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Kidnapped at the Altar - or, The Romance of that Saucy Jessie Bain
by Laura Jean Libbey
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And to this terrible document Jessie Bain signed her name clearly and plainly.

With hurried step Mrs. Varrick crossed the room and locked the precious document in a secret drawer of her escritoire; then she remembered that the detective was awaiting her. She summoned him quickly.

"The matter has been adjusted, and we have rid the house of the girl's presence," she said, coldly. "I thank you for your sagacity in tracing my diamond bracelet," she said, thinking it best to throw in a dash of covert flattery, "and I shall be pleased to settle your bill whenever you wish to present it."

The detective bowed himself out of her presence, and left the house, musing on the mysterious robbery, and saying to himself: "I would be far more apt to suspect the lady of the house than that young girl."

He sighed and went on his way; but all day long, while immersed in the business which usually was of such an exciting nature that he had no time for any other thought, the lovely face of Jessie Bain rose up before him.

He threw down his pen at last in despair.

"I must be bewitched," he muttered. "If I were a younger man I would certainly say that I had fallen in love. I must find out where that girl has gone, and have a little talk with her. I can not bring myself to believe that she stole that bracelet."

He put on his hat and reached for his cane.

"I can not say how long it will be before I shall return," he said to his fellow detective in charge of the office.

In the meantime, in her lonely mansion, Mrs. Varrick was writing a long letter to her son. In it she expressed the hope that he was having a pleasant time, and that he must not hurry home, but stay and attend to business thoroughly, even though it took him a little longer. But not one word did she mention of Jessie Bain. So preoccupied was she with her own thoughts that she did not know Hubert had entered the room until she heard his voice.

"I will save you the trouble of posting your letter, mother. I see it is addressed to me. You can read me the contents in person."



CHAPTER XIII.

"I LOVE JESSIE BAIN WITH ALL MY HEART AND SOUL!"

Mrs. Varrick started back with a low cry.

"Is it you, Hubert?"

"Yes; but upon my honor, mother, you don't seem overglad to see me."

"I thought you were to have been gone a fortnight."

"I succeeded in getting the business attended to much more speedily than you thought it could be done. I did not make any visits, as I was anxious to get home. But, mother, how white and ill you look!" he added.

"I am quite well, but I have been suffering from a nervous headache, Hubert," she answered.

"By the way," he said suddenly, "I did not forget to bring a few little souvenirs home with me," and as he spoke he drew two small velvet cases from his pocket, one of which he handed his mother, retaining the other in his hand.

Opening it, Mrs. Varrick found that it contained a magnificent diamond bracelet.

"That is to match, as near as possible, the beautiful bracelet you already have, mother," he said, carelessly.

She reeled back as though he had struck her a sudden blow, and looked at him with terror in her eyes.

"What is there in that other little velvet case?" she asked, as he made no move to hand it to her.

"It is not for you, mother," he responded. "It is for Jessie."

He pressed the little spring and the lid of the purple velvet box flew back, and there, lying on its shimmering satin bed, she beheld a beautiful little turquois ring set with tiny diamonds.

"Jessie has never had a ring in all her life," he declared, "and it will please me to be the one to present her with the first one that will ever grace her little hand. Girl-like, she is fond of such trinkets. The sparkle of the tiny diamonds will delight her as nothing else has done in her whole life."

A discordant laugh broke from Mrs. Varrick's lips.

"Ay, the glitter of diamonds pleases her. How well you know the girl!" she cried shrilly. "But for glittering diamonds she might have lived a happy enough life of it. Will people ever learn the lesson that they can not pick up girls from the depths of poverty and obscurity and transplant then into elegant surroundings and expect good to come of it?"

"This present is very inexpensive," declared Hubert. "Won't you please ring for Jessie to come to us? I am anxious to see if it is the right size. It will be fun to see her big blue eyes open and hear her exclaim in dismay: 'Oh, Mr. Varrick, is it really for me?' Girls at her age are enthusiastic, and their joy is genuine upon receiving any little token of esteem."

Again Mrs. Varrick laughed that harsh, discordant laugh.

"The ring is very pretty, Hubert," she said ironically, "but Jessie Bain would never thank you for so inexpensive a gift. That diamond bracelet is much more to her fancy."

"Girls of her age might fancy diamond bracelets, but they would never care to possess them, because they could not wear them, as they would be entirely out of place."

For the third time that harsh, shrill laugh from Mrs. Varrick's lips filled the room.

"I repeat, this bracelet would be more to her fancy," she added, grimly.

"If you will not ring for Jessie, I will do it myself," said Hubert, good-humoredly; adding: "You are just a little bit jealous, mother, and wish to keep me all to yourself, I imagine."

But ere he could reach the bell-rope she had swiftly followed him and laid a detaining hand on his arm.

She had put off the telling of her story from moment to moment, but it had to be told now.

"You need not take the trouble to ring that bell," she said, "for it would be useless—quite useless."

"Why, what do you mean?" he asked, in unfeigned astonishment, thinking that perhaps she meant to forbid him giving the girl the little ring; and he grew nettled at that thought.

He said to himself that he was over one-and-twenty, and was entitled to do as he pleased in such matters.

"Listen, Hubert; I have something to tell you, and you must hear me out. Come and sit on this sofa beside me. I can tell you better then."

"What is the meaning of all this secrecy, mother?" he cried.

"To begin with," slowly began Mrs. Varrick, "Jessie Bain is no longer under this roof."

He looked at her as though he did not fully take in the meaning of her words.

"I will tell you the whole story, my son," she said; "but promise me first that you will not interrupt me, no matter how much you may be inclined to do so, and that you will hear without comment all that I have to say."

"Do I understand you to say that Jessie Bain is not here?" he cried.

"Promise not to interrupt me and I will tell you all."

He bowed his head in acknowledgment, though he did not gratify her by saying as much in so many words.

Slowly, in a clear, shrill voice, Mrs. Varrick began the story she had so carefully rehearsed over and over again; but as the words fell from her lips she could not trust herself to meet the clear, eagle glance her son bent upon her.

In horror which no pen could fully describe, Hubert Varrick listened to the story from his mother's lips. In all her life Mrs. Varrick never saw such a face as her son turned upon her. It was fairly distorted, with great patches of red here and there upon it.

He set his teeth so hard together that they cut through his lip; then he raised his clinched hand and shook it in the air, crying in a voice of bitter rage:

"If an angel from heaven cried out trumpet-tongued that little Jessie Bain was guilty, I should not believe her— I would say that it was false. It is some plan, some deep-laid scheme to blight the life of Jessie Bain and ruin my happiness—ay, ruin my happiness, I say—for I love that girl with all my heart and soul! How dare they, fiends incarnate, attack her in my absence? And so you, my fine lady-mother, have turned her out into the street," he went on, in a rage that nothing could subdue. "Now listen to what I have to say, and heed it well: The day that has seen her turned from this roof shall witness my leaving it. You should have trusted and shielded her, no matter how dark appearances were against her. I am going to find Jessie Bain, and when I do I shall ask her to marry me!"

There was a wild shriek from Mrs. Varrick's lips at this, but Hubert did not heed it.

"I can not live without her! If ill has befallen my darling I will shoot myself through the heart, and beg with my dying breath that they bury us both in one grave!"



CHAPTER XIV.

"DO NOT LEAVE ME, FOR YOU ARE THE DELIGHT AND SUNSHINE OF MY LONELY LIFE!"

The scene was one of such terror for Mrs. Varrick that she never forgot it.

"I shall leave this house!" he cried again. "I will not remain another hour beneath this roof. I will find Jessie Bain, though I have to travel this wide earth over to do it!"

Suddenly he stopped short and looked at his mother; then he cried out excitedly: "Where is the woman who came here with that embroidery-work? More likely it was she who took the bracelet."

But Mrs. Varrick shook her head.

"You forget that the bracelet was found in Jessie's trunk," she said, huskily, "and that she owned up to taking it in a written confession. As for the strange embroidery woman, Miss Duncan, I paid her off and let her go. She knows next to nothing of what took place in regard to the bracelet. You must remember, too, that the girl was glad to get off so easily."

"Even though I knew she was guilty, I could find forgiveness in my heart for her, mother," he cried, huskily, "for I love her— I love her as man can love but once in his life-time. You arrayed yourself as her enemy, mother, and as such, you must be mine, until I can find little Jessie and bring her back to you."

"Oh, no, no, Hubert, darling!" cried Mrs. Varrick, striving to throw her arms about him, but almost before she was aware of his intention, he had quitted the room, strode down the corridor, and was half-way down the walk that led to the great entrance gate.

Varrick had walked a considerable distance from the house before his mind settled down to anything like rational thoughts. Suddenly it occurred to him that the quickest way to trace her would be to secure the aid of an experienced detective. It was the merest chance that led him to the office of Henry Byrne, the great detective—the very one whose services his mother had enlisted to recover her valuable bracelet.

It took but little conversation for the detective to learn that the young man was desperately in love with the pretty little girl. This gave the experienced man of the world food for thought.

He did not tell young Varrick how interested he himself was in learning the whereabouts of that pretty young girl.

After an hour or more of earnest conversation, they parted, Byrne agreeing to report what success he met at the hotel at which Hubert Varrick said he intended stopping.

Up to midnight, when they again met, Byrne could give him no definite information; he did not even tell him that he thought he had a slight clew which he intended to follow.

Thus three days passed, and not even the slightest trace of Jessie Bain could be discovered, and Hubert was beside himself with grief.

In the midst of his trouble a strange event happened.

As he was passing through the lobby of the hotel one evening, he met Harry Maillard, Gerelda Northrup's cousin.

Varrick turned quickly in an opposite direction, to avoid speaking to him, when suddenly Maillard came forward and held out his hand to him.

"I am glad to see you, old boy," he said, "and have been wondering where you kept yourself of late."

"I have been attending to business pretty closely," returned Varrick.

"Take a cigar," said Maillard, extending a weed. "Let's sit down. I have something to tell you."

Varrick followed his friend, and soon they were seated together before one of the open windows.

"I have such wonderful news for you," said Maillard. "I learned from Captain Frazier's valet, whom I met on the street, that his master had been dead some time, having been killed in a railway accident.

"Shortly after your unfortunate experience a great fire occurred in one of the islands in the St. Lawrence, and Captain Frazier was there alone, and had been alone, the man informed me. There was no lady about—of this the valet was positive, and his last message to this man, who was with him to the end, was to search for Gerelda Northrup, and tell her that with his last breath he was murmuring her name, and that he wanted to be buried on the spot where they had first met.

"That is proof positive that Gerelda was not with Captain Frazier, and that he, poor fellow, was entirely innocent of her whereabouts."

Hubert Varrick was greatly amazed at this intelligence; but before he could make any remark Maillard went on quickly:

"We received a long letter from an old nurse who used to be in Gerelda's family years ago. It was written at my cousin's dictation. She had been very ill, the letter says; and in it she goes on to tell the wonderful story of what caused her disappearance.

"She says that during your momentary absence for a glass of wine, she was abducted by a daring robber, who wished to secure the diamonds she wore, and hold her as well for a heavy ransom; that, all in an instant, while she awaited your return, she was chloroformed, a black cloak thrown over her, and the last thing she was conscious of was being borne with lightning-like rapidity down a ladder, a strong pair of burly arms encircling her.

"The night wind blowing on her face soon revived her; then she became conscious that she was in a hack, and being rapidly driven along a country road.

"'We are far enough away now,' she heard a voice say; and at that moment the vehicle came to a sudden stop. She was lifted out, the stifling folds of the cloak were withdrawn from about her, the jewels she wore were torn from her ears and breast, and from the coils of her hair the diamond arrows, which fastened her bridal-veil, and the next instant her inhuman abductor, having secured the jewels, flung her into the deep, dark, rushing river, then drove rapidly away, all heedless of her wild cries for help.

"A Canadian fisherman, happening along in his boat just when she was giving up the struggle for life rescued her. He took her to his humble cot and to his aged mother, and under that roof she lay, racked with brain-fever, for many weeks.

"With the return of consciousness, she realized all that had transpired.

"Fearing the shock to you both, she had these people take her to an old nurse who happened to live in that vicinity, and this woman soon brought her back to something like health and strength. Then Gerelda had the woman write a long letter to me, telling me all, and bidding me break the news gently to her mother and you. The letter ends by saying:

"'By the time it was received she would be at home, and bid me hasten to you with the wonderful intelligence, and bid you come to her quickly, for her heart was breaking for a sight of you—her betrothed; that she was counting the moments until she was restored to you, and once more resting safely in your dear arms.'

"I have been searching for you for some time, Hubert, to tell you our darling Gerelda is home once more. It was only by the merest chance that some one saw you enter this hotel and told me. I will be back in one minute, depend upon it," said Maillard, seizing his hat and flying out of the door without waiting for a reply. In fact, Varrick could not have made him any had his life depended on it.

In the midst of Hubert's conflicting thoughts, Maillard returned.

"This way, Varrick," he called cheerily from the door-way; and a moment later Varrick was hurried into the coupe, which had just drawn up to the curbstone, and, with Maillard seated beside him, was soon whirling in the direction of the Northrup mansion to which a servant admitted them.

Maillard thrust aside the heavy satin portieres of the drawing-room, gently pushed his friend forward, and Hubert felt the heavy silken draperies close in after him. Through the half gloom he saw a slender figure flying toward him, and he heard a voice, the sound of which had been dear to him in the old days that were past and gone, crying out: "Oh, Hubert! Hubert!" and in that instant Gerelda was in his arms.

Insensibly his arms closed around her; but there was no warmth in the embrace. She held up her lovely face to be kissed, and he bent his handsome head and gave her the caress she coveted; but for him was gone all the old rapture that a kiss from those flower-like lips would have brought. By Hubert Varrick, at this moment, it was given only from a sense of duty, as love for Gerelda had died.

"Oh, Hubert, Hubert! my darling!" she cried, "is it not like heaven to be united again?"

She would not notice his coldness; for Gerelda Northrup had laid the most amazing plan that had ever entered a woman's head.

Immediately upon her dismissal from the Varrick mansion she had stolen back to the little hamlet where her old nurse lived, and had got the woman to write a letter for her as she dictated it.

She had said to herself that Hubert Varrick should be hers again, at whatever cost, and that she might as well force him by any means that lay in her power into a betrothal with herself again, as long as he was not married to another.

He should never know that she knew of his change of heart. She would meet him and greet him as her betrothed lover, whom she was soon to marry, and he would have to be a much smarter man than she took him to be if he could find any way out of it.

She had caused the nurse to write a similar letter to her mother; and when her mother read it, and realized that her daughter had not eloped, she received her back joyfully and with open arms. If an angel from heaven had told her that her daughter had stolen back to the city in disguise, and had been residing under the Varrick roof, she would have declared that it was false—a mad prevarication.

Mrs. Northrup was overjoyed to have the sunshine of her home, her darling daughter, back again.

With almost her first breath, after she had kissed her rapturously, she told her that she had seen very little of Hubert Varrick, and that he had never crossed the threshold since that fatal night on which he believed that his bride to be had eloped from him.



CHAPTER XV.

"HUBERT CARES FOR ME NO LONGER," SOBBED THE GIRL.

It seemed to Hubert Varrick, as he clasped his arms around Gerelda, that he must be some other person than the man who had once loved this girl to idolatry. Now the clasp of her hand or the touch of her lips did not afford him an extra pulse-glow.

"Tell me, Hubert," she cried, "that you are as glad to see me as I am to see you."

"It is a great surprise to me, Gerelda," he answered, huskily, "so great that I am not quite myself just now. It will take me some little time to collect my scattered senses."

He led her to the nearest seat.

"My cousin has told you all that has happened to me from the hour that we parted until now, darling," she whispered. "Now tell me, Hubert, about yourself. Your heart must have almost broken, dear. I was fearful lest you might have pined away and died because of my untimely loss."

"Oh, Gerelda!" he cried, starting up distressedly, tears choking his voice, "do not say any more; you are unmanning me with every word you utter. I— I can not bear it!"

"Forgive me, my darling!" she muttered. "You are right. It is best not to probe fresh wounds. But, oh! Hubert, I am so thankful that the workings of fate have joined our hearts together at last!"

He could not find it in his heart to tell her the truth when she loved him so; and yet he felt that he owed it to Gerelda to tell her all; but it is hard, terribly hard to own up to being faithless; and he said to himself that he could not tell her now, in the flush of her joy at meeting him, but would break it to her later on.

"This almost seems like getting acquainted with you and falling in love with you over again," laughed Gerelda, as she talked to him in the same gay, witty manner that had once so enthralled him in the old days. "I wonder, Hubert," she said at length, "that you have not asked me to sing or play for you. You used to be so delighted to hear me sing. While lying on my sick-bed I heard my old nurse sing a song that you desired me to learn. I have learned it now for you, Hubert. Listen to it, dear."

As Gerelda spoke she picked up a mandolin, and after striking a few softly vibrating notes, commenced to sing in a low strain the tender words of his favorite song, which she knew would be sure to find an echo in his heart, if anything in this world would.

Ah! what a wondrous voice she had, so full of pathetic music and the tenderness of wonderful love!

He listened, and something very like the old love stirred his heart.

The song had moved him, as she knew it would—ay, as nothing else in this world could ever have done.

He bowed his head, and Gerelda, looking at him keenly from under her long lashes, saw that his strong hand was shaking like an oak leaf in the wind.

He leaned over and brushed back the curls caressingly from her forehead, as a brother might have done.

"You are very good to have learned that for my sake; Gerelda," he murmured. "I thank you for it."

"We must learn to sing it together," she declared.

"My voice is not what it used to be," he said, apologetically.

He lingered until the clock on the mantel struck ten; then he rose and took his departure.

To Gerelda's great chagrin, he made no offer to kiss her good-night at parting.

It was plainly evident that he wished her to understand that they were on a different footing from what they were on that memorable night when they were parted so strangely from each other.

When his footsteps had died away, Gerelda flung herself face downward on the divan, sobbing as if her heart would break; and in this position, a few minutes later, her mother surprised her.

"Why, Gerelda!" she cried. "I am shocked! What can this mean? It can not be that you and your lover have had a quarrel the very hour in which you have been restored to each other! Surely, there is no lingering doubt in his heart now, that you eloped!"

Gerelda eagerly seized upon this idea.

"There seems to be, mother," she sobbed.

Mrs. Northrup drew a cushioned chair close beside her daughter, and drew the dark, curly head into her arms.

"You must make a confidante of me, my darling, and tell me all he said," she declared. "I was quite amazed to hear the servants say that he had gone so early. I expected to be summoned every moment, to learn that your impatient lover had sent out for a minister to perform the delayed ceremony."

Gerelda raised her tear-stained face and looked at her mother.

"No; he did not even mention marriage, mother," she sobbed.

"What!" shrieked Mrs. Northrup, in dismay. "Do I understand aright—he made no mention of marriage?"

The girl sobbed. Mrs. Northrup sprang to her feet and paced up and down the floor.

"I— I do not understand it," she cried. "Tell me what he had to say; repeat the conversation that passed between you."

"It did not amount to anything," returned her daughter bitterly. "To be quite plain with you, mamma, he was very distant and cold toward me. In fact, it was almost like getting acquainted with him over again; and to add insult to injury, as he took my hand for an instant at parting, he said, 'Good-night, Miss Northrup.' Oh! what shall I do, mamma—advise me! Ought I to give him up?"

"No," said Mrs. Northrup, sternly, "that would never do. That marriage must take place!"



CHAPTER XVI.

WHAT OUGHT A GIRL DO IF THE MAN SHE LOVES CARES FOR ANOTHER?

"Do you hear me, Gerelda?" repeated Mrs. Northrup. "This marriage must go on! It would be the talk of the whole country if Hubert Varrick jilted you. But let me understand this matter thoroughly; did he give you any sort of a hint that he wished to break off with you? You must tell me all very plainly, and keep nothing back. I am older than you are Gerelda, and know more concerning worldly affairs. I now say this much: there must be a rival in the background. When a man has been in love with one girl, and suddenly cools off, there is a reason for it, depend on it."

"Even if there was a rival in the way, tell me what I could do, mamma, to—to win him back!"

"When a man once ceases to love you, you might as well attempt to move a mountain as to rekindle the old flame in his heart. I understand this point thoroughly. You will have to make up your mind to marry him without love."

"It takes two to make a contract to marry," sobbed Gerelda. "I am willing, but he does not seem to be."

"It is plainly evident that I shall have to take the matter in hand," said Mrs. Northrup. "When is he coming again?"

"He didn't say," returned Gerelda, faintly. "But perhaps he may be here to-morrow evening with some music I asked him to bring me."

"Now, when he comes," said Mrs. Northrup, "I want you to make some excuse to leave the room, for say, ten or fifteen minutes, and during that time I will soon have this matter settled with Hubert Varrick."

"It would not look well for you to mention the matter," cried Gerelda.

"Somebody must do it," returned her mother, severely, "and the longer it is put off the worse it will be; the marriage can not take place too soon. Come, my dear," she added, "you must dry your tears. Never permit any living man to have the power to give you a heartache."

"You talk as if I was a machine, mother, and could cease loving at will!" cried the beauty.

"It is much as a woman makes up her mind. If you worry yourself into the grave over a man, before the grass has time to grow over you he will have consoled himself with another sweetheart. So dry your eyes, and don't shed a tear over him."

Gerelda walked slowly from the room. It was not so easy to take her mother's advice, for she loved Hubert Varrick with all her heart; and the very thought of him loving another was worse to her than a poisoned arrow in her breast.

She knew why he did not care for her.

"I have only one hope," she murmured, leaning her tear-stained face against the marble mantel, "and that is that Hubert may soon get over his mad infatuation for that girl Jessie Bain."

Gerelda sought her couch, but not to sleep; and it was not until daylight stole through the room, heralding the approach of another day, that slumber came to her.

Hubert Varrick, in his room at the hotel, was quite as restless. He had paced the floor, smoking cigar after cigar, trying to look the matter calmly in the face, until he was fairly exhausted.

He was glad to know that Gerelda had not been false to him; and yet, so conflicting were his thoughts, that he almost wished to Heaven that she had been, that he could have had some excuse to give her up.

He made up his mind that he could not marry Gerelda while his heart was so entirely another's, but he must break away from her gently.

As he was passing a music store the next afternoon, he saw a piece of music in the window which Gerelda had asked him to bring to her. He went and purchased it, and was about sending it to her by a messenger boy, when he thought it would look much better to take it himself; besides, he had business to attend to in that locality.

As he stepped upon the street car, he purchased a daily paper to pass away the time.

Upon opening it, an article met his view that nearly took his breath away.

The caption read:

"A Romance in Real Life.—The Prettiest Girl in the City and a Well-known Young Millionaire the Hero and Heroine of the Episode."

Following this was an account of Gerelda's abduction, as she had related it. In conclusion there was a statement by Mrs. Northrup to the effect that Gerelda's lover, Mr. Varrick, was anxious to have the ceremony consummated at once, and, in accordance with his earnest wish, the marriage would take place shortly.

Varrick stared hard at the paper.

"The whole matter seems to have been fully arranged and settled without the formality of consulting me," he muttered, grimly.

After that he could see no way out of it. This had gone broadcast throughout the city, he told himself, and now what could he do but marry Gerelda; otherwise it would subject her to the severest criticism, and himself to scorn.

A woman's good name was at stake. Was he not in honor bound to shield her? He would have been startled had he but known that this newspaper article was the work of Mrs. Northrup.

"I might as well accept the inevitable as my fate," he murmured, with a sigh. "I might have been happy with Gerelda if I had never known Jessie Bain."

When he arrived at the Northrup mansion, Gerelda's mother came down to welcome him.

Like her daughter, she did not appear to notice his constraint, and greeted him effusively, as in the old days.

"Have you seen the morning paper, Hubert?" she asked, with a little rippling laugh on her lips. "It is amusing to me how these newspaper men get hold of things so quickly. I was down to one of the stores this afternoon ordering the wedding-cards. I knew you would be anxious to get them, and I wanted to relieve your mind and Gerelda's as well. I was telling the designer the whole story—you know he is the same person who got up the last cards for you—when a man who stood near us, he must have been a reporter—took in every word I said. A few hours later, a young man representing the paper came up to interview me on the subject, remarking that I might as well tell the public the whole story, as the main part of the affair was already in print. He gave me a resume of what was about to appear, and I had to acknowledge that he had the story correct in most of its details."

She was shrewd enough to note that Hubert Varrick grew very pale while she was speaking, and she could not help but observe the hopelessness that settled over his face.

His heart was touched, in spite of himself, to see how gladly Gerelda greeted him, and to note how she seemed to hang on every word that he uttered, accepting his love as a matter of course.

Of what use to make any demur now that the fiat had gone forth? There was nothing for him to do but to accept the bride fate had intended for him, and shut out from his heart all thoughts of that other love.

It would be a terrible burden to go through life with, acting the part of a dutiful husband to a young wife whom he pitied but did not love.

Other men had gone through such ordeals. Surely he could be as brave as they.

And so the preparations for the wedding, for a second time, were begun. Again the guests were bidden, and the event was to take place in exactly six weeks from that day.



CHAPTER XVII.

LOVE IS BITTER AND THE WHOLE WORLD GOES WRONG WHEN TWO LOVERS PART IN ANGER FOREVER.

We must return to our beautiful heroine, little Jessie Bain.

When she turned her face from the Varrick mansion toward the cold and desolate world, the girl's very heart seemed to stop still in her bosom.

Jessie Bain knew little of traveling—she had not the least idea how to get to her uncle's, although she had made that trip once before. She walked one street after the other in the vain hope of finding the depot. At last, fairly exhausted, she found herself just outside the entrance to Central Park.

Jessie entered the park, and sunk down on the nearest seat.

Among those sauntering past in the crowd was a tall, broad-shouldered young man, who stopped abruptly as his bold black eyes fell upon the lovely young face.

"Heavens! what a beauty!" he muttered, stopping short, under the pretense of lighting a cigarette, and watching her covertly from under his dark brows.

Seating himself unconcernedly on the further end of the bench, the stranger continued to watch Jessie, who had not even the slightest intimation of his presence.

He waited until the crowd thinned out, until only an occasional straggler passed by; then he edged nearer the pretty little creature.

"Ahem!" he began, with a slight cough. After several ineffectual attempts to attract her attention in this way, the stranger spoke to her.

"A lovely day, isn't it?" he remarked.

"Are you speaking to me, sir?" asked Jessie Bain, in great displeasure.

"I am indeed so bold," he answered. "May I hope that you are not offended with me for so doing, for I have a fancy to know such a pretty young girl as yourself."

"I am offended!" cried Jessie Bain, indignantly. "I always supposed before this that people could sit down in a public park without being molested; but it seems not; so I shall move on!"

"So young, so beautiful, but so unkind," murmured the stranger, in a melo-dramatic voice.

"I can not think that we are strangers. I must have seen you somewhere, believe me," he went on, rising suddenly and walking close by her side as she started down the path.

Jessie was now thoroughly frightened. She uttered a little, shrill cry.

"What are you doing that for?" hissed the man, clutching her arm. "You will have the police after us. Walk along quietly beside me, you little fool; I have something to say to you."

Terrified, Jessie only cried the louder and shriller, wrenching her arm free from the stranger's grasp.

At that instant a young man, who had happened along, and who had heard the cry, sprang with alacrity to the young girl's rescue.

"What is the matter?" he cried. "Is this fellow annoying you?"

Jessie knew the voice at once, and sprang forward. She had recognized the voice of the young architect.

"Oh, save me—save me!" she cried.

Even before she had time to utter a word the young man had recognized Jessie Bain; and that very instant the man who had dared thus annoy her was measuring his full length on the grass, sent there by the young architect's vigorous arm.

"I will have your life for this!" yelled the fellow, as he picked himself up, but taking good care to keep well out of the reach of the young girl's defender.

"What in the world are you doing in the park, and so far away from home, Miss Jessie?" Moray, the young architect, asked.

Her lips quivered and her eyes filled with sudden tears.

"Varrick Place isn't home to me any longer, Mr. Moray," she sobbed. "I have just left it to-day—left it forever. I wish I had never seen the place. It has caused me no end of sorrow."

"I do not wish to pry into any of your affairs," he said, gently, as he took her hand and walked slowly down the path with her; "but if you will confide in me and tell me why you left, I might be able to help you."

Little by little he drew from the girl the whole terrible story, until she had told him all.

Frank Moray's indignation knew no bounds. He could hardly restrain himself from ejaculations of anger.

"Of course, if you have friends, it would ill become me to persuade you not to go to them; but if you ask my advice, I would say: remain here for a little while and look about you. Come home with me. I have a dear old mother who will receive you with open arms. My cousin Annabel, too, will be glad to welcome you. Come home and talk to mother and let her advise you what to do. Will you come with me, Miss Jessie?"

The girl was only too glad to assent.

When Jessie had finished her story, the impulse was strong within the young architect's breast to ask the girl to marry him, then and there.

He had never ceased caring for her from the first moment he had seen her pretty face. But he told himself that it would seem too much like taking an unfair advantage to say anything of love or marriage to her now.

Mrs. Moray received the stranger with motherly kindness.

"I have heard my son speak of you so often that I feel as though I were well acquainted with you," she said, untying the girl's bonnet and removing her mantle.

"Come here, Annabel, my dear," she said, turning to a young girl who sat in a little low rocker by the sewing machine, "and welcome Miss Bain."

A slim, slight girl, in a jaunty blue cloth dress edged with white, rose and came curiously forward, extending a little brown hand to Jessie.

"I am very glad to see you, Miss Bain," she said; "for Frank has talked of you so much."

"Won't you please call me Jessie?" returned the other. "No one has ever called me Miss Bain before."

"Nothing would please me better," returned Annabel.

They spent a very pleasant evening, and then Annabel took Jessie off to her room with her for the night.

Long after the two girls had retired Mrs. Moray and her son sat talking the matter over, and it was not long before Mrs. Moray discovered that her boy was deeply in love with pretty Jessie Bain.

Of course, like himself, she felt perfectly sure that the girl was entirely innocent of what she had been accused of by Mrs. Varrick.

But the very idea of the theft sent a thrill of horror through her heart. She must discourage her son's love for the girl, for she would rather see him dead and buried than wedded to one upon whose fair name ever so slight a stain rested. She said to herself that the girl's stay beneath their cottage roof must be cut as short as possible.

It was decided that Jessie Bain should remain at the cottage of the Morays until she had ample time to write to her uncle and receive his reply.

Jessie mailed her letter before she went to sleep that night. Annabel easily dropped off to slumber, but it was not so with Jessie; for had not this been the most eventful day of her life?

How she wished Mrs. Varrick had not exacted a promise from her that she would never again hold any communication with her son Hubert! Would he believe her guilty when he returned home and his mother told him all that had transpired?

She could imagine the horror on his face as he listened; and this thought was so bitter to Jessie that she cried herself to sleep over it.

The third day of her stay a letter from her uncle came to her. Her cousin was married and gone away, he wrote, and he would be only too glad to forget and forgive by-gones.

Two days later, Frank Moray saw her safely on the train which would take her as far as Clayton, where her uncle promised to meet her.

"If I write to you sometimes, will you answer my letters, little Jessie?" asked Frank Moray, as he found her a seat in a well-crowded car, and bent over her for the last glance into the girl's beautiful, wistful face.

"Yes," she answered, absently.

For a moment his hand closed over hers; he looked at her with his whole soul in his honest eyes, then he turned and quickly left her.

He stood on the platform and watched her sweet face at the window until the train was out of sight, then he moved slowly away.

Jessie stared hard through the window, but she never saw any of the scenes through which she was whirling so rapidly. Her thoughts were with Hubert Varrick.

It was dusk when she reached her destination, and according to his promise her uncle was at the depot to meet her.

It was with genuine joy that he hurried forward to greet the girl, though they had parted but a few short months ago in such bitter anger.

"I am glad to get you back again, little Jessie," he declared, eagerly; "and, as I wrote to you, we will let by-gones be by-gones, little girl, and forget the past unpleasantness between us by wiping it out of our minds as though it had never been. I missed you awfully, little one, and I've had a lonesome time of it since your cousin went away. Home isn't home to a man without a neat little woman about to tidy things up a bit and make it cheerful."

How good it seemed to Jessie to have some one speak so kindly to her! He was plain and homely, and coarse of speech, but he was the only being in the whole wide world who really cared for her and offered her a shelter in this her hour of need. But how desolate the place was, with its little old-fashioned, low-ceiling kitchen, the huge fire-place on one side, the cupboard on the other, whose chintz curtains were drawn back, revealing the rows of cups and saucers and pile of plates of blue china, more cracked and nicked than ever, and the pine table, with its oil-cloth cover, and the old rag mat in the center of the floor!

The girl's heart sank as she looked around.

Could she make this place her home again? Its very atmosphere, redolent with tobacco smoke and the strong odor of vegetables, took her breath away.

Ah! it was very hard for this girl, whose only fortune was a dower of poverty, and who had had a slight taste of wealth and refinement, to come back to the old life again and fall into the drudgery of other days.

She could not refuse her uncle when he pleaded to know where she went and where she had been since the night he had driven her, in his mad frenzy, out into the world.

He listened in wonder. The girl's story almost seemed like a fairy tale to him. But as he listened to the ending of it—surely the saddest story that ever was told by girlish lips—of how she had left the Varrick mansion, and of what Mrs. Varrick had accused her of doing, his rage knew no bounds.

"You might have known how it would all turn out!" he cried. "A poor little field wren has no business in the gilded nest of the golden eagle! You are at home again, little one. Think no more of those people!"

How little he realized that this was easier said than done. Where one's heart is, there one's thoughts are also.

The neighbors flocked in to see her. Every one was glad to have pretty, saucy Jessie Bain back once more. But there was much mystery and silent speculation as to where she had been.

The girls of the neighborhood seemed to act shy of her. Even her old companions nodded very stiffly when they met her, and walked on the other side of the street when they saw her coming.

The antagonism of the village girls was never so apparent until the usual festivities of the autumn evenings approached.

It was the custom of the village maidens of Alexandria Bay to inaugurate the winter sports by giving a Halloween party, and every one looked forward to this with the wildest anticipation.

Jessie Bain had always been the moving spirit at these affairs, despite the fact that they were generally held in the homes of some of the wealthier girls, their houses being larger and more commodious.

The party, which was to be on a fine scale this year, was now the talk of the little town.

But much to the sorrow and the amazement of Jessie Bain, day by day rolled by without bringing her the usual invitation.

It wanted but two days now to the all-important party. Jessie had gotten her dress ready for the occasion, thinking that at the last moment some of the girls would come in person and invite her. Not that she cared so much for the fun, after all, but her uncle was anxious that she should go more among the young folks, as she used to do. It was simply to please him that she would mingle among the crowd of youths and maidens.

At last the day of the Halloween party rolled round.

"Well," said her uncle, as he sat down to the breakfast table and waited for her to set on the morning meal, "I suppose you're getting all your fixings ready to have a big time with the young folks to-night?"

Before she could answer, there was the postman's whistle at the door. He handed in a large, thick letter, and it was addressed to Jessie Bain.

Jessie turned the letter over and over, looking in wonder at the superscription. The envelope contained something else besides the letter—a newspaper clipping. This Jessie put on the table to look over after she had finished the letter. It was a bright, newsy epistle, brimming over with kindly wishes for her happiness, and ending with a hope that the writer might see her soon.

"Who is it from?" asked her uncle.

The girl dutifully read it out for him.

"He seems to be a right nice young man, and quite taken up with you, little Jess," he said, laughingly.

He saw by the distressed look on her face that this idea did not please her.

"He would have to be a mighty nice fellow to get my consent to marry you, my lass."

"Do not fear, uncle," she said; "you will never be called upon to give your consent to that. He is very nice indeed, but not such a one as I could give my heart to, I assure you."

"Then let me give you a word of advice; don't encourage him by writing letters to him. But isn't there another part of the letter on the table yonder you haven't read yet?"

"I had almost forgotten it," returned Jessie.

One glance as she spread it out at full length, then her face grew white as death.

"Bless me! I shall be late!" declared her uncle, putting on his hat and hurrying from the room.

She never remembered what he said as he passed out of the room. Her heart, ay, her very soul, was engrossed in the printed lines before her.

In startling headlines she read the words:

"A NOTABLE MARRIAGE IN HIGH LIFE—MR. HUBERT VARRICK AND MISS NORTHRUP WEDDED AT LAST."

Then followed an account of the grand ceremony; of a mansion decorated with roses; a description of the marriage; the elaborate wedding-breakfast served in a perfect bower of orchids and ferns; and then the names of the guests, who numbered nearly a thousand.

Jessie Bain never finished the article. With a bitter cry she fell face downward on the floor in a deep swoon.

It was an hour or more ere she returned to consciousness. With trembling hands the girl tore the newspaper clipping into a thousand shreds, lest her eyes should ever fall on it again.

"He is married—married!" she murmured; and the words seemed to fall like ice upon her heart.

How strange it seemed! She remembered but too well the last time she had looked upon his face.

Captain Carr did not come home for supper, and one of the neighboring women dropped in to tell Jessie that he might not get home until far into the night, for there had been a terrible accident on the river the evening before, and his services were needed there.

Night came on, darkness settled down over the world; then one by one the stars came out, and a full moon rose clear and bright in the heavens.

The sound of far-off strains of music and the echo of girlish laughter suddenly fell upon her ears. Then it occurred to her that it must be near midnight, that her companions of other days were in the midst of their Halloween games in the big house on the hill.

Only the little brook at the rear of her uncle's garden separated the grounds. Some subtle instinct which she could not follow drew Jessie's steps to the brook.

The moon for a moment was hidden behind a cloud, but suddenly it burst forth clear and bright in all its glory. For one brief instant the heart in her bosom seemed to stand still.

Was she mad, or did she dream? Was it the figure of a man picking his way over the smooth white rocks that served as stepping-stones across the shallow stream, and coming directly toward her?

Midway he paused, and looked toward the cottage and the light which she always placed in the window. Then the moon shone full upon his face, and Jessie Bain looked at him with eyes that fairly bulged from their sockets. His features were now clearly visible in the bright moonlight. It was Hubert Varrick in the flesh, surely, or his wraith!

In that first rapid glance she seemed to live an age; then, for the second time that day, a merciful unconsciousness seized her.

It was gray dawn when she regained her senses and crept back, terror-stricken, to the house.

Was it the idle fancy of her own vivid imagination, or did she really see the image of Hubert Varrick confronting her by the brook as the midnight bells of All-Halloween rang out slowly and solemnly on the crisp, chilly night air?

"I must be going mad—my brain must be turning," thought the girl, shivering in every limb as she walked slowly back to the house.

The sun was up high in the heavens ere her uncle returned.

"Such a time as we've had, lass!" he cried, throwing down his cap. "A steamer was wrecked the night before last, and all day yesterday and all last night we were busy doing our utmost for the poor creatures who barely escaped with their lives. We saved a good many who were in the water for many hours, holding on to planks or life-preservers, and there are many lost. It was the steamer 'St. Lawrence,' heavily laden, that was to have connected with the boat for Montreal, for which most of the passengers were bound. There is one woman whom they are bringing here. I came on ahead to have you prepare a bed for her. Every house has been called upon to give shelter to some one. It will make you a little more work, lass, but it will only be for a little while."

"I shall be glad of the work, for it will occupy my time and attention," declared Jessie.

She had scarcely uttered the words ere the men were seen approaching with their burden. They brought the woman in and placed her on Jessie's little cot.

"Oh, how beautiful she is!" murmured Jessie, little dreaming who it was that she was sheltering beneath that roof.



CHAPTER XVIII.

WEDDING BELLS OUT OF TUNE.

Let us return to Hubert Varrick, and the marriage which was the all-absorbing topic in fashionable circles.

Mrs. Varrick had sent a note to her son at his hotel, begging for a reconciliation, and stating that she would be at the wedding without fail; but never a word did she say about Jessie Bain.

It seemed like a dream to Hubert—his ride in a cab through the cool crisp air to Gerelda's home on that eventful morning.

He noticed one thing—that the sun did not shine that day; and he said to himself that it boded ill for his wedding.

The bride-elect and her mother welcomed him effusively. Bitter anger filled the girl's heart to see how cold and stern he looked. She noticed that he had no word, no smile for her. If she had not loved him so madly, her pride would have rebelled, and she would have let him go his way even then.

She almost shrunk under the cold glance that rested upon her. She trembled, even in that moment, as she thought how he would hate her if he but knew how she had plotted to win him. Before she had a chance to exchange a word with him, her maid of honor came fluttering down the corridor, chattering in high spirits with Harry Maillard, who was to be best man.

She was quite as dazed as Varrick himself, until she found herself standing beside him at the altar.

It was over at last! The words had been spoken which made her Hubert Varrick's wedded wife, through weal or through woe, till death did them part.

Then followed the sumptuous wedding-breakfast. While the merriment was at its height, Varrick touched her lightly on the arm.

"It wants but an hour and twenty minutes until train time. Would it not be best to slip away now and arrange your traveling toilet?"

"Yes," said Gerelda.

No one noticed their exit, and at last they were alone together, away from the throng of guests; but, much to the bride's disappointment, her newly made husband did not seem to realize this fact, and Gerelda's face flushed with disappointment.

He escorted her as far as the door of her boudoir, and there he left her, saying that he would return in half an hour, hoping that would be sufficient time to exchange her bridal robes for her traveling-dress. She smiled and nodded, declaring that he should find her ready before that time.

Hubert walked slowly on until he found himself at the door of the conservatory.

"It wouldn't be a bad idea to get a cigar and return here for a quiet smoke," he thought.

He immediately suited the action to the thought. Was it fate that led him there? He had scarcely seated himself in one of the rustic arm-chairs ere he heard the sound of approaching voices.

He felt slightly annoyed that the retreat he had chosen was to be invaded at that particular moment.

He drew back among the large-leaved plants, which would effectually screen him from the intruders, and hoped that their stay would be short.

"I tell you it will be impossible for you to see her," said a voice, which he recognized as belonging to Gerelda's maid.

"But I must," retorted another voice which sounded strangely familiar. "Give her the note I just gave you, and I will wager you something handsome that she will see me. My good girl, let this plead for me with you!"

A jingle of silver accompanied the words, and Varrick could not help but smile at the magical effect the little bribe had.

"Of course, I'll take your note to her, sir," said the girl; "but that isn't promising she'll see you."

Somehow the idea formed itself in Varrick's mind that it was Mrs. Northrup for whom the man asked. Had he thought for one moment that it was Gerelda whom the man had asked for, he would have stepped forth and inquired of him what he wanted.

In a very few moments he heard the frou-frou of a woman's garments and the patter of hurrying feet.

"Gerelda has come instead of her mother to see what this person wants," he thought; adding impatiently: "This will never do; we shall be late for the train, sure. I will have to take the man off her hands."

At that instant, Gerelda, panting with excitement sprung across the threshold of the conservatory.

From his leafy seat Varrick could hear and see all that took place, while no one could see him.

He had risen, and was just about to step forward, when he caught sight of Gerelda's face. The color of it held him spell-bound. It was as pale as death, and her eyes flashed fire. She was fairly frothing at the mouth, and the look of venomous rage that distorted her features appalled him.

"You!" cried Gerelda. "Have you risen from the grave to confront me?"

"I am Captain Frazier—at your service, madame," returned her companion, with a low bow. "As for my returning from the unknown shore, why, you flatter me in imagining that I have so much power, though I have been known to do some miraculous things before now. I am sorry that so many of my friends believe the ridiculous story that was set afloat regarding my supposed death. I am—"

"Why are you here? What do you want?" cried Gerelda.

"You are inclined to be brusque, my dear," he replied, tauntingly. "If you had asked me that question half an hour ago, I should have answered, 'I am here to stop your marriage with Hubert Varrick at whatever cost. I have traveled by night and by day, foot-sore and hungry, to get here in time to prevent it.' I— I thought you had perished in the fire on the island, until I read the article in the paper announcing your marriage."

"If this is all you have to say to me, permit me to say good-morning," she returned icily, turning to leave the place.

"You shall listen to me!" he cried. "I vowed in days gone by that you should never be happy with Hubert Varrick. You promised that you would marry me, and those words changed my whole life."

"Well, now that I am another's bride, what can you do about it?" sneered Gerelda.

"I mean to see Varrick and have a little talk with him," he answered. "I will tell him how, on the very night before the marriage was to have taken place at the Crossmon Hotel, at Alexandria Bay, I threw myself on my knees at your feet, and cried out to you to spare me; that you had played with my heart too long, and urged you to fly with me, and that you said, while I knelt before you, that if you decided to fly with me you would let me know by sunrise the following morning, but that you must have all night to think it over.

"Do you dare face me and deny that?" continued Captain Frazier, seizing her white wrist and holding it in an iron grip.

"No, I do not deny it," she answered. "But what of it? What do you expect to make of it?"

"This!" he cried, furiously. "I intend to be even with you. I will have a glorious revenge! I will see Hubert Varrick before he leaves this house, and say to him: 'I hope you may be happy with your bride,' and I will laugh in his face, crying out: 'She eloped with me not so very long ago, and we went to my island home, where we kept in hiding until the sensation should blow over. We remained there, as I can prove by all my servants, and I was a very slave to her sweet caprices.'"

"You would not say that!" cried Gerelda. "I would tell him my side of the story—that you kidnapped me, and held me by force on the island."

"Varrick is a man of the world," he returned, tauntingly. "Your side of the story is too flimsy for him or any one else to believe."

"Stop! You must not—you shall not!" cried Gerelda, wildly. "I— I will make terms with you. I see you are shabbily dressed and in want of money. I will give you a check, here and now, for a thousand dollars, if you will go away, never again to return, and have nothing to say—nothing. Your story would ruin me, false though it is."

The captain arched his eyebrows.

"I think I could bring satisfactory proof as to where you passed your time."

Hubert Varrick, standing behind the foliage, was fairly stricken dumb by what he heard and saw.

He did not love his bride, but he believed in her implicitly. All the old doubt which had filled his heart and killed his love for Gerelda came surging back like a raging torrent, sweeping over his very soul.

In that instant the thought of Jessie Bain came to him—sweet little Jessie, whose love for him he had read in her every glance, and to whom he had given all his heart with a deeper, stronger love than he had ever given to Gerelda, even in those old days. How he longed to break from the terrible nightmare which seemed to fetter him!

"Your offer of a thousand dollars is a very fair one; but it will take double that sum to purchase my silence. You are quite right in your surmise. I am in need of money. With one fell swoop I have lost every dollar of my fortune, and now that all romance and sentiment are over between us, I have no compunction in showing you the mercenary side of my nature. Make it two thousand, and I will consent to hold my peace, seeing that I can not mend matters by undoing the marriage."

"Come with me. We will settle this now and forever. I have but five minutes to devote to you. Step this way," said Gerelda.

The next instant they had disappeared, and Hubert Varrick was left standing there alone.

How long he stood there he never knew. His valet came in search of him. He found him at the end of the conservatory, standing motionless as a statue among the shrubbery.

"Master," he said, "your bride bids me say to you that you have barely time to get into your traveling clothes."

He was shocked at the horrible laugh that broke from Varrick's lips.

Had his master gone mad? he wondered.

He followed the man without a word, and five minutes later, with a firm step, he was walking down the corridor toward his bride's apartments.

But ere he could knock upon the door, it was opened by Gerelda. He offered his arm to Gerelda, and walked slowly by her side through the throng of friends to the carriage in waiting; and, amid showers of rice, peals of joyous laughter, and a world of good wishes, they were whirled away.

During the entire ride Varrick spoke no word. Gerelda watched him narrowly out of the corner of her eye, wondering why he looked so unusually angry.

They were barely in time to catch the train, and it was not until they were seated in their own compartment that Varrick ventured a remark to the beautiful girl he had just made his wife, and who was looking up into his face with such puzzled wonder in her great dark eyes.

"I should like your attention for a few moments, Mrs. Varrick," he said, turning to her with a haughty sternness that was new to him.

"You are my wife," he went on; "the ceremony is barely over which made you that, yet I would recall it if I could."

"What do you mean, Hubert?" she cried, piteously.

"We will not have any theatricals, if you please," he said, waving her back. "A guilty conscience should need no accuser. It is best to speak plainly to you, and to the point. Suffice it to say I was in the conservatory at the time you entered. I heard all that passed between Captain Frazier and yourself. Now, here is what I propose to do: We were to take a wedding-trip to Montreal. We will go there, but when we reach our destination, you and I will part forever. I shall institute proceedings for a divorce at once, and I shall never know another happy moment until the divorce is granted. You shall be wife of mine but in name until we reach Montreal; then we part forever."

"Oh, Hubert, Hubert, you will not do this!" she sobbed, wildly. "It would ruin my life—kill me!"

"You did not stop to think that marriage with you would ruin my life," he interposed, bitterly. "What have you to say for yourself? Was Captain Frazier's story false or true? Remember, I heard him say that he could furnish proof of all he charged."

"It is useless to hide the truth from you," she whispered, hoarsely. "I see that you know all. Give me a chance to think—only to think of some way out of it. It would kill me, Hubert, to part from you. Better death than that. You are my world, the sunshine of my life. I would pine away and die without you. Oh, Hubert, you must not leave me!"

"The words are easily said," he replied, "but they do not sound sincere. I may as well make a clean breast of the whole matter," he went on, "and tell you the truth, Gerelda. I do not love you. I— I—love another, though that love has never been confessed to the one I love. I— I—married you because I felt in honor bound to do so, and in doing so I crushed all the love that was budding in my heart. But was it worth the sacrifice of two lives? You can not answer me. I shall not intrude upon you again until we reach Montreal. You can send for your mother; it would be best for me to leave you in her charge. Telegraph back to her from the next station we arrive at. The moment we reach Montreal we part forever!"

But at that instant a strange event happened.



CHAPTER XIX.

THE COLLISION—THE PILOT AT THE WHEEL.

Gerelda had been looking intently out of the window. Suddenly she sprang back with a wild cry that fairly froze the blood in Varrick's veins.

"What has frightened you, Gerelda?" he asked, gravely; and the look she turned on him he never forgot, there was something so terrible in the gaze of those dark eyes. She did not attempt to repel him from drawing near her, or from clasping her hands; but ever and anon she would laugh that horrible laugh that froze the blood in his veins.

"Let us talk the matter over calmly, Gerelda," he said at length, "and arrive at an understanding."

"There is no need," she returned. "As long as I understand, that is quite sufficient."

There was something in the tone of her voice that frightened him. He looked into her face. A grayish pallor overspread it. To Varrick's infinite surprise, Gerelda commenced to laugh immoderately; and these spells of laughter so increased as the moments flew by, that he became greatly alarmed.

He wondered what he could do or say to comfort her. She grew so alarmingly hysterical as he watched her, that it occurred to him he must find medical aid for her. Fortune favored him; he found a doctor seated in the compartment next to him. The gentleman was only too glad to be able to render him every assistance in his power.

One glance at the beautiful bride, and an expression of the gravest apprehension swept over the doctor's face.

"My dear sir," he said, turning to Varrick, "I have something to tell you which you must summon all your fortitude to hear. Your young wife has lost her reason; she is dangerously insane."

Varrick started back as though the man had struck him a sudden blow.

"You are bound for Montreal, I believe," continued the doctor. "You will see the need of conveying her to an asylum, with the least possible delay, as soon as you arrive there. If there is anything which I can do to assist you during this journey, do not hesitate to call upon me. Consider me entirely at your service."

That was a day in Hubert Varrick's life that he never looked back to without shuddering. How he passed the long hours he never knew. Gerelda grew steadily more violent, and twice Varrick's life would have paid the forfeit had it not been for his watchfulness.

With great difficulty he succeeded, with the doctor's assistance, in making the change from the train to the boat.

That was how his wedding journey began.

As night came on, the doctor touched him again on the arm.

"You have not left your young bride's side for an instant during all these long hours," he said. "You are wearing yourself out. Let me beg of you to go out on deck and take a few turns up and down; the cool air will revive you. Nay, you must not refuse; I insist upon it, or I shall have you for a patient before your journey is ended."

To this proposition, after some little coaxing, Varrick consented.

The doctor was quite right; the cool air did revive him amazingly. He felt feverish, and paced up and down the deck, a prey to the bitterest thoughts that ever tortured a man's soul.

One by one the stars came out in the great blue arch overhead, and mirrored themselves in the bluer waters.

Varrick watched them in silence, his heart in a whirl. All at once it occurred to him that he knew the pilot of the boat—that, as he was from Montreal, it wouldn't be a bad idea to interview him as to the location of some private asylum to which he might take Gerelda.

He acted upon this thought at once, and making his way to the upper deck, he recognized the man at the wheel, in the dim light, although his back was turned to him.

"How are you, John?" he exclaimed, tapping him on the shoulder. "Don't let me frighten you; it is your old friend Varrick."

Much to his surprise, the pilot neither stirred nor spoke. Varrick stepped around, and faced him with some little laughing remark on his lips. But the words died away in his throat in a gasp. The dim light was falling full upon the pilot's features. What was there in that ashy face and those staring eyes that sent the cold blood back to his heart?

"John!" he cried, bending nearer the man and catching hold of his arm roughly as it rested upon the wheel. But his own dropped heavily to his side.

The terrible truth burst upon him with startling force—the pilot was dead at the wheel!

But even in the same instant that he made his horrible discovery, a still greater one dawned upon him. Another steamer came puffing and panting down the river, signaling the "St. Lawrence."

Each turn of the ponderous wheels swept her nearer and nearer, and the "St. Lawrence" was drifting directly across her bow. It was a moment so feighted with horror it almost turned Varrick's brain. Five hundred souls, or more, all unconscious of their deadly peril, were laughing and chattering down below, and the pilot was dead at the wheel!

Ere he could give the alarm, a terrible catastrophe would occur. He realized this, and made the supreme effort of his life to avert it. But fate was against him. In his mad haste to leap down the stair-way to give warning, his foot slipped, and he fell headlong to the floor of the lower deck, his temple, coming in contact with the railing, rendering him unconscious. Heaven was merciful to him that he did not realize what took place at that instant.

There was a sudden shock, a terrible crash, and half a thousand souls, with terrified shrieks on their lips, found themselves struggling in the dark waters!

It was a reign of terror that those who participated in it, never forgot.

When Hubert Varrick returned to consciousness he found himself lying full length upon the greensward, and his face upturned to the moonlight, with the dead and dying around him, and the groans of the wounded ringing in his ears.

For an instant he was bewildered; then, with a rush, Memory mounted its throne in his whirling brain, and he recollected what had happened—the pilot dead at the wheel, another steamer sweeping down upon them; how he had rushed below to inform the passengers of their peril; how his foot had slipped, and he knew no more.

He realized that there must have been a horrible disaster.

How came he there? Who had saved him? Then, like a flash, he thought of Gerelda. Where was she? What had become of her? He struggled to his feet, weak and dazed.

He made the most diligent search for her, but she was nowhere to be found. Some one at length came hurriedly up to him. In the clear bright moonlight Varrick saw that it was the doctor in whose care he had left his young bride when he had gone on deck for fresh air.

"You are looking for her, sir?" he asked, huskily.

"Yes," cried Varrick, tremulously.

"Are you brave enough to hear the truth?" said the other, slowly.

"Yes," answered Varrick.

"Your wife was lost in the disaster. I was by her side when the steamer was struck. We had both concluded to go on deck to join you. With the first terrible lurch we were both thrown headlong into the water. I did my utmost to save her, but it was not to be. A floating spar struck her, and she went down before my eyes."

For an instant Varrick neither moved nor spoke.

"She is dead?" he interrogated.

"Yes," returned the doctor.

Varrick sank down upon a fallen log, and buried his face in his hands. For a moment he could scarcely realize Gerelda's untimely fate. He had not loved her, it was true; still, he would have given his life to have had her reason restored to her.

For an hour or more Hubert Varrick forgot his own sorrow in alleviating the terrible distress of others.

When there was no more assistance that he could render he thought it would be best for him to get away from the place as quickly as possible.

Scarcely heeding whither he went, he took the first path that presented itself. How far he walked he had not the least idea. In the distance he saw lights gleaming, and he knew that he was approaching some little village. He said to himself that it would be best to stop there for a few hours—until daylight, at least, and to recover Gerelda's body if possible.

He followed the path until it brought him to the edge of a little brook. The white, shining stones that rose above the eddying little wavelets seemed to invite him to cross to the other side. Midway over the brook he paused.

Was it only his fancy, or did he hear the sound of music and revelry?

He stood quite still and looked around him; the scene seemed familiar.

For an instant Hubert Varrick was startled; but as he gazed he recognized the place. He must be at Fisher's Landing. Up there through the trees, lay the home of Captain Carr, the uncle of little Jessie Bain.

As he stood gazing at it, the clock in some adjacent steeple slowly struck the midnight hour. He wondered if Jessie was there. How he felt like telling some one his troubles!



CHAPTER XX.

LOVE IS A POISONED ARROW IN SOME HEARTS.

Early the next morning Varrick was at the scene of the disaster, though he was scarcely fit to leave his bed at the village hostelry. Most of the bodies had been recovered or accounted for, save that of Gerelda.

Varrick was just about to offer a large reward to any one who would recover it, when two fishermen were seen making their way in a little skiff toward the scene of the wreck.

There was some object covered over with a dark cloak in the bottom of their boat. They were making for the shore upon which the wreck was strewn.

Varrick sprung forward.

"Is it the body of a woman you have there?" he cried.

They lifted it out tenderly and uncovered the face. It was mutilated beyond recognition, and the clothing was so torn and soiled by the action of the waves that scarcely enough of it remained intact, to disclose its color or texture.

There was great consternation when Hubert Varrick returned home with the body of his bride, and more than one whispered: "Fate seems to have been against that marriage from the very first! 'What is to be, will be.' These two proposed to marry, but a Higher Power decreed that they were not for each other."

The same thought had come to Hubert Varrick as he paced wearily up and down his own room.

It was a nine-days' subject for pity and comment, and then the public ceased to think about it, and Gerelda's fate was at last forgotten.

Hubert Varrick then arranged his business for a trip abroad, and when he said good-bye to his mother and Mrs. Northrup, he added that he might be gone years, perhaps forever.

In the very moment that he uttered those words, how strange it was that the thought came over him that he might never see Jessie Bain again.

But this thought, at such a time, he put from him as unworthy to linger in his breast. And when the "City of Paris" sailed away, among her passengers was Hubert Varrick.

He watched the line of shore until it disappeared from his sight, and a heavy sigh throbbed on his lips as his thoughts dwelt sadly on Gerelda, his fair young bride, who lay sleeping on the hill-side just where the setting sun glinted the marble shaft over her grave with a touch of pale gold.

Let us return to the cottage home of Jessie Bain, and see what is taking place there on this memorable day.

For a week after the unfortunate young girl was brought under that roof, carried there from the wreck, her life hung as by a single thread. The waves had been merciful to her, for they had balked death by washing her ashore.

A handkerchief marked with the name "Margaret Moore" had been found floating near her, and this, they supposed, belonged to her.

How strange it is that such a little incident can change the whole current of a human being's life.

The daily papers far and wide duly chronicled the rescue of Margaret Moore. No one recognized the name, no friends came to claim her. They had made a pitiful discovery, however, in the interim—the poor young creature had become hopelessly insane, whether through fright, or by being struck upon the head by a piece of the wreck, they could not as yet determine.

Jessie Bain's pity for her knew no bounds. She pleaded with her uncle with all the eloquence she was capable of to allow the stranger to remain beneath that roof and in the end her pleading prevailed, and Margaret Moore was installed as a fixture in the Carr homestead.

Jessie Bain would sit and watch her by the hour, noting how soft and white her hands were, and how ladylike her manners. She said to herself that she must be a perfect lady, and to the manner born.

There was something so pathetic about her—(she was by no means violent)—that Jessie could not help but love her. And the words were ever upon her lips, that she was to be parted from her lover as soon as her journey ended; that he had discovered all, and now he had ceased to love her; that twice she had nearly won him, but that fate had stepped in-between them.

Of course, Jessie knew that her words were but the outgrowth of a deranged mind, and that there had been no lover on the steamer "St. Lawrence" with Margaret Moore. All day long the girl would wring her hands and call for her lover, until it made Jessie's heart bleed to hear her.

But there was no tangible sense to any remarks that she made. She seemed so grateful to Jessie, who in turn grew very fond of her grateful charge. Jessie Bain was not a reader of the newspapers. She never knew that Hubert Varrick had been on the ill-fated "St. Lawrence" on that memorable night, and that he had lost his bride.

Frank Moray, who had been only too glad to send Jessie the item announcing Hubert Varrick's marriage to another, took good care not to let her know that Varrick was free again. So the girl dreamed of him as being off in Europe somewhere, happy with his beautiful bride. Of course, he had forgotten her long since—that was to be expected; in fact, she would not have it otherwise.

Two months had gone by since that Hallowe'en night. It had made little change in the Carr household. The captain still plied his trade up and down the river, Jessie divided her time between taking care of her uncle's humble cottage and watching over poor Margaret Moore.

There were times when the girl really seemed to understand just how much Jessie was doing for her, and certainly it was gratitude that looked out of the dark, wistful eyes.

There were times too when Jessie was quite sure that Memory was struggling back to its vacant throne.

"Who are you?" she would whisper, earnestly, gazing into Jessie's face. "And what is your name? It seems as if I had heard it and known it in some other world."

Jessie would laugh amusedly at this. Once, much to Jessie's surprise, when she questioned her as to why she was sitting in the sunshine, thinking so deeply upon some subject, Margaret Moore answered simply:

"I was thinking about love!"

There were times when Margaret Moore seemed rational enough; but her past life was a blank to her. She always insisted that Jessie Bain's face was the first she had ever seen in this world.

It was the first one which she had beheld when consciousness came to her as she lay on her sick-bed; and to say that she fairly idolized Jessie was but expressing it very mildly.

The day came when she proved that devotion with a heroism that people never forgot. It happened in this way:

One cold, frosty morning early in January, in tidying up Petie's cage, the door was accidently left open, and the little canary, who was Jessie's especial pride, slipped from his cage and flew out at the open door-way, into the bitter cold of the winter morn.

With a cry of terror, Jessie Bain sprung after her pet. Down the village street he flew, making straight toward the river, Jessie following as fast as her feet could carry her, wringing her hands and calling to him. Margaret Moore followed in the rear. On the river's brink Jessie paused, and, with tears in her eyes, watched her pet in his mad flight. By this time Margaret Moore had caught up to her.

At that instant Jessie saw the bird whirl in mid-air, spread his yellow wings, then fall headlong upon the ice that covered the river, and Jessie sprang forward, and was soon making her way to where the canary lay. But the ice was not strong enough to bear her. There was a crash, a cry, and in an instant Jessie Bain had disappeared. The ice had given way beneath her weight, and the dark waters had swallowed her.

For an instant Margaret Moore stood dazed; then, with a shriek of terror, she flew over the ice and was kneeling at the spot where Jessie had disappeared, watching for her to come to the surface.

Once, twice, the golden hair showed for an instant; but each time it eluded the grasp of the girl who made such agonizing attempts to catch it. The third and last time it appeared. Would she be able to save her?

Margaret Moore turned her white face up to Heaven, and her lips moved; then she reached forward, plunged her right arm desperately down into the ice-cold water, grasped at the sinking form, and caught it; but she could not draw the body up.

"Jessie Bain! Jessie Bain!" she cried; "you will slip away from me! I can not hold you!

"Help! help!" she shrieked, in terror. But there was no help at hand.

All in vain were her pitiful cries. Margaret's hands were torn and bleeding, and slowly but surely freezing. They must soon relax their hold, and poor Jessie Bain would slip down, down into a watery grave.

Ten, twenty minutes passed. Surely it was by a superhuman effort that that slender arm retained its burden; but it could not hold out much longer.

So intense was her terror, Margaret Moore did not realize her own great physical pain. By an almost superhuman effort she attempted to cry out again.

This time she was successful. Her voice rose shrill and clear over the barren waste of frozen ice, over the waving trees, and down the road beyond. It reached the ears of a man who was hurrying rapidly through the snow-drifts.



CHAPTER XXI.

IT IS SO HARD FOR A YOUNG GIRL TO FACE THE WORLD ALONE.

"Help! help!" the words echoed sharp and clear again through the frosty morning air, and this time the man walking hurriedly along the road heard it distinctly, paused, and turned a very startled face toward the river.

It required but a glance to take in the terrible situation; the young girl stretched at full length on the ice, holding by main strength, something above the aperture in the ice; it was certainly a woman's head.

"Courage, courage!" he cried in a voice like a bugle blast. "Help is at hand! Hold on!" And in less time than it takes to tell it, he had reached the girl's side.

"Save her, save her!" gasped Margaret Moore. "My hands are frozen; I can not hold on any longer;" and with this she sunk back unconscious, and the burden she held would have slipped from her cramped fingers back into the dark, cold waves had not the stranger caught it in time. It required all his strength, however, to draw the body, slim though it was, from the water.

One glance at the marble-white face, and he uttered a little cry:

"Great Heaven! if it isn't Jessie Bain!"

Laying his dripping burden on the bank, the man lost no time in dragging Margaret Moore back from her perilous position; then the stranger, who was a fisherman, summoned assistance, and the two young girls were quickly carried back to the cottage, and a neighbor called in.

Jessie was the first to recover consciousness. She had suffered a terrible shock, a severe chill, but the blood of youth bounded quickly in her veins. Save a little fever, which was the natural result of the counter-action, she was none the worse for her thrilling experience.

With Margaret Moore it was different. The doctor who had been called in shook his head gravely over her condition.

"It may be a very serious matter," he said, slowly; "it may result in both hands having to be amputated, leaving her a cripple for life. Deranged and a cripple!" he added, pityingly, under his breath. "It would be better far if the poor thing were to die than to drag out the existence marked out for her."

"You will do all that you possibly can to save her hands?" said Captain Carr, anxiously.

"Yes, certainly," returned the doctor, "all that it is possible to do."

Jessie Bain's gratitude knew no bounds when she learned how near she had come to losing her life, and that she owed her rescue to the heroism of faithful Margaret Moore. She wept as she had never wept before when she discovered how dearly it might cost poor Margaret.

Alas! how true it is that trouble never comes singly! At this crisis of affairs, Captain Carr suddenly succumbed to a malady that had been troubling him for years, and Jessie Bain found herself thrown homeless, penniless upon the world. She was thankful that poor Margaret Moore did not realize the calamity that had overtaken her. That humble cottage roof which had sheltered her so long would cover her head no more.

"There is only one thing to be done, and that is to place the girl in an asylum," the neighbors advised.

This Jessie Bain stoutly declared she never would do as long as she had two hands to work for the unfortunate girl.

"I shall turn all my little possessions into money," she declared, "and go immediately to New York City and find something to do. She shall go with me and share my fortunes; my last crust of bread I will divide with her."

Every one thanked Heaven that by almost a miracle Margaret Moore's hands were saved to her.

A few days later Jessie Bain bid adieu forever to Fisher's Landing, accompanied by the girl who followed her so patiently out into the world.

How strange it is that New York City is generally the objective point for the poor and friendless in search of employment.

The journey to the great metropolis was a long one. They reached there just as the sun was sinking.

The first thing to be thought of was shelter. Inquiring in the drug store opposite the depot, she found that there was a small boarding-house down the first cross-street.

Jessie soon found the street and number to which she had been directed. A pleasant-faced maid opened the door. She was immediately shown into the parlor, and a brisk, bustling little woman soon put in an appearance.

She looked curiously at the two pretty young girls when she learned their errand.

"This is a theatrical boarding-place," she said, "and all of our rooms are full save two, and they are to be occupied on the twentieth. You might have them up to that time, I suppose," she added, unwilling to let the chance of making a few extra dollars go by her. "Or perhaps you and your sister could make the smaller one do for both."

"We could indeed!" eagerly assented Jessie.

She had noticed that the woman had called Margaret Moore her sister, and she said to herself that perhaps it would be as well to let it go at that, as it would certainly save much explanation.

And then again, if the landlady knew that her companion had lost her reason, she would never allow them to stay there over night, no matter how harmless she might be.

Jessie started out bright and early the next morning to search for employment, cautioning Margaret over and over again not to quit the room, and to answer no questions that might be put to her. After the first day's experience, she returned, heartsick and discouraged, to the boarding-house.

"Didn't find anything to do, eh?" remarked the landlady, sympathetically, as she met her at the door.

"No," said Jessie; "but I hope to meet with better luck to-morrow."

"Why don't you try to get on the stage," said Mrs. Tracy, patting the girl's shoulder. "You are young, and, to tell you the truth, you've an uncommonly pretty face."

"The stage?" echoed Jessie. "Why, I was never on the stage in all my life. What could I do on the stage?"

"You would make your fortune," declared the woman, "if you were clever. And there's your sister, too, she is almost as pretty as yourself. She'd like it, I am sure."

At that moment a woman who was passing hurriedly through the dimly lighted hall stopped short.

"What is this I hear, Mrs. Tracy?" she exclaimed. "Are you advising your new boarders, those two pretty, young girls, to go on the stage?"

"Yes," returned the other. "They are looking for work, and drudgery would be such hardship for them. And to tell the exact truth, Manager Morgan of the Society Belle Company, who is stopping with me, told me he would find a place in his company for her if she would leave her sister and go out on the road; and, furthermore, that he would push her, and take great pains in learning her all the stage business."

That evening, by his eager request, the manager was introduced to Jessie Bain.

He told a story so glowing, Jessie felt sorely tempted to accept his offer of a position on the stage. He promised her such a wonderful large salary and such grand times that she was surprised. Jessie's only objection in not accepting the offer was the thought that she should be parted from Margaret, which, the manager assured her, would have to be, as he had no room in his company for two.

"You can board her right here at Mrs. Tracy's," he suggested, "as your salary will be ample to pay for her. It is a chance that not one girl out of a thousand ever gets. You must realize that fact."

"Do you think I had better accept it, Mrs. Tracy?" asked Jessie.

"Indeed, I shouldn't hesitate," was the reply. "I'm not a theatrical person myself, although I do keep this boarding-house for them, and I don't know much about life behind the foot-lights, only as I hear them tell about it; but if I were in your place, it seems to me that I should accept it. If you don't like it, or get something better, it's easy enough to make a change, you know."

Jessie took this view of the case, too, and she signed a contract with the manager of the theatrical company.

"I hope I shall have a good part in the play," said Jessie, anxiously; "and, believe me, I will do my best to make it a success."

"Your face alone will insure that," said Manager Morgan, with a bland smile that might have warned the girl. "I will cast you for the lovely young heiress in the play. You will wear fine dresses and look charming. The part will suit you exactly."

"But I have no fine clothes," said Jessie, much down-hearted.

"Do not let such a little matter as that trouble you, I pray," he said gallantly. "I will advance you the required amount; you can pay me when you like."

Jessie said to herself that she had never met so kind a gentleman, and her gratitude was accordingly very great.

The next morning she was waited upon by a French modiste, who seemed to know just what she required, and a few days later, half a dozen dresses, so gorgeous that they fairly took Jessie Bain's breath away, were sent up to her.

She tried to explain to Margaret, who had settled down into a strange and unaccountable apathy, all about her wonderful good luck; but she answered her with only vacant monosyllables. And knowing that part of the truth must be told sooner or later, Jessie was forced to admit to Mrs. Tracy that Margaret had lost her reason, but that she was by no means harmful.

"That is no secret to me," responded Mrs. Tracy. "Every one in the boarding-house thought that from the first day you came here, though you tried hard to hide her malady from us. And I repeat my offer, that you can leave your sister in my charge, and I will do my very best for her. Let me tell you why," she added, in a low voice. "I had a daughter of my own once who looked very like your sister Margaret. She lost her reason because of an unhappy love affair, and she drooped and died. For her sake my heart bleeds with pity for any young girl whose reason has been dethroned. God help her!"

So it was settled that Margaret was to remain with Mrs. Tracy.

"After a few rehearsals you will get to know what you have got to do, quite well," said Manager Morgan, as he handed Jessie her part to learn. "Our company has been called together very hurriedly. We expected that it would be fully a month later ere rehearsals would begin and our members be called together. I have the same people who were with me last year, all save the young lady whose place you take, and they are all well up in their parts and don't need rehearsals. We go out on the road in one week more. I shall have to coach you in your part."

The handsome Mr. Morgan made himself most agreeable during those days of rehearsal, and if Jessie Bain's heart had not been entirely frozen by the frost of that earlier love for Hubert Varrick, which had come to such a bitter ending, she might have fancied this handsome, dandified manager.

The company were to open their season at Albany, and at last the day arrived for Mr. Morgan and Jessie to start.

There was to be just one rehearsal the following forenoon, and the next evening the play was to be produced.

It was a bitter trial for Jessie to leave Margaret alone there; but the bitterest blow of all was that she could not make Margaret understand that they were to be separated from each other for many long weeks.

It was snowing hard when the train steamed into Albany. Mr. Morgan, who had gone up by an earlier train, met her at the depot.

"We will go right to the theater," he said; "the remainder of the company are there; they are all waiting for us."

Jessie felt a little disappointed at not getting a cup of good hot tea; but she was too timid to mention it.

A dozen or more faces were eagerly turned toward them when they entered the theater. Four very much over-dressed young women, sitting in a group and laughing rather hilariously, and half a dozen long-ulstered, curly-mustached blase-appearing gentlemen, stared boldly at the timid, shrinking young girl whom Manager Morgan led forward.

"Our new leading lady, Miss Jessie Bain," he announced, briefly; adding quickly after this general introduction: "Clear the stage every one who is not discovered in the first act."

The way these gentlemen and ladies fairly flew into the wings astonished Jessie. They acted more like frightened children, afraid of a school-master than like ladies and gentlemen who were great heroes and heroines of the drama. Jessie stood quite still, not a little bewildered.

"Excuse me; but were you ever on before?" asked one of the girls, eyeing Jessie curiously.

"No," she answered; "but I do hope I will get along. I am very anxious to learn."

At this there was a great deal of suppressed tittering, which rather nettled Jessie.

"You must have wonderful confidence in yourself to attempt to play your part to-night, with only this one rehearsal. Aren't you afraid you will get stage-frightened?"

"I used to take part in all the entertainments that we used to give at home in the little village I came from. Once I had a very long part, and I always had an excellent memory."

"Let me give you a little word of advice," said the girl, who introduced herself as Mally Marsh, linking her arm in Jessie's and drawing her into one of the dark recesses of the wings, where they were quite alone together. "Did you see the girl in the sealskin coat who sat at my right as you came up? I want to tell you about her."



CHAPTER XXII.

"PRAY, PERMIT ME TO ESCORT YOU HOME," SAID THE HANDSOME STRANGER, STEPPING TO JESSIE'S SIDE AND RAISING HIS HAT WITH A PROFOUND BOW.

Jessie looked out on to the stage at the very pretty girl at whom her companion was nodding.

"That is the one you mean?" she said.

"Yes; that's Celey Dunbar," returned her companion; "and I repeat that I want to warn you about her. Celey was Manager Morgan's sweetheart last season. We all thought he was engaged to her at one time, but he soon tired of her. She is as fond of him as ever, though, and she'll make it hot for you if you don't watch out.

"Now, you see the girl in the long gray cloak, going on with her part out there? Well, that's Dovie Davis. Her husband is the handsome, dashing young fellow over yonder, who is to be your lover in the play. She's as jealous as green-gages of him, and while he is making love to you, on the stage, she'll be watching you from some entrance, as a cat would a mouse, and woe be to you if you make your part too real! The other lady over there is keeping company with that good-looking fellow she is talking to; so keep your eyes off him.

"The fellow in the long ulster and silk hat I claim as my especial property. Don't look so dumfounded, goosie; I mean he's my beau. We always manage to get into the same company, and it would be war to the knife with any girl who attempted to flirt with him."

"You need not be afraid of my ever attempting to flirt with him," said Jessie gravely.

"Well, it doesn't come amiss to learn a thing or two in season," returned Mally, with a nod. "All theatrical companies pair off like that.

"The other two young gents who passed by the wing a moment ago, and were watching you so intently, are married. Now, let me repeat the lesson again, so as to impress it upon your mind: Celey Dunbar is Manager Morgan's ex-sweetheart; Mrs. Dovie Davis is married; that gay, jolly girl is Daisy Lee, the soubrette of the company; she'd cut out any one of us if she could; but she's so merry a sprite we don't mind her, especially as none of the fellows take to her particularly."

To Jessie that rehearsal seemed like a bewildering dream. The ladies of the company looked at her coldly, but the gentlemen were wonderfully pleasant to her. They talked to her as freely as though they had known her for years, instead of only an hour. This embarrassed Jessie greatly; she hardly knew how to take this unaccustomed familiarity.

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