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Title: A Black Adonis
Author: Porter, Linn Boyd, 1851-1916
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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Transcriber's note:

   Every effort has been made to replicate this text as faithfully
   as possible; please see detailed list of printing issues at the
   end of the text.



A BLACK ADONIS.

by

ALBERT ROSS.


       *       *       *       *       *

  THE
  ALBATROSS NOVELS

  By ALBERT ROSS

  23 Volumes

  May be had wherever books are sold at the price you paid for this volume

    Black Adonis, A
    Garston Bigamy, The
    Her Husband's Friend
    His Foster Sister
    His Private Character
    In Stella's Shadow
    Love at Seventy
    Love Gone Astray
    Moulding a Maiden
    Naked Truth, The
    New Sensation, A
    Original Sinner, An
    Out of Wedlock
    Speaking of Ellen
    Stranger Than Fiction
    Sugar Princess, A
    That Gay Deceiver
    Their Marriage Bond
    Thou Shalt Not
    Thy Neighbor's Wife
    Why I'm Single
    Young Fawcett's Mabel
    Young Miss Giddy

  G. W. DILLINGHAM CO.
  Publishers  ::  ::   New York

       *       *       *       *       *


A BLACK ADONIS.

by

ALBERT ROSS.

Author of
 "Out of Wedlock," "Speaking of Ellen," "Thou Shalt Not,"
 "Why I'm Single," "Love at Seventy," Etc., Etc.


   "You see!" he answered, bitterly. "Because I am black I
   cannot touch the hand of a woman that is white. And yet you
   say the Almighty made of one blood all nations of the
   earth!"--Page 212.



New York:
Copyright, 1896, by G. W. Dillingham.
G. W. Dillingham Co., Publishers.
[All rights reserved.]



CONTENTS.

 Chapter                                         Page

      I. A Rejected Manuscript                      9

     II. "Was my story too bold?"                  23

    III. "Her feet were pink"                      35

     IV. With Titian Tresses                       49

      V. Studying Miss Millicent                   65

     VI. "How the women stare!"                    79

    VII. A Dinner at Midlands                      93

   VIII. Holding Her Hand                          99

     IX. "Daisy, my darling!"                     110

      X. "Oh, so many, many maids!"               121

     XI. Archie Pays Attention                    136

    XII. Dining at Isaac's                        143

   XIII. A Question of Color                      155

    XIV. "Let us have a betrayal"                 166

     XV. The Green-Eyed Monster                   177

    XVI. "I've had such luck!"                    190

   XVII. A Burglar in the House                   198

  XVIII. Black and White                          204

    XIX. "Play out your farce"                    215

     XX. Like a Stuck Pig                         226

    XXI. "We want Millie to understand"           238

   XXII. Where Was Daisy?                         246

  XXIII. An Awful Night                           254

   XXIV. "This ends it, then?"                    263

    XXV. An Undiscoverable Secret                 273

   XXVI. "I played, and I lost"                   282

  XXVII. Absolutely Blameless                     292

 XXVIII. Trapping a Wolf                          301

   XXIX. "The Greatest Novel"                     309



TO MY READERS.


I do not know how better to use the space that the printer always leaves
me in this part of the book than to redeem the promise I made at the end
of my last novel, and tell you in a few words what became of Blanche
Brixton Fantelli and her husband.

But, do you really need to be told?

Could they have done anything else than live in connubial felicity,
after the man had proved himself so noble and the woman had learned to
appreciate him at his true worth?

Well, whether they could or not, they didn't. Blanche is the happiest of
wedded wives. She still holds to her theory that marriage is based on
wrong principles, and that the contract as ordinarily made is
frightfully immoral; but she says if all men were like "her Jules" there
would be no trouble.

In this she proves herself essentially feminine. She is learning, albeit
a little late, that man was not made to live alone, and that the love a
mother feels for her child is not the only one that brings joy to a
woman's breast.

Fantelli does not claim that Blanche is his property. He is her lover
still, even though he has gained the law's permission to be her master.
He recognizes that she has rights in herself that are inviolable. This
is why they live together so contentedly. She would not be his mate on
any other terms.

If it is not the ideal existence, it is very near it. As near as a man
and woman who care for the world's opinion can live it in these days.

And now, with heartfelt thanks for the continued favor of the reading
public, which I am conscious is far beyond my desert, I bid a temporary
farewell to American shores. By the time this book is on the shelves of
the dealers I shall be on European soil, there to remain, I trust, for
the better part of a year. Wherever I am, my thoughts will always turn
to you who have made these journeys possible, and there as here my pen
will continue devoted to your service.

  ALBERT ROSS.

  Cambridge, Mass.,
    _June 1, 1895._



A BLACK ADONIS.



CHAPTER I.

A REJECTED MANUSCRIPT.


"A letter for Mr. Roseleaf," he heard his landlady say to the
chambermaid. And he was quite prepared to hear the girl reply, in a tone
of surprise:

"For Mr. Roseleaf! This is the first letter he has had since he came."

The young man referred to stood just within his chamber door, waiting
with some anxiety for the letter to be brought to him. He was about
twenty years of age, of medium height, with rather dark complexion,
curling hair and expressive eyes, and with a natural delicacy of manner
that made him seem almost feminine at first view.

He had the greatest possible interest in the letter that the postman had
just brought, but he was far too polite to disturb the landlady or her
servant, who were not yet through with it.

"You can see that it is from a publishing house," commented Mrs.
Ranning, inspecting the envelope with care. "It is from Cutt & Slashem,
who bring out more novels than any other firm in the city. I told you he
was some kind of a writer. Perhaps they are going to publish a book for
him! If they do he will leave us for finer quarters. Novelists make a
mint of money, I have heard. We must do our best to keep him as long as
we can. Be very polite to him, Nellie. He appears to be an excellent
young man."

Shirley Roseleaf's anxiety to get possession of his letter was not
lessened by this conversation. It seemed as if his entire future hung on
the contents of that envelope tarrying so long in Nellie's hands. The
great publishers, Cutt & Slashem, had had a manuscript of his in their
hands for nearly a fortnight. When they had definitely accepted it, his
path would be perfectly clear. If they rejected it--but he had not got
so far as that.

The manuscript was a romance--a romance of love! Its author had spent a
great deal of time upon it. He had rewritten it with care, and finally
made a neat copy, of which he was very proud. Then he had thought a long
time over the question of a publishing firm. Cutt & Slashem stood at the
top of their profession, and they finally received the preference. With
the MSS. Roseleaf sent a pretty note, in which he included a delicate
compliment on their success. The MSS. and the note were arranged
tastefully in a neat white package and tied with pink twine.

After all of those precautions it is no wonder that the novelist felt
surprise when days passed and no reply was sent to him. But never at any
time was he discouraged. Had they intended to reject the novel, he
reasoned, they could as easily have done so in three days as ten.

He pictured the members of the firm hugging themselves over their good
fortune, passing the manuscript from one to the other, all eager for a
taste of such a marvelous work. He did not think it egotism to believe
they did not get stories like that every day.

His thoughts flew rapidly as Nellie slowly climbed the stairs. Now he
would be famous, he would be courted, he would be envied! He would also
be very, very rich, though that was not of so much account.

As Nellie handed him the letter he responded to her pleasant smile with
one of his own, and even pressed a twenty-five cent piece into her hand.
Then he closed his door behind him, bolting it in his eagerness to be
alone. The morning was foggy, and he sank into a chair by the window,
the only part of the room where he could see to read distinctly.

There was an attraction about the envelope. It was light buff in color,
bearing the address of Cutt & Slashem in large letter on one side of the
front face, besides the names of several of the most famous authors
whose publishers the firm had the happiness to be.

"Shirley Roseleaf!" It would not look so badly in print.

So lost was he in the pleasant pictures which these thoughts conjured
up that it was some minutes before he tore open the envelope. Then his
astounded eyes rested upon these lines:

      "Messrs. Cutt & Slashem regret to be obliged to decline
      with thanks the MSS. of M. Shirley Roseleaf, and request to
      be informed what disposition he desires made of the same."

Roseleaf read this dizzily. For some moments he could not understand
what that sentence meant. "Obliged to decline" was plain enough; but his
confused mind found some grains of comfort in the request of the firm to
know what he wished done with his manuscript. They must, he reasoned,
consider it of value, or they would not respond in that courteous
manner. Still, he could not comprehend how they had had the asininity to
"decline" it at all.

Were they unwilling to add another star to their galaxy?

Could they actually have read the tale?

A firm of their reputation, too!

When Roseleaf emerged from his temporary stupor it was into a state of
great indignation. Why, the men were fools! He wished heartily he had
never gone to them. They would yet see the day when, with tears in their
eyes, they would regret their lack of judgment. His first act should be
to go to their office and express his opinion of their stupidity, and
then he would take his MSS. to some rival house. And never, never in the
world--after he had become famous, and when every publisher on both
sides of the Atlantic were besieging him--never, he said, should these
ignorant fellows get a scrap of his writing, not even if they offered
its weight in gold!

He was too excited for delay, and donning his hat, he took his way with
all speed to Cutt & Slashem's office. At that instant he had more faith
in his novel than ever. As he walked rapidly along he compared it with
some of the stories issued by the firm that had rejected it, to the
great disadvantage of the latter.

"I wish to see Mr. Cutt or Mr. Slashem," he said, imperiously, as he
entered the counting room.

"Both are in," said the office boy, imperturbably. "Which will you
have?"

"I will see them together."

Had they been tigers, fresh from an Indian jungle, it would have made no
difference to him.

The boy asked for his card, vanished with it, returned and bade him
follow. Up a flight of stairs they went, then to the left, then to the
right, then across a little hall. A door with the name of the house and
the additional word "Private" loomed before them.

"Come in!" was heard in response to the knock of the office boy.

Roseleaf entered, something slower than a cannon ball, and yet
considerably faster than a snail. The two principal members of the firm
were sitting together, with lighted cigars in their mouths, examining a
lot of paper samples that lay upon a table. They did no more at first
than glance up and nod, not having finished the business upon which
they were engaged.

"Is it any better than the last?" asked Mr. Slashem, referring to the
sample his partner was examining.

"It's just as good, at least," was the answer. "And an eighth of a cent
a pound less. I think we had better order five hundred reams."

"Five hundred reams," repeated the other, slowly, making a memorandum in
a little book that he carried. "And the other lot we'll wait about, eh?
Paper is not very steady. It's gone off a sixteenth since Thursday."

This conversation only served to infuriate still more the visitor who
stood waiting to pour out his wrath. Were these men wasting time over
fractions of a cent in the price of stock, just after they had rejected
one of the greatest romances of modern times!

With the precision of a duplex machine both partners finally looked up
from the table at the young man.

"Mr. Shirley Roseleaf?" said Mr. Slashem, interrogatively, glancing at
the card that the office boy had brought.

"Yes, sir!" was the sharp and disdainful reply.

"We need nothing in your line," interrupted Mr. Cutt. "I suppose Mr.
Trimm has our other order well under way?"

The look of indignant protest that appeared in Roseleaf's face caused
Mr. Slashem to speak.

"This is not Mr. Roseberg," he explained. "My partner took you for an
agent of our bookbinder," he added.

The novelist thought his skin would burst.

"I am quite complimented," he said, in an icy tone. "Let me introduce
myself. I am the author of 'Evelyn's Faith.'"

The partners consulted each other.

"The similarity of names confused me," said Mr. Cutt. "Is your book one
that we have published?"

Saints and angels!

"It is one that was sent to you _for_ publication," replied Roseleaf,
with much heat, "and has been returned this morning--_rejected_!"

"Ah!" said Mr. Cutt.

"We have nothing to do with that department," said Mr. Slashem, coming
to the rescue. "You should see Mr. Gouger, on the second floor above;
though if he has rejected your story a visit would be quite useless. He
never decides a matter without sufficient reason."

"Oh, dear, no!" added Mr. Cutt, feeling again of the paper samples.

Shirley Roseleaf listened with wild incredulity.

"Do you mean to tell me," he said, "that you, the members of the firm of
Cutt & Slashem, have rejected my story without even reading it?"

The partners glanced at each other again.

"We never read books," said Mr. Cutt.

"Never," said Mr. Slashem, kindly. "We have things much more important
to attend to. We pay Mr. Gouger a large salary. Why, my young friend,
there are probably a dozen manuscripts received at our office every
week. If we were to try to _read_ them, who do you think would attend
to the _essential_ points of our business?"

Roseleaf's contempt for the concern was increasing at lightning speed.
He did not care to mince his words, for it could make no difference now.

"I should imagine that the selection of the books you are to print would
be at least as important as the paper you are to use," he retorted.

Mr. Cutt looked at him in great astonishment.

"You are much mistaken," said he.

"Entirely mistaken," confirmed Mr. Slashem.

The author had no desire to remain longer, as it was evident he was
losing his temper to no purpose. If it was Mr. Gouger who had rejected
his work, it was Mr. Gouger that he must see.

Bowing with ironical grace to the examiners of printing paper, he took
leave of them, and mounted to the sanctum of the man who he had been
told was the arbiter of his fate. A girl with soiled hands pointed out
the room, for there was nothing to indicate it upon the dingy panel of
the door; and presently Roseleaf stood in the presence of the individual
he believed at that moment his worst enemy.

There were two men in the room. One of them indicated with a motion of
his hand that the other was the one wanted, and with a second motion
that the caller might be seated. Mr. Gouger was partly hidden behind a
desk, engaged in turning over a heap of manuscript, and it appeared from
the manner of his companion that he did not wish to be disturbed.

Somewhat cooled down by this state of affairs, the young novelist took
the chair indicated and waited several minutes.

"What d--d nonsense they are sending me these days!" exclaimed Mr.
Gouger at last, thrusting the sheets he had been scanning back into the
wrapper in which they had come, without, however, raising his eyes from
his desk. "Out of a hundred stories I read, not three are fit to build a
fire with! This thing is written by a girl who ought to take a term in a
grammar school. She has no more idea of syntax than a lapdog. Her father
writes that he is willing to pay a reasonable sum to have it brought
out. Why, Cutt & Slashem couldn't afford to put their imprint on that
rot for fifty thousand dollars!"

He had finished saying this before he learned that a third person was in
the room. Upon making this discovery he lowered his voice, as if
regretting having exhibited too great warmth before a stranger. The
novelist rose and handed him a card, and as Mr. Gouger glanced at the
name a gleam of recognition lit up his face.

"I am glad to see you, Mr. Roseleaf," he said. "I had half a notion to
ask you to call, when I felt obliged to send you that note yesterday.
There are several things I would like to say to you. Archie, perhaps you
would let us have the room for a few minutes."

The last remark was addressed familiarly to the man who occupied the
third chair, and who looked so disheartened at the prospect of having to
rise therefrom that Roseleaf hastened to express a hope that he would
not do so on his account.

"Very well," said Mr. Gouger, abruptly. "You heard what I said about
this copy I have just read, though it was not my intention that you
should. I supposed I was talking only to Mr. Weil, who is not in the
profession and does not expect to be. Now, let me say at once, Mr.
Roseleaf, that your contribution is not open to any of the objections I
have cited. You have evidently been well educated. Your English is pure
and forcible. It is a real delight to read your pages. Every line shows
the greatest care in construction. I did with your story what I have not
done with another for a long time--I read it through. Why then did I
reject it?"

The question was too great for the one most interested to answer, but in
the glow of pleasure that the compliment brought he forgot for the
moment his bitter feelings.

"Possibly," he suggested, "Cutt & Slashem have more novels on hand than
they feel like producing at present."

"No," responded Mr. Gouger, disposing of that theory in one breath. "A
house like ours would never reject a really desirable manuscript. If you
will reflect that only one or two of this description are produced each
year you will the more readily understand me. Your story has a cardinal
fault for which no excellence of style or finish can compensate. Shall I
tell you what it is, and before this gentleman?"

He indicated Mr. Weil as he spoke. Roseleaf's heart sank. For the first
time he felt a deadly fear.

"Tell me, by all means," he responded, faintly.

Mr. Gouger's face bore its gentlest expression at that moment. He was
taking valuable time, time that belonged to his employers, to say
something that must temporarily disappoint, though in the end it might
benefit his hearer.

"Let me repeat," he said, "that your work is well written, and that I
have read it with the greatest interest. Its fault--an insuperable
one--is that it lacks fidelity to nature. Mr. Roseleaf, I think I could
gauge your past life with tolerable accuracy merely from what that
manuscript reveals."

The novelist shook his head. There was not a line of autobiography in
those pages, and he told his critic so.

"Oh, I understand," replied Mr. Gouger. "But this I have learned: Your
life has been marvelously colorless. Yet, in spite of that, you have
undertaken to write of things of which you know nothing, and about
which, I may add, you have made very poor guesses."

Mr. Weil, leaning back in his chair, began to show a decided interest.
Mr. Roseleaf, sitting upright, in an attitude of strained attention,
inquired what Mr. Gouger meant.

"Well, for instance, this," responded the critic: "You attempt to depict
the sensations of love, though you have never had a passion. Can you
expect to know how it feels to hold a beautiful girl in your arms, when
you never had one there? You put words of temptation into the mouth of
your villain which no real scamp would think of using, for their only
effect would be to alarm your heroine. You talk of a planned seduction
as if it were part of an oratorio. And you make your hero so
superlatively pure and sweet that no woman formed of flesh and blood
could endure him for an hour."

The color mounted to Roseleaf's face. He felt that this criticism was
not without foundation. But presently he rallied, and asked if it were
necessary for a man to experience every sensation before he dared write
about them.

"Do you suppose," he asked, desperately, "that Jules Verne ever traveled
sixty thousand leagues under the sea or made a journey to the moon?"

Mr. Weil could not help uttering a little laugh. Mr. Gouger struck his
hands together and clinched them.

"No," said he. "But he could have written neither of those wonderful
tales without a knowledge of the sciences of which they treat."

"He has read, and I have read," responded Roseleaf. "What is the
difference?"

"He has studied, and you have not," retorted the critic. "That makes all
the difference in the world. He has a correct idea of the structure of
the moon and what should be found in the unexplored caverns of the
ocean; while you, in total ignorance, have attempted to deal in a
science to which these are the merest bagatelles! You know as little of
the tides that control the heart of a girl as you do of the personal
history of the inhabitants of Jupiter! Your powers of description are
good; those of invention feeble. Either throw yourself into a love
affair, till you have learned it root and branch, or never again try to
depict one."

Mr. Archie Weil smiled and nodded, as if he entirely agreed with the
speaker.

"What a novel _I_ could make, my dear fellow!" he exclaimed, "if I only
had the talent. I have had experiences enough, but I could no more write
them out than I could fly."

"It is quite as well," was the response, "your women would all be
Messalinas and fiction has too many now."

"Not _all_ of them, Lawrence," was the quick and meaning reply.

"In that case," said Gouger, "I wish heartily you could write. The world
is famishing for a real love story, based on modern lines, brought up to
date. I tell you, there has been nothing satisfactory in that line since
Goethe's day."

Mr. Weil suggested Balzac and Sand.

"Why don't you include George William Reynolds?" inquired Gouger, with a
sneer. "Neither of them wrote until they were depraved by contract with
humanity. If we could get a young man of true literary talent to see
life and write of it as he went along, what might we not secure? But I
have no more time to spare, Mr. Roseleaf. I was sorry to be obliged to
reject your story. Some day, when you have seen just a little of the
world, begin again on the lines I have outlined, and come here with the
result."

Quite dispirited, now that the last plank had slipped from under him,
the novelist walked slowly down the stairs. He did not even ask for his
manuscript. After what he had heard, it did not seem worth carrying to
his lodgings. His plans were shipwrecked. Instead of the fame and
fortune he had hoped for, he felt the most bitter disappointment. All
his bright dreams had vanished.

A step behind him quicker than his own, made him aware that some one was
following him, and presently a voice called his name. It was Mr. Archie
Weil, who had put himself to unusual exertion, and required some seconds
to recover his breath before he could speak further.

"I want you to come over to my hotel and have a little talk with me," he
said. "Gouger has interested me in you immensely. I believe, as he says,
that you have the making of a distinguished author, and I want to
arrange a plan by which you can carry out his scheme."

Mr. Roseleaf stared doubtfully at his companion.

"What scheme?" he said, briefly.

"Why, of imparting to you that knowledge of the world which will enable
you to draw truthful portraits. You have the art, he says, the talent,
the capacity--whatever you choose to call it. All you lack is
experience. Given that, you would make a reputation second to none. What
can be plainer than that you should acquire the thing you need without
delay?"

"The 'thing I need'?" repeated Roseleaf, dolefully.

Mr. Weil laughed, delightfully.

"Yes!" he explained. "What you need is a friend able to interest you, to
begin with. Pardon me if I say I may be described by that phrase. Come
to my hotel a little while and let us talk it over."

It was not an opportunity to be refused, in Roseleaf's depressed
condition, and the two men walked together to the Hoffman House, where
Mr. Weil at that time made his home.



CHAPTER II.

"WAS MY STORY TOO BOLD?"


"Well, Millie, your letter has come," said Mr. Wilton Fern, as he
entered the parlor of his pleasant residence, situated about twenty
miles from the limits of New York City. "Open it as quick as you can,
and learn your fate."

His daughter started nervously from her seat near the window, where she
had been spending the previous hour in speculations regarding the very
missive that was now placed in her hands. She was a handsome girl,
neither blonde nor brunette, with eyes of hazel gray and hair of that
color that moderns call Titian red. She took the envelope that her
father gave her, and though she wanted intensely to know the contents
she hesitated to open it.

"Read it, Millie," smiled Mr. Fern. "Let us learn whether we have an
authoress in our house who is destined to become famous."

But this remark made Miss Millicent less willing than before to open the
letter in her father's presence. She slowly left the room without
answering and did not break the seal of her communication till she was
in the seclusion of her chamber.

And it was quite a while, even then, before she summoned the necessary
courage. Some days previous she had sent a MSS. to the great publishing
house of Cutt & Slashem. The writing had taken up the best of her time
for a year. She had high hopes that it was destined to lay the
foundation of an artistic success. Her plot was novel, not to say
startling. It was entirely out of the conventional order. It would be
certain to arouse talk and provoke comment, if it got into print; and to
make sure that it _would_ get into print she had persuaded her father to
write a little note, which she enclosed with the MSS., saying that he
would pay a cash bonus, if the firm demanded it, to guarantee them
against possible loss.

With this note in her mind, Miss Millicent had felt little doubt that
her story would be accepted and printed. She only wondered how warmly
they would praise her work. It was not enough to have them print it; she
wanted something to justify her in saying to her father, "There, you see
I was not wrong after all in thinking I could have a literary career!"

At last the envelope was removed, and the girl's astonished eyes lit
upon this cold, dry statement:

      "Messrs. Cutt & Slashem regret to be obliged to decline
      with thanks the MSS. of Miss M. Fern, and request to be
      informed what disposition she desires made of the same."

Millicent felt a ringing in her ears. Her hands grew clammy. A dull pain
pressed on her forehead. She felt a faintness, a sinking at the heart.
Was it possible she had read aright? Rejected, in this cruel way,
without even a reference to her father's offer! It was atrocious, and,
girl-like, she burst into a spasm of weeping.

How could she ever face her father? The sacrifices she had made came
back to her, sacrifices of which she had thought little at the time, but
which now seemed gigantic. There had been nights when she had not gone
to bed till three, other nights when she had been too full of her
subject to sleep and had risen in the small hours to finish some
particularly interesting chapter. Twelve hundred pages there were in
all, note size, in her large, round, almost masculine hand. And this
time was all lost! She had mistaken her vocation. The greatest
publishing house in the country had decided against her.

Gradually she dried her eyes. It would do no good to weep. She read the
curt answer that had come in the mail, a dozen times. Why could not the
firm have sent her a reason, an excuse that meant something? She wanted
to know wherein her fault lay. It might be possible to correct it.
Perhaps the state of business was to blame. The more she thought, the
more determined she grew to investigate this strange affair, and within
an hour she had donned her street clothes and started, without saying
anything to the rest of the household of her intention, for the office
of Cutt & Slashem in the city.

She knew that each large concern had one or more "readers," on whose
judgment they relied in such matters. She, therefore, paused only long
enough at the counting-room to get directed to Mr. Gouger. Her knock on
the critic's door brought forth a loud "Come in," and as she entered she
saw two men standing with hats in their hand, as if about to take their
departure.

"I beg your pardon," she said, "but I wish to see Mr. Gouger."

"That is my name," responded one of the men, stepping forward.

"I am Miss Fern."

Mr. Gouger did not seem very glad to hear it. The hour of one had just
struck, and he was about to go to his lunch. He recognized the girl's
name, as that of the author of the MSS. he had criticized so severely to
his friend, Weil, who was, by-the-way, the third person in the room at
this moment. Had she sent up her card, as is usual with women, he would
have avoided seeing her at any hazard.

Mr. Weil took a long survey of the young lady, and then retired to the
vicinity of the front windows. He pretended to interest himself in the
rush of traffic that was going on in the street below, but he missed
nothing of what was said, and stole from time to time a glance at his
two companions, particularly the younger one.

"A mighty pretty girl," was his mental comment. "I hope Lawrence isn't
going to be nasty with her."

Mr. Gouger motioned Miss Fern rather stiffly to a seat.

"I do not wish to detain you," she said, with feminine inconsistency, as
she accepted it. "I only want to know, if you will be so kind as to tell
me, what is the trouble with my story."

The critic was pleased at one thing. Miss Fern's voice was reasonably
clear. She had finished her weeping at home. There was to be no scene,
something he dreaded, and in the course of his connection with this
house he had experienced scores of them. He inspected his caller
critically in the few seconds that elapsed while she was asking this
question, and when she paused he decided to answer her with as much of
the truth as he dared use.

"The fact is," he began, "a firm like ours is unable to use more than
one novel out of fifty that is submitted to it. Of our friends who send
us manuscripts, the vast majority must, therefore, be disappointed. Now,
your story--shall I be frank?"

"By all means," answered Miss Fern.

"Your story, though written with spirit and power, needs a great deal of
revision from a--from a rhetorical standpoint. It is, in fact,
carelessly put together. That is a cardinal fault in a literary
production, and one for which no amount of talent, or even of genius,
can compensate."

The girl listened with deep interest. She tried to think where the
blemishes alluded to could be, for she had read the story twenty times.
To say nothing of several girl friends, who had listened with evident
wonder and delight, to various parts of the tale, as it progressed.

"If that is true," answered Miss Fern, slowly--, "could not the trouble
be remedied by sending the MSS. to some very competent person and having
the errors made right?"

Mr. Gouger smiled.

"Hardly," he said. "A novel is like a painting. The _ensemble_--do you
understand?--is the thing. Can you conceive a painting being 'done
over'? Your book would lose its quality if subjected to that process."

A look of discouragement crossed the features of the young woman.

"Of course, you know best," she stammered. "What would you advise
me--try again?"

Mr. Gouger raised both his hands.

"It is difficult to say, in such a case," he replied. "But--if you want
my best opinion--"

"That is just what I want," said the girl, with ill-concealed
impatience.

"You are not dependent upon your exertions, I suppose, for a living?"

Millicent shook her head, almost sorry at the moment that she could not
reply in the affirmative.

"Then--I should give up the idea of being an authoress."

This was very unpalatable medicine, and the critic realized it as he
looked at the sombre face before him.

"Is your rejection of my story based at all," asked Miss Fern, after a
pause, "on the--boldness of its subject?"

Mr. Gouger smiled again.

"We publish the works of Hall Caine and George Moore," he said. "I
should not consider your story overbold, if there was nothing else
against it. It is a wonder to me, and always will be, why such young
girls as you choose _risqué_ themes, but if the work is well done the
public will pay for it."

There was a slight blush on Miss Fern's face, partly at the insinuation
and partly at the adverse criticism that had crept thoughtlessly into
the sentence.

"For my part," she explained, "I wanted to write something that would
attract attention--that would put my name prominently before the public
and keep it there. The girls I read it to thought the scenes just
lovely, though some said perhaps their mothers would not feel that way.
And I told them that the mothers of to-day were very old-fashioned, and
that the public taste was changing rapidly. If the story is too bold,
there are things I could cut out of it, but if you say that would make
no difference, I would rather let them stand. I intend to try some other
concern before I give up."

Mr. Archie Weil had abandoned all pretence of looking out the window. He
stood with his eyes fastened on the pretty girl, as she made these
statements in such a matter-of-fact way. He wondered what the dickens
the story was about, and made up his mind that he would try to get
possession of it.

"All the same," responded Mr. Gouger, who had apparently forgotten his
lunch in his growing interest in the conversation, "I don't see where
girls like you obtain such an intimate knowledge of things. You are not
over twenty--excuse me, I am old enough to tell you this without
offence. It is not you alone, but a hundred others who have made me ask
myself this question. As soon as the modern girl gets a bottle of ink
and a pen and begins to let her thoughts flow over paper, it transpires
that she knows everything--more than everything, almost. Why, I was
twenty-five before I was as wise as the heroine of sixteen, in this
story of yours!"

Miss Fern reddened again, all the more because she had glanced up and
encountered the bright eyes of Mr. Weil fixed upon her.

"Why, Archie," pursued the literary man--he turned toward Mr. Weil--"you
remember Lelia Danté, you have seen her here. Five or six years ago I
got a letter from that young girl's mother asking me to come to their
residence and hear a story she had written. It was her first one, and
the child was not a day over seventeen. I couldn't believe it when she
came into the room, with her hair tumbled about her shoulders, and began
to read to me the first chapter of 'Zaros.' 'Did _she_ write that?' I
asked her mother, incredulously. 'Certainly,' she replied. 'Without aid
from any one?' 'Absolutely alone.' My hair stood on end. I could not
keep it down for the next week with a brush. You know the story. We
printed it, and it sold well, and that is all that C. & S. cared about
it; but I never understood how that infant could conceive it. No more
than I can understand your ability to write this story of yours, Miss
Fern," he added, pointedly.

The young woman bridled a little.

"It does not matter much, if you are not going to print it," she said,
raising her eyes to his.

He bowed low to express whatever apology might be necessary.

"I would have accepted it if I could," he said. "My entire life is spent
in reading manuscripts in the hope of discovering one that will make a
hit with the public to whom we cater. When successful I am as pleased as
a South African who fishes a diamond of the first water out of the mine.
Your story, Miss Fern, shows decided talent. You have a greater
knowledge of some of the important things of life, I will wager, than
your grandmother had at eighty, if she lived so long. As I am obliged to
go now, let me add, without mincing matters, that you are very deficient
in English grammar, and that nothing you can write will be acceptable to
any first-class house until that fault is remedied. Are you ready,
Archie?"

Mr. Weil felt indignant. He could not have spoken to any girl as pretty
as this one in such language, and he thought it quite inexcusable on the
part of his friend to do so. Mr. Gouger, though feeling that it was best
to use little circumlocution, had not meant to wound his caller. But
her countenance showed that he _had_ wounded her, and the natural
gallantry of his younger companion came to the rescue.

"I am not ready yet," said Mr. Weil, telegraphing at the same time a
series of signals with his eyes. "I want a few minutes' talk with Miss
Fern, if you will introduce me. I think I can say something she will
like to hear."

Mr. Gouger, who now stood in such a position that Miss Fern could not
see him, shook his head to imply that he did not fancy this arrangement;
but he ended by saying, "Very well." He then abruptly made the
presentation, put on his hat, said good-by, and vanished.

Miss Millicent, who had risen, turned with an air of puzzled inquiry
toward Mr. Weil.

"Be seated again, for a moment," he said, politely. "I want your
permission to read your story."

"Why, I don't know," she answered. "Are you one of the employes of Cutt
& Slashem?"

He smilingly denied the imputation.

"I have not that felicity," he added, "but I am much interested in
things literary, and have a rather wide acquaintance in this line of
business. If I could be allowed to read your MSS. perhaps I should form
a milder opinion of its faults than my unbending friend. And in that
case a word from me, to another house, would certainly do you no harm."

A brighter light came into Miss Millicent's eyes.

"I shall be only too glad to have you read it," she answered. "It is
hard to believe that I have wasted almost a year in something entirely
worthless. You may take it with pleasure."

Mr. Weil went to Mr. Gouger's desk, from which he soon came with the
parcel in question. He untied the string and for a moment his gaze
rested on the handwriting.

"Do you live far from here?" he began; and then added, as he noticed the
address on an enclosed card, "Ah, I see! At Midlands."

She explained herself rather more to him, giving the full address of her
father, and some particulars about the manner in which she had been
drawn into attempting literary work. He listened intently, all the time
engaged in rapid thought.

"The best way for me to get a thoroughly correct impression of this
novel," he said, when she came to a pause, "is to hear you read it
aloud. In that manner," he added, as he saw that she was about to
interrupt, "a hundred meanings would come to the surface that a mere
inspection of the pages might fail to show. Beside, there would be an
opportunity for discussion. If convenient to you I would gladly come to
your residence for this purpose."

The eyes of the young girl brightened. She was greatly pleased at the
idea and said so without delay.

"Very well," said Mr. Weil, more than delighted with the success of his
experiment. "To-day is Tuesday; shall I come for the first time, say,
Thursday evening?"

"That would suit me perfectly; or to-morrow, if you wish. I shall put
aside everything and have my time free for you."

Mr. Weil nodded.

"Let it be Thursday then. And the hour--shall we call it eight?"

The time was promptly agreed to.

"In the meantime, I will take the MSS. and look it over, to form a
general idea of the plot. Here is my card. By-the-way, you will of
course arrange it so that we shall not be interrupted during our
conference. It disturbs anything of that kind to have people coming in
and out. We want to be entirely alone so as to give our full attention
to the work in hand."

Miss Fern smilingly acquiesced, saying that it was exactly what she
would wish.

"And do you think there may be hope for it yet--that poor little
manuscript?" she asked, as she stood by the door ready to take her
departure.

"That is a question I can hardly answer," he replied. "I shall be better
able to tell you in a week or two, I trust."

She lingered, with her hand on the door knob.

"My father is willing to take all the financial risks," she said. "That
ought to make a difference, don't you think so?"

"It would, with many houses," he admitted. "I am glad to know these
things. Thursday, then, Miss--Miss Fern."

He wanted to call her "Millicent," for he had read the name on the
package he still held in his hand; but on the whole he concluded that
this would be a little premature.



CHAPTER III.

"HER FEET WERE PINK."


When Miss Millicent Fern entered the office of Lawrence Gouger, as
detailed in the preceding chapter, it will be remembered that she found
that gentleman and his friend, Archie Weil, with their hats in their
hands. The fact was that Mr. Weil had but just entered the room, and
that Mr. Gouger had accepted an invitation to take lunch with him, an
arrangement that was by no means an infrequent one between them. The
entrance of Miss Fern, and the subsequent proceedings, compelled the
literary critic to go out alone, as has been seen. When he returned he
found Mr. Weil still there.

"Haven't you been to lunch yet!" exclaimed Mr. Gouger.

"I have not been out of this office," was the reply, "and all appetite
for anything to eat has left me. Lawrence, that is one of the most
interesting girls I ever met."

Mr. Gouger pursed up his lips, and uttered an impatient, "Pah!" He then
remarked that Mr. Weil had a habit of finding such a quality in the
latest women of his acquaintance.

"What does she amount to?" he asked. "An overgrown schoolgirl, who did
not half learn her lessons. Read that MSS. she left here, and get
disillusionized in short order. Why, she doesn't even know how to
spell, and her periods and commas are in a hopeless tangle."

His companion eyed him quizzically.

"Are periods and commas, even a correct spelling of the English
language, the only things you can see in a bright, handsome girl?" he
demanded. "For shame, Lawrence! You are a dried-up old mummy. Your
senses are numb. A lively wind will come in at the keyhole some day and
blow you out of that chimney."

Mr. Gouger heaved a sigh, as if to say that discussion with such a
nonsensical fellow was useless, and took his seat at his desk, where an
unfinished pile of MSS. awaited his reading.

"She's given me leave to take her story home," said Mr. Weil, with a
mischievous expression.

The critic stared at his friend.

"Given it to you?" he repeated. "How did that happen?"

"I asked her for it, naturally. You were so severe on the poor child,
that I couldn't help putting in a cheering word. We talked of the whole
business, and she was willing I should see if my opinion agreed with
yours."

"_Your_ opinion!" echoed Gouger, testily. "What is that worth? But take
the stuff, if you want it, and when you are done, send it to her; it
will make less rubbish in this confounded hole. One thing I'll tell you,
though, in advance. You'll never be able to make sense of it, unless you
get some one to straighten it out."

"That's all right," replied the other. "After I have read it through, I
am going to Miss Fern's house, where she will read it to me."

Mr. Gouger started from his chair.

"You don't mean that!" he exclaimed.

"But I do. She asked me, and I'm going. I understand that it's a rather
bold tale, and I can conceive nothing more entertaining than to hear
that kind of thing from the red lips of such a pretty piece of flesh and
blood as has just left here."

There was an uneasy expression on the face of the critic as he heard
these words. He liked Weil, although they were as different in their
natures as two men could well be. He wanted to please him, but the
aspect of this affair was not agreeable.

"Look here, Archie," he said, earnestly, "there are some things that I
can't permit, you know. My office must not be made a starting-place for
one of your lawless adventures. You met Miss Fern here. Now, I protest
against your going to her house, pretending that you are interested in
that novel, when your real purpose is of a much more questionable kind."

Mr. Weil put on the air of one whose feelings are lacerated by an unjust
suspicion.

"My dear Lawrence--" he began.

"That's all right," growled the critic. "I may or may not be your 'dear
Lawrence,' but I know you like--like a book," he added, hitting by
accident on a very excusable simile. "You are an old dog that is not
likely to learn new tricks. I shall send this MSS. back to Miss Fern,
myself, enclosing a letter warning her to have nothing to do with you."

A laugh escaped the lips of Archie Weil at this proposition.

"If you knew the feminine mind half as well as you do modern
literature," he answered, "you would see how little that would avail. I
have met Miss Fern and made a distinctly favorable impression. Her
address is in my pocket, and I have received a pressing invitation to
call. If you choose to send the MSS. by another messenger you will
relieve me of the task of carrying a bundle, but you will accomplish
nothing more."

Mr. Gouger's mouth opened in astonishment at the evident advantage which
his friend had gained in so short a time.

"You must have convinced her that your literary opinions are of value,"
he said, presently. "If I write that you are a charletan and entirely
unworthy of attention, what will happen then?"

The smiling gentleman opposite crossed his hands over his left knee, and
did not delay his answer.

"I will tell you," he said. "In the same mail she will receive a letter
from me, warning her that a certain party, who has given an adverse
judgment on her writings, may attempt to influence her against others
more likely to decide in her favor. She will be told that, having
rejected a book, this certain party does not wish any one else to print
it. Send the severest note you can construct, Lawrence. I have few
talents, but I know how to write letters."

The critic could hardly believe that fate had thrown so many cords
around his neck in the brief space of one hour, but the more he thought
the more he became convinced that his best course was to shut his eyes.

"Well, gang your gait," he said, after a long pause, during which the
look of triumph deepened on his companion's face. "You will have to
answer for your own sins. But I'll tell you one thing, that may save
your time. Women who write racy novels are almost without exception
remarkably correct in their own lives."

Mr. Weil inquired if his friend was certain of this, and there was a
suspicion of disappointment in his tone.

"Absolutely," said Mr. Gouger, refreshing his memory. "I can think of a
dozen instances to prove the point. There is Lelia Danté, for instance,
who writes like a--like a--well, you know how she writes. She sticks to
her mother's apron strings like a four-year-old child. They never are
seen apart, I am told. Then there is Mrs. Helen Walker Wilbur, the
poetess. We have a volume of her verse that is positively combustible
from its own heat. The sheets had to be run off the press soaked in
water to keep them from igniting. The room was full of steam all the
time the work was going on. Warm! I should say so! Now, that woman is
vain, and she dresses foolishly, and she does odd things for the sake of
being talked about--but nobody questions her loyalty to her husband. You
would think by some of her poems that an East Indian regiment would not
suffice for her, and yet she is the straightest wife on Manhattan
Island. Oh, I know so many cases. You remember that girl who wrote,
'Love's Extremities,' a work as passionate as Sappho. She is a little
Quaker-like maiden,[A] who dresses and talks like a sister of one of the
Episcopal guilds. These women are on fire at the brain only. They would
repel a physical advance with more indignation than those endowed with
less esthetic perceptions. So, see Miss Fern as much as you like. Should
you attempt anything improper you will prove the truth of my
assertions."

    [Footnote A: Now dead, alas!--A. R.]

Mr. Weil changed the knee he had been nursing, but the quiet smile did
not leave his countenance.

"What an inconsistent fellow you are, Lawrence," he said. "I could
convict you of a hundred errors of logic. Do you remember telling Mr.
Roseleaf that a man should have a passion before he attempts to depict
one."

"And I say so still," retorted Gouger. "_You_ don't call the ravings of
these poetesses and female novelists real life, do you? _You_ know the
actual lover isn't content with kissing the hair and the feet of his
divinity! There is more about women's _feet_ in these poems and novels
than all the rest of their anatomy put together. And what is a woman's
foot? Did you ever see one that was pretty--that you wanted to put to
your lips?"

"Yes," interrupted Archie, dreamily, "once. At Capri. She was fifteen.
Her feet were pink, like a shell. She was walking along the shore in the
early evening."

"With the dirt of the soil on them!" exclaimed Mr. Gouger, in disgust.

"No, she had just emerged from her bath. The sand there was clean as a
carpet, cleaner, in fact. Gods! They were exquisite!"

The critic uttered an exclamation.

"I waste time talking to you," he said, sharply. "You are like the rest
of the imaginative crowd. It is a pity you were not gifted with the
divine afflatus, that you could have added your volumes to the nonsense
they print."

"And which you are always glad to get," interpolated Mr. Weil.

"Because it will sell. Cutt & Slashem are in this business to make
money, and my thoughts must be directed to the saleable quality of the
manuscripts submitted. If _I_ was running the concern, though, I would
touch the mooney, maundering mess. It makes my flesh creep, sometimes,
to read it."

Archie Weil uttered another of his winsome laughs.

"How would you like to be a serpent," he asked, "and have your flesh
creep all the time? But before we dismiss this matter of Miss Fern, I
want you to clear your mind, if you can, of the haunting suspicions you
always have when a woman is concerned. You know there are concerns in
the city who would print her book, with a proper amount paid down, if it
had neither sense, syntax nor orthography. If she wants it fixed up, I
can find tailors to help her out; and if her papa wants it on the
market, why shouldn't he be able to get it there? Now, let us talk a
little about Roseleaf."

Mr. Gouger brightened at the change of subject. His interest in Mr.
Roseleaf was genuine, and he had already learned that Archie had formed
a sort of copartnership with the novelist, in the hope of making his
future work a success. While the critic could not be said to have any
real faith in the arrangement, it certainly interested him.

"What strange freak will you take to next?" he asked. "And do you really
expect to make a novelist out of that young man?"

Mr. Weil's eyes had a twinkle in them.

"Didn't you say, yourself, that it could be done?" he inquired. "If I
have made any mistake in my investment, I shall charge the loss to you."

The critic reflected a minute.

"I'm not so certain it _can't_ be done," he said. "But that's quite
different from investing money in it, as you are doing. A man wants
pretty near a certainty before he puts up the stuff."

"You greedy fellow!" exclaimed Weil. "Will you never think of anything
but gain? I have to spend about so much money every year, in a continual
attempt to amuse myself, and it might as well be this way as another. I
have a document, signed and solemnly sealed, by which I am to back him
against the field in the interest of romantic and realistic literature,
and in return he is to give me a third of the net profits of his
writings. I don't know that I have done so badly. Perhaps you may live
to see Cutt & Slashem pay us a handsome sum in royalties."

Mr. Gouger looked oddly at his friend, whose face was perfectly serious.

"What are you going to begin with?" he asked.

"Love, of course. It is the A B C, as well as the X Y Z of the whole
business."

"What kind of love?"

"The best that can be got," replied Weil, now laughing in spite of
himself. "The very finest quality in the market. Oh, we shall do this up
brown, I tell you."

"What have you done so far?" asked Gouger.

"You want to know it all, eh?" responded Mr. Weil. "I don't think I am
justified in letting you too deeply into our secrets. However, you are
too honorable to betray us, and so here goes: I have instructed my
protegé that he must fall violently under the tender passion before next
Saturday night."

"With a lady whom you have selected, of course?"

"By no means. He must catch his own sweethearts."

Mr. Gouger played with his watchchain.

"And this is Tuesday," he commented. "Do you think he will succeed?"

"He must," laughed Weil. "It's like the case of the boy who was digging
out the woodchuck. 'The minister's coming to dinner.'"

"You might at least have got an introduction for him," said Gouger,
reflectively.

"Not I. There's nothing in our agreement that puts such a task on me.
Besides, there's no romance in an introduction. He would write a story
as prosy as one of Henry James' if he started off like that."

Mr. Gouger nodded his head slowly.

"That would be something to avoid at all hazards," he assented.

And at this juncture, to the surprise of both the parties to this
conversation, the young man of whom they were speaking entered the room.

"I was telling Mr. Gouger of our agreement," said Mr. Weil, as soon as
the greetings were over. "How do you get along? Have you discovered your
heroine yet?"

Mr. Roseleaf answered, with an air of timidity, in the negative.

"I don't quite know where to find one," he said.

Mr. Weil spread out his arms to their fullest capacity.

"There are thirty millions of them in the United States alone," he
exclaimed. "Out of that number you ought to find a few whom you can
study. What a pity that _I_ cannot write! I would go out of that door
and in ten minutes I would have a subject ready for vivisection."

The younger man raised his eyebrows slightly.

"But, that kind of a woman--would be what you would want--the kind that
would let you talk to her on a mere street acquaintance!"

Mr. Weil leaned back in his chair and stretched his legs.

"Oh, yes," he said. "She would do for a beginning. Don't imagine that
none of these easy going girls are worth the attention of a novelist.
Sometimes they are vastly more interesting than the bread and butter
product of the drawing rooms. It won't do, in your profession, to
ignore any sort of human being."

Roseleaf breathed a sigh as soft as his name.

"You were right, Mr. Gouger," he said, turning to that gentleman. "I do
not know anything. I have judged by appearances, and I now see that
truth cannot be learned in that way."

"All the better!" broke in Archie. "The surest progress is made by the
man who has learned his deficiencies. You remember the hare and the
tortoise. I have read somewhere that the race is not always to the
swift. You must treat your fellow men and women as if you had just
arrived on this earth from the planet Mars. You must dig through the
strata of conventionality to the virgin soil beneath. The great human
passions are lust and avarice, though they take a thousand forms, in
many of which they have more polite names. For instance, the former,
when kept within polite boundaries, is usually known as Love. As Avarice
makes but a sorry theme for the romantic writer, Love is the subject
that must principally claim your attention. All the world loves a lover,
while the miser is despised even by those who cringe beneath the power
of his gold. Study the women, my lad, and when you know them thoroughly
begin your great novel in earnest."

Roseleaf listened with rapt attention.

"And the men?" he asked.

"The men," was the quick reply, "are too transparent to require study.
It is the women, with their ten million tricks to cajole and wheedle us,
that afford the best field for your efforts."

Mr. Gouger, who had never been known to take so much time from his work
during business hours, tried to begin his reading, but without success.
When at his usual occupation he would not have been disturbed by the
conversation of a room full of people, so preoccupied was he with what
he had to do; but on this occasion he was too much entertained with his
companions to do anything but hear them through.

"Is there no such thing as unselfish love--in a woman--love that
sacrifices itself for its object?" asked Roseleaf, with a trace of
anxiety in his tone.

"M----m, possibly," drawled Mr. Weil. "A female animal with young
sometimes evinces the possession of that sort of thing, and women may
have touches of it on occasions. That will be a good point for you to
remember when you are deeper in your investigations. However, I ought
not to fill your head with ideas of my own. I think what we most desire
in our friend," he added, turning to the critic, "is complete
originality."

The young man shifted his feet nervously.

"Pardon me," he said, "would it not be well to talk with people and
learn their impressions? Then I can compare these with my own
experiences, when they come. You would not send a blind man out on the
street unled."

Archie Weil laughed deliciously.

"You are ingenious, when you should only be ingenuous," he replied. "You
do not act at all like the young man from Mars that I have in mind.
Perhaps, nevertheless, you are not wholly wrong, for even my traveler
from that planet might have to ask his way to the nearest town.
Supposing you had just reached the earth, and had met me with a thousand
questions. What could I answer that would be of any use?"

Mr. Roseleaf reflected a moment.

"You could tell me your idea of a perfect woman," he suggested.

"Well, I will," said Weil, glancing meaningly at Mr. Gouger. "The
perfect woman is about nineteen years of age. She is neither very light
nor very dark. Her eyes are hazel, with a touch of gray in them. She
measures, say, five feet, four inches in height, and--about--twenty-two
inches around the waist. She has a plump arm, not too fleshy, a
well-made leg, a head set on her shoulders with enough neck to give it
freedom and grace of movement, but not sufficient to warrant comparison
with a swan, or even a goose. Her hands match her feet, being not too
slender nor too dainty. Her hips are medium, but not bulging. She weighs
in the vicinity of a hundred and twenty-five pounds. And her hair--there
is but one color for a woman's hair--is Titian red."

The young man had taken out his note-book and rapidly sketched this list
of attractions.

"Every woman cannot have Titian hair," remarked Mr. Gouger. "Would you
condemn one with all the other attributes on account of missing that?"

"I would, decidedly," was the reply, "when it is obtained so easily. I
think it only costs two dollars a bottle, for the finest shade. Have
you written it all down, Mr. Roseleaf?"

The young man ran over his notes.

"I have it--all but the hair," he said. "Of course I could not forget
that."

"Very well. And this hair must be long enough, but not too long,
remember, for everything unduly accentuated spoils a woman. It should
hang about five inches below the waist, when unfastened, and be thick
enough to make a noticeable coil. There should be sufficient to hide her
face and her lover's when he takes her in his arms."

Mr. Roseleaf started slightly.

"Then she should have a lover?" he remarked, curiously.

"Undoubtedly. Else why the hair and the arms, and the five feet four! It
is a woman's business to be loved and to make herself lovable. When you
have found this woman, if she has no lover, you will be expected to
officiate in that capacity. If she has one, you must supplant him as
soon as possible. And when you have fallen desperately, ravingly in love
with such a creature, you will not have to come to me for further
advice."

The young man surveyed the speaker with the utmost gravity.

"Have _you_ ever been in love?" he inquired.

"Never."

"Why?"

"It was not necessary; _I_ did not intend to write novels," said Archie,
with a laugh. "But, come, we have bothered Lawrence enough. Let us go."

He took the package containing Miss Fern's story, and sauntered out,
paying no attention to the peculiar glances that his friend, the critic,
threw at him as he was leaving.



CHAPTER IV.

WITH TITIAN TRESSES.


Mr. Weil deciphered the MSS. of Miss Fern with some difficulty. Not that
the handwriting was particularly illegible, though it did not in the
least resemble copperplate engraving; but, as Mr. Gouger had intimated,
the sentences were so badly constructed, and the punctuation so
different from that prescribed by the usual authorities, that he was
continually obliged to go back over his tracks and hunt for meanings.
Nevertheless, within an hour from the time when he sat down in his room
at the Hoffman House and opened the package he had brought, he had to
confess himself deeply interested.

Miss Fern had conceived some entertaining characters, and some very
unconventional situations. Her people were virile; her hero was strong
if not always grammatical; her heroine did and said things not common in
real life, and yet that were quite reasonable when her peculiar nature
and environment were considered.

Archie paused once in awhile to wonder how much of all this record was
within the direct knowledge of the young authoress; which expressions
conveyed her own ideas and which sentiments she would personally
endorse. Gouger might be right as to the exceeding purity of most of the
ladies who dealt in eroticism, but in this especial case Mr. Weil meant
to make an investigation on his own account before he accepted as a
universal rule the one his friend had laid down.

He did not go to sleep that night until he had finished his story. Had
it been arranged by a competent hand he could have read it in four
hours, but as it was he consumed eight in the work. With all its faults,
he liked it. There was something breezy about it, and it had a theme
that he did not remember had been treated exactly in the same way
before. Though, as he himself had said, without much talent for
composition, Archie had read a great many books. It is no proof because
a person cannot write that he would make a poor critic. Mr. Weil might
almost have filled Lawrence Gouger's place at Cutt & Slashem's. He had
written fugitive pieces in his time for the papers, in reference to his
travels, which had been extensive, and had even contributed occasional
book reviews to the magazines. His connection with Gouger enabled him to
keep in touch with what was going on in the literary world, and the
dozens of new volumes which passed through that office were always at
his disposal.

"She's not a fool, by any means," he remarked to himself, when he put
down the last sheet of Miss Fern's work. "A fellow who understood his
business might put that into such shape that it would be worth using. I
mean to find some one who can do it, and suggest the idea to her, when I
get to that stage in this affair. Let me see, who do I know that could
undertake it?"

He had begun to undress, and was in the act of taking off his collar as
he spoke. His mind ran over a list of struggling literary men. Something
seemed the matter with most of them. There was Hamlin, but he would be
too exacting, and would want to suggest alterations in the story itself,
which would never do. There was Insley, whose last three books had been
flat failures, and for whom Cutt & Slashem had positively refused to
print anything more; but Insley had gone into the country for the summer
and nobody knew his address. Then there was--

"_Roseleaf!_"

Archie received this thought like an inspiration. He threw his cravat on
the bureau and began tugging at his shoestrings to the imminent danger
of getting them into hard knots that no one could unravel. Roseleaf! Why
not? The boy would do almost anything he suggested, so great was his
confidence that a road to literary preferment could be staked out over
that path. Roseleaf would not undertake the work for the sake of
pecuniary compensation, but the thing could be presented to him in quite
another light. In Miss Fern's story there were living, breathing men and
women. In his own there were beautifully drawn marionettes. He could be
made to see that the study of the young lady's method was worth his
while. And then!

Mr. Weil's shoes lay on the floor, in the disorder of a bachelor who had
never in his life taken pains to put anything in the place where it
really belonged. He took out the studs of his shirt, pulled that garment
over his head, and then sat for some minutes wrapped in active thought.

"They must be introduced to each other!" he exclaimed, at last. "Between
them they have every qualification for success; apart they are like the
separated wheels of a watch. There is Shirley, with a style so sweetly
subtle, a grace so perfect, every line a gem; and with it all not a sign
of human emotion. There is Millicent, full of plot and daring and
breathing characters, and bold conceptions, and no more able to write
good English than an Esquimaux squaw. I have both these interesting
persons on my hands, and I must combine them, for their mutual good.

"I wonder what Gouger will say when I unfold my plan. Perhaps I had best
not tell him. He actually came near threatening, to-day, to send a line
to Miss Fern, warning her against me. He wouldn't have done it, though.
Lawrence has a bark that is worse than his bite by a great deal. Yes,
I'll bring these young folks together. I'll take them as Hermann does
the rabbits, and press them gently but firmly into one. And then sha'n't
we get a combination! And won't Mr. Lawrence Gouger hug himself when the
product of their joint endeavor comes to him for a reading!"

The muser finished disrobing and donned his night robes, but it was a
long time before he felt like slumber. He could think of nothing but his
scheme. As he revolved it over in his mind, it took many new forms. At
first Roseleaf was to be asked to rewrite the story that Miss Fern had
offered Cutt & Slashem. And afterwards there must be an entirely new
novel, conceived together and worked out slowly, using the best of what
was brightest in both of them.

The last idea Mr. Weil had before he relapsed into unconsciousness
contained two novels, worked out at the same time. Roseleaf was all
right, if he could only get a glimpse of realism into his work. Miss
Fern would have no trouble if her ideas could find a garb that suited
them.

There would be a way to make them of service to each other, and the time
to cross a bridge is always when you come to it. So thought Archie Weil,
as he fell asleep.

In the morning he laughed to think of the description he had given to
Shirley, in his offhand way, of "the perfect woman." It was a faithful
list of Miss Millicent's charms, so far as they were apparent to him.
Shirley had noted them down with great carefulness, and would be sure to
notice how fully the authoress met the ideal he now had in mind. It only
remained for the schemer to say something to Miss Fern that would
suggest Roseleaf to her, whenever they were made acquainted.

It must be plain to the reader that Mr. Weil's principal intention in
this whole matter was to dispose of the _ennui_ which idleness brings
even to its most adoring devotees. He had a fair fortune, accumulated
by a father who had denied himself every luxury to amass it. Drifting to
New York, he had found the vicinity of the Hoffman House very agreeable,
and his companions, with the exception of Mr. Gouger, were of about as
light views of life as himself. The critic was one of those strange
exceptions with which most of us come in contact, where persons of
entirely opposite tastes and inclinations become attached friends.

Breakfast was served so late to Mr. Weil that he had not finished that
repast when the young novelist made his appearance. Seating himself on
the side of the table that faced his friend, Mr. Roseleaf responded to
the latter's inquiries in regard to his health by saying that he was
quite well. Indeed, he looked it. His eye was bright, his cheek rosy.
His attire showed just enough of a negligent quality to be attractive.
There was an air about him such as is often associated with an artist of
the pencil and brush.

"Never better in health," he said, "but very anxious to begin something
definite in the way of work."

Mr. Weil smiled his most affable smile.

"What did I tell you to do, first?" he asked, playfully.

"To fall in love."

"Which you have not yet done!"

The young man shook his head.

"Good Heavens! And you have lost more than a week!"

Roseleaf colored more than ever.

"Isn't there something else--that I could--begin on?" he asked, humbly.

"I don't know of anything. Love is the alphabet of the novelist. You'd
best go straight. Aren't there any eligible young women at your lodging
house?"

The younger man thought a moment.

"No; only the chambermaid."

Mr. Weil sipped his coffee with a wise expression.

"It may come to that," he said, putting down the cup, "but we'll hope
not. We will hope not. What's the matter with Central Park? There are
five hundred nice girls there every afternoon."

"But I don't know them," said Roseleaf, desperately. "And--I have been
there. Yesterday one of them looked at me and smiled. I walked toward
her, and she slackened her speed. When I came within a few feet she
almost stopped. Then--I could think of nothing to say to her, and I
walked on, looking in the other direction."

Several breakfasters in the vicinity turned their heads to note the
couple at the table, from which a laugh that could be heard all over the
room came musically.

"Why didn't you say 'Good-morning?'"

"Yes! And she might have said 'Good-morning.' And then it would be my
turn, and what could I have done?"

Mr. Weil folded up his napkin and laid it by his plate.

"You coward," he replied, affably, "you could have done a thousand
things. You could have remarked that the day was fair, or that you
wondered if it would rain. And you could have asked her to stroll over
to a restaurant and take a little refreshment. Once opposite to her, the
rest would have come fast enough."

The novelist took out a handkerchief and wiped the perspiration from his
forehead. It all seemed very easy the way Archie described it, but he
was sure it would be very different in practice. How could he know, he
demanded, that the young lady would go to the restaurant with him? She
might have declined, and then he would have been in a worse position
than ever.

"Declined!" echoed Archie. "Declined a lunch? Declined ice cream?
Declined champagne frappé! Well, you _are_ ignorant of the sex. My dear
boy, it is evident that I shall have to introduce you to the leading
lady of your company, and if you will be patient for a very few days, I
hope to be able to do so."

Rousing himself with a show of genuine interest, Roseleaf inquired for
further particulars.

"Listen," replied the other. "I expect, to-morrow evening, to spend a
few hours in the company of one of the most charming members of her sex.
She, like you, has an ambition to become a successful writer. Like you,
also, she lacks some of the prime qualities that are needed for that
end. It happens, however, that the things wanting are entirely different
in each of your cases--that you will, if you choose, be able to
supplement and perfect each other. I shall tell her that I know a young
man of literary taste who will give her advice on the points in which
she is deficient. With such an opening you will be at once on Easy
street, and if you cannot fall in love within forty-eight hours, I shall
regard you as a case too hopeless to merit further attention at my
hands."

The young man's cheek glowed with pleasure.

"That is more like it," he said. "When do you think I shall be able to
meet this young lady?"

"Within a week or two, at the latest. I must sound her before I trust
you with her, for she is nearly as much a stranger to me, so far, as to
you. Of course there is no objection--quite the contrary--to your
falling in love elsewhere in the meantime, if opportunity serves."

At this moment Mr. Weil called his companion's attention to a rather
corpulent gentleman who had just entered the breakfast room and was
stopping near the door to hold a brief conversation with some one he had
met there.

"You see that fellow?" he remarked. "Wait a minute, and I will get him
over here. If you ever want to put a real character into one of your
stories you will only need to take his photograph. In actual life he is
as dull as a rusty meat axe, but for literary purposes he would be a
godsend."

Catching the eye of the person of whom he was speaking, Mr. Weil
motioned to him to come to his part of the room, and as he approached
arranged a chair for him invitingly.

"Mr. Boggs, I want to present a young friend of mine to you," said
Archie, rising. "Mr. Walker Boggs--Mr. Shirley Roseleaf."

Mr. Boggs went through the usual ceremony, announcing that he was most
happy, etc., in the perfunctory style that a million other men follow
every day. Then he took the chair that was offered him, and gave an
order for his breakfast to a waiter.

"Are you a New Yorker, Mr. Roseleaf?" he asked, when this important
matter was disposed of.

"Mr. Roseleaf is staying here for the present," explained Mr. Weil. "He
is a novelist by profession, and I tell him there is no better place to
study the sensational than this vicinity."

The young man's color deepened. He doubted if it was right to introduce
the subject in exactly these terms. Mr. Boggs' next question did not
detract from his uneasiness.

"Excuse me--I am not altogether up in current literature, and I must ask
what Mr. Roseleaf has written."

Mr. Weil helped his young friend out of this dilemma as well as he
could.

"He has written nothing, as yet; at least nothing that has been
printed," he said. "He is wise, I think, in laying a deep foundation for
his romances, instead of rushing into print with the first thoughts that
enter his head, as so many do, to their own subsequent regret and the
distress of their readers. I want him to meet men and women who have
known what life is by their own experiences. You ought to be worth
something to a bright writer, Walker. You have had many an adventure in
your day."

Mr. Walker Boggs shrugged his shoulders.

"In my 'day,' yes," he assented. "Enough to fill the Astor and Lenox
libraries and leave enough for Charlie Dillingham and The American News
Company. But that is nothing but history now. My 'day' is over and it
will never return."

He paused and ran his right hand dejectedly across his vest in the
vicinity of the waist band. Though he knew perfectly what Mr. Boggs
referred to, Archie Weil wanted him to express it in his own words to
Shirley.

"You wouldn't think," continued Mr. Boggs, after a pause which seemed
filled with strange emotions, "that my figure was once the admiration of
every lady who saw it, that they used to stop and gaze at me with eyes
of positive envy. And now--look at this!"

He indicated his embonpoint again, and shook his head wrathfully.

"It is simply damnable," he continued, as neither of the others thought
best to interrupt him. "When I was twenty-four I had a reputation that
was as wide as the continent. When I walked down Broadway you would have
supposed a procession was passing, the crowds gathered in such numbers.
If it was mentioned that I would spend a week at Saratoga or Newport,
the hotels had not a room to spare while I remained. The next year I
married, and as one of the fashion journals put it, two thousand women
went into mourning. For a decade I devoted myself entirely to my wife
and to business. I made some money, and kept out of the public eye.
Then my wife died, and I retired from the firm with which I had been
connected. The next twelve months dragged terribly. I did not know what
to do. Finally I decided that there was but one course open to me. I
must resume again the position I had vacated as a leader of fashion."

Mr. Weil bowed, as if to say that this was a very natural and
praiseworthy conclusion; precisely as if he had not heard the story told
in substantially the same way a dozen times before. He was watching
Roseleaf's interested expression and had difficulty in repressing an
inclination to laugh aloud.

"I sought out the best tailor in the city," continued Mr. Boggs. "I went
to the most fashionable hair dresser. I spent considerable time in
selecting hats, cravats and gloves. When all was ready I took a stroll,
as I had done in the old days, from Fiftieth street, down Fifth Avenue
and Broadway to Union Square. I met a few acquaintances who stared at me
slightly, but did not act in the least impressed. The women merely
glanced up and glanced away again. What was the matter? I went home and
took a long survey of myself in the mirror, a cheval glass that showed
me from crown to toe. My costume was perfect. There was not a wrinkle in
my face--this was several years ago, remember. There was not a gray hair
in my head then--there are a few now, I admit. 'What is it?' I asked
myself a hundred times as I stood there, studying out the cursed
problem. My tie was all right, my shirt front of the latest cut, my
watch chain straight from Tiffany's, my--ah! I saw it all in a moment!"

Roseleaf, who did not see it even yet, wore such an astonished
expression that Mr. Weil had to stuff his napkin into his mouth to
prevent an explosion.

"It was this devilish abdomen!" said Mr. Boggs, slapping that portion of
his frame as if he had a special grudge against it and would be glad if
he could hit it hard enough to bring it to a realizing sense of its
turpitude. "My figure had gone to the devil! It was not as large as it
is now, but it was large enough to cook my gruel. My waist had increased
so gradually that I had never noticed it. I got a tape and took its
measure. Forty-two inches, sir! The jig was up. With a heart as young as
ever, with a face as good and a purse able to supply all reasonable
demands, I was knocked out of the race on the first round by this
adipose tissue that no ingenuity could hope to conceal!"

Mr. Weil could wait no longer. His musical laugh rang out over the room.

"Let this be a warning to you, Shirley," he said, "to wear corsets."

"It is no joke," was the indignant comment of Mr. Walker Boggs, as he
proceeded to add to his rotundity by devouring the hearty breakfast that
the waiter had just brought him. "I am left like a marooned sailor on
the sea of life. The only occupation that could have entertained me is
gone. It is no time to enter business again, I couldn't have selected a
wiser one to leave it. I don't want to marry, once was enough of that.
The only women I can attract are those commercially inclined females
that any other man could have as well as I. What is the result? My life
is ruined. I take no pleasure in anything. I eat, walk about, go to a
play, sleep. A _pig_ could do as much; and a pig would not have these
memories to haunt him, these recollections of a time so different that I
am almost driven wild."

Roseleaf felt a sincere pity for the unfortunate gentleman, and did not
see the slightest element of humor in his melancholy recital. But Archie
Weil could not be restrained.

"You're right about that pig business," he remarked. "You recall the
incident in Mother Goose, where--

    'A little pig found a fifty dollar note,
    And purchased a hat and a very fine coat.'

"There are strange parallels in history."

Mr. Boggs would have replied to this remark in the terms it deserved had
he not been too much engaged at the moment in masticating a particularly
fine chop. As it was he growled over the meat like a mastiff in bad
humor.

"Are there no remedies for excessive accumulation of fat in the
abdominal region?" asked Weil, taking his advantage. "It seems to me I
have read advertisements of them in the newspapers."

"Remedies!" retorted the other, having swallowed the food and
supplemented it with a glass of ale. "There are a thousand, and I have
tried them all. I have taken things by the gross. I have paid money to
every quack I could find. For awhile I starved myself so nearly to death
that I went to making my will. And every day I grew stouter. I don't
know what I measure now, and I don't care. A few fathoms more or less,
doesn't count, when one falls from a steamer in midocean."

Mr. Weil took occasion to say that there was no need for this extreme
discouragement. A little coin in the hand, or a new diamond ring, would
still bring youth and beauty to his disconsolate friend.

"That's just it," retorted Boggs. "It's the contrast that's killing me.
The only women who would look at me to-day are mercenary ones that
wouldn't care if I was black as Othello or big as George IV. Why, I
could show you a trunkful of letters, written me by the finest women in
this country, when I was at my best. They breathe but one thing--love,
love, love! I lived on it! It was the air that kept my lungs in motion.
And I thought to go back to it so easily! _Ah!_"

Mr. Boggs commenced upon his fourth chop and emptied the last of the
quart bottle into his glass.

"Well, I'm sorry for you," said Weil. "I think the times must have
changed, as well as yourself, though. Now, here's a young fellow, with
all the qualifications of face, figure and address that you once had,
and he claims to be unable to make the acquaintance of a single
interesting woman between Brooklyn Bridge and Spuyten Duyvil."

The heavy eyes of Mr. Walker Boggs rested upon the youthful face
opposite to him. Under the scrutiny to which he was subjected Roseleaf
reddened, in the way he had. He had never looked more handsome.

"This is evidently a jest of yours," said Boggs, turning to Mr. Weil.

"Not in the least, I assure you."

"Then I say he can do what he likes, and I know it," replied the stout
man. "If I had his form I'd have to ask the police to clear the way for
me. I have seen circulation impeded in front of this very hotel because
I was coming out to take my carriage. If he won't look at them, why, of
course, the women can't do it all, but it lies with him."

Roseleaf's eyes glistened with a strange mixture of hope and fear. He
did not think he would care to be in such great demand as that, but he
dearly wished to break through the iron bars that enclosed him. He
glanced in a glass that paneled the wall near by. He was good-looking
enough, it was no vanity to say so. What he lacked was confidence.

"He is afraid of them, that's his trouble," smiled Weil. "We will cure
him of that, and when he gets to know women as they are he will give us
a novel that will set all creation by the ears. Gouger--you know
Gouger--says he writes the purest English. All he needs is a taste of
life."

To this Mr. Boggs gave his unqualified assent. And he added that if he
could be of any service in the matter he would only be too glad.

"We thank you for the offer, and may be able later to make use of it,"
said Mr. Weil. "And now good-morning, for we have important business to
attend to."

Roseleaf looked long and earnestly at the person they were leaving. He
seemed to him a very ordinary individual. If such a man had won the
love of scores of beautiful women, surely he himself could gain the
affections of one. When he stood with Weil in front of the hotel, by
which an unrivaled procession of ladies and gentleman was already
beginning to pass, though it was only eleven o'clock, he felt much
encouraged.

"They are looking at you," whispered Archie, "plenty of them. Did you
see those two girls in pink in that landau? Why, they nearly broke their
necks to get the last glimpse of you. There is another lady who would
stop if you asked her, pretty as any of them, though she must be nearly
thirty. Your eyes are not open. Ah, here is something better! In that
carriage, with the Titian tresses!"

It was Miss Millicent Fern, and she bowed to Mr. Weil. Then her bright
eyes lit up with a new lustre as they fell upon his companion.



CHAPTER V.

STUDYING MISS MILLICENT.


When Mr. Weil made his appearance at the residence of Mr. Wilton Fern,
the door was opened for him by a young negro of such superb proportions
that the caller could not help observing him with admiration. He thought
he had never seen a man more perfectly formed. The face, though too dark
to suggest the least admixture of Caucasian blood, was well featured.
The lips were not thick nor was the nose flat, as is the case with so
many of the African race. The voice, as the visitor heard it, was by no
means unpleasant. Mr. Weil could not imagine a better model for an ebony
statue than this butler, or footman, or whatever position, perhaps both,
he might be engaged to fill.

"Yes, sir, Miss Millicent is in, and she is expecting you," said the
negro, in his pleasant and strong tones. "Let me take your hat and
stick. Now, sir, this way."

Miss Fern came in a few moments to the parlor, where Archie was left,
and greeted him most cordially.

"There is a sitting-room on the next floor," she said, "where we shall
not be disturbed. I have given Hannibal orders to admit no one, saying
that we shall want the evening entirely to ourselves."

"Hannibal?" repeated the visitor. "Is that the name of the remarkable
individual who received me just now?"

"Yes," said Miss Fern, rather coldly. "Though I do not know why you call
him 'remarkable.'"

"He is so tall, so grand, so entirely overpowering," explained Mr. Weil.
"One would think he might be the son of an African king. I never saw a
black man that gave me such an impression of force and power."

Millicent elevated her eyebrows a little, as if annoyed at these
expressions. She answered, still frigidly, that she had noticed nothing
unusual about Hannibal. She did not believe she had looked closely
enough at his face to be able to identify him in a court.

"He would make a fine character for a novel," said Mr. Weil, as they
walked together up the broad staircase. "I could almost write one
myself, around such a personality."

The young lady looked disgusted.

"A negro servant!" she exclaimed. "What kind of a novel could you write
with such a central figure?"

"Perhaps I should not put him in the centre," laughed Archie, determined
to win her good nature. "Every story needs lights and shades. You can't
deny that he would cast a magnificent shadow."

The humor of this observation struck Miss Fern and she joined mildly in
her companion's mirth. Then she remarked that the central figure of a
novel--the main thing in it--to her mind, should be a being who could be
given the attributes of beauty and grace. The minor characters were of
less account, and would come into existence almost of their own accord.

"And now, before we do anything more," she said, "I want you to tell me
about that excessively handsome young man that I saw with you yesterday
in Madison Square."

Weil was delighted at this introduction of his young friend. He began a
most flattering account of Shirley Roseleaf, describing him as a genuine
paragon among men, both in talent and goodness. He drew heavily on his
imagination as he proceeded, feeling that he was "in for it," and might
as well do his best at once. And he could see the cheek of the young
listener taking on a new and more enticing color as he went farther and
farther into his subject.

"If I have to rearrange my novel--the one Mr. Gouger rejected--I shall
draw my hero after that model," she cried, when he paused for breath. "I
never saw a man who came so near my ideal."

"But--you would have to alter your hero's character, in that case?" he
said. "I have read your MSS., and your description does not tally with
my young friend at all."

Miss Fern reddened.

"You don't mean to claim, do you," she replied, "that physical beauty
and moral goodness always go hand in hand?"

"They should," he answered, in a tone that was meant to be impressive.

"Ah, that is another question! _Do_ they? that is all the novelist needs
to know. Did you ever read Ouida's 'Sigma?' There are the two sisters,
one as pure as can be, the other quite the opposite, and the beauty
belongs to the depraved one. I know Oscar Wilde takes a different view
in 'Dorian Grey,' but he is wrong. I am sure that the worst man or woman
in the world--reckoning by what are called the 'amiable vices'--might be
the most lovely to look upon, the most delightful to associate with. Eve
found the serpent attractive, remember."

Where did she learn all these things? Weil looked at her with
increasing astonishment. "Amiable vices." He liked the appellation.

"Perhaps you are right," he assented, as if slowly convinced. "If you
wish to be acquainted with Mr. Roseleaf, I will bring him here with
pleasure. My only fear is that he will not interest you. He seems almost
too perfect for earth. Think of a young man who knows nothing of women,
who says he has no idea what it is to be in love, who does not
understand why the ladies who pass down Fifth Avenue turn their heads to
look at him! He, like yourself, is a novelist, but his characters are
beautiful images that lack life. He carves marble figures and attempts
to palm them off as flesh and blood. He really thinks they _are_,
because he has never known the difference. If you could take him, Miss
Fern, and teach him what love really is--"

The young lady blushed more than before.

"_I_--" she stammered.

"In a strictly literary way," he explained. "But," he added, thinking he
was getting upon the edge of a quicksand, "we must not forget the object
of my visit."

He took the parcel containing her MSS. that he had obtained from Mr.
Gouger, and began to untie the string. Manlike he soon had it in a hard
knot, and Miss Millicent, coming to his rescue, her young hands touched
his and made his heart beat faster.

"There," she said, when the knot had given way to their joint endeavors.
"It is all right, now. But, before we begin on this, tell me a little
more about Mr. Roseleaf. What has he written? Where was it published? I
will send to-morrow morning and buy a copy."

Her enthusiasm was agreeable under the circumstances, but the truth had
to be explained to her.

"What he has written I will let you see, one of these days," he replied.
"As for publishing, he ran upon the same rock that you did--that of Mr.
Lawrence Gouger."

The beautiful eyes opened wider.

"So he rejected his work, too! And yet you say that it was well done?"

"Exquisitely. Shirley's lines are as symmetrical as his face and figure.
His people are dead, that is all the trouble. Gouger scented the
difficulty under which he labors, in a moment. 'Go and fall in love!' he
said to him, 'and you will write a story at which the world will
marvel!'"

Miss Fern arranged one of her locks of Titian red that had fallen down.

"And hasn't he taken the advice?" she inquired, in a low voice.

"Not yet," smiled the other. "He says, like a very child, that 'he
cannot find any one to love.' I walked up the avenue with him to-day,
and afterwards rode in the Park. There were hundreds of the prettiest
creatures, all looking their eyes out at him. And he hadn't the courage
to return one glance, not one. Ah, Miss Fern, it will be genuine love
with Shirley Roseleaf, if any. The imitations one finds in the
fashionable world will never answer for him."

The young lady breathed a gentle sigh, as her thoughts dwelt on the
handsome figure she had seen in front of the Hoffman House.

"You may bring him here--yes, I should be glad to have you," she said,
slowly. "But I must ask one favor; do not tell him what I said so
thoughtlessly about his being my ideal. Let me talk with him on fair
terms. It may be, as you suggest, that we shall be of advantage to each
other. When can you arrange it?"

"Almost any day," smiled Weil. "I will let you know, by mail or
otherwise. And now, this story of yours," he added, thinking it a shrewd
plan to divert her attention from the other matter while it was still
warm in her mind. "Though I have read it through, and think I understand
it fairly well, I am all the more anxious to hear it from your lips. You
will put into the text new meanings, I have no doubt, that have escaped
my observation."

Miss Fern flushed pleasantly and inquired with a show of anxiety whether
Mr. Weil had found its construction as bad as his friend, Mr. Gouger,
had intimated.

"To be perfectly honest, it might be improved," he replied. "But the
germ is there, Miss Fern--that necessary thing for a good novel--an
interest that will hold the reader in spite of himself. I disagree with
Lawrence in his essential point. I am sure that a good writer of English
with a taste for fiction could make all the necessary alterations
without in the least detracting from the value of the story. For
instance, I believe if Mr. Roseleaf would take hold of it I could
guarantee to get you a publisher this winter."

"And do you think he would?" she cried.

"I think so."

The authoress was so delighted with this announcement that she conquered
the slight wound to her pride. It would be herself still who had drawn
the picture, who had put the coloring into it; all that the other would
have to do might be described as varnishing. She took up the first sheet
of her writing, and turned up an oil lamp that stood upon the table at
her elbow, the better to see the lines.

"Are you ready?" she asked.

"Quite ready," smiled Mr. Weil.

In a voice that trembled a little, and yet not unpleasantly to the
listener, Miss Fern began to read her manuscript. The opening chapter
introduced the heroine and two gentlemen, either one of whom might be
the hero. As the book is now so well known it is needless to transfer
its features to these pages.

Presently the authoress paused and seemed to wait for her guest's
criticism.

"That is one chapter," she said.

"Yes. I remember. And the second one is where Algernon begins to
disclose a very little of his true nature. Shall we not have that now?"

"As you like. I thought perhaps you would give me advice as we
proceeded, some fault-finding here and there, a suggestion of
alterations."

He shook his head affably.

"Not yet," he answered. "Up to this point I see nothing that requires
condemnation."

"Nor praise, perhaps?" she said, in a low tone.

"That might be true, also," he replied. "The first chapter of a novel is
only the laying of the cloth and the placing of a few dishes. The viands
that form the meal are still in the kitchen."

She smiled at the simile.

"But even the laying of the cloth is important," she said.

"Your cloth is laid most admirably," he answered. "And now we will have
the castor, which in this case, I believe, contains a certain quantity
of mustard and red pepper."

At this she laughed the more, and glanced through a few of the sheets in
her hands before she spoke again.

"Did you form any opinion about--about _me_--from this story?" she
asked, constrainedly. "Did you, in brief, think it had taken a bold girl
to write it?"

He hesitated a moment.

"Yes," he said, at last. "A bold girl, a daring girl, a brave girl. Not
one, however, whose own conduct would necessarily be like that of the
woman she has delineated."

She was so pleased that she put down the MSS. and leaned toward him with
both hands clasped together.

"You are very, very kind," she said, impressively.

"No, merely truthful," he replied. "With your permission I want to
retain that last quality in all my conversations with you. When you ask
me a question I wish to be perfectly free to answer according to my
honest convictions."

"It is what I especially desire," she said, brightening. "No one able to
judge has heard anything of this story except your friend, Mr. Gouger. I
know it is bold, sometimes I think it is brazen. I can conceive that
there are excellent people who would say it never should have been
written. To my mind, the moral I have drawn more than justifies the
plainness of my speech. You can tell better than I where I have
overstepped the proper bounds, if there be such places. You are, of
course, a man of the world--"

The protesting expression on the face of her companion arrested her at
this point.

"That depends on what you mean by 'a man of the world?'"

"It is a common expression."

"And has many definitions. Before I plead guilty to it, I want to know
just how much you intend by it."

Miss Fern put down the page she had taken up and a puzzled look crossed
her pretty face.

"You make it hard for me to explain myself," she said. "I suppose I
meant--"

"Now, be as honest as you asked me to be," he interrupted.

"Well, then, I suppose you are a man like--like other men."

"But there are many kinds of other men."

The young lady tried several times to make herself clearer, and then
asked, with a very pathetic pout, that she might be permitted to
proceed with her reading, as the hour was growing later. It was not a
very important point, any way, she said.

"I cannot entirely agree with you," replied Archie. "If you are to be a
writer of fiction, you should not consider any time wasted which informs
you in reference to your fellow creatures. It is from them that you must
draw your inspiration; it is their figures you must put, correctly or
incorrectly, on your canvas. Don't understand me as dictating to you, my
dear Miss Fern. I only wish, as long as you have referred to me, to know
of what I am accused."

To this Miss Fern answered, with many pauses, that she had not intended
to accuse her visitor of anything. And once more--with evident
distress--she begged to be permitted to drop the matter and return to
her reading.

"Very well," he assented, thinking he had annoyed her as much as was
advisable for the present. "As they say in parliamentary bodies, we will
lay the question on the table, from which it can be taken at some more
fitting time. I am as anxious as you can be to get into Chapter II."

She read this chapter to the end, and paused a few seconds to see if he
had any comments to make, but he shook his head without breaking
silence, and she went on with the story. He pursued the same plan till
the end of the fifth chapter.

"It is interesting, exciting and true," he remarked, referring to the
closing scene. "And I cannot help feeling arise in my brain the question
that Mr. Gouger put when he read it: How could a young, innocent girl
like you depict that situation with such absolute fidelity."

He had come to the point with a vengeance. But to Miss Fern his manner
was far more agreeable than if he had approached it by stealth, or in an
insinuating way. She had anticipated something of the sort and had tried
to prepare herself to meet it.

"Does not nature teach us some things?" she asked, speaking
straightforwardly, though her color heightened in spite of her efforts.
"Given a certain condition, an intelligent mind can prophesy results."

He shook his head in mild disagreement with her.

"Gouger is an expert, and he denies this, as a regular rule, at least.
You should have heard him argue it with Roseleaf. 'Either throw yourself
into a love affair,' he said, 'or never try to depict one.' Excuse me,
Miss Fern, you bade me be frank--"

She assented, with a grave nod of her shapely head.

"You may have been in love--I do not ask you whether you have or
not--but you cannot have known personally of the sort of love that you
have depicted in these pages. I call it little less than miraculous that
you should draw the scene so accurately."

She colored again, this time partly with pleasure, for she was very
susceptible to compliments.

"Perhaps your statement may explain to you," she said, pointedly, "what
I meant a few minutes ago by calling you 'a man of the world.' You
recognize at a glance what I had to construct from my imagination."

Archie Weil's face changed as he realized how deftly he had been caught.
He had meant to pretend to this girl that he was more than usually
ignorant of the nether side of life.

"Don't think too badly of me because I happen to know what is clear to
every man," he said, impressively.

"To every one?" she answered. "To your friend, Mr. Roseleaf?"

"Ah! He is an exception to all rules. And yet, Gouger says he can never
write a successful book till he is more conversant with life than he is
at present."

She looked troubled.

"With life?" she echoed. "With sin, do you mean?"

"With the ordinary things that men know, and that most of them at some
time experience."

Her bright eyes were temporarily clouded.

"What a pity!" she exclaimed.

"Yes," he said, for it was his humor to agree with her. "It is a pity."

There was a pause of a minute, and then she asked if she had read enough
for one evening. He answered that as it was now past ten o'clock it
would not be easy to get much farther and that he would come again
whenever she chose to set the time.

"You do not say much about my work," she said, anxiously, as he prepared
to go.

"Silence is approval," he responded. "I can talk it over with you
better when you have reached the end. I have things to say, and I shall
not hesitate to say them then."

"When is it most convenient to you to come?" she inquired.

"Any time," he answered. "I don't do much that is really useful. But
wait till you see Shirley. He will atone for the shortcomings you find
in me."

She repeated the word "Shirley," as if to test its sound.

"You are your father's only child, are you not?" he asked, thoughtfully.

"No. I have a sister, Daisy, a little younger than I."

"And has she a literary turn, also?"

"Not in the least."

Archie arose, and Miss Millicent accompanied him to the front door. The
tall negro came to open the portal, but Miss Fern told him, with the
same quality of dislike in her tone which Weil had noticed before, that
he need not wait.

"He is really a magnificent piece of humanity," said Archie, when the
man had disappeared. "I never saw anything quite like him."

"You admire negroes, then?" said the young lady, almost impolitely.

"I like representatives of every race," he answered, as if not noticing
her. "There are interesting specimens in all. I number among my
acquaintances several Chinamen, a Moor, a Mexican, Jews, Portuguese and
Russians innumerable. If that fellow was not in your employ I would
engage him to-morrow, merely as a study."

Miss Fern took the hand he held out to her and set the next meeting for
Saturday evening. Then she said:

"If you want Hannibal, perhaps papa would oblige you. I certainly would
do all I could to persuade him."



CHAPTER VI.

"HOW THE WOMEN STARE!"


The next day Archie Weil lunched with Lawrence Gouger. He wanted to talk
with his friend about the young author and authoress. Gouger listened
with interest to the story he had to relate, and nodded approval when it
appeared that Archie had behaved admirably thus far in relation to Miss
Millicent.

"Do you know anything about Mr. Fern?" he asked, when the other had
reached a period.

"Nothing."

"Well, neither did I, a week ago, but I have taken pains to inform
myself. He is a highly respectable elderly party, who deals in wool. He
married a very beautiful lady, who has now been dead eight or ten years
and he lives altogether in the society of his two daughters. If you
succeed in getting Millicent's book on the counters you will earn his
everlasting gratitude. They say he is not literary enough himself to be
a judge of its merits, and if she has fifty copies to present to the
family friends it will probably be all he will ask."

Mr. Weil uttered a low whistle.

"I don't know what the family friends will say of it," he replied, "but
I call it pretty warm stuff. If the list includes many prudes they will
hardly thank the girl for sending such a firebrand into their houses."

"Pshaw!" said Gouger. "The world is getting used to that sort of thing,
and they won't mind it a bit. Besides, they will be so lost in
admiration of their cousin's name on the cover that they will think of
nothing else. What did you make out of her? Is she as innocent as I
predicted?"

Archie poured out a glass of Bass' ale and sipped it slowly.

"Quite," he said, as he put it down on the table. "And she's no dunce,
either." He went on to tell of the trap he had fallen into. "I'm dying
with impatience to get her and Roseleaf together. They'd make an idealic
couple."

Mr. Gouger inquired what he was waiting for.

"Oh, I want to do the thing right," said Weil. "I want to learn her as
thoroughly as I can, before I bring him upon the stage. It will take
three or four evenings more to hear the rest of her novel, and another
to discuss it. I shall get around to him in about a fortnight, at the
rate things are going. He will keep. What do you suppose he is doing
now? Writing poetry! He sent a piece a few days ago to the _Century_,
and they accepted it."

"He will be gray when it appears," said the critic. "It takes a long
time for anything to see the light in that publication."

"But in this case an exception will be made," said Weil. "They have
assured him that it will come out in their very next issue. He will be
so proud to see his name in print that I expect to find difficulty in
holding him back. A poet who appears in the Century has certainly
stepped a little higher on the ladder."

The critic agreed to this, and remarked that such a man as Roseleaf
should give his whole attention to poetry.

"Wait!" cried Archie. "Give him time. See him after he has fallen head
over ears in love with charming Millicent Fern. There is something in
him, I feel sure, and between that dear girl and myself we will bring it
out. By-the-way, there is a character I want you to meet," he added, as
Mr. Walker Boggs came into the room. "You have never had the pleasure, I
think, though you have heard me speak of him."

Mr. Boggs had his attention attracted by a waiter who was sent for the
purpose and came with great willingness to occupy a seat with Mr. Weil
and his friend.

"We were talking of a New York merchant just now," said Archie, when the
introductions were over, "and it occurs to me that you, who know almost
everybody, may have some knowledge of him. He is in the wool business,
I hear, and I think you once told me you had done something in that way.
His name is Wilton Fern, and he lives at Midlands."

"Do I know anything about him?" echoed Mr. Boggs. "I should say so. He
was my partner for seven years, and I still have a little stake left in
the concern, on which I am drawing interest."

Mr. Weil showed his astonishment at this statement. What a very small
world it was, after all! Then, after pledging his friend not to mention
that he had ever discussed the matter with him, he went guardedly into
the particulars of Miss Millicent's book, and of his having called at
the house for the purpose of passing judgment upon it.

"I didn't know that was in your line," replied Boggs.

"Well, it was this way," answered Archie. "Mr. Gouger's decision didn't
exactly suit the young lady, as it was not very favorable. Mine will be
quite to her taste, as I view her abilities in a more favorable light.
Now tell us all about the family, as the only one of them I have met is
Miss Millicent. Why, this is a regular find, old man! You should have
told me a week ago that you possessed all this information that I have
been aching to get hold of."

Thus adjured, Mr. Boggs entered upon his story. From which it appeared
that he knew the Ferns, root and branch, and had dined with them dozens
of times.

"What sort of a chap is the pater?" asked Weil.

"A very well-kept man of nearly seventy, with a great deal of what is
called 'breeding' in his manner, and a face like the portrait of a
French marquis cut out of a seventeenth century frame. He doesn't look
like a business man at all, and between ourselves he's not much of a
one. All the money he ever made--saving my apparent egotism--was when I
was in the concern. I've heard he's got a big mortgage on his residence
and is going down hill generally. Too bad; nice fellow; sorry for him;
such is life."

Archie asked if Boggs would do him a personal and particular favor, if
it would not cause him much trouble; and on being answered in the
affirmative, said he would esteem it a great honor if he could be
introduced to Mr. Fern by that gentleman's former business associate.

"I suppose I shall run across him at Midlands, some evening," he said,
"and get one of those presentations that are the most aggravating things
in the world. I don't want that to happen, and the best way, to use an
elegant phrase, is to take the bull by the horns, or in this case, the
sheep by the tail. Will you make an accidental call on him to-morrow
afternoon and let me be of the party?"

Mr. Boggs responded that he would be delighted. And this matter being
settled, all parties could give more direct attention to their lunch
than they had been doing for the preceding ten minutes.

"You must have heard of my friend Boggs, in the days when he was a
figure on the streets of this town," said Weil, presently, returning to
what he knew was the favorite subject of that personage. "You've lived
here for twenty years, and of course the name of Walker Boggs is
familiar to you."

Mr. Gouger looked a good counterfeit of complete mystification for some
seconds, and then a gleam as of sudden recollection shot across his
face.

"Certainly, certainly!" he said. "Mr. Boggs was what is popularly known
as a lady killer, if I am not mistaken. You got married, did you not,
Mr. Boggs, some ten or eleven years ago?"

The party addressed acknowledged the practical correctness of the date.

"Why, it comes back as plain as day," said the critic. "The _Herald_ had
a page about you, including your portrait and some verses by a well
known poet. It said your marriage had cast a gloom over Manhattan Island
and some of the up-river counties."

Mr. Boggs gloomily nodded, to show that the statement was true. Then he
touched his most rotund portion with a significant look.

"I'm a widower now," he said, "and nothing but this--_this_--stands in
my way. As Shakespeare says, ''Tis not as deep as a well, nor as wide as
a church door, but--' The ladies never look at me now, and all on
account of this d--d flesh, which hangs like a millstone around my
neck."

Cutt & Slashem's critic, ignoring the peculiar character of the metaphor
used, remarked politely that he thought no lady of sense would put great
stress on such an insignificant matter.

"Insignificant!" echoed Boggs. "I'll bet it's fifty inches around,
come! And it's not the 'ladies of sense' I'm after. Quite the contrary."

One of Archie Weil's explosive laughs followed this statement, which
caused an expression of mild injury to settle over the countenance of
Mr. Boggs.

"You're getting on toward forty, and you ought to quit," said Weil.
"Confound the women! Let them go."

"That's well enough to talk about," replied Boggs, gruffly. "How would
you like to follow your own advice?"

Weil uttered an exclamation.

"I? I have precious little to do with them, I assure you. For a man of
my correct habits I have the worst name of any one I know. Everybody
insinuates things about me, and they can prove nothing."

"We'll ask Isaac Leveson about that," sneered Boggs. "By-the-way, that
wouldn't be a bad place to take young Roseleaf to, when you get to
instructing him in earnest. I met the young fellow on the avenue last
night and walked around with him for a couple of hours. He's a darling!"

"Roseleaf?" cried both the other gentlemen, in one breath.

"To be sure. How the women stared at him! I couldn't blame them; his
waist isn't over thirty, and he's as handsome as--as I was at his age. I
told him he could have all the loveliness in New York at his feet, if he
liked."

Weil smiled significantly at Gouger.

"What did he reply to that?" he asked.

"Oh, he had an ideal in his head, and none of those we saw quite came up
to it; for I did get him to raise his eyes and look at the prettiest
ones. I drew out of him slowly that he would have nothing to do with a
girl unless she had red hair; that--"

Mr. Weil uttered a laugh so hearty that it attracted the attention of
everybody in the room. Mr. Boggs paused to inquire the cause of this
outbreak, but Archie assured him that something entirely out of the
present discussion had just occurred to him, which was to blame for his
impoliteness.

"A girl must have _Titian_ hair," repeated Mr. Boggs, accepting the
explanation, "or he would not consider her. He ruled out all the
striking blondes and brunettes, saying that he liked only those of a
medium shade. We came across one that answered these descriptions, an
exquisite little creature who looked as if she would swallow him could
she get the chance. And then there came out another idea. He would not
think of this fairy because she was so short. 'I want a woman five feet,
four inches tall,' he said, as if the article could be made to order, in
case the size did not happen to be in stock. Then, would you believe it,
he found a girl embracing every attribute he had mentioned. Her hair was
just the right shade, her height must have hit the mark exactly, her
complexion was medium. But no. She was too heavy. She would weigh a
hundred and forty-five, he said, quite twenty pounds too much. If we had
found a girl that filled all his description he would have invented
something new to bar her out of the race."

Mr. Weil remarked that he was not so sure of Roseleaf's insincerity. He
believed the right woman would yet be discovered, and that a case of the
most intense affection would then spontaneously develop.

"In fact," he added, "I have the identical creature in mind. It is clear
to us--to myself and Mr. Gouger here--that Shirley will never write a
thrilling romance till he has fallen wildly, passionately in love."

Mr. Boggs smiled slightly, and then sobered again.

"Shall you have him marry, also?" he inquired, pointedly.

"Why not?"

"Because it will finish him; that's why. The romance in a modern
marriage lasts six weeks. At the end of that time he will be useless for
literary purposes, or anything else."

Mr. Weil shook his head in opposition to this rash statement.

"My theory is," said he, "that a novelist should know everything. To
write of love he should have been in love; to tell of marriage he should
have had a wife--a real one, no mere imitation; to talk of fatherhood
intelligently he should become a father. How can he know his subjects
otherwise?"

The stout man smiled significantly.

"And if he wishes to write of murder, he must kill some one. And if he
wants to depict the sensations of a robber he must take a pistol and ask
people to stand, on the highway."

"Now you are becoming absurd," said Archie.

"No more than you," said Boggs. "You go too far, and you will find it
out. Let your novelist fall in love. That will do him good. But don't
let him marry, or you will lose him, mark my word. Let him contemplate
matrimony at a distance. Let him reflect on the glory of seeing his
children about his knees. So far, so good. But when you have shelved him
with a wife of the present era, when you have kept him up nights for a
month with a baby that screams--his literary capacity will be gone. Make
no mistake!"

Mr. Weil, half convinced, and much surprised to hear such wisdom from
this unexpected source, made an effort to maintain his ground.

"Nearly all the modern novelists _are_ married," he remarked.

"Yes, and nice stuff they write, don't they? Namby-pamby, silly-billy
stories, misleading in every line! They are the most unsafe pilots on
the shores of human life. They start, without exception, from false
premises. Their chart is wrong, their compass unreliable, their
reckoning ridiculous from beginning to end. Where did you ever see a bit
of real life that resembled these abortions? Do lovers usually fall on
their knees when they propose? Is the modern girl an idiot, knowing less
of the facts of nature than an oyster? Is the conversation between men
and women filled exclusively with twaddle? You would think so, from
reading these books; and why? They are written by married people, most
of them, people who don't dare step over the line of the commonplace any
more than a woman would dare order her dressmaker to put pockets in her
gown!"

Archie looked at Mr. Gouger, who nodded a partial approval of these
statements. Mr. Boggs betook himself with more interest to his chops.
And the other two gentlemen, remarking that time pressed, bade him
good-by for the day.

"I see you agree with him that I shouldn't marry Roseleaf?" said Archie,
with a rising inflection.

"There is certainly point in what he says," replied Mr. Gouger.

"But--confound it! With the boy's disposition, it will be a delicate
business," retorted Weil. "I don't know as I can carry him to the point
of passionate love for pretty Miss Fern, and then shut off the steam
when it suits me."

This matter was discussed for the next ten minutes, as the friends
walked along toward the office of Cutt & Slashem.

"I think you are foolish to delay so long introducing him to her," said
Gouger, finally. "I don't see that you are making any progress
whatever."

"Ah, but I am," replied Weil. "I am making both of them more and more
anxious for the meeting. Shirley walks the street feverishly impatient,
and I have no doubt mutters her name in his dreams. Millicent talks
about her ideal of manly beauty. When they get together failure will be
impossible."

Mr. Gouger laughed at the idea that Roseleaf was "feverishly impatient"
to meet any girl, and ventured to predict that the young man would have
to be put in irons to get him to the residence of the Ferns when the
time came; or at least to keep him there.

"Just the point I am working on," replied Weil. "Under ordinary
circumstances I would have to handcuff his wrists to mine, but I am
making such a strong impression on his imagination that he is crazy to
go. And once she gets him under her influence--I tell you, Lawrence, she
is no ordinary girl."

"She certainly does not write like one," smiled the critic, "either in
her subject or her English. You may make something of him--I rather
think you will--but not of her. Her ideas are wild, and her realism a
little too pronounced even for the present age."

"She has truth on her side, you admit," said Archie.

"Yes, to a remarkable degree."

"Well, that ought to be something, if Boggs' estimate of the modern liar
is correct. Shirley will help her to style, give her his own, if
necessary. I am going to land both of these fish, if only to spite you,
Lawrence. You tossed them away with that fine contempt of yours, and you
will weep hot tears for it before you die."

At the door of Cutt & Slashem's they met the two members of that firm,
who paused to say a word to Mr. Gouger. They were anxious for a new book
to bring out as soon as possible, and were regretting with him that
nothing worth publishing seemed to present itself.

"You may strain matters, it necessary," said Mr. Cutt. "We can't keep
up on reprints forever. I hope you made no mistake in rejecting that
book of Mrs. Hotbox. I hear it is selling well."

Mr. Gouger's face was, as ever, immovable before his employers.

"What 'Fire and Brimstone?'" he inquired. "The authorities seized the
entire edition this morning."

Mr. Cutt looked at Mr. Slashem, with a startled expression.

"In that case, I am glad we escaped it," he said. "We shouldn't like
that sort of an affair, of course."

Mr. Weil, who knew both the gentlemen well, inquired what they thought
of Mrs. Hotbox's production.

"I have never seen it," said Mr. Slashem.

"Nor I," said Mr. Cutt.

The partners disappeared into the counting-room, where they had an
interview with a binder who had offered to do their work at one-tenth of
a cent a hundred copies less than the concern with which they were then
dealing. Archie said good-by to Gouger, and went off to find Roseleaf,
with whom he had engaged to take, later in the day, a ride through the
Park.

"How soon am I to see your paragon?" sighed the young man, as they were
making the grand round of that famous drive.

"Within a week, I hope. Are you getting uneasy?"

"I am getting lonesome," was the gloomy reply. "And I want to begin
work."

"Well, it will soon pass now. To-morrow evening I am to hear another
installment of her novel. Two more sittings after that will finish it, I
should say. And the next thing will be--you. But have you seen no one
else in all this time that you care for?"

The young man looked aimlessly at the fleecy clouds that hung low on the
horizon.

"No," he answered.

"And you think you are ready for a passionate affection, if the right
person is found?"

"I will try," he said, simply.

Mr. Weil roused himself and touched his horse with the whip.

"Try!" he echoed. "You will not have to try. She will carry you off your
feet, at the first go. Shirley, I have found you a superb woman, that
you _must_ love. All I want to feel sure of is, that you can control
yourself enough to behave in a reasonable manner."

Roseleaf looked up inquiringly.

"She belongs to an eminently respectable family," explained Archie. "Her
father is a gentleman of the most honorable type. She has a young
sister, who--"

Roseleaf, slow at all times, had at last begun to comprehend.

"You surely don't think--" he began.

"Ah, that is the question! A novelist must learn so very much--a
novelist who is to depict the truth, as you are to do. Where should he
stop? What experience should he refuse, provided it may be utilized in
his work? A responsibility that is no light one will rest on me, my dear
boy, when I have introduced you to this family, and left you to your
own devices."

Roseleaf's eyes opened wider at these mysterious suggestions, but he did
not like to make any more inquiries. Weil changed the conversation,
calling attention to the women they met, who turned their handsome heads
to look at the young man, as their equipages almost touched his.

"What an awfully wide swath you are cutting!" was Archie's exclamation,
as the throng increased.



CHAPTER VII.

A DINNER AT MIDLANDS.


True to his appointment Walker Boggs met Mr. Weil on the following
afternoon, and set out with him for Wilton Fern's office. Though
engaged, as has been already stated, in the wool trade, Mr. Fern did not
have on the premises to which these worthies repaired a very large
assortment of that product. His warehouses were in another part of the
city, and all the wool that was visible to his customers was arranged in
sample lots that would easily have gone into a barrel. Mr. Weil,
notwithstanding the description that Boggs had given of his ex-partner,
was not prepared to see such an exceedingly fine specimen of humanity as
the one introduced to him. The word "gentleman" was written in large
characters on his broad forehead and in every word he spoke. It
certainly was not often, said Archie to himself, that one encountered
that sort of man in business.

"I have already heard something of you, sir," said Mr. Fern, affably,
but with the dignity that was a part of his nature, no more to be
discarded than his eyes. "That is, if you are the same gentleman that
has kindly offered to assist my daughter in arranging a story she has
written."

Mr. Weil admitted the correctness of the supposition, but disclaimed any
special credit for what he had done. He explained briefly how he was
drawn into the case. The visit lasted upwards of an hour, during which
the conversation wandered from literature to business and politics, and
all sorts of things.

Mr. Weil could not tell from Mr. Fern's manner of alluding to his
daughter's work whether he had a very high idea of its value or not.
Indeed, there was very little to be learned from this grave gentleman
that was not expressed in the language he used. He was inclined, Archie
thought, to reticence, for when there was a lull in the conversation it
was always one of the others who had to start it going. The thing that
might be counted a substantial gain, out of the whole affair, was an
invitation to dinner for the following Wednesday, in which Mr. Roseleaf
was included, and Mr. Boggs also.

Before the Wednesday set for the formal dinner at the Ferns', Mr. Weil
had heard the whole of Miss Millicent's novel read by the lips of that
charming young woman. There was certainly something very strong in it,
in spite of its grammatical faults. It would be a very good story when
"Dr." Roseleaf had put it into a little better English.

The meeting between Roseleaf and Millicent was most interesting to the
one who had been the means of bringing them together. The girl put out
her hand with a straightforward motion of welcome, and it was accepted
with something resembling timidity by the young man, who did not even
raise his eyes to hers. The talk that followed was nearly all her own,
Shirley's part in it being largely monosyllabic replies to her
statements and suggestions.

When Miss Daisy was presented to both the gentlemen, for the first
time--Mr. Boggs she remembered very well--she drew their attention for a
few moments from her sister, but soon relapsed into the more
insignificant place which she seemed to prefer. She was not as large in
any way, as Millicent, and did not seem likely to become so. Her hair
was of a soft shade of light brown, and her eyes a decided blue. In the
presence of her sister she did not expect to shine, and was evidently
relieved when she could go into a corner and talk over times long past
with Walker Boggs.

Mr. Fern came in rather late, but still before the hour announced for
dinner. He had his habitual look of quiet elegance, but withal an
expression of care about his face, that Weil attributed to the business
troubles of which Boggs had spoken. The manner of the daughters toward
him was marked by the watchful eyes of the chief conspirator. Millicent
merely looked up and said, "Papa, this is Mr. Roseleaf, of whom we have
spoken," and then when the greetings that followed were exchanged, went
on talking with those about her as if there had been no interruption.
Daisy, on the other hand, crept softly to her father's side, and putting
an arm around his neck, kissed him when she thought no one observed her.

"You are tired, papa," she whispered.

"No, no!" he said, brightening. "I am very well."

It was at the table that Mr. Fern had his first conversation with
Roseleaf, and the two men got along nicely together. Shirley acquitted
himself creditably. Weil, who saw everything, noticed that the negro,
Hannibal, in superintending the service in the dining-room, lingered
more about Miss Daisy's chair than any other, and took extra pains to
see that her wants were anticipated. In spite of this, however, Mr. Fern
frequently asked his younger daughter to have more of certain dishes, as
if his mind was constantly turned in that direction.

"How long do you think it will require to do the work you have so
generously undertaken?" asked Mr. Fern of Roseleaf, when the dessert was
reached.

"It is impossible to say," stammered the young man. "Some weeks, at
least."

"So I supposed," said Mr. Fern. "That being the case I wish to tender
you the hospitality of my home. It would be a great deal of trouble for
you to come every day from the city, and I know we could make you
comfortable here."

Roseleaf was about to decline the offer with thanks, when Mr. Weil spoke
to him in a low tone.

"Take it, by all means," he said. "It's a chance in a lifetime. You know
nothing of family life. Don't dream of refusing."

The delay allowed Miss Millicent to add her request to that of her
father, and fearing to let his protegé answer, Mr. Weil boldly spoke for
him.

"It is a good idea," he said. "He will have his baggage brought up
to-morrow. There's nothing like being on the ground, when there's work
to be done. And, with the general permission, I am going to run out
pretty often myself, to see how things progress."

The bright, off-hand way of the last speaker seemed to please Mr. Fern,
for he heartily seconded this suggestion. When the table was vacated,
Mr. Fern asked if he might be excused for a few minutes, while he wrote
a couple of important letters, and requested Walker Boggs to show the
guests through the grounds, where they could smoke their cigars till he
returned.

Accordingly Weil and Roseleaf accompanied their new guide out of doors
and across an extensive lawn to an arbor at the further end, where a
handsome prospect of the Hudson unfolded itself. As Archie was wishing
for some feasible way of getting rid of Boggs, temporarily, that
gentleman espied an acquaintance in the adjacent road and went off to
speak to him.

"Are you in love yet, you dog?" asked Archie, as soon as he and his
young friend were alone. "What! You're not! Don't let an hour pass,
then, before you are. The best of all proverbs is, 'Never put off till
to-morrow what you can do to-day.'"

"How can I do this to-day?" was the doleful response.

"How can you help it, you mean? There she was at the table--Titian hair,
hazel-grey eyes, lovely waist--everything. Love! _I_ could fall in love
with that girl, marry her, get a divorce and commit suicide, within
forty-eight hours."

Even Roseleaf had to smile at this extravagant statement.

"Do you want me to do all of those things?" he asked.

"Only the first one, at present. If you can't do that, give up all ideas
of being a novelist and secure a place in some factory or counting-room.
Everything is ready for you. You are _persona grata_ here. Nothing can
come in your way. Oh, don't exasperate me!"

Roseleaf haltingly said he would do his best; and the next day he came
to Midlands, prepared to spend a month or longer.



CHAPTER VIII.

HOLDING HER HAND.


For the first three days Roseleaf gave most of his time to reading the
MSS. that Miss Fern had written. He could not say that he liked it,
exactly, but that was not necessary. To fill in the time, he consented
to let the girl read his own story that Gouger had rejected, though he
did this with trepidation, having a dread that she would think it
insipid. When she had finished it, however, her delight was unbounded.

"It is lovely!" she exclaimed, in response to his inquiring eyes. "I
cannot see why they refused it. I haven't been so interested in a story
in years."

When he had read _her_ story through he began to rewrite it, departing
as little as possible from the original. As soon as he had a chapter
finished he would give it to her, for comparison, and criticism, if she
chose to make any. She proved, however, a most charming critic, her
shafts falling mainly upon herself, for she declared that her novel
seemed unworthy of its elegant new dress. She conceived a shyness toward
this quiet youth, and blushed when the striking situations and bold
language of her tale came into the conversation. It was so different
from his own work!

"It is too bold. I am sure it is," she said, repeatedly. "I ought to
begin again. My plot has too much freedom, too little conventionality.
People will say a very strange girl must have written it."

And he would tell her that he did not think so; that the strength of her
ideas was very great, and that the public would find excuses enough for
anything that interested and entertained it. He even added that he
wished he possessed her knowledge, her insight into life, her
fearlessness to tread on any ground that her subject made desirable.

Between them they were doing very good work, without doubt. Mr. Weil
took some of the completed chapters to Lawrence Gouger, who returned
them with a smile that spoke volumes. Cutt & Slashem would take the
story when it was ready, if the subsequent pages kept up to the mark of
the first ones.

"Don't forget your own book," said Gouger, in a note he enclosed for
Roseleaf.

Mr. Weil was not backward in accepting the cordial invitation he had had
to join the Ferns at dinner whenever he could make it convenient.
Besides this he called frequently at the wool office, and ingratiated
himself into Mr. Fern's good graces in many ways. Within a fortnight he
knew all there was to be known about wool, in which he seemed to have
conceived a great interest. In his talks with Roseleaf he spoke
learnedly on this subject, referring to the foreign and domestic
staples, like one who had made the matter a life study.

"What a queer thing trade is!" he exclaimed, on one of these occasions.
"Here we find a man who ought to adorn an atelier, or a seat in
Congress, and yet is obliged to guide his entire existence by the price
of such a confoundedly dull thing as the hair on a sheep's back. He
votes a certain political ticket on account of the attitude of the party
on Wool; he dines off mutton and lambs' tongues; he casts his lot with
the Sheep at church. I don't know but he would feel a genuine pleasure
in having Wool pulled over his eyes. And still I am convinced that he
never ought to have been in the Wool business at all, and that
Boggs--what a drop--is right in his impression that it will eventually
swamp him."

Roseleaf asked how Mr. Fern got into the trade in the first place.

"Well, as I understand it, Boggs was looking for a partner. Mrs. Fern
had some cash and her husband wanted to put it into a good thing, from a
financial standpoint. They did well while they were together. When Boggs
pulled out they had a clear $200,000 apiece. Boggs--confound him!--has
his yet; Fern hasn't. He's proud as the devil, and didn't tell me this,
by any means. It would break him up completely to have to go into
bankruptcy. Really, I wish I could do something for him."

Roseleaf looked up inquiringly.

"Why, I've got a fair amount of money," explained Archie, "and perhaps a
lift over these hard times might be the making of him. I'm not
particularly a philanthropist, but I like this fellow wonderfully well
for such a new acquaintance. I shall give him a delicate hint in a day
or two, and if I can fix things without too much risk--we have to
protect ourselves, you know--I am willing to do so."

This struck Shirley Roseleaf as rather odd. He had never thought about
Mr. Weil in that way. Whether he was rich or poor had never entered his
head. He began to wonder if he was very wealthy. He certainly lived
well, and had no visible occupation of the sort the census takers call
"gainful."

"It is an interesting family, though," pursued Archie, in his rambling
way. "I wish I could get into it as you did, you rascal, and observe it
at shorter range. Even the servants are worth studying. Look at that
Hannibal; who can say that the African race is inferior when it produces
such marvels! I can hardly take my eyes off the black paragon when he is
present. How he passes the soup--as if it were some heavenly decoction,
made by the gods themselves and sent to earth by their favorite
messenger! With what grace he opens the carriage door! with what majesty
he mounts to his seat by the driver! I wonder if he has a sister. She
would be worth a journey to see. I have met such women on their native
soil, statuesque, slender, full-breasted, square-shouldered, with jars
of water on their heads and clinking silver anklets. What a cursed thing
is our American prejudice against color! No other people carries it to
such an extent. In the Latin Quarter the West India blacks are prime
favorites with the pretty grisettes."

The young man could not help a slight shiver at this information. He did
not in the least agree with the sentiments his friend was advancing, but
neither did he think it wise to contradict him.

"Then there is the little one--Miss Daisy"--continued Weil, branching
suddenly into that topic. "So quiet, so self-abased, as if she would not
for the world attract one glance that might be claimed by her elder
sister, who is perfectly willing to be a monopolist of attention. A nice
girl, sweet as a fresh-plucked lily. There must be treasures hidden
under all that reticence. Still waters run deep, the silent swine devour
the milk. I think I ought to investigate the child. If you are to have
that aggregation of beauty known as Millicent, what prevents me from
securing a slight hold in the affections of the junior?"

Roseleaf shook his head in a way that might have meant almost anything.
He never could tell how much in earnest his friend was when he took up a
vein like this. Neither could he imagine little Daisy in the role of an
entertainer for such a very wise man as Archie, not only much her senior
but a thousand times her superior in knowledge and acquaintance with
things that people talk about.

"Keep your eye on her--she will be worth watching," said Weil, with one
of his laughs at the sober face before him. "She is worth almost as much
to a rising author as the negro--not quite, but nearly. Then there is
the pater-familias; is there anything in him? No, he will be of no
service to you. And that brings us back to our superb Millicent, with
whom you must now be wildly infatuated."

Roseleaf shook his head again.

"No--not yet," he said.

"But, what do you do all the time? How can you sit by the side of a
pretty girl, and kiss her cheeks, and put your arm around her, and yet
keep from falling in love?"

The younger man gasped at each of these suggestions, like one who has
stepped into icy water and feels it gradually creeping upward.

"I have done none of those things," he faltered.

"None of them! Then I shall not let you stay here!" cried Archie. "What
does the girl expect? That we are going to make her reputation in the
literary world and get nothing for ourselves? I never heard such
effrontery! She refuses to give you the least opportunity, does she--the
jade!"

More and more confused grew the other at these expressions.

"You don't understand--you are quite in error," he articulated.
"She--she has refused me nothing, because--because I have asked
nothing."

Mr. Weil uttered a disheartened groan.

"But this will not do, my dear fellow!" he said. "How can you accomplish
anything unless you make a beginning? Rewriting the story that she has
written will not advance you one step on the path you profess such
anxiety to tread. That is only an excuse--a make-believe--a pretence
under which you have been given quarters in this house and allowed every
chance in creation to learn your lesson. Are you afraid of her, or what
is the matter? Does she overpower you with her beauty? Tell me where
your difficulty lies."

But Shirley could hardly answer these apparently simple questions. He
said he feared the trouble might be in the formality of the situation.
How could Mr. Weil expect, he asked, that a spontaneous case of
love-making would develop from such a condition of things.

"Stuff!" cried Archie, with a grimace. "If you and she were members of a
theatrical company, and were cast as a pair of lovers, you wouldn't find
so many pitfalls. You would go ahead and repeat the lines of your part,
wouldn't you? All you want is to do the same now."

"But what _are_ the 'lines of my part?'" inquired the other, dolefully.

"Take her hand once in yours and they will come to you," retorted Weil.

Roseleaf reddened so much that Archie regretted the severity of his
tone, and hastened to turn the conversation to something more agreeable.
He made up his mind, however, to have a talk with Miss Fern, and at the
first opportunity he did so. It was on an afternoon when he knew
Roseleaf was in the city, and he came to the point at once, after his
own fashion.

"How are you and my young friend getting along?" he asked her.

"Oh, as well as possible," she responded. "I am learning to like him
more and more. I really shall be sorry when his task is done."

Mr. Weil shrugged his shoulders.

"There's a bit of selfishness in your words, Miss Fern," he said. "Have
you forgotten that he is not here to be useful to _you_ alone; that you
agreed to do what you could for _him_, as well?"

The girl cast down her pretty eyes in confusion.

"I am sure I have tried to be agreeable," she replied, gently.

"That is not enough," replied Archie, gravely. "What he needs is
something--some one--to stir his blood, to awaken his fancy. I told you
in the first place that you ought to make him fall in love with you--for
literary reasons. He must feel a sensation stronger than mere friendship
for a woman before he can write such a story as will bring him fame."

Miss Millicent did not grow more comfortable under this suggestion. She
remarked, after a long wait, that she did not see how the end sought was
to be accomplished. Love, she said, was not a mere expression, it was a
deep, actual entity. Two people, playing at love with each other, might
afterwards find that they were experimenting with fire.

"I have heard," she continued, her fair cheeks growing crimson, "that
there are women--"

Then she paused and could go no further. But he understood.

"There are women--thousands of them," he admitted, "who would willingly
do what I ask. If it is necessary, he must go to them."

She wanted to say that she hoped it would not come to that--she wanted
to convey to her companion the horror she felt for what she supposed his
words implied--but she could not. It was so much easier to write of
things than to talk of them to a man like him.

"Do you call it quite fair," he asked, "to claim all and give nothing?
He does not require much. Could you not let him take your hand, and--"

"And--"

"Possibly, touch your lips with his?"

Miss Fern rose to her feet with a fierce gesture.

"Sir!" she exclaimed.

"Very well," replied Mr. Weil, shortly, turning away.

The girl resumed her seat, with rapidly rising and falling bosom. She
was in a quandary. The suggestion she had heard would have sounded from
any other lips like a premeditated insult. Coming from this man the
venom seemed to have vanished.

Roseleaf felt somewhat discouraged after his latest talk with Weil. He
wanted to make a start, to do something, no matter how little, toward
the object he fully believed was to be attained. That evening while
walking with Miss Fern (for it was their frequent habit to go out of
doors unchaperoned) he found himself unconsciously taking her hand--that
hand for which he had until now felt a genuine fright. And she, after
all her resolutions never to permit anything of the sort, gave it to
him, as they strolled together along an unfrequented byway.

"I want so much to make a Name," he was saying fervently. "I have tried
and tried to begin such a book as Mr. Gouger wants, but I cannot. Won't
you help me, dear Miss Fern? Won't you show me what I lack? I know you
can, if you will. They tell me I have had no experiences, and that I
must have--not a real affair, you know, but an inkling of what it is
like. I have tried to say things to you and have been in fear that you
would not like them, and have held my peace. But now, I can wait no
longer."

In his exuberance Roseleaf spoke at last with ardor, and even went so
far as to attempt to put one of his arms around the waist of the fair
creature by his side. On her part Miss Fern was nearly overcome by
surprise.

In one instant the timid young gentleman had changed into the similitude
of a most ardent swain; but in the next he became again his natural
self, with the added confusion resulting from his excited and mortified
state.

"Let me take you home," he said, when he saw that she could find no
words even to chide him. "Let me take you home; and to-morrow I will go
away."

Go away! She did not like that idea! Her book was not yet finished, for
one thing; and besides he was a nice young fellow, and had meant no
offense.

"There is no reason why you should go," she stammered. "I forgive you, I
am sure."

"Do you!" cried Roseleaf, grasping her hand again in his joy. "You are
kindness itself to say so. I must appear very stupid" (here he half put
his arm around her again, checking himself with difficulty from
completeing the movement) "and dull, and wanting in manners, but you are
the only young lady I have ever known on terms of the least intimacy."

Miss Fern replied that she did not mind what had occurred, and hoped he
would forget it. She added that she would do anything she could for
him, and had the most earnest wish that they should be friends.

At the gate they paused, and in some way their eyes were looking into
each other. The girl laughed, a relief to feelings that had been for the
past ten minutes somewhat overcharged.

"Well, you have made a beginning," she said, mischievously, for she
wanted to drive the sober expression from his clouded face.

"A beginning?" he echoed.

"Yes," she said. "You have held my hand."

He crimsoned.

"You said you would forgive me," he murmured.

"With all my heart," she responded, putting the hand in his again.

He felt a thrill go through him, but it was a pleasant sensation.

"I came very near putting my arm around you," said he, looking away from
her. "Do you forgive that, too?"

She took the hand away and struck him playfully on the cheek with the
palm of it.

Then, before he surmised what she intended, she ran brightly up the
steps of the house and vanished.



CHAPTER IX.

"DAISY, MY DARLING!"


It was Roseleaf's full intention to say something about this adventure
to his instructor in the art of love, Mr. Archie Weil, but somehow he
was not able to summon the requisite courage. He had a delicate sense
that such a thing ought not to be repeated, where it might by any
possibility bring a laugh. And about this time the novelist's attention
began to be attracted toward the younger sister, who had till then
almost entirely escaped his observation.

He noticed particularly the ceaseless devotion that the black servant of
the family exhibited toward her. She might have been a goddess and he a
devotee; a queen and he her slave. Hannibal moved about the girl like
her very shadow, ready to anticipate her slightest wants, while Daisy
seemed to take this excess of attention as a matter of course.

Millicent constantly showed her dislike for the servant.

"I don't see how you can endure to have him touch you," she said to
Daisy. "He knows better than to lay his hands on me. I have told papa
often that I want him discharged, and he ought to consider my wishes a
little."

To this Daisy answered that the boy, as she persisted in calling the
giant, meant well and was certainly intelligent. Her father did not like
to change servants, for it took him a long time to get used to new
ones. So Millicent tossed her head, returned to her collaboration with
Mr. Roseleaf, and things went on as usual.

Imperceptibly Shirley began to take an interest in Daisy. She did not
run away from him, and he discovered, much to his surprise, that she was
worth talking to. She was not exactly the child he had supposed, and she
had the full value of her eighteen years in her pretty head. He got into
the habit of taking short strolls with her, on evenings when Millicent
was occupied with Archie, and when, as often happened, Mr. Fern was away
with Hannibal in the city. There was a sequestered nook at the far end
of the lawn, in which the pair found retreat. Before he realized it,
Roseleaf had developed a genuine liking for these rambles, and was
pleased when the evenings came that brought Mr. Weil to dinner.

Daisy was ingenuous, to a degree, if surface indications counted for
anything. The words that flowed from her red lips were as unstudied as
the pretty attitudes she assumed, or the exceedingly plain but very
becoming dresses that she wore. After she once got "used" to Roseleaf
she treated him quite as if she had been five years his senior.

"Are you a rich man?" she asked him, on one of those early autumn
evenings that they passed together.

Her manner was as simple as if she had said that it looked like rain,
and his answer was hardly less so.

"No, Daisy. I have not much property, but I intend to earn more,
by-and-by. Did you think, because I seem so idle, that I was a
millionaire?"

"No," she answered, a shade of disappointment in her face. "I only
wanted, in case you had plenty of money, to get you to lend me some."

He stared at her through the half-light. Her features were turned in a
direction that did not reveal them very well. What did she want of
money!

"How much do you need?" he inquired, wondering if it was within his
power to oblige her.

"Oh, too much, I am afraid. And I cannot answer any questions, because
the object I have is a secret. I don't think my plan very feasible, for
it might be years and years before I could pay it back. You won't mind
my speaking of it, will you?"

Curiosity grew stronger, and as politely as possible he renewed his
question as to how much the girl needed to carry out her plan.

"I don't know, exactly," she said, thoughtfully. "Perhaps a thousand
dollars a year for five or six years; it might take less."

"It is a great deal," he admitted. "Does your father know what you
contemplate?"

The girl changed color at once.

"Oh, no. I should not like to have him, either. He would say it was very
foolish. And yet I am sure it would not be. The money would do much
good--yes, ever so much."

The young man thought hard for a few moments. A desire to see a brighter
light flash into those young eyes possessed him. He debated seriously
the idea of handing her his patrimony, as he would have given her a
pound of candy if she had wanted it.

"I might give you part," he said, after a pause. "Perhaps your thousand
for the first year or two."

She looked him full in the face, and put both her hands in his
impulsively.

"You are too good," she exclaimed, with fervor. "But you cannot afford
so large a gift. No, I would only take it if you had a very large sum,
and could not possibly miss it. I asked carelessly. I should not have
done so--I was selfish to think of such a thing."

"I want to speak to you about something, also," said Roseleaf, after a
strained pause. "I have noticed of late that your father has some
trouble on his mind."

She started suddenly.

"Ah!" was all she said.

"And I have wondered if there was anything I could do to--to aid
_him_--to relieve him. Because, I would like it very much if I could, on
account of--of--"

She looked up inquiringly.

"I have been so much a member of your family, in a certain way, that a
grief like this appeals strongly to me," he said, haltingly.

She paled slightly as she repeated his words.

"A grief?"

"Well, distress, annoyance, whatever it may be called. If there is
anything I can do, I shall be more than happy."

The girl sat for some moments with her eyes on the ground.

"He _is_ troubled," she said, finally. "I am glad to talk with you, for
I cannot get him to tell me anything. He is greatly troubled, and I am
worried beyond expression. I can't understand it. He has always confided
in me so thoroughly, but now he shakes his head and says it is nothing,
trying to look brighter even when the tears are almost ready to fall.
What can it be, Mr. Roseleaf? He has no companions outside of his office
and this house? He sits by himself, and isn't a bit like he used to be
and every day I think he grows worse."

Roseleaf asked if Daisy had talked much with her sister about it.

"No," she said, with a headshake. "I don't believe Millie has noticed
anything. She is so occupied with her literary matters"--there was a
sarcastic touch upon the word, that did not escape the listener--"she
has no time for such things. I hope you won't think I mean to criticise
her," added the young girl, with a blush. "I know you care a great deal
for my sister, and--"

She stopped in the midst of the sentence, leaving it unfinished. And
Roseleaf thought how interesting this girl had become.

"Let me confide in you, Daisy," he said, in his softest tone. "I do not
care 'a great deal,' nor even a very little for your sister. You see,"
he went on, in response to the startled look that greeted him, "I am to
be a novelist. To be successful in writing fiction, I have been told
that I ought to be in love--just once--myself. And I came here and tried
very hard to fall in love with Miss Millicent; and I simply cannot."

Daisy's fresh young laugh rang out on the air of the evening.

"Poor man!" she cried, with mock pity. "And hasn't she tried to help
you?"

"No. She hasn't. And as soon as I get the work done I have commenced for
her, I am going away."

The child--she was scarcely more than that--grew whiter, but the shadows
of the evening hid the fact from her companion.

"You ought not to go," she said, slowly, and rather faintly, "until you
have made another trial."

"Oh! It is useless!" he replied.

"Is it that you cannot love--Millie--or that you cannot love--any one?"

He hesitated, puzzled, himself, at the question.

"I never did love any one--any woman," he confessed, "and perhaps I
never shall. But your sister seems peculiarly hard to love. Yet she is a
very handsome girl and equipped with a mind of unusual calibre."

Daisy acknowledged this description of her sister's charms. She remarked
that it was strange that such a combination did not suffice to
accomplish the desired result.

"There are people who do find her entertaining," she added. "Mr. Weil is
one of them."

"Oh, Archie!" said Roseleaf. "He finds everything entertaining. It is
nothing worth remarking. She is the exact description of his ideal in
feminine face and form. He once gave me the list of the excellencies of
a 'perfect woman,' and your sister has them all."

The younger Miss Fern had her own opinions about this matter. She
thought the innocent man at her side had not quite gauged the interest
that Mr. Weil took in her family.

"I will make a proposition," she said, with a light laugh, when they had
talked longer upon the subject. "I am afraid it won't seem worth much to
you, and perhaps you can do better; but why can't you stay here, and--if
Millie won't do--make love to _me_?"

Darkness is responsible for many things. In the light, Daisy could not
have uttered those words, even in jest. There, when the sun had set and
the stars were not yet on duty, she found the courage to make that
suggestion.

"You are very kind," he stammered, when he grasped her meaning. "But I
do not think it will answer. I am afraid love cannot be pushed to any
point without its own initiative."

"That is probably the case with _real_ love," replied the girl, "but an
imitation that would serve your purpose might be evolved in the way I
have indicated. For instance, you could take my hand in yours--like
this--and I could lean toward you in--this way. And then, if you had
sufficient courage--"

Before he dreamed of doing it, it was done! He had kissed her on her
tempting lips, placed within an inch of his own.

"You are too good a scholar," she pouted, rising to her feet in some
confusion. "I did not give you leave to do that."

"I beg your pardon most humbly," he answered, with intense contrition.
"May I assure you that the act was wholly involuntary and that I am very
sorry for it?"

She turned and surveyed him in the shadow.

"Are--you--_very_--sorry?" she repeated.

"Yes."

"Why?"

"Because I have made you angry."

"Do I seem angry?"

"At least, I have injured your feelings."

Her face was close to his again.

"Well, I forgive you. There, let us make up."

She raised herself on the tips of her toes and kissed him twice.

All the blood in this young man's body seemed to rush to his head and
then back with violence to his heart.

"_Daisy!_" he stammered. "_Daisy!_"

But she sprang away as he tried to embrace her, and standing two yards
off, tauntingly cried that he did not know what love was, and that no
one could ever teach him. Taking up the challenge he started toward her.
She ran away, he in pursuit. She had gone but a few steps when she
tripped over an object in the path and went down. In trying to stop
himself Roseleaf fell by her side.

"Daisy!" he cried. "Are you injured?"

She did not answer. In the darkness he saw her lying there so still that
he was frightened. He caught her passionately in his arms, and knew no
better way to bring her to consciousness than to rain kisses on her
cheeks. As might be expected this only served to prolong her swoon,
which was not a very genuine one, if the truth must be told, and it was
some seconds before she opened her eyes and caught him, as one might
say, in the act.

"How dare you!" she demanded, shrinking away from him.

"Daisy, my darling!" he answered, his voice tremulous. "I thought you
were dead, and I knew for the first time how dearly, how truly I loved
you!"

She laughed, not very heartily. She had hurt herself truly in her fall,
and her feminine nerves were jarred.

"You are doing nicely," she said. "For a beginner, one could ask nothing
better. And now, if you will help to rise, I think it would be more
proper."

"No." He spoke with force and passion. "You must not think I am
trifling. _I love you!_ Yes, I love you! _I worship you!_"

"I do not see," she remarked, insisting in spite of him that she must
assume a standing position, "how you differ in your expressions from the
lovers I have read of in novels. It is quite time that we returned to
the house. To-morrow, if you like, I will give you another lesson."

Shirley was a picture of utter despair. His new sensations almost
overwhelmed him. In one second the dead arteries in his body had leaped
into the fullest life. The touch of that young maiden's lips had
galvanized him. He could not bear to leave her with those mocking words.
But at that moment a voice was heard in the direction of the residence.

"Miss--Dai-sy! Miss--Dai-sy!"

It was Hannibal, who had returned from a drive with Mr. Fern. They could
see him dimly coming across the lawn with the girl's cloak in his hand.
Daisy, with one quick grasp of the fingers that hung close to hers, said
good-night to her companion, and started in the direction of the
servant. If she intended--as seemed probable--to pretend she was out
alone, Roseleaf did not mean to share in that deception, and he followed
close behind her.

"Here I am, Hannibal," called Daisy. "Ah, you have my coat. It was very
kind of you. Has papa come home? I am coming in. I did not think how
late it was."

The negro stopped as he saw the strollers, and knew that they had
undoubtedly been together. What more he suspected no one can say with
certainty. But he threw the cloak upon the grass that bordered the
pathway and turned on his heel without a word.

"Confound his impudence!" exclaimed Roseleaf, when he had recovered
sufficiently from his surprise to speak. "I have a good notion to
follow him and box his ears."

The soft hand of the girl was on his sleeve in a moment.

"Say nothing to him--_please!_" she answered. "He--he is very thoughtful
for me--of my health--and I was careless. Papa must have sent him."

The touch on his arm mollified the young man at once. He tried to make
out the lines of the pretty face that was so near him and yet so far
away.

"We are to study again to-morrow, then," he said, taking up her
statement with an assumed air of gayety. "At what hour?"

But she broke away from him abruptly, and ran into the house without a
word. Hannibal stood in the doorway and Roseleaf thought he
distinguished harsh sounds from the negro's lips; but this seemed so
incredible that he conceived his senses at fault.

Looking at his watch the novelist saw that it was still early enough to
take a stroll by himself and ponder over his new happiness--or misery,
which was it?--under the open sky. It was two hours later that his
latchkey turned in the door, and in that time he had resolved either to
make Daisy Fern his wife or commit suicide in the most expeditious
fashion.



CHAPTER X

"OH, SO MANY, MANY MAIDS!"


The only disagreeable thing about falling in love with Daisy was that
Roseleaf felt compelled to reveal the truth to Archie Weil. He believed
he was bound to do this by a solemn contract which he had no moral right
to ignore. Perhaps Weil might claim that he had no business to fall in
love with one sister when his "manager" had picked out the other for
this operation. Be that as it may, there was no use in evading the
question. It must be talked over, be the result what it might.

"Well, I know what love is now," was the abrupt way in which the young
man opened the subject on the following afternoon.

He had ridden to the city, as Weil was not expected at the residence of
Mr. Fern that day. The hope he had formed the previous evening of
getting another interview with Daisy had not materialized, she having
gone on some short journey before he could intercept her.

"You do!" was the equally abrupt reply, uttered in a tone that betrayed
undoubted astonishment. "What do you mean?"

Roseleaf reddened.

"It came to me all at once, last evening," he said, avoiding the gaze of
his companion. "We were down at the end of the lawn, you know--"

Archie interrupted him with a sudden shout.

"Not _Daisy_!"

"Yes."

"You are in love with _Daisy_!"

Roseleaf bowed.

"Upon my word!"

There was nothing in any of these expressions that conveyed the
information which the younger man craved, namely, whether his friend
approved what he had announced, but he stole a look at him and saw that
he appeared more astounded than angry.

"You dear boy," he said, "I don't know what to say to you. You blush
like a maiden over the acknowledgment. I am half inclined to believe you
are the girl in the case, and your partner in love some great, strapping
fellow on whose bosom you intend to pillow your coy head. So it is
Daisy, eh? And last night it came to you? Tell me how it happened."

Comforted in a measure by the good nature of his friend, Roseleaf
proceeded to give the outlines of what had occurred, suppressing the
more intimate facts with which the luckier reader is acquainted. He
admitted the touch of hands, but did not mention the pressure of lips to
lips. He told of the girl's swoon, but said nothing of the extraordinary
measures adopted to bring her to her senses. But, while he made no
insinuations, nor pretended to see through the meshes in this net, the
experience of Mr. Weil served him in good stead. He could fill in the
vacant places in the story with substantial correctness.

"I don't know what Miss Millicent will say to all this," he remarked,
when the recital came to a pause.

"I think she was just beginning to like you a little herself. Most of
our talk last evening was about you, and when I mentioned, as I took my
leave, that you were probably out walking with Daisy, I could see
distinct traces of jealousy. I want to be fair with my client. I told
her that you came there to learn love from her, not from her little
sister. If all this should result in breaking her heart, I don't see how
I could excuse myself. And the other one, she seems such a child, I
never thought of her in that connection. Why, how old is she--not over
eighteen, I think."

Roseleaf answered that Daisy would be nineteen on her next birthday, an
ingenious way of stating age that was not original with him.

"All right," said Archie, digesting this statement slowly. "And now,
what is your programme?"

Roseleaf looked surprised at the business-like nature of the question.

"I mean to secure her consent to marry me, as soon as possible," he
said.

"And then?"

"Why, see her father, I suppose. Isn't that the most important thing to
do?"

Mr. Weil shook his head decidedly.

"Not by any means. You must not act with undue haste. Mr. Fern would say
she was too young to think of matrimony, a proposition you could not
successfully dispute. Besides, should he happen to give his consent and
appoint a week from Wednesday for the happy occasion, see what a mess
it would put you in."

The suggestion caused the brightest of smiles to illumine the
countenance of the listener.

"It would make me the happiest of mortals!" he cried. "There is nothing
that could prevent my summoning the clergyman and securing the prize I
desire."

Mr. Weil grunted.

"H--m! And in the meanwhile what would become of your great novel?"

This question brought a sober pause to the young novelist.

"I could write it after my wedding," he answered, finally.

"Could you? You could write nothing at all then--nothing that any one
would pay a cent to read. I have told you from the start that what you
want is a _grande passion_, something to stir your soul to its depths.
You are on the verge of that experience. Already you have had a glimpse
of what it will be like. For the first time the touch of a woman's
fingers has driven sleep from your eyelids. No, you didn't tell me you
laid awake all night, but I saw it by looking at you. You can shut
yourself up in your room now, and rhapsodize over the dear face, the
lovely mouth, the soft voice of your beloved. In another week, if this
keeps on, you can write like a combination of George Eliot (after she
met Lewes) and Amelie Rives (before her marriage). A month later, Gouger
might rave over your productions, for you will be on the Matterhorn of
bliss unsatisfied."

A slight laugh, at his own excess of description, issued from the lips
of Mr. Weil, but the countenance of his companion was as firm as a rock.

"You are right," said Roseleaf, gravely. "Already I see the vast
difference between this sensation of love and the thing I imagined it to
be when I wrote those silly pages that Cutt & Slashem did so well to
reject. But I am torn between two desires. I want to write my
novel--until yesterday I thought no wish could be so great. And I also
want my wife." He breathed the word with a simple reverence that
affected even the flinty heart of his hearer. "I shall never rest easy
until I find her wholly mine, to love, honor and cherish while God gives
me breath!"

The hand of the elder man dropped heavily on the table by his side.

"_Good!_" he exclaimed. "_Very_ good! You could not have said it better.
There is an opportunity before you to accomplish both of these things. I
only wish to impress upon you the fact that they must come in the order
I have indicated, or one of them will never come at all. Write your
story while the fever of passion is on you. The dead calm of married
life would only bring the sort of novel that the shelves are already
piled with, nauseating to the public and a drug in the hands of the
publishers."

Roseleaf doubted the full correctness of these conclusions. He thought,
with that dear girl by his side, he could write with all the fervor of a
sweetheart, for his affection was to have no boundary, no limit, no end.
But he had a high opinion of the abilities of Mr. Weil, and he had no
idea of disputing the conclusions of that wise guide.

"Do you think she will accept me?" he asked, wistfully, returning to the
main question. "It came so sudden, and there was very little said, and
it was late; and then Hannibal came after her, and she went into the
house. Everything was left in a state of uncertainty."

"Did nothing show whether you were indifferent to her?" was the wily
interrogation that followed. "Usually I believe something conveys the
sweet word 'hope' to the waiting one. And what do you say about
Hannibal? That he came to call your charmer and took her away from you?"

Without reserve the young man repeated what had happened. Archie seemed
deeply interested, but whatever his thoughts he did not express them at
the time.

"And that reminds me of another thing," said Roseleaf. "Have you noticed
anything strange about Mr. Fern?"

"Yes," said Mr. Weil, "I have noticed. I wondered if you had done the
same. Have you discovered what the trouble is?"

"No, and Daisy doesn't know, either. Indeed, she is much distressed
about it. Remember, this is a secret between us, for perhaps I had no
right to talk of their affairs. He is in a state of great depression,
and as he is so regular in his habits I can't imagine what to lay it to.
You are so shrewd, couldn't you find out?"

Mr. Weil rose and took a few paces up and down the room.

"You are the fellow to do that, not I," he said, presently. "Yes, hear
me out. You are in a sense a member of his family, and would have a
natural right to allude to the state of his health. Then, if you were to
put in a word about Miss Daisy--why, you might kill several birds with
one stone."

Roseleaf looked much puzzled.

"I thought," he said, "that you wanted me to postpone the matter of my
marriage as long as possible."

"Your marriage, yes. But not the preliminaries. They may require a dozen
bouts with the old gentleman. The first time he will probably laugh you
out of the room as a silly young noodle; the second he will say that he
has nothing against you personally, but that his 'baby' is too infantile
to think of such things for ten years yet; the third he will begin to
see the situation in its right light, and after that it will be only a
matter of detail. All these things will be of the greatest value to you
in the novel you are going to write, and you must not on your life miss
a single one of them.

"Drop into the wool shop, catch his royal highness there, and for the
first thing express solicitude for his health. Unless he is on his guard
more than is likely you ought to catch some slight straw to show what
ails him. Then follow it up with a word or two about Miss Daisy, and you
will have spent a good afternoon, even if he doesn't smile on your suit
at first hand, and take you to his manly breast as his long-lost
son-in-law."

The reasonings set forth in these propositions were so evidently correct
that Roseleaf resolved to adopt them just as soon as he could bring
himself into the proper mood. In the meantime, however, he wanted to
have a little further talk with Daisy, for he could hardly ask her
father for her hand without the semblance of permission on her part. He
tried to remember all she had said to him at the foot of the lawn, and
was compelled to admit that it was very little indeed. The only things
he was certain of were the kisses, but his experiences were so slight
that he could not tell how much weight to give even these.

That evening he tried his best to get a word with her alone, but she
eluded him, and he was obliged to go to the boudoir of her sister and
read over that young lady's MSS. as it stood revised by his careful
hands.

"Well, another chapter will finish it," said Miss Fern, when he put down
the pages. "And then Mr. Gouger will decide whether Cult & Slashem
consider it worth printing."

"Yes," he answered, gravely. "They will print _your_ story now, without
doubt. But _I_ am as far as ever from satisfying their requirements."

Millicent thought how supremely selfish she must seem, talking always of
her own hopes and doing nothing to help the one who had made her success
possible. She saw that he wore a dejected look, and she began to
sincerely pity him. When our own ships are safely in sight of the
harbor we have more time to dwell on the derelicts in which the property
of our friends is embarked.

"Perhaps, when we get this disposed of, I can help you," she suggested.

It was nearly a week before Roseleaf could get another talk with Daisy,
a week that tried him to the utmost, for he could think of nothing but
her, and could not understand her reasons for treating him so strangely.
At last he wrote her a letter, giving it to Hannibal to deliver, in
which he said that he was about to return to his city lodging and wanted
to know if she meant him to leave without a kind word at parting. He
thought the negro looked peculiar as he took the note, half as if he did
not intend to accept the commission to deliver it; but he concluded that
this must be imagination. He wondered why Archie Weil took such a fancy
to Hannibal. If Roseleaf was lucky enough to claim Daisy as his wife, he
would never have that figure darken his door.

The letter must have been taken to its destination without delay, for an
answer was brought in the course of an hour, stating in the briefest
language that Miss Daisy would await him in the parlor, after lunch.

At the table Miss Fern was present, as usual, but not her father, his
business in the city keeping him away at that hour. At meals it was
Daisy's habit to say little, leaving the conversation to her sister and
whoever else happened to be there. At the end of this particular lunch
Millicent went up stairs to her chamber and Daisy betook herself to the
parlor, followed a few minutes later by the young man.

"Why have you treated me so coldly?" were his first words, when he found
himself alone with her.

"Oh, dear, that is a very bad beginning!" she said, smiling. "I shall
have to instruct you in some of the simplest things, I see already. When
you wish to make friends with a woman, don't begin by scolding her. I am
here because you wrote that you wished a kind word. Don't give me too
many cross ones, please."

He sighed impatiently.

"Daisy," he exclaimed. "I hope you are not going to make fun of me! I
have passed a most miserable week. After the glimpse of heaven you gave
me, that evening--"

She put on an air of mock surprise.

"Did I do that! It was much more than I intended, then. I fear you are
inclined to use extravagant metaphors, Mr. Roseleaf. But, never mind.
You are going away, and I am very, very sorry. However, as you came here
on Millie's account, and not on mine, I suppose I have no right to say
so."

The fair brow of the young man was a mass of wrinkles.

"I can't understand why you speak so lightly," he answered. "You know--I
told you--that I love you--that there is nothing in all the world so
dear to me--that I want your promise to be my wife. I can't go from here
without that consolation. Daisy, I ask you, in all sincerity, to say
that as soon as your father's consent is obtained, you will name a day
when you will marry me."

The smile faded from the girl's lips. Something brought to her mind a
very sad reflection.

"You ask a great deal," she said. "Much more, I think, than you realize.
Until a week ago I was nothing to you. We lived under the same roof, we
took our evening strolls together, we talked like the commonest
acquaintances, and that was all. Then, in a moment, you discovered that
your heart was on fire. I have not ascertained what made the marvellous
change. I am sure you cannot tell yet if it be a genuine and lasting
one. Were I inclined to believe I ever should be willing to go to the
lengths of which you speak, I should assuredly want time for the
maturest reflection. In the first place, I know almost nothing about
you. One would not engage a--a coachman--without more inquiry. How can a
girl promise to trust her entire future to a man with whom she has but a
casual acquaintance? Such things need consideration. I know my father
would say so. And if he heard only the nicest things about you, I doubt
if he would like to have you take me from him--especially now, when his
heart is heavy and he leans so much on my love and care. No, you are in
too great haste."

His impatience grew to boiling heat as he listened. How could she find
so many reasons, and (he was obliged to confess) such sensible ones, to
bring against him?

"There is one thing you _can_ do," he said, with an attitude of deep
dejection. "You can tell me if you love me."

She tossed her head with a feminine movement that was wholly charming.

"Yes, I could tell you that, but it would be a very improper thing,
under the circumstances, provided I was able to give you the answer you
seem to wish. If I did care for you, would I like to say so in definite
words when anything further might turn out to be impossible? A girl
would not wish to have a man that she was never to marry going about
with the recollection that she said, 'I love you.'"

"Then you can say nothing at all?" he asked sadly. "Shall I be uncertain
whether at the end of my term in purgatory I am to be raised to a state
of bliss or dashed into the Inferno?"

She laughed; a delicious little laugh.

"You are getting hyperbolical," she answered. "There are ten thousand
better women than I."

"But I don't want them," pleaded the young man. "Did you ever read the
lines of Jean Ingelow:

    "'Oh so many, many, many
    Maids and yet my heart undone.
    What to me are all or any?
    I have lost--my--one.'"

Daisy replied that the sentiment was very sweet, and added that when a
lover could quote such admirable poetry with accuracy, there was hope
for him. Do what he would, Roseleaf could not make her see that
everything in his future life depended on "one little word" from her.
She persisted that he was misled by the violence of his first
affection, and that if he would only let a month or two pass he would
discover that his pulse would fall off a number of beats to the minute.

"And is that what you want?" he asked, reproachfully. "Would you like to
have me come back two months later, and tell you my love had ceased?"

"Yes, if it was the truth. How much better than to learn it after my
vows had been pledged and I was bound to you for the rest of my days!"

He rose and went with quick steps to her side, catching up her hand and
covering it with kisses. She did her best to stop him, whispering, with
a glance toward the door, that they might be interrupted at any minute.

"By whom!" he retorted, stung at her coldness. "Your sister has gone up
stairs, and there is no one else in the house."

"Hannibal might come in," she said, in a low tone. "He has no way of
knowing that I do not wish to be interrupted."

He grew angry at the mention of that name. But the warning had its
effect and he sat down, nearer to her than before, his heart beating
rapidly.

"I hate the fellow!" he exclaimed bitterly. "It is a good thing I am
going away, or I should strike him some day for his insolence!"

Daisy paled at the vehemence of her companion.

"Has he been insolent to you?" she murmured.

"To me? He would not dare! What angers me is the way he speaks to the
rest of you. He came with your cloak that night, acting as if he was
your master, instead of your servant. I have heard him speak to Mr.
Fern in a way that made me want to kick him! Why does your father bear
it? Why do you? Has Hannibal some mysterious hold on his situation?"

The girl heard him patiently, though the roses did not come at once to
her white cheek.

"I am afraid," she said, when he had finished his tirade, "that you
despise him for his color. It is a prejudice that seems to me--and to my
father--unchristian and uncharitable. Perhaps, in the anxiety to make
Hannibal forget that God gave him a darker skin than ours, we may have
gone to the other extreme, and treated him with too great consideration.
But I think you overstate the case."

Her gentle words smote upon the ears that heard them, and in a moment
Roseleaf was affected by the most lively contrition. Without attempting
to excuse himself he begged her pardon, which she readily granted.

"When do you leave us?" she asked.

"To-morrow morning."

"But you will call--occasionally?"

"If I may."

His tone was so sad that Daisy assured him he ought to have no doubt of
that.

"I understand," she added, "that you have probably helped Millie to a
reputation that she craves above everything, and she ought not to prove
entirely ungrateful. We have enjoyed your stay here, and shall be most
sorry to have you go. I should be glad to think you would honor us with
your company to dinner not less often than once each week."

For the first time a ray of light came into his face.

"Oh, may I?" he cried. "Then I shall not be shut off entirely from
seeing you?"

"No, indeed," she answered. "Father likes you and Mr. Weil too well--you
will bring him, of course. Once a week, at least--if it were twice it
wouldn't do any harm; and if it were three times--"

His face was now one bright beam of light.

"Daisy," he cried. "I believe you do not hate me after all!"

"I hope you never thought I did," she responded. "Why is it that a man
can see no middle ground between positive dislike and marriage? I expect
to like a good many men in the course of my life, but I can only marry a
very few of them."

He was obliged to laugh at this, and to say that she would only marry
_one_, if he had _his_ way. Before they had finished with this subject
Roseleaf was in a state of high good nature, though he had little
apparently upon which to base the rise in his spirits.

"Can't I say something--just a hint, if no more, to your father?" he
asked, getting down again to business.

"Pretty risky!" she answered, sententiously. "He wouldn't give you much
encouragement I fear."

The young man caught eagerly at the word.

"You _fear_!" he echoed. "God bless you, Daisy!"

Bearing in mind what she had previously said about the unlocked doors,
he did not attempt to suit the action to the phrase. But his happy face
spoke volumes.

"You had best say very little to father at present," said Daisy,
soberly. "He is most unhappy."

"I wish I knew what troubled him!" he exclaimed.

"I wish so, too, if you could aid him," she answered, earnestly.

"Who knows but I may?" he asked, with a smile that she hoped would prove
prophetic.



CHAPTER XI.

ARCHIE PAYS ATTENTION.


Roseleaf took rooms at his old lodgings in the city, and set in earnest
about the work of beginning his great novel. He had interviews with Mr.
Gouger, at which he detailed the slight thread of plot which he already
had in mind, profiting by the critic's shrewd suggestions. It was
decided that he should portray, at the beginning, a youth much like
himself, who was to fall in love with an angelically pure maiden. The
outline of their respective characters were to be sketched with care,
and sundry obstacles to their union were to be developed as the story
progressed. Gouger warned his young friend not to write too fast, and to
content himself for the present with delineating the phase of love with
which he had become familiar.

"Later on," he said, "when your hero finds that this girl is not all his
bright fancy painted her--when it is proved beyond a doubt that she has
played him false, that she has another lover--"

Roseleaf turned pale.

"But that will never be!" he interrupted.

"It will, of course--in the story," corrected Gouger. "She will lead him
a race that will make him an enemy to the entire sex, if she is used for
all the dramatic effect possible. People expect to find immaculate
purity in the earlier chapters of a story, as they do in small children.
With the progress of the action they look for something more exciting.
To sketch a seraph who remains one would only be to repeat the failure
you made in your other effort--the one you brought to me the day I met
you first. It is not the glory of heaven that attracts audiences to our
churches, but the dramatic quality of hell. A sermon without a large
spice of the devil in it would be much worse than a rendition of Hamlet
minus the Prince. Put your heroine in the clouds, if you will, at the
beginning. The higher she goes, the greater will be her fall, and the
greater, consequently, your triumph."

The young novelist shivered as he listened to these expressions. How
could he build a heroine on the model of Daisy Fern, and conceive the
possibility that she would ever allow her white robes to touch the
earth? He might have constructed such a plot with Millicent as the
central figure, though that would be by no means easy; but Daisy!
Impossible! He asked the critic if it would not do to send the hero of
the tale to perdition, while leaving his sweetheart immaculate to the
close.

"No," said Gouger, decidedly. "A man's fall is not much of a fall, any
way you put it. The public is not interested in such matters. It demands
a female sacrifice, like some of the ancient gods, and it will not be
appeased with less. I expect you to be new and original in your
treatment of the theme, but the subject itself is as old as fiction. You
have too little imagination, as I have told you before. You must
cultivate that talent. Having conceived your paragon, imagine her placed
under temptations she cannot resist; surround her with an environment
from which she cannot break; place her in situations that leave her no
escape."

Roseleaf shook his head.

"I am afraid I never shall be able to do it," he said.

"Pshaw! Don't talk of failure at this stage of the game. All you have to
do is to introduce upon the scene a thoroughly unprincipled man of good
address, who is fertile in expedients. You will find your model for that
among a dozen of your acquaintances. Why, take Archie Weil, and hold him
in your mind till you are saturated with him."

What did Mr. Gouger mean? That Mr. Weil would actually do these dreadful
things, would in his own person perpetrate the outrage of winning a pure
girl to shame. It seemed childish to ask such a question, and yet such a
meaning could easily be taken from what the critic had said. No, no! All
he could have meant was that Mr. Weil might serve as a figure on which
to lay these sins--that he could be carried in the writer's mind, as a
costumer uses a stuffed frame to hang garments on while in the process
of manufacture.

"Then there is Boggs," added Gouger, with a laugh. "You ought to find
some place for a fellow like him, if only for the comic parts of your
novel, and there must be a little humor in a book that is to suit the
mass. A writer for a magazine said recently with much truth, 'He who
would hit the popular taste must aim low.' I think Boggs could furnish
the cheap fun for an ordinary novel, without too great a wear on the
writer. Go ahead, my boy. Write a half dozen chapters in your own
idyllic way, and then get Archie to take you to a few places where your
mind will be turned to opposite scenes. It takes all sorts of edibles to
suit the modern palate."

So Roseleaf wrote, slowly, patiently, with devotion to his art, until he
had completed five chapters of his story. And Gouger read it and went
into ecstacies, declaring it the best foundation he had ever seen for a
most entrancing romance.

"He has wrought his people up to such a superlative height," said the
critic to Mr. Weil, "that the _chute_ will be simply tremendous! How
simply, how elegantly his sentences flow! If he can handle the necessary
wickedness that must follow, the sale of 'Uncle Tom's Cabin,' or 'Thou
Shalt Not,' will be eclipsed without the least doubt. But, the question
still is, _can_ he?"

"There's no such question," was the response. "He must, that's the way
to put it. Confound it, he shall! And the next thing for him to do is
to take a few visits with me to the underground regions, where he can
get such slight shocks to his literary system as will enable him to take
up the vein he must work."

During this time Roseleaf did not forget the invitation he had received
to dine with the Ferns. It did him good to see Daisy, although he could
not now get her for a moment to himself. He sighed to her over the
table, and across the parlor, after the party had retired to that part
of the house, and she answered him with little bright smiles that acted
like an emollient on his hurt spirit. He had never found the courage to
beard her father in his den--of wool--and was not even sure that the
affair had reached a stage where anything could be gained by taking such
a step. What he wanted was a word of assurance from Daisy that she would
wait for him till he had made a Name in literature, or proved his
ability in some definite manner. There was no indication that any one
else was in the way; everything pointed to a contrary probability. But
there is nothing so desolate as the heart of a lover whose fair one is
just beyond his reach.

Mr. Weil accompanied Shirley on most of these visits, and knew very well
what was going on. None of the glances exchanged between the young
people were so much their exclusive property as they believed. Had
Archie possessed eyes in the back and sides of his head, he could have
seen little more than he did. While appearing to devote his entire
attention to Mr. Fern and Millicent--principally the former, he found
time to watch Roseleaf and Daisy, and even the negro Hannibal.

He noticed that the servant was no less devoted than formerly to the
youngest member of the household. He saw him hover around her at the
table like a protecting spirit, letting her want for nothing that
thoughtfulness could procure. And he noticed that Daisy seemed as
oblivious of this as she had always been. She accepted these
extraordinary attentions quite as if Hannibal were some automaton,
acting with a set of concealed springs--a mechanism in which there was
nothing of human life or intelligence.

Mr. Fern was the same gentlemanly host as of yore, with the same dark
cloud hanging over him, whatever might be its cause. Courteous by nature
to an exceptional degree he could not assume a gayety he did not feel.
There was some terrible weight bearing him down, some awful incubus of
which he was unable to rid himself. The only person who did not notice
it was Millicent, and the one it troubled most was Daisy, on whose sweet
young face the share she had in her parent's griefs had already begun to
leave its impressions.

Millicent's novel was soon placed in Mr. Gouger's hands, completed. The
original theme was unaltered, but in its new garb of perfect English no
one would have recognized the rejected work. The combination of the
girl's strength of mind and the man's elegance of diction was
successful. The critic recommended its acceptance without a word of
dissent, and Cutt & Slashem even consented, on his suggestion, to
forego the guarantee against loss which they had of late demanded from
all authors whose names were unknown to the reading public.

"I have fixed it for you, Archie," he said, when that gentleman next
made his appearance at the sanctum. "No deposit or guarantee, and ten
per cent. of the retail price for royalty. So take a train to your
inamorata's house and tell her the news."

Mr. Weil did not seem to wholly relish the announcement.

"In the first place," he remarked, "you have no business to speak of
Miss Fern as my inamorata; and in the second you will pay her more than
ten per cent. or you won't get the book to print."

At this, Mr. Gouger, after the manner of all publishers and their
agents, proceeded to show to Mr. Weil that it was perfectly impossible
to pay another cent more than the figure he had named; and before he had
finished he agreed to see the firm and get the amount raised
considerably, provided the sales should exceed five thousand copies. In
short, Mr. Weil secured a very respectable contract for a new author,
and one that was sure to please Miss Fern, if she was in the least
degree reasonable.

"I wish you would hurry up Roseleaf," remarked Gouger, when this matter
was disposed of. "When will you take him down into the depths and let
him see that side of life?"

"I have arranged a journey for to-morrow night," said Weil. "We shall go
to Isaac Leveson's and make an evening of it. Unless things are
different there from usual, he will lay the foundation for all the
wickedness he needs to put into his story."

The critic nodded approval.

"He will probably have a Jew in it, then--a modernized Fagan."

"Yes," said Weil. "And a negro. A tall, well-built negro, who has a
white man for his slave!"



CHAPTER XII.

DINING AT ISAAC'S.


On the following day, when Shirley Roseleaf presented himself at the
Hoffman House, he found Mr. Weil awaiting him in a state of great good
nature.

"Go home and make yourself ready for a dive into the infernal regions,"
he said, merrily. "I am going to take you to a place where the devil
spends his vacation, and show you a set of women as different from those
you have lately met as chalk is from indigo. Be here at nine o'clock
this evening, prepared for the descent."

A vision of subterranean passages crossed the mind of the listener, and
he thought of tall boots and a tarpaulin.

"How shall I dress--roughly, I suppose?" he inquired.

"Certainly not. Put on your swallow tail, and white tie. Vice in these
days wears its best garments. You cannot tell a gambler from a
clergyman by his attire. Dress exactly as if you were going to the
swellest party on Fifth Avenue. The only addition to your toilet will be
a revolver, if you happen to have one handy. If you do not, I have
several and will lend you one."

If he expected to startle the young man he was in error. Roseleaf merely
nodded and said he would take one of the weapons owned by Mr. Weil.

"We shall not use them--there are a thousand chances to one," said
Archie. "New York is like Montana. You remember what the resident said
to the tenderfoot, 'You may be a long time without wantin' a we'p'n in
these parts, but when you do you'll want it d--d sudden.'"

When Roseleaf returned, the hands of his watch indicated the time at
which he had been asked to make his appearance, but Mr. Weil did not
take him immediately to the point of destination. Instead he walked over
to a variety theatre that was then in operation on Twenty-third street,
and after spending a short time in the auditorium guided the young man
into the "wineroom." Here the ladies of the ballet were in the habit of
going when off the stage, for the sake of entertaining the patrons with
their light and frivolous conversation, and inducing them if possible,
to invest in champagne at five dollars the bottle.

Archie was, it appeared, not unknown to the throng that filled this
place, for his name was spoken by several of both sexes as soon as he
entered. He nodded coolly to those who addressed him, and took a seat
at a table with his companion. With a shake of his head he declined the
offers of two or three fairies of the ballet to share the table, and
ordered a bottle of Mumm with the evident intention of drinking it alone
with his friend.

Roseleaf slowly sipped the sparkling beverage. He was cautioned in a
whisper to drink but one glass, as it was necessary that he should keep
a perfectly clear head. Weil remarked in an undertone that he had only
ordered the wine as an excuse for remaining a few minutes.

"I call this 'the slaughter house,'" he added, in a voice still lower.
"Girls are brought here to be murdered. Not to have their throats cut,"
he explained, "but to be killed just as surely, if more slowly. I have
seen them come here for the first time, with good health shining out of
their rosy cheeks, delighted at the unwonted excitement and the amount
of attention the frequenters of the place bestowed. I have watched them
growing steadily paler, having recourse to rouge, the eyes getting
dimmer, the voice growing harsher, the temper becoming more variable.
And then--other fresh faces came in their stead. There are killed, on an
average, twenty girls a year here, I should say; killed to satisfy the
appetites of men, as beeves are killed in Chicago, but not so
mercifully."

The novelist looked into the faces that were nearest to him and thought
he could discern the various grades of which his friend spoke--the new,
the older, the ones whose turn to give way to others would soon come.
All of them were drinking. Most had on the stage dresses they had just
worn or were about to wear in the performance. Some had finished their
parts and were enveloped in street clothes, ready to take their
departure with the first male who asked them. And they were drinking,
drinking, either in little sips or in feverish gulps, as they would at a
later day, when the five-dollar wine would be replaced by five cent beer
or perhaps the drainings of a keg on the sidewalk.

Mr. Walker Boggs soon came into the wine-room and joined the pair at Mr.
Weil's table. He called for a whiskey straight, pushing the champagne
aside with an impatient movement.

"I won't punish my stomach with such stuff, even if it _has_ gone back
on me," he exclaimed. "That will knock out any man who drinks it between
meals."

Mr. Weil assented to this proposition, and to show his full belief in it
filled his own glass again and tossed its contents down his throat.

"What brings you here?" he asked, quizzically.

"Those creatures," replied Boggs, with a motion of his hand toward the
members of the ballet. "They're all that's left me now. _They_ don't
mind the size of my waist. My hold on _them_ is as strong as ever. But
_you_ ought not to be here," he broke in, turning to Roseleaf. "It will
be years before you get to this stage, I hope."

Mr. Weil hastened to explain.

"Shirley is merely observing," said he. "He came at my request. We are
going next to Isaac Leveson's."

Mr. Boggs grew interested.

"So, so! You intend to show him Isaac's to-night?"

"Yes. Isn't it a good idea?"

The stout man shrugged his shoulders as if he had nothing to say on that
point. The movement was essentially a Frenchy one and might have meant
anything.

"Perhaps you would like to go with us," said Archie.

"What do you intend to do there?"

"Tell Mr. Roseleaf all the secrets."

Mr. Boggs stared at the speaker.

"Isaac won't let you," he answered, grimly.

"Won't he? He'll have to. Why, what's the odds? The boy won't give him
away. And if he should--" His voice sank to a whisper.

Mr. Weil then proceeded to explain to his young friend that "Isaac's"
was a peculiar affair, even for Gotham. It had entrances on two streets.
Into one door went the most respectable of people, intent on getting an
exceptionably good dinner, which was always to be had there, cooked in
the French style and elegantly served. At that end of the house there
were several dining-rooms that would hold forty or fifty guests, and
several others made to accommodate family parties of six to twelve. If a
couple happened to stray in and inquire for a room to themselves the
head waiter informed them that it was against the rule of the house to
serve a private dinner to less than four people.

It was evident that the establishment was conducted on the most moral
principles, and in a way to prevent the possibility of scandal. For
though a great many couples undoubtedly take dinners in private rooms
with the utmost propriety, it must be admitted that such a course is
open to suspicion and might be used as a basis for unpleasant rumors.
Mr. Leveson, who kept this hotel, took great pride in saying that
nothing in all New York bore a better name, and no amount of bribery
would have induced one of his employes--on _that_ side of the house--to
vary the rules laid down.

But on the _other_ side of the building--at the entrance on the other
street--ah, that was different!

If only the most respectable customers entered the first door it was
almost equally true that none but those who lacked that quality used the
second. Mr. Leveson sometimes remarked with glee, at twelve o'clock at
night, that he would give a hundred dollar bill for an honest man or
woman in any of the rooms up-stairs. The waiters had instructions to
"size up" all comers with care, and to admit no accidental parties who
might apply for entrance under a misapprehension as to the character of
the place.

"We are all full, sorry to say," was the established formula. "There is
a very good restaurant just around the corner, on ----th street." And in
this manner the shrewd restaurateur got all the custom he wanted, while
preserving the natural atmosphere in each part of his dominions.

The meals served in these two places were prepared by one chef, and
served from one kitchen. Thus the virtuous and vicious patrons were
supplied with exactly the same dishes. But on what may be called the
Good side nothing stronger than wines were found on the bill of fare. On
the Wicked side every decoction known to the modern drinker was to be
had for the asking. Then, again, the doors of the Good side were closed
at eleven o'clock, while it was often daylight before the last patron of
the Sinful side reeled into his carriage.

After a little more talk Mr. Boggs seemed satisfied and consented to
join the party.

Mr. Leveson was notified of the presence of the newcomers and met them
at the door. Isaac was of a decidedly Jewish cast of countenance,
slightly gray, not very tall, and quite round shouldered. He put out a
lank hand toward Roseleaf, when that young gentleman was named as a
matter of introduction, but put it down again when Mr. Weil curtly said
handshaking was out of date. Archie had seen a disinclination in the eye
of his friend to touch the fingers of the Hebrew, and with his usual
quickness had solved the difficulty. The party entered a private office
at the left of the entrance, where Mr. Leveson inquired what he should
order for them to drink.

"You will order nothing, at present," said Weil, in a contemptuous way
that excited the astonishment of Mr. Roseleaf. "When I wish for anything
I will ring. Who is there in the house?"

The manager of the establishment bowed humbly, and proceeded to run over
the list of his customers.

"There is Major Waters and his wife--"

"Together!" exclaimed the questioner.

"Oh, no! The Major has the little blonde that he has brought for the
last month; his wife has Mr. Nikles of the Planet. Then--"

But Mr. Weil interrupted him again.

"You'll let them run into each other some day and there'll be a nice
time."

"Never fear that. The boys understand thoroughly. He comes earlier and
stays later than she. Besides, we never let anybody meet on the stairs.
The waiters cry out, 'You must go back; it is bad luck!' if any of them
seem in danger of running into each other. They are as safe from
discovery here as if they were in places a mile apart."

Some one descended the stairs at this moment and Leveson tiptoed to the
door and opened it half an inch to peer at them.

"You know I have no object in saying these things," said Weil, "except
to save your precious self from trouble. Who is that going out?"

"Some new people; it is the third time they have been here."

"Well," asked Weil, impatiently, "who are they?"

Leveson held up both his hands as if to beg a moment to answer.

"They come from Brooklyn. I don't know their names. I think neither is
married."

"I have a curiosity about things," explained Weil to his friends, "that
I cannot account for. You remember how Silas Wegg used to talk about
'Aunt Jane' and 'Uncle Parker.' Well, I have the same way of studying
the men that wander in here of an evening, with other people's wives and
daughters. There is so little really entertaining in this confounded
world that I seize upon anything promising a change with avidity. Isaac
tells me all the secrets of his queer ranch, and they prove wonderfully
interesting, sometimes. You see," he added, addressing himself
particularly to Roseleaf, "not a couple comes into this place that would
like to have it known."

Roseleaf bowed constrainedly.

"And how does Mr. Leveson know them?" he inquired. "They surely do not
register, or if they do their names must be fictitious."

Mr. Weil laughed.

"He has ways of finding out," said he. "There are little birds that fly
in at the window and tell him."

"I should not think he would wish to know," commented Roseleaf.
"Especially when it is evident they would not like to have him."

Archie laughed again.

"Let me explain, then," he said. "I need not mind Boggs here, who is
discretion itself. Leveson's reason--of course, I can rely on your
silence?"

The young face reddened at the insinuation that he might betray a
secret.

"I was sure of it," said Archie, so quickly that Roseleaf felt at ease
again. "Well, the reason why Isaac wants to know what is going on is, he
is connected with the police."

Roseleaf said "Ah!" and opened his eyes wider.

"People who go to places like this," continued Mr. Weil, "are of great
interest to the guardians of the peace. And by the police I do not mean
the members of the regular force so much as the special service. It is
to the latter that we go when a confidential clerk has robbed us or we
become suspicious that our wives are unfaithful. Nine times out of ten
the chief of the private detective office knows in advance all we wish
him to ferret out. When he has told us that we will set investigations
on foot, and that he hopes to learn something of the matter within a few
days, he bows us out of his bureau with an air that implies that we have
not come to the wrong party. And as soon as we are gone he turns to a
ledger, and in a few minutes has found an abstract that tells him
everything.

"Let us suppose," said Mr. Weil, "that a jeweler misses twenty valuable
pieces of _bijouterie_ from his stock. The circumstances prove that they
were taken by some one in his employ. He thinks of his clerks, and
cannot find the heart to accuse any of them of such a grave crime. He
goes to the detective office and states his case. When he is gone the
chief turns to the book and finds this:

"'L. M. Jenkins, clerk at Abram Cohen's, Sixth Avenue; about
twenty-three, medium height, dark, dresses well. Rooms at No. --
Twenty-Ninth street. Has been giving expensive suppers as well as
valuable jewelry to Mamie Sanders, No. so-and-so, Such-a-street. They
dined together at Isaac Leveson's on such-and-such dates.' Etc., etc.,
etc.

"Now, he can recover the jewelry and get that clerk into quod in three
hours, if he likes. Naturally he won't expedite things in that way,
because he wants some excuse for running up a large bill, unless it be
a bank case, where he prefers to make a great impression and get himself
solid with the directors. But he will collar the fellow and recover the
stuff, and all because he knew about it long before any one in the store
had a suspicion."

Mr. Leveson returned. Mr. Weil asked that one of the private rooms on
the second floor be put in order at once, for himself and friends. He
then inquired what ladies were in the house unoccupied by escorts.

"Miss Pelham has been waiting an hour for the Judge," replied Isaac,
"but I don't think he'll come. He disappoints her half the time now. And
Mrs. Delavan, who has just come in, found a note from Col. Lamorest,
asking her to excuse him to-night."

Archie looked pleased.

"They'll do," he said. "Tell them to come and dine with us. But," he
paused, and looked at Roseleaf, "we need still another."

The color mounted to the cheeks of the young novelist, as he understood
the thought that prompted this statement.

"Not on my account--I would much rather not," he stammered.

"You will kindly leave that to my judgment," replied Archie,
impressively. "Remember, you are not the instructor here, but the pupil.
There must be some one else, Isaac."

Mr. Leveson hesitated. He was mentally going over the rooms upstairs and
taking stock of what was in them.

"There are two girls," he said, at last, "who used to work in one of
the dry goods stores, but you wouldn't want them. They are very strict,
and they dress plainly,--and I am afraid the other ladies wouldn't like
to associate with them."

Mr. Weil grew vastly irritated by this statement. He brought his hand
down on the table with a bang.

"The other ladies!" he echoed, angrily. "When you tell Mrs. Delavan and
Jenny Pelham that you want them to dine with us, you know that ends it!
As to these shop girls, what do you mean by calling them _strict_? What
would a _strict_ girl be doing in _this_ house?"

Mr. Leveson cringed before his interrogator and made the old, imploring
movement with his hands.

"Let me explain," he said. "These girls came here a few weeks ago with
some traveling men. They took dinner, but Adolf says neither drank a
drop of wine. A few days later they came again, with other escorts, and
the same thing occurred."

"Why did you let them in?" demanded Weil.

"Because I knew the gentlemen."

Archie started to say something, but checked himself.

"And after that they came alone and asked to see me," pursued Isaac,
humbly. "They said they had been thrown out of work, and thought there
might be an opportunity to do something here, like waiting on the
guests. And while we were talking, two old customers of the house called
to dine, alone, and asked me if they could get some one to share the
meal with them. And, it seemed quite providential--"

Archie stopped the voluble speech by striking his hands sharply
together.

"Enough!" he said. "When the dinner is ready send one of them in. That
will make the three we need."

In half an hour the dinner was ready to be served. Then Isaac came with
the information that the girls refused to be separated.

"What a nuisance!" exclaimed Weil. "Well, send both of them, then. We'll
take care of them, somehow."



CHAPTER XIII.

A QUESTION OF COLOR.


The next morning, when Roseleaf awoke, he was for some time in a sort of
stupor. Through the bright sunlight that filled his room he seemed to
scent the fumes of tobacco and of liquor. The place was filled, he
imagined, with that indefinable aroma that proceeds from a convivial
company made up of both sexes. He half believed that Jennie Pelham and
Mrs. Delavan were sitting by his bed, more brazen than the bell which,
from a neighboring steeple, told him the hour was ten. And surely, by
those curtains there, hiding the flame that filled their cheeks, were
the two "shop-girls," their pinched faces denoting slow starvation.
Boggs, and Isaac Leveson, and Archie Weil were there, all of them; and
the young man tossed uneasily on his pillow, struggling with the
remnant of nightmare that remained to cloud his brain.

When he was able to think and see clearly he sat up and rang for a
pitcher of ice water. He was consumed by thirst, and his forehead ached
blindly. When he had bathed his head and throat he turned, by a sudden
impulse, to his table, and took out the MSS. of the story he had begun.
Slowly he read over the pages, to the last one. Then, seizing his pen,
he devoted himself to the next chapter, without dressing, without
breakfasting.

It was four o'clock when he ceased work. He realized all at once that he
was feeling ill. The fact dawned upon him that he needed food, and
donning his garments, he took his way listlessly to a restaurant and
ordered something to eat. As he swallowed the morsels, he fell to
wondering how much temptation _he_ would be able to bear, with hunger as
a background.

He passed a good part of the evening in walking the streets, selecting,
instinctively, sections where he was least likely to meet any one he
knew. When he returned to his room he read over the MSS. he had written
that day, and into his troubled brain there came a sense of pleasure.
Gouger was right. To tell of such matters in a novel, one should know
them himself. Roseleaf could never have written of vice before he saw
Leveson's. Now, it was as plain to him as print, almost as easy to use
in fiction as virtue. What was to follow? He pondered over the plot he
had mapped out, and it grew clearer.

Daisy had given him no further encouragement--at least in words--since
that day she had said it was "risky" to ask her father, but he felt
certain that she regarded him with favor, and that if Mr. Fern put no
obstacles in the way she would not refuse to wed him when the right time
came. He thought it would be wise to obtain one more brief interview
with her, before proceeding to extremities, and determined to do his
best to draw her aside, when he made his next visit to her house. This
settled, he went to bed again and slept soundly.

When the day to go to Midlands arrived Shirley's courage began to ooze a
little. So much depended upon the attitude of his dear one's mind,
which, for all he knew, had changed since he talked with her, that he
fairly trembled with apprehension. He avoided Mr. Weil, with whom he
usually took the train, and went out early. Alighting at a station a
mile or two away from the right one, he walked through the woods, trying
to think how to act in case matters did not turn out as he hoped. Under
the branches he strolled along, until he came within sight of the roofs
of Midlands; and then he threw himself at the foot of a tree close to
Mr. Fern's grounds, and gave himself up to reverie.

When he laid down here it was only five o'clock, and he was not expected
at the house for a full hour. It pleased him to be so near the one he
loved, and to lie where he could dream of her sweet face and see the
outlines of the house that sheltered her, while she had no knowledge of
his presence. Just over there was the arbor, where he had first had the
supreme bliss of touching her lips with his own. If he could get her to
come there with him again--to-night--when the others were occupied with
their talk of earthly things, and if she would only tell him frankly
that he might go to her father, and that her prayers would go with him!
A soft languor came over his body at the deliciousness of these
reflections, but it was dissipated by the sound of voices which
presently came to him from the other side of the hedge.

"I can't exactly understand, Miss Daisy," said one of the voices, which
he had no difficulty in recognizing as that of Hannibal, "why you wish
me to go away?"

There was an assurance in the tone that Roseleaf did not like. He had
noticed it before in the intercourse of this negro with his employers.
There was something which intimated that he was on the most complete
level with them.

"I want you to go," said Daisy, in her quiet way, "because education is
the only thing that will make you what you ought to be. There are a
hundred chances open to you, in the professions, if you can take a
college course. Unless you do, you can hope for nothing better than such
employment as you have now."

It made the listener's blood boil to think that these people should be
consulting in that way, like friends. Daisy ought to have a better sense
of her position.

"I will not refuse your offer, at least not yet," replied Hannibal,
after a slight pause. "It may be as you say--if I graduate as a doctor
or a lawyer. But I know that I live in a country where my color is
despised--and all that could possibly come to me here as a professional
man is work among my own race. I should be a black lawyer with black
clients; or a black physician, with black patients. To really succeed I
should go across the ocean to some land where the shade of my skin would
not be counted a crime."

Daisy's face could not be seen by the listener, but he was sure it was a
kindly one, and this made him fume. The situation was atrocious.

"It should not be considered so anywhere," said the girl, gently.

"It is an outrage!" responded the black. "Having stolen our ancestors
and brought them here from their native country, the Americans hate us
for the injury they have done. In France, they tell me, it is not so.
Oh, if I _could_ gain an education, and become what God meant to make
me--a man!" He paused as if the thought was too great to be conceived in
its fullness, and then said, abruptly: "Where can you get this money?"

Roseleaf's suspicions were now keenly aroused and he dreaded lest she
should bring his name into the conversation.

"Your father would not give it to you--without an explanation," pursued
the negro. "And you have no fortune of your own."

"I will get it--let that suffice," interrupted the girl. "I can give you
$1000 a year for two years, at least, and I hope for two or three more,
if you will go to Paris and put yourself under instruction. Can you
hesitate to accept a proposal of that kind? I thought you would seize it
with avidity."

As Daisy said this she arose, and started slowly toward the house.
Hannibal walked by her side talking in a tone so low that nothing more
was intelligible to the eavesdropper she little suspected was so near.
But suddenly the girl stopped, and Roseleaf heard her cry with startling
distinctness:

"_How dare you!_"

The voice that uttered these words was filled with rage, and the girl's
attitude, as Roseleaf could see--for he had risen hastily to his
feet--was one of intense excitement. Then she added:

"If you ever speak of that again, they will be the last words I will
ever exchange with you. My offer is still open--you can have the money
if you wish it--but never another syllable like this! Understand me,
Hannibal, never!"

Miss Daisy passed on toward the house, alone. The negro stood where she
had left him, his head bowed on his breast, as if completely cowed by
the rebuke. Roseleaf's heart beat rapidly. What gave this fellow such
power over these people? How could he say things to call out such an
exclamation as that of Daisy's, and yet hold her promise to pay him a
large sum of money, instead of getting the prompt discharge he merited?

And this was what the girl wanted to do with the $1,000, she had asked
him to lend her! Should he still give it to her? Yes, if it would rid
the country of that insolent knave who, from whatever cause, occupied a
position that must be growing unendurable to those who had to bear with
him.

What had Hannibal said, that made her turn as if grossly insulted, and
speak with a vehemence so foreign to her nature? Roseleaf would have
enjoyed following the negro and giving him a severe trouncing. Though
Hannibal was twenty pounds heavier and considerably taller than he, the
novelist had not the least doubt of his ability to master him. He
believed the courage of an African would give way when confronted by one
of the superior race; and at any rate, righteous indignation would count
for something in so just a contest.

There were no traces of excitement on Daisy's pretty face as she
welcomed the guests of the family. Weil arrived at about the same time
as Roseleaf, coming directly from the station, and Mr. Fern arrived a
little later. Millicent looked her best, which is saying no less than
that she was a beauty, and Archie told her politely that she ought to
sit for a painting. When the dinner was served, Hannibal took charge as
usual. Shirley watched him with an interest he had never felt before,
and nodded assent when Weil whispered behind his napkin, "Good material
for a novel in that fellow, eh?"

The opportunity for a word alone with Daisy came earlier than Roseleaf
expected. In fact she herself proposed it, while passing out of the
dining room. She said she had something particular to tell him.

"It is about that money you were so kind as to say I could have," she
explained, when they were far down the lawn, and out of hearing of the
others. "I want it very much and very soon. It--it will be all right, I
hope, and--and not cause you any inconvenience."

"I will bring it, or send it to-morrow," he replied, instantly. "But I
still wonder what you intend to do with it."

She smiled archly.

"A good act, I assure you," she replied. "Something of which you would
certainly approve, if you knew all the circumstances. You are very kind,
and if it was darker here I should be--almost--tempted to kiss you."

He replied that it was growing darker rapidly, and that the requisite
shadow could be obtained if they stayed out long enough; but she said
she could remain but a few moments, and turned in the direction of the
house.

"But, Daisy!" he cried, and then paused. "You--you know there is
something of very great importance that I want to talk about. I get so
little chance, and I want so much to tell you things. I have been trying
to go to your father's office, and I can't find courage."

"I didn't know you were thinking of buying wool," she said,
mischievously.

"I want one little lamb, to be my own," he answered, "to love and
cherish all my life long. Am I never to have it?"

She sobered before the earnestness of his sad face.

"You are a dear boy," she said, "and I love you. There! Don't say
anything more to me to-night. I have made a foolish confession, for
which I may yet repent. We must go in. They will be looking for us."

She looked at his countenance and saw that it was radiant.

"I can endure anything now," he said. "You love me, Daisy--can it be
true? I will go in with you--and I will wait. But not too long, my
sweetheart; do not make me wait too long. Repent your confession,
indeed! If you do, it will be from no fault of mine. _Daisy!_"

As he said these things they were gradually nearing the piazza, where
the negro was taking in the chairs.

"I have something pleasant to tell you," whispered Daisy. "You don't
like Hannibal. Well, he is going away soon."

Roseleaf assumed surprise.

"Has your father discharged him?" he asked.

"No, he intends to leave of his own accord. He believes himself fitted
for better work. Hush! He may hear you."

As they passed the servant, Daisy said, "Good-evening, Hannibal." It was
her invariable custom, and she spoke with the greatest courtesy. But in
this case the negro did not raise his eyes, nor turn his head toward
her, nor make the slightest sign to show that he heard.

It was too much for Roseleaf, and he stopped.

"Did you hear Miss Daisy address you?" he demanded, sharply.

Hannibal looked up, with a curious mixture of amusement, contempt and
hate in his dark face.

"I did," he answered.

"Why did you not answer?"

"Because I did not choose."

Daisy threw herself in front of Roseleaf, just in time to prevent
Hannibal's receiving a blow.

"Oh, stop!" she exclaimed, "I beg you!"

The noise and the sound of raised voices brought Mr. Fern and his other
daughter, with Archie Weil, to the door. Mr. Fern took in the situation
at a glance, and his troubled face grew more distressed.

"Mr. Roseleaf," he said, speaking as if the words choked him, "I am
surprised--that you should--hold an altercation like this--in my
daughter's presence."

Roseleaf did not know what to do or say. Daisy's pleading eyes decided
him, much against his judgment, to drop the matter where it was, galling
to his pride though it might be. He escorted his sweetheart into the
parlor, where the entire party followed, in a most uncomfortable state
of mind.

"How can you permit that negro to insult your guests?" demanded
Millicent, as soon as the door was closed. "It is beyond belief. If he
is master of this house it is time the rest of us left it. I am certain
Mr. Roseleaf did not act without great provocation."

Before Mr. Fern could answer, Daisy had spoken.

"It is over now, and there is nothing to be said. Hannibal is going away
in a few days, and that will end your trouble."

The father turned such an incredulous look toward his daughter that it
was evident he had heard nothing of this.

"Going?" he echoed, faintly. "Going?"

"Yes," said Daisy. "He told me to-day. He is going to some country where
his color will not be counted a misdemeanor."

Roseleaf had difficulty in maintaining the silence with which he had
determined to encase himself. But Daisy did not wish him to speak, and
her will was law.

"Well, I am glad of that!" exclaimed Millicent. "In a country where they
consider such people their equals, he will not meet the pity and
consideration he has so abused here. Still, I do think, father, that you
ought to apologize to Mr. Roseleaf for the way in which you have
addressed him."

This freed the young man's tongue.

"By no means," he said. "Very likely I was wrong to say anything."

"You were not wrong!" retorted Millicent. "You were entirely right. You
would have been justified in punishing the fellow as he deserved. It is
others who are wrong. If he were not going, I would never stay to see
repeated what I have witnessed in the last six months."

Mr. Fern seemed to have lost all ambition for controversy. His elder
daughter's cutting words evidently hurt, but he would not reply.

Mr. Weil came to the rescue by introducing a new topic of conversation,
that of a European tenor that was soon expected to startle New York.
Daisy went to the piano, and played softly, talking in whispers to
Roseleaf, who leaned feverishly over her shoulder. But she made no
allusion to Hannibal, and he did his best to forget him.

"What do you make of that?" asked Mr. Weil, when he was in a railway
car, on the way back to the city with his young friend. "A glorious
chance for a novelist to find the reason that black Adonis is allowed
such latitude."

But Roseleaf was not listening. He was thinking of a sweet voice that
had said: "You are a dear boy and I love you!"



CHAPTER XIV.

"LET US HAVE A BETRAYAL."


Mr. Archie Weil had become quite intimate with Mr. Wilton Fern; so much
so that he called at his office every few days, took walks with him on
business errands, went with him to lunch (to the annoyance of Lawrence
Gouger, who did not like to eat alone) and sometimes took the train home
with him at night, on evenings when Shirley Roseleaf was not of the
party. Everybody in the Fern family liked Archie. Even Hannibal, who had
conceived a veritable hatred for Roseleaf, brightened at the entrance of
Mr. Weil either at the house or office, the negro seeming to alternate
between the two places very much as he pleased. Millicent liked him
because he was so "facile," as she expressed it; a man with whom one
could talk without feeling it necessary to pick each step. Daisy liked
him because her father did, and because Roseleaf did, and because he
treated her with marked politeness that had apparently no double
meaning.

And they all got confidential with him, which was exactly what he wanted
them to do; only the one he most wanted to give him confidence gave him
the least. This was Mr. Fern, himself.

Try as he might, Archie could not discover what clouded the brow of the
wool merchant, what made him act like a person who fears each knock at
the door, each sound of a human voice in the hallway of his office. He
could find no reason for Mr. Fern's attitude toward Hannibal, whose
manners were as far removed as possible from those supposed to belong to
a personal servant. There must be a cause of no ordinary character when
this polished gentleman permitted a negro to insult him and his
daughter, in a way to excite comment. What it was Mr. Weil was bent on
discovering, but as yet he had made little progress.

It was on account of this plan that Mr. Weil affected to like Hannibal
so well. He used to spend hours in devising ways for securing the truth
from that source. Hannibal, however, gave no signs of intending to
reveal his secret, and if he was going abroad to study, it seemed
unlikely that the investigator would get at many facts in that quarter.

One day, Mr. Weil happened to call at the office of the merchant at an
hour when the latter was out, and found Hannibal in possession. As this
was an opportunity seldom available, Archie entered into a lively
conversation with the fellow.

"They tell me you are soon going to leave us," he said, as a beginning.
"I hear that you are going to Europe."

"Yes," said Hannibal, with a certain wariness.

"If I can tell you anything about the country I shall be glad," said
Weil, affably. "I have spent considerable time there. You don't
understand the language, I believe?"

The negro simply shook his head.

"It's easy enough to acquire. Get right into a hotel with a lot of
students, and pitch in. Though they _do_ say," added the speaker,
archly, "that the best method is to engage a pretty grisette. The poet
was right:

    "'Tis pleasing to be schooled in a strange tongue
    By female eyes and lips; that is, I mean,
    When both the teacher and the taught are young--

"You know the rest."

The answering smile that he expected, did not come into the negro's
face. If possible, it grew still more reserved and earnest.

"There's one good thing, if you'll excuse my mentioning it," pursued
Archie, "and that is, the French have no prejudice whatever against
color. Indeed, a colored student gets a little better attention in Paris
than a white one."

Then the silent lips were unlocked.

"Could a black man--_marry_--a white woman, of the upper or middle
classes?" asked Hannibal, slowly.

"To be sure. There was the elder Dumas, and a dozen others. I tell you
there's absolutely no color line there. They judge a man by what he is,
not by the accident of race or skin. You'll see such a difference you'll
be sorry you didn't go years before."

Hannibal sat as if lost in thought.

"Mr. Fern will miss you, though," continued Archie. "Yes, and the
family. You seem almost indispensable."

A suspicious glance was shot at the speaker, but his face bore such an
ingenuous look that the suggestion was dismissed. What could he know?

"They will get some one else," said the negro, quietly.

"Yes, but in these days it is not easy to get people one can trust. Mr.
Fern will not find any one to take your place in a moment. And just now,
when he evidently has a great deal of trouble on his mind, it will be
unpleasant to make a change."

Hannibal was completely deceived by the apparently honest character of
these observations. He could not resist the temptation to boast a
little, that peculiar trait of a menial.

"I know all about Mr. Fern's affairs," he agreed. "Both here and at the
house. He would not trust the next man as he has me."

Mr. Weil nodded wisely.

"I see, I see," he answered. "You know then what has annoyed him of
late--that which has puzzled all the rest of us so much. You know, but
having the knowledge in a sort of confidential capacity, you would, of
course, have no right to reveal it."

Hannibal straightened himself up in an exasperating way.

"You will not find what troubles Mr. Fern," he said, loftily. "And now,
may I ask _you_ something. Do you expect to marry his eldest daughter?"

An inclination to kick the fellow for his impudence came so strong upon
Mr. Weil that it required all of his powers to suppress the sentiment.
But through his indignation there struggled his old admiration for this
elegant physical specimen. He wished he could get a statue modeled from
him, before the original left the country.

"That is a delicate question," he managed to say.

"I know it," replied Hannibal. "But I have observed some things which
may have escaped you. Shall I tell you what I mean?"

Not at all easy under this strain, the curiosity of Mr. Weil was so
great that he could only reply in the affirmative.

"Miss Millicent," explained Hannibal, slowly, "is in love--very much in
love--with another person."

A stare that could not be concealed answered him.

"You have not seen anything to indicate it?" asked the negro. "I thought
as much. She has done her best to cover it, and yet I can swear it is
true. She _likes_ you, as a friend. But she _loves_ him, passionately."

He was in for it now and might as well follow this strange matter to the
end.

"Do I know this individual?" asked Archie.

"Yes. You brought him to the house and introduced him to her."

The man gave a slight cry, in spite of himself.

"Not Roseleaf!"

Hannibal bowed impressively; and at the moment Mr. Fern's footsteps were
heard in the entry.

Mr. Weil did not know, when he tried to think about it afterwards,
whether the wool merchant noticed particularly that he and Hannibal had
been talking together, or suspected that they might have confidences.
His head was too full of the startling statement he had heard, and when
he was again upon the street he wandered aimlessly for an hour trying to
reconcile this view with the facts as they had presented themselves to
his mind previously.

Millicent in love with Roseleaf! She had said very little to the young
man, so far as he had observed. Her younger sister--sweet little
Daisy--had monopolized his attention. If it were true, what an instance
it was of the odd qualities in the feminine mind, that leave men to
wonder more and more of what material it is constructed. But _was_ it
true? Was Hannibal a better judge, a closer student, than the rest of
them? He did not like Millicent, any better than she liked him. Was he
trying a game of mischief, with some ulterior purpose that was not
apparent on the surface?

Out of it all, Archie Weil emerged, sure of but one thing. He must use
his eyes. If Millicent loved Roseleaf, she could not hide it
successfully from him, now that he had this clue.

The girl's novel was selling fairly well. Weil had made a bargain with
Cutt & Slashem that was very favorable. It gave him an excuse to talk
with the authoress as much as he pleased, and he used his advantage. He
brought her the comments of the press--not that they amounted to
anything, for it was evident that most of the critics had merely skimmed
through the pages. He came to tell her the latest things that Gouger had
said, what proportion of cloth and paper covers were being ordered, and
the other gossip of the printing house. And now he talked about the work
that Shirley was engaged on, and grew enthusiastic, declaring that the
young man would yet make a place for himself beside the Stevensons and
Weymans.

Millicent struck him as caring much more for news of her own production
than that of the young man who had been represented as the object of her
adoration. If she was half as fond of Roseleaf as Hannibal intimated,
she was certainly successful in concealing her sentiments from the
shrewd observer. The result of a fortnight's investigation convinced
Weil that the negro had made a complete mistake, and all the hypotheses
that had arisen were allowed to dissipate into thin air and fly away.

Another two weeks passed and Hannibal still remained with the Ferns. An
inquiry of Daisy produced the answer that he thought of remaining in
America till spring. The girl tried to act as if it made not the
slightest consequence to her whether he went or stayed, but she did not
succeed. Mr. Weil knew that she wished most heartily for the time when
the negro would take his departure. She was bound up in her father, and
Hannibal was worrying him to death--from whatever cause. She wanted the
tie between him and this black man broken, and hated every day that
stood between them and his hour of sailing.

Roseleaf was almost as uneasy as Daisy over the delay. He had given her
the money she asked for, though no allusion to its purpose had been
made.

She still had it, somewhere, unless she had given it to the one for whom
it was intended. When she took the package from his hand she rose on her
tiptoes and kissed him with the most affectionate of gestures. It was
the second occasion on which he had been permitted to touch her lips,
and he appreciated it fully. He realized from her action how deeply she
felt his kindness in providing her with the funds that were to relieve
her father of an incubus that was sapping his very life.

"You don't find much use for our black Adonis yet, I see," said Weil, as
he laid down the latest page of the slowly building novel. "I had hoped
you would penetrate the secret of his power over your heroine's father,
by this time."

"No, I cannot understand it at all," replied Roseleaf. "And if you, with
your superior quickness of perception, have found nothing, I don't see
how you could expect me to."

"You have greater opportunities," said Weil, with a smile that was not
quite natural. "You have the ear of the fair Miss Daisy, remember," he
explained, in reply to the inquiring look that was raised to him.

"Ah, but she knows nothing, either," exclaimed Roseleaf. "I am sure of
that."

Mr. Weil was silent for some moments.

"Well, if you cannot find the true cause," he said, "you will have to
invent a hypothetical one. Your novel cannot stand still forever.
Imagine something--a crime, for instance, of which this black fellow is
cognizant. A murder--that he peeped in at a keyhole and saw. How would
that do?"

Roseleaf turned pale.

"You know," he said, "that you are talking of impossibilities."

"On the contrary, nothing is impossible," responded the other,
impatiently. "College professors, delicate ladies, children not yet in
their teens, have committed homicide, why not this handsome gentleman in
the wool business? Or if you _won't_ have murder--and I agree that blood
is rather tiresome, it has been overdone so much--bring a woman into the
case. Let us have a betrayal, a wronged virgin, and that sort of thing."

The color did not return to the young man's cheek.

"Which is still more incredible in the present case," he said. "Do you
think Wilton Fern could do evil to a woman? Look in his face once and
dismiss that libel within the second."

A desperate expression crossed the countenance of the elder man.

"You must agree that he has done something!" he cried. "He wouldn't
allow a darkey to annoy him like this for fun, would he? He wouldn't
wear that deathly look, and let his child grow thin with worriment, just
as a matter of amusement!"

To this Roseleaf could not formulate a suitable answer. He felt the
force of the suggestions, but he would not associate crime with the
sedate gentleman who was the object of these suspicions. He simply could
not think of anything disreputable in connection with Daisy's father,
and it seemed almost as bad to invent an offense for the character in
his novel whose photograph he had thus far taken from Mr. Fern.

Daisy was surprised, a month after this, to have Mr. Weil stop her in
the hallway, and speak with a new abruptness.

"Why don't that cursed nigger start for Europe?" he asked.

She glanced around her with a frightened look. She feared ears that
should not might hear them. But she rallied as she reflected that
Hannibal was miles away, in fact in the city with her father.

"He is going soon," she replied. "But why do you allude to him by that
harsh term? I thought you rather liked him."

"I do," he answered. "I like him so well that if he continues to talk
to--to your father--as I heard him the other day, I will throw him into
the Hudson: I can't stand by and see him insult an--an old man--much
longer."

The girl looked at him with sad eyes.

"I thought I had succeeded in silencing that kind of talk," she said.
"Mr. Roseleaf used to speak very violently of Hannibal, but he has
listened to reason of late. Let me beg you to see nothing and hear
nothing, if you are the friend of this family you have given us reason
to believe."

She extended her hand, as if to ask a promise of him, but he affected
not to see it.

"When does he intend to go?" he demanded.

"Before the 1st of April."

"I will give him till that date," he answered, "but not an hour beyond.
He will sail out of this country for some port or other, or there will
be a collision. You must not, you shall not defend him!" he added, as
she was about to speak. "I know the harm he is doing, and it must have
an end!"

Turning from her suddenly he went out of doors. Far down the road he
stopped to look around, pressing his hand to his forehead, like one who
would make sure he is awake, and not the victim of some fearful dream.



CHAPTER XV.

THE GREEN-EYED MONSTER.


Before the first of April came, Hannibal sailed. During the winter he
had taken lessons in French of a city teacher, until he believed he
could get along after a fashion with that language. He announced to
Daisy that he would go on the third of March, then he changed it to the
tenth, and again to the seventeenth. Each time, when the date
approached, he seemed to have a weakening of purpose, a dread of
actually plunging into the tide that set toward foreign shores. The girl
had interviews with him on each of these occasions, at which what passed
was known only to themselves. And each time, when she had reached her
own room, she threw herself on her bed and wept bitterly.

But, at last, on the twenty-fourth, he went. With his overcoat on his
arm, his satchel and umbrella in his hands, he said "Good-by" to the
little party that gathered at the door. He had been treated with great
consideration in that home. Perhaps he realized this to some extent as
he was about to turn his back upon it. Certain it is that he could not
hide the choking in his throat, as he said the words of farewell. Archie
Weil, who stood there with the rest, thought he saw a strange look in
those black orbs as they dwelt a moment on the younger daughter; but it
passed so quickly he could not be sure.

Mr. Fern was there, and Roseleaf. Millicent had responded, when a
servant went to inform her that Hannibal was going, that she was very
glad. Did she wish to go down? By no means. She hoped she was not such a
fool.

Weil, who watched everybody, saw an unmistakable relief in the careworn
countenance of Mr. Fern, when the tall form of his late servant
disappeared at the gate.

"I hope you will do well," had been the last words of the merchant, and
Daisy had added, "So do we all, I am sure." Roseleaf had not spoken. He
had stood a little apart from the others, his mind filled with varying
emotions. It was he who had furnished the money to carry out this plan,
and if it made one hour of Daisy's life happier he would be content.

Within an hour it was evident that a cloud had been lifted from the
entire household. Everybody felt brighter and better. Roseleaf eyed Mr.
Fern with surprise, and had half a mind to go to his office the next day
and tell him how dearly he loved his daughter. It was the first time
anything like a smile had been upon that face since he had known its
lineaments.

Archie Weil devoted his attention, as usual, to Millicent. He did not
talk to her about Hannibal, knowing how distasteful was the subject. He
discussed her novel, of which she never seemed to tire, and asked her
about another, which she had begun to map out. She told him she was sure
she could do better the next time, and spoke of the assistance Mr.
Roseleaf would furnish if needed, quite as if that was a matter already
arranged between her and the young novelist.

Archie wondered if Millicent knew the extent of the attachment that had
grown up between Shirley and her sister. She seemed to feel sure that he
would be at hand when wanted. Could it be that she believed he would
ultimately become her brother-in-law? The negro's guess had almost been
blotted out of his mind. There had been absolutely nothing in his
observation to confirm it.

A day or two after the departure of Hannibal, Mr. Fern had a
conversation with Daisy, in which he dwelt with more stress than she
could account for on a special theme. He was talking of Walter Boggs and
Archie Weil, and he cautioned her earnestly to treat both gentlemen with
the greatest consideration. The girl detected something strange in his
voice, and she stole apprehensive glances at him, hoping to read the
cause in his eyes.

"Why, papa, I never see Mr. Boggs," she said. "It is weeks and weeks
since he came here. As for Mr. Weil, we all treat him nicely, I am sure,
and are glad to have him come."

"Yes," he admitted. "You use him quite right, my child. I am not
complaining; only, if you could show him _particular_ attention,
something more than the ordinary--" He paused, trying to finish what he
wished to say. "There may be a time when he will be of great value to
me--and--I want him to feel--you observe things so cleverly--do you
think Millicent cares for him?"

Daisy looked up astonished.

"Cares--for--Mr. Weil?"

Her father nodded.

"He has been here several times a week for months, and most of his time
here has been spent with her. I thought--I hoped that she cared for
him."

He thought! He hoped! Daisy had never had such an idea in her head until
that moment. She had a dim idea that her father would give up either of
his daughters with great regret, although she could not help knowing
that the relations between him and Millicent were not as cordial as
those between him and herself. And he "hoped" that Millie would marry,
and that she would marry Mr. Weil! Her mind dwelt upon this strange
thought. She tried to find a reason for it. Was there any stronger
incentive in her father's mind than a desire to see Millie well settled
in life, with a good husband?

Had he a fear that the time might soon come when he could not provide
for her?

Or was there a worse fear--the kind of fear that had haunted him in
relation to Hannibal?

Every time Mr. Weil came to the house after that the young girl watched
him as closely as he had ever watched her. He did not exchange a word
with her father that did not engage her attention. And the conclusion
she came to was that, whatever the object of Mr. Fern in this matter,
Mr. Weil was honor itself.

Daisy had never made much of a confidant of Millicent, and the latter
had the habit of keeping her affairs pretty closely to herself. It was
no easy task, then, that the young sister had in view when she came to
a decision to talk with Millie about Mr. Weil.

Her father had expressed a hope that Millie and Weil would marry. Mr.
Fern had some strong reason for his wish. Whatever it was, Daisy, with
her strong filial love, wanted it gratified.

"Millie, what do you think of marriage?" she asked, one day, when the
opportunity presented itself.

"I suppose it's the manifest destiny of a woman," replied her sister,
quietly.

Much encouraged, Daisy proceeded to allude to Mr. Weil, praising him in
the highest terms, and saying that any girl might be proud to be honored
with his addresses. Millie answered with confirmatory nods of the head,
as if she fully agreed with all she uttered. But when her sister spoke,
the words struck Daisy like a blow.

"I am glad to hear this," she said, in a voice more tender than usual.
"I think Mr. Weil would have proposed to you long ago, but that he
feared the result."

Daisy gasped for breath.

"Millie!" she cried. "Do you mean that Mr. Weil--that--why, I do not
understand! He has hardly spoken to me, while he has spent nearly every
minute he has been here, with you!"

"Of course he has," responded the other. "What could be more like a case
of true love? If ever a man lost his head over a woman he has lost his
over you, Daisy. And, at any rate, you must know that _I_ care nothing
for him. You certainly could see where _my_ affections were engaged."

Daisy pressed her hand dreamily to her forehead. She had never known her
sister to show the least partiality to any other man.

"I understand you less than ever," she faltered.

"Are you so blind?" exclaimed Millicent, with superior wisdom. "Did you
think Mr. Roseleaf had been so closely engaged all this time in my
literary work without learning to care for me? I presume you will think
I ought to blush, but that is not my way. The strangest thing is that I
should have to explain what I thought every one knew."

Poor little Daisy! She was so crushed by these statements that she did
not know what reply to make, which way to turn for consolation.

"He has told you that he loves you?" she managed to articulate.

"He has shown it, at least," was the answer. "He had not been here a
week before he tried to put his arms around me. I had to let him hold my
hand to avoid an absolute quarrel. He is not an ordinary man, Daisy, and
does not act like others, but we understand each other. He is waiting
for something better in his business prospects, and as I am so busy on
my new book I am glad to be left to myself for the present."

It was the old story. Daisy could not doubt her sister's version of her
relations with Mr. Roseleaf. When he called the next time there was a
red spot in both her cheeks. He told her with happy eyes that he had at
last secured something which made it possible to speak to her father.
He had been offered a position on the Pacific Quarterly, at a good
salary, and another periodical had engaged him to write a series of
articles.

"They tell me I have no imagination," he explained, "but that I do very
good work on anything that contains matters of fact. I have some money
of my own, but I did not want to tell your father I was an idle fellow,
without brains enough to make myself useful in the world. The novel on
which I base such great hopes might not seem to him worth considering
seriously, you know. So I can go with a better account of myself, and I
am going this very week."

The bright light that shone from the face at which she looked made her
waver for a moment, but she found strength to answer that he must not
speak to Mr. Fern about her--now, or at any other time. She did not want
to marry, or to be engaged. She wanted to live with her father, and take
care of him, and she wanted nothing else.

"Millie will marry," she added, as a parting thrust, meant to be very
direct and bitter. "One of us ought to stay with papa."

For a while he was too overwhelmed by her changed attitude to make a
sensible reply. When it dawned on him that she meant what she said, he
appealed to her to take it back. He could not bear the thought of giving
her up, or even of waiting much longer for the fulfillment of his hopes.
He spoke in the most passionate tone, and his whole being seemed wrought
up by his earnestness. The girl was constantly thinking, however, that
this was the same way he had addressed Millicent, and that there was no
trust to be placed in him.

"Calm yourself," she said, when he grew violent. "I have tried to be
honest with you. I have thought of this matter a great deal. You will
admit that it is of some importance to me."

"To you!" he echoed. "Yes, and to me! I do not care whether I live or
die, if I am to lose you!"

She wanted to ask him if he had told Millie the same thing, but she
could not without making an explanation she did not like to give.

"There are others," was all she said. "Others, who will make you
happier, and be better fitted for you--in your career as a writer."

He never thought her allusion had reference to any particular person,
and he answered that there was no one, there never could be any one, for
him, but her. He had never loved before, he never should love again. And
she listened, thinking what a capacity for falsehood and tragic acting
he had developed.

After two hours of this most disagreeable scene, Roseleaf left the
house, moody and despondent. It would have taken little at that moment
to make him throw himself into the bosom of the Hudson, or send a bullet
through his brain.

On the way to the station he met Mr. Weil, who could not help asking
what was the matter.

"Oh, it's all up!" he answered. "She has refused me, and I am going to
the devil as quick as I can."

"What are you talking about?" exclaimed the other, staring at him. "You
don't mean--Daisy!"

"That's just what I mean. I went there to tell her of my good luck, and
to say I was going to ask her father's consent; and she met me as cold
as an iceberg, and said she had decided not to marry. So I'm going back
to town without a single reason left for living."

Mr. Weil stood silent and nonplussed for a few seconds. Then a bright
idea came into his head.

"Look here, Mr. Impetuousness," said he. "I know this can be arranged,
and I'm going to see that it's done. My God, the same thing happens in
half the love affairs the universe over! Give me a few days to
straighten it out. Go home and go to work, and I'll fix this, I promise
you."

It took some time to persuade Roseleaf to follow this advice, but he
yielded at last. Weil pleaded his warm friendship, begged the young man
to do what he asked if only to please him, and finally succeeded. A few
minutes later Archie had secured an audience with Daisy.

Too shrewd to risk the danger of plunging directly into the subject he
had in mind, Mr. Weil talked on almost everything else. It happened that
Millicent was away, which enabled him to devote his attention to the
younger sister without appearing unduly to seek her. But Daisy, only
half listening to what he said, was pondering the strange revelation her
sister had made, and thinking at each moment that a declaration of love
might be forthcoming.

She remembered her father's injunction to treat this man with
particular courtesy, and was in a quandary what to do in case he came to
the crucial point. But to her surprise, instead of pressing his own
suit, Mr. Weil began to support in a mild manner the cause of Mr.
Roseleaf.

"I met Shirley leaving here," he said, in a sober tone, "and he was in a
dreadful state. You didn't say anything cross to him, I hope."

With these words there seemed to come to Daisy a new revelation of the
true character of this man. Loving her himself, he was yet loyal to his
friend, who he believed had a prior claim. As this thought took root it
raised and glorified its object, until admiration became paramount to
all other feelings.

"Why should I be cross to him?" she asked, evading the point. "There are
no relations between us that would justify me in acting as his monitor
or mentor."

Mr. Weil shook his head.

"He loves you," he said. "You cannot afford, my child, to trifle with a
heart as noble as his."

The expression, "my child," touched the girl deeply. It had a protective
sound, mingled with a tinge of personal affection.

"I hope you do not think I would trifle with the feelings of any
person," she said. "Still, I cannot marry every man who may happen to
ask me. You know so much about this matter that I feel justified in
saying this; and I earnestly beg that you will ask no more."

But this Mr. Weil said gently he could not promise. He said further that
Roseleaf was one of his dearest friends, and that he could not without
emotion see him in such distress as he had recently witnessed.

"You don't know how fond I am of that boy," he added. "I would do
anything in my power to make him happy. He loves you. He will make you a
good husband. You must give me some message that will console him."

He could not get it, try as he might; and he said, with a forced smile,
that he should renew the attack at an early date, for the cause was a
righteous one, that he could not give over unsatisfied. He took her arm
and strolled up and down the veranda, in such a way that any visitor
might have taken them to be lovers, if not already married. She liked
him better and better. The touch of his sleeve was pleasant. His low
tones soothed the ache in her bosom, severe enough, God knows! When her
father came from the city he smiled brightly to see them together, and
after hearing that Millicent was away, came to the dinner table with the
gayest air he had worn for months.

Another week passed, during which Mr. Weil went nearly every day to
Midlands, and communicated to Roseleaf on each return the result of his
labors, coloring them with the roseate hues of hope, though there was
little that could legitimately be drawn from the words or actions of
Miss Daisy. The critic for Cutt & Slashem had also been given more than
an inkling of the state of affairs, and had perused with delight the
chapters last written on the famous romance. He saw that the next
experience needed by the author was a severe attack of jealousy, and as
there was no one else to play the part of Iago he himself undertook the
rôle.

"Archie Weil is pretty popular with the Fern family, isn't he?" was the
way he began, when he called on Roseleaf. "I met the old gentleman the
other day and he seemed absolutely 'gone on' him, as the saying is. They
tell me he's out at Midlands every day. Got his eye on the younger
daughter, too, they intimate."

It takes but little to unnerve a mind already driven to the verge of
distraction. The next time that Weil saw Roseleaf, the latter received
him with a coolness that could not be ignored. When he pressed for a
reason, the young man broke out into invective.

"Don't pretend!" he cried. "You've heard of the case of John Alden.
What's been worked once may go again. I'm not entirely blind."

Mr. Weil, with pained eyes, begged his friend to explain.

"Tell me this," shouted Roseleaf. "Do you love that girl, yourself?"

Unprepared for the question, Archie shrank as from a flash of lightning,
and could not reply.

"I know you _do_!" came the next sentence, sharply. "And I know that it
is owing to the inroads you have made--not only with her but with her
father--that I have been pushed out. Well, go ahead. I've no objection.
Only don't come here every day, with your cock and bull stories of
pleading _my_ cause, for I've had enough of them!"

The novelist turned aside, and Mr. Weil, too hurt to say a word, arose
and silently left the room. His brain whirled so that he was actually
giddy. Not knowing where else to turn he went to see Mr. Gouger, to whom
he unbosomed the result of his call.

"Don't be too serious about it," said Gouger, soothingly. "It's a good
thing for the lad to get his sluggish blood stirred a little. In a day
or two he'll be all right. That novel of his is coming on grandly!"

Weil was in no mood to talk about novels, and finding that he could get
no consolation of the kind he craved, he soon left the office. The
critic laughed silently to himself at the idea of the biter having at
last been bitten, and then took his way to Roseleaf's rooms.

No answer being returned to his knock, he opened the door and entered.
At first he thought the place was vacant, but presently he espied a
still form on the bed. The novelist was stretched out in an attitude
which at first suggested death rather than sleep, and alarmed the
visitor not a little. Investigation, however, showed that he was simply
in a tired sleep, worn out with worry and restless nights.

"What a beauty!" whispered Gouger. "A very dramatic scene could be
worked up if that sweetheart of his were brought here and made to stand
beside the couch when he awakes. Yes, it would be grand, but it would
need his own pen to trace the words!"

The hardly dry pages of the great manuscript that lay on an adjacent
desk caught the eyes of the critic, and he sat down to scan them
closer. As he turned the leaves he grew so delighted as to become almost
uncontrollable.

"He's a genius, nothing less!" he said, rapturously, and then tiptoed
softly from the chamber.



CHAPTER XVI.

"I'VE HAD SUCH LUCK!"


One day Mr. Fern came home in a state of great excitement. He had not
acted naturally for a long time and Daisy, who met him at the door,
wondered what could be the cause of his strange manner. He caught his
daughter in his arms and kissed her like a lover. Tears came to his
eyes, but they were tears of joy. He laughed hysterically as he wiped
them away and told her not to mind him, for he was the happiest man in
New York.

"I've had such luck!" he exclaimed, when she stared at him. "Oh, Daisy,
I've had such grand luck!"

She led him to a seat on a sofa and waited for him to tell her more.

"You can't imagine the relief I feel," he continued, when he had caught
sufficient breath. "I've had an awful time in business for years, but
to-day everything is all cleared up. The house over our heads was
mortgaged; the notes I owed Boggs were almost due; I had given out
paper that I could see no way of meeting. And now it is all provided
for, I am out of financial danger, and I have enough to quit business
and live in ease and comfort with my family the rest of my days!"

Daisy could only look her surprise. She could not understand such a
transformation. But she loved her father dearly, and seeing that he was
happy made her happy, too; though she had had her own sorrows of late.

"Tell me about it, father," she said, putting an arm around his neck.

"You couldn't understand, no matter how much I tried to make it clear,"
he answered, excitedly. "There was a combination that meant ruin or
success, depending on the cast of a die, as one might say. Wool has been
in a bad way. Congress had the tariff bill before it. If higher
protection was put on, the stocks in the American market would rise. If
the tariff rate was lowered they would fall. I took the right side. I
bought an immense quantity of options. The bill passed to-day and the
President signed it. Wool went up, and I am richer by two hundred and
fifty thousand dollars than I was yesterday!"

For answer the girl kissed him affectionately, and for a few moments
neither of them spoke.

"I don't wonder you say I can't understand business," said Daisy,
presently. "It would puzzle most feminine brains, I think, to know how a
man could purchase quantities of wool when he had nothing to buy with."

The father drew himself suddenly away from her, and gazed in a sort of
alarm into her wide-opened eyes.

"That is a secret," he said, hoarsely. "It is one of the things business
men do not talk about. When stocks are rising it is easy to buy a great
deal, if one only has something to give him a start."

"And you _had_ something?" asked Daisy, trying to utter the words that
she thought would please him best.

"Yes, yes!" he answered, hurriedly. "I--had--something! And to-morrow I
shall free myself of Boggs, and of--of all my troubles. I shall pay the
mortgage on the house, and we can have anything we want. Ah! What a
relief it is! What a relief!"

He panted like a man who had run a race with wolves and had just time to
close the door before they caught him.

"May I tell Millie?" asked the girl. "She has worried about the house,
fearing it would be sold."

He shook his head as if the subject was disagreeable.

"She will find it out," he said. "There is no need of haste. And at any
rate I don't want you to give her any particulars. I don't want her to
know how successful I have been. You can say that I have made
money--enough to free the home. Don't tell any more than that to any
one. It--it is not a public matter. I was so full of happiness that I
had to tell you, but no one else is to know."

Daisy promised, though she asked almost immediately if the prohibition
extended to Mr. Weil. He was such a friend of the family, she said, he
would be very much gratified.

She had reached thus far in her innocent suggestion, when she happened
to glance at her father's face. He was deathly pale. His body was limp
and his chin sunken to his breast.

"Father!" she exclaimed. And then, seized with a nameless fear, was
about to summon other help, when he opened his eyes slowly and touched
her hand with his.

"You are ill! Shall I call the servants?" she asked, anxiously.

He intimated that she should not, and presently rallied enough to say he
was better, and required nothing.

"What were we speaking of?" he asked, in a strained voice.

"We were talking of your grand fortune, and I asked if I might not tell
Mr.--"

He stopped her with a movement, and another spasm crossed his face.

"You will make no exception," he whispered. "None whatever. My affairs
will interest no one else. If you are interrogated, you must know
nothing. Nothing," he added, impressively, "nothing whatever!"

Mr. Fern's recovery was almost as quick as his attack, although he did
not resume the gaiety of manner with which he had opened the subject.
After dinner he talked with Daisy, declaring over and over that she had
been on short allowance long enough, and asserting that she must be
positively in a state of want. She answered laughingly that she needed
very little, and then suddenly bethought herself of something and grew
sober.

"Do you feel rich enough to let me exercise a little generosity for
others?" she inquired.

He replied with alacrity that she could do exactly as she pleased with
whatever sum he gave her, and that the amount should be for her to name.

"You don't know how big it will be," she replied, timidly.

"I'll risk that. Out with it," he said, smiling.

"Supposing," she said, slowly, "that I should ask for a thousand
dollars?"

"You would get it," he laughed. "In fact I was going to propose that you
accept several thousand, and have it put in the bank in your name, so
you would be quite an independent young woman. You must have your own
checkbook and get used to keeping accounts. I will bring you a
certificate of deposit for three thousand dollars, and each six months
afterwards I will put a thousand more to your credit, out of which you
can take your pin money."

It seemed too good to be true, and the girl's face brightened until it
shone with a light that the father thought the most beautiful on earth.
Now she could return the thousand dollars she had borrowed of Mr.
Roseleaf, a sum that had given her much uneasiness since she broke off
her intimate relations with the young novelist. More than this, she
would have sufficient on hand to send the future amounts that Hannibal
would need to keep him abroad. It was such a strange and delightful
thing to see smiles on her father's face that she did not want anything
to disturb them. She was quite as happy as Mr. Fern, now that this cloud
had been lifted from her mind.

The next day was a bright one for the wool merchant. By noon he had sent
for Walker Boggs and astonished that gentleman by handing him a check in
full for the entire amount of his indebtedness. In answer to a question
he merely said he had been on the right side of the market. Mr. Fern
also settled with his mortgage creditor, and went home at night happy
that his head would again lie under a roof actually as well as in name
his own. Notes which he had given came back to him soon after, and he
burned them with a glee that was almost saturnine. Burned them, after
looking at their faces and backs, after scanning the endorsements;
burned them with his office door locked, using the flame of a gas-jet
for the purpose.

The ashes lay on the floor, when a knock was heard and Archie Weil's
voice answered to the resultant question. Mr. Fern lost color at the
familiar sound, but he mustered courage.

"I've come to congratulate you," said Archie, warmly. "They say you have
made a mint of money out of the rise in wool."

"Who says so?" asked Mr. Fern, warily.

"Everybody. Don't tell me it's not true."

"I've done pretty well," was the evasive reply. "And I'm going out of
business, too. It seems a good time to quit."

Mr. Weil made a suitable answer to this statement and the two men talked
together for some time. After awhile the conversation took a wider turn.

"Where's your young friend, Roseleaf?" asked Mr. Fern, to whom the
matter did not seem to have occurred before. "I don't believe I have
seen him at Midlands for a month."

"No, he doesn't come," replied Archie, growing darker. "If you wish a
particular reason, you will have to ask it of your daughter."

Mr. Fern looked as if he did not understand.

"He became very fond of her," explained Archie, "and for some reason, he
does not know what, she has evinced a sudden dislike to him."

Mr. Fern looked still more astonished.

"Millie is a strange girl," he ventured to remark. "But I supposed--I
was almost sure, her affections were engaged elsewhere; and, really, I
thought he knew it."

Mr. Weil stared now, for it was evident his companion was far from the
right road. He was also interested to hear that Miss Fern had anything
like a love affair in mind, for he had supposed such a thing quite
impossible.

"I was not speaking of Miss Millicent, but of Miss Daisy," he said.

The wool merchant rose from his chair in the extremity of his
astonishment.

"You meant that--that Mr. Roseleaf--was in love with Daisy!" he said.
"And that she seemed to reciprocate his attachment?"

"I did. And also that a few weeks ago she asked him to cease his
visits, giving no explanation of the cause of her altered demeanor. He
is a most excellent young gentleman," continued Weil, "and one for whom
I entertain a sincere affection. Her conduct is a great blow to him,
especially as he does not know what he has done to deserve it. I trust
the estrangement will not be permanent, as they are eminently suited to
each other."

The face of Mr. Fern was a study as he heard this explanation.

"If he was an honorable man, why did he not come to _me_?" he asked,
pointedly.

"He was constantly seeking Miss Daisy's permission to do so," replied
Archie. "Which she never seemed quite willing to give him."

"She is too young to think of marriage," mused Mr. Fern, after a long
pause.

"He is willing to wait; but her present attitude, giving him no hope
whatever, has thrown him into the deepest dejection."

From this Mr. Weil proceeded to tell Mr. Fern all he knew about
Roseleaf. He said the young man was at present engaged on literary work
that promised to yield him good returns. He had a small fortune of his
own beside. Everything that could be thought of in his favor was dilated
upon to the fullest extent.

"I don't believe I can spare my 'baby,'" said Mr. Fern, kindly, "for any
man. You plead with much force, Mr. Weil, for your friend. How is it
that _you_ have never married. Are you blind to the charms of the sex?"

For an instant Archie was at loss how to reply.

"On the contrary," he said, at last, "I appreciate them fully. I have
had my heart's affair, too; but," he paused a long time, "she loved
another, and there was but one woman for me. Perhaps this leads me to
sympathize all the more with my unfortunate young friend."

Mr. Fern said he would have a talk with Daisy, and learn what he could
without bringing in the name of his informant.

"We fathers are always the last to see these things," he added. "It
would be terrible to give her up, but I want her to be happy."



CHAPTER XVII.

A BURGLAR IN THE HOUSE.


Millicent Fern lay wide awake a few nights later, at Midlands, when the
clock struck two. She was thinking of her second novel, now nearly ready
for Mr. Roseleaf's hand. There was a hitch in the plot that she could
best unravel in the silence. As she lay there she heard a slight noise,
as of some one moving about. At first she paid little attention to it,
but later she grew curious, for she had never known the least motion in
that house after its occupants were once abed. She thought of each of
them in succession, and decided that the matter ought to be
investigated.

Millicent had no fear. If there was a burglar present, she wanted to
know. She arose, therefore, and slipped on a dress and slippers. Guided
only by the uncertain light that came in at the windows, she tiptoed
across the hall, and in the direction in which she had heard the noise.
She soon located it as being on the lower floor where there were no
bedrooms, and a thrill of excitement passed over her. She crept as
silently as possible down the back stairs, and toward the sound, which
she was now sure was in the library.

What was the sound? It was the rustling of papers. It might be made by a
mouse, but Millicent was not even afraid of mice. She was afraid of
nothing, so far as she knew. If there was a robber there, he would
certainly run when discovered. At the worst she could give a loud
outcry, and the servants would come.

She tiptoed along the lower hall. A man sat at her father's desk,
examining his private papers so carefully, that he seemed wholly lost in
the occupation.

The room was quite light. In fact, the gas was lit, and the intruder was
taking his utmost ease. His face was half turned toward the girl, and
she recognized him without difficulty.

It was Hannibal!

Hannibal, whom she supposed at that moment in France!

Without pausing to form any plan, Millicent stepped into the presence of
the negro.

"Thief," she said, sharply, "what do you want?"

They had hated each other cordially for a long time, and neither had
changed their opinion in the slightest degree. Hannibal looked up
quietly at the figure in the doorway.

"I have a good mind to tell you," he said, smiling.

"You will _have_ to tell me, and give a pretty good reason, too, if you
mean to keep out of the hands of the police," she retorted. "Come!"

He laughed silently, resting his head on his hands, his elbows on the
desk. Millicent's hair hung in a loose coil, her shoulders were but
imperfectly covered by her half buttoned gown, the feet that filled her
slippers had no hosiery on them. She was as fair a sight as one might
find in a year.

"Do you remember the time I saw you in this guise before?" he asked, in
a low voice.

A convulsion seized the girl's countenance. She looked as if she would
willingly have killed him, had she a weapon in her hand. But she could
not speak at first.

"It was you who sought me then," said the negro. "And because I bade you
go back to your chamber, you never forgave me. Have you forgotten?"

Gasping for breath, like one severely wounded, Millicent roused herself.

"Will you go," she demanded, hotly, "or shall I summon help?"

"Neither," replied Hannibal. "If you inform any person that I am here, I
will tell the story I hinted at just now. Besides, I would only have to
wait until your father came down, when he would order them to release
me, and say I came here by his request."

Millicent chafed horribly at his coolness.

"Came here by my father's request!" she echoed. "In the middle of the
night! A likely story. Do you think any one would believe it?"

"I do not think they would. It would not even be true. But he would say
it was, if I told him to, and that would answer. Don't you know by this
time that I have Wilton Fern in a vise?"

Yes, she did know it. Everything had pointed in that direction.
Millicent could not dispute the insinuation.

"What has he done, in God's name, that makes him the slave of such a
thing as you?" she cried.

"I will answer that question by asking another," said the negro, after a
pause. "Do you know that Shirley Roseleaf hopes to wed your sister?"

The shot struck home. With pale lips Millicent found herself trembling
before this fellow.

"You love him," pursued the man, relentlessly. "You do not need to
affirm or deny this, for I know. He loves Daisy, and unless prevented,
will marry her. I hold a secret over your father's head which can send
him to the State prison for twenty years. If I confide it to you, will
you swear to let no one but him know until I give you leave?"

The girl bowed quickly. She could hardly bear the strain of delay.

"Then listen," said the negro. "To save himself in business he has
committed numerous forgeries upon the names of two men. One of them is
Walker Boggs and the other Archie Weil. Very recently he has been
successful in his speculations, and has called in many notes with these
forged endorsements. But the proofs of his crimes are ample, and I
possess them. If he ever proposes to let Roseleaf marry Daisy, hint to
him of what you know, and he will obey your will. I shall be in the
city. Here is my address. If you need me I am at your service.
Understand, I shall not harm your father unless he makes it necessary. I
only mean to use the fear of what might await him, and you can do the
same. It is time I was going. I have found all I want here, though I had
enough before."

He handed Millicent a card on which was the address he had mentioned,
and she allowed herself to take it from his hand. Then he started to
pick up a package of papers that lay where he had put them on the table,
when a third figure, to the consternation of both, brushed Millicent
aside, and stepped into the room. It was the younger sister.

"Give that to me!" she demanded, imperiously, reaching out her hand for
the package.

The apparition was so unexpected that the previous occupants of the
library stood for a few seconds staring at it without moving a step.
Daisy was dressed in much the same manner as Millicent, but she thought
only of the danger that threatened one she loved better than life--her
father.

"Give that to me!" she repeated, approaching Hannibal closer.

Without a word the negro, his head bowed, handed it to her.

"And now," she said, in the same quick, sharp tone, "the others!"

"They are not here," he answered, huskily.

"Where are they?"

"At my lodgings in the city."

Instantly Daisy snatched the card from her sister's hand.

"At this place?" she asked, hastily scanning the writing.

"Yes," said Hannibal, in a voice that was scarcely audible.

"I will be there this morning at ten o'clock. See that they are ready."

The negro bowed, while his chest heaved rapidly.

"And now," said the girl, pointing to the door, "go!"

He hesitated, as if he wanted to say more to her, but recollecting that
she would meet him so soon, he turned and obeyed her. At the threshold
he only paused to say, "You must come alone; otherwise it will be of no
use." And she answered that she understood.

She followed some paces behind and closed the door after him, pushing a
bolt that she did not remember had ever been used before.

Then she turned to encounter her sister; but Millicent had disappeared.



CHAPTER XVIII.

BLACK AND WHITE.


When Daisy reached her own room again, she felt assured that no one but
herself and Millicent knew what had occurred. This was something. Had
her father awakened, she did not know what might have followed. She had
seen him too often, pale and distraught, in the presence of his
relentless enemy, not to entertain the greatest thankfulness that he had
slept through this terrible experience. At any cost it must be kept from
him. She would beg, pray, entreat Millicent to seal her lips. And in the
morning she would go to the address Hannibal had given her and obtain
his proofs of her father's guilt, removing the frightful nightmare that
had so long hung over that dear head.

Would Hannibal surrender his documents? He had made a tacit promise to
do so, and she had faith that she could make him keep his word. She knew
the negro had a liking for her that was very strong.

She had made it possible for him to become a man--by giving him the
money that took him to France. Why had he returned so suddenly? What new
fancy had caused him to give up his studies and recross the sea to enter
her doors at night, to plunder still further secrets from her father's
private desk? There were a thousand reasons for fear, but the devoted
daughter only thought of saving the one she loved at all risks. She
would dare anything in his behalf.

And this father of hers--that she had revered from babyhood--was a
forger! He had made himself liable to a term of imprisonment in the
common jail! He was a criminal, for whom the law would stretch out its
hand as soon as his guilt was revealed! His previous high standing in
the community could not save him; nor the love of his children; nor his
new fortune--won by such means as this. Nothing could make his liberty
secure but the silencing of the witness to his fault, the negro who had
carefully possessed himself of certain facts with which to ruin his
benefactor.

What did Hannibal want? Surely he had no revenge to gratify, as against
her or her father! They had treated him with the greatest consideration.
Only once--that day on the lawn--had Daisy spoken to him in a sharp
tone, and then the provocation was very great. Since then she had raised
the money that was to make a man of him. What did he require now? An
increased bribe to keep him away? Well, she would get it for him. She
would spend one, two, three thousand dollars if necessary to purchase
his silence; if it needed more she could borrow of--of Mr. Weil.

Yes, Mr. Weil was the friend to whom she would turn in this emergency.
He had lost nothing, apparently, by the unwarranted use of his name. The
notes on which his endorsement had been forged were all paid. When she
met Hannibal she would ascertain his price and then the rest would be
easy. Her father need not even know the danger to which he had been
exposed.

In the morning she went to Millicent's room early, in order to have a
conversation with her undisturbed. Millicent was sleeping soundly and
was awakened with some difficulty.

"I've only been unconscious a little while," she said, in explanation.
"I thought I never should sleep again. Oh, what a disgrace! My father a
forger! Liable to go to prison with common criminals, to wear the
stripes of a convict! It seems as if my degradation could go no lower."

Reddening with surprise at the attitude of her sister, Daisy answered
that the thing to be thought of now was how to save Mr. Fern from the
consequences of his errors.

"You're a strange girl," was Millicent's reply. "You don't think of me
at all! Won't it be nice to have people point after me in the street and
say, 'There goes one of the Fern girls, whose father is in Sing Sing!' I
never thought I should come to this. There's no knowing how far it will
follow me. I doubt if any reputable man will marry me, when the facts
are known."

Thoroughly disgusted with her sister's selfishness, Daisy cried out that
the facts must _not_ be known--that they must be covered up and kept
from the world, and that she was going to bring this about. She reminded
Millicent of the evident suffering their father had undergone for the
past two years, changed from a light-hearted man into the easily alarmed
mood they had known so well.

"If he deserved punishment, God knows he has had enough!" she added.
"And there is another thing you and I ought not to forget, Millie.
Whatever he did was in the hope of saving this home and enough to live
on, for us! During the last week he has had an improvement in business.
He has paid all of those people whose claims distressed him. You have
seen how much brighter it has made him. Now, when he had a fair prospect
of a few happy days, comes this terrible danger. Surely you and I will
use our utmost endeavors to shield him from harm. Even if he were the
worst of sinners he is still our father!"

But Millicent did not seem at all convinced. She could only see that her
reputation had been put in jeopardy, and that a dreadful fear would
constantly hang over her on account of it.

"It is your fault, as much as his, too!" she exclaimed, angrily. "You
both made as much of that negro as if he were a prince in disguise. I've
told you a hundred times that he ought to be discharged. I hope you'll
admit I was right, at last."

There was little use in reminding her sister that Hannibal had shown
himself the possessor of some information that endangered Mr. Fern
before either he or Daisy began to cultivate his good will; for she knew
it well enough. What Daisy did say was more to the point.

"Have you _always_ hated him?" she asked, meaningly. "What did he mean
last night by his reference to a time when you _sought_ him, _en
dishabille_?"

Millicent sprang up in bed, with flashing eyes.

"He is a lying scoundrel!" she cried, vehemently. "I never did anything
of the kind, and I do not see how you can stand there and repeat such a
calumny!"

"The strange thing about it," replied Daisy, quietly, "is that you did
not dispute him. But then, you did not know a third person was present.
When I meet him this morning I shall ask for further particulars."

Millicent sprang from the bed and threw herself at her sister's feet.

"Would you drive me mad!" she exclaimed. "I am distracted already with
the troubles of this house, and now you wish to hear the lying
inventions of one you know to be a blackmailer and a robber! Don't
mention my name to him, I entreat you. He is capable of any slander. You
can't intend to listen to tales about your sister from such a low, base
thing!"

Having Millicent at her feet, Daisy was pleased to relent a little.

"Very well," she said. "I will not let him tell me anything about you.
But I want you to promise in return that you will do all you can to
protect father from the slightest knowledge of what happened last night.
I am afraid it would kill him. So far he believes us ignorant of his
troubles. If I can make an arrangement to send Hannibal back to France
he will remain so. Be sure you do not arouse his suspicions in any way,
and we may come out all right yet."

The promise was made, and, as nothing could be gained by prolonging the
conversation, Daisy withdrew. In the lower hall she met her father, and
his bright smile proved to her that he was still in blissful ignorance
that any new cloud had crossed his sky. Millicent did not appear at
breakfast, for which neither of the others were sorry. It enabled Mr.
Fern to talk over some of his plans with his younger daughter. Among
them was a possible trip abroad, for he said he felt the need of a long
rest after his troubled business career.

The last suggestion opened a new hope for Daisy. If worse came to worst,
and there was no other way to escape the jail, flight in a European
steamer could be resorted to. It would mean expatriation for life, as
far as he was concerned, but that would be a thousand times better than
a lingering death inside of stone walls. He could raise a large sum of
ready money, and they would want for nothing. Millie would not wish to
go with them, probably. She would stay and marry--how the thought choked
Daisy--marry Mr. Roseleaf; unless indeed, the young novelist did what
she had foreshadowed, repudiated the thought of allying himself with a
tainted name.

Roseleaf! The bright, happy love she had given him came back to the
child like a wave of agony.

Making an excuse that she had shopping to do, Daisy took the train to
the city with her father, and parted from him at a point where the
downtown and uptown street cars separated. Then she took a cab and drove
to the address given her.

It was not the finest quarter in the city, and she would have hesitated
at any other time before taking such a risk as going there alone. At
present she thought of nothing but the object of her visit. Inquiry at
the door brought the information that the lady was expected and that she
was to go upstairs and wait. The woman who let her in was a pleasant
faced mullatress, and several young children of varying shades were
playing on the stairs she had to ascend. Daisy mounted to the room
designated, which proved to be a small parlor, with an alcove, behind
the curtains of which was presumably a bed.

As the weather was quite warm, the girl went to the front windows and
opened them, in order to admit the fresh air. Then she sat down and
waited impatiently. There was a scent in the room which she associated
with the Ethiopian race, a subtle aroma that she found decidedly
unpleasant. It gave her an indefinable uneasiness, and she mentally
remarked that she would be glad when the ordeal was over. Her nerves
were already beginning to suffer.

After the lapse of fifteen minutes, Hannibal entered. He had the look of
one who had passed a sleepless night, and despite the blackness of his
complexion, his cheeks seemed pale.

"Good-morning," said Daisy, rising.

"Good-morning," he replied.

And then there was a brief space of silence, each waiting for the other.

"I am here, you see," said the girl, finally, with an attempt at a
smile. "And now will you give me the things I came for, as I cannot stay
long?"

The negro tried to look at her, tried many times, but failed. His eyes
shifted uneasily to all the other objects in the room, resting on none
of them more than a second at a time.

"You wonder," he said, after another pause, "why I returned to America,
why I came to your house last night. I thought I could tell you--this
morning--and I have been trying to prepare myself to do so--but I
cannot. You blame me a great deal, that is evident in every line of your
face, but you do not know what I have suffered. Were your father to go
to jail for the term the law prescribes, he would not endure the agony
that has been mine."

He looked every word he spoke and more.

"I am sorry, truly sorry for you," she replied. "But why could you not
leave all your troubles, when you went to France, and begin an entirely
new life? You found it true what I told you, I am sure, about the lack
of prejudice--on account of your--race."

He nodded and cleared his throat before he spoke again.

"Oh, yes; but it is not the prejudice _there_ that worries me. It is the
prejudice _here_. It is the barrier my color brings between me and the
only being whose regard I crave!"

The girl's cheeks grew rosier than ever, but she affected not to
understand, and once more reverted to the errand that had brought her
thither.

"You promised me the documents with which my poor father has been
tortured," she said, reproachfully; "let us not talk of other things
until you have given them to me."

The negro drew from a pocket of his coat a fair-sized package tied with
a ribbon.

"They are all there," he said. "Every scrap, every particle of proof,
everything that could bring the breath of suspicion upon your father's
honesty. All there, in that little envelope."

She reached for it, but instead of giving it to her, Hannibal caught her
hand, and before she dreamed what he intended, pressed a kiss upon it.
The next moment the girl, with a look of outraged womanhood, was rubbing
the spot with her handkerchief, as if he had covered it with poison.

"You brute!" she exclaimed. "You--you--"

She could not find the word she wanted; nothing in the language she
spoke seemed detestable enough to fill the measure of her wrong.

"You see!" he answered, bitterly. "Because I am black I cannot touch the
hand of a woman that is white. You have claimed to be without the hatred
of the African so ingrained among Americans; you have talked about the
Almighty making of one blood all the nations of the earth; and yet you
are like the rest! A viper's bite could not have aroused deeper disgust
in you than my lips. And all because the sun shone more vertically on my
ancestors than it did on yours!"

Daisy was divided between her horror of the act he had committed and her
anxiety to do something to free her father from his danger. She
suppressed the hateful epithets that rose to her tongue and once more
entreated the negro to give her the packet he held in his possession.

"You can do nothing with it but injure a man who has been kind to you,"
she pleaded. "And if you use the information you have, and afterwards
repent, it will be too late to remedy your error. Give it to me, and
return to France with the proud consciousness that you are worthy the
position you wish to occupy."

Hannibal shook his head with decision.

"That would be very well if I ever could be considered a man by the one
for whose opinion I care most. But while I am to her a creature
something below the ape, a mere crawling viper whose touch is pollution,
I will act like the thing she thinks me. To-day I possess the power to
make a high-born gentleman dance whenever I pull the string. You ask me
to give up this power, and in return you offer--nothing."

"One would suppose," remarked Daisy, struggling with herself in this
dilemma, "that the ability to inflict pain was one a true nature would
delight to surrender. My father has done no harm to you."

The negro bent toward her and spoke with vehemence.

"But his daughter has! She has made my life wretched. Whatever position
I may attain will be worthless to me, without the love I had hoped might
be mine."

"_Love!_" cried the girl, recoiling. "_Love!_"

"Love and marriage," he replied. "In France we could live without the
hateful prejudices that prevail in America. I have natural ability
enough, you have told me so a thousand times, and I could make myself
worthy of you. As my wife--"

Daisy rose and interrupted him fiercely.

"Cease!" she exclaimed. "There is a limit to what I can endure. If you
mean to make any promise of that kind a prelude to my father's freedom
from persecution, we may as well end this conversation now as later. He
would rather rot in prison than have his child sacrifice herself in such
a manner!"

She started toward the door, and he did not interrupt her passage, as
she half expected he would do; but he spoke again.

"All this because I am black," he said.

"Because you are a cruel, heartless wretch!" she answered, her eyes
flashing. "Because you have abused the goodwill of a generous family;
because you have tortured a kind old man and a loving daughter. If you
were as white as any person on earth, I would not marry you. Worse than
all outward semblance is a dark and vile mind. Do what you like! I defy
you!"

The door opened and closed behind her. Hannibal heard her retreating
footsteps grow fainter on the stairs, and then there was silence.

"I might have known it," he said, aloud. "I did know it, but I kept
hoping against hope. She would wed a Newfoundland dog sooner than me.
Nothing is left but to make her repent her action. I will bring that
father of hers to the dust, if only to revenge the long list of injuries
his race has inflicted on mine!"



CHAPTER XIX.

"PLAY OUT YOUR FARCE."


When Daisy left the house where she had the interview with Hannibal, she
walked for some minutes aimlessly along the street. Her mind was in a
state of great excitement. She realized that she had defied a man who
could inflict the deepest injury on the father she dearly loved. How she
could have done otherwise was not at all clear, but the terror which
hung over her was none the less keen. The proposal of the negro--to
marry her--filled her with a nameless dread that made her teeth chatter,
though it was a warm day. Rather would she have cast her body into the
tides that wash the shores of Manhattan Island. Even to save her father
from prison--if it came to that--she could not make this sacrifice. She
now felt for Hannibal a horrible detestation, a feeling akin to that she
might entertain for a rattlesnake. Whatever good she had seen in him in
other days had vanished under the revelations of his true character.

What to do next was the absorbing question. A great danger hung over her
father. A dim idea of seeking the mayor--or the chief of police--and
imploring their mercy, entered her brain. Then she thought of Roseleaf,
whose aid she might have secured, if he had not proved himself a
double-dealer, capable of making love to herself and Millicent at the
same time. And then came the resolve to seek out Mr. Weil, the one
person in all this trouble that seemed clear of wrong. Her sister had
told her that he loved her. Well, if necessary she would marry him. At
least he was a man of honor, and white. Yes, she would go to him and
throw herself upon his mercy.

Daisy knew that Archie made his headquarters at the Hoffman House, and
summoning a cab she asked to be taken to that hotel. Ensconced in the
ladies' parlor she awaited the coming of the man she wanted and yet
dreaded so much to see. Luckily he was in the house, and in a few
moments responded in person to her card.

"Why, Miss Daisy," he stammered. "What is the matter? Nothing wrong, I
trust. You look quite pale. Is it anything--about--your father?"

The girl was pale indeed. Now that Mr. Weil was so close, the danger
that he might not be willing to help her rose like a mountain in her
path. She did not know exactly how grave a matter forgery was--whether
it was something that the injured party would be able or likely to
forgive. If she should tell him everything, and he should refuse to be
placated--what could she do then?

There was no one else in the parlor, but seeing that she wanted as much
seclusion as possible, Mr. Weil motioned the girl to follow him to a
remote corner, where the curtains of a recessed window partially
concealed them. He felt that she had come on a momentous errand. His
suspicions concerning Mr. Fern were apparently about to be verified, and
if so, he did not mean that other ears should hear the tale.

"Mr. Weil," began Daisy, tremblingly, "I don't know what to say to you.
I am in great distress. Would you--will you--help me?"

He responded gently that he would do anything in his power. He bade her
calm herself, and promised to be the most attentive of listeners.

Reassured by his kind words and manner, the girl began again; but she
could not tell her story connectedly, and after making several attempts
to do so, she broke out in a new direction.

"I want so very much of you, dear Mr. Weil. And I am nervous and afraid
to ask what I would like. I will give you anything you please in return.
Yes, yes, anything."

He smiled down upon her face, on which the tears were making stains in
spite of her.

"You are promising a great deal, little girl," he said.

"I know it; I realize it fully," she responded quickly. "But I mean all
I say. I did not think I could, once, but I am quite resolved now.
Millie told me you were in love with me, and feared I would refuse you.
But I won't. No, no, I will marry you--indeed I will--if you will only
save my darling father!"

The concluding words were spoken in the midst of a torrent of sobs that
shook the girlish frame and affected powerfully the strong man that
witnessed them.

"Daisy, dear child, don't speak like this," he answered. "If I can do
anything for your father I will most gladly, and the price of your sweet
little heart shall not be demanded in payment, either. Leave that matter
entirely out of the question, and tell me at once what you desire."

She heard him with infinite delight, and wiping her eyes she began, in
broken tones, to relate the history of Hannibal's revelations. As she
proceeded his brow darkened, and when she had finished he muttered
something that sounded very much like a curse.

"And what do you wish of me?" he asked, when she had ended.

"To keep him from having my father put in prison; to give us time to
escape, if there is no other way; and to forgive the harm to yourself. I
know," she added earnestly, "it is a great deal to ask, but I have no
one else to go to. He has paid every cent, and you will lose nothing.
Tell me, dear Mr. Weil, is there anything you can do?"

He had the greatest struggle of his life to keep from bending over that
trembling mouth and pressing upon it the kiss he knew she would not
refuse; that mouth he had coveted so long and which must never be
touched by his lips!

"Can I do anything?" he repeated. "Certainly. I can stop that fellow so
quickly he won't know what ails him. Have no fear Miss Daisy. Go home
and rest in peace. Before the sun sets I will remove the last particle
of danger from your father's path."

The girl sprang to her feet and would have thrown her arms around his
neck had he not prevented her.

"You are certain you can do this?" she cried, beaming with happy eyes
upon him.

"There is not the least question of it. But--I must demand payment for
my trouble. I shall not do this work for nothing."

With a hot blush Daisy lowered her eyes to the carpet.

"I have already told you what I will do," she said, trembling. "If you
accomplish what you say, have no fear but I shall keep my word."

There was an element of pride and truth in the way she spoke that struck
the hearer strongly. The reverent smile on his face grew yet deeper.

"I am placed in a peculiar situation," he said, after a slight pause.
"Your sister has, unintentionally, no doubt, misrepresented matters in a
way that may be embarrassing for us both. When I have removed the
troubles that stand in your way, I will talk this over with you."

Daisy looked up quickly. What could he mean?

"I beg you to explain," she stammered. "If there has been any mistake no
time can be better to set it right than now."

The man toyed with the lace of the window curtain. He had no intention
of evading his duty, and yet he did not find it agreeable as he
proceeded.

"Your sister told me," he said, finally, "that--you loved me. She was
wrong. I knew all the time she was wrong. You have just offered to give
yourself to me in marriage in exchange for the efforts that I am to make
on your father's behalf. But I would not marry a woman who did not love
me--who only became mine from gratitude. No, I could not accept you
under such circumstances."

The young girl glanced at him timidly.

"I wish you knew how much I liked you," she said. "I never knew a man I
respected more."

"That is most gratifying," he answered, "for I hold your good opinion
very highly. You must think I speak in riddles, for I have said that I
demand payment for my services, and yet that I would not accept the
greatest gift it is in your power to bestow upon me. Let me wait no
longer in my explanation. When I have put your father out of all danger
from this blackmailer--and I can easily do it, never fear--you must do
justice to Shirley Roseleaf."

She shivered at the name, as if the east wind blew upon her.

"He is not a true man," she replied, in a whisper. "He has forfeited all
claim to my consideration."

"Why do you say that? I am afraid there is another misunderstanding
here, my child."

Then he drew out of her, slowly at first, the revelations that Millicent
had made. And he disposed of the charges, one by one, until there was
nothing left of them.

"Could you--would you--only go with me to his rooms," he added, "and see
him lying there, wan and pale, disheartened at the present, hopeless for
the future, you would change your mind. He has never in his life loved
but one woman, and that one is yourself. I will not undertake to say why
you have been told differently, though I could guess. Shirley Roseleaf
loves you, Miss Daisy, and you love him. When I have made good my
promise, I shall ask you to come to my friend's side and bring him back
to health with the sunshine of your presence."

Daisy was more than half convinced, for the strong affection she had had
for the young man plead for him in every drop of her blood.

"Is he so very ill?" she asked, dreamily.

"He has not left his room for a week," was the answer. "Nothing his
friends can say will move him. He is in such a state of mind that he
even refuses to have me with him; me, until very lately, his closest
friend. But if I tell him you have relented, there is no medicine on
earth will have such an instant effect."

The girl thought for some moments without speaking.

"It is my father first, of course," she said at last. "But while you are
arranging matters concerning him, I do not see any reason to keep me
from helping a sick boy. I--yes, I will go with you now."

He looked the gratitude he could not speak, and fearful that in her
mercurial mood she might change her mind, he accompanied her without
delay to the street, and procured a cab, in which they were driven
rapidly to Roseleaf's lodgings. On the way, with that loved form so near
him, Archie Weil had a constant struggle. She might be his, if he would
forget duty.

And he loved her! God, how he loved her! He could marry her, and perhaps
after a fashion make her happy. The perspiration stood on his forehead
as he dwelt on the bliss that he had resolutely cast aside.

Roseleaf's landlady came to the door in person and informed the callers
that her guest was in about the same condition as he had been for some
days. He was not ill in bed, but he did not leave his room. When she
sent up his meals he received them mechanically, and they were often
untouched when the domestic went for the dishes. He wrote several hours
a day, though he was undoubtedly feeble. Did he have any visitors? Only
one, Mr. Gouger, who was with him at the present moment. Should she go
up and announce them? Very well, if it was not necessary. Mr. Weil could
show the lady into the adjoining room, which was empty, until he had
announced her presence in the house to his friend.

Archie whispered to Daisy when he left her at Roseleaf's door, that he
would come for her as soon as possible. He did not enter the sick boy's
chamber at once, for something in the conversation that came to his ears
arrested his steps at the threshold. Mr. Gouger's voice was heard, and
Archie's ears caught the sound of his own name.

"You should let me send to Mr. Weil," said Gouger. "I am sure he can
explain everything. You have written all you ought for the present. He
would take you to ride and bring the color to those white cheeks of
yours."

"But he cannot bring me the girl I love," responded Roseleaf, with a
profound sigh. "Even if I have done him injustice, she is lost to me
now. You know appearances were against him. Why, you agreed with me
about it. I don't want to see any one. I want to go away from here, and
forget my sorrows as best I can in some far distant place."

There was a sadness in the tone that went to the listener's heart. The
door was slightly ajar and Archie took the liberty of looking into the
room. Roseleaf lay stretched out in a great chair, and Gouger leaned
over him, appearing for all the world like some sinister bird of prey.
Mr. Weil felt for the first time in his life that there was something
uncanny in the aspect of the book reviewer. He did not think he could
ever be close friends with him again. And what did Shirley mean by
saying that Lawrence had "agreed" with him when he heard such base
opinions?

The critic was fingering with apparent satisfaction a pile of MSS. that
lay on the table. It had grown vastly since Archie saw it the last time,
and must be fifteen or twenty chapters in extent now.

"You must not go away until you have finished this wonderful work,"
replied Gouger, with concern. "A few more months--a little further
experience in life--and your reputation will be made! Ah, it is
wonderful! It is magnificent! The world will ring with your praises
before the year is ended. Such fidelity to nature! Such perfection of
detail! In all my career I have never seen anything to approach it!"

Shirley moved uneasily in his chair.

"Do you ever think at what cost I have done this?" he asked. "I know the
pain of a burn because I have held my hands in the fire. I know the
agony of asphyxiation, because I have dangled at the end of a rope. I
can write of the miner buried beneath a hundred feet of clay, because I
have had the load fall on my own head. To love and find myself beloved;
then to see happiness snatched without explanation from my grasp; to
feel that my best friend has been the one to betray me! That is what I
have passed through, and from the drops of misery thus distilled, I have
penned those lines you so much admire. I have written all I can of these
horrors. I will not begin again till I have caught somewhere in the
great sky a glimpse of sunlight!"

Mr. Weil could wait no longer. He pushed open the door and went to the
speaker's side.

"The sunlight is awaiting you," he said, gazing down upon the figure in
the armchair. "You have only to raise your curtain."

Mr. Gouger sprang up in astonishment at the sudden arrival, and perhaps
a little in alarm also; for he could not tell how long the visitor had
been eavesdropping at the portal. But Roseleaf turned his languid eyes
toward his old friend, and was silent.

"Shirley, my boy," pursued Weil, with the utmost earnestness, "I can
prove to you now that Daisy Fern loves you and you alone."

Roseleaf did not move. His lips opened and the words came stiffly.

"You can promise many things," he said, "but can you fulfill any of
them?"

So cold, so unlike himself!

"What will convince you?" demanded Weil. "Shall I bring a letter from
her? Or would you rather she came in person, to tell you I speak the
truth?"

The shadow of a smile, a smile that was not agreeable, hovered around
the corners of the pale mouth.

"I shall write no more," said the lips, when they opened, "until I have
seen her and heard the reason for my rejection. I will discover who my
enemy is. I will unmask the man or the woman that has done me this
injury. Till then, I shall write no more. No, not one line."

Mr. Gouger was nonplussed by the new turn in affairs. He knew that Weil
had some basis for what he said, that he was not the man to come with
pretence on his tongue. Neither of the other persons in the room paid
the least attention to him, any more than if he had not been present. It
was like a play, at which Gouger was the only spectator.

"Could you bear it if I brought her to you to-day, if I brought her here
now?" asked Archie, beseechingly. "If I go and get her, and she comes
with me, will the shock harm you?"

The ironical smile deepened on the face of the younger man.

"Play out your farce," he said.

Casting one look of apprehension at Roseleaf, Mr. Weil turned toward
the door that entered the hallway. Before he could reach it, a female
form came into the room and caught his arm. Together they faced the
recumbent figure in the chair. This lasted but a moment. Then Daisy
broke from her escort and threw herself at her lover's feet.

"Come," whispered Archie, to the critic. "Let us leave them alone."



CHAPTER XX.

LIKE A STUCK PIG.


Hannibal was neither better nor worse, morally, because his color was
black. There are men with white complexions who would have done exactly
as he did. There are others as dark as Erebus who would have done
nothing of the sort.

He was no ordinary negro. His intelligence was above the average. When
he first entered the employ of Mr. Fern, that gentleman took every pains
to encourage the aptitude for learning that he found in him. Hannibal
accompanied his employer to his office, where he was entrusted with
important commissions, which he seemed for a long time to execute with
faithfulness and discrimination. At home he performed his duties in a
way that gave great satisfaction. At the end of the first six months Mr.
Fern would have hated to part with a servant that he believed difficult
to replace.

But the great source of trouble arose gradually. Hannibal began to
entertain a sentiment for his master's younger daughter that was
impossible of fruition. Daisy treated him in the most considerate
manner, never dreaming what was going on behind his serious brow.
Millicent, ungovernable in all things, began early to show the bitterest
enmity toward the negro, while her sister, seeing that her father liked
and appreciated him, tried by her own kindness to compensate for the
other's rudeness. What caused Millicent's feelings Daisy had no means of
knowing, and she had not the least suspicion until she heard the
conversation in the library the night the house was entered. Even then
she did not take the subject much to heart, for she did not comprehend
all that Hannibal had meant to convey in the brief and sarcastic
expression he used. Daisy had a mind too pure to believe anything so
heinous of her own sister as Hannibal had intimated.

The passion of love is a thing that grows in curious ways. What made it
seem to Hannibal that there was hope for him was the discovery that Mr.
Fern was committing forgeries and that the proofs might be his for the
taking. If he could hold such a power as that over this gentleman, who
could say that even so great a mésalliance as his daughter's marriage to
an African might not be arranged?

The negro proceeded cautiously. He secured the proofs he wished, and let
Mr. Fern know tacitly that he had them. The terror, the undisguised fear
that followed, the admittance of the menial to a totally different
position in the household and the office, showed that the servant had
not underrated the importance of his acquisition.

Not one word bearing directly on the subject passed between them. The
condition of the merchant was more horrible than it would have been had
his employé said outright, "I have the proof that you are a forger--I
can send you to prison for twenty years, and I will do so unless you do
so-and-so for me." He did not know how Hannibal meant to use his
information. He was afraid to broach the matter to him. He could only
wait and suffer; and suffer he did, as a proud-spirited, high-minded man
who has made an error must suffer, when such a sword hangs over his
head, ready at any moment to fall.

As Walker Boggs had said, Mr. Fern was not by nature a business man.
After the former's retirement from active participation in the concern
there was a series of losses. When Mr. Fern took his pen and began to
imitate the signature of his late partner on a sheet of paper, nothing
but some such course stood between him and bankruptcy. He felt certain
that if he could tide over twenty-four hours he would be saved. Before
he left his office he had made a note, written Mr. Boggs name across the
back of it, and raised money thereon.

He did this many times afterwards, but finally, when he again wanted a
name to save himself with, he dared not use this one. Boggs had called
in to remark that he should withdraw the capital he had lent as soon as
the term arranged for had expired. The sum was already infringed upon,
had the investor known it. The next name used was that of Archie Weil.
Archie had been to the house a good deal to see Millicent. Mr. Fern
believed there was a love affair between them, and he caught at the
straw of possible protection in case of discovery. The forgeries became
numerous, and the total amount on that day when the passage of a new
tariff saved the venturesome speculator, was very large. Hannibal was at
this time in foreign parts, or at least so the merchant supposed. He
soothed his conscience with the reflection that this additional wrong
act would enable him to right the others that preceded it. And things
might have gone well had not the negro returned, consumed with the love
he bore the younger daughter, and had not his love turned to vinegar by
her contemptuous rejection of his advances.

An hour after Daisy left him, Hannibal had made up his mind to be
revenged. He had faltered a little in the meantime, asking himself what
good it would do to bring disgrace on the head of this poor old man, but
his injuries were too strong for mercy. He was despised by them all; he
would show them that, black as he was, his ability to hurt was no less
strong than theirs. Roseleaf had made the first impression on that young
heart he himself had craved. It remained to be seen whether he would wed
the daughter of a convict. There would be something pleasant, too, in
disgracing Millicent, who had once placed herself in a position where he
could have blasted her reputation forever, and had afterwards dared to
treat him as if he were the dirt beneath her shoes. Yes, Hannibal
decided, he would go to Mr. Weil and Mr. Boggs, and show them the way
this man had used their names, hawking them in the public market without
their knowledge.

When Hannibal reached the Hoffman House and inquired for Mr. Weil, he
was told that he was absent. An hour later he received the same answer.
A visit to the residence of Mr. Boggs elicited a reply precisely
similar. In fact, the day wore away and evening arrived before he found
them.

In the meantime, Mr. Weil had not been idle. While Daisy and Shirley
Roseleaf were tearfully exchanging their explanations, he sent a
messenger to Mr. Boggs, asking that gentleman to come to him without
delay. An hour later the messenger arrived with the gentleman, and
having engaged a room for temporary use, and seen to it that Roseleaf
wanted nothing at present but his fair nurse, Archie pulled Boggs in and
locked the door securely.

"What's all this?" exclaimed Boggs. "You look and act as if there was
the devil to pay."

"There is," was the short answer. "I want you to do one of the most
creditable acts of your life. I want it as a personal favor, and I'm
going to have it, too."

Mr. Boggs crossed his hands over his paunch and waited for further
information.

"Are you a first-class liar?" was Mr. Weil's next question. "Could you,
in an emergency, do yourself justice as an eminent prevaricator? Are you
able, for a certain time, to banish truth from your vicinity?"

Mr. Boggs remarked, in response to these astonishing suggestions, that
he could tell much better what his friend was about if he would drop
metaphor.

Mr. Weil hesitated. He saw no way but to trust this man with the facts,
and yet he dreaded the possibility that he might prove obstinate.

"By-the-way," he said, as if to change the subject temporarily, "have
you been out to see Fern lately?"

Mr. Boggs shook his head.

"You ought to," said Weil. "He's improved a thousand per cent. in the
last few weeks. His financial luck has made a new man of him."

"I'm glad of that," responded the other. "And I'm glad too that I've got
my money out of his firm, for I had a strong suspicion at one time that
he was running pretty close to the wall."

Mr. Weil nodded to show that he believed this statement, and then grew
sober.

"Sometimes, when men get into a tight place financially," he said, "they
do queer things. Supposing I should tell you that Mr. Fern had endorsed
checks and notes in a way he was not authorized to do?"

The stout man opened his eyes wider.

"That would be a piece of news," he answered. "But, if he did, he's made
it all right by this time, of course, and nobody is the loser."

Mr. Weil drew himself up in his chair, as if righteously indignant.

"Do you think that is enough?" he demanded, raising his voice. "By Gad,
supposing I tell you my name was one of those he monkeyed with!"

The other did not seem much perturbed.

"If the paper is all in, I wouldn't make a fuss about it, if I were
you," he replied. "Fern is a good fellow. He has gone out of business,
and I hope he'll never go in again. Take my advice, if you have learned
anything to his discredit, and keep it to yourself."

Weil could hardly control himself.

"Do you think I intend to let him forge my name on his notes and checks
and not put him under arrest!" he cried; "when the proofs are beyond
question?"

Mr. Boggs bowed and said he meant that, exactly. He further remarked
that he was astonished that his friend had any other idea in his mind.
The Fern family was one in which he had been favorably received and he
ought to do everything possible to prevent harm to any of its members.
As he proceeded in this vein, Mr. Boggs grew so earnest that he did not
notice the broad smile of happiness that was creeping over the face of
his companion, and was not prepared to find a pair of manly arms clasped
around his neck.

"You--you!" Archie Weil was trying to say. "You dear, kind, sensible
fellow. You've made me the happiest man on earth! Of course _I_ wouldn't
trouble Fern, but I was afraid _you_ would. He used your name as well as
mine, the rascal! Everything is paid up, and all the trouble now is that
a miserable scamp has got hold of some of the paper and wants to
blackmail him. And what I called you here to-day for is to get you to
agree--with me--to acknowledge every scrap of that paper as being our
own!"

The sudden change was more than Mr. Boggs could bear for a moment. He
sat, to use a common expression, "like a stuck pig," staring at Archie.

"You remember the nigger that worked for Fern," explained Mr. Weil. "He
got hold of some of these notes and checks, in Fern's office, and is
coming to look us up to-day, for the purpose of having his employer
arrested. A nice game, eh? But we will foil him, won't we? We'll show
him a trick worth several of his! He's probably gone to the Hoffman
House and he'll hang round till he finds me. I'll send word that I am to
be home this afternoon at five. You will be there with me. We'll tackle
him together. When he tells us that he has some forged paper in his
possession we'll act astonished and enraged; we'll ask him to show it to
us; and when we've got it all in our hands we'll say the signatures are
our own, and kick him down stairs. Are you with me, Walker? Is it a go,
old boy?"

The agreement was made without more ado. Mr. Boggs began to see the
humorous element in the affair, and actually came nearer laughing than
he had done since the day he discovered that the size of his waist
placed him out of the list of eligible "mashers."

When everything was settled, Mr. Weil excused himself for a few moments,
while he tiptoed to Roseleaf's door and knocked. Daisy came to open it,
and when she saw who the visitor was she blushed charmingly.

"Come in," she said. "I am sure both of us are glad to see you."

Shirley's eyes met those of his friend with a strange expression. He
knew now that all his suspicions were unfounded, that Weil had proved
himself noble and true. But the apologies that he owed could not be
suitably made in the presence of a third person, and he made no
reference to them. His changed appearance was enough, however, for
Archie. The reconciliation with the girl of his heart was perfect, and
the happiness that shone from their faces repaid their good friend for
his sacrifice.

"I think I ought to take Miss Daisy to her train now," said Archie,
after the exchange of a few ordinary remarks. "She can come to see you
to-morrow again, and before many days we will have matters arranged with
pater familias, so that Shirley can go out to Midlands in his proper
capacity. Oh, you need not redden, little woman! The love you two have
for each other does both of you credit."

Returning to Mr. Boggs, for the sake of allowing the young couple a few
minutes for their good-bys, Archie dismissed that gentleman with the
understanding that not later than half-past four he would join him in
his room at the Hoffman House. Soon after he escorted Miss Fern to her
station, and before he left the building Archie sent a dispatch to her
father, asking him to come to the city and meet him at his hotel at four
that afternoon.

Everything worked to a charm. Mr. Fern arrived at the time designated
and went promptly to Mr. Weil's apartments. A brief explanation of what
was about to occur threw the wool merchant into a state of extreme
agitation, but he was assured that the last particle of danger to
himself would be removed before he left the Hoffman House. He was asked
to step into an inner room of the suite, the door of which was to be
left ajar, and to make no move unless he was called.

Mr. Boggs came at his appointed hour, and Hannibal soon after. Delighted
to find both gentlemen--accidentally, as he supposed--the negro began
without delay to explain the cause of his visit. He stated the manner in
which he had discovered the forgeries, and said he thought it only his
duty to let the facts be known.

Messrs. Weil and Boggs exchanged glances of well-simulated surprise as
the discoverer proceeded.

"How long is it since you first knew of this matter?" asked Mr. Weil,
when Hannibal came to a pause.

"Something like eighteen months."

"And you allowed this swindle to go on all that time without saying a
word!" said the questioner. "I am surprised, when I remember that for a
long time you saw me almost daily."

"That is true," was the quiet response. "I could not easily bring myself
to disgrace one whose bread I was eating. But that does not matter now.
I have here a number of notes on which Mr. Fern has forged both of your
names. The law will hold him just as strongly as if I had exposed him at
the time."

He exhibited a package of papers, and unsuspiciously passed them to the
two gentlemen. Undoing the band Archie Weil spread the documents on the
centre table and went over them carefully with Mr. Boggs, separating
those which bore their several names. A close perusal of all the notes
followed, and finally Mr. Weil looked up and asked if there were any
more.

"No, those are all," said Hannibal. "I believe there are thirty-six of
them."

Mr. Weil consulted in a low tone with Mr. Boggs. They seemed puzzled
over something.

"If these are really all the notes you have," said Archie, "there has
been a great mistake on your part. These endorsements are genuine in
every case. Where are the forged papers of which you spoke?"

The negro stared with all his might at the speaker.

"Genuine!" he repeated.

"Undoubtedly, as far as my name is concerned. I have lent my credit to
Mr. Fern for a long time."

"That is equally true of myself," spoke up Boggs, slowly. "I wrote every
one of these signatures and I am willing to swear to them."

Hannibal's eyes flashed with baffled rage. He had been trapped. These
men had conspired to save his late employer from his clutches. They had
lied, deliberately, and he was powerless against their combined
assertions, although he knew the falsity of all they said.

"You will be as glad as we to learn the truth," said Archie, in a softly
modulated voice. "It would have grieved you to know that your kind
employer had made himself amenable to the criminal law. Your only
object in this matter was to ease your conscience, and do justice. There
is nothing, now, to prevent your returning at your earliest convenience
to France."

The negro rose and took up his hat.

"This is very nice," he growled, "but I want to tell you that you are
not through with me yet."

Mr. Weil rose also.

"I trust," he said, "that you are not going to be impolite. I certainly
would not be guilty of discourtesy to you. But let me assure you of one
thing: If you ever, hereafter, annoy in the slightest degree my friend,
Mr. Fern, or any member of his family, you will wish heartily that you
had never been born. We can spare you now, Mr. Hannibal."

With the last words, Archie waved his hand toward the door, and without
further reply than a glare from his now blood-shot eyes, the African
strode from the apartment.

"I want you to take a ride in the Park with me, for an hour or so, and
then we will return here for dinner," said Mr. Weil to Mr. Boggs.

He did this to allow Mr. Fern to leave the house without Boggs' knowing
he was there, and also to avoid a meeting that he felt would be too full
of gratitude to suit his temperament just then.



CHAPTER XXI.

"WE WANT MILLIE TO UNDERSTAND."


Millicent Fern had been so busy on her second novel that she had hardly
noticed the prolonged absence of Shirley Roseleaf from her father's
house. Her first story was selling fairly well and she had received a
goodly number of reviews in which it was alluded to with more or less
favor. Not the least welcome of the things her mail brought was a check
bearing the autograph of Cutt & Slashem, that tangible evidence which
all authors admire that her efforts had not been wholly in vain. She had
put a great deal of hard work into her new novel, and felt that, when
Mr. Roseleaf added his polish to the plot she had woven, it would make a
success far greater than the other.

Millicent thought she understood the young man perfectly. To her mind he
was merely awaiting the moment when she was ready to name the day for
their marriage. To be sure he had not asked her to wed him, but his
actions were not to be misunderstood. She would accept him, for business
reasons, and the romance could come later. Together they would
constitute a strong partnership in fiction. While she was wrapped up in
her writing it was quite as well that he remained at a respectful
distance. Between her second and her third story she would have time to
arrange the ceremony.

When Roseleaf made his next appearance at dinner, in the house at
Midlands, Miss Fern smiled on him pleasantly. She remarked that he
lacked color, and he replied that he had been suffering from a slight
illness. Then she spoke of her new story, revealing the plot to a
limited extent, and said it would be ready for him in about two weeks.
The astonished young man saw that she considered his services entirely
at her disposal, without question, whenever she saw fit to call upon
them. He talked it over with Daisy.

"You know," stammered the girl, "that Millie thought you were in love
with her. That would account for everything, wouldn't it?"

"But where did she ever get that idea!" he exclaimed, desperately.

"She says you tried to put your arm around her."

"Just to practice. Just to learn what love was like. I told you how
ignorant I was, the same as I did her. Archie said she would show me,
but it didn't amount to anything. It was only when I asked you, Daisy,
that I began to understand. Do you remember how you stood on your toes
and kissed me?"

The girl bade him be quiet and not get too reminiscent, but he would
not.

"It taught me all I needed to know, in one instant," he persisted. "Ah,
sweetheart, how much happiness and suffering I have had on your
account!"

He stooped and kissed her tenderly as he spoke.

"And after this it will be happiness only," she whispered.

Another kiss answered this prediction.

"What can I do if she asks me to rewrite the whole of another novel?"
asked Roseleaf, with a groan.

"I think you might find time to oblige her," said Daisy. "But you ought
to explain things--you ought not to let her misunderstand your position
any longer."

He said that this was true, and that he would act upon the suggestion.
He had her father's consent, and nothing could stand in the way of his
marriage to Daisy before the year ended. It was not right, of course, to
go on with the implication of being engaged to both the sisters.

"But I wish I could escape doing that writing," he added. "I hate
fiction, any way; I have been at work on one of my own that I fear I
never shall finish. There is much sadness in novels, and I like joy so
much better. I believe I shall abandon the whole field."

This she would not listen to. She said her husband that was to be must
become a famous writer, for she wanted to be very proud of him. And Mr.
Fern came in to the room, and having the question put to him, decided it
in the same manner, as he was sure to do when he learned that his
younger daughter held that opinion.

The retired merchant bore the appearance of a man from whose shoulders
the severe burden of a great weight had fallen. The tiger that had
crouched so long in his path, ready at any moment to spring, had been
vanquished. Beyond the profound humiliation of knowing that his sin was
exposed to the gaze of two of his intimate friends, he had no cause for
present grief. Both of them had proved friends indeed, and nothing was
to be feared from any quarter. Hannibal had disappeared immediately
after the interview at the Hoffman House, and it was supposed had gone
back to France.

There was to be no haste about the wedding, after all. Now that the
young couple felt perfectly sure of each other they were more willing
than they had been to wait. The freedom that an understood engagement
brings to Americans was theirs. If Millicent had only known the true
condition of affairs, and was content with them, they would have been
perfectly satisfied.

An old story tells how a certain colony of mice came to the unanimous
conclusion that a bell should be hung around the neck of a cat for which
they had a well-defined fear; and it also relates that none of the
rodents were willing to undertake the task of placing the warning signal
in the desired position. Both Shirley and Daisy wished heartily that
Millicent could be told the exact condition of their hopes and
expectations, but neither had the courage to inform her. Many of their
long conversations referred to this matter, and one day, when they had
discussed it as usual, Daisy hit upon a bright idea.

"You don't suppose, do you, that Mr. Weil would tell Millie for us? He
has done so many nice things, he might do one more."

Roseleaf wore a thoughtful expression. He realized how much Archie had
already done for him--realized it more fully than Daisy did; but he said
the matter was worth thinking of. He wanted very much to have it
settled.

"Would--would you--ask him?" he stammered. "He would do anything for
you."

"Yes," she responded, softly, "I will ask him. But we had best be
together. I do not want to broach the matter unless you are there."

In a few days the opportunity came. Mr. Weil heard the voice he loved
best explaining the situation.

"We want Millie to understand," said Daisy. "If she--if she still likes
Shirley herself, there may be an unpleasant scene, and you will see how
difficult it is for either of us to tell her. But you, who have done so
many kindnesses for us, could convey the information to her without the
diffidence we should feel. Will you, dear Mr. Weil?"

And Archie said he would, and that it would be a pleasure to him. And a
bright light illumined the faces of the young people, as another stone
was rolled out of the pathway their feet were to tread.

Mr. Weil did not know how to approach his subject except by a more or
less direct route. One day he was talking with Miss Fern about her new
novel, and she spoke of Mr. Roseleaf in connection with its nearness to
the required revision.

"I don't know as Shirley will find time to help you out," he replied.
"He is so busy just now with Miss Daisy."

She did not seem to comprehend him in the least.

"Oh, he is merely filling in the time, as a matter of amusement," she
answered. "When I am ready he will be."

He looked at her earnestly.

"Is it fair to speak of love-making as a matter of amusement, Miss
Fern?"

"Love-making? Is he, then, practicing for his novel with Daisy, also?"
she inquired. "I am afraid he will get erroneous views of love in that
quarter. She is such a child that she can have little knowledge of the
subject."

She had evidently no suspicion of the truth, and he determined to become
more explicit.

"Perhaps that is exactly what he wishes," said he. "The virgin heart of
a young girl certainly affords tempting ground for the explorations of a
novelist."

For the first time she showed a slightly startled face.

"I trust you do not mean that Mr. Roseleaf is deceiving my sister with
pretended affection?" she said. "I did not think him that kind of man.
If he is making love to her, as you call it, surely she understands that
it is only for the purposes of his forthcoming novel?"

Mr. Weil drew a long breath.

"Is it possible," he asked, "that you do not know him better than even
to hint that suspicion? Shirley Roseleaf is honor personified. He would
not lead any woman to believe him her lover unless he truly felt the
sentiments he expressed."

Miss Fern looked much relieved.

"I am glad to hear you say so," she replied.

Archie was plunged into a new quandary. He had evidently made no
progress whatever thus far.

"No," he continued, slowly, "he has not deceived Miss Daisy. His love
for her is as true as steel. I understand their engagement is to be
announced in a few days."

If he had known the pain that these words would bring to their
hearer--if he had foreseen the anguish that was portrayed on that brow
and in those eyes--friend as he was of the young couple who had set him
to this errand, he would have shrunk from it. Millicent made no verbal
reply. Spasms chased each other over her white face. She seemed stricken
dumb. Her hands, lifted to her forehead, trembled visibly. And Mr. Weil
sat there, uncertain what to do, as silent as herself.

Gradually the force of the storm passed, and Miss Fern staggered faintly
to her feet. Mr. Weil offered to support her with his arms, but she
refused his aid with a motion that was unmistakable. She was making
every effort to conceal her agitation, and she dared not trust herself
with words. After taking a weak step or two, and finding that she could
not walk unassisted, she rested herself upon the arm of a large chair,
and signed to him to leave her. Much mortified, but knowing no other
course, he bowed profoundly and obeyed the signal.

The next morning he received the following letter at his hotel:

      "MR. A. WEIL:--SIR: If you are in any respect a
      gentleman--which I may be excused for doubting--you will
      not allude in the presence of any one to the exhibition I
      made to-day. Had I had the least preparation I could have
      controlled myself. You adroitly took me at a complete
      disadvantage, and you saw the result.

      "I leave to-morrow for a new home. Never again shall I live
      under the roof of those who have betrayed me. Do not think
      I shall succumb to grief because of my sister's conduct.
      She is welcome to her victory. No answer to this is
      expected.     Yours,      M. A. F."

Luckily Archie had escaped from Midlands without meeting either Daisy or
Roseleaf, and he obeyed as strictly as possible the injunction he
received from the elder sister. All he would say was that he had
informed her of the engagement and that she had made no reply. When he
was told a day or two later that Millicent had left the house, he merely
remarked that he was not much surprised, as she was a girl of strong
will and usually did about as she pleased.

Mr. Fern, at first much distressed over his daughter's action, grew
reconciled when he thought of it more at length. He sent a liberal
allowance to her, which she did not return, and made arrangements by
which she could draw the same sum at her convenience at a bank in the
city.



CHAPTER XXII.

WHERE WAS DAISY?


The wedding was arranged to occur in the month of October, and the
preparations, so dear to the hearts of all young women, were pushed with
dispatch. There were to be no ceremonials beyond the ones necessary, and
the company to visit the nuptials was limited to a dozen of the family's
most intimate friends. When the evening came, Walker Boggs was on hand,
wearing an extra large waistcoat, and a countenance such as would have
best befitted a funeral. Lawrence Gouger came, his keen eye alert,
foreseeing several chapters in the great novel that Roseleaf was
writing, based on the experiences of the next few weeks. But Archie Weil
wrote a note at the last minute, regretting that a business engagement
that could not be postponed had called him to a distant point, and
sending a magnificent ornament in large pearls for the bride, to whom he
wished, with her husband, all health and happiness.

Mr. Gouger had had many arguments with Mr. Weil, in opposition to the
early date set for the wedding. He had shown that, according to the best
models, the hero of Roseleaf's novel--which was practically the young
man himself, ought to pass through some very harrowing scenes yet before
his wedded happiness began. He feared an anti-climax, and was
apprehensive that the wonderful romance would lie untouched for long
months while Roseleaf sipped honey from the lips of his beloved. And he
acted as if these things were entirely at the disposal of Mr. Weil--as
if the young couple were mere marionettes whose actions he could
control.

"You could put it off if you liked," Gouger said, complainingly. "You
could introduce other elements that would be the making of the novel,
and you ought to do it. They should not marry before next spring, at the
earliest. You run the risk of spoiling everything."

"Good God!" cried Archie. "You talk like a fool. I would have postponed
it forever, if I could, and you know it. But she loves him, and there is
nothing to be gained by delay. Confound you and your old novel! With the
happiness of two human beings at stake you talk about a piece of fiction
as if it was worth more than a blissful life!"

Gouger straightened himself up in his chair.

"It is worth a hundred times more!" he answered, boldly. "A novel such
as Roseleaf's ought to be would give pleasure to millions. But I see you
are bound to have your way. The only hope left is that there will be
trouble enough after marriage to spice the story to the end. A milk and
water, nursing-bottle existence for them would make all the work already
done on this manuscript mere wasted time!"

Weil turned from his friend in disgust. Could the man talk nothing,
think nothing, but shop?

But Archie did not come to the wedding. He knew the final strain would
be more than he could bear. It was one thing to sacrifice the woman he
loved and quite another to see her given into the arms of the rival he
had encouraged. One may do the noblest things, at a respectful distance,
and find himself physically unable to view them at greater proximity.

Of course Shirley Roseleaf was almost too happy to breathe. But even the
happiest of lovers somehow manage to inhale a sufficiency of oxygen to
keep life in them, though they have no knowledge of the process by which
this is accomplished. He had seen several of his productions in type,
some in the leading magazines, and he had a permanent position now on
the staff of a great periodical. When the month he had allowed himself
as necessary for a wedding journey was ended, he would settle down to
work, and he knew no reason why he might not make a success in his
chosen field. And there was Daisy--always Daisy--he would never again be
separated from Daisy! Who that has loved and been loved can doubt the
perfect content of this young man?

The saddest face at Midlands was that of Mr. Fern, who failed in his
best attempts to appear cheerful. He was not sorry that his daughter was
to be married, he would not have put a single obstacle in her way; but
she was going from him, and the very, very dear relations they had so
long sustained would never be exactly the same again. It was the destiny
of a woman to cleave to her husband. He found no fault with the law of
nature, but he had clung to Daisy so devotedly that he could not welcome
very sincerely the hour that was to take her away.

The marriage was to be early in the evening. Everything was ready, even
to the trunks, filled with traveling and other dresses. The night was to
be passed at the Imperial Hotel in the city, and the journey proper to
be begun some time on the following day.

On the most momentous morning of her life, Daisy Fern announced that she
had an errand to do in the city and would return shortly after twelve
o'clock. As she was so thoroughly her own mistress nobody thought of
questioning her more particularly. But twelve o'clock came, and one
o'clock, and three, and five, and she neither was seen at Midlands nor
was any message received from her.

By the latter hour Mr. Fern was in a state of excitement. The entire
house was in an uproar. The servants were catechised, one by one, to see
if perchance any of them could guess the young lady's destination. Word
was sent by telephone to various places in the city, asking information,
but none was received. She had left the house, ostensibly to go to New
York, and nothing could be learned of her from that moment.

As Mr. Roseleaf was not expected until some time later, Mr. Fern went at
last to the city and sought the young man at his rooms. He found him in
the company of Lawrence Gouger, dressed for the ceremony, and impatient
for the arrival of the hour when he should start for his bride's abode.
It may be conceived that the news Mr. Fern brought was not the
pleasantest for him.

"You--you have not seen Daisy?" came the stammering question, as the
father paused on the threshold of Roseleaf's room.

"To-day? Why, certainly not!" was the stupefied answer. "I was just
about to start for your house."

Mr. Fern sank upon a sofa just inside the door.

"Something--has--happened!" he groaned. "Ah, my boy, something has
happened to my child!"

Roseleaf looked at Mr. Gouger, who in turn looked at Mr. Fern.

"She--went away--this morning--on an errand," enunciated the father,
slowly, "saying--she would return--at noon. And--that is the last
we--have seen--of her. Oh, it seems as if I should go mad!"

It seemed as if Shirley Roseleaf would go mad, too. He looked like one
bereft of sense, as he stood there without uttering a word.

"Perhaps she has returned since you left home," suggested Mr. Gouger, on
the spur of the instant. "Don't lose heart yet. Let me send to a
telephone office and have them inquire. You have a 'phone in your house,
have you not, Mr. Fern?"

The father bowed in reply. He was too crushed to say anything
unnecessary. Touching a button, Mr. Gouger soon had a messenger
dispatched for the information desired, and in the meantime he tried, by
suggesting possibilities, to soothe the two men.

"You shouldn't get so excited," he protested. "There are a hundred
slight accidents that might be responsible for Miss Daisy's delay.
Perhaps she has met with an insignificant accident, and the word she
has sent to her father has gone astray--as happens very often in these
days. That would account for everything. Or she may have taken the wrong
train--an express--that did not stop this side of Bridgeport, and
hesitated to telegraph for fear of alarming you. 'Don't cry till you're
hurt' is an old proverb. Why, neither of you act much better than as if
her dead body had been brought home!"

They heard him, but neither replied. They waited--it seemed an hour--for
an answer to the telephonic message, and it came, simply this: "Nothing
has been heard as yet of Miss Fern."

The thoroughly distressed and disheartened father shrank before the gaze
of the lover, when this news was promulgated by Mr. Gouger.

"What swindle is this?" were the bitter words he heard. "Have you
decided on another husband for your daughter, and come to break the news
to me in this fashion?"

Mr. Gouger interfered, to protect the old man whose suffering was
evidently already too acute.

"Hush!" he exclaimed. "Can't you see that you are killing him? Be
careful!"

Roseleaf waved him back with a sweep of his arm.

"Your advice has not been asked," he replied, gutturally. "I can see
some things, if I _am_ blind. That girl has gone to the man she
loves--the man he," indicating the father, "wanted her to marry. He is
rich, and I am poor, and he has won! It is plain enough! And he
pretended, day by day, to my face, that he had given her up for my sake;
and she put her arms around me, and beguiled me into confidence, in
order to strike me the harder at the end. Well, let him have her! I
wouldn't take her from him. But there's an account between us that he
may not like to settle. When you see your friend, tell him that!"

Mr. Fern heard these terrible sentences like a man in a dream. It could
not be Roseleaf that was uttering them--the man to whom his young
daughter had given the full affection of her innocent heart! He was mad
to talk that way. Mad! mad!

"You will repent these rash statements," said the old gentleman, rising
faintly from his seat. "You will repent them, sir, in sackcloth. I wish
with all my heart that Mr. Weil was here, for he would at least try to
help me find my child."

Mr. Gouger suggested that Mr. Weil would be at Midlands soon, as he had
an invitation to the wedding.

"No," replied Mr. Fern, chokingly. "I received word from him to-day that
he could not attend. He is out of the city."

Roseleaf gave vent to an expression of nausea.

"Are you yourself deceived?" he exclaimed. "He will not attend _my_
wedding; certainly not! He is attending _his own_. If, indeed, he does
not compass his ends without that preliminary."

Weak and old as Mr. Fern was he would have struck the speaker had not
the third person in the room interfered.

"Do you dare to speak in that manner of my daughter!" he cried. "Must
you attack the character not only of my best friend but of my child as
well? I thank God at this moment, whatever be her fate, that she did not
join her life to yours!"

With a majestic step he strode from the presence of his late prospective
son-in-law. Gouger, with a feeling that some one should accompany him,
followed. But first he turned to speak in a low key to the novelist.

"Do not go out to-night, unless you hear from me," he said,
impressively. "This may not be as bad as you think, after all. I will go
to Midlands and return with what news I can get. Don't act until you are
certain of your premises."

The young man was removing his wedding suit, already.

"I shall not go out," he responded, aimlessly.

"You might write a few pages--on your novel," suggested the critic, as
he stood in the hallway. "There will never be a better--"

A vigorous movement slammed the door in his face before he could
complete his sentence.

Hastening after Mr. Fern, Gouger accompanied him home, where the first
thing he heard was that there was still no news of the missing one.



CHAPTER XXIII.

AN AWFUL NIGHT.


It was an awful night for Wilton Fern. The presence in the house of Mr.
Gouger and Mr. Boggs aided him but little to bear the weight that
pressed upon his heart. It was better than being entirely alone, but not
a great deal. Together they listened whenever their ears caught an
unusual sound. Twenty times they went together to the street door and
opened it to find nothing animate before them.

Morning came and still no tidings. The earliest trains from the city
were visited by servants, for the master of the house was too exhausted
to make the journey. And at nine o'clock the gentlemen who had passed
the night at Midlands took the railway back to New York, with no
solution of the great problem.

Mr. Gouger had not been in his office an hour before the door opened and
in walked Archie Weil. The critic started from his chair at the
unexpected sight, and remarked that he had not expected to see his
visitor so early.

"I presume you heard the news and came home at once," he added,
meaningly.

Mr. Weil was pale, and wore the look of one whose rest has been
disturbed.

"I don't know what you mean," he replied. "I was called away on business
that I could not evade, and came back as soon as I could. I fear the
Ferns thought it rather rough of me to stay away from the wedding, but I
could not very well help it. You were there, of course. Everything went
off well, I trust."

The speaker had the air of a man who tries to appear at ease when he is
not. His voice trembled slightly and his hands roamed from one portion
of his apparel to another.

"Then you have heard nothing!" repeated Gouger, gravely. "Prepare
yourself for a shock. There was no wedding last night at the Ferns'.
Miss Daisy disappeared yesterday morning, and has not been seen since."

If Mr. Weil had been pale before, his face was like a dead man's now.
With many expressions of incredulity he listened to the explanations
that followed. He declared that the occurrence was past belief, and that
he could see no way to account for it. Clearly something had happened
that the girl could not prevent. She would never have absented herself
of her own accord. She loved the man who was to be her husband, and if
she had wished to postpone her marriage she could have easily arranged
it.

"I can think of nothing but a fit of temporary insanity," he added, with
a sigh. "And Shirley--poor fellow--how does he take it? Completely
broken up, I suppose?"

When he heard the attitude that Mr. Roseleaf had assumed, Mr. Weil
seemed stupefied. Little by little Mr. Gouger revealed to him the
answers that the young man had made to Mr. Fern, finally referring to
the charge that he (Mr. Weil) had eloped with the bride. Archie's face
grew more and more rigid as he listened, but the anger that the relator
had anticipated did not show there.

"He is crazy," was the mild reply. "I will go and see him, at once, and
enlist his assistance in the thorough search that must be undertaken.
Come, Lawrence, leave your work for an hour and go with me."

Remembering his promise to return in the morning with the latest
tidings, Mr. Gouger put on his hat and coat and entered the cab which
his friend summoned. He felt that he was about to witness another
chapter that would make most dramatic reading in that great novel!

"You had best let me go in first," he whispered, when they stood at
Roseleaf's door. "He is in an excitable frame of mind, I fear."

For answer, Archie brushed the speaker aside and preceded him into the
chamber, without the formality of a knock. Roseleaf lay before them in
his easy chair, bearing evidence in his attire that he had not disrobed
during the night. He greeted his visitors with nothing more than a look
of inquiry.

"I only heard of your terrible disaster a few moments ago," said Mr.
Weil. "I learn that Miss Daisy had not been heard from up to nine
o'clock this morning. We must bring all our energies to bear on this
matter, Shirley. Her father is unable to help us much. For all we know
she may be in the most awful danger. Rouse yourself and let us consult
what is best to do."

Incredulousness was written on the quiet face that looked up at him from
the armchair.

"Why don't you tell us what you have done with her?" said the bloodless
lips, slowly.

Mr. Weil trembled with suppressed emotion.

"This is no time for recriminations," he replied, "or I might answer
that in a different way. We must find this girl. Before we go to the
police let us consider all the possibilities, for they will deluge us
with questions. Did any one think," he asked, suddenly, turning to
Gouger, "of sending word to her sister Millicent?"

Mr. Gouger replied that they had done so. A servant had been dispatched
early in the evening to Millicent's residence and had returned with the
answer that she had heard nothing of Miss Daisy and did not wish to. She
had previously sent a sarcastic reply to an invitation to attend the
wedding.

"And she never came to comfort her father in his distress!" exclaimed
Mr. Weil. "What a daughter!"

They could get nothing out of Roseleaf. He answered a dozen times that
it would be much easier for Mr. Weil to send Daisy home or to write to
her father that she was in his keeping, than to attempt the difficult
task of deceiving the police, who would have enough shrewdness to unmask
him.

"Then you will do nothing to help us?" demanded Archie, his patience
becoming exhausted, though he kept his temper very well. "In that case
we must lose no more time. Ah, Shirley! I thought you worthy of that
angelic creature, but now--"

He checked himself before finishing the sentence, and went out into the
hall.

"I think I had best go to Midlands and consult with Mr. Fern," he said
to Gouger in a low tone. "There is a possibility that his daughter has
returned since you came away. What an awful list of horrible thoughts
crowd on one! If you can help me any I will send you word later."

When Mr. Weil was gone, Mr. Gouger opened the door and looked again into
Roseleaf's room. The young man had not changed his position in the
least.

"He has started for Midlands," he said. "What do you think of his
explanation in regard to his absence last night?"

"I think--I know--it is a lie!" was the quick reply.

"You really believe she went away to meet him--and that he has passed
the last twenty-four hours with her."

"Undoubtedly."

The critic waited a minute.

"Do you think they are married?" he asked.

Roseleaf closed his eyes, as a terrible pain shot across them. He
wondered dimly why this fellow should delight in uttering things that
must cause suffering. Gouger deliberated whether to say more, but
thinking that he had left the right idea in the young man's mind for the
purpose he had in view, he softly withdrew from the chamber and left the
house. When Roseleaf looked up again, some minutes later, he was alone.

       *       *       *       *       *

Mr. Weil's hand was grasped feebly by the owner of Midlands, when he
came into the presence of the gentleman. Though completely exhausted Mr.
Fern had not been able to sleep. He listened wearily while his caller
suggested possibilities to account for his daughter's absence, but could
not agree that any of them were probable. When the idea was broached of
communicating with the police he shrank from that course, but finally
admitted that it must be adopted, if all else failed. In answer to a
hundred questions he could only say that he had no idea of anything that
could make her absence voluntary.

"She loved her chosen husband devotedly," said the old man. "When she
hears what I have to tell her she will hold a different opinion."

"Then," said Archie, ignoring the latter expression, "she must either be
the victim of an accident, a fit of aberration, or--"

He could not bear to finish the sentence, but the father bowed in
acquiescence.

Lunch was served and Mr. Weil sat down to it, trying by his example to
persuade Mr. Fern to take a few mouthfuls. Neither of them had any
appetite, and the attempt was a dismal failure.

"I leave everything to you," said the host, as Mr. Weil prepared to take
his departure. "You are the truest friend I ever had, and whatever you
decide upon I will endorse. But I have an awful sinking at the heart, a
feeling that I shall never see my child alive. Do you believe in
premonitions? I have felt for weeks that some misfortune hung over me."

Before Mr. Weil could reply a servant entered with a telegraphic message
that had just been received. Tearing it open hastily Mr. Fern uttered a
cry and handed it to his companion:

      "I am alive and uninjured. Look for me to-morrow.--Daisy."

A gush of tears drowned the exclamations of joy that the father began to
utter.

"Alive!" he exclaimed. "And will be home to-morrow! Ah, Mr. Weil, hope
is not lost, after all. But why, _why_ does she leave me in my
loneliness another night? Is there any way in which you can explain this
mystery?"

Mr. Weil confessed his inability to do so. He tried, however, to show
the father the bright side of the affair, and bade him rest tranquil in
the certainty that only a few hours separated him from the child he
adored. When Daisy came home she would explain everything to his
satisfaction. In the meantime he ought to indulge in thankfulness for
what he had learned rather than in regrets.

"Go to bed and get a good rest," he added. "I will make a journey to the
telegraph office in the city and see if it is possible to trace this
message. If I learn anything I will ring you up on the telephone at
once. And remember, if you do not hear from me, there is a proverb that
no news is good news. Daisy has promised to come home to-morrow. This
is something definite. An hour ago we were plunged in despair. Now we
have a certainty that should buoy us up to the highest hope."

Catching at this view of the case, Mr. Fern consented to seek rest and
Mr. Weil took the next train to the city. Engaging a carriage he bade
the driver take him with all speed to Mr. Roseleaf's residence.
Notwithstanding the harsh manner in which he had been treated by his
late friend, he wanted to be the first to inform him that Daisy had been
heard from. He was smarting, naturally, under the imputation upon his
own honor, and felt that the telegram in his hand would at least remove
that suspicion.

"I couldn't help coming again, Shirley," he said, when he was in the
presence of the novelist. "I know, despite the cruel manner you have
assumed, that you still love Daisy Fern and will be glad to hear that
she is safe from harm. Here is a telegram that her father has just
received, stating that she is well and will be at home to-morrow."

His face glowed with pleasure as he held out the missive, but darkened
again when Roseleaf declined to take it in his hand. The young man had
not moved, apparently, from the chair in which he had been seen three
hours before, and his expression of countenance was unchanged.

"Does she say where she passed the night--_and with whom_?" he inquired.

"No. But she says she is well and will return. Is not that a great deal,
when we have feared some accident, perhaps a fatal one?"

The novelist uttered a sneering laugh.

"My God, Shirley, why do you treat me like this!" exclaimed Mr. Weil,
excitedly. "I have been your friend in everything, as true to you as man
could be! If I had done the dastardly thing of which you accuse me, why
should I come to you at all? I could have taken my bride and gone to the
other end of the earth. We need not have adopted these contemptible
measures. But although I _did_ care for this girl--more than I ever
cared or ever shall care for another--I knew it was _you_ she loved and
I did all I could to aid you in your suit. Have you forgotten how I
brought her here, as you lay in that very chair, and removed the
misunderstandings that had grown up between you? As God hears me, I have
no idea what caused her absence last night! I am going now to the
telegraph office to trace, if possible, the message and find where she
is at present, for I want to relieve her father's mind still more."

Roseleaf seemed partially convinced by this outburst. He left his chair,
and began slowly to arrange his attire before the mirror.

"If you are sincere," he said, "I will accompany you. I will also do my
best to discover the resting-place of this young woman. You must remain
with me till she is found. If we do not see her before to-morrow
morning, we will walk into her presence at Midlands together. Do you
agree to this?"

"With all my heart!" was the joyous reply.

In ten minutes they entered the carriage at the door, and were driven to
the station from which the telegram had been sent.



CHAPTER XXIV.

"THIS ENDS IT, THEN?"


There was nothing to be learned at the telegraph office. As near as
could be remembered a boy had brought the message, paid for it and
vanished. Only one discovery amounted to anything. The original dispatch
was produced and proved to be in Daisy's handwriting. Roseleaf attested
to this, and he knew the characters too well to be mistaken.

It was not advisable, in Mr. Weil's opinion, to go to the police, after
the receipt of this word from the missing girl. It would only add to the
notoriety of the family in case the press got hold of the news. But he
did think it wise to go to see Isaac Leveson and find a man named Hazen,
whose reputation as a detective was great. He could rely on the absolute
silence of both of them. The ride to Isaac's was consequently made next,
and by good fortune Hazen happened to be in. He listened gravely to the
situation as it was outlined by Mr. Weil, but expressed his opinion that
nothing would be gained by doing anything before the next day.

"That telegram is genuine," he said. "It follows that, unless she is
detained forcibly, she will be at home to-morrow. The writing in this
message is not like that of a person under threats, like one compelled
to send a false statement. Your best way is to wait till she comes home,
providing it is not later than she indicates, and hear her story.
Perhaps it will explain the mystery. If she declines to do this, I will
undertake to probe it to the bottom, if you wish."

Mr. Roseleaf took no part in this discussion. He was becoming convinced
that Archie Weil was innocent of any complicity in this affair, but he
was still disinclined to talk much.

"Where shall we go now?" he asked, when they came out of the restaurant.

"To the Hoffman House?" said Weil, interrogatively. "I believe with
Hazen that we can do nothing to-night."

Very well, to the Hoffman House they would go. But they had not been in
Weil's room five minutes when a boy came up with a telephonic message
from Mr. Fern, stating that Daisy was safe at Midlands.

"Let us return without delay," said Weil, enthusiastically. "We should
not lose a moment in removing this terrible cloud! Come, Shirley, we can
catch the six o'clock train if we hasten."

Mechanically the younger man followed his companion through the hall,
down the elevator and into a carriage at the door. Forty minutes later
they alighted from the train at Midlands and were soon in the familiar
parlor at Mr. Fern's. A servant who had admitted them, stated that Miss
Daisy had been home about two hours but that she was now lying down. He
would inquire whether she would receive the visitors.

What seemed an interminable time followed before the appearance of Mr.
Fern and his daughter. When at last they came in together, leaning on
each other, they were two as forlorn objects as one can imagine. The
sight of his sweetheart's woe-begone face smote Roseleaf like a blow. He
regretted to the bottom of his heart the cruel things he had thought and
said of her.

"Daisy!" he exclaimed, stepping forward. "Daisy--my--"

He could get no further, for Mr. Fern, with a majestic motion of his
hand, waved him back. The presence of the intended bridegroom was
evidently not agreeable to the old gentleman.

"Sit down," said Mr. Fern, in a quavering voice, addressing himself
wholly to Weil. "I telephoned _to you_ that my daughter had returned,
for I knew _you_ would be anxious." He bore with special stress on the
word "you." "I--I did not know that you intended to bring--any other
person."

The allusion to Roseleaf was so direct, that he could not help
attempting some kind of a reply.

"Who could be more anxious than I?" he asked, in a tone that was very
sweet and tender; in vivid contrast, the old man thought, to his manner
of the preceding evening. "No one has a greater interest to learn where
she has been these long, desolate hours."

Mr. Fern abandoned his intention not to recognize the fact that Roseleaf
was present, and turned upon him with a fierce glare in his sunken eyes.

"What right have _you_ to ask questions?" he demanded, pressing the
trembling form of his daughter to his own. "You were the first to doubt
her--even her innocence--this lamb that would have given her life for
you only yesterday! She has returned to _me_, and henceforth she is
_mine_! You could not have her though you came on your knees! You wish
to know where she has been! Well, you never _will_! She will not tell
you! It is her own affair. I am speaking for _her_ when I say that we
desire no more of your visits to this house; we are through with you,
thank God!"

It would be hard to tell which of the two men who listened to this was
the more surprised. Mr. Weil felt his heart sink as well as did
Roseleaf. Daisy clung to her father, without raising her eyes, and there
was nothing to indicate that she disputed his assertions.

All was over between her and Roseleaf! Nothing could bring them together
again! And she did not mean to divulge the cause of her remaining away a
day and a night--that day and night that had been expected to precede
and succeed her marriage.

Shirley rose slowly. He bent his eyes earnestly on the father and
daughter, and his voice was firm.

"When one is dismissed, there is nothing for him but to go. I regret
sincerely what I said last night, when the horror of this thing came
suddenly upon me. I love you, Daisy, and I know by what you have told me
so often that you love me. Are the foolish utterances of a distracted
man to separate us forever? Conceive the agony I was in when at the very
moment I was to start for my wedding I heard that my bride could not be
found! If I had not adored you passionately would I have been on the
verge of madness, saying and doing things without reason and excuse? I
am ordered to leave you, my sweetheart, and if you do not bid me stay I
can only obey the mandate. But I love you more at this moment than ever.
All I ask to know is why you made this flight. If your answer is
satisfactory there will be nothing on my part to prevent our marriage."

Archie Weil wished that he could have led this young man aside for just
a moment, to show him that this was no time to make demands or exact
conditions. He had no doubt that Daisy would explain everything, a
little later. All that was wanted now was a revocation of the dismissal
that Mr. Fern had pronounced. But he could not control the stormy ocean
upon which they rode.

"You seem singularly obtuse," came the shaking voice of the old
gentleman. "It is not for _you_ to dictate terms. We want to see you no
more. Is not that clear enough?"

It certainly did not seem to be. Roseleaf lingered, wondering if these
were really to be the last phrases he would hear in that house--in that
very room where he had expected to hear the words that would make this
sweet girl his for life.

"Daisy," he said, addressing himself once more to the silent figure, "I
cannot believe you have so soon learned to hate me!"

She looked up at the solemn face and then dropped her eyes again.

"You will tell me where you were?" he pleaded. "It is my right to
know."

She looked up again, with a wild horror in her features.

"Oh, I _cannot_!" she cried. "I _never_ can tell you. I never _can_!"

This statement shocked more than one person in that room. Up to this
moment Mr. Fern had only understood, from the disjointed expressions of
his daughter when she entered the house, that she did not wish to be
questioned at that time. She had also explained to him that she had sent
the telegram to make the coast clear of all except her parent, as she
did not wish to meet others on her first arrival. When he had urged the
duty of informing Mr. Weil she had acquiesced, not dreaming that Mr.
Roseleaf would be in his company.

And now the old man felt that there was more in the answer she had given
than he had suspected--something very like a confession of wrong. Mr.
Weil felt this also, though he could not believe Daisy meant anything
very heinous, and Shirley Roseleaf had a dagger in his breast as he
reflected what interpretation might be given to her words.

"You _cannot_!" he repeated, ignoring the position in which he stood,
and the presence of the others. "_You must!_"

Mr. Weil made haste to allay the storm that he saw was still rising.

"Let us be considerate," he said. "Miss Fern is not well. She is tired
and nervous. To-morrow, when she has rested, she will be only too glad
to tell us the history of her strange disappearance."

Mr. Fern looked uneasily from his daughter to the gentlemen and back
again. He loved her dearly, and in this new danger that seemed to
threaten her--danger perhaps even to her reputation--he wanted more than
ever to shield her from all harm. Whatever had happened she was his
child. She should not be baited and badgered by any one. But Daisy did
not give him time to speak in her defense. She answered Mr. Weil almost
as soon as the question left his lips.

"It cannot be. Not to-morrow, nor at any other time, can I tell you--or
any person--anything. You must never ask me. It would merely give me
pain, and heaven knows I shall suffer enough without it. Let me say a
little more, for this is the last time I shall ever speak of these
things. To you, Mr. Weil, I want to give my warmest thanks. You have
been a true friend to me and mine. I do not mean to seem ungrateful, but
I can tell you no more. And as for you, Shirley," she turned with set
eyes to the novelist, "you know what we were to each other. It is all
ended now. Even if you had expressed no disbelief in me when you heard I
had disappeared, it would be just the same. I hold no hard feelings
against you, whatever my father may say. It is simply good-by. I shall
not remain here much longer. Do not let this make you unhappy any longer
than you can help. Now, you must excuse me, for my strength is gone."

Daisy had been much longer saying these things than the reader will be
in perusing them. They had come in gasps, as from one in severe pain,
and there were pauses of many seconds. When she had finished she rose,
and leaning heavily on the feeble old man who escorted her, walked
slowly out of the room.

"Well, this ends it, then," said Roseleaf, gloomily, following the fair
figure with heavy eyes.

"No, Shirley, it does not; it _shall_ not!" replied Weil. "There is some
dreadful mistake here, and a little time will clear it away. Have
patience."

The novelist gazed at the speaker with a strange look.

"I have treated you like a brute," he said, slowly. "And I have treated
Mr. Fern just as badly. My punishment is well deserved. But how can this
puzzle of her absence be accounted for! Of course she would have had to
satisfy me on that point before I could have married her."

The listener turned giddily toward a window.

"And yet you talk of love!" he said, recovering. "If that girl had done
me the honor she did you I would not have _asked_ her such a question--I
would have refused to _listen_ if it gave her the slightest pain to
tell."

"I wonder she did not love you instead of me--for she did love me once,"
was the sober reply. "You would be a thousand times better, more
suitable, than I."

There was no reply to this, but the two men walked slowly out of the
house and to the station, where they took the next train for the city.
On the way they talked little, and at the Grand Central Depot they
separated.

Lawrence Gouger, who had in some strange way learned the news of Miss
Fern's return, was awaiting Roseleaf in his rooms.

"Well, I hear the missing one is found," he said, as the novelist came
in.

"Yes. She is with her father. But the peculiar thing is that she closes
her lips absolutely about her absence. She not only refuses to speak
now, but announces that her refusal is final."

Mr. Gouger hesitated what card to play.

"When does the marriage take place?" he asked, finally.

"With me? Never. I have been thrown over. Unless she had explained I
could not have married her, any way; could I?"

The critic said he did not know. It would certainly have been awkward.

"And what is your theory?" he added. "Do you still lay anything to
Weil?"

"No. I am completely nonplussed. But, never mind. It is over."

Roseleaf stretched himself, and yawned.

"Do you know, Gouger, I almost doubt if I have really been in love at
all. I feel a queer sense of relief at being out of it, though there is
a dull pain, too, that isn't exactly comfortable. I told Archie coming
in that she should have married _him_. Upon my soul I wish she would.
She's an awful nice little thing, and he has a heart that is genuine
enough for her. Well, it's odd, anyway."

Astonishment was written on the face of the other gentleman as he heard
these statements.

"You have at least gained one point," he said, impressively. "You have
done the best part of the greatest novel that ever was written. Sit down
as soon as you can and finish it, and we shall see your name so high up
on the temple of fame that no contemporary of this generation can reach
it."

"So high the letters will be indistinguishable, I fear," responded
Roseleaf, with a laugh. "Where do you think I can get the heartiest
supper in New York? I am positively starved. I don't believe I've eaten
a thing since yesterday. If you can help me any to clear the board, let
us go together."

This invitation was accepted, and Roseleaf began making a more
particular toilet, taking great pains with the set of his cravat and
spending at least ten minutes extra on his hair when he had finished
shaving himself. He never had allowed a barber to touch his face.

"You won't lose any time on the novel, will you?" asked Gouger,
anxiously, while these preparations were in progress. "You must take
hold of it while the events are fresh in your mind."

"All right. I'll begin again to-morrow morning, and stick to the work
till it's done. Where shall we go to supper? I'll tell you--Isaac
Leveson's."

The critic could not conceal his surprise at the overturn that had taken
place so suddenly in the young man's conduct. He stared at him with a
look that approached consternation.

"You want to go there!" he exclaimed, unable to control himself. "You
wish to dine with some pretty girl, eh?"

Roseleaf started violently.

"No, no! Not--yet!" he answered. "We can get a supper room without that
appendix. I wish to be among men as mean as myself. I want to dine in a
house full of people who would cut a woman's throat--or break her
heart--and sleep soundly when they had done it!"



CHAPTER XXV.

AN UNDISCOVERABLE SECRET.


The Ferns did not stay much longer at Midlands. Crushed by their
misfortunes neither cared to remain near the scenes that had made them
so unhappy, nor where they would be likely to meet faces which kept
alive their grief. The father knew no more than at first concerning the
strange conduct of his daughter. She had told him nothing, and he had
not asked her a single question. It was enough for him that she was
bowed with a great trouble. His only thought was to mitigate her
distress in every possible way. He was old--how old he had not realized
until that week when she changed from a happy, laughing girl, standing
at the threshold of a marriage she longed for, to a sombre shadow that
walked silently by his side. He was the one who under ordinary
circumstances should have received the care and the thoughtfulness--but
everything was altered now. He guided and directed the younger feet,
even though his own were faltering and slow.

Where they had gone no one seemed to know. Archie Weil received one
brief note from Mr. Fern thanking him again in touching phrase for his
many kindnesses, and saying that Daisy wished to add her most earnest
wish for his happiness. The letter said they were going away for some
time; but no more. He went one day to Midlands, hoping to learn
something from the servants, and found the home entirely deserted. A
neighbor told him a real estate agent near by had the keys, but that the
place was neither for sale nor to rent. The agent, when found, could add
nothing to his stock of information. Mr. Fern had merely mentioned that
he was going on a journey and asked to have a man sleep at the house
during his absence, as a precaution against robbery.

Mr. Weil saw Roseleaf two or three times, but the interviews were so
unsatisfactory that he felt them not worth repeating. The novelist told
him, as he had told Gouger, that he did not believe he had ever really
loved Daisy, and was actually relieved now that the strain was ended. No
persuasion could turn him from this statement, which he made rather in
explanation of his present course than as a defense of it. Gouger had
persuaded him that a love affair was necessary to develop his talents as
a writer. Before he knew what he was about, such an affair had been
precipitated upon him. He had felt its pleasures and pains to the
uttermost, and now it was ended. All that was left as a result was a
pile of MSS. which the critic pronounced wonderful. It was as if he had
been in a trance, or mesmerized. Henceforth he would confine his
writings to actualities or to poetic imaginings.

Talking with a man who held these views was not inspiring, to put it
mildly, and Archie reluctantly gave up all hopes of making Daisy Fern a
happy woman through this source. He had dreamed of unraveling the
mystery that surrounded her and placing the young couple again in the
position which, by some horrible mischance, had been so vitally changed
in the short space of one day. Though he still loved Daisy with all the
warmth of his nature, Archie had no thought of trying to win her for
himself. She had given the fullness of her innocent heart to Roseleaf
and he did not believe she was one to change her affections to another
so soon as this.

What had happened! What had happened! He thought it over day by day, and
night by night.

Among the things he did before leaving New York--for he felt that a
journey was necessary for him--was to seek out Millicent. He found the
elder sister adamant to every suggestion of love for her family. She
believed herself injured by them, and would have nothing more to do with
either. As to the strange affair regarding Daisy she declared she had no
theory. She did not think it sufficiently interesting even to try to
formulate one. Her time was given to writing, and she had found another
assistant that quite filled Roseleaf's place. The firm of Scratch &
Bytum had accepted her latest novel, as she did not care to have
anything more to do with Mr. Gouger.

When she mentioned the name of Roseleaf, Mr. Weil looked at her
intently, and saw that she uttered it with the utmost calmness. She had
hardened. Her fancied grievances had made her a different woman. She was
cynical before, but now she was bitter. He would not have believed that
such an alteration could have taken place in so short a time.

"What is your new book about?" he asked, trying to be polite.

"Crime!" she answered briefly. "It deals with the lowest of the low. It
suits the mood I am in. I am writing of things so terrible that they
will hardly be credited. To get at my facts I have to go into the most
depraved quarters, and associate with the _canaille_. But I am going to
make a hit that has not been equaled in recent years!"

He smiled sadly.

"Roseleaf had the same expectation," he said. "And yet he tells me that
he is doing nothing on that wonderful tale over which I have heard
Gouger rave so often. He has reached a point where he can go no farther,
and unless he rouses himself, all he has done is merely wasted time."

Millicent closed her eyes till they resembled those of a cat at noonday.

"Keep watch for mine," she said. "It will be all I claim for it."

During the winter Mr. Weil was in California. As spring approached he
returned to the East and visited a well known resort in North Carolina,
where by one of those curious coincidences that happen to travelers, he
found himself placed at table exactly opposite to Mr. Walker Boggs. The
ordinary salutations and explanations followed, and then Mr. Boggs
alluded to a more interesting subject.

"I think I can surprise you," he remarked, "by something that I learned
the other day. Mr. Fern and Miss Daisy are living within five miles of
here."

It was certainly news, and entirely unexpected at that. Those people
might be in Greenland, for all Archie had known, and indeed he had
supposed they were on the other side of the ocean. He listened with
interest while Boggs went on to say that they had hired an old
plantation house and grounds and were living a strictly secluded life.
The narrator had seen them in one of his drives through the country, and
had talked a few minutes with Mr. Fern; but--and he said it with a touch
of pique--he had not been invited to visit them, nor had any apology
been made for the neglect.

"By George, I thought it rather tough!" he added, "considering the way
you and I got him out of that nigger's clutches."

"But you must remember what he has since endured," replied Archie,
mildly.

"And there's been no explanation, of any sort?"

"Not the slightest. I'd give half I'm worth if I could get a clue. It
worries me all the time. A life like that girl's ruined--simply
ruined--in twenty-four hours, and nobody able to tell why! It's enough
to drive a man frantic!"

Mr. Weil did not drive immediately to Oakhurst, which he learned was the
name of the estate that Mr. Fern rented, but he enclosed his card in a
hotel envelope and sent it there by mail, without a word of comment. If
they thought it best to see him he would be glad to go, otherwise he
would not intrude on their privacy.

Several days after--mails were slow in the South--an answer came. It
briefly requested that Mr. Weil and Mr. Boggs, if the latter were still
in town, would come to lunch on the following Wednesday. Boggs fumed
slightly at the apparent difference made between him and Weil, but ended
by going with his friend to Oakhurst.

Mr. Fern did not look any worse than when Archie had last seen
him--indeed, if anything, he had improved in appearance. Time helps most
griefs to put on a better face, and though the marks of what he had
passed through would not be likely to leave his countenance, the utter
hopelessness had in a measure disappeared. When Daisy came into the
parlor, she also wore a mien not quite so crushed as when she left the
room at Midlands with her words of farewell. Whatever her trouble was,
it had not left her without something to live for. Her youth was doing
its work, and it seemed to the anxious eyes of the onlooker that time
would restore her nearly, if not quite, to her former radiance.

In the presence of Mr. Boggs, neither father nor daughter cared to
discuss the past. They talked of the plantation on which they resided,
of the pleasant drives in the vicinity, and of matters connected with
the world in general, of which they had learned through the newspapers.
But after the lunch was finished Archie found himself alone with Daisy,
wandering through the extensive oak forest that gave the place its
name.

"How long shall you stay here?" he asked her, as a prelude to the other
questions he wanted to follow it.

"I don't know," she replied. "We shall probably go north during the warm
weather, perhaps to the White Mountains."

He suggested that it must be rather lonesome at Oakhurst.

"Not for us," she said, quickly. "We are all in all to each other, and
require no thickly settled community to satisfy us."

"Daisy," he said, after a pause, "there are things I must say to you,
and I hope--with all my heart--you will find a way to answer them. In
the first place, do you believe me, really, truly, your friend?"

She placed her hand in his for answer. The action meant more than any
form of words.

"Then, tell me--tell me as freely as if I were your brother, your
priest--why you stayed from home that night."

She withdrew the hand he held, to place it with the other over her eyes.

"It is impossible," she responded, with a gasp. "I told you that I never
could explain, and I never can."

He looked sorely disappointed.

"I know no person on earth--not even my father," she proceeded, giving
him back the clasp she had loosened, "that I would tell it to sooner
than you. I have not given him the least hint. I know it leaves you to
think a thousand things, and I can only throw myself on your mercy; I
can only ask you to remember all you knew of me before that day, and
decide whether a girl can change her whole mental and moral attitude in
a moment."

He drew her arm caressingly through his, and breathed a sigh on her
forehead.

"Not for one second have I doubted your truth!" he replied. "Believe
that, Daisy, through everything. But I hoped for an explanation, for
something that might assist me to punish the guilty ones, for such there
must have been."

The face that she turned toward him was full of terror.

"Why do you say that?" she exclaimed.

"Because--"

"No, no!" she cried, interrupting him. "I do not want to hear you! We
must not talk on the subject! There is nothing to be told, nothing to be
guessed. This must be alluded to no more between us. It must end here
and now!"

Thoroughly disappointed, he could do no more than acquiesce in the
decision, and he indicated as much by a profound bow. Then she changed
the conversation by an abrupt allusion to Roseleaf. When he told her, as
he thought it wisest to do, how well the young man had borne his loss,
she said she was very thankful. She had feared that he would suffer when
he came to his senses, and it was a mercy that this reflection had been
spared her.

He spoke of her sister, and of the call he had made upon her,
suppressing, however, the disagreeable features of her remarks. Daisy
said she had written twice and received no reply. It was evident that
the separation in the family was final.

Toward evening the visitors drove back to their hotel, discussing the
strange events that had occurred. Archie Weil did not close his eyes
that night. The love he had tried to suppress broke forth in all its
original fervor. He could not sleep with the object of his adoration
five miles away, so lonely and so desolate.

       *       *       *       *       *

The next day Mr. Boggs went away, and the next after this, a new visitor
carried from the north. On coming out upon the veranda to smoke, Mr.
Weil found Shirley Roseleaf there.

The surprise was mutual. Dying of ennui, Archie was glad even to meet
the novelist. They talked for hours and afterward went to ride together.
It appeared that Roseleaf had come south to get material for an article
in the interest of the magazine on which he was employed.

One night, a week later, Roseleaf came into Weil's room and asked if he
would like to take a moonlight canter with him. Glad of any means to
vary the awful monotony Archie accepted, and the horses were soon
mounted. Weil noticed that the route was in the direction of Oakhurst,
but as he supposed Roseleaf knew nothing of the presence of the Ferns
there, and as the family were doubtless abed at this time, he made no
attempt to induce him to take an opposite course. It was a sad pleasure
to pass within so short a distance of the roof that sheltered the one he
loved best. On they rode, until they were within a mile of Oakhurst,
and then Roseleaf drew his animal down to a walk. A little further he
turned sharply into a by-path and alighted.

"What's all this?" asked Archie, stupefied with astonishment.



CHAPTER XXVI.

"I PLAYED AND I LOST."


Roseleaf did not immediately reply. He busied himself by tying his horse
to a tree, taking particular pains to make the knot good and strong. He
apparently wanted a little time to think what form of words to use.

"I want you to see something that will interest you," he said, finally,
in the lowest tone that could well be heard. "If you will follow my
example and accompany me some distance further I think you will be paid
for your trouble."

Mr. Weil was pale. He felt certain that this strange visit had been
premeditated, and that some revelation regarding the Fern family was
about to be made. The dread of an unknown possibility for which he had
no preparation--affecting the girl for whom he had so deep a
love--unmanned him.

"I have a right to ask you to explain," he responded. "If your statement
is satisfactory I will accompany you gladly. I do not see the need of
any mystery in the matter."

The younger man drew a long breath and looked abstractedly at the ground
for some moments. Then he spoke again:

"There are subjects," he said, "that one does not like to discuss. There
are names that one hesitates to pronounce. If you will tie your horse
and go with me, your eyes and ears will make questions unnecessary."

A momentary suspicion flashed through the mind of the other--a suspicion
that he was being beguiled to this lonely spot from a sinister motive
that boded his safety no good. But it was immediately dismissed, and
after another second of delay, Archie slipped from his saddle and
followed the example of his companion.

"Lead on," he said, laconically.

Without waiting for a second invitation, Roseleaf began to penetrate the
wood. He found a footpath, after going a short distance, and crept along
it slowly, taking evident pains not to make unnecessary noise. They were
going in the direction of Oakhurst, and in less than ten minutes the
chimneys of that residence could be seen in front of them. A little
further and Roseleaf stopped, placing himself in the attitude of an
attentive listener.

The silence was profound. A slight chill permeated the atmosphere, but
neither of the prowlers felt cold. On the contrary, perspiration covered
the bodies of both of them. Roseleaf went, very slowly, along the path,
till he came near a fence, and then, diverging from it, drew himself
quietly into a thick copse, motioning Weil to follow. Here the leader
sank to the ground, with a motion which indicated that the journey was
temporarily, at least, at an end, and the second member of the party
followed his example.

Half an hour passed with nothing to indicate the reason for these most
peculiar actions. Half an hour that was interminable to Mr. Weil, torn
with a thousand fears as to what it might all portend. At last, however,
a faint sound broke the stillness. Some one was approaching. Roseleaf
touched the shoulder of his companion to indicate the necessity of
absolute silence.

Hardly ten feet away there passed a tall, athletic form, walking with a
quick stride, as of one who has no suspicion that he is watched by
unfriendly eyes. As the man's face became visible in the moonlight it
was well that Roseleaf had a pressure of warning on his companion's
shoulder. It was almost impossible for the latter to restrain an
exclamation that would have ruined everything.

It was the face of Hannibal, the negro!

Horrified, Archie turned his bloodshot eyes toward Roseleaf. What could
this strange visit of Hannibal's to that vicinity presage? Did he intend
to murder the master of the house and abduct the daughter? What was he
doing there, at an hour not much short of midnight? The terrors of his
previous imaginings gave way to yet more horrible ones.

But the mute appeal that he shot at his companion produced no answer,
except a resolute shake of the head--an absolute prohibition against
the least sound or movement.

Hannibal reached the fence and, without any attempt at concealment,
climbed over it into the enclosure where were situated the house and
outbuildings of the Oakhurst estate. He acted like one who knows his
ground and has no occasion to pick his way. He went, however, but a
little farther in the direction of the residence. In a place where the
shadow of a smokehouse hid him from the possible view of any one looking
from the windows, he waited in an attitude of expectation.

The difficulty of controlling himself grew stronger and stronger for
Archie Weil. He wanted to end this terrible doubt--to spring over that
fence, pinion this fellow by the throat and demand what business he had
on those premises at that hour. Roseleaf realized all that was passing
in his mind, and kept his hand still on his shoulder, at the same time
warning him by signs that the least movement would ruin everything. It
seemed to Archie, when he thought it over afterward, that he had never
endured such pain. He knew beyond reasonable doubt that Hannibal was
awaiting some one by appointment. Who could it be? That was the
stupendous question that Roseleaf might have answered in a whisper, but
that he preferred for some mysterious reason his friend should discover
in the natural course of events. And that course was horribly,
torturously slow!

Everything has an end, and the dread of the watcher changed to another
feeling as he saw distinctly one of the outer doors of the residence
open and Daisy Fern's form come out. Without glancing to the right or
the left she walked in the direction where the negro was waiting. For an
instant, overcome by his apprehensions, Archie closed both his eyes in
despair. The voice of Roseleaf was at last heard in his ear, a whisper
nearly inaudible, conjuring him not to betray his presence whatever the
provocation.

When Archie opened his eyes again he saw that Hannibal stood in an
attitude of respect. When the girl approached he bowed, without offering
any more intimate courtesy. Daisy had the look of one who has made up
her mind to endure an unpleasant interview and desires to end it as
quickly as possible.

"Well?" she said, in a low tone.

"I am going to-morrow," he replied, in a voice that shook with emotion.

"Yes."

"And, as I told you, I want to say good-by once more."

Archie breathed a trifle easier. He could not tell what fears had
crowded upon him--they were indistinct in their horribleness--but some
of them had already flown.

"You are as cold as ever," continued the rich voice of the negro, in a
cadence that was meant to be reproachful.

"Do you think I could be anything else?" was the quick reply, as if
forced from lips that had meant to remain silent. "Has your conduct been
such as to make me like or respect you?"

The negro's eyes fell before her indignant gaze.

"No," he answered, humbly. "I expect nothing; I ask nothing. I can see
my mistakes now. And yet, it would have been no different had I played
the part of an angel toward you. The entire question with you was
settled in advance by the fact that my skin was black."

The pressure on Weil's shoulder grew heavier, from time to time, as his
companion realized his temptation to break from his covert.

"If it had been as white as any man's who ever lived," replied Daisy,
boldly, "your conduct would have earned the contempt of a
self-respecting person! A blackmailer, an abductor, a conspirator
against the peace of mind of an old man and a young girl who never
harmed you! I wonder you can talk of other reasons when you created so
many by your wicked acts!"

Hannibal shrugged his shoulders.

"It is true, nevertheless," he replied. "I am a negro. In a moment of
insanity I dreamed I was a Man! I dreamed I might gain for my wife a
woman whose ancestors had been born in a more northerly clime than my
own. To gain that end I took the only course that seemed open. I
possessed myself of an influence that would make her father fear me.
Well, I played and I lost--and then, like other players and losers, even
white ones, I was desperate. You were to be married to another--a man I
hated. Life had lost its only charm, I could not bear that you should be
his bride. My torture was intense. I asked but for death."

These revelations, so novel to at least one of the listeners, smote him
with terrific force.

"You asked for more!" said the girl, hoarsely. "You asked for my death
as well as your own. And you wanted me to die in such a situation that
all the world would say I had perished willingly with you. Could
anything more cowardly be conceived! Was anything more dastardly ever
devised! It was the morning of my wedding day; my father was waiting for
me at home; my promised husband was preparing for the bridal; my friends
were invited to the ceremony. What were all these to you? With
Mephistophelian cunning you sent me a letter in another person's
handwriting, saying that, if I would come to a certain address, and pay
fifty dollars, several forged notes given by my father would be returned
to me. You knew I would respond. You knew I would tell no one where I
was going, as I did not expect to be detained more than an hour, and
there was apparently the strongest reasons for secrecy. And when I was
completely in your clutches you gave me the alternative of _marrying_
you--ugh!--or of taking the poison you had so carefully prepared. Oh,
how _could_ you! how _could_ you, when you professed to _like_ me!"

There was a low gurgle in Archie Weil's throat, that he could not
suppress. Fearful that it might be heard in that dead silence, Roseleaf
shook his companion slightly. Mingled with his other emotions there now
came to Weil a stupefied wonder at the apparent coolness of the
novelist.

"When one is willing to die for his love, it should not be questioned,"
said the negro. "I could not have you in life--I wanted you in death. I
wanted the world, which had despised me, to think a beautiful woman had
preferred to die with me rather than marry a man she did not wish to
wed. But why should we recall that dreadful day and night? You won the
victory. You, with your superior finesse, triumphed over the African as
your race has always triumphed over mine. I demanded love or death. You
dissuaded me from both. And the next day I permitted you to depart, and
saw vanish with you the last hope of happiness I shall ever feel."

The rich voice of the speaker broke completely at the close, but the
girl who heard him seemed to feel no sympathy for his distress.

"Always yourself!" she exclaimed. "Do you ever think of the life you
left to _me_--a life hardly more kind than the murder you contemplated.
Before you opened the portals that you had meant for my tomb you made me
swear never to reveal where I had passed those hours. Never, no matter
what the provocation, was I to utter one word to implicate you in the
tragedy that had ruined two households. _You_ were the one to be
protected--_I_ the one to suffer! Had it not been for the sacrifice to
my reputation in being found there with you dead--no explanation being
possible from my closed lips--I would have accepted the alternative and
swallowed the poison rather than live to bear what I do to-day!"

Weil closed his eyes again. His brain was swimming.

"And you are sure," asked the negro, after a pause, "that you have not
violated that promise? You can still swear that you have never, even by
a hint, given the least cause of suspicion against me?"

"Never!" said the girl. "I consider my oath binding, notwithstanding the
manner in which it was obtained. You may live in what peace your
conscience allows you, free at least from that fear."

The negro evidently believed her, for he heaved a sigh of relief.

"Well, good-by," he said.

"Good-by," she replied. "And--you are not to come again, remember. There
is nothing to be gained from another meeting between us. If--if you want
money--I can send it to you."

He lifted his head rather proudly at the last suggestion.

"I do not want any," he said. "I am not low enough for that. I took the
sum from you to go to France, because I hoped--in my infatuation--that I
could make myself something that you would not despise. If I had wanted
money I could have got thousands out of your father, and I could still,
notwithstanding the pretence of those men that they wrote the signatures
I saw him forge. No, I mean to give you back what I had from you, if
ever I can compose my mind enough to go to work and earn it. I have no
ambition. I stay in my mother's cabin, day after day, unable to make the
least effort. Perhaps I can do something--in time."

The negro took a step away, and then turned, as if unable to go so
abruptly.

"Good-by," he said, again.

"Good-by," answered Daisy, impassively. "I want to tell you, now I think
of it, where I got that $1,000 I gave you. It was lent to me by the man
you hated so, Mr. Roseleaf."

Hannibal did not seem to care for this information.

"He did not lend it for any good-will to me," he replied. "I have heard,
by-the-way, that he did not mind losing you--this man for whom you
spurned a heart that worshiped your very footprints. I believe some day
I'll take a shot at him."

The girl shuddered.

"It would be like you," she said, "if no one was looking, and he did not
know of your presence. I don't believe, with all your claims, there is a
manly trait in you."

The tall form drew itself up and the athletic arms were folded firmly.

"Take care!" said the red lips, sharply, and the ivory white teeth
gleamed.

"Oh, I am not afraid," replied Daisy. "My maid is watching us from
behind the blinds of my room. I told her my own story about why I was to
meet you, but should harm happen to me the alarm bell would ring out."

Startled visibly at this information, Hannibal glanced in the direction
indicated, and then began to take his departure in earnest.

"All right," he said, as he mounted the fence. "Keep your word and I'll
keep mine. But if you play any tricks, remember that's a game for two."

The men could not arise without startling Daisy, who would undoubtedly
have uttered a loud scream had they suddenly appeared before her vision.
They saw her stand there for at least ten minutes, before she went into
the house. When she was out of sight, Weil crawled into a safer place
and rose to his feet.

"I am going to follow that cur!" he muttered, between his teeth.

"To-morrow is soon enough," was the calm reply of his friend. "I know
where he lives."



CHAPTER XXVII.

ABSOLUTELY BLAMELESS.


Most men who are by nature excitable surprise their friends on occasions
by exhibiting great calmness. Shirley Roseleaf, who had often been
thrown into the greatest heat by far less important happenings than the
one just narrated, seemed a picture of repose as he walked through the
wood with his friend in the direction of the horses they had tethered.

"How did you discover they were going to have this meeting?" asked Weil,
nervously. "I am all at sea."

"I have been on his track ever since the day I was to have been
married," was the reply. "I didn't intend to leave a mystery like that
unsolved. I discovered that the Ferns were living here, and that
Hannibal originated a few miles further on. I found that Miss Daisy was
still a little afraid of him, that he was using an influence over her
which was to say the least strange. Before I got at the truth I had some
queer misgivings, you may believe."

Mr. Weil stared at his companion.

"But how did you learn all this?" he demanded.

"Oh," said Roseleaf, with a slight laugh, "I've been in this
neighborhood for two months. They haven't met once but I heard every
word they said. Little by little I gained the truth of the matter. And
to-night, as it was perhaps the last time they would be together, I
wanted you to understand it perfectly."

Archie frowned at the thoughts that crept in upon his brain.

"Excuse me for saying that you don't appear to mind it much," he
muttered. "If you have heard many conversations like the one to which I
just listened, and could go away without expressing the thoughts you
ought to feel, you are made up differently from me."

"That may be so, too," smiled the other, good-humoredly. "But remember
that things are changed. I once was a man in love--now I am simply a
writer of romance."

The elder man shivered.

"Could one be actually in love with a girl like that and then recover
from it?" he asked, half to himself.

"I don't think I ever was very much in love," was the quick reply. "But
never mind that. Let us talk of Hannibal. You spoke of going after him.
What would you have done had you carried out that intention?"

Weil had not thought of the matter in this concrete form. He had wanted
to punish the negro for his crimes against the woman he so dearly loved,
against the old man for whom he had such a warm affection. How he would
have accomplished this he had not decided. The first thing was to follow
and tax the wretch with his offense. Subsequent events would have
depended on the way Hannibal met the accusation. Certainly the temper of
the pursuer would have been warm, and his conduct might have been
severe.

"I don't know," he said. "I should have told him for one thing that he
would have to reckon with something more than a weak girl or a poor old
man if he annoyed that family again. In case he had been impertinent I
cannot say what I might have been tempted to do."

"All the more reason for congratulating yourself," replied Roseleaf, as
they reached the horses, "that you did not follow him. He has promised
to keep away from the Ferns, and I think they have seen the last of him.
What is done can't be undone, ugly as it is. Now," he continued,
vaulting into his saddle, "your course is reasonably plain. You must
visit Miss Daisy soon, let her know that the extent of her misfortune is
in your possession, and after a reasonable time, ask her to marry you."

Archie Weil, who had also mounted his horse, came near falling from the
back of the animal at this very abrupt suggestion.

"That is just what you should do," continued Roseleaf, without allowing
him to speak. "You are desperately in love. Daisy likes you very well,
and it would take but little effort on your part to induce even a warmer
sentiment. Her father thinks you one of the angels that came down to
earth and forgot to return to heaven. She ought not to go through life
alone. Her only trouble is the suspicion that rests on her name--a
suspicion she considers herself bound in honor to do nothing to lift.
Show her that you know how innocent she is, and you will bring a new
light to her eyes, a new smile to her lips."

"But," asked Archie, catching at the straw, "how can I tell her--how can
I explain the source of my information?"

Roseleaf laughed.

"By the novel method of using the truth, or at least a part of it," he
said. "Tell her you were out riding and saw Hannibal, and followed him.
You needn't count me into it. Why, you've got to let her know, or else I
have. It's a thing she would almost give her life to have revealed
without her aid. Go like a man and take that heavy weight off her young
soul."

Finally Weil consented. He would not discuss the question of whether he
would afterwards speak of the hope that lay nearest his heart. But he
would go to her, as Roseleaf suggested, and relieve her of the strain
that had worn so deeply. He would go the very next day. The sooner it
was accomplished the better. The more he thought of it the more
delighted he grew that he could carry such tidings. He could make Daisy
happier. That was enough for him--at present. If he could make himself
happy at a future date--but there was time enough for that.

He sat upright in his saddle and exulted as his horse bounded nimbly
over the ground. Why was it not already day, that he might turn the
beast in the opposite direction! The hours would be very long before the
sun rose and he could start on his joyful errand. The sombre hue of his
countenance disappeared before the contentment that began to fill his
breast.

He slept well, notwithstanding the fact that he expected to lie awake
all night when he retired. In the morning, on going down to breakfast,
he found that Shirley had left still earlier, leaving word that he had
started on a quest for game. Weil did not mind. He had enough before him
for one day. He was going to see Daisy, and he had that to tell which
would lighten the load she had so long felt compelled to carry.

He waited until after nine o'clock, feeling that some regard must be
paid to _les convenances_, even on such an important occasion as this.
When he was in the saddle he rode as slowly as he could bring himself to
do, to make his arrival still later. At last he reached the gate of
Oakhurst, and when he had summoned the porter he sent him for Mr. Fern,
stating that he had happened to ride in that direction and wanted merely
to make a short call.

It was but a few minutes before the servant returned, and the
hospitable master of the premises came with him. Mr. Fern upbraided Weil
for using so much ceremony, remarking that although he was living in a
retired way, there was always one friend he was glad to see. Giving up
the horse, Archie accompanied his host to the house, where the latter
said he would send at once for Daisy.

"A minute," interpolated Archie. "I want a little talk with you first,
alone."

Mr. Fern looked up curiously. He believed he knew what his visitor was
about to say. He had long suspected the feelings which Archie
entertained for Daisy. He knew also that his daughter would consent to
wed no man, no matter who, while there hung over her fair fame the
terrible mystery of her wedding night.

"I want to tell you," pursued Archie, before his host could interrupt,
"that I have made a great discovery--one of the utmost moment to your
family. I know what happened on that day so sad to all of us,
and--listen to me, Mr. Fern!--I know that your child is absolutely
blameless in the matter."

The listener's face grew very white. He understood imperfectly, but it
seemed to him that a tale he could not bear to hear was about to be
forced upon him.

"Mr. Weil," he said, earnestly, "I hope you will not continue this
subject. I do not know what occurred--I do not wish to know. I have
consulted my daughter's sentiments entirely. She prefers to have the
veil unlifted, and I respect her wish."

The visitor could hardly contain himself for impatience.

"That has been true hitherto," he replied. "But Miss Daisy herself will
be more than delighted when she knows I am aware of the entire
facts--which she has been prevented, by a promise extracted from her,
from revealing. Call her, let me tell her that I know everything, and
how I know it, and you will see the happiest girl in America."

Mr. Fern shook his head doubtfully. He was much afraid of doing
something to injure Daisy's feelings. He could not believe she wanted to
have the trouble that had crushed her raked up by any one. Archie
persisted, however, and his arguments at last won the day.

"You do not think I would come here with any tidings I did not believe
agreeable?" he said, interrogatively. "You know I care too much for--for
both of you--to do that."

When Miss Daisy was summoned, which she was at last, and Mr. Weil gently
let drop a hint of what he had to tell, the girl was hardly less
agitated than her father had been. Instead, however, as the visitor
expected, of relying on her natural protector during the expected
recital, she whispered to Mr. Fern, who obediently rose and let her lead
him out of the room. Presently she returned, and took a chair opposite
to Mr. Weil. Her face was so pathetic, her attitude so entreating, that
he quite forgot what he had come to tell, and leaning toward her, took
her hands in his.

"Daisy," he said, "I--I--" and he could go no further.

"Yes, I know," she answered, in a low voice. "But there is a reason why
I cannot listen to you. I have told you that before. I ought not even to
say as much as this. I should not even remain in the room while you
explain the least thing."

He choked down the rising in his throat and hastened, lest she should
follow literally the sentiment she had outlined and leave him to
himself.

"This has all been true, until now," he said. "You were under a promise,
an oath. But--Daisy, last night I heard all that passed between you and
your persecutor, and there is no longer any need for mystery between
us."

She gasped, as if her breath was going.

"You--you heard!"

"Everything. I was within forty feet of you. Are you sorry that the
awful cloud is blown away--that your perfect innocence is proved without
a violation of your plighted word?"

For the girl was crying, slowly, without hysteria, crying with both her
hands tightly clasped over her eyes.

"_I_ did not need it, not I," continued the man, earnestly. "I knew you
had done nothing of your free will that the whole world might not know.
But I knew, too, that you would be pleased to have your innocence
established. And I was glad for another reason. I love you, Daisy. I
have loved you a very long time. Your sister was right in that. Had you
not shown such a marked preference for my friend I would have done my
best to win you, months and months ago. While you felt that you were an
object of suspicion I knew you would not consent to be my wife. Now,
that obstacle is gone and--Daisy--I want you."

The hands were withdrawn from the tear-stained face, a handkerchief was
hastily passed over it, and Daisy turned half away from the speaker.

"You will not refuse, my love," he murmured, bending again toward her.
"You will promise?"

One of her hands strayed toward him, and was clasped joyfully in his
own.

"But, in relation to that other matter," said Daisy, some moments later,
when the sweet tokens of love had been given and taken, "I must be as
silent as before. I have listened to you, but I have not replied. You
can understand the reason. Never speak of it to me again, if you do not
wish to inflict pain. It is something I cannot discuss."

"I may tell your father, though," he whispered.

"It would be best not. He is content now. No, I beg you, say nothing to
any one."

And he promised, like the lover he was, and sealed it with another kiss
on her pure mouth.

"I may tell him of--of our love?" he asked.

"Oh, yes; we will tell him of that together."



CHAPTER XXVIII.

TRAPPING A WOLF.


When Shirley Roseleaf left the hotel that morning he carried a fishing
rod, a rifle, a gamebag and other acoutrements of the sportsman. In his
earlier years, before he ever came to the city, he had been accounted
something of an expert with these implements. Since being in this
country where there was so much to tempt a Nimrod he had made a number
of similar excursions. Although it was some distance to the locality
where he intended to go the young man did not take a conveyance of any
kind. He walked briskly over the road, breathing the pure air of that
early hour, and whistling in a low tone to himself as he went along.

Among the other things he carried was a light lunch, for he did not care
to break his fast so early in the day. He had, besides, a contrivance
for making coffee and for broiling the fish he expected to catch. Even
if his jaunt lasted till night his physical needs were well provided
for. One would not have imagined, to see his free and easy swing over
the road, that he had anything of greater moment on his mind than to
watch for some stray rabbit, or a possible deer track.

Not less than six miles from his starting point, he came to a small
lake, to reach which he had followed a narrow path that led through the
wood. On the shore was a primitive rowboat, or rather canoe, which he
had purchased on another occasion from a native for an insignificant
price. Into this boat the novelist stepped, and after safely depositing
his traps, took up the paddle and used it skillfully. When he had
reached approximately the centre of the lake, he sat down, prepared his
fishing tackle and began to angle for the denizens of the water below.

With the patience of a true fisherman Roseleaf sat quietly for two
hours, during which time he had drawn out but few specimens. The long
walk had, however, given him the appetite he needed, and he now pulled
his frail craft toward the shore, with the intention of lighting a fire
and preparing a meal. But even when he had nearly reached land he saw
splinters flying beneath his feet, and immediately after heard a dull
sound which showed what had caused the trouble.

A stray bullet, from some careless hunter, had penetrated his canoe. The
hole was large enough to render the boat useless, for the water began to
come in rapidly. With two more stout movements of the paddle Roseleaf
forced his craft against the shore and sprang upon dry land. Then he
quietly picked up the things he had brought with him, and walked a
little away from the scene.

"These fellows are getting altogether too careless," he muttered, as he
inspected his damp belongings. "A little more and that thing would have
been tearing splinters in me."

Scraping some dead wood together, he soon had a fire started, and the
cooking of his breakfast was begun. He went about the work
methodically, whistling again in that low key he had used when on the
way from his hotel, and stopping now and then as the noise of a woodbird
or some wild quadruped of the smaller kind came to his ears. He sniffed
the coffee that was boiling furiously and the freshly caught fish that
sent out an appetizing aroma. No meal served at the Hoffman, the
Imperial or the far-famed Delmonico restaurant, could equal this
primitive repast, for him.

Finally, all was ready. Helping himself to a large plateful of the
delicious food, and pouring out a huge tin cup of the coffee, Roseleaf
sat down as if to take his ease while breakfasting. But, instead of
touching the viands he had been at such pains to prepare, the next thing
he did was to fall prone on the ground. And at the same instant a second
bullet whizzed past him and buried itself with a tearing of bark and
wood in the tree just behind him.

If Roseleaf had laid down with suddenness he rose with no less speed. As
he sprang to his feet he picked up his rifle. He made a dozen steps
forward, and then, bringing the weapon to his shoulder, cried to some
one in front of him:

"Halt, or I fire!"

A human form that had been creeping away on its hands and knees, now
stood upright. It was perhaps thirty yards from the speaker, and when it
faced him he saw that the countenance was black.

"Don't come any nearer and don't go any farther off," said the novelist,
gravely. "You are at a convenient distance. I can shoot you best where
you stand."

The negro looked considerably crestfallen. He seemed doubtful whether to
break and run or stay and try to face it out.

"I can't help an accident," he said, at last, when the other remained
covering him with the rifle.

"No," was the answer. "An accident is liable to happen to any one, they
say. But two accidents, of the same kind, on the same day--accidents
that might either of them have been fatal if you were not such an
awfully bad marksman--are too many. When _I_ get ready to fire, there
will be no accident."

The negro was plainly uneasy. He cast his eyes on the ground and
writhed.

"You have dropped your gun," said Roseleaf. "That was right. It would
have incommoded your flight, and its only cartridge was used. You would
have had no time to reload. I know that gun very well; I have heard it
many times in the last six weeks. I knew the sound of it to-day when you
fired the first time. A rifle has a voice, like a man; did you know
that? I knew it was your gun and that you were at the end of it. With
that information in my possession, of course you couldn't catch me
napping twice. I pretended to watch my cooking, but in reality I watched
nothing but you. There is no need that you should say anything,
Hannibal. You could not tell me much, if you tried."

The speaker examined his rifle carefully, still keeping the muzzle
turned toward the person he was addressing. The latter did not seem to
grow less uneasy.

"I spent some time last evening," continued Roseleaf, presently, "in
listening to a little conversation you had with a certain young lady
living a mile or so from this spot. That surprises you, does it? I
thought it might. I learned how you had ruined her peace of mind, how
you had artfully contrived to make her appear the opposite of what she
really was. Now, you have tried twice within the last hour to murder me.
For this I could have forgiven you. What you did to that young woman is,
however, a more serious matter. I don't think anything less than pulling
this trigger will expiate that."

He placed the rifle to his shoulder again, as he spoke, and glanced
along the sight. The negro half turned, as if of a mind to attempt an
escape, and then, realizing the hopelessness of such a move, sank on his
knees and raised his hands piteously.

"If you have anything to say, be quick!" said the hard voice of the man
who held the rifle.

Then Hannibal blurted out his story. He told how he had been led, step
by step, to hope that he might rise above his station, until the wild
idea entered his brain that he could even make Daisy Fern love and marry
him. He pleaded the disappointments he had suffered, the terrible
revulsion of feeling he had undergone, the broken life he had been
obliged to take up. He did not want to be killed. If allowed to go he
would swear by all that was good never to cross the path of the Ferns,
or Roseleaf, or any of their friends again. When his treaties brought
no verbal response he grew louder in his tone, feeling that something
must be done to move the deaf ears to which he addressed his petition.

"If I allowed you to leave here, you would try to shoot me the next time
you had a chance," said the novelist. "I should merely be giving my life
in exchange for yours, which I do not consider a good bargain."

"No, I swear it before God!" came the trembling words in reply.

"I cannot trust you."

A slight sound attracted the attention of Roseleaf as he uttered the
latter words. It was the sound that oars make when dipped in water. With
a quick glance to one side he beheld a rowboat, in which were seated
Archie Weil and Daisy Fern, and they were coming directly toward him.

"Here are some of the others you have wronged," he said, pointing. "I
will wait to see if their opinions agree with mine."

Daisy saw him first, as Weil was handling the oars, and she called her
companion's attention to him. Archie called his name.

"Come here!" was Roseleaf's reply. "I have winged a black duck and I
cannot leave."

A few more movements of the oars brought the boat to the shore, and the
surprise of its occupants can be imagined when they saw the tableau that
awaited them. Hannibal was still groveling on the earth, and the
attitude of Roseleaf plainly showed the cause of the negro's terror.

"What has he done?" was the first question, and it was Daisy's voice
that asked it.

"Let him tell," replied Roseleaf, nonchalantly. "Tell the lady what you
did, Hannibal."

With a courage born of his knowledge of the young lady's kind heart,
Hannibal now turned his attention toward her. He begged her to plead
with his would-be executioner to give him one more chance for his life,
and reiterated his promises to cease meddling with all of their affairs
if this was granted. As he spoke Daisy crept nearer to Roseleaf's side,
and when he paused for a moment to gain breath, she laid her fair hand
on the rifle.

"You would not kill a fellow creature?" she said, gently.

"A fellow creature?" he retorted. "No! But a wolf, a snake, a
vulture--yes."

She shook her head slowly, while Mr. Weil looked on, uncertain what to
do or say. He wanted more than anything else in his life to lay hands
upon the cause of all her woes.

"You have not told me yet what he has done," she said.

"He shall tell you," replied Roseleaf, sharply. "Stand up, Hannibal, and
answer truly the questions I am about to propound to you."

The crouching figure tottered to his feet. The negro was weak from fear.

"Did you try twice this morning to murder me?"

"Yes," replied the shaking voice. "But I was insane with my troubles--I
did not realize what I was doing--I--"

Daisy's slight hand, still on the barrel of the rifle, was bearing it
steadily to the ground.

"Once," she said to Roseleaf, impressively, "you told me you loved me!
Have you regard enough left to grant me a favor?"

He shook his head.

"There are favors," he said, "that are crimes. It is one's duty to
exterminate vermin, in the interest of the human race."

But, even as he spoke, she was having her way. Her slight strength had
taken the weapon from him.

Then, with the face of a forgiving angel she turned toward the negro and
uttered very softly one word, "Go!"

Glancing at the others to see if he might safely follow this direction,
Hannibal disappeared in the thick woods behind him. He walked with an
unsteady step. There was a strange lightness in his brain. Some distance
away he found the boat in which he had come, and entered it,
staggeringly. Pushing from the shore with a feeble touch on his paddle
he set out for his home.

       *       *       *       *       *

The negroes who found his body, a week later, could not decide whether
he had perished by accident or by deliberate intention. The boat was not
capsized, but it was partially filled with water, indicating either that
he had tried to sink the craft or had leaned too heavily to one side in
something like a stupor. When his gun was discovered on the shore, new
speculations were set in motion.

Those who knew him recalled that he had been moody for a long time--in
fact, ever since he came from the north. They remembered him as a young
fellow, four or five years previous, not very different from his mates;
and they had stared in wonder when he returned with fine clothes and
money in his pocket. The dislike between him and his old acquaintances
was mutual. They could not understand him; and what an inferior mind
does not comprehend it always views with suspicion.

A grave was made near the border of the lake, and the single word
"HANNIBAL" was written on the board that marked the spot. But later some
envious hand scrawled beneath it:

"HE WANTED TO BE A GENTLEMAN!"



CHAPTER XXIX.

"THE GREATEST NOVEL."


Archie Weil and Daisy Fern were married in June. There was no need of
waiting longer. It was a case of true love sanctified by suffering and
devotion. The bright eyes and ruddy cheeks of the bride testified to her
renewed health and spirits. The news of Hannibal's death--albeit it
brought a tear to her eyes, had removed the only shadow that stretched
across her pathway.

Shirley Roseleaf did not come to the wedding, to which he was the only
invited guest. He wrote that an important mission from his magazine made
it impossible to accept the invitation, but he sent a handsome present
and a letter to Archie, congratulating him in the warmest manner.

For some time Lawrence Gouger had been urging the novelist to hasten the
wonderful story that was to make his fortune and give a new impetus to
the house of Cutt & Slashem. They had consulted together a hundred
times, and the thirty chapters already finished seemed to leave but a
few weeks' steady work to be accomplished. Shortly after the wedding
Gouger went to Roseleaf's rooms, one evening, and begged him to lose no
further time.

"What is there to wait for now?" he asked. "All the dramatic incidents
have occurred. You only need to wind up with a glory of fireworks,
showing virtue triumphant and vice buried under a North Carolina
sycamore. Come, my dear boy, when may I expect to see the work
completed?"

Roseleaf did not answer for some seconds.

"There is a part of this story that you do not comprehend," he said,
finally. "A chapter is yet to be written at which you have not guessed."

"Indeed!" exclaimed the listener.

"Yes," nodded the other. "So far the character that is supposed to
represent myself appears that of a heartless, cold, unfeeling wretch. Do
you think I shall be satisfied to leave it that way?"

The critic stared at the speaker in astonishment.

"I--I do not understand," he replied.

"I thought not," said Roseleaf, soberly. "Well, this story, to be
truthful, must do justice to the one who is supposed to personate its
author. And, in the first place, to avoid all circumlocution, let me
tell you there has never been a moment since I first loved Daisy Fern
that she has not been the dearest thing on this earth to me!"

Mr. Gouger could not reconcile this statement with the events that had
taken place, and his puzzled countenance said as much.

"I acted like a villain, did I not," continued Roseleaf, after a slight
pause, "when the news was brought that she had disappeared? I seemed to
have no faith in her, no confidence in Archie, no trust in that poor old
man, her father. Why? I was so madly, insanely in love that every
possible phantasy got possession of my excited brain. To lose her was to
deprive me of all hope, all ambition, all care for life. So far, I acted
my real self. If what I supposed true had been proven I think there
would have been a murder. Not of Daisy; ah, no! but of the man who had
robbed me of my treasure. Then I went to Midlands with Archie and I saw
her. I heard her speak, and like a lightning flash it came to me. He was
as honorable as a man could be and she cared more for him than for my
unworthy self. She had contrasted us and discovered how much he was my
superior. And I said to myself at that moment, 'I will give her up! If
it costs me my happiness as long as I live I will give her up! No matter
what happens, I will unite these people, who have been so faithful to me
and toward whom I have acted the part of a cur and a coward!'"

The young man was speaking with perfect composure, but with intense
earnestness.

"The first thing to be done," he continued, "was to take myself out of
their way. The next was to unravel the mystery that had made the
trouble. I knew, when my mind had resumed its natural state, that,
whatever had occurred, Daisy was blameless. I knew that something far
out of the common line had caused her to commit the act which had cast a
blight over her reputation. For weeks I could find no clue. Then, one
day, in the street, I saw Hannibal, the negro for whom she had borrowed
my money and who I supposed was still in France. I cannot help the quick
temper I have inherited, and I confess that the sight of that fellow
aroused my suspicions against this girl, only they took a new and more
horrible form.

"I remembered distinctly what a strong hold Hannibal had on the Fern
family. I recalled, with frightful distinctness, the manner in which he
attended Daisy at table, his interest in her health, the $1,000 she had
given him, her quick movement to prevent my striking him when his
answers insulted us both. Perhaps--but I will not dilate on the things
that came to my distorted imagination. It was enough for me to put a
detective on his track. I engaged Hazen, and in three days he came to
tell me that a white woman had passed the night with Hannibal at a house
on Seventh Avenue, the date corresponding with the one on which I was to
have been married!"

Gouger listened spellbound. It seemed to him that the most exciting
chapter of this weird tale was yet to be written.

"If I had lost control of my senses before," pursued Roseleaf, "what do
you suppose happened when this information was brought to me? But then I
found an excuse for my beloved one. I considered her the victim of one
of those forms of hypnotism of which there can no longer be any doubt.
She could not have gone there without the demoniac influence of a
stronger personality. He had charmed her from her home by the exercise
of diabolic arts. My fury was entirely for him. I sought him at once,
only to learn that he had left the city a few days before, leaving
absolutely no trace. I could not give over the hunt, however. If he was
on the earth I must find him and be avenged for the wrong he had done.
It occurred to me that an influence so strong as he had exerted would
not be given up. Wherever the Ferns had gone, he would probably be
found. I discovered the whereabouts of the family, after a great deal of
effort, and went to North Carolina. With the patience of a dog and the
cunning of a fox I laid in wait for weeks, and one night I saw and heard
Daisy Fern and Hannibal in conversation!"

There was no movement on the part of the critic. He sat as still as a
block of stone.

"When they began to speak I could have sworn that my recent guesses were
correct ones. It was at about the hour of midnight, and she had crept
quietly and alone out of her house to meet this African. But the first
dozen sentences that were uttered gave me a new version of the affair.
It was by no mesmeric power, but by a threat of injury to her father
that this fellow held her under bond. I learned that Mr. Fern had done
something--I could not then tell what--which rendered him liable to
imprisonment. I learned, also, beyond question--for they spoke without
restraint, supposing themselves alone--that, whatever the purpose of
Hannibal when Daisy came to his rooms on the day she was to have been
married, it had not been accomplished. She was afraid of him, but only
for her father's sake. And I discovered beside, though not with perfect
clearness, that a promise of secrecy accounted for her refusal to
explain the cause of that absence which had altered the whole course of
our lives.

"I have said I had watched with patience. I determined to continue my
watch till I understood the entire situation. About once a week they met
in the way I have described, and as the next date was always arranged in
my hearing there was no difficulty in my keeping the appointment. In the
meantime I learned that Hannibal was born in the vicinity, that he was
living a hermit life, and that nobody knew of the surreptitious visits
he was paying to Oakhurst. Then one day I heard that Archie was at the
hotel, and thinking it time that I let him into the secret I went there,
pretending I had just arrived from the north, when in reality I had been
boarding for months five miles away. The rest you know. I was enabled to
prove to him as well as to myself what had actually happened. Since
then justice has been done to us all."

Mr. Gouger had to speak at last.

"To _you_?" he asked. "Do you admit that all this is just to you?"

"Without doubt," said Roseleaf. "I forfeited every right to the woman I
had insulted by my suspicions. There are certain metals that can only be
tried by fire. I was placed in the crucible, and found wanting."

The critic shook his head sagely.

"You are a regular Roman father to your own delinquencies," he answered.
"But tell me another thing. Would you have shot Hannibal if Mr. Weil and
Miss Fern had not made their appearance?"

"I have not the least doubt of it. He was in my eyes at that moment a
crawling adder, whose fangs were liable to penetrate the flesh of some
one if he was not put out of the way. But I am more than glad I was
spared the infliction of his punishment."

Gouger wore a strange look.

"And yet he had one most human quality," said he.

"Yes, I admit that now," was the reply. "In his passionate, barbaric
way, he certainly loved. When I revise my novel I shall try to deal
fairly with him."

"And you will finish it very soon now?"

"As soon as possible."

A month later Lawrence Gouger received at his office a package marked on
the outside, "From Shirley Roseleaf." He could hardly control his
excitement until he had untied the strings, taken off the wrappings and
disclosed the tin box inside. It was a square box, just the right size
for manuscript paper such as he had seen Roseleaf use, and the heart of
the enthusiast beat high as he took it in his hands. A jewel case filled
with the costliest stones would not have seemed to him more precious.
The fame of a new author would soon resound through the world! Cutt &
Slashem would have the greatest work of fiction of recent years in their
next catalogue! And he, Lawrence Gouger, would be given the credit of
discovering--one might almost say of inventing--this wonder!

Opening the box, the critic looked at its contents and then dropped it
with an exclamation. It contained nothing but a small sealed envelope
and _a heap of ashes_!

Ashes! Ashes made from recently burned paper!

When he recovered enough to open the envelope, this note was found
within:

      "TO LAWRENCE GOUGER, ESQ:--DEAR SIR: Enclosed herewith you
      will find the novel for which you have waited so long. I
      hope it will please you in all respects, as I certainly
      have taken the greatest pains with it.

      "On reading it over I thought it best to more thoroughly
      disguise the personality of the characters, lest any of
      them might be injured by its publication. There was the
      happiness of a newly-made bride to be considered; her
      husband's ease of mind; her father's serene old age; her
      sister's feelings. There was even a black man who had
      perhaps suffered enough, and a critic employed by a large
      publishing firm who would not like his true character made
      manifest in type. In order to protect these people I have
      applied a match to the pages. You can best tell whether I
      have performed the work too well.

      "If this novel does not bring me the fame you anticipate I
      shall not much care; I have lost some of my ambitions. If
      it fails to add to my fortune, never mind; a single man has
      no great need of wealth.

      "I go to-night on board a steamer which sails for Europe at
      daybreak. When you read this I shall be on the sea. I have
      secured a position as resident correspondent abroad for one
      of the great newspapers. Perhaps I never shall return.
      Truly your friend, S. R."

"_The idiot!_" cried the reader, as he finished perusing this letter.
"_The imbecile!_ Was there ever such a fool born on this earth!"

Then he apostrophised the heap of ashes that lay in the box before him.

"There never was and never will be so great a work of fiction as you
were yesterday! And yet a little touch of flame, and all was
extinguished! How like you were to man! Let him have the brain of a
Shakespeare, and a pound weight falling on his skull ends everything.

"There was a flood in Hungary last week, in which a thousand people were
drowned. There was an earthquake in Peru where five hundred perished. A
vessel went down off the Caroline Islands. Taken all together, they did
not equal to this world your loss.

"The poet knew what he was saying: 'Great wits are sure to madness near
allied.' Oh, to think that a mind that could execute your thrilling
pages knew no more than to destroy them!

"I will not cast you, sublime ashes, to the winds of heaven! I will keep
you reverently, as one preserves the cloak of a great man, or the bones
of a mastodon. Behold, I close you again in your covers, where the eye
of no mortal shall henceforth behold you."

With the words the disappointed critic performed the action. And to this
day visitors to his room read with wonder the inscription he has placed
on the box:

"_The greatest novel that ever was written._"


THE END.



       *       *       *       *       *



Transcriber's note:

Every effort has been made to replicate this text as faithfully
as possible, including obsolete and variant spellings. Obvious
typographical errors in punctuation (misplaced quotes and the
like) have been fixed. Corrections [in brackets] in the text are
noted below:

Table of Contents: typographical error corrected

    I. A Rejected Manuscript      1[9]

page 41: possible typographical error queried (not changed in
         the text)

    would[wouldn't] touch the mooney, maundering mess. It makes
    my flesh creep, sometimes, to read it." v

page 106: duplicate word removed

    playing at love with each other, might afterwards find that
    [that] they were experimenting with fire.

page 108: possible typographical error queried (not changed in
          the text)

    arm around her again, checking himself with difficulty from
    completeing[completing] the movement) "and dull, and wanting
    in manners, but you are the only young

page 116: typographical errors corrected

    about this matter. She shought[thought] the innocent man at
    her side had not quite guaged[gauged] the interest that Mr.

page 118: typographical error corrected

    caught her passionately in his arms, and knew no better way
    to bring her to consiousness[consciousness] than to rain
    kisses on her cheeks. As might be expected this

page 126: typographical error corrected

    abilities of Mr. Weil, and he had no idea of
    dispuing[disputing] the conclusions of that wise guide.

page 133: typographical error corrected

    "To me? He would not dare?[!] What angers me is the way he
    speaks to the rest of you. He

page 149: typographical errors corrected

    called the Good side nothing stronger that[than] wines were
    found on the bill of fare. On the Wicked side every decoction
    know[known] to the modern drinker was to

page 155: typographical error corrected

    sexes. He half believed that Jennie Pelham and Mrs.
    Delevan[Delavan] were sitting by his bed, more brazen

page 194: typographical error corrected

    young novelist. More than this, she would have
    sufficent[sufficient] on hand to send the future amounts that

page 251: typographical error corrected

    Roseleaf waved him back with a sweeep[sweep] of his arm.

page 278: typographical error corrected

    countenance, the utter hopelessness had in a measure
    diappeared[disappeared]. When Daisy came into the parlor, she

page 297: typographical error corrected

    came with him. Mr. Fern upraided[upbraided] Weil for using so
    much ceremony, remarking that although he was





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