling day and night, reached Stoneleigh on the afternoon of the day of Jack's departure.
With a cry of glad surprise, Bessie threw herself into his arms, and wept as she had not done since her father died.
"Oh, Neil," she sobbed, "I am so glad, I have wanted you so much, and been so wretched because you neither wrote nor came."
"But I did write you, darling, before I left Vichy, and the letter must have gone astray," he said, "and then the moment I got Jack's letter I started and came to you. Don't cry, Bessie; it hurts me to see you feel so badly. Try and be quiet, and tell me all about it, and what Grey Jerrold and Jack did and said. They were both here, I understand, and both in love with you."
Neil spoke a little sharply now, and Bessie looked inquiringly at him, as, drawing her to a seat, he sat down beside her, and with his arm around her and her head upon his breast he went on:
"Jack wrote me all about it—that he believed Grey pretty far gone, but that he should get the start and ask you to be Lady Trevellian, and I believe he will do it, too; and if he does I hope you will put him down effectually, but don't for Heaven's sake, tell him of our engagement. That must be our secret awhile longer. I cannot meet mother's disapproval just yet. Do you believe, that horrid old aunt in America wrote asking me to come out there and oversee the hands in a cotton mill. Niggers, I dare say, as I believe they are mostly that in Massachusetts, are they not?"
Bessie did not reply to this, but said to him, quietly:
"Mr. Trevellian asked me to be his wife—here—this morning, and I told him no, and that I was plighted to you."
"Oh, Bessie, how could you have been so indiscreet. Now the news must reach mother, and my life will be a burden to me," Neil exclaimed, with so much severity in his tone that Bessie shrank a little from him as she replied:
"I had to tell him, Neil. There was no other way to make him believe I meant it, he was so much in earnest. He will not repeat it. He has too much honor in his nature for that. He is one of the best and noblest men I ever knew."
Bessie was very earnest in her defense of Jack, and Neil grew angry at once.
"Maybe you prefer him to me?" he said. "By Jove, I do not blame you if it is so. You'd better be Lady Trevellian, with plenty of money, than plain Mrs. Neil McPherson, not knowing where I the next meal is to come from. Say the word and I will set you free, though it breaks my heart to do it."
No wonder if Bessie felt that Neil's presence was productive of more pain than pleasure, or if for a moment she felt keenly the contrast between his manner and Jack's. But Neil's mood soon changed, and winding his arm around her, and kissing her fondly, he called himself a brute and a savage to wound her so, and talked of their future, when he could be always with her, and worked himself up to the point of proposing marriage at once—a private marriage, of course, which must be kept secret for an indefinite length of time, during which she would live at Stoneleigh, and he would visit her often. But Bessie shrank from this proposal, and when Neil asked what she was to do there alone, she answered that she could do very well until her mother came, and then they would manage together somehow on the little there was left, and if nothing better offered she could go out as governess to small children. But this plan Neil repudiated with scorn. His wife must never be a governess, never earn her own bread! The idea was preposterous; and then he talked of the bright future before them if they waited patiently, and how happy he would make her; and in the morning he left her and went back to London, and she was alone again, and looking anxiously forward to news from her mother, and the day after Neil left a letter came from Daisy with the blackest and deepest of borders, and Bessie opened it eagerly to learn where she was, and when she was coming home.
WHAT DAISY DID.
She flirted with every man on the ship who would flirt with her. Even Allen Browne was not insensible to her charms. During the last few months he had developed amazingly, and had put on all the airs of a first-class dandy. He parted his hair in the middle, carried an eye-glass and a cane, wore a long overcoat, and pants so tight that it was a matter of speculation with his friends how he ever got into them, or being in, how he ever got out! His last purchase in London had been a pair of pointed shoes, which were just coming into vogue, as was the species of the male gender called "dudes."
"A dudle I call 'em, and think 'em too shaller for, anything," was Mrs. Rossiter-Browne's comment, and she looked a little askance at her son, wondering how he would impress the Ridgevillians at home, and especially what Miss Boughton would think of him. "I wouldn't make a 'tarnel fool of myself if 'twas the fashion," she said to him when the pointed toes appeared.
But Allen had his own ideas, and, encouraged by Daisy, who, though wonderfully amused at his appearance, told him he was "tout-a-fait parisien," he followed his own inclinations, and, arrayed in all his finery, made himself the laughing-stock of the passengers. But he did not care so long as Daisy smiled upon him, and allowed him to attend her. He walked with her on deck and brought her chair for her, and her shawl, and rug, and wrapped her feet carefully, and held the umbrella over her head to screen her from the wind, and hovered over her constantly, leaving his mother to stagger, or rather crawl up the stairs as best she could, with her rug, and shawl, and waterproof, and saw her umbrella turned inside out, and carried out to sea, without offering her any assistance, even when, as she expressed it, she was "sick enough to die."
Augusta did not need his attentions, for Lord Hardy devoted himself to her, and nothing which Daisy could do availed to lure him from her side. Once when Allen said to her that "Hardy seemed pretty hard hit with Gus," her lip curled scornfully, but she dared not express her real feelings and say how little the Irish lord cared for the girl herself. She must not offend the Rossiter-Brownes, and she smiled sweetly upon her rival, and called her "Gussie dear," and flattered Mrs. Browne, and made eyes at Mr. Browne, and asked him to bet for her in the smoking-room, where he spent most of his time with a set of men who are always there, smoking, drinking, joking, and betting upon the daily speed of the ship, or any other trivial thing to pass away the time. So, while his son flirted with the fair lady on deck, Mr. Browne bet for her in the smoking-room with so good success, that when the losses and gains were footed up she found herself richer by one hundred and fifty dollars than when she left Liverpool. Mrs. Browne did not believe in betting. It was as bad as gambling, she said. And Daisy admitted it, but said, with, tears in her eyes, that it would do so much good to Bessie and her sick husband, to whom she should send every farthing as soon as she reached New York.
The voyage had been unusually long, but this was their last day out. New York was in sight, and in her most becoming attire Daisy stood upon the deck, looking eagerly at the, to her, new world, and wholly unconscious of the shock awaiting her on the shore which they were slowly nearing. At last the ship reached the dock, the plank was thrown out, and a throng of passengers crowed the gangway.
"Is Mrs. Archibald McPherson on board?" was shouted through the ship, and in a flutter of expectation Daisy went forward, announcing herself as the lady in question. "A telegram has been waiting for you more than a week," was the response, as the officer placed in her hand the yellow missive whose purport he knew.
"A message for me! Where could it have come from, I wonder," Daisy said, as, without a suspicion of the truth, she broke the seal and read:
"STONELEIGH, June ——.
"Your husband died this morning, quietly and peacefully. Bessie well, but very tired.
"Oh-h! Archie, my husband!" Daisy cried, bitterly as she sank down into a chair and covered her face with her hands, while over her for a moment there swept a great wave of regret for the man she had loved in the days when she was innocent and young, and not the hard, selfish woman of the world that she was now. "Archie is dead, dead!" she moaned, as the Rossiter-Brownes gathered around her, together with Lord Hardy, who took the telegram from her and read it aloud, while he, too, experienced a throb of pain for the man he had known so long and esteemed so highly, even while he despised him for his weakness in suffering his wife to lead the life she had.
How vividly it all came back to him—the day when he first saw Archibald McPherson, the fair English boy, for he was scarcely more than that, with his young girl-wife, so innocent and lovely then. And she was lovely still and he pitied her, for he believed her grief genuine, mingled as it must be with remorse for the past, and laying his hand on her bowed head, he said to her, kindly:
"I am very sorry for you, and if I can do anything for you, do not hesitate to command me."
Alas for poor weak human nature when perverted from its better side! The sound of Teddy's voice, so different from what it had been before during the voyage, awoke a throb in Daisy's heart, which she would not like to have confessed to those around her. She was free now, and who knew that she might not one day be mistress of that handsome place in Ireland, Lord Hardy's home, if she only played her cards well. Surely that low-born Yankee girl, Augusta Browne, could never be her rival, even if she had money. Such was the thought which flashed like lightning through Daisy's mind as she felt the touch of Lord Hardy's hand and heard his sympathetic voice.
Her first impulse, when she read the telegram, had been that she must go back to Bessie in the first ship which sailed, but now her decision was reversed. Archie was dead and buried. She could do no good to him, and she might as well stay a little while, especially as she knew Lord Hardy had accepted Mrs. Browne's invitation to spend a few days with them at the Ridge House. It would never do to abandon the field to Augusta, she reflected, but her tears flowed just as fast, and, to do her justice, there was a sense of bitter pain in her heart, as she sat with her head bowed down, while the Brownes and Lord Hardy stood around trying to comfort her. Mrs. Browne offered her sal-volatile and called her "my poor dear;" Augusta put her arms around her neck; Allen fanned her gently, and Lord Hardy asked what he could do, while Mr. Browne said it was "plaguey hard on her, but somebody must go and see to them confounded custom-house chaps, or they would have every dud out of the ten trunks, and there'd be a pretty how-d'ye-do."
Thus reminded of what had been a terror to her all the voyage, Mrs. Browne suggested that Daisy should leave the ship and sit on the wharf with "Gusty to attend to her, while she helped her husband pull through."
It was in vain that Mr. Browne protested against any help, telling his better-half to mind her business, and saying that she'd only upset everything with her fussiness and red face. But Mrs. Browne would not listen. She was not going to let him lie. She had given him numerous lectures on that point during the voyage, and had always ended them with the assertion that she wouldn't pay duty either! Just what she meant to do she did not know, but she went with her husband to the field of combat, and was soon hotly engaged with three officers, who, seeing her nervousness and hearing her excited voice, scented mischief, of course, and notwithstanding that she declared she was Mrs. Rossiter-Browne, of Ridgeville, a church member in good standing, and asked if they thought she would do a thing she believed was wrong, they answered that her idea of wrong and theirs might not agree, and they went to the bottom of her largest trunk, and found the silk dress she had bought for her friend, Mrs. Boughton, who had told her "to get one worth four dollars a yard, but not to give over two, and on no account pay duty."
"I trust to your Yankee wit to get it through," Mrs. Boughton had written, citing several instances where similar things had been done and no lies told either!
And it was this particular dress at the very bottom of her trunk for which Mrs. Browne felt the most anxiety. But the remorseless officers found it, and found a plush table-spread she had bought in Paris and a cushion to match, and, as they held them up, they facetiously asked her to what church she belonged.
She told them none of their business, and as her principles and patience were both at a low ebb by this time, and the meaning of rendering to Caesar the things which were Caesar's did not seem at all clear to her, she whispered fiercely to her husband:
"Ike, you fool, why don't you fee 'em? I can't have 'em riddlen' all them tother trunks, with my seal-skin, and Gusty's fur-lined cloak, and Allen's new overcoat, and that clock and mosaic table. Fee 'em high, too, and do it quick! there's that wretch now liftin' out a tray!"
To those who have witnessed similar scenes it is needless to say that by some magic the search was stopped, and neither Mrs. Browne's seal-skin, nor Augusta's fur-lined cloak, nor Allen's overcoat were molested, and the ten trunks were chalked and deposited in the express wagons, and the Rossiter-Brownes, with Lord Hardy and Daisy, were driven to the Windsor.
Meantime Daisy had cried a good deal, and leaned her head against Augusta and once against Lord Hardy's arm, and sobbed:
"Oh, Teddy, you knew my Archie, and know just how good and patient he was, and how lonely I shall be without him. Oh, what shall I do?"
Teddy did not suggest anything she could do, though he naturally thought she would go home at once; and Mrs. Browne thought so, too, when she had recovered from her encounter with the custom-house officers and could think of anything. But she would not be the first to suggest it outright. She merely said it was a pity that Mrs. McPherson could not see anything of America except New York, which was much like any great city.
"Yes," Daisy sobbed, "such a pity, and I had anticipated so much. Oh, Mrs. Browne, I do want to do right, and you must advise me. Now that I am here, and poor, dear Archie is dead and buried, and I can do him no good by going back at once, do you think it would look very bad and heartless in me if I stay a little while—just long enough to see your lovely country home, and rest? I am so tired!" and as Allen happened to be the nearest to her, she leaned her head against him and cried aloud.
Before Mrs. Browne could reply, Augusta asked:
"What of Bessie? Will she not be very lonely without you?"
"Nasty cat! She is as jealous as she can be, and I will stay to spite her," Daisy thought, but she said: "Oh, yes, I ought to go home to Bessie, though she would bid me stay now that I am here; she is so unselfish, and I shall never come again. Her cousin's family in London will take her directly home, so she will not be alone. Poor Bessie!"
Daisy knew that the London family would not take Bessie to their home, but it answered her purpose to say so, and seemed some excuse for her remaining, as she finally decided to do, greatly to Allen's delight and somewhat to Mrs. Browne's surprise. Yet the glamour of Daisy's beauty, and style, and position was over her still, and she was not sorry to show her off to the people in the hotel, and anticipated in no small degree what would be said by her friends at home when she showed them a live lord and an English lady like Daisy. She was going to Ridgeville in a day or two, but Daisy's mourning must first be bought, and in the excitement of shopping, and trying on dresses and bonnets, and deciding which shape was the most becoming, Daisy came near forgetting "poor, dear, dead Archie," of whom she talked so pathetically when she spoke of him at all.
"Don't, I beg of you, think that I ever for a moment forget my loss," she said to Mrs. Browne, when she had with a hand-glass studied the hang of her crape vail for at least fifteen minutes. "It hurts me to speak of him, but there is a moan in my heart for him all the time."
And Mrs. Browne believed her, and thought she was bearing it bravely, and paid all the bills, and thought her the most beautiful creature in her weeds that she had ever seen. And truly she was a lovely little widow, with just enough pallor in her face to be interesting and show that her sorrow had robbed her of some of her roses, or, as Lord Hardy suspected, that she had purposely omitted the roses, when making her toilet, for the sake of effect.
Lord Hardy knew the lady perfectly, and knew there was not a real thing about her except, indeed, her hair, which was wavy and abundant still, and of which she was very proud, often allowing it to fall on her neck, and always arranging it in the most negligent and girlish manner. Once her complexion had been her own, but the life she had led was not conducive to bloom, and much of her bright color and the pearly tint of her skin was now the work of art, so skillfully done, however, that few could detect it. Mrs. Browne did not. She never suspected anything, and took Daisy for what she seemed, and was glad Allen was so fond of her as in her society he was safe, she said, "and could not help getting kind of refined and cultivated up."
Daisy wrote to Bessie, telling her how prostrated with grief she was, and that she should have taken the first ship home if the Rossiter-Brownes had not insisted that she should stay and see a little of America.
"But it will not be for long," she wrote. "I shall soon return, and I send you thirty pounds, absolutely my own. This will last till I am with you, and then we will contrive together how to live respectably and happily."
The day after the letter was sent, the Browne party started for Ridgeville, reaching the Allington station about three in the afternoon of a lovely July day.
The news of their coming had preceded them, and the Ridge House, which was a large, imposing mansion, had for days been the scene of much bustle and excitement, for it was known that an Irish lord was to accompany the family, and an English lady, who, if not titled, was connected with some of the best families in England.
There was a great deal of talk and gossip among the neighbors, who had known the Rossiter-Brownes with out an "e" or a hyphen, when he was simply Ike and she was Angeline, Miss Lucy Grey's hired girl. But they were rich people now; they owned the finest house in Ridgeville, and every room was covered with what Mrs. Browne called a Mocha carpet, and they kept negroes instead of white servants, and the barn was full of boxes of all sizes, which had arrived, from time to time, bearing foreign marks upon them, thus impressing the lower class with a species of awe as they thought how far they had come, and how much they had probably cost.
Then, the family had traveled and consorted with nobility, and seen the Queen and the Pope, and in consequence of all this there was quite a crowd of people at the station when the New York express stopped then and deposited upon the platform twelve trunks, three hat boxes, an English terrier, a Dongola cat, with innumeral satchels and port-manteaus, and seven people—Mr. and Mrs. Rossiter-Browne, Augusta Browne, Allen Browne, Daisy McPherson, a French maid, and Lord Hardy. He, plainly dressed in a gray suit, which did not fit him at all, but with a decidedly aristocratic look upon his face as he glanced curiously at the crowd gathering around the Brownes, and greeting them with noisy demonstrations: Daisy, in deep black, with her vail thrown back from her lovely lace and a gleam of ridicule and contempt in her blue eyes as they flashed upon Lord Hardy as if for sympathy; the French maid, in white apron and cap, tired, homesick and bewildered with Mrs. Browne's repeated calls to know if she was sure she had all the bags, and shawls, and fans, and umbrellas, and the shrill voice of a little boy who shouted to her as the train moved off, "I say, hain't you left your bunnet in the cars; 'tain't on your head;" Allen, stunning in his long, light overcoat, tight pants, pointed shoes, cane, and eye-glasses, which he found very necessary as he pointed out his luggage, and in reply to the baggage-master's hearty "How are you, my boy?" drawled out, "Quite well—thanks—but awful tired, you know;" Augusta, in a Jersey jacket, with gloves buttoned to her elbows, and an immense hat, with two feathers on the back; Mr. Browne in a long ulster, and soft hat, with gloves, which his wife made him wear; and Mrs. Browne, in a Paris dress, fearfully and wonderfully made, and a poke bonnet, so long and so pokey that to see her face was like looking down a narrow lane.
No wonder the plain people of Ridgeville, to whom poke bonnets, and jersey jackets, and long gloves, and pointed toes, were then new, were startled, and a little abashed at so much foreign style, especially as it was accompanied by nobility in the person of Lord Hardy. At him the people stared curiously, deciding that he was not much to look at if he was a lord, and wondering if he was after Augusta.
"Her mother will bust, if he is. She has about as much as she can do to keep herself together now. I wonder if she has forgot that she was once a hired girl, and worked like the rest of us?" was whispered by some of the envious ones.
But this was before they had received Mrs. Browne's greeting, which was just as cordial as of old, and her voice was just as loud and hearty. She didn't mean to be stuck up because she'd been abroad; she was a democrat to her back-bone, she had frequently asserted, and she carried out her principles, and shook hands with everybody, and kissed a great many, and thanked them for coming to meet her; and then, with her husband, Augusta, and Lord Hardy, entered her handsome carriage and was driven toward home.
The French maid went in the omnibus, while Allen drove Daisy himself in the pony phaeton, not a little proud of the honor, and the attention he was attracting as he took his seat beside the beautiful woman, whose face had never looked fairer or sweeter than it did under the widow's bonnet.
"What a lovely pony! Is he gentle? and do you think I might venture to drive him?" Daisy asked, with a pretty affectation of girlishness, as they left the station; and Allen instantly put the reins in her hands, and leaning languidly back, watched her admiringly, with a strange thrill of something undefinable in his heart.
"Do we pass Miss McPherson's house?" Daisy asked and he replied:
"Yes, at a little distance; and we can go very near to it by taking the road across the common," and he indicated the direction. "That is the place, with all those cherry trees," he continued, pointing toward the unpretentious house where Miss Betsey McPherson had lived for so many years, and where she now sat upon the piazza, with Hannah Jerrold at her side.
Miss Betsey had been in Boston for two weeks, and had only returned home that morning, finding Bessie's letter of thanks, written so long ago and not forwarded to her until one of the firm in London heard of Archie's death. This letter she had read with a great feeling of pity for and yearning toward the young girl who had written it.
"I wish I had sent her more, and I will by and by," she thought, never dreaming that Archie was dead, or that his wife was so near.
She had not even heard of the arrival in New York of the Brownes, and was talking with Hannah Jerrold, who had come over to see her, when the carriage containing Mr. and Mrs. Browne, Augusta and Lord Hardy, came into view across the common.
"Why, that's the Brownes!" she exclaimed. "Are they home? and who is that tow-headed chap with them? Not Allen, surely?"
Hannah explained that the Brownes were expected that afternoon, and that an Irish lord was coming with them, and that half Ridgeville had gone to the station to meet them.
"Irish fiddlesticks! After Augusta's money, of course," Miss Betsey returned, with a snort, but whatever else she might have said was cut short by the appearance of the phaeton with Allen and Daisy in it.
"I wonder who she is. I hope she stares well. Seems to me I have seen her before," Miss Betsey said, adding, as Daisy half inclined her head, and smiled upon her, "Who can she be? Somebody they have picked up to make a splurge with. A widow, at any rate."
"Oh, yes, I remember now to have heard from the cook at Ridge House that an English lady was to accompany the family home, and—yes, her name was McPherson, too—Lady McPherson, the cook called her. This is she, no doubt."
"Lady McPherson," Miss Betsey repeated "There is no Lady McPherson except my brother's wife, Lady Jane, and she is almost as dried up and yellow by this time as I am, while this lady is young, and—good gracious! It is she! The Jezebel! Lady McPherson indeed!" and Miss Betsey sprang to her feet so energetically as to startle her visitor, who had no idea what she meant.
The face seen on the terrace at Aberystwyth years ago had come back to Miss Betsey, and she felt sure that she had just seen it again, smiling upon Allen Browne as it had then smiled upon Lord Hardy. But why in widow's weeds? Was Archie dead? she asked herself, as she resumed her seat and tried to seem natural.
Hannah saw that something ailed her; but she was too well bred to ask any questions, and soon took her leave.
Alone with her own thoughts, Miss Betsey fell to soliloquizing:
"That letter was written long ago; Archie may be dead, and this painted gambler has gulled the Brownes and come to America as their guest, with the snipper-snapper of a Hardy. I must find out if Archie is dead, and what has become of the girl."
After she had had her tea. Miss Betsey ordered her old white horse and old-fashioned buggy to be brought round, and started for a drive, taking the Ridgeville road and passing the house of the Brownes, where the family were assembled upon the wide piazza, enjoying the evening breeze. At a glance she singled out Daisy, who was reclining gracefully in an arm-chair, with a pond-lily at her throat, relieving the blackness of her dress, and Allen Browne leaning over and evidently talking to her.
As Miss McPherson drove very slowly, and looked earnestly toward the house, which was at a little distance from the road, Mrs. Browne, who was watching her, ventured down the walk, bowing half hesitatingly, for she had never been on terms of intimacy with Miss Betsey, of whom she stood a little in awe.
Reining up old Whitey, the lady stopped and waited until Mrs. Browne came to her. Then, extending her hand, she said:
"You are welcome home again. I did not know you had come until I saw your carriage go by, and the phaetons with Allen and a lady in it," and she glanced toward Daisy, who, having heard from Allen that the stiff, queer-looking woman in the buggy was her aunt, had arisen to her feet for the purpose of getting a better view of her.
"Yes," Mrs. Browne began, "we got home to-day, and a more tuckered out lot you never saw. Home is home, if it's ever so homely, I tell 'em. By the way, I'm glad you happened this way. I was goin' to send you word, I've brought home with me one of your relations, Mrs. Archibald McPherson, your nephew's wife, and I hope you'll call and see her. She is very nice, and so pretty, too. That's her in black."
"Ahem!" and Miss Betsey's thin lips were firmly compressed. "Ahem! yes—Mrs. Archibald McPherson. Why is she in black?"
Then followed the story of the telegram received on the Celtic, and the terrible shock it was to Daisy, who was for a time wholly overcome.
"Seems pretty brisk now," Miss Betsey said, glancing sharply toward the airy figure now walking up and down the piazza with Allen at its side. "Why didn't she go home at once to her daughter?"
"She did talk of it," Mrs. Browne replied, uneasily for she detected disapprobation of her guest in Miss McPherson's tone. "I think she would of went, but it seemed a pity not to see a little of America first. She will not stay long, and I hope you'll call soon. I b'lieve you have never been in my new house."
"No, I have not. Who, may I ask, is that tow-headed man, with his hair parted in the middle?"
"Oh, excuse me," and Mrs. Browne brightened at once. "That is Lord Hardy. We met him in Nice. He is going West, and we persuaded him to stop here first. He is very nice, and not at all stuck up."
"Yes, an Irishman. I've seen him before. If he is poor, my advice is, look out for Augusta, and, anyway, have a care for your boy. Good-night. It's growing late. Get up, Whitey," and with a jerk at the reins the old lady drove on, while Mrs. Browne, rather crestfallen and disappointed, went slowly back to the house, wondering why she was to have a care for her boy, her Allen, still walking up and down at Daisy's side, and talking eagerly to her.
"I suppose I am meaner than dirt, but I cannot help it, I will not notice that woman—no, not a woman, but a gambler, an adventuress, a flirt, who, if she cannot capture that Irishman, will try her luck with Allen! I hate her, but I pity the girl, and I'll send her a hundred pounds at once," Miss Betsey soliloquized, as she went home through the gathering twilight.
And before she slept she wrote to her bankers in London, bidding them forward to Bessie's address another hundred pounds, and charge it to her account.
The next morning Miss Betsey was sitting in her hop-vine-covered porch, shelling peas for her early dinner, and thinking of Archie and the painted Jezebel, as she designated Daisy, when a shadow fell upon the floor, and looking up she saw the subject of her thoughts standing before her, with her yellow hair arranged low in her neck, and a round black hat set coquettishly upon her head. Miss Betsey did not manifest the least surprise, but adjusting her spectacles from her forehead to her eyes, looked up inquiringly at her visitor, who, seating herself upon the threshold of the door, took off her hat, and in the silvery tones she could assume so well, said:
"You must excuse me, dear auntie. I could not wait for you to call, I wanted to see you so badly, and, as Allen Browne was going to the post-office, I rode down with him, I am Daisy—Archie's wife, or widow, for Archie is dead, you know."
She said this very sadly and low, and there were great tears in the blue eyes lifted timidly and appealingly to the little sharp, bead like eyes confronting her so steadily through the spectacles. How very lovely and youthful-looking she was as she sat there in the doorway, and Miss Betsey acknowledged the youth and the loveliness, but did not unbend one whit.
"Ahem!" she began, and the tone was not very reassuring "I knew you were here. Mrs. Browne told me, and I saw you there with Allen yesterday. I saw you years ago on the terrace at Aberystwyth, and remembered you well. Was Archie very sick when you left him?"
"Yes—no," Daisy said, stammeringly; "that is, he had been sick a long time, but I did not think him so bad or I should never have left him. Oh, auntie, it almost killed me when I heard he was dead, and there is a moan for him in my heart all the time."
She adopted this form of speech because it had sounded prettily to herself when she said it to Mrs. Browne, who had believed in the moan, but Miss Betsey did not.
"Ahem!" she said; "how much time have you spent with Archie the last ten years or so?"
"Not as much as I wish I had now. I was obliged to be away from him," Daisy replied, and the spinster continued:
"My health was poor, and I was so much better out of England; and so, when people invited me, I went with them—it saved expense at home, and we are so poor, oh! you cannot know how poor;" and Daisy clasped her hands together despairingly as she gazed up at the stern face above her, which did not relax in its sternness, but remained so hard and stony that Daisy burst out impetuously: "Oh, auntie, why are you so cold to me. Why do you hate me so? I have never harmed you. I want you for my friend—mine and Bessie's; and we need a friend so much in our loneliness and poverty. Bessie is the sweetest, truest girl you ever knew."
For a moment Miss Betsey's hands moved rapidly among the pea-pods; then removing her spectacles and wiping them with the corner of her apron, she began:
"I mean to treat everybody civilly in my own house, but if I say anything I must tell the naked truth. I believe Bessie is a true girl, as you say; but I have my doubts of you. I have heard much of your career; have talked with those who have seen you in that hell at Monte Carlo, bandying jests with young profligates and blear-eyed old men, more dangerous than the younger ones because better skilled in evil. I saw you myself on the terrace at Aberystwyth, flirting as no married woman should flirt with that whiffet, Lord Hardy, who, it seems, is here with you, and whom perhaps you think to capture now that you are free. But let me tell you that men seldom pick up and wear a soiled garment, particularly when they have helped to soil it. Lord Hardy will never marry you, and my advice is that you go home, as you ought to have done at once. Go back to your child and be a mother to her; but, as you hope for heaven, never try to drag her down where you are. You talk of poverty. You do not show it. Those diamonds in your ears never cost a small sum, nor that solitaire upon your finger."
"They were given to me," Daisy sobbed, as she rose to her feet and put on her hat preparatory to leaving, while Miss Betsey continued:
"Given to you! The more shame for you to take them. Better throw them away than wear them as a badge of degradation. Yes, throw them away, or send them back whence they came. Wash that paint off your face. Get rid of that made-up smirk around your mouth. Remember that you are going on toward forty."
"Oh-h!" Daisy groaned; "I am not quite thirty-six."
"Well, thirty-six, then," the spinster rejoined. "There's a wide difference between thirty-six and sixteen. You are a widow; you have a grown-up daughter. You are no longer young, though you are good enough looking, but good looks will not support you honestly. Go home and go to work, if it is only to be a bar-maid at the George Hotel; and when I see you have reformed, I do not say I will not do something for you, but just so long as you go round sponging your living and making eyes at men—and boys, too, for that matter—not a penny of my money shall you ever touch. I've said my say, and there comes the boy Allen for you. Good-morning."
She arose to take her peas to the kitchen. The conference was ended, and with a flushed face and wet eyes Daisy went out to the phaeton, into which Allen handed her very carefully, and then took his seat beside her. He noticed her agitation, but did not guess its cause, until she said, with a little gasping sob:
"I was never so insulted in my life as by that horrid old woman. Had I been the vilest creature in the world she could not have talked worse to me. She said I was living upon your people—sponging she called it; that I was after Lord Hardy—and—and—oh, Allen—even you—the boy she called you, and she bade me go home and hire out as bar-maid at the George Hotel in Bangor."
"The wretch! Boy, indeed!" Allen said, bristling with indignation at this fling at his youth, but feeling a strange stir in his young blood at the thought of this fair creature being after him.
Arrived at the Ridge House, Daisy went directly to her room and had the headache all day; and gave Mrs. Browne a most exaggerated account of her interview with her aunt, but omitted the part pertaining to Lord Hardy and Allen, the latter of whom hovered disconsolately near the door of her room and sent her messages and a bouquet, and was radiant with delight when after tea-time she was so far restored as to be able to join the family upon the piazza. It was Allen who brought a pillow for her, and a footstool, and asked if she was in a draught, and when she said she was, moved her chair at her request nearer to Lord Hardy, who scarcely looked at her, and did not manifest the slightest interest in her headache, or in her. Nothing which Daisy could do was of any avail to attract him to her, and she tried every wile and art upon him during the next few days, but to no purpose. At last, when she had been at the Ridge House a week, and she had an opportunity of seeing him alone, she said, in a half playful, half complaining voice:
"What is it, Teddy? What has come between us that you are so cold to me? Has the fair Gusty, as her mother calls her, driven from your mind all thoughts of your old friend? You used to care for me, Teddy, in the good old days when we were all so happy together. Don't you like me a little now, and I so lonely and sad, and all the more so that I have to keep up and smile before these people, who, kind as they are, bore me with their vulgarities? Say, Teddy, are you angry with me?"
As she talked Daisy had put her hand on that of Lord Hardy, who once would have thrilled at its touch, but who now shrank from it as something poisonous. He knew the woman so thoroughly that nothing she could do or say would in the least affect him now, and when she asked if he were angry with her, he replied:
"Not angry, no—but, Mrs. McPherson—"
"Oh, Teddy, now I know you hate me when you call me Mrs. McPherson," Daisy sobbed, and he continued:
"Well, Daisy, then, if that suits you better, I am not angry, but you must know that we can never again be to each other what we were in the days when I was foolish enough to follow where you led, even to my ruin. All that is past, and I will not reproach you more; but, Daisy, I must speak one word of warning. I owe so much to these kind people, whose vulgarities bore you, but do not prevent you from accepting their hospitality. I am not blind to what you are doing."
"And what am I doing?" Daisy asked, and he replied: "Making a fool of a boy, for mercenary purposes of your own. I have seen it ever since we left Liverpool and I tell you I will not allow it, and if you persist in luring Allen to your side on all occasions, and throw over him the glamour of your charms, the family shall know all I know of your past life, even if it compromises me with you. They think you pure and good. What would they say if they knew you to be a professional gambler, an adventuress about whom men jest and smile derisively, even while they flatter and admire you in a certain way? Bad, in the common acceptation of the word, you may not be, but your womanhood is certainly soiled, and you are not a fit associate for a young, susceptible man, or for an innocent girl. If you were a true woman you would have gone home at once, to your daughter, who, rumor says, is as sweet and lovely as an angel. Go back now to her, and by fulfilling the duties of a mother try to retrieve the past. It is not impossible. I do not mean to be harsh, and hardly know why I have said all this to you, except it were to save Allen Browne, who is each day becoming more and more in love with you."
"In love with me! A woman old enough to be his mother! Absurd!" Daisy exclaimed, adding scornfully: "Thanks for your lecture, which shall not be lost on me. I have no wish to prolong my stay in this stupid place, and only wish I had never come here; and since my presence is so distastful to you, I will go at once and leave you to prosecute your suit with the fair Augusta, wishing you joy with your Yankee bride and her refined family. Shall you invite them to your home in Ireland? If so, may I be there to see! Addio!" and with a mocking courtsey she left the room, and going to her chamber wrote to Bessie that she was coming home immediately. Daisy had lost her game, and she knew it. She had nothing to expect from Miss McPherson, nothing from Lord Hardy, and as her deep mourning prevented Mrs. Browne from giving the party she had talked about so much, she might better be in Europe, she thought, and accordingly she acquainted her hostess with her decision. There was a faint protest on the part of Mrs. Browne, but only a faint one, for she was beginning to be a little afraid of her fair visitor, whom Augusta disliked thoroughly. Only Allen was sorry, for the wily woman had stirred his boyish heart to its very depths, and when at last he said good-by to her, and stood until the train which bore her away was out of sight, he felt, perhaps, as keen a pang of regret as a young man of twenty-two ever felt for a woman many years his senior.
Mr. Browne accompanied her to New York, and saw her on board the ship, and on his return home reported that he had left her in the cabin "a smellin' of and admirin' a basket of flowers most as big as herself, which she said a very dear friend had ordered sent to her with his love."
"She didn't say who 'twas," he continued, "and I didn't ask her, but I thought 'fool and his money soon parted,' for they'd smell awful in a day or two, and be flung into the sea. She giv' me one of the posies for Allen. I guess it's pretty well jammed, for I chucked it into my vest pocket; here it is," and he handed a faded rosebud to Allen, whose face was very red, and whose eyes, as they met those of Lord Hardy, betrayed the fact that he was the very dear friend who had ordered the flowers as his farewell to Daisy.
The carnival was raging through the streets of Rome, and the Corso was thronged with masqueraders and lined with spectators—Italians, English, and Americans—all eager for the sight. Upon the balcony of a private dwelling, for which an enormous price had been paid because it commanded a fine view of the street below, sat Miss Lucy Grey, with Grey Jerrold and a party of friends. Lucy had been in Rome three or four weeks, staying at a pension, in the Via Nazzionale, which she preferred to the fashionable and noisy hotels.
Grey, who had taken the trip to Egypt, had only been in Rome a few days, and as there was no room for him at the pension, he was stopping at the Quirinal, near by. He had seen the carnival twice before, and cared but little for it; but it was new to his Aunt Lucy, and for her sake he was there, standing at her side and apparently watching the gay pageant as it moved by, though in reality he was scarcely thinking of it at all, for all his thoughts and interest were centered in the white, worn face he had seen that morning in a close, dark room at the hotel, where Bessie McPherson lay dying, he verily believed.
On the night of his arrival at the hotel, which was very full, he had been given a room on the fourth floor looking into a court, and his rest had been disturbed by the murmur of voices in the room adjoining his own.
An Italian voice, which he was sure was a doctor's—a clear, decided, youthful voice, with a slight Irish brogue, which he knew must belong to a young girl, and an older, softer voice, often choked with tears, and occasionally a moaning sound, and wild snatches of song, which affected him strangely, for this voice, broken and weak as it was, had in it something familiar, and he tried in vain to recall where he had heard it before and under what circumstances. Once he thought he heard his own name, as if the sick girl (he felt intuitively that it was a girl) were calling for him, and, starting up, he listened intently, but caught only the tones of the tearful, sobbing voice which said:
"Hush, darling, hush! We are all here; try to be quiet and sleep."
At last, worn out with wakefulness and the fatigue of his long journey from Naples, Grey fell into a deep sleep, from which he did not waken until nearly ten the next morning. Dressing himself hastily he went at once to the office and asked who occupied the room adjoining his own.
"An English lady and her daughter," was the reply; and the clerk, who was not noted for suavity of manner, turned to a little bright-eyed, black haired girl, who came up, evidently with the intention of preferring some request.
There was something in the toss of the curly head, and the saucy look in the eyes, and the slightly upward turn of the nose, which always commanded attention from the rudest of porters and clerks: and this one at the Quirinal bowed respectfully to her, and was about to ask what he could do for her, when Grey interrupted him with another question, or rather assertion and question both:
"The young lady is sick. What is the matter with her?"
A flush of annoyance passed over the clerk's face, as he replied:
"A severe cold, taken in Naples. What can I do for you, Miss Meredith?"
And he loftily bowed Grey aside to make room for the young girl, whose black eyes flashed upon Grey with a half-comical expression, and whose shoulders shrugged involuntarily as she heard the clerk's explanation.
"I will ask the names of the English lady and her daughter another time," Grey thought, as he moved away to make room for the young lady.
He had finished his breakfast, an hour later, and was making his way from the winter garden into the parlor, when he again encountered the young girl with the bright, laughing black eyes.
"Excuse me," she said, flashing upon him a bright, bewildering smile. "I looked on the register, and found that you are Mr. Grey Jerrold, of whom I have heard Sir Jack Trevellian speak. Sir Hal, from whom Sir Jack inherited Trevellian Castle, was my cousin, and I used to live there before poor Hal was killed. I am Flossie Meredith, and live now with my grandmother, at Port Rush, in Ireland."
Grey bowed low to the vivacious little lady, who went on rapidly, gesticulating as she talked, and emphasizing what she said with most expressive shrugs and elevations of her eyelids and nose:
"I heard what that horrid clerk at the bureau told you ailed the young lady in No.——. A severe cold, indeed! I should think it was. It is the typhoid fever of the very worst form, and if you are afraid of it you had better change your room. There are awful big cracks over and under the door. I have stopped them up with paper as well as I can, but the air can get through, and you might take the fever. The gentleman who occupied the room before you came, left it in a hurry when he heard of the fever, but I don't know where he went to escape it, for it's all over the hotel. There is an American girl on the same floor, whom they think is dying this morning, and a young man down stairs, and two or three more somewhere else; and yet the clerks will tell you there is not a single case of fever in the hotel. What liars they are, to be sure! Grandma is frightened almost to death, and burns sugar, and camphor, and brimstone, as disinfectants, and keeps chloride of lime under her bed, till her room smells worse, if possible, than the hotel itself. But I am not afraid. My room adjoins Bessie's, and I am with her half the time."
"What did you say? What did you call the young lady?" Grey asked, excitedly, and Flossie replied:
"Bessie—Bessie McPherson, from Wales. I remember now, you must know her, for Sir Jack told me that he once spent a Christmas at Stoneleigh, and you were there with him."
"Yes, I know her," Grey said, with a tremor in his voice, and a pallor about his lips. "Tell me how long she has been sick, and who is with her."
Then Flossie told him that immediately on her return home from America, Daisy had taken Bessie with her to Switzerland, where they spent the remainder of the summer and a part of the autumn, making their way to Paris in October, and going on to Italy sometime in November; that she, Flossie, had come abroad with her grandmother and had fallen in with the McPhersons at the Italian lakes, and kept with them ever since; that Bessie had not seemed well or happy for some weeks; and that almost immediately after her arrival in Rome she had taken her bed and had been rapidly growing worse until now, when the doctor gave little hope of her recovery.
"She does not know us," Flossie said, "and she talks so piteously of her old home, and wants us to take her back to the garden where the birds are singing in the yews, and where she says there is just one place between her father and the wall, and that is for her. Oh, Mr. Jerrold, what if she should die!"
"She must not—she shall not," Grey answered her, energetically, and by the sense of bitter pain in his heart he knew that Bessie McPherson was more to him than any other girl could ever be, and if she died the world would lose much of its brightness for him.
He had never forgotten her, and over and over again in both his sleeping and waking hours there had arisen before him a vision of her face, as he had seen it when first he went to Stoneleigh, and as he saw it there last, pale and worn and sad, but inexpressibly lovely and sweet. And now, Flossie told him, she was dying, and for a moment he grew cold and faint; then he rallied, and saying, "I will go and see Mrs. McPherson," bade Flossie good-morning, and started for No.——, fourth floor.
His knock was answered by Daisy herself, whose face was very pale, and whose eyes were swollen and red with watching and tears. All her better nature had been aroused; the mother love was in the ascendant now, and in her anxiety for her child she had forgotten much of her coquetry and was almost womanly in her grief.
"You are Mrs. McPherson?" Grey said to her, as she stepped out into the hall and closed the door of the sick-room.
She bowed in the affirmative, and he continued:
"I am Grey Jerrold, I knew your husband; I was with him when he died. I have just heard from Miss Meredith of your daughter's illness, and have come to offer you my services. Is there anything I can do for you?"
Daisy's tears fell like rain as she replied:
"Oh, thank you, Mr. Jerrold; it will be something to know I have a friend, for we are all alone. Neil is in Cairo, and there is no one beside him on whom we have any claim. I have heard Bessie speak of you; only last night she called you by name in her delirium."
"Yes, I heard her," Grey said, explaining that he occupied the adjoining room, and thus had learned that there was some one sick near him.
In an instant Daisy's face brightened as something of her old managing nature asserted itself, and in a few moments she adroitly contrived to let Grey know how very much alone she felt with no male friend to counsel her; how bitterly disappointed she was that the last mail from England did not bring her the expected funds which she so sorely needed; how exorbitant the proprietor of the hotel was in his charges, taking every possible advantage of her helpless condition; and how much she had desired an adjoining room, in order that Bessie might have better air, and those who took care of her more space.
"Not that it matters so very much, except for the air," she added; "for I cannot afford a nurse, so there is one less breath in the room. Oh, Mr. Jerrold, it is dreadful to be sick in Rome, with no friends and very little money. If Neil were here, or my remittances from England would come, it would be all right."
"No nurse," Grey exclaimed. "Have you no nurse for your daughter? Who, then, takes care of her?"
"I do, with Miss Meredith's help. She is very kind, and occasionally one of the servants in the hotel stays with us during the night; but I hear Bessie moving, and I must go. I am so glad that you are here. Good-morning."
It is needless to say that within two hours' time Grey's room was at Daisy's disposal, and the proprietor had orders to charge the same to Mr. Jerrold's account instead of Mrs. McPherson's, while Grey's own luggage was transported to a little, close, eight-by-twelve apartment, which smelled worse than old Mrs. Meredith's could possibly have smelled with all her burnt brimstone and camphor and chloride of lime. The physician, an Italian, was also interviewed, and a competent nurse secured and introduced into the sick-room, and when Daisy protested that she could not meet the expense, Grey said to her:
"Give yourself no uneasiness on that score; that is my business. We cannot let Bessie die."
And then he asked to see her. Very cautiously he entered the room, and with a great throb of pain in his heart stood looking upon the pallid face and the bright blue eyes which met his inquiringly, but had in them no sign of recognition. Taking one of her hands in his and bending over her, Grey said, very softly:
"Do you know me, Bessie?"
There was tenderness and pity in the tone of his voice as he said the name Bessie, and the sick girl looked at him curiously, as if struggling to recall something in the far past; then a smile broke over her face and the lip quivered a little as she replied:
"Yes, you are Neil. I have waited for you, I am so glad you have come."
Still holding the feverish hand which clung to his, Grey hesitated a moment, and then said:
"I am not Neil; he will be here soon. I am Grey Jerrold; don't you remember I spent a Christmas with you once?"
Again she regarded him fixedly a moment, and then she said:
"Yes, I remember Grey Jerrold, the American: he was to have had my room, but said he preferred the cold and the rats! Ugh!" and she shivered a little, as she continued, "Where is he, Neil? He was with me when father died, and was so very kind. Thank him for me, when you see him, and now I am so tired. I cannot talk any more, but stay by me, Neil, and hold my hand I am better with you here."
She persisted in thinking him Neil, and Grey humored the fancy. He had never heard of her engagement, for Jack had not betrayed her confidence; but he knew that she and Neil were greatly attached to each other, and were, as he thought, more like brother and sister than cousins, and, believing as he did with the world in general, that Neil was pledged to Blanche Trevellian, he had no suspicion of the real state of affairs, though he wondered that all Bessie's thoughts should be concentrated upon her absent cousin. How sick she was, and how high the fever ran, and how strangely she talked, as he sat there watching her with a terrible fear in his heart, and a constant prayer for the dear life which seemed balancing so evenly in the scale for the next two or three days, during which he was with her all the time he could spare from his Aunt Lucy, who never suspected why he seemed so abstracted and sad, or that the fever was in the hotel where he was staying. He knew how much afraid she was of it, and how anxious she would be for him if she knew where he spent the hours not given to her. So he did not tell her of poor little Bessie, who grew weaker and weaker every day, until at last the old doctor shook his head, and between the pinches of snuff which he blew about vigorously, said there was one chance in a hundred for her, and if she had any friends who wished to see her, they should be sent for at once. But there was no one save Neil, whom Daisy expected every day, and Grey filled his place altogether with Bessie. She always called him Neil, and once, with a most grieved expression on her face, she said to him: