For, removed from the influence of Mrs. Ellsworth's threat, the faithful servant decided that he would keep silence no longer. He confided to Doctor Platt the pathetic story of Dainty's return to Ellsworth, her claim to be Love's wife, her banishment by her wicked aunt, the wrong that Olive and Ela had attempted, and lastly, how, at the peril of his own life, he had rescued the poor girl from the burning cabin, and sent her away secretly to Richmond.
Doctor Platt listened aghast to these startling disclosures, and said, angrily:
"You should not have been intimidated by that wicked woman's threats, for such crimes as hers and her nieces' should be proclaimed from the house-tops, and punished as they deserve. I would give anything I own if you had brought that worse than widowed bride to me and given me the task of righting her cruel wrongs."
"She is no doubt safe with her mother, and your help now will be as welcome as it would have been last fall," replied Franklin, consolingly. So they postponed the search for the girl, who was presumably safe in Richmond, until after they had taken Lovelace to the New York doctors for treatment.
By the middle of April they met with a reward of their labors and the realization of their hopes in the complete success of the X-ray experiment on Love.
The murderer's bullet had not entered the victim's brain. It was imbedded in the thick part of the skull, and its pressure on the brain had benumbed the intellectual faculties, producing all the phenomena of idiocy.
A very delicate surgical operation removed the cause of trouble, and Lovelace Ellsworth took up life instantly again where he had left it off at the moment when the fatal bullet had pierced his head.
"My friends, I am here to tell you that a foul crime has been perpetrated; but the design of the guilty party will not succeed, thanks to precautions that I took two weeks ago in the fear of this treachery. My precious Dainty has been stolen away in the hope of preventing our marriage this morning, and a false story has been circulated that she has eloped with another. But Mrs. Ellsworth has overreached herself in her eagerness to forward the interests of Miss Peyton and Miss Craye. She will realize this fact when she hears that I was married secretly to Dainty Chase two weeks ago, and—" Here he rolled his large dark eyes around the room, and gave a start of surprise, faltering, "Where are they all—my wedding guests?"
The moment had come when he must learn all the cruel truth.
But they broke it to him as gently and favorably as they could, leaving out all of the worst, to be told when he was strong and well again.
The result was a terrible agitation, coupled with a passionate yearning to go at once in search of his missing bride.
But that was impossible, said the doctors. He must remain quietly at the hospital until the incision they had made in his head healed.
He took counsel with his noble friend, Doctor Platt, and the result was that two personals were sent to the leading newspapers of Virginia and West Virginia. One personal asked for news of the whereabouts of Miss Dainty Chase; the other for information regarding a marriage license issued in July to Lovelace Ellsworth and Dainty Chase. In both cases large rewards were offered, and the address was given fictitiously as "Fidelio, New York City."
The two personals caught the eyes of Ailsa Scott the eighteenth day of April, as she was tying up a bundle in a copy of The Richmond Times several days old.
Her sad thoughts had been fixed on Dainty; for only to-day Miss White had called to acquaint her with Dainty's flight.
She had also mentioned the girl's bad behavior and delicate condition, blaming Ailsa for having recommended such a girl to her favor.
The young girl's brown eyes flashed with resentment as she answered:
"Miss White, I will not allow you to speak unkindly of my dear friend. She was very unhappy, I know, and, to speak plainly, I suspected her condition some time ago; but I would not wound her feelings by referring to it, hoping that she would see fit to explain matters herself later on. But she is a noble girl, and I have not lost confidence in her by what you tell me, for I believe Dainty was secretly married, and that the truth will come out some day."
"Perhaps you know where she is now? I feel very uneasy over her fate, and am sorry now that I spoke so harshly to the poor girl in my surprise!" exclaimed Miss White, softening under the influence of Ailsa's loving faith.
"Sorrow will not bring her back now. You should have shown a more Christian spirit to the unhappy girl, and perhaps she might have given you her confidence, showing you that she was not as bad as you thought. But I do not know where she is. You know, Miss White, I have had to nurse the dear little children through bad colds, and have not seen Dainty for over two weeks. Perhaps the poor girl thought I had forsaken her, too," added Ailsa, bursting into tears.
Miss White was a weak woman, but not a cruel one. Ailsa's distress moved her to such keen sympathy that she wept too, declaring that if only she could find the sweet, unfortunate child she would make amends for her unkindness.
"If you hear from her you'll let me know, Ailsa, won't you? And I shall tell Mr. Sparks he did wrong to try to turn me against Dainty. She is a good girl, I believe, after all, and I'll stand her friend, even after I'm married, if she will forgive me for last night," she said, before she went away.
Ailsa wept most bitterly, for she feared that it would be long ere she saw Dainty's sweet face again.
"She thinks I have forsaken her, and she will be too proud to let me know where she is," she thought.
Then came the startling discovery of the personals offering a reward for news of Dainty Chase, and of the marriage license that had been granted to her and Love Ellsworth.
Ailsa hunted up the back numbers of the newspapers, and found that the personals had been running more than a week, and that they were inserted in all the city journals.
"Fidelio—that means faithful—so it must be some dear friend of Dainty's that wants to find her so badly—perhaps her husband; for I am bound to believe she was secretly married. So I will write to Fidelio, and tell him all I know of the dear girl's fate."
On the same day, almost the same hour, a pretty, sad-faced woman at the insane asylum in Staunton sat reading the same personals in some newspapers the matron had given her that morning.
It was Mrs. Chase, and a great change had come over the sweet little woman. In fact, the doctors and attendants declared that she was quite well of her suicidal mania, and that at the next meeting of the board of directors, on the twentieth of April, her discharge would be asked for as a cured woman. Every one would be sorry to see her go, she was so gentle and refined and helpful now, and the violence of her first sorrow had subsided into patient, uncomplaining resignation.
But the strangest thing about her was that she did not seem to have a friend in the world. No one ever came to see her or wrote to inquire how she was. They wondered where she would go when she was discharged.
One of the new supervisors, a pale, middle-aged woman in widow's weeds, passed through the ward when Mrs. Chase was reading the papers, and found her weeping violently. She stopped, and asked kindly what was the matter.
"Read these personals and I will tell you," was the sobbing reply.
The supervisor, Mrs. Middleton by name, obeyed, and cried out in surprise:
"How very, very strange!"
"Is it not?" cried Mrs. Chase, pathetically. "You see, that girl, Dainty Chase, is my own child. I went crazy about her, they say; but between you and me, Mrs. Middleton, I don't believe I ever was really insane, you know, only just wild and hysterical over my lost child, fearing her cruel enemies had killed her, and if only they had not shut me up in this place, I believe I should have found her long ago. If you had time to listen, I would like to tell you my whole sad story."
"I will take time, for I am more deeply interested than you can possibly guess," said the kind supervisor.
"Did you ever hear anything so sad? And is it any wonder that I temporarily lost my mind and tried to throw away my life?" cried Mrs. Chase; adding: "Is it not strange that the search for Dainty is being revived now? It would almost seem as if Lovelace Ellsworth has recovered the use of his senses."
"Perhaps the bullet in his head has been discovered by the use of that wonderful X-ray we have been reading about in the newspapers. It must be so, for who else could have an interest in that marriage license?" exclaimed the supervisor, excitedly; adding: "I have something wonderful to tell you, Mrs. Chase. I am the widow of the preacher that married your daughter to Lovelace Ellsworth, and I have in my possession the license and the certificate of marriage, given me by my husband to keep until called for. And I also witnessed the marriage ceremony, peeping through the vestry door, as Mr. Middleton said there ought really to be one witness, although the young pair insisted not. But now you see how important it was, for my husband died soon after, and in my grief I forgot all about the secret marriage till recalled to memory of it by this personal. So now I shall write to this Fidelio with my good news, and tell him all about your case too, poor thing!"
"FOR ALL ETERNITY."
Ah, what ineffable joy those two letters of Mrs. Middleton and Ailsa Scott carried to the heart of Fidelio in New York!—joy that his darling still lived, and that the proof of their marriage could be so readily obtained, to confound the woman who thought herself secure in the enjoyment of his wealth.
And who could blame him that he wept like a woman on reading Ailsa's long letter, telling all she knew of Dainty's fate, not concealing the fact that had caused her banishment from the dressmaker's house?
"Dear little wife, soon to be the mother of my child! Oh, heavens! what must she not have suffered in her lonely grief! Oh, we must find her quickly, and take her home to Ellsworth!" he cried, passionately, to his friends, who agreed with him in everything.
Letters were hastily forwarded to Ailsa and Mrs. Middleton, thanking them for their information and saying that "Fidelio," who was ill in New York, hoped to be well enough to travel soon, and would make a personal call on them within the week.
Happiness made his recovery so swift that within a week he was able to leave New York for Richmond, accompanied by Doctor Platt and the faithful Franklin.
He hurried to Ailsa's humble home at once, and the lovely girl wept for joy at the wonderful story he had to tell her about his own and Dainty's trials, that he hoped would soon be happily ended.
"How I thank you for your noble faith in my poor girl, when all the world was against her, I can not express in mere words; but I shall rejoice in my ability to supplement it by a solid reward as soon as I am reinstated in my property," he exclaimed, as he wrung her hand in passionate gratitude.
But Ailsa protested that she wished for no reward beyond the pleasure of continuing her friendship with her dear school-mate and friend.
"You shall come to live at Ellsworth, and be our dear sister, if you will," he exclaimed, generously; and the young girl smiled happily as she answered:
"I shall be very happy to come and spend my vacation with Dainty this summer."
Then they discussed the mystery of Dainty's whereabouts. Ailsa told him she had inquired all around, but could not get any clew at all.
"Sometimes I think she may have returned to West Virginia," she said; but Love shuddered at the idea lest his darling had fallen into some new trap set by her enemies.
After two days in Richmond, he was informed by the private detective he had put on the case that Dainty had indeed left the city—a young girl answering her description having bought a ticket at the Chesapeake and Ohio railway station for West Virginia on the night of the last of March.
"We must go at once! Heaven only knows what new evil has befallen my poor love, thus venturing alone into the lion's den!" Love exclaimed, in wild agitation.
John Franklin was sent to Staunton to see Mrs. Middleton and Mrs. Chase, to get them to join the travelers on their journey, and Doctor Platt and Love followed on the next train.
It was the first of May, a beautiful evening, with the sun just sinking in the west, when they reached the station, and a carriage was quickly procured for the drive to Ellsworth.
Mrs. Chase and Mrs. Middleton had joined them at Staunton, and the mother's heart was thrilled with unspeakable love and tenderness at the story her eager, handsome son-in-law poured into her ears.
It seemed too good to be true that Love was restored to himself again, and that nothing remained but to find Dainty to make the sum of their happiness complete.
It was the one anxiety that brooded darkly over their hearts, the fear that evil had befallen the hapless girl on her return to Ellsworth.
"If they have injured but one hair of my darling's head, they shall answer to the law they have broken," Love said, grimly, as they started from the station toward Ellsworth, with the fixed resolve to tax Mrs. Ellsworth and her nieces at once with their crimes, and demand Dainty at their hands.
Old Doctor Platt was jubilant over the part he had played in restoring Love to his own, and he rubbed his hands in glee as he pictured to himself the consternation of Mrs. Ellsworth, when she should find herself accused and detected in her plot against Love and his persecuted bride.
"Drive fast, Franklin; I'm anxious to see the madame's face when she sees the master of Ellsworth returning to claim his own!" he exclaimed, joyously, just as they came abreast of a large frame house standing close to the road about a mile from the station.
The next moment Love startled them all with a surprised and happy laugh, exclaiming:
"Look! Look! There's my old black mammy sitting there in the door of that house! Listen! She is crooning the old nursery song that charmed me in my babyhood! Let us stop here, Franklin. Perhaps she can tell us something about my wife—who knows?"
Yes, there sat black mammy in a capacious armchair in Mrs. Peters' door-way. Across her knees lay a small white bundle, and she was swaying softly back and forth, while she crooned in a low, loving monotone her favorite nursery lullaby:
"Byo, baby boy, bye— Byo, li'l boy! En 'e run ter 'is mammy, Ter rock 'im in 'er arms— Mammy's li'l baby boy!
"Who all de time er frettin' in de middle er de day? Mammy's li'l boy, mammy's li'l boy! Who all de time er gittin' so sleepy—
"Sho'! what am de matter now, and who am dese folks stoppin' deir kerridge in front o' de gate?" the lullaby ending in these exclamations of surprise.
Lovelace Ellsworth sprang from the carriage and rushed to the gate.
"Mammy, mammy, don't you know me? Your Marse Love?" eagerly.
"Oh, my good Lord in hebben, am I dreamin', or is it yo'self, Marse Love, a-laffin' an' a-talkin' lak in de dear old days 'fore you was shot?" cried the old negress, shaking with joyful excitement.
"It is Love, sure enough, mammy. You may pinch me if you choose, and you'll find I am your old nursling alive and well. Oh, mammy, I am searching for my Dainty, my sweet, darling wife!"
"T'ank de good Lord for all His mercies! Dis is de day dat I been prayin' fo' so long! Oh, Marse Love, I'll he'p yo' fin' yo' darlin' wife, indeedy I will! But won't you look at my nurse-chile on my knee? Aine he pritty? See him yaller curls fine as silk, and him skin like de crumply rose-leaf, an' him big black eyes like his pappy's? Don't you want ter kiss him fo' his sweet mudder's sake?" laughing.
"Mammy!" he cried in sudden, wild, suspicious excitement, as he bent closely to look at the infant.
"Yes, Marse Love, 'tis your own li'l baby boy borned almost two weeks ago, an' de fines' li'l chap alive! Miss Dainty she come to black mammy, o' course, in her trubble, an' I cheers her up till li'l Marse Lovelace Ellsworth he come to laugh at her wid his pappy's sassy black eyes. Hi! hi! he gone like a shot at de fust call o' her voice!" for Love had dashed past her wildly at a low, startled cry, from the open door of a room just beyond.
He dashed wildly across the threshold, glanced around, and there she lay lovely and pale as a lily among soft white pillows—his lost bride, his adored wife, the tender mother of his beautiful child!
"My darling!" and he was on his knees with his arms about her, and his lips on her face.
For a moment, under the shock of joy, Dainty's senses reeled; but he kissed the life back to her closing eyes and the smiles back to the quivering lips.
"Oh, my darling, my wife, God has given us back to each other for all time and eternity!"
The bolt of Fate falls sometimes like a flash of lightning from a clear sky.
Thus it came to Mrs. Ellsworth and her scheming nieces in the moment when they felt themselves most secure.
On that golden May evening, when Love Ellsworth found his happiness again, they had been busy laying their plans for a summer campaign.
They decided to take an early trip to Europe, and return in August for a brief tour of the watering-places before the close of the season.
"We will get us some loves of dresses and bonnets while in Paris," cried Ela, while Olive added:
"And some rare jewels. I think I should like some fine rubies best of all."
With a slight sarcasm, Mrs. Ellsworth exclaimed:
"Really, for two young girls who were reared in poverty, you two have developed very extravagant tastes—so extravagant that I could not afford to gratify them if I had not so opportunely come into my step-son's fortune!"
"But, Aunt Judith, we thought you were quite wealthy in your own right," both cried in concert.
"So I was; but for years I have speculated in stocks, and sometimes I made large gains, at others lost heavily. To-day I received notice of a terrible loss by the failure of a bank in Richmond in which the residue of my money was invested. Had I not come into Love's money, I should not now have a thousand dollars to my name!"
"How unfortunate!" cried a ringing, sarcastic voice, and glancing up, all three beheld Lovelace Ellsworth standing before them in his right mind.
He was accompanied by the party that he had brought from the station, and on his arm leaned his drooping bride, pale from illness, but with the light of her joy shining in her great luminous eyes. Black mammy brought up the rear with the lovely infant in her arms.
To Mrs. Ellsworth's consternation all seated themselves as coolly as if they had a right in her elegant parlor, while Olive and Ela strained their eyes in horror at the fair cousin whose ashes they had believed to be lying still beneath the debris of the burned cabin.
Lovelace Ellsworth alone remained standing, and turning toward his startled step-mother, he began one of the most scathing arraignments to which any one had ever listened.
He told her in fiery words of all the crimes and cruelties she had practised on himself and Dainty, and how, through God's help, they had escaped all.
In vain were her frightened denials; he laughed them all to scorn.
"When Dainty was immured in that dungeon where you expected her to die, your tool, Sheila Kelly, threw caution to the winds, and betrayed to her in boastful words your agency in her kidnapping. It is not your fault that my wife did not die of the poison you gave her to swallow, but only that the wind and rain revived her when she lay out in the road where you had her placed, believing her dead, with her lips sealed to your part in the martyrdom.
"It is not your fault," he added, turning to Olive and Ela, "that you failed to destroy her when you followed to the cabin where she lay unconscious, and fired it like the remorseless fiends that you are. But for John Franklin, who discovered your crime and saved her sweet life, she must have perished in those flames. But my wife, like the angel she is, forgives you everything, and will not let me prosecute you for your crimes. But you three guilty, shameless ones must leave Ellsworth at dawn, and it is best never to show your faces here again; for in making public the proofs of my marriage with Dainty and the strange interruption of the second ceremony, I shall not hesitate to expose your treachery."
So at dawn they went away—as far as they could on their scanty means—and the veil of a merciful oblivion fell over their future fate as scheming adventuresses to the end of their days.
Love and Dainty did not punish their arch-enemies, but they did not fail to reward all who had befriended them in their days of adversity. Mamma Chase lived with them at Ellsworth, Ailsa Scott spent all her summers there, and Doctor Platt remained the beloved friend of the family to the last day of his life.
Transcriber's Note: The following typographical errors present in the original edition have been corrected.
In Chapter I, a comma was added after "added Olive, eagerly", and "tete-a-tete journey" was changed to "tete-a-tete journey".
In Chapter III, "tete-a-tete drive" was changed to "tete-a-tete drive".
In Chapter XVI, "frighten his timid bethrothed" was changed to "frighten his timid betrothed".
In Chapter XX, "eyes flashing with a strang fire" was changed to "eyes flashing with a strange fire".
In Chapter XXI, "Calm, oh. calm" was changed to "Calm, oh, calm".
In Chapter XXIX, "stay tonight, and tomorrow I must try to go home" was changed to "stay to-night, and to-morrow I must try to go home".
In Chapter XXXVIII, "for only today Miss White had called" was changed to "for only to-day Miss White had called".