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Title: A Dangerous Flirtation - Or, Did Ida May Sin?
Author: Libbey, Laura Jean
Language: English
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A DANGEROUS FLIRTATION

Or

Did Ida May Sin?

by

MISS LAURA JEAN LIBBEY



The
Arthur Westbrook
Company
Cleveland, Ohio, U. S. A.



CONTENTS.

                                         PAGE.

  Chapter I                                  5

  Chapter II                                 9

  Chapter III                               13

  Chapter IV                                17

  Chapter V                                 20

  Chapter VI                                24

  Chapter VII                               27

  Chapter VIII                              32

  Chapter IX                                37

  Chapter X                                 40

  Chapter XI                                45

  Chapter XII                               47

  Chapter XIII                              54

  Chapter XIV                               59

  Chapter XV                                65

  Chapter XVI                               71

  Chapter XVII                              74

  Chapter XVIII                             79

  Chapter XIX                               87

  Chapter XX                                90

  Chapter XXI                               94

  Chapter XXII                              97

  Chapter XXIII                             99

  Chapter XXIV                             103

  Chapter XXV                              107

  Chapter XXVI                             111

  Chapter XXVII                            115

  Chapter XXVIII                           121

  Chapter XXIX                             126

  Chapter XXX                              129

  Chapter XXXI                             134

  Chapter XXXII                            137

  Chapter XXXIII                           141

  Chapter XXXIV                            145

  Chapter XXXV                             150

  Chapter XXXVI                            154

  Chapter XXXVII                           159

  Chapter XXXVIII                          160

  Chapter XXXIX                            164

  Chapter XL                               169

  Chapter XLI                              174

  Chapter XLII                             177

  Chapter XLIII                            182

  Chapter XLIV                             187

  Chapter XLV                              190

  Chapter XLVI                             193

  Chapter XLVII                            196

  Chapter XLVIII                           200

  Chapter XLIX                             204

  Chapter L                                210

  Chapter LI                               213

  Chapter LII                              217

  Chapter LIII                             222

  Chapter LIV                              227

  Chapter LV                               230

  Chapter LVI                              235

  Chapter LVII                             240

  Chapter LVIII                            241

  Chapter LIX                              244

  Chapter LX                               248



A DANGEROUS FLIRTATION;

OR

DID IDA MAY SIN?



CHAPTER I.


Three young girls, as fair as youth and beauty could make them, stood
with arms twined about one another on the sands of Newport one hot
August afternoon.

Neither of the trio could have been over seventeen. All three were
dressed in white, and looked as delightfully cool, sweet and airy, with
their floating white ribbons and wind-blown curls, as summer maidens
can possibly look.

"If I were an artist, I would immortalize that glorious scene," cried
Lily Ryder, her blue eyes sparkling with the fire of enthusiasm.

"And if I were an artist, I would paint _you_," cried a handsome,
fair-haired young man _sotto voce_, who had stopped short in his stroll
along the sands with his friend, to admire the three lovely young
girls, feeling sure that his keen scrutiny would not be observed, they
were gazing so intently out to sea.

"Who are they, Ravenswood?" he asked, eagerly, turning to his
companion. "You know everyone at Newport worth knowing, of course--'a
golden key throws open all doors.'"

"Oh, of course," echoed Philip Ravenswood, with the slow drawl habitual
to him. "They are called at Newport 'The Three Graces.' The blonde
fairy to the right is Lily Ryder, an ex-governor's daughter. The
bewitching girl in the center of the group is Miss Hildegarde Cramer,
a banker's daughter; and, by the way, she's one of the jolliest girls
that ever dazzled a fellow's wits as well as his eyes--looks more
bewitching every time you see her."

"But who is the other young girl?" interrupted his companion,
impatiently. "According to my ideas of feminine loveliness, she's far
the prettiest of the three."

"Hold on, my dear Royal Ainsley, lest you provoke a duel here and now.
Remember, that trio contains the peerless Hildegarde," laughed Philip
Ravenswood, relighting a fresh Havana.

"All allowance made for difference of opinion," smiled Ainsley; "but
really, Phil, who is the dark-eyed beauty this way?"

Little dreaming of what would come of those few idly spoken words,
Philip Ravenswood answered, carelessly:

"Her name is Ida May. She's the only living relative of the Mays of
Boston, I understand. I do not know the Mays personally, but know them
well by reputation. They are fabulously rich, it is generally believed."

"Suppose you introduce me to the Three Graces," said Royal Ainsley,
banteringly.

His companion flushed, and looked a trifle uncomfortable.

"At another time, my dear fellow," he said, answering Ainsley's
question after a moment's pause. "Let the girls enjoy their rhapsodies
over the sunset in peace this time. We really haven't time just now.
The fellows are waiting for us at the club, you know."

But Ainsley refused to go on; yet he did it in such a gay, off-hand,
rollicking, fun-loving fashion, his friend did not see the fixed
purpose in his action.

He was quite sure that if they stood there long enough they could not
help attracting the attention of the pretty maidens, and there was
no time like the present to meet them. In this surmise, he was quite
correct. Attracted by the sound of voices almost behind them, Miss
Ryder glanced around.

"Hildegarde--Ida!" she exclaimed, in a flutter of delighted surprise,
"why, here is Mr. Ravenswood!"

She stopped short, for just then she observed that the handsome young
gentleman in the white linen suit, standing a little apart from Mr.
Ravenswood, was with him.

It was too late to beat a retreat then, for he had been discovered. He
was certainly in for it, and there was no help for it but to bring his
companion forward with the best possible grace and present him to the
young ladies.

Ainsley bowed low in his most charming manner, raising, with a smile,
his white straw hat from his fair, clustering hair, and Philip
Ravenswood could see, with consternation, the apparent admiration for
his friend on all three girlish faces, including Hildegarde, whom he
had believed to be quite smitten with himself.

Royal Ainsley made the most of that next half hour on the sands. He was
so brilliant, so witty, so clever, he fairly astonished his friend,
used as he was to his gay _bon-mots_ and to see him the life of all
the affairs at the club.

They chatted brightly enough, until Hildegarde exclaimed, with a little
cry:

"Why, there is some bell striking seven! We have been here over an
hour. We must get back to the hotel, girls, or we will never be dressed
for dinner. Won't you stroll back that way with us?" she added, with a
dazzling smile to both of the young gentlemen.

"I think not," replied Ainsley, quickly, taking it upon himself to
answer for his friend. "We have an engagement, and have barely time to
save ourselves from being the annoying cause of giving our friends a
cold dinner."

"We hope to see you both soon again," said Lily, with another blush.

"We do, indeed!" echoed Hildegarde, archly. But the girl with the
velvet pansy eyes made no audible remark, though her crimson lips
parted, then shut quickly again.

The next moment the two gentlemen were gone, and the three young girls
retraced their steps slowly hotelward along the beach. They had a much
pleasanter subject to discuss now than the sunset.

"Isn't the new-comer handsome?" remarked Lily.

"Splendid! but not quite as Phil, though."

Again they both asked together:

"What say _you_, Ida?"

The girl with cheeks like a damask rose and velvety pansy eyes blushed
to the roots of her jetty curls.

"He is like the hero of a novel. I have never seen any one so handsome
before--so fair, so smiling--so--so--delightful," she answered.

"Ida May's heart has been hit by the first shot of those arrows of blue
eyes," laughed Lily, mockingly. "I knew when she declared that, come
what would, she would not fall in love with any young man she met at
Newport, she was more than likely to meet her fate."



CHAPTER II.


For some moments the two young men walked on in silence, which was at
last broken by Ainsley.

"I say, Phil," he began, eagerly, laying his hand on his friend's
shoulder, "do you think any one of those three beauties would accept
an invitation to go down and see the yacht-race with me to-morrow
afternoon?"

Ravenswood looked shocked.

"You are surely jesting to ask my opinion as to whether any one of
those young girls would accompany _a stranger_ to a place of amusement.
You certainly know, as well as I do, that they wouldn't entertain such
a thought for an instant. And even suppose they did? Their parents
would soon let you know what _they_ thought on the subject. Like all
sweet rosebuds, they are guarded by thorns. A very stern _duenna_
usually accompanies them on their afternoon rambles, and woe to
anything masculine who attempts to hold a few moments' conversation
with any one of them. I confess I was surprised to find them alone
to-day--very much surprised, I must say."

"Fate interposed in my behalf," laughed Ainsley, nonchalantly; adding:
"I tell you, Phil, I am a strong believer in fate, no matter what
any one says to the contrary, believing with the poet--everything is
preordained, planned out ahead for us, and we can not escape it.
We are to meet certain people. One girl makes no impression upon us
whatever, no matter how pretty she may be; we meet another, and lo!
with the first glance from her eyes, the mischief's done--_we_ are done
for. Now, am I not correct?"

"I hope you have not made such a fool of yourself as to fall in love at
first sight with any one of those young ladies to whom I was mad enough
to introduce you, Ainsley!" cried Ravenswood, very much nettled.

"And why not, pray?" returned Royal Ainsley, coolly. "You should blame
fate if I have done so, not me, my dear fellow."

"I am sorry for you, Ainsley, if such is indeed a fact," declared
Philip Ravenswood, gravely, "for I do not think you could win the girl.
Plainly speaking, you are no match for either of them. You know that.
But which one of them is it?"

"The one with the pansy velvet dark eyes--with the face of a damask
rose--Ida May, I believe you called her."

Ravenswood looked wonderfully relieved. As long as it was not
Hildegarde, he would not trouble himself.

"By George!" exclaimed Ainsley, stopping short, "I believe those three
young girls ride the bicycle. Now that I think of it, I'm sure I saw
them whirl past the club yesterday morning. They wore natty navy blue
suits and blue veils. I couldn't see what their faces were like. Two
elderly gentlemen accompanied them."

"Yes, they ride the wheel," assented Ravenswood, reluctantly. "The two
gentlemen were Mr. Ryder and Mr. Cramer, who are very enthusiastic over
the sport. There's a millionaire's club of wheelmen here at Newport."

"I presume they will be at the fancy masquerade cycle tournament next
week, then?" said Ainsley, carelessly, though he listened anxiously for
the reply.

"No doubt," returned Ravenswood. "They were all at the last one. By the
way, it's a very select affair. One has to be a member of the club, or
have considerable outside influence, to secure tickets."

"Are you a member?" asked Ainsley, quickly.

"Yes," returned Ravenswood. "It was Hildegarde's father who proposed my
name. I did not get even one black ball, and was consequently voted a
member."

"Do you suppose, if you had been a poor devil of a clerk, instead of
a millionaire's son, you would have been voted in?" asked Ainsley, a
trifle bitterly, a hard light flashing into his eyes.

"Possibly not," replied Ravenswood, with a good-humored laugh.

"I should have thought you would have improved the opportunity of
seeing considerable of the Three Graces awheel," said Ainsley, after a
few moments' pause.

"Their fathers discourage anything of that kind," laughed Philip; "as
more than one young man has found out."

"But Miss May's relatives--do none of them ride?"

"They are too old for that sort of thing," laughed Ravenswood. "The old
gentleman is as deaf as a post, and is relegated to the hotel piazza
because of the gout. His wife is equally as deaf, and is too unwieldly
to venture far from her corner of the piazza. It is laughable to hear
them shout at each other through their ear-trumpets. I have often
thought what a lonely life of it that beautiful young girl must have
with those two old people. It would be unendurable, I fancy, if it were
not for her two young friends."

"Probably they make up for not being companionable by not being so
strict with their pretty prospective little heiress?" suggested
Ainsley, again listening eagerly for his friend's reply.

"They certainly allow their granddaughter, or niece, whichever she is,
more liberty than Hildegarde's or Lily Ryder's parents do. Still, I
suppose they are confident that she can come to no harm, surrounded by
such careful friends and companions."

"Did you say, Philip, you were going to the fancy-dress masquerade
tournament?" asked Royal Ainsley, slowly.

"I do not propose to miss it," responded Ravenswood.

"Do you think you can secure me a ticket, Phil?" asked Ainsley,
point-blank. "Grant me that favor if you can. Remember, I ask it _as a
great favor_. Surely you can manage it somehow for me."

"I'll try," replied Ravenswood. "If it's possible, you shall attend."

During the next few days that followed, handsome Royal Ainsley saw as
much of the Three Graces as was possible. One day he was content with
a bow or a smile--on the next, a few words in passing; but he was wise
enough to keep out of the way whenever their relatives were about.



CHAPTER III.


The fancy-dress masquerade cycle carnival had been the talk of
fashionable circles in Newport for the last fortnight, and now, as the
auspicious evening drew near, excitement was almost at fever heat.

The tickets of admission had been closely guarded; gold could not buy
them. The tickets, which were strictly _not transferable_, had been
duly delivered by messengers to the different members whose names they
bore, and the promoters of the affair felt duly satisfied that no one
outside the charmed circle of Newport's fashionable Four Hundred could
by any possibility invade the sacred precincts.

A whole army of officers were to guard against intruders. There was
to be a banquet in the supper-room at midnight, after the masks of
the merry cyclers had been removed, that would be so startling in its
sumptuousness that the whole country would be talking about it, and
those who had been fortunate enough to attend would never forget it in
their after lives.

Philip Ravenswood had indeed done his utmost to secure the admittance
of his friend; but even he had failed signally. The officers were
inexorable in their polite but firm refusal to his request.

Two hours later the grand masquerade cycle carnival was at its height.
The marble walls of the millionaire club never held a more brilliant
gathering of ladies fair, with eyes behind silken masks brighter than
the diamonds they wore, and men braver than the famous knights of old
in their powdered wigs, satin knee-breeches and spangled waistcoats.

One wheelman, in the costume of handsome Romeo, sprung from his wheel
near one of the fountains, and watched with keen eyes through his mask
the cyclers as they passed him one after another.

"Aha! I have them at last," he muttered, as he noted three wood-nymphs
hovering close together. "Well, I declare, I thought I should have
little difficulty in distinguishing one from the other," he muttered;
"but to save my life, I can not tell them apart. I shall trust to fate
to choose for me, hoping it will be the beauteous Hildegarde."

Suddenly two plumed cavaliers sprung from their wheels before the two
foremost wood-nymphs, and asked permission in silent pantomime to ride
as their escorts around the rink, which request was graciously acceded
to, but with the dignity of young princesses.

"This is my opportunity," thought Romeo. "I must claim the remaining
wood-nymph before some other fellow has the chance to capture her."

The next instant he was bowing low before her.

"May I have the great honor of riding as your escort around the rink,
fair wood-nymph?" he whispered in a low, melodious voice. "Ah, pardon
my speaking; it was purely a slip of the tongue. I should have made
known my request in pantomime. But pray forgive, and do not betray
me, fairest of all maidens, to the floor manager, pray, or I shall be
ordered from the floor in deep disgrace."

"If she answers, I shall know by her voice which one of the three
heiresses she is," he thought.

"Oh, I shall not betray you, Mr. Ainsley," replied the girl, with a
jolly little laugh, showing the whitest of pearly teeth, "and I accept
your escort to ride with me. I--I am so afraid of tumbling off my
wheel, this gay throng and the flashing lights bewilder me so. I--I was
just wondering if you would be here to-night."

"Fair maid, you know me?" he whispered, in apparent amazement. "I am
astounded, yet flattered. Pray be kind enough to exchange confidences.
I have been hoping against hope that _you_ are the one whom I longed to
see here. Surely the throbbings of my heart tell me who you are, fair
nymph. Shall I breathe to you the name of her whom I ardently wish it
to be?" he asked, softly.

"Yes," she answered, eagerly; and there was no mistaking the
characteristic catching of the breath, and the intense, eager gaze in
the velvety eyes behind the silken mask.

He crushed the furtive hope that had stirred his heart for an instant
that it might be Hildegarde, and answered, boldly:

"I prayed the fates to lead me to the feet of beauteous Ida May! Oh,
tell me--am I right? Do be kind, and tell me."

"Then the fates have answered your prayer," she replied. "I suppose I
ought _not_ to tell you until unmasking time, but really I can not help
it. I _am_ Ida May."

"Thanks, ten thousand thanks for ending my suspense, dear girl,"
he murmured, as only Royal Ainsley could utter the words. A few
sweeps around the rink, where handsome Romeo, with his superb fancy
riding, was the cynosure of all eager feminine eyes, midst murmurs
of admiration, then he whispered to his companion: "Come into the
conservatory; the air is too close here. You are riding as though you
were dizzy. Are you?"

"Yes," she answered. "I _must_ have air. I----"

The wheel suddenly wobbled recklessly from side to side, as though its
rider had lost control of it entirely.

Royal Ainsley sprung from his wheel just in time to prevent her from
falling, and in that instant he crushed her closely to his heart, then
as quickly released her.

The excitement was so great, no one noticed this little by-play, or
saw Romeo lead the fair wood-nymph from amid the glittering lights to
the shadowy depths of the cool conservatory. Standing their wheels
against a marble Flora, he found a rustic bench on which he placed
her, taking a seat beside her, dangerously near, his hand closing over
the fluttering little white one, his handsome head, with its fair,
clustering hair, bent near her own. A half hour they spent amid the
dim, cool shadows, the perfume of the roses enfolding them, the soft,
low, bewildering echo of the delicious music floating out to them.

Remember, the young girl was only seventeen, dear reader, otherwise the
place, and the scene, and the fair, handsome lover by her side could
not have infatuated her so quickly or so deeply.

"This is heaven!" he whispered. "How I wish we could linger here
forever, Ida--I your devoted knight, and you my queen, the world
forgetting, by the world forgot! Do _you_ wish it could be so?"

The low cadence of his voice; the thrilling touch of that strong, white
hand that was stealing around the supple waist, drawing her toward
him; the panting of his breath, which she could feel on her flushed
cheek; the mesmeric, steady gaze of those bright blue, shining eyes,
bewildered her--made her heart flutter as it had never fluttered
before.

"Do you wish we could be always together, Ida?" he persisted.

"Yes," answered the girl, with a half sob of affright, trembling under
the strange spell that had slowly but surely been cast over her.

"Then marry me, Ida!" he cried, "this very night--within the hour, and
no one can ever part us after that! Oh, Ida, do not refuse me!" he
urged. "I love you so that I would die for you. Fate surely intended us
for each other, or we would never have met and loved as we do. Oh, my
darling, you can not deny it! You do love me, Ida May?"

She strove with all her might to deny it; but, in spite of herself,
he wrung the truth from her lips--that she _did_ love him. A sudden
light that she could not quite understand leaped up into his eyes for a
moment, and a triumphant smile curved his lips.

"We shall be married to-night, Ida!" he cried. "I will arrange it
somehow;" and as he uttered the words, he told himself that the great
heiress was as good as won.



CHAPTER IV.


The crash of the music, the hum of voices, and the song of the rippling
fountains seemed to dazzle Ida May's senses.

"Promise me that you will marry me, my darling!" cried the impetuous
lover. "Would it be so very difficult, Ida?" he whispered.

She clung to him, the terror deepening in her eyes.

"This is a little romance all our own," he added, clasping her
closely. "Ida, let me kiss you!" He clasped his arms around her and
drew her to his breast. "You are mine in life, mine in death, and mine
through all eternity!"

He kissed the sweet lips over and over again.

She was so young that she believed him.

"Let us be married first, then we can talk over all these things
after!" he exclaimed, impetuously.

She was dazed by his passionate words.

He felt quite sure that this sweet, beautiful, dainty young girl could
not hold out against him if he only persisted.

One more bold stroke, and the heiress would be his.

There would be a scene, he well knew, when he brought the young girl
back to the old folks. But it would surely end by their forgiving her.
They could not hold out against her very long.

"You are--sure--it--it--would be right, Mr. Ainsley?" she faltered.

"You must not call me 'mister' sweet one," he cried. "To you I shall
be 'Royal' from now on to eternity. Let me manage this affair, my
darling," he added.

All power of resistance seemed swallowed up by his indomitable will.

"Go to the cloak-room, my love," he whispered, "and change your attire
as quickly as you can. I will meet you at the fountain nearest the
entrance. Not one word to either of your friends, Ida," he said,
warningly. "Promise me that!"

There was no crossing him. Indeed, the very power to even think for
herself seemed to have left her.

Like one in a dream, Ida May donned her street clothes, the thought
filling her mind of what Hildegarde and Lily would say when it was
unmasking time and they came to look for her. How startled they would
be!

Outside all was confusion. There was a great crush of carriages, the
babble of coachmen and footmen, the crunching of wheels, and the
calling of numbers. To the girl whom Royal Ainsley led on to so strange
a fate it seemed like a dream. Some one followed with their wheels.
Royal Ainsley took them from the man, and she saw him toss him several
pieces of silver.

He did not tell her that he had written a note to an old minister,
living two miles out of the village, asking him to remain at home to
marry them. No name had been signed to the note; but he had argued to
himself that the minister, who probably was sadly in need of making an
extra dollar, would stay at home to perform the ceremony. If his plans
matured well, all well and good; if they miscarried, well, no one would
be the wiser as to who sent the letter.

He assisted her to mount her wheel, and, as if in a dream, they went
speeding down the boulevard.

"We must make quicker time, my darling," he said.

Was it a sob he heard coming from the girl's lips? Ida May seemed to
have suddenly awakened to a sense of what she had done. A brief half
hour since she had been in the midst of a brilliant party, and now,
scarcely knowing how it had come about, she found herself flying with
the handsome lover, whom she had known but a few short weeks, going she
knew not whither.

The awakening came to her like a terrible shock.

"Royal!" she cried, "oh, Royal, what have we done? Where are we going?
I did not mean to run away. I must have been mad. Let us go back
again!"

As she spoke, the great clock from some adjoining tower struck the hour
of twelve.

"We are too late," he said. "We have burned our bridges behind us. They
are unmasking now, and they have missed you. They will soon institute a
search."

She clasped his arm.

"Oh, Royal! I must tell you all!"

The hot, trembling hand clung to him, the lovely young face was full of
awful grief.

"My own darling!" he cried, leaning over and rapturously embracing her,
though in doing so he nearly caused her to fall from her wheel.

Suddenly the heavens overhead seemed to darken, the wind to freshen,
and the booming of the waves, as they dashed heavily against the shore,
sounded dismally in the distance.

"We must make haste," said Royal Ainsley; "there is a storm coming up.
I think we could save nearly half a mile by cutting across this field."

He swung open a gate opening out into a broad patch of land, and Ida
rode in.



CHAPTER V.


"I see a light glimmering in a window a short distance away. I will
take you there, and walk back to the village to get some kind of a
conveyance."

In a few moments they found themselves knocking for admission at the
little cottage from whence they had observed the light.

His impatient knock brought a white, terrified face to a window which
was opened above.

"What do you want?" asked a voice in unmistakable tones of fear.

"I must have shelter for this young lady for a little while," exclaimed
Ainsley, impatiently; adding: "I will pay you handsomely if you will
allow her to remain here an hour or two, until I can go for a carriage
for her."

The window was closed quickly down again, and Royal heard some one say
quite distinctly:

"I tell you it is only a _ruse_. It is an officer of the law."

Again Royal knocked impatiently.

"It is commencing to rain," he called. "For Heaven's sake, open the
door quickly!"

Despite the sobs and protestations of the voice inside, a man opened
the door and stepped out, confronting them. One hand held a lighted
lamp and the other rested upon his hip pocket.

To Royal Ainsley's intense astonishment, he found that he was at the
summer cottage of Newport's haughty mayor.

"I beg your pardon," stammered the man, in dire confusion.

"It is rather late to awaken any one; but you have heard the words,
'any port in a storm'? The truth is, I want to find shelter for this
young lady until I can go for a conveyance to take her to a minister
who is awaiting us to perform the marriage ceremony."

"Oh, that is it!" exclaimed the mayor, with a look of relief coming
over his face. "An elopement, eh?"

"All is fair in love, you know," laughed the young man, leading Ida
into the parlor, his host preceding them.

"Who are you, and who is the young lady?" inquired the man.

It was Royal's turn to hesitate now. If he found out that the young
girl clinging to his arm was the heiress of the Mays, would he not
refuse to perform the ceremony until they could be communicated with?

"I am Royal Ainsley," answered the young man, affecting not to hear the
last part of the question; and Ida, thinking she was called upon to
speak, responded, promptly:

"And I am Ida May, sir."

The mayor wheeled about quickly.

"What! Did I hear you say the name May? Are you the young girl stopping
at the Ocean House whom they call the niece of the Mays?"

The girl was trembling so she could not answer.

"We might as well put a bold front on the matter," whispered Royal,
clasping quickly the ice-cold hands.

"She is, sir," he answered, with an air of assurance which he was far
from feeling.

The effect of his words upon his host was wonderful. An expression that
was almost diabolical flashed over his face.

"Hold!" he cried. "You need look no further for a minister; I will
perform the ceremony. It is a pity for the young lady to have to go out
in the storm to have a little service like that rendered. Old May's
niece!" he muttered under his breath. "Ah, what a glorious revenge it
is for me to give her to this profligate! Of course, old May don't know
anything about the escapade of this girl!"

He clinched his hands tightly together as he looked at her. There was
no feature of old John May perceptible in this slender little creature;
but for all that, he hated her--ay, he hated her with a deadly hatred.
_He knew why._

"I will help you in this affair," he said, with a peculiar laugh that
might mean much or might mean little.

The ceremony was not a long one, and almost before Ida could realize
what was taking place, Royal Ainsley was bending over her, and calling
her his dear little wife. But there was something about the kiss that
he laid on her lips that made a strange shiver creep over her.

Royal Ainsley could hardly conceal his triumph. No matter if the Mays
did find her now, they could not undo what had been done. He had wedded
her and her millions!

"Is there a train that leaves for New York?" he asked.

"Yes; one passes here in about twenty minutes from now. By cutting
across over to that side road you could easily catch it."

Half an hour later, they were steaming toward the city as fast as steam
could carry them. The dark curly head nestled against his shoulder,
while Royal looked out of the window, out into the blackness of the
night, little dreaming that he was on the eve of a terrible tragedy.

He had been lucky enough to secure the little compartment at the rear
of the drawing-room car, which those who have money enough to pay for
can secure exclusively for themselves.

"I ought to tell you something that is weighing very heavily upon my
mind, Royal," she said, nestling closer to her fair, handsome, boyish
husband.

"Not until to-morrow, love," he declared, drawing her toward him, and
kissing her fondly.



CHAPTER VI.


It was early the next morning when the Newport express steamed into the
Grand Central Depot.

Royal Ainsley cast a furtive glance around him as he stepped upon the
platform. He had quite expected a dozen or more detectives to spring
forward, for, of course, the telegraph wires had been busy during the
night.

They would no doubt be waiting to arrest him for abducting the heiress.
But when he had blandly informed them that lovely Ida May was his wife,
what could they do but fall back abashed and disconcerted.

To his great surprise, he seemed to create no sensation whatever. No
one even noticed him as he joined the throng, with Ida May clinging
tightly to his arm.

"I will give them some little trouble to find us," he thought to
himself.

He knew of a quiet, aristocratic family hotel facing the park, and
placing Ida in a carriage, he took a seat beside her, and directed the
driver to proceed as quickly as possible to the place indicated.

Whirling through the streets of gay New York was quite a sensation to
Ida, who had never been outside of her own country village, save for
that fateful trip to Newport.

With Royal clasping her two little fluttering hands in one of his
strong white ones, his left arm holding her close as the cab rattled
up Broadway, her fear of the noise, the great rush of people hurrying
hither and thither, and the great crush of vehicles that threatened to
demolish them every moment, gradually subsided as they rode along.

They reached their destination, and a moment more were ushered into the
little white-and-gold parlor.

"We will have the best breakfast that they can prepare," said Royal,
"and then I shall take you to see the sights of the city."

He was obliged to take the hotel clerk into his confidence.

"It's an elopement," he whispered in the clerk's ear. "My bride is the
heiress of the wealthy Mays, of Boston. There may be a deuce of a row
when they trace us to this place, but it will end all right by the
fatted calf being killed for us. But as for the breakfast, how long
will it take to prepare it?"

"Not more than fifteen minutes," returned the clerk, with an obsequious
bow. "We will send up to the parlor, and let you know when it is
ready," he added.

He turned away with a royal air. Already he felt as if the May millions
were in his pocket, that he was a man to be envied, that he was of
great importance.

Royal Ainsley immediately joined Ida in the parlor. He found her
ensconced in one of the large velvet easy-chairs, looking out of the
window, with something very like fright in her great dark eyes.

"Oh, Royal, are you sure it is quite right?" she sobbed. "Did you want
me to marry you so very much?"

"What a silly little girl you are!" he cried, impetuously. "Of course,
I want you. I could not live without you. I know you must be very
hungry, as well as tired from loss of sleep. Come over to this sofa and
sit down, and we will talk over our plans."

"Royal," she whispered, clasping his hands closer, "you would not
listen to me when I tried to tell you something in the conservatory;
but you must listen to me now. I can not be quite happy, dear, until
you know all. I--I have a confession to make."

He looked at her blankly.

"What odd words you use, my darling Ida!" he said. "A confession! I do
not like to hear you use such an expression. I hope that there is no
other lover in the background?"

"It is not a lover!" she cried, clinging to him. "I have never loved
any one else but you!"

"Then it is all right, my angel!" he cried, brightly, gathering her
closely to him, despite the fact that people were passing in the
corridor outside, and had a full view of all that was taking place
within the room. She struggled out of his arms, blushing like a peony,
even though she was his bride.

"Sit opposite me, where I can see you, and it will not be so hard to
tell you _all_," sobbed Ida, faintly.

He complied with her wishes.

"Cut the story as short as possible, dear," he said, "or you will be
obliged to have it continued in our next, as breakfast will soon be
ready."

"Oh, how shall I tell you the truth, Royal!" she said, distressedly.
"Perhaps you won't smile so when you know all, and--and--you might even
hate me."

"No matter what the little story is that you have to tell me, my
darling, I will love you better than ever."

"Oh, Royal, are you sure of it?" she cried, with that frightened look
which puzzled him so.

"Yes; I give you my word beforehand, that, no matter what you have to
tell me, I will love you all the more!"

"I will tell you all, then, and throw myself on your mercy to forgive
me for the past," she sobbed. "Hold my hands, Royal, closely in your
own, while I tell you all of the pitiful past, from beginning to end;
and then, Royal, you shall kiss my tears away, even--oh, Heaven, pity
me!--though I have sinned beyond pardon!"



CHAPTER VII.


Little dreaming of the purport of the story Ida had to tell, Royal
Ainsley drew near. For a moment, Ida May's great somber eyes looked
into his as though she would read his very soul.

"Tell me over again that you will forgive me, no matter what it is that
I have to tell you."

"I have already given you that promise over and over again," he
declared. "Surely you don't want me to take an oath to that effect?"

"Not if your solemn promise is strong enough to bind you."

"You forget that you are wasting time, Ida?" he said, good-humoredly.

"It will not take me long to tell my sad little story," she answered,
with a half sob; "and oh, what a world of comfort it will be for me to
know that you will care for me, no matter what the world may think.
When you hear my story you will understand the great temptation, and
will not judge me too cruelly.

"To begin with, my mother and I lived with a very wealthy family in
Dorchester. My mother was housekeeper, and I--well, I had no regular
position there, until, owing to the meager salary they paid my mother,
I was compelled to learn telegraphy, and found a position at the
station. To gain my mother's consent to do this was extremely hard.

"'They will not be pleased, Ida,' she said, piteously.

"'What do the Deerings care for you or me?' I answered, bitterly. 'Only
to make you toil year in and year out for a pittance so meager that it
scarcely keeps body and soul together!'

"'But they allow me to keep you with me, my dear child. That is
everything to a mother who is poor,' she sighed.

"'I am not a child any longer,' I cried. 'I am quite sixteen. I must be
making money now, if ever, to help you!'

"'But what can you do?' she asked.

"When I told her my plans, she looked at me dubiously.

"'Surely Mrs. Deering would not object,' I declared.

"But she did object. To my surprise she flew into a terrible rage when
I summoned courage enough to go to the morning-room the next day and
asked to speak to her.

"I unfolded to the cold, proud woman my plans to make a living. She did
not wait to hear me through, but flew into such a passion of rage that
I drew back in terror.

"'I have different plans for you entirely, Ida May,' she said. 'Go to
your mother. I told her my plans scarcely half an hour ago. She will
unfold them to you. Mind, they must be carried out by you, or your
mother and you will suffer. Your father owed us a sum of money before
he died, and during the past years your mother has worked to pay us
off. Over one-half yet remains to be paid. Your mother's name is signed
to your father's notes of indebtedness, and she is responsible for
them. If I pressed for payment and she could not pay, she could be
thrown into a debtor's prison.'

"I sobbed aloud in my terror: 'Oh, Mrs. Deering, if this indeed be
true, there is more need than ever for me to earn money to pay off my
mother's debts.'

"'There is another way in which you can pay them off,' she answered.

"'Oh, how?' I cried, falling on my knees and clasping my hands.

"The answer came like a crash of thunder from a clear sky.

"'By marrying my nephew,' she said, harshly.

"I sprung to my feet in terror. Marry any one! I, who was only a child!

"'My mother would not consent to anything like that, even----'

"'She will be forced to consent!' was the harsh reply. 'My nephew will
be here in a week.'

"I found my mother walking her room, wringing her hands and tearing her
hair. Her excitement was so great that for a moment I was terrified.

"'Has she told you all, Ida?' she asked, in terror.

"'Yes, mother,' I answered.

"'And did she tell you what this nephew of hers was like?'

"'No,' I replied, greatly puzzled by her manner.

"She shuddered as with a terrible chill.

"'Listen, Ida,' she said, in a strained, awful voice: 'Her nephew is
such a horrid creature, that to be hated he needs but to be seen. He is
a hunchback--and--an idiot--has a touch of insanity about him. Except
the first few years of his life, he has been confined in an asylum.
This nephew has a bachelor uncle, who has declared his intention
to make the young man his heir if he marries when he is twenty-one.
Otherwise the great fortune goes to another branch of the family. They
would make a victim of you, wreck your beautiful young life for their
own ambitious aims. It will be six months before he is of age. But the
marriage shall never be, my darling. Your young life shall never be
sacrificed by these inhuman Shylocks. When the hour comes, we will die
together.'

"One day my mother met me with a white, awful face.

"'Mrs. Deering's nephew has arrived with a valet!' she cried, under her
breath.

"'But the six months are not up, mother," I cried. 'It wants a
fortnight to that time.'

"'He has come to stay until you make your decision.'

"Oh, God! the horror of it! Death a thousand times over would have been
preferable to that.

"How could I stand at the altar and promise to obey a creature the very
sight of whom filled me with disgust and terror?

"I fled through the village, not daring to look behind me, and never
stopping until I reached the telegraph office.

"It was little wonder that I made strange mistakes during the hour that
followed.

"It was during this time that Mrs. May stepped up to the window and
called for a blank.

"Although her name was the same as mine, yet we were in no way related
to each other. They were wealthy people from Boston, I had heard, and
were summering in the village.

"Without waiting to see the message sent, the lady hurried out of the
office. A great sigh broke from my lips as I noted the well-filled
purse that she carried, the magnificent diamonds she wore on her hands,
and which swung sparkling from her ears. Any one of the gems she wore
would have been a fortune to a poor girl like me.

"As she crossed the railway track in the direction of the post office,
she must have seen the train bearing down upon her from around the
curve of the road.

"However, she fainted away from fright, and lay directly on the track.
I had seen it all from my window, and I sprung to her rescue and
dragged her by main force from the track just in time to save her from
destruction, as the ponderous locomotive just then thundered by. Mrs.
May's gratitude was great when she recovered consciousness.

"'How shall I ever reward you, my good girl?' she cried.

"'I need no reward,' I answered. 'I would have done that for any one!'

"'You must be rewarded,' she declared. 'My husband is coming from
Boston to-night, and he will insist upon doing handsomely by you.'

"I was living at home with my poor old mother, and when I went home
that evening and told her the story, she wept like a child.

"'You did a noble action, Ida,' she said; adding slowly: 'The Mays
are very rich. I should not be surprised if they made you a handsome
present. I once knew a gentleman who gave a lad twenty-five dollars for
saving his son from drowning. Perhaps they may do as well by you.'

"You see, we were very poor--mother and I--and twenty-five dollars
seemed a great deal to us.

"'How much good we could do with that sum,' my mother said. 'We could
get a little ahead in our rent, and spare enough out of it to get a new
dress for you.'

"I clasped my hands. A new dress! Oh, surely it would be madness to
hope for such a thing!

"That evening Mrs. May sent for me to come to the grand cottage where
she was stopping. Her husband, a very deaf old gentleman, sat at
the window as I entered. They both thanked me in the most eager and
grateful fashion.

"'We have been thinking the matter over,' said Mrs. May, 'and I have
come to the conclusion that I will do something handsome for you--give
you a pleasure such as you have never experienced in your young life.'"



CHAPTER VIII.


"Mrs. May paused and looked smilingly at me for a moment or two.

"'So great is the treat I have in store for you that you will never
forget it. But Mr. May and I disagree slightly as to what it shall be.
We now lay the proposition before you. Which would you prefer--have
five hundred dollars in cash, or be taken to Newport for a season, have
lovely dresses, and stop at a great hotel, under _my_ protection, and
have as fine a time as any young girl at the sea-shore?'

"I cried aloud in the exuberance of my joy. I had read of the lives of
other young girls at the sea-shore, and this opportunity seemed like
the opening out of fairy-land to me. You will not blame me, Royal;
I was young and romantic. I had never seen anything of life or its
pleasures. A season at Newport! The very thought of it fairly took away
my breath.

"'Oh, I will go to Newport!' I cried. 'Then the great dream of my life
will be realized!'

"'My husband thought you would prefer the money, but I knew that you
would prefer the pleasure.'

"Half wild with joy, I went home and told my mother the wonderful news.
She shook her head sadly.

"'We are so poor, you should have chosen the money, Ida,' she sobbed.
'Such a great gift is offered you but once in a life-time!'

"'But what does Mrs. May want you to do for her, Ida? Are you to be her
maid?'

"'Oh, no, mother!' I cried, with a hysterical laugh. 'I am to be a
real lady, wear fine clothes, and sit on the porch reading novels, or
promenade on the sea-shore, from the time I get up in the morning till
I retire at night. I shall have pin-money, too, they say, and that I
will send home to you. So everything will go on with you while I am
away as it did while I was here.'

"We had never been parted from each other, mother and I, and oh! it
wrung her heart to say 'Yes.'

"But after much pleading on my part she consented to let me go. She
made one proviso, however, and that was--I was not to fall in love with
any one whom I might meet.

"Oh, I can not tell you of my delight when I saw the wonderful dresses
that Mrs. May purchased for me, saying that they were all my own
forever after. She took me to Newport with her. As my name was the same
as theirs, every one took it for granted that I was a niece of theirs,
instead of their _protégée_ for a few short weeks, a report which the
Mays did not trouble themselves to contradict."

She had told her story hastily, impetuously, not daring to look into
her lover's face until she had concluded. Then she raised her great
dark eyes slowly. But what she saw in her husband's face made her cry
out in terror.

"Oh, Royal! Royal! what is the matter?" she cried, in alarm.

He sat before her as though he were petrified. The glassy, horrified
stare in his eyes cut to her heart like the thrust of a sword.

"I married you for love. You have helped me to escape Mrs. Deering's
dreaded nephew," she faltered.

By a wonderful effort he found his voice.

"Not the heiress of the Mays!" he cried, hoarsely, as though he was
unable to realize the truth.

"You do not love me the less for what I have done, do you?" she cried,
catching her breath with a sharp sob.

Before he could find words to answer, breakfast was announced.

"Go in and eat your breakfast, Ida," he said. "I have some important
matters which I must attend to that will keep me busy for the next hour
to come. Don't wait for me. Lie down and rest until you hear from me.
You will need all your strength to meet that which is before you." And
his brows darkened ominously.

She was young, and youth has an appetite all its own. She was very
tired with all she had gone through the last few hours, and the
appetizing breakfast spread before her caused her to forget everything
else.

Like all young, healthy girls, she ate heartily; then she rose from the
table and re-entered the little parlor to wait for the coming of Royal
to ask him to send a telegram to her mother.

"Shall I show you to your room, miss?" asked the waiter.

"No," she answered. "I will wait here."

"Then here is a letter which has just been handed me to give to you."

She opened it, and found that it was from Royal.

For one moment Ida May looked with an expression of puzzled wonder at
the letter which the hotel waiter had handed her.

It was in Royal's handwriting; she saw that at once.

What could he write to her about, when he had been away from her
scarcely an hour? He probably wished to remind her to be sure to be
ready when he arrived.

"How he loves me!" she murmured, a pink flush stealing into the dimpled
cheeks. "What a happy girl I ought to be that my lover loves me so
well!"

The waiter had gone back to attend to his duty. She saw that she was
alone, and with a quick action she raised the envelope to her lips with
her little white hands and kissed it--ay, kissed passionately the sword
which was to slay her the next moment.

Seating herself in a cozy arm-chair close by the open window, Ida
May opened the letter which was to be her death-warrant, and read as
follows:

 "IDA, I suppose the contents of this note will give you something of
 a shock; but it is best to know the truth now than later on. I shall
 come to the point at once, that you may not be kept in suspense.

 "The truth is, Ida, that your confession has knocked all our little
 plans on the head. To write plainly, when I thoughtlessly married
 you, it was under the impression that you were the niece of the
 Mays--their future heiress. I have not told you much about myself in
 the past, but I am obliged to do so now.

 "I am not at all a rich fellow. I am working along as best I can,
 living on what people call wits--and expectations, which make me a
 veritable slave to the whims of a capricious old aunt and uncle.

 "They have decided that I must marry a girl who has money. I would
 not dare to present a portionless bride to them. In such a case, all
 my future prospects would be ruined. I must add that I have a still
 greater surprise for you. On leaving you, I purchased this morning's
 paper, and the first item that met my eye was the absconding of the
 man who performed the ceremony for us last night. It appears that he
 was turned out of office some two days before, impeached, as it were,
 for embezzling money.

 "All power was taken from him to act in the capacity of mayor. Thus
 the ceremony which we thought made us one is not binding. You are free
 as air. No one will be any the wiser, and you are none the worse for
 our little escapade--romance--call it what you will.

 "A little affair in the life of a telegraph operator will not set the
 heart of the great world throbbing with excitement. I am sorry affairs
 have turned out this way; for, upon my word, I could have liked you.
 There is but one thing to do under the circumstances; that is, to part
 company. I advise you to go quietly back and marry the rich lover Mrs.
 Deering has selected for you. That will be better than drudging your
 life away in a telegraph office.

 "This is all I have to say, and thus I take French leave of you.
 Forget me as quickly as you can, little girl. I am nearly dead broke,
 but I am generous enough to share what money I have with you. Inclosed
 you will find a twenty-dollar bill--quite enough to take you back to
 the village which you should never have left. Yours in great haste,

     "'ROYAL.'"

Once, twice, thrice--ay, a dozen times--the girl read the heartless
letter through until every word was scorched into her brain in letters
of fire, then it fluttered from her hands to the floor.

She sat quite still, like one petrified by a sudden awful horror; then
creeping to the window, she raised the sash, and, looking up into God's
face through the glinting sunshine, asked the angels in Heaven to
tell her if it was true that the husband she had but just wedded had
deserted her.



CHAPTER IX.


Again the poor child picked up the cruel letter; but she could not read
a line of it, though she sat looking at the written page.

"Not his wife!" she moaned over and over again, clutching her little
hands over her heart.

With a sudden frenzy she tore the letter into a thousand shreds, and
flung the pieces from her through the open window.

Would her poor, sick mother's heart break when she told her all? When
she went home, would they force her to marry the terrible being she
abhorred?

Home! Ah, God! what a mockery! She had only a shelter. If she refused
to marry the horrible hunchback, her mother and herself would not even
have that.

How could she face the future? The very thought of it made the blood
chill in her veins.

"Oh, Royal! Royal! death from your hands would have been easier than
that!" she moaned.

The next moment there was a heavy fall, and one of the house-maids,
passing the parlor, saw the girl lying in a heap.

They did all in their power to restore her to consciousness; but it
was quite useless. When they had worked an hour over her, they became
alarmed.

Where was her husband? Why did he not return? The hotel physician did
all in his power, but without avail.

"It looks like a case of brain fever," he said, "or perhaps typhoid.
Either is contagious, therefore dangerous. I should advise that she be
sent to the hospital around the corner."

"That husband of hers has not settled his bill!" exclaimed the
proprietor, his face darkening angrily.

"It is _my_ opinion," said the doctor, "that it is best not to await
the return of the young gentleman who accompanied her here. In short,
it is my opinion that he has deserted her."

In less time than it takes to tell it, poor, hapless Ida May, the
victim of such a cruel misfortune, and a sadder fate yet to follow, was
taken to the hospital. The waning summer days drifted slowly by, and
autumn came with its dead, rustling leaves and sobbing winds, before
Ida May opened her eyes to consciousness and turned them full upon the
white-capped nurse bending over her.

"Where is Royal?" she asked, faintly.

"You mean the young man who left you at the hotel?" queried the nurse,
who had heard the young girl's sad story; adding: "He never came back
to inquire for you. He has deserted you. He did not care whether or not
the shock would kill you. If there was ever a heartless scoundrel on
the face of the earth, he is that one!"

The lovely white young face never changed its pallor, the dark eyes
never left the grim countenance of the nurse.

"I want to leave this place at once," said the girl, attempting to rise
from her cot.

"No, no; you must not do so!" exclaimed the nurse. "It would be
dangerous in your case."

"But I want my mother," moaned Ida, piteously.

When the nurse made her rounds an hour later, to her great
consternation she found that Cot 27 was empty. The girl had flown! The
most diligent search through the city failed to elicit the slightest
trace of her whereabouts.

An hour later a little dark figure, ensconced in a corner of the car,
was whirling rapidly toward Dorchester.

She sat staring from the window with eyes that did not see so intent
was she with her own thoughts.

"I can not marry Mrs. Deering's nephew," she sobbed, under her breath.
"It would be easier for me to die. But what shall I do to raise the
money for which they hold my poor mother a veritable slave!"

She clasped her hands in piteous entreaty; but the soft, radiant moon
and the golden stars to which she raised her eyes so appealingly could
find no answer for her.

As the train slowed up at the station, she pulled her veil down
closely. She hurriedly alighted and sped like a storm-driven swallow
up the village street and along the high-road, until, almost out of
breath, she reached the Deerings' mansion. She stood transfixed for a
moment at the gate.

What was there about the place that caused such a shudder to creep over
her? What did the awful presentiment, as of coming evil, mean that took
possession of her body and soul?



CHAPTER X.


How weird the place looked, how gaunt and bare the great oak-trees
looked, looming up darkly against the moonlit sky! The dead leaves
rustled across her path as she crept around to the rear door.

She looked up at her mother's window, and another great chill crept
over her. All was dark there. It had always been her mother's custom
to place her lamp on the broad window-sill at night. Many a time it
had been her beacon-light in cutting across lots from the station on
evenings when she had been detained by her work. How strange it was
that the light was not in the window to-night!

"Mother is not expecting me to-night," she said to herself, "that is
the reason it is not there."

But ah, how she missed it! How her heart had yearned to behold it, with
a yearning so great that it had been the most intense pain. She lifted
the latch and entered tremblingly, hesitatingly. It had been over two
months since her mother had heard from her. How had her patient,
suffering mother lived through it?

As she crossed the hall she heard the sound of Mrs. Deering's voice in
a sharp, high key. Perhaps the horrible nephew was with her. She paused
in a paroxysm of terror. She was talking to her husband, scolding him,
rather.

"It isn't _my_ fault that we lost the fortune," he was answering her
meekly. "You brought your nephew out of the asylum too soon. You knew
he would not be here a fortnight before he would do some terrible
deed--burn the house down over our heads, or kill himself when the
attendant was not watching, or some other horrible deed of that kind.
When he did succeed in mutilating himself before any of us was aware
of it, instead of sending him back to the asylum, to be cared for, you
kept him here under lock and key thinking to cure him yourself in a
couple of months or so."

"Ah!" thought Ida May, leaning faint and dizzy against the wall, "now
I understand why Mrs. Deering consented to let me go away. Anything to
get me out of the house while she was curing the insane nephew whom she
had vowed I must wed."

The next words, while they shocked her inexpressively, lifted a world
of woe from her heart.

"Well, despite our watchfulness, he succeeded in killing himself at
last; so there's the end of it. The fortune is lost, and there's no use
in raving over it, and in venting your bitter wrath upon everything and
every one that comes within your range."

Mrs. Deering's anger was so great that she could not utter a word. She
flung open the door and dashed into the hall. The very first object
that met her gaze was the cowering little figure leaning against the
balustrade.

"You!" she cried, quite as soon as she could catch her breath. "How
dare you come here, Ida May, you wicked girl! I am amazed that you have
the effrontery to face honest people after what you have done! We read
all about it in the newspapers--how you ran away from Newport with a
gay, dashing fellow who soon after deserted you. Don't attempt to tell
me anything about it. I won't listen to a word. Get out of this house
as quick as you can! Go, before I bid the servants throw you from the
house!"

"But my mother! Surely you will let me see my mother!" sobbed the
girl, piteously. "The whole wide world may be against me, but she will
believe me guiltless! _Please_ let me see her."

A laugh that was horrible to hear broke from Mrs. Deering's thin lips.

"Your mother!" she sneered; "much you cared about her, or how your
doings affected her. That article in the newspapers did the work, as
you might have known it would. I carried the paper to her myself, and
when she read it she fell to the floor with a bitter cry, and she never
spoke again. It was her death-warrant!"

For one moment the girl looked at the woman with frightened eyes, as
though she could not quite comprehend the full import of what the woman
was saying.

"It killed your mother!" she repeated pitilessly. "You might have known
it would. She died of a broken heart!"

A long, low moan came from the girl's lips. The awful despair in the
dark eyes would have touched any other heart, even though it were made
of stone; but in Mrs. Deering's heart there was neither pity nor mercy.

"Go!" she repeated, threateningly, "and do not dare to ever darken my
door again!"

"Will you tell me where you have buried my poor mother?" moaned Ida
May, with bitter anguish.

"In the lot where the poor of the village are put," she answered,
unfeelingly. "We had to have a mark put over her. You can easily find
it. It's to the left-hand corner, the last one on the row. It would be
better for you, you shameless girl, if you were lying beside her rather
than sink to the lowest depths of the road you are traveling. Go--go at
once!"

With trembling feet she crept down the broad path and out of the gate.
She was drenched to the skin, and the chill October winds pierced
through her thin wet clothes like the sharp cut of a knife. It did not
matter much; nothing mattered for her any more. She was going to find
her mother's grave, kneel down beside it, lay her tired head on the
little green mound, and wait there for death to come to her, for surely
God would grant her prayer and in pity reach out His hand to her and
take her home. There would be a home _there_ where her mother was, even
if all other doors were closed to her.

She had little difficulty in finding the place--a small inclosure in
the rear of the old church that had fallen into decay and crumbling
ruins many years ago--and by the blinding flashes of lightning, she
found the grave of her mother--her poor, suffering mother, the only
being who had ever loved her in the great, cold, desolate earth.

"Mother," she sobbed, laying her face on the cold, wet leaves that
covered the mound, "mother, I have come to you to die. The world has
gone all wrong with me. I never meant to go wrong. I do not know how it
happened. Other young girls have married the lovers whom they thought
God had sent to them, and lived happy enough lives. I built such
glorious air-castles of the home I should have, the handsome, strong
young husband to love and to labor for me, and how you should live with
me, mother, never having to work any more. But oh, mother, all my plans
went wrong! I don't know why."

Ida May crouched there among the sleeping dead, her brain in a whirl;
and the long night wore on. The storm subsided, the wind died away over
the tossing trees and the far-off hills, and the rain ceased. Morning
broke faint and gray in the eastern sky, and the flecks of crimson
along the horizon presaged a bright and gladsome day.

The station-agent, hurrying along to his duties at that early hour,
was startled to see a dark figure lying among the graves. In a moment
he was bending over the prostrate form. He could not distinguish in
the dim light whose grave it was upon which the poor creature was
lying, but as he lifted the slender figure, and the faint, early light
fell upon the white, beautiful young face, he started back with an
exclamation of horror.

"Great God! it is little Ida May!"

For an instant he was incapable of action, his surprise was so intense.

"Dead!" he muttered, cold drops of perspiration standing out like beads
on his perturbed brow. "Little Ida May dead on her mother's grave!
God, how pitiful! She was so young to die!"

Then he knelt down beside her in the thick, wet grass, and placed his
hand over her heart in the wild hope that a spark of life might yet be
there.



CHAPTER XI.


With bated breath, Hugh Rowland, the station-agent, knelt down in the
dew-wet grass, and placed his hand over the girl's heart. Although the
sweet white face upturned to the gray morning light was as white as
death, he cried out sharply to himself: "Her heart still beats! God be
praised! There is life in her yet!"

Gathering her in his arms, as though she were a little child, he
carried her quickly across lots to the station, and placed her upon a
rude bench. Once there, he could control himself no longer. He dropped
upon his knees beside her, burying his face in the folds of her wet
dress, chafing her hands, and sobbing as though his heart would break.

He had loved the girl lying there so stark and motionless as he had
never loved anything in his life before; but he had never dared to tell
her of it. Though he was station-agent, and she a telegraph operator,
she seemed as far above him as the star is from the earth.

For a moment Hugh Rowland had almost lost control of himself; then he
remembered how horribly cold she was, and he had the presence of mind
to start a fire in the big stove that always stood in the center of the
waiting-room.

The grateful heat that rose from it quickly brought the breath of life
to the girl's white lips. The great, dark, somber eyes opened wide, and
she saw the rugged, kindly face of the young station-agent bending over
her.

"I found you--you had fainted in the graveyard," he said. "Luckily
enough, I was just passing, and I brought you here."

"Oh, why didn't you let me die?" moaned the girl, so bitterly that he
was shocked.

"It is very wicked to talk like that," he said, forcing down the great
lump that rose in his throat.

"No!" she cried, vehemently. "How could it be very wrong to leave a
great, cold, cruel world in which nobody wants you. I have nothing to
live for."

"But somebody does want you, Ida May!" cried the great rough fellow,
with tears that were no disgrace to his manhood coursing down his
cheek. "I want you with all my heart!"

"Hush, hush, hush!" she cried; "you must not talk so to me!" she cried.
"Don't say any more! It can never be! You do not know all!"

"Do not say me nay. Give me the right to protect you, Ida. We can go
away from this village. I can get a job on the road anywhere along the
line. I will work for you, and tend to you so very carefully that you
will forget the past!"

She only turned away from him, pleading with him for the love of Heaven
to say no more. He stopped short, looking at her gloomily. He had used
all the words that he could command, and they had been of no avail. She
would not even listen.

"One moment more!" he cried, hoarsely. "Always remember, Ida May, that
you leave behind you a heart that beats only for you--only for you. No
other woman's face shall ever win my love from you. I will wait here,
where you leave me, for long years, until you come back to me--ay, I
will wait from day to day with this one hope in my heart: Some day she
will come back to me; she will find the world too cold and hard, and
will come back to me to comfort her. I will watch for you from darkness
until day dawns again. My form, so straight now, may grow bent with
years, my hair grow white, and lines seam my face, but through it all I
shall watch for your coming until God rewards my vigilance. Good-bye,
and God bless you, Ida May, oh love of my heart!"

She passed from his sight with those words ringing in her ears, and
when the New York express passed on again after she had boarded it,
the young station-agent fell prone upon his face to the floor, and lay
there like one dead.



CHAPTER XII.


Few passengers turned to look at the little figure that entered the car
at the way-side station at so early an hour of the morning, and Ida May
cowered quickly down into the first seat. The clothes under the long,
dark cloak were saturated, but no one could see that, nor notice how
damp and matted were the curling rings of dark hair which the hood of
the cloak but half concealed. The hours crept on as the express whirled
over the rails; but Ida May paid no heed to time.

But hunger at last began to tell upon her, and she eagerly hailed a
boy who passed through the train with a basket of sandwiches on his arm.

She looked at the coins she still held loosely in her hand, and found
to her dismay that, with the exception of two pieces of silver, she
held a handful of gold dollars.

"His pocket-pieces," she sobbed. "Oh, if I had known that, I would have
refused to take them; but--but I will work and earn money, and--and pay
him back double their value. Poor fellow--poor fellow!" and she laid
her face on the window-sill, sobbing as though her heart would break.

Suddenly she heard a voice in the seat back of her say:

"You seem very much distressed, poor girl. Is there any way in which I
can serve you?"

The deep, musical voice was so kind, so humane, so sympathetic, that
Ida May turned around with a start to see who it was who had asked the
question.

She saw directly back of her a fair, handsome young man who had
evidently just entered the car, and who was depositing his grip-sack
and umbrella in the rack above his head.

At the first glance a faint shriek broke from her lips. She was just
about to cry out, "Royal Ainsley--great Heaven!--do we meet again?"
when she saw her error in time. Although bearing a certain resemblance
to the lover who had so cruelly betrayed her, a second glance told her
it was not him.

It was a moment ere she recovered herself sufficiently to answer, then
she faltered, piteously:

"I _am_ in sorrow, sir, so great that I do not think any young girl
but me could ever pass through it--and live."

"I do not wish to pry into your private affairs," said the young man,
courteously, "but I wish to repeat, if you will tell me what troubles
you, and I can be of service to you, I shall be only too pleased.
Although a stranger, you will find me worthy of your confidence, my
poor child!"

There was something about the handsome, kindly, blue-eyed young man
that caused Ida May's heart to go out to him at once. His was a face
that women always trusted, and no one had ever had cause to regret it.

"I am going to New York in search of work," faltered the girl, clasping
her little hands closely together.

"That is certainly reason enough to weep," he replied earnestly. "May I
ask if you have friends there to whom you are going until you can find
employment?"

Ida May shook her head, her breast heaved, her white lips quivered,
while great tears welled up to the great dark eyes, so like purple
velvet pansies drowned in rain.

"I have no friends--no one. I am all alone in the world, sir," she
sobbed. "My mother is dead--dead. I have just left her grave. She and
I were all in all to each other; now she is gone, and I--Oh, only the
angels know that no sorrow is so bleak, so pitiful, so awful, as to be
all alone in the world."

"I can understand the situation perfectly," he answered in a low voice,
"and I can pity you. Although not quite alone in the world myself, I am
almost as badly off. But to return to yourself: I may be able to serve
you. What kind of employment were you intending to search for? In some
store, or dress-making or millinery establishment?" he queried.

She looked blankly up into his fair, handsome, earnest face.

"I do not know how to do anything of that kind," she answered, simply.
"I thought perhaps I might find employment in some telegraph office."

"Why, yes, indeed. I wonder that that idea did not occur to me before.
A friend of mine is superintendent of a large branch of the Western
Union, up Broadway. I will give you a note to him, and I have no doubt
he will do all in his power to aid you, providing he has a vacancy."

"Oh, thank you a thousand times, sir," cried Ida May, thankfully; "I
shall be so grateful--oh, so very grateful!"

"Mind, it is not a certainty, you know," admonished the stranger
earnestly; "I can only write the letter. But that is not assuring you
of a situation--we can only hope for it."

He tore out a leaf from his memorandum, and taking a gold pencil from
his vest pocket, hastily jotted down a few lines upon it.

"I am sorry I am not going through to New York; otherwise I would take
you there myself," he said, courteously, as he folded up the note and
handed it to her.

At that moment his station was reached. He had barely time to touch his
hat to her, gather up his parcels, and alight, ere the train moved out
again. The young man looked after it and the sweet, tearful young face
pressed against one of the windows until it was out of sight.

"By all that is wonderful!" he ejaculated in a very troubled voice, "I
am almost positive that I forgot to sign my name to that note, and it
was written so badly on that jolting car, Ernscourt won't be able to
make it out or know whose writing it is. Poor little girl! I hope she
will find a position there. What a terrible thing it is to be young
and desolate in the great wicked city of New York! She is so young,
guileless and innocent, I hope no ill will befall her. I must remember
to look up my friend Ernscourt to learn if he gave her a position or
not. I declare, if it were not that I am betrothed to the sweetest girl
in all the world, I am afraid I should commit the desperate folly of
falling in love with that beautiful, dark-eyed little stranger. Now
that I think of it, it did not occur to me to even ask her name or
where she was from."

His reverie was somewhat rudely interrupted by a hearty slap on the
shoulder and a hearty voice calling out gayly:

"Why, Royal, how are you, old fellow? What, in the name of all that's
amazing, brings you to Yonkers?"

"Why, Hal, is this you?" cried the other, in astonishment and delight.
"This is an additional pleasure, meeting my old college chum fully a
thousand miles from where I would never have imagined finding him. But
a word in your ear, my dear boy: It's two years since you and I parted
at college, old fellow, and a great deal has happened in that time. We
will walk up the street while I inform you."

"With the greatest of pleasure, Royal," returned his companion.

"Tut! tut! Don't call me Royal--Royal Ainsley. I'm that no longer, you
know--no, I suppose you don't know; but that's exactly what I want to
talk to you about."

"I am too astonished for utterance," declared his friend.

"Why, the explanation is certainly simple enough," declared the other,
with a good-natured, mellow little laugh; adding: "Why, you, my college
chum, knew what many another friend of mine does _not_ know, namely,
that there are two Royal Ainsleys, or, rather, there was up to the
present year. It's a bit of secret family history; but I am obliged to
take you into my confidence, in order that you may fully understand my
most peculiar position. Two brothers, who were almost enemies born,
married about the same time, and to each of the gentlemen--namely, my
uncle and my father, was born a son--my cousin and myself.

"These gentlemen had an eccentric elder brother who had money to burn,
as the saying is, and what should each of these younger brothers do but
name their sons after the wealthy old Royal Ainsley, if you please,
each hoping that _his_ son would be the old uncle's heir.

"A pretty mess these two belligerent gentlemen made of the affair,
I assure you. Two Royal Ainsleys, each resembling the other to an
unpleasantly startling degree, of almost the same age, being born
scarcely a week apart.

"We were constantly getting into all manner of scrapes, a case of being
continually taken for the fellow that looks like me, as the song goes.
Each disputed with the other the right to bear the name, and neither
would put a handle to it or do anything to cause it to differ in any
way from the cognomen of the famous old uncle, who was certainly quite
as bewildered as any one else.

"As we two lads grew older, I took to books, my cousin to sports
and the pretty faces of girls. When his folks died and he was left
to follow the bent of his own inclination, in spite of my earnest
admonition and my uncle's combined, he jumped the traces of home
restraint altogether, and started out to see life on his own hook. The
last I heard of him he was with some distant relative, clerking in a
New York importing house.

"Now for _my_ side of the story. From the hour he defied uncle and
shook off his restraint, old Royal Ainsley's hatred of him grew so
bitter we dared not mention my wayward cousin, Royal Ainsley, in
his presence. My uncle actually forced me to change my name through
legislative enactment to make it legal. He insisted upon naming me
Eugene Mallard, declaring that my cousin would be sure to disgrace the
name of Royal Ainsley through the length and breadth of the land before
he stopped in his mad downward career.

"Well, to make a long story short, my uncle sent me to Europe on
business for him, and his sudden death brought me hurriedly home
this week, to find that he has left me his entire fortune, with the
proviso that not one dollar shall ever go to my cousin, who, in all
probability, does not yet know of his sad plight.

"Now, last but by no means least, on the steamer coming back from
London I met a beautiful young girl, Miss Hildegarde Cramer. It was a
case of love at first sight between us. You know I'm a very impulsive
fellow. I proposed, and she accepted me on the spot; but mind, she
knows me as Eugene Mallard, and so she shall know me to the end of her
sweet life, bless her.

"Now you know the whole story. Mind, I'm not Royal Ainsley, but,
instead, Eugene Mallard, at your service.

"Hildegarde is visiting in Yonkers, so I ran up to see my sweetheart.
Sounds like a romance or a comedy, doesn't it?"

"I hope there will be no tinge of tragedy in it," laughed his friend,
thoughtlessly.



CHAPTER XIII.


With a note of introduction to the superintendent clutched tightly
in her hand, Ida May reached New York City. She took barely time to
swallow a cup of coffee ere she hurried to the number indicated. Her
heart sunk within her as she looked up at the immense building; but
with a courage which should have met with a better reward, she took
the elevator, and soon found herself on the eighth floor, where the
superintendent's office was situated.

"He is not in," an attendant told her. "He left the city two days ago,
and is not expected to return for a fortnight."

Tears that she could not control sprung into Ida May's dark eyes.

"Oh, what shall I do?" cried the girl; "I want to see him so much!"

The attendant was moved to pity by her great distress.

"If you are looking for a position, or anything of that kind, perhaps I
could suggest something."

"Oh, yes, that is it, sir," exclaimed Ida May, looking up through her
tears--"that is my errand. I want to secure a position."

"Then it is the manager, instead of the superintendent, you will have
to apply to. I think he is in his office. Step this way, please."

He threw open a door to the right, and Ida May followed him into a
large room, in which were dozens of young girls bending over tables.

The deafening click! click! click! of the telegraph instruments drowned
every sound.

Some girls never raised their heads, as Ida May, following the
attendant, passed down the long aisle. Others, however, glanced at her,
at first casually, which deepened instantly into a gaze of curiosity
and intense interest, for they had never beheld a creature with such
superb beauty. Their hearts beat with envy.

"The manager will be sure to engage her," they whispered. "Her pretty
face will be sure to be a passport to favor. There used to be a time
when it was 'How much do you know about the business?' but now it is
'What kind of a face have you? If it's a pretty and dashing one, I'll
engage you.' An old or a homely girl doesn't stand any show whatever
nowadays."

All unconscious of these remarks, Ida May passed on. The attendant
threw open another door at the end of a large room, and she found
herself in a luxuriously furnished office. A young and exceedingly
handsome man sat at a desk writing. He glanced up angrily at the sound
of footsteps, and was about to make a sharp remark to the man, when he
caught sight of the beautiful young creature he was ushering into his
presence.

"Ah, sit down," he said, blandly; "I will attend to you in one moment."

The attendant had scarcely closed the door behind him ere the
manager--for such he proved to be--turned quickly about and faced the
young girl.

"What can I do for you?" he said in his blandest voice. He had taken
in at first glance the wondrous beauty of the young girl. It was
certainly the most exquisite face he had ever beheld, and a strange
gleam leaped into his eyes. He told himself that, from her appearance,
she had certainly come in search of a position. Ida May looked up into
the dark, handsome face. Instinctively she shrunk from him, but could
not tell why. Very timidly she stated her errand, the color on her
face deepening, as she could not help but notice the ardent glance of
admiration he bent upon her, and there was something in the bold glance
of his eyes that made her feel extremely uncomfortable.

In a falteringly voice Ida stated her errand, and what experience she
had had in her little village home. To her great delight and surprise,
he answered quickly:

"I think I will be able to make a place for you. It would be a pity to
send away such a pretty girl as you are."

Ida May drew back in alarm. She did not like the remark, nor the look
which accompanied it; but she dared not make an indignant reply.

"Where are you stopping?" he asked in the next breath.

"I have just reached the city, sir," she responded. "I came in search
of a position even before I found a place to stop."

"It is well you did so," he responded quickly. "I know of a place that
I think will suit you. The lady has no other boarders. You would be
company for her. I would make this observation here and now: the girls
we have here are a talkative set. Pay no attention to their remarks."

He wrote an address on a slip of paper, and handed it to the girl.

"I am very grateful, sir, for the interest you have taken in me, a poor
girl," she said, tremulously. "Shall I report to-day for work, sir?"
she asked. "I should like to commence as soon as possible."

"To-morrow will do," he answered.

With a heart full of thanks, she left the office.

Frank Garrick, the manager, looked after her with a smile that was not
pleasant to see.

"I have run across many a little beauty in my time," he muttered,
gazing after her, "but surely never such an exquisite little beauty as
this one."

The girls looked at one another, nodding grimly, when Ida May presented
herself for duty the next day.

"Didn't I tell you how it would be?" sneered one of the girls. "Our
handsome manager, Mr. Garrick, was captivated by the girl's beauty, as
I knew he would be, and engaged her, although he refused to take on,
only the day before, three girls whom I knew to be actually starving."

There was one girl who looked at Ida May with darkening eyes.

She bent over her task; but though the hours passed, the terrible look
never left her face.

"Nannie is jealous," more than one girl whispered to her neighbor. "You
see, she's head over heels in love with our manager. If he so much as
looks at any other girl that passes along, she sulks for a week. What
fun it would be to make her jealous. Oh, let's try, girls! Let's put up
a job on her. It would be such fun!"

"Not for the new-comer!" laughed another girl.

"Nannie would make it pretty hot for her here."

Little dreaming of the tempest they were stirring up, the girls
thoughtlessly planned their little joke. Their shouts of laughter would
have been turned into tears of pity could they have beheld the harvest
of woe that was to spring from it.

Nannie Rogers noticed that the beautiful new-comer was assigned to an
instrument at a table almost directly opposite the private office. This
inflamed the jealously of Nannie Rogers.

She noted how he watched her from the window of his office all the next
day.

More than one girl called Nannie Rogers' attention to this at noon-hour.

"You will have to look to your laurels, Nan," more than one declared,
banteringly. "You will find this Ida May a rival, I fear."

"Any girl had better be dead than attempt to be a rival of mine," she
answered.

There came a time when the girls remembered that remark all too
forcibly.

Ida May bent over her task, paying little attention to anything around
her. She was trying to forget her double sorrow, all that she had gone
through, and the death of her poor mother that had followed.



CHAPTER XIV.


Ida May had found no difficulty whatever in securing board at the place
where Frank Garrick had suggested.

Mrs. Cole, who owned the cottage, told Ida that she was a widow.

"I have a little income that keeps me comfortable," she added; "but to
accommodate my friend, Mr. Garrick, I will take you in."

"He is a friend of yours?" exclaimed the girl.

"Yes; I used to be in the telegraph office before I married," she
responded. "In fact, my husband and Mr. Garrick were both paying
attention to me at the same time. To be candid, I liked Mr. Garrick
the better; but we had a little misunderstanding, and through pique
I married his rival. I lost sight of him after that until my husband
died. After I became a widow he called upon me several times."

She gave the impression to Ida that she expected a proposal from her
old lover some time in the near future, but the girl paid little heed
to the blushing widow. Her thoughts were elsewhere.

One evening, at the end of the second week, as Ida was hurrying
homeward, she was startled by a step behind her.

"You seem to be in a hurry, Miss May," a voice said; and turning
quickly around, she beheld the handsome manager, Mr. Garrick.

"I _am_ in a hurry!" she assented. "I am a little late now, and Mrs.
Cole does not like me to keep supper waiting."

"Never mind what she likes," he returned, impatiently. "Let us take a
little walk, I have something to say to you, pretty one."

There was something in his eyes, his voice, that somehow startled her.

"Pardon me, but I do not care to walk," she said, simply, with the
haughty air of a young princess.

"Don't put on airs," he said, harshly; "you are not very wise to try to
snub a manager who has the power to turn you out of your position at
any moment."

Ida grew frightfully pale.

"Come, let us take a little walk," he urged. "You're a very pretty
girl, and I like you."

Ida May drew back with an exclamation of alarm.

"I refuse to walk with you!" she said.

"Don't make an enemy of me, Ida May!" he hissed between his teeth.

"If such a trifle will make an enemy, I would rather make an enemy than
a friend of you!" she answered.

"Are you mad, girl, to defy me like this?" he cried, setting his white
teeth together, his eyes fairly blazing.

"I have no wish to defy you! I can not see why my refusing to walk with
you should offend you!"

"Come, be reasonable," he urged; "let us have a little quiet talk. I
have called at your boarding-house half a dozen times since you have
been there, but that idiotic fool, who is half in love with me herself,
would not let me see you. I might have known how it would be: I'll look
for another boarding-place at once for you."

The interest he took in her alarmed her.

"I am very well satisfied where I am, Mr. Garrick," she answered, with
dignity. "I beg that you will not call upon me, for I do not care to
receive gentlemen callers."

Again a rage that was terrible to see flashed into his eyes.

"You _must_ see me!" he hissed. "It is not for you to be chooser.
Don't you see I have taken a fancy to you," he said, throwing off all
reserve. "You must be mine! I never really knew what love meant until I
saw you!"

"Stop! Stop!" panted Ida May. "I will not listen to another word. You
must not talk to me of love!"

"Yes, I loved you, Ida May, from the first time I saw you. There was
something about you which thrilled my heart and caused me to wish that
you should be mine, cost what it would!"

"I will not listen to another word!" said Ida May.

He laughed an insolent laugh that made the blood fairly boil in her
veins.

"Come, we will go into this restaurant where we can talk at our
leisure."

He had caught her by the arm. With a cry of terror the girl wrenched
herself free from his grasp and fairly flew down the street, and she
did not stop until she reached her boarding-house.

"Why, dear me, Miss May, one would think you were flying from a
cyclone!" declared Mrs. Cole, who was just passing through the hall as
she came in.

Gasping for breath, and scarcely able to keep from tears, Ida May told
her all, believing that the woman would sympathize with her.

"Why, you are more of a prude than I thought you were," said Mrs. Cole.

Ida May drew back with dilated eyes.

"You, a woman, to tell me this! Why, I tell you he was insulting me!"
cried the girl, vehemently.

Mrs. Cole laughed cynically.

"Nonsense!" she declared. "You might do worse than accept his
attentions. He's over head and heels in love with you. I could have
told you that a week ago."

"He is a bold, bad man!" cried Ida May. "And yet you would counsel me
to encourage him wouldn't you?"

The elder woman shrugged her shoulders.

"Any one could easily see that you are a country girl," she said, with
a harsh laugh that grated on the girl who listened with amazement.

With this parting shot the woman turned on her heel and left Ida May
staring after her.

To Ida's intense anxiety, her landlady was unusually cool at the
tea-table. She did not come up to Ida May's room that evening to chat,
but announced that she had a headache, needed quiet, and would stay
in her own room. Her presence during the long evenings had done much
toward making the girl forget her sorrow, and she felt her absence
keenly enough on this night when she had so much need of sympathy.

Feeling too restless to commune with her own thoughts, she concluded to
read a book to fill in the time that hung so heavily on her hands.

Ida May descended to the sitting-room, where, she remembered, she had
left the book on the table. She went down the carpeted stairs quietly,
passing Mrs. Cole's door with noiseless feet, that she might not
disturb her.

As she stood before the door of the sitting-room, with her hand on the
knob, she was suddenly attracted by the sound of voices from within,
her own name falling distinctly upon her ears. She stood still with
astonishment, for the voice that uttered her name was that of Frank
Garrick.

Her first impulse was to turn quickly away; but the words that she
heard him utter held her spell-bound.

Mr. Garrick was talking to Mrs. Cole in a low, excited voice, and what
the girl heard filled her soul with wildest terror.

For a moment she stood irresolute; then her decision was made. As soon
as the morning broke, she would leave that house.

She flew back to her room, her mind in a whirl, her brain dizzy with
conflicting emotions. She sat down in a chair by the open window,
and leaned her hot, flushed face in the palms of her hands. She was
beginning to learn the lessons of the great, wicked world. How long she
sat there she never knew.

She was planning about what she should do when the morrow came. Though
she starved on the street, she would not go back to the telegraph
office where Frank Garrick was; nor could she remain in the house that
now sheltered her, where the woman who pretended to be her friend and
counselor was deliberately plotting against her.

She had purchased a dress, cloak, and hat out of the money she had
found in her pocket. This expenditure had reduced the little sum
considerably; but she had been obliged to present a respectable
appearance.

Where should she look for work in the great big city? While she was
cogitating over the matter, Mrs. Cole appeared in the door-way with a
glass of lemonade in her hand.

"I have brought you something very refreshing, Ida," she said. "It took
away _my_ headache, and it will make you enjoy a good night's sleep."

"Thank you, but I do not care for the lemonade," returned the girl,
coldly.

Her first impulse had been to spring to her feet, and inform her that
she had accidently overheard her conversation with Frank Garrick, and
upbraid her for it in the bitterest of words. Then the thought occurred
to her that discretion was the better part of valor--to say nothing,
and leave the house quietly in the morning.

"But I insist upon your drinking the lemonade," declared the young
widow.

Ida looked at her steadily, and something in the reproachful glance of
the girl's eyes made her wince. The hand that held the glass shook in
spite of her efforts at composure.

"It will induce an excellent night's sleep, my dear," said Mrs. Cole,
smoothly. "Stir it up; you are letting all the sugar settle at the
bottom."

"I do not care for it," repeated Ida, a trifle more haughtily.

"But as it is for your good, you _must_ drink it!" repeated her
companion. "I shall not leave the room until you do so."

At that moment Katie, the little maid of all work, entered the room
with towels.

Passing near the back of her chair, she managed to whisper in her ear,
unobserved by Mrs. Cole:

"Promise her to drink the lemonade if she will leave it on the table;
but don't touch a drop of it. I'll tell you why later."

The remark was accompanied by a warning glance from the girl's eyes.
Laying down the towels, Katie retreated to the door; but the warning
look that she cast back at her aroused Ida May.

"Set the glass down, and I will drink the lemonade later on," she said,
quietly.

"Do you promise me that you will?" said Mrs. Cole, with unusual
interest.

"Yes," said Ida, hesitatingly. "Put it down on the table."

"I will come back in ten minutes," declared Mrs. Cole, "and if you have
not drunk it by that time--well, I'll make you, that's all," she added,
with a forced laugh, but meaning just what she said.

Ida May sat down when she found herself alone, wondering in amazement
what Katie could have meant by her strange words. At that moment the
girl glided into the room.



CHAPTER XV.


"Oh! do not touch it, my dear young lady!" cried Katie, rushing into
the room and seizing the lemonade with hands that were trembling.
"Listen, miss," she cried in an awful whisper. "They put something into
it--the lemonade is drugged!"

Ida May looked at her with the utmost astonishment. She could scarcely
understand her words.

"I saw them do it!" repeated the girl. "I heard him say, 'Put in
enough, and it will make her sleep soundly.' It was a white powder he
had brought with him," the maid went on, excitedly. "Oh, he makes such
a dupe of my poor mistress! He has hypnotized her so that she is afraid
to say that her soul is her own. I heard a great deal more that he
said, but I can not tell you now. All I can do is to warn you. Go away
from here as quickly as you can. They are enemies of yours, both of
them."

The girl's words terrified Ida May. She recalled Frank Garrick's words
as he walked along the street beside her.

"Take care! beware, girl! You had better not make an enemy of me! If
you do, you will rue the hour! For I can make it very unpleasant for
you. Ay, you will be sorry that you were ever born."

She _had_ made an enemy of him, and now he was about to take some
terrible revenge upon her. She did not have time to exchange another
word with the maid, for she had fled from the room as quickly as she
had entered it, and she was left alone with her conflicting thoughts.

The window was open, and she threw the contents of the glass out on the
pavement below.

She had scarcely set it down, before Mrs. Cole glided into the room.

"Ah! you have drunk the lemonade. That's right!" she added in a
triumphant tone. "But I won't sit down to talk to you to-night; you
look sleepy. I would advise you to retire at once."

Ida looked at her steadily, remembering the startling words that Katie
had whispered in her ears. Was this a woman or a fiend incarnate? Ida
wondered.

Her footsteps had scarcely died away ere Ida took down a long dark
cloak, and hurriedly donning it, together with her hat and veil, she
gathered her effects together, and thrusting them into a hand-bag,
stole silently as a shadow out into the darkened hall. As she passed
the sitting-room door she heard the sound of voices.

Frank Garrick was still there.

In the shadow of the vestibule door she saw Katie waiting for her.

"Good-bye, and God bless you, Ida May!" she said, holding out her
rough, toil-worn little hand.

"Good-bye, and thank you for the service you have rendered me," she
answered, with deep feeling. "If we ever meet again, perhaps it may be
in my power to repay you," added Ida, the tears standing out on her
long lashes.

She little dreamed that the hour would come when she would be called
upon to remember that promise.

Out of the house she stole, out into the darkness of the street.

At last, when faint and almost falling down from exhaustion, she ran
directly into the arms of a blue coat who was leisurely passing a
corner.

"Halloo there, my good girl!" he cried. "What are you doing out at this
hour of the night?"

Trembling piteously, and all unnerved at this unexpected encounter, for
a moment the girl was speechless.

"I am trying to find shelter until to-morrow morning, sir," she said.
"Then I shall look for work."

But the officer would not parley with her. He grasped her by the arm,
and was forcing the sobbing girl along, when he was suddenly confronted
by a young man who was passing, and who had witnessed the affair.

"Officer," he said, sternly, "this is an outrage. Why do you not let
that young girl go her way in peace? Why do you molest her?"

"It's my duty to run in every girl who walks the street at night,
without a justifiable reason."

"Let _me_ be responsible for this young woman," said the man. "I
believe what she told you to be true--that she wants to find a place to
stop until day-break, and then she will look for work."

The officer recognized the young man at once.

"If _you_ will vouch for her," he said, "why, she can go her way,
certainly."

"I think I'm a tolerably good judge of character," returned the young
man, "and I see nothing in her face to mistrust. Take her to one of the
missions near at hand. She can certainly stay there till morning."

The policeman made a low bow, and the young man passed on.

"You have interested one of the richest young men in New York in your
behalf," said the policeman, after they had passed on.

Ida did not ask the name of her benefactor, though she felt deeply
grateful for the kind service he had rendered her.

The matron of the home for friendless girls received the young girl
with the kindliness that characterized her.

She assigned her a little cot, and, wretched and footsore, Ida May
threw herself upon it and sobbed herself to sleep.

The matron looked at her as she passed through the long dormitory on
her way to her room.

"She has a sweet face!" she muttered, as she turned away; "but one on
which a tragedy is written."

Ida May was sitting in the reception-room when the matron passed
through it the next morning, and she asked her if there was anything
she could do for her.

"If you could only tell me, please, where I could find something to
do," she answered. "I must find work, or--starve!"

"When do you wish to look for a situation?" asked the matron, noting
how wan and pale the girl looked.

"This day, this very hour!" cried Ida May, eagerly.

The matron hesitated.

"I must first know what sort of employment you are seeking--what you
are best suited for."

"I am suited for nothing," Ida answered, despondently. "But that
must not deter me. If one did only the work one was fitted for,
three-quarters of the world would be idle."

"Would you take a situation as governess if one could be found for you?"

She shook her head dejectedly.

"I have not education enough," she replied. "I did not have much
opportunity of going to school when I was a little girl, and I am
suffering for it now."

After a moment's pause the matron said, thoughtfully:

"Would you like to try dress-making?"

"That's another thing that I know nothing about," she said. "I was
never taught to mend or sew. I always got out of it. Mother did it for
me rather than scold me."

"Perhaps you would take a position as lady's-maid."

A gasp, a shiver passed over her. Quick as lightning there flashed
before her mind the humiliation of three or four maids who had
accompanied their mistresses to the Ocean Hotel, at Newport, and how
Lily Ryder and Hildegarde Cramer had turned up their noses at them
because they had pretty faces, and had dared to pin in a pretty ribbon
or two in the lace caps they were forced to wear on all occasions.

"I am afraid I wouldn't be a success at that," she declared.

"I don't suppose you would like to be a house-maid," suggested the
matron, looking at the small white hands that lay in the girl's
lap--the blue-veined hands that were never designed to scour kettles or
clean floors. "My dear child," said the matron, compassionately, "there
is little else in a great city to do."

There was a pause--a pause broken presently by Ida May.

"Don't you think that if I could get into one of those large stores,
I could try on cloaks and hats without requiring any great amount of
knowledge of any kind?"

The matron looked doubtful.

"It is not as easy as you may imagine, my dear, to obtain admission
into any of those large stores. They have any amount of girls on their
books who are waiting eagerly for positions--persons with whom they
are acquainted--and they would stand a better chance than a stranger.
Besides, I hardly think a situation in a place of that kind would be
suitable for one so young. We will look over the paper and read the
advertisements."

She touched a bell, and told the attendant who answered it to bring in
the morning paper.

"You can look over it, my child," said the matron. "I will return in
half an hour. By that time you will perhaps have found something that
will suit you."

Left alone, Ida May commenced to look through the "Want" columns.

All through sixteen columns of the paper the girl's eyes eagerly ran.
She did not find anything that she was competent to do, and tears of
vexation rolled down her cheeks.

Suddenly her eyes rested upon an advertisement which she must have
missed in her hurried examination of the column.

"Wanted.--A few more hands in a cotton-mill. No. -- Canal Street.
Applicants must apply between the hours of nine and ten, this A. M."

Little dreaming of what was to come of it, Ida May concluded that this
was certainly the only position she could dare apply for.



CHAPTER XVI.


The matron entered presently, and Ida May showed her the advertisement
that had attracted her attention.

"It might be as well to try that," said the matron, encouragingly.

She looked after the girl as she went slowly down the steps, and shook
her head sadly.

As usual, Ida May's lovely face attracted the envy of all the girls
in the mill. The foreman, as well as the clerks in the office, admired
her, and that was enough to make the girls detest her.

Ida had secured lodgings in a boarding-house where a score of the girls
stopped. She shared her room with Emily Downs, a very quiet little
thing, who had been a general favorite with the girls up to this time.

Matters were going from bad to worse in the mill. The girls gathered
together in little groups here and there, and looked darkly at Ida May.
Even those who were wont to say "good-night" or "good-morning" passed
her by without a word.

The comments of the jealous girls became louder and deeper as another
fortnight dragged its slow lengths by. Whether Ida May heard or heeded
them, they did not care to know. The beautiful face grew whiter still,
and the large dark eyes became more pitiful in their pathetic terror.

The girls gathered together one noon hour, and held a long and excited
conversation.

Ida and Emily Downs were eating their luncheon at the further end of
the room, quite apart by themselves. Emily could see that something of
an unusual order was transpiring, by the girl's fierce gesticulations
and the angry glances that were cast upon her companion, who seemed
oblivious to it all.

At length one of them called Emily to them. There was a whispered
conversation, and looking mechanically across the table at that moment,
Ida May saw Emily start back with a cry of horror.

"They are talking about me," thought Ida, crushing back a sob. "They
want to turn the only friend I have from me."

She finished her simple luncheon in silence. It was scarcely concluded
ere she noticed with wonder that the girls had formed a group and were
marching over in her direction in a body. There were fully fifty of
them, and Ida noticed with wonder that the face of every one of them
was white, set, and stern.

"Ida May," said the ringleader, harshly, "we have something to say to
you!"

"Yes," she answered, thinking that they had reconsidered the matter,
and were going to ask her to join them.

For a moment the girl seemed at a loss to know what to say, but the
angry murmurs of her companions in the rear nerved her to her task.

"After consultation, we have concluded that, as respectable girls, we
can not remain in the mills another day if you are allowed to work
here. You must leave at once, or we shall do so."

For an instant Ida May was fairly dazed. She scarcely believed that she
had heard aright--surely her senses were playing her false. She sprung
to her feet, and confronted the girls, who stood, with angered faces,
looking at her.

"Surely you can not mean what you say!" she gasped. "What have I done
that you should say this to me?"

The ringleader looked at her with withering scorn.

"We do not consider you a proper companion to mingle among us,"
returned the girl, stolidly. "We all work for our living in this
cotton-mill, but if we _are_ poor we are _honest_. Is that plain enough
for you to understand? If not, I will add this"--and stepping up to
the trembling girl's side, she whispered a few sharp words in her
ear--words that made Ida May recoil as though they had been thrusts of
a knife that cut to her heart.

With a piteous cry she sunk on her knees, covering her death-white face
with her trembling hands.

"It remains with you to deny or affirm our accusation," went on the
girl, harshly "What have you to say to our charge, Ida May; is it true
or false?"

There was no answer, save the heartrending sobs of the girl cowering
before them in such abject misery--surely the most pitiful a human
heart ever knew.

"You see she _can not_ deny it," cried the ringleader, turning
triumphantly to her companions. "I assured you all that I was certain
before I advised this step. We may well look upon her with scorn; she
is not worthy to breathe the same air with us!"

Ida May rose slowly to her feet.



CHAPTER XVII.


Half fainting with grief and pain, Ida May rushed out into the street.

The sun was shining bright and warm, but it seemed to the girl that the
whole earth was dark and gloomy.

Where should she go? Which way should she turn? She would not go back
to the little lodging-house for her few belongings; she never wanted to
see it again. Let them do what they would with her few belongings. The
few dollars that were hers, she happened to have in the pocket of her
dress.

"Royal!" she murmured, "I can not go to you in this hour of my deepest
woe!"

She drew her veil down over her face, and the passers-by did not see
the tears that rolled like rain down her white, despairing face. It
mattered little to her which way she went.

Suddenly she heard the sound of a voice just ahead of her--a voice that
sent a thrill to her heart.

"Heaven pity me!" she gasped; "it is Royal Ainsley!"

He was bidding good-bye to a companion on the corner.

The next moment he had boarded a street car. With a smothered cry, Ida
May sprung after him. She must see him, she must speak to him!

The car was crowded. He was in the front of the car and she was at the
rear. There was no way of speaking to him. She must ride in the car as
far as he did, and when he alighted she must follow him. As she watched
him with strained eyes, she saw him greet a young and lovely girl.

The sight made the blood turn cold in her veins: Light, airy, gay as of
yore he was, all unconscious of the misery he had brought to a human
heart. He had wrecked her life. How could he stand there smiling into
the face of another girl?

Ida's heart swelled with bitter anguish.

She saw the young girl alight from the car at the corner of a
fashionable street, and Royal Ainsley accompanied her. He took her arm
and bent lovingly over her. She was some rich man's daughter. Ida May,
who followed in their footsteps, was sure of that.

They entered a handsome brown-stone house midway up the street. The
veiled, dark-robed little figure passed on, and stood at the end of the
street until he should reappear. Scores of pedestrians passed as the
hours rolled on.

Up and down past the house she paced under cover of the darkness. As
she paced slowly to the other end of the street, a coach stopped before
the house she was so intently watching.

Before she could reach a place where she could get a full view, Royal
Ainsley, with one or two others--she could not tell whether they were
men or women--ran lightly down the steps and entered the vehicle, which
rolled rapidly away.

"I have missed him!" sobbed Ida May. "God help me!"

On the morrow, Ida May was so ill that she could not leave the little
room to which she had come for temporary shelter.

The woman who kept the place took a great interest in her.

But every night, as soon as dusk had fallen, Ida May took up her lonely
vigil before the house Royal Ainsley had visited.

In her anxiety she did not notice that she had been observed from
an upper window by the mistress of the mansion. One night she found
herself suddenly confronted by that lady.

"What are you doing here?" she asked, grasping her by the shoulder.
"Speak at once!"

For a moment Ida May was so taken aback that she could not utter a
sound.

"Answer me at once, or I will have you arrested!" repeated the lady.

Ida May hung down her head.

"I must and will know!" cried the lady, pitilessly. "Are you watching
for the butler or any of the servants?"

The young girl lifted her head as proudly as any young queen might have
done. She remembered those weeks at Newport, during which she had been
considered the equal of the wealthiest girl there.

"No, madame!" she answered, sharply, "I was not waiting for any of your
servants to appear, but for one of your guests."

The lady gave a little gasp; but in an instant she recovered herself.

"A guest!" she repeated. "Of whom are you speaking?"

"Mr. Royal Ainsley," replied Ida May, gasping the words out brokenly,
the tears falling like rain down her face.

"Come inside," said the lady, drawing her hurriedly into the hall-way,
lest she should create a scene. "Now," she said, standing before the
girl with folded arms, "let me hear all about the matter. You must
speak the truth, or I will certainly force it from you."

"It would illy become me to speak anything but the truth," responded
Ida May. "Royal Ainsley comes here to see some beautiful young girl who
lives in this house. But this must not be. He is mine--mine--by every
tie that binds man to woman!"

"Surely he is not your--your--husband?" exclaimed the lady, excitedly.

"He--he should have been," sobbed Ida May, in a quivering voice. "It
was all a mistake, a terrible mistake," she continued, wringing her
hands.

The lady, who did not know her story, mistook her.

When she told her she started back in wonder.

Quick as thought she had decided upon her course of action.

"I wish to make an appointment with you," she said, "to talk over this
matter. Can you come here to-morrow?"

"No," said Ida May. "I shall be too busy. I have some work from one of
the stores, that will keep me engaged."

"Perhaps I can assist you so that it will not be necessary for you to
work so hard. Still, if to-morrow is inconvenient, come in the evening."

She was about to add, "I pity you;" but there was something in the
girl's face that forbid her pity.

The lady watched her curiously until she was out of sight. Then, with
a sigh of relief, she walked slowly up the grand staircase to her
_boudoir_.

A young and lovely girl was reclining on a couch, turning over the
leaves of a photograph album.

"Well, did you find out what is the matter with the girl?" she asked.

"Yes," said the elder woman. "And you would never guess what it was."

"Pardon me; but I shall not even try," said the young girl, indolently,
"for the simple reason that it would be too much of an effort for me."

"I will tell you," said the lady, drawing up a chair; "and I want you
to pay the strictest attention, Florence St. John."

"The subject will not interest me, mamma," returned the young girl,
turning over the leaves.

"But it _will_ interest you," returned the other, "when I tell you that
it concerns your new handsome lover."

She was quite right. The album fell to the floor with a crash.

"It appears," said Mrs. St. John, "that young Ainsley has got into some
kind of an intrigue with a poor but very pretty shop-girl. I think she
must be a shop-girl."

"I shall write to him at once never to cross this threshold again!"
cried the young girl, indignantly.

"You will do nothing of the kind," replied her mother. "Sit down and
listen to me. All young men are wild, and you must not take a man to
task for what he has done before he knew you. Shut your eyes to it, and
never bring it up to him. That's always safest. If he thinks you _do_
know about his past life, he will be reckless, and think he doesn't
need to care."

"About this girl, mamma--who is she?" she asked.

"A very pretty young creature," was the reply.



CHAPTER XVIII.


Faint and heart-sick, Ida May crept down the broad stone steps of the
elegant mansion, and wended her way back to her humble lodgings. Just
as she was about to touch the bell, a man ran hastily up the steps.

"Well, well, I declare!" he exclaimed, "I am at the wrong house. But in
this confounded tenement row, one house is so like the other that one
can not help making a mistake now and then."

With a gasp, Ida May reeled backward. At the very first word he had
uttered, Ida May had recognized Royal Ainsley.

It was Frank Garrick, the manager of the telegraph office.

The sentence had scarcely left his lips ere he recognized her.

"Aha!" he cried, a fierce imprecation accompanying the words. "So it's
_you_, Ida May?" he added, catching her fiercely by the cloak. "So I
have found you at last!"

She was too frightened to reply.

"So this is where you are stopping, is it? Come, walk as far as the end
of the street with me. I want to talk to you."

"No!" cried Ida May, struggling to free herself from his grasp. "I have
nothing to say to you, nor will I listen to you!"

"We shall see about that presently," he cried. "Frank Garrick is not a
man to be balked in this way by a little girl. You _shall_ listen to
me!"

Ida May reached out her hand quickly to touch the bell, but he
anticipated the movement, and caught her arm roughly.

She tried to cry out, but no sound issued from her lips.

She had already gone through more than her overstrained nerves could
bear. Without a cry or a moan, she sunk in a dead faint at his feet.

Gathering her up in his arms, Frank Garrick sprung quickly down the
steps. For a moment he stood there with his helpless burden in his arms.

"This is quite an unexpected go," he muttered, standing there undecided
for a moment. "I must leave her here a moment, that is certain, while I
run for a man's voice."

He placed Ida on the the lower step, in a sitting position, and darted
down the street in the direction of a cab-stand.

He did not see the open window of an adjoining house, because of the
closed blind which protected it, nor the crouching form of the woman
behind it, who had heard and witnessed all.

Like a flash she caught up her hat, which was lying on an adjacent
table, and sprung out of the door.

"I knew he would come to see her at last!" she said, fairly hissing
the words. "They have had a quarrel. That is why he has stayed away so
long. He has gone after a cab to take her elsewhere. But I will block
his little game!" cried Nannie Rogers--for it was she. "I shall take a
terrible revenge upon him by striking him through her."

Taking a short cut to a nearer cab-stand, she hailed the first vehicle.
The man sprung down from his box.

"Why, is that you, Nannie?" he cried, in unfeigned surprise.

"Yes, Joe," she answered, quickly. "I want your cab for a while."

In a few words she told him of a woman lying on the steps of the house
next to her--a woman whom she wished to befriend.

"I want you to take her to a certain place. I will tell you about it
when we start. Come quickly and help me to get her into your cab."

This was accomplished in less time than it takes to tell it.

"Where to, Nannie?" asked the driver, as he picked up the reins.

"Why in the world are you taking her there?" he exclaimed in dismay.

"Make no comments," she replied, angrily: "but drive on as fast as you
can. I wouldn't take her there unless it was all right."

"Oh, of course," returned the driver. "I am not saying but that you
know what you're doing. But she seems mighty quiet for that kind of a
person."

They had scarcely turned the first corner ere Frank Garrick drove up in
a cab.

"By thunder! she has vanished!" he exclaimed, excitedly, looking in
astonishment at the spot where he had left her a short time before.
"She must have fled into the house," he muttered. "Well, cabby, here's
your fee, anyhow. You may as well go back."

For some moments Frank Garrick stood quite still and looked up at the
house.

"Of all places in the world, who would have expected to find her
here--next door to Nannie. It's certain that Nannie does not know
of it. She could not keep it if she did. Well, this is a pretty
howdy-do--two rivals living next door to each other. Nannie is
expecting me to call on her this evening. If it were not for that, I
wouldn't show up at all, I'm so upset by that little beauty, Ida May."

Very slowly he walked up the steps of the adjoining house and pulled
the bell. To his great surprise, he learned that Nannie was out.

"She will be sure to be back presently," added the girl who answered
the bell. "Won't you come in and wait?"

"No," he answered, glad of the excuse. "I'll run in some evening during
the week."

With that he turned on his heel and walked rapidly away.

Meanwhile, the carriage bearing Nannie Rogers and the still unconscious
Ida May rolled quickly onward, and stopped at length before a red-brick
building on the outskirts of the city.

Ida May's swoon lasted so long that even Nannie grew frightened.

"Wait," she said to the driver, "I will have to step in first and see
if they will receive her."

After fully five minutes had elapsed, the door opened and a tall man
looked out.

"It is I, doctor," said Nannie Rogers. "May I step inside? I want to
speak to you. I have a patient waiting outside the gate."

"Dear me! is it really you? You come at rather a late hour. Still, you
know you are a priviliged person here."

"I ought to be, since I have learned so many secrets about the place
and yourself," she said, "when I was nurse here."

"Didn't I give you five hundred dollars to insure secrecy when you left
here?"

"Well, I kept my promise. I never told anything, did I?"

"Let me understand what you want," he said, abruptly. "Did I understand
you to say that there was a patient outside?"

The girl nodded.

"It does not matter who or what she is," she said, tersely. "It is the
desire of her friends that she be kept here for a few months. I suppose
you are anxious to know about the pay?"

"Of course. That's where my interest comes in," he said.

"Well, I will be responsible for it," she said.

"You?" he said, amazedly.

"Yes; why not?" she returned.

He looked at her with something like doubt.

"You dare not refuse to accept her!" she declared.

"Do you mean that for a threat?" he exclaimed, fiercely.

She shrugged her shoulders.

"I can not be held accountable for the way in which you take my
assertion," she declared.

The frown deepened on the man's face.

"For convenience's sake, we will say that the girl is an opium-eater,
and that is why you are keeping her under such strict surveillance."

The man muttered some strange, unintelligible remark.

"I suppose the cabman will help me in with the girl?" he said, harshly.

"Of course," replied Nannie Rogers, impatiently.

The girl's figure was so light that "the doctor," as he termed himself,
found little difficulty in bringing her into the house without aid.

Nannie Rogers stood in the hall-way, and followed him into the
reception room, where he laid the girl down upon a rude couch. She
watched him as he threw back her long dark veil, and cried out in
wonder at the marvelous beauty of the still white face--the face so
like chiseled marble.

"How young and how very lovely!" he remarked; and as he spoke, he
unfolded the long dark cloak that enveloped her.

A sharp exclamation broke from his lips, and he turned around suddenly.

"Nannie Rogers!" he said.

But the look of astonishment that he saw on her face was as great as
his own bore. Nannie Rogers' look of astonishment quickly gave way to
one of the most intense hatred; ay, a very demon of rage seemed to have
taken possession of her.

"I wonder that you brought her here," said the doctor.

But Nannie Rogers was speechless. She was gazing like one turned to
stone upon the face of the girl whom she believed to be her rival.

"I have a double reason for hating her now," she said, under her
breath, clinching her hands so tightly that her nails cut deep into her
palms. But she did not even feel the pain.

"I say, I wonder that you brought her here," repeated the doctor.

"I knew of no better place," she replied, turning her eyes uneasily
away from him. "You must not refuse to receive her."

"Who is she?" he asked.

"I refuse to answer your question," she replied, grimly. "You know only
this about her: She is a confirmed opium-eater. One who is very much
interested in her brought her here to be treated by you. She is to be
kept here, under strict watch, to prevent her getting away. If she
writes any letters they are to be forwarded to me."

And thus it happened that when Ida May opened her troubled eyes, after
the doctor and an attendant had worked over her for upward of an hour,
she found herself in a strange room, with strange faces bending over
her. She looked blankly up at them.

"The waves are very high," she moaned. "Come back on the beach, girls,"
she murmured.

"She is out of her head," exclaimed the doctor, turning nervously to
his attendant. "I ought not to have taken this girl in," he continued,
in alarm. "I fear we shall have no end of trouble with her. This looks
like a long and lingering illness."

"She is so young, and as fair as a flower," murmured the attendant,
bending over her. "I feel very sorry for her. If a fever should happen
to set in, do you think it would prove fatal to her?" she asked,
eagerly.

"In nine cases out of ten--yes," he replied, brusquely.

At the very hour that this conversation was taking place, Royal
Ainsley, the scape-grace, was ascending the brown-stone steps of the
St. John mansion.

"I will take beautiful Florence and her stately mamma to the ball
to-night," he mused, under his breath. "Before we return, I will have
proposed to the haughty beauty. Trust me for that. They think I am
the heir of my uncle, wealthy old Royal Ainsley, who died recently,
and--curse him!--left all his wealth to my gentlemanly cousin, even
making him change his name to that of Eugene Mallard, that the outside
world might not confound it with mine. Yes, I will marry beautiful
Florence St. John, and live a life of luxury!"

In that moment there rose before his mental vision the sweet sad face
of beautiful Ida May, the fair young girl whom he had wronged so
cruelly and then deserted so heartlessly.



CHAPTER XIX.


The servant who answered the bell at that moment, put a stop to Royal
Ainsley's musings.

He had only a few moments to wait in the drawing-room before Miss St.
John appeared.

She looked so lovely in her beautiful ball-dress that his eyes glowed
and his heart beat. Before he had an opportunity to utter the words
that were on his lips, the young girl's mother entered the drawing-room.

She was so gay and bright with him, that the mother wondered vaguely if
she had forgotten the story which she had told concerning him.

The warning glance which she gave her daughter reminded her that she
must act decorously.

The girl was very much in love, and it was easy enough for her to
forgive him for having had another sweetheart.

He accompanied mother and daughter to the grand ball. He was so gay and
so brilliant and so witty, that he charmed the beautiful Miss St. John
more than ever, and he knew by her smiles that his efforts were not in
vain.

Ainsley was the very poetry of motion. It was a dream of delight to
Florence St. John, as they made the round of the magnificent ball-room,
with his arms clasped about her, his handsome face so near her own.

"Come into the conservatory, Florence," he whispered; "I have something
to tell you."

How strange it was the scene and the occasion did not cause him to
remember that _other_ scene and that _other_ girl whom he had once
brought into the conservatory to listen to words of burning love!

"Florence," he whispered, "I have something to tell you. Will you
listen to me?"

"Yes," she said, her heart beating furiously, for, woman-like, she knew
what was coming. The lovely color on her cheeks deepened, the girl's
blue eyes grew luminous and tender.

"Florence," he cried, "how shall I tell you what I have to say? Oh,
Florence, let me tell it quickly, lest my courage fail! I love you,
dear--love you as I have never loved any one in my life before!"

Looking into the dark, handsome face of the young man before her,
Florence St. John saw that she was in the presence of a mighty
passion--a great love.

In an instant he was kneeling by her side, his whole soul in his eyes
and on his lips. It was the very first time in his life that Royal
Ainsley's heart was ever stirred with love.

If Florence St. John had even been poor, he would have cared for her.
He started in first by wanting the girl for her money; it ended by his
wanting her for herself.

He caught the little hand in his that was carrying the beautiful
bouquet of roses he had sent her, and held it tightly.

"Thank Heaven!" he said, "the time has come at last, my beautiful love,
for which I have waited so long. Surely you know what I have to tell
you, Florence!" he said, drawing back and looking at her.

"I haven't the least idea," declared the girl, in whom the spirit of
coquetry was strong. "Really, I do not understand."

"There needs be no understanding, my beautiful love!" he cried. "None!
I have come to tell you in words what I have already told you a hundred
times in a hundred different ways--I love you with all my heart! I love
you! I know no other words. There is none which can tell how dearly or
how much all my heart, my soul, my life goes out in those few words--I
love you!"

His voice died away in a whisper.

"I have a true and serious friendship for you, Mr. Ainsley," she
answered, coyly; "but I--I have never thought of such a thing as love
or marriage."

"Will you think of it _now_?" he answered, eagerly.

He loved her all the more for this sweet, womanly, modest hesitation.

She arose from the seat near the fountain where he had placed her.

"Well, let it rest in that way," she answered. "I'll refer the subject
to mamma; but you are not to say one word of love to me, nor speak to
her about the matter for at least two months."

"Florence, you are cruel," he cried, "to keep me so long in suspense.
Tell me, at least, that if your mother favors my suit, I may hope that
you are not indifferent to me."

But she would not answer him. Her heart beat high, the fever of love
throbbed in her veins; but, like all well-bred young girls, she had
been schooled by early training to make no sign of preference for
any man at his first avowal of affection. As he led her from the
conservatory, past the fountain, the fragrant water-lilies, past the
green palms and the flowering orchids, he gave a terrible start.

In that moment there came to him the memory of Ida May. He was annoyed
by the very thought of her in that hour, and he quickly put it from him.

When they returned to the ball-room, Florence was as sweet as ever; but
neither by word or by sign did she betray any rememberance of the scene
which had just occurred in the conservatory.

He left Florence and her mother at the door of their home an hour
later, but he did not have the opportunity of holding the little white
hand in his for one moment, or of holding even a word of conversation
with her.

"Well," said Mrs. St. John, when she and her daughter found themselves
alone for a moment, "I saw him take you to the conservatory. You were
gone a long time. Did he propose?"

"Yes!" returned the girl, languidly.

"Yes!" echoed Mrs. St. John. "Why, how can you take it so calmly, my
Florence? You accepted him, of course?"

"No," returned the girl, calmly. "I said that I would like to have two
months to consider the matter before the subject was broached to you."

"You are mad, Florence!" cried her mother. "A wealthy young man like
that is not captured every day."

"We are not so poor, mamma, that I should make a god of wealth," said
the girl.

"Oh, certainly not," said her mother; "but I have always been afraid
you would be sought after by some fortune-hunter."



CHAPTER XX.


"I am sorry," said Mrs. St. John, after a moment's pause, "that you
have refused to consider his suit for at least two months. Eligible
young men are not so plentiful nowadays that a young girl can be so
independent."

"I need not ask _you_ what your opinion of an eligible young man is,"
said the young girl, throwing back her head haughtily, "for I know
you would answer--a large bank account. But in _my_ opinion that does
not constitute all, where the happiness of a life-time is at stake. I
would rather marry a man whose reputation was spotless, if he did not
have a second coat to his back. There is something more than money in
this world to make our happiness. I am _glad_ instead of sorry that I
refused to give him an answer for two months. I shall demand to know
who the young girl is who came to our door, and what she is to him."

"Then you will be doing a very unwise thing," declared her mother,
emphatically. "Let well enough alone. I told the girl to call around
to-morrow night, and when she comes I will have a talk with her."

"Will you permit me to be present at the interview, mamma?"

"By no means!" exclaimed Mrs. St. John, with asperity. "The story that
no doubt will be unfolded to me is not for ears such as yours. I will
tell as much to you as I deem necessary for you to know; let that
suffice."

But the young beauty and heiress was not to be appeased. She made up
her mind to see the girl at all hazards when she should come; but much
to the surprise of both mother and daughter, the girl did not put in an
appearance.

That day passed, as did also the next and the next. A week went by and
lengthened into a fortnight, and still the girl came not.

"You see, my dear, her statement was false!" cried Mrs. St. John,
triumphantly. "She feared that we would investigate her story, and
she was no doubt a fraud. If you believe all those strange stories
you hear, you will have enough to do. She was no doubt looking for
hush-money, and when I did not offer to give it to her, you see she did
not return."

This seemed quite the truth, as Florence saw it.

How wrong it had been to even suspect him! She made up her mind that if
he should broach the subject before the time she had named, she might
not refuse his pleading.

She was expecting him that very evening. He came at last, looking so
handsome, so buoyant, that the girl's heart went out to him at once,
as the hearts of so many women had done.

He brought her some beautiful violets, and he knew he had as good as
won her when he saw her fasten them in the bodice of her dress.

Florence St. John was sitting in a velvet arm-chair but a short
distance away. Her beautiful face was softened, more so than he had
ever seen it before, the smile on her lips was sweeter--the proud,
half-defiant, flashing loveliness seemed all at once to grow gentle.

He no longer seemed quite sure of her. It was Florence St. John's
silence that alarmed him, perhaps.

"I wish," he cried, "that I knew in what words and in what fashion
other men make love."

"Does not your own heart teach you?" asked the young girl, suddenly.

His face flushed at the question.

"Yes," he answered; "but I am not sure that the teachings are of the
right kind. You have not answered me, and it must be _my_ fault, either
because I have not expressed myself properly or that I have not made
myself understood. Florence, I want you--with my whole heart I ask
you--I want you to become my wife."

"Am I the first person you have ever told this to?" she asked, slowly,
looking him in the face.

Almost every girl he had ever made love to had asked him the same
question, and he was not abashed by it.

The ever-ready answer was on his lips instantly.

"How could you ever believe that I had spoken one word of love to any
one but yourself," he said, reproachfully. "No other face has ever had
the slightest attraction for me. The men of my race have but one love
in a life-time. I have never loved before I met you. I shall love you
until I die. Are you answered?"

He looked straight into her face as he uttered the falsehood.

There did sweep across his mind, as he uttered the falsehood, the
memory of Ida May; but he put it from him quickly.

How strange it was that her memory should always haunt him, try hard as
he would to banish it!

"You are quite sure that you never loved any girl but me?" she repeated.

"_Quite_ sure," he responded. "To doubt me causes me great pain,
Florence."

"Then forget that I asked the question," she said, sweetly, believing
in him implicitly.

"And you will be mine?" he whispered, holding the little hand closer.

"Yes," she answered, solemnly.

He caught her in his arms in a transport of delight.

"Thank you--thank you for those words, Ida!" he cried.

"Did I understand you to call me _Ida_?" she asked in wonder.

"No," he answered, boldly, cursing himself for the slip of the tongue.
"I was about to add: 'I do so thank you,' but you did not give me an
opportunity to finish the sentence."

The falsehood was so adroitly told that she believed him.

"I shall have to put a curb on my tongue, or Heaven knows what name I
shall be saying next."

Should she tell him of the young girl who was at the door waiting to
see him? She remembered her mother's words the next moment, to say
nothing of the matter.

"Now that you have been so good as to consent to marry me, we are to
consider ourselves engaged. The question is, when will you marry me? It
may as well be _soon_ as late."

"Oh, I really don't know about that now," she declared.

"Make me happy by saying that it will be as soon as possible," he urged.

There was no denying anything he asked in that winsome voice.

"I promise," she repeated, after another pause.

He caught her in his arms and strained her to his bosom.

"You have made me the happiest man in the whole wide world, Florence!"
he cried, rapturously.

Suddenly his arms fell from her and he reeled backward, staring at the
window with widely dilated eyes.

"What is the matter, Royal? Are you ill?" cried Florence, in the
greatest terror.

"Some one passed along the porch just outside the window," he
panted--"a woman hurrying toward the vestibule door. She will ring the
bell in a moment!" he gasped.

At that instant there was a heavy peal at the front door bell.



CHAPTER XXI.


"Florence," repeated Royal Ainsley, his face white as death, his teeth
chattering, "order the servants not to answer the bell!"

But it was too late; the door had already swung back on its hinges. An
instant later the servant appeared with a card.

"A gentleman, miss," he said. "I told him you were not at home, as you
requested."

Florence St. John held the card in her white fingers.

"You see, it was not a lady," she said, half amused at his agitation.

He drew a breath of intense relief.

"Pardon me, Florence," he said. "I--I--thought it was one of your girl
friends who was about to share your attention with me. I gave way to my
annoyance. Be kind, and forget it. Remember the old adage: 'One finds
much to pardon in a man who is in love.'"

His explanation of the matter satisfied her. Very young girls are
never suspicious. The remembrance of that one evening always stood
out bright and clear in Florence St. John's life. She gave herself
up to happiness, and when Royal urged her to name an early day, she
laughingly consented.

"All the ladies in our family have been married in April," she declared.

"That is almost four months from now, my darling," he groaned. "Do not
ask me to wait so long. So much might take place within that time!"

He was about to add "to part us," but stopped himself just in time.

"A lady has to have a _trousseau_ prepared," she said, archly. "And
when you put yourself in the hands of these _modistes_, you are at
their mercy; they will not be hurried. Mamma, I am sure, would not
consent to an earlier marriage than that. I hope that I may persuade
her to do so."

"You will allow me to persuade her differently, if I can?" he asked,
eagerly.

"Yes, if you can," she answered.

"I will try to settle it before I leave the house this very night,"
he declared. "Ah, here comes your mother now! If you will make some
kind of an excuse to absent yourself from the room, my darling, for a
few moments, I will urge my suit so eloquently that she will find it
difficult to say 'no' to me."

Mrs. St. John greeted the young man pleasantly as she entered. She was
too thoroughly a woman of the world to greet him effusively, knowing,
had she done so, it would be sure to make him too confident of success.

Royal Ainsley laid himself out to please the mother as he had never
attempted to please an elderly woman before.

"You asked me to play over a new piece of music for you when you
came. If you will please excuse me for a moment, I will get it," said
Florence, glancing up shyly at him with laughing eyes, as much as to
say, "I am going to give you a chance for the longed-for interview with
mamma"--a look which Royal Ainsley answered with a nod. Florence had
scarcely reached the upper landing ere Royal Ainsley left his seat, and
walked eagerly over to Mrs. St. John's side.

"My dear lady," he began, dropping into a seat opposite her, "I want
to tell you a little story and hear your opinion about it."

Mrs. St. John was wise enough to know what was coming, but she did not
betray more than the usual interest.

"It is the story of a young man who wished to possess a treasure which
belonged to another. He yearned for it with all his soul.

"My dear lady, not to beat further round the bush, let me say I am the
young man who wishes to possess the treasure which you hold as sacred.
That treasure is your beautiful daughter Florence, my dear lady. I love
her with all my heart. I want your consent to make her my wife."

"Dear, dear me!" exclaimed Mrs. St. John, apparently greatly
frustrated. "I hope you have not spoken a word of this to the dear
child."

"Yes, I have, and we have both determined to abide by your decision, as
to how long we shall have to wait, though we both hope you will set as
early a day as possible."

"Remember that my Florence is only a school-girl yet," declared the
mother. "I could not think of parting from her yet."

"Dear, dear lady!" cried Royal Ainsley, "do not doom me to such pitiful
suspense, I beg of you! There are some men who could wait with much
patience, but I am not one of them. I should have to go away and travel
incessantly."

This was exactly what Mrs. St. John did not wish to happen. The gilded
youth before her was too good a catch in the matrimonial market to lose.

Every mother is always glad to have her daughter make a good match. She
was no exception to the rule.

And when she read in the paper, a few months later, of that uncle's
death, and that he had left his vast wealth to his nephew, Royal
Ainsley, she was determined that no effort should be spared to make him
fall in love with her daughter.

He grew eloquent in his pleading. Ere ten minutes more had elapsed, he
had drawn from Mrs. St. John's lips the promise that the wedding should
take place in four months' time at the very latest.

He made up his mind to accept this decision for the present, but he
would certainly depend upon his own eloquence and persuasive powers in
the near future to overcome her scruples and influence her to name an
earlier day.

He left the house that night buoyant of spirits and gay of heart. It
was strange that in that hour he thought of Ida May.



CHAPTER XXII.


We must now return to Ida May, dear reader, and the thrilling
experiences the poor girl was passing through in the lonely stone house
on the river-road.

Owing to the drug which was being constantly administered to her, from
the hour she crossed the threshold Ida knew little or nothing of what
was going on in the outside world.

The days lengthened into weeks, and the weeks into months.

Her remittances came regularly; still, the "doctor" of the sanitarium
was heartily sick of his bargain. He dared not refuse Nannie Rogers'
request to keep her there, for reasons which would put him behind the
prison bars had they reached the ears of the authorities.

When he saw the girl grow whiter and more fragile with each passing
day, his alarm increased.

In this horrible place Ida May wore out four long and weary months of
her young life.

They had long since ceased giving her the drug. It was unnecessary now
to waste any more of it upon her.

When Ida May's mind slowly cleared, and a realization of what was going
on about her came to her, she looked in the greatest astonishment at
the strange apartment and the grim-faced woman who was bringing food
to her.

"Where am I, and who are you?" she asked. "Oh, I remember! I swooned on
the steps of the boarding-house. Did _he_ have me brought here?"

"Yes," retorted the doctor's sister, thinking that the better way of
stopping all questioning.

A bitter cry of horror rose to Ida May's lips.

"Then I must go away from here at once!" she declared, attempting to
gain her feet.

But she was so weak that she staggered and would have fallen had not
the woman sprung forward and saved her.

"Don't go on in that way," said the woman, brusquely. "You are to
remain here until you are--well. It won't be over a fortnight longer.
You've been here some time."

"But I _will not_ remain here!" exclaimed Ida May, excitedly. "I shall
leave at once!"

The woman turned the key in the lock, coolly removed it, and slipping
it into her pocket, remarked:

"This is a sanitarium. It is not for patients to say when they shall
leave here. _That_ is the doctor's business."

"But tell me, why does any one wish to keep me here?" cried Ida May,
piteously. "No one in the whole world has any interest in me."

"I am surprised to hear you say that," declared the woman, grimly, with
something very much like a sneer in her harsh voice.

The words, the tone in which they were uttered, and the look which
accompanied them, cut the poor girl to the heart.

"Let me tell you about the man who brought me here," cried Ida,
trembling like a leaf, believing it must certainly be her sworn enemy,
Frank Garrick, who had taken cruelly taken advantage of her to abduct
her when she swooned on the boarding-house stoop.

"I have no time to listen to you," exclaimed the woman. "We are
strictly forbidden to talk to the patients or listen to their tales of
woe, which are always woven out of whole cloth."

"You are a woman like myself," cried Ida May, sobbing bitterly. "Surely
you can not find it in your heart to turn a deaf ear to me, for pity's
sake, if for nothing else."

But the woman was inexorable, and said:

"I tell you, I don't want to hear what you have got to say--and I
_won't_, that's all about it. If you make any fuss, you will be put on
a diet of bread and water."

"But answer me this one question," said Ida May, in terror. "What
reason has any one in keeping me here against my will?"

The woman shrugged her shoulders.

"There may be plenty of reasons," she retorted, sharply. "Perhaps you
are a wife that some man wants to be rid of. Then, again, perhaps you
are no wife--a better reason still for some young man wishing to get
you safely out of his path just now. A father or a brother may have
brought you here to save the family honor. I could go on with any
amount of practical reasons."

"Have I not told you that I am all alone in the world?" panted the poor
girl, clinging to her with death-cold hands.

"Yes; but I have good reason to think otherwise," replied the woman,
bluntly. "There's no use in your making a fuss," continued the woman,
harshly. "You may have to put in a long time beneath this roof."



CHAPTER XXIII.


Long hours after the woman left the room, Ida May sat by the window
looking out into the darkness, and trying to fathom what seemed to her
the greatest kind of a mystery.

Why should Frank Garrick take interest enough in her to have her
brought here and to pay money for having her retained here? What
interest could he have in her?

He had vowed a terrible vengeance upon her when she repulsed his offer
of love. But why should his vengeance have taken this form? What
benefit could it be to him to shut her in from the world?

As Ida sat there in the waning light, her eyes fell upon a piece of
newspaper in the open fire-place.

"I will wrap up my few belongings in that," she muttered, "and then set
about making my way out of this place."

As she smoothed out the half sheet, a few lines midway down one of the
columns held her spell-bound as they caught her eye.

For a moment she stared at the words. They seemed to fairly turn the
heart in her bosom to stone, for they read as follows:

 "The engagement is announced of Miss Florence St. John, of No. --,
 Fifth Avenue, daughter of Mrs. J. St. John, to Mr. Royal Ainsley, of
 New York. The wedding will take place at Peekskill, on the Hudson, a
 month from date."

As she read it, the room seemed to whirl around her. With a cry so
piteous that it seemed it must reach God's ear, the poor girl sunk on
her knees.

Her husband about to marry another!

No matter what the world might say, she had married him in good faith.
He was hers; he belonged to her before Heaven and all the world.

She wrung her hands wildly.

"The marriage must not take place! I must save the man I love from
himself and the anger of the watching angels!" she cried.

She prayed wildly that she might not be too late.

Her hat and cloak were hanging on a peg near the door. She took them
down, and her hands trembled so that she could hardly put them on. Her
knees trembled, and she felt faint. But she summoned all her strength,
and reached the door and turned the knob. But it was locked on the
outside.

Her weak hands were powerless to force the door. She crept back to the
window and threw open the sash. All that she could behold was a dense
mass of trees.

A sturdy oak grew close to the window, its great branches spread out
invitingly before her. It was a desperate chance to take in order to
reach the ground, which was fully thirty feet below.

Would her strength give way? Dare she take the terrible risk?

"I must! I must!" she cried. "Heaven will protect me!"

Without stopping to debate the matter further, lest she should lose
courage, the poor girl climbed with difficulty out on the broad sill
and grasped one of the boughs.

Would it bear her weight?

The great bough creaked with its unaccustomed weight, slight as it was,
then shot downward.

In the old days at home Ida May had been accustomed to climb trees and
to swing about in their branches. She realized that when the bough bent
its entire length earthward she must let go her hold, or it would carry
her quickly up again. She let go her hold when she felt that the bough
of the tree had bent to its utmost. Quickly she fell downward, and Ida
May, stunned and helpless for a moment, found herself lying in the long
green grass.

She had scarcely fallen three feet, yet the shock had stunned her.

She knew that she must be on some country road. Afar in the distance
she could distinctly see rows of glimmering lights. Those she knew must
be the lights of the city. She must reach it and find the house on
Fifth Avenue before she dared give herself a moment's rest.

She reached the outskirts of the city at last, and crept on toward its
great throbbing heart.

Like one in a dream, Ida May saw a tall, thin woman and a young girl,
who appeared to be her maid, step from a carriage.

She tried to get out of their way, but if her very life had depended
upon it, she could not have done so. The tall woman and Ida May jostled
against each other.

With a sharp exclamation of anger, the lady turned upon her. But at
that moment Ida reeled, and, with a piteous moan, fell senseless at her
feet.

"Well, well! here's a pretty howdy-do!" exclaimed the tall, angular
woman. "Here, John!" she called to the footman, who was just shutting
the door of the vehicle, "pick up this poor creature, and carry her
into the house. It appears I have knocked her down. I hope no bones are
broken."

The house into which Ida May was carried was a very small cottage,
occupied by a poor laborer and his wife, who were the parents of a
little one who was ill but was slowly convalescing.

The wealthy spinster and her maid often called to bring some fruit or
medicine to the child.

Miss Fernly was not fair to look upon, but she had a heart of gold. She
was quite eccentric; but her purse was always open to the wants of the
needy.

"Leave the room instantly," she said to her maid. "Run out and tell the
coachman to go for the nearest doctor, and to fetch him back with him
at once!"

It seemed an age until the doctor arrived. Everything in human power
was done to render the sufferer comfortable.

It was early morn when the doctor departed--and there had come into
this great world of sorrow a dark-eyed little stranger--a tiny little
one, with a lovely face like its mother's.

"Will it live?" cried the young mother, as she listened breathlessly to
its faint little wails.

"I am afraid not," replied the doctor pityingly. "We can only hope."

"Oh, if it would only die--only die!" sobbed the girl's mother. "The
world is so cold and so dark!"

Miss Fernly drew back, shocked and pained.

"You must not wish for anything like that to happen," she said, "for
God might take you at your word."

For ten long and weary days the hapless young mother lay with her face
to the wall, crying out to Heaven to take her and her baby from this
cruel world.

In great fear, the doctor had taken charge of the little one, and
conveyed it to a near-by foundling asylum. Its presence seemed to
irritate the hapless young mother, who was already in a high fever.

Miss Fernly called every day at the cottage, to see how her latest
charge was progressing.

She had taken a strange interest in the girl whose identity seemed
shrouded in such profound mystery.



CHAPTER XXIV.


The beautiful girl lying so ill under Miss Fernly's care grew steadily
worse. Her constant cry for the little one was most pitiful to hear.

"How are we to let her know that it is slowly fading away?" said the
woman to the doctor.

"We will not let her know until the last moment; it would do her no
good, and be only a setback for her," he responded.

Miss Fernly pitied the young mother from the very depths of her heart.
It made this spinster more than ever enraged at men. She had tried to
gain the girl's confidence. But it had all been in vain. Ida would lie
for hours, looking out of the window at the fleecy clouds, muttering
piteously:

"It must have taken place by this time! Oh! I am too late, too late!"

At last Miss Fernly's curiosity got the better of her.

"Will you tell me what you mean by those words, my dear?" she asked,
one day. "Perhaps I can help you in some way."

"No," returned Ida May, wearily. "It would be useless, useless."

Miss Fernly took the little white hand in her own and pressed it gently.

"Do not say that, my dear, and in that tone; it is not right. Heaven is
always kind enough to send a friend to those who are in need of help."

"You are right," said the girl, quickly. "In my life I have been used
to cruelty and unkindness. I--I--"

She stopped for a moment, and something like a flush crossed her pale
cheeks; then she burst into tears.

"I will tell you my story, my good lady," she sobbed; "for the weight
of it is eating my soul away."

With her throbbing little hands still held tightly in Miss Fernly's,
she sobbed wretchedly:

"Surely it is the cruelest story that ever a young girl had to tell. I
might have led a happy life if I had not been foolish enough to want
to be a fine lady. I had often read of such things happening, and oh!
I believed it. Cinderella was changed from a kitchen-maid to a fairy
princess, and oh! how happy she was, if but for a brief hour.

"It seemed to me that an opportunity always came for those who watched
for it. One came to me. A wealthy family took me with them to Newport
for the summer, and there I met a young man fair of face, handsome
as a dream. I had never before seen any one like him. You will not
wonder that my heart went out to him. I had known him but a few short
weeks ere he asked me to marry him, counseling a secret marriage, and
I--I consented. It was not a regular minister who married us, but
a--a--mayor, or somebody like that.

"My husband brought me to the city. We had barely reached here, after
an all-night's journey, when I learned to my horror that he believed me
to be the heiress of the wealthy people with whom I had been stopping.
When I told him I was not, what a change there came over him! With a
face as white as it would ever be in death, he drew back and looked at
me.

"'Not an heiress?' he cried. 'Great heavens! what an eternal fool I
have made of myself!'

"He left my presence quickly, telling me that it was all a
mistake--that the man who had married us had not the power to do so;
that it was just as well, perhaps, for he never could wed a poor girl.

"He advised me to go home and forget him, adding insult to injury by
concluding with the cruel words; 'Such a little incident in the life of
a working-girl will not amount to anything.'"

"The scoundrel of a man!" cried Miss Fernly, in intense indignation. "I
wonder that a righteous God lets such men live!"

She found herself intensely interested in the story of this beautiful
young girl, whose innocent face she could not help but trust from the
first moment that she beheld it.

At first it had occurred to Miss Fernly to ask the name of the rascal,
her husband; then she told herself that in all probability it was a
false one, and that he could not be traced by it.

"I will think the matter over," said Miss Fernly, "and conclude what
action you should take. For your child's sake, you can not allow this
man to go free. You would be committing a crime against society at
large."

Just at that moment the doctor entered the room. He motioned Miss
Fernly to one side. By some strange intuition, Ida May guessed the
import of his visit.

"My--my little one!" she cried, inquiringly--"tell me of her! How is
she?"

For a moment the doctor was silent.

"I may as well tell the truth now as tell it at some future time," he
thought, pityingly.

"Tell me what news do you bring of my little child?" cried Ida.

He crossed over to where the hapless young girl sat, and bent over her
pityingly.

"The little one is dead!" he said in a low, hushed voice.

It was dying when he left the foundling asylum. As he gazed upon it,
he said to himself that it would be but a question of a few short
hours. He turned away from it, leaving it in the care of the good
nurses, that he might go and gently break the sad news to the young
mother.

While Miss Fernly and the hapless young mother were discussing the
flowers they would plant over baby's grave, the nurses, with bated
breath, were standing around the little cot. Another physician sat by
the cot, holding the waxen wrist.

"Quick! hand me the cordial!" he cried. "I may be able to save this
little life!"

A small vial was hurriedly handed to him. He poured a few drops between
the white lips, and sat down again, patiently awaiting the result.

"If the infant lives five minutes, it will be able to pull through," he
observed, quietly.

They watched the great clock on the opposite wall, whose pendulum swung
noiselessly to and fro. One minute, two; there was no change. A third;
the doctor bent his ear to listen for the feeble breathing, holding a
mirror close to the child's lips. There was moisture upon it as he drew
it away. Another moment, the crucial moment, was reached.

"See! it is dying!" whispered one of the nurses, touching the doctor's
arm.

A half minute more, and then another half minute passed by.

"The baby will live!" exclaimed the doctor, rising to his feet. "Yes,
the baby will live," repeated the doctor. "It has had a hard time of
it, I see, but it has conquered death.

"It is so strange," he mused, "whom nobody wants or seems to care for
clings to life most tenaciously, as though it were worth having.

"A few hours since I was at the home of one of the wealthiest families
in the city. That young mother's babe died, though I did everything
in human power to save it. The father caught me by the arm when I was
first called there, and said:

"'Doctor, save that little child upstairs, and it will be the making of
your fortune. You shall name your own price. Stay right here, by night
and by day, until it is out of danger, and anything you may ask for
shall be yours.'

"He led me through the marble hall and past gilded drawing-rooms and
spacious parlors to the chamber above where mother and child lay. It
was a plump little mite, with everything to live for. I thought my task
would be an easy one; but you have heard the old saying: 'Man proposes,
but God disposes.'

"Well it was so in this case. It had only the measles--a disease which
every little one has at some time during infancy. No wonder I felt no
alarm.

"Although I did my best, it began to fail. I summoned all the experts
in the city, bringing together men who were older and wiser than
myself, to discover what could possibly be the reason why my skill had
failed me in this instance.

"There was nothing which science could suggest that we did not do. But
it seemed that fate was against us. The child literally faded before
our very eyes, and passed away.

"This one had no such chance of life as the other had, yet it has
passed through an illness so dangerous that not one in a thousand ever
live through. I predict that it will have an uncommon future," he
added, thoughtfully.



CHAPTER XXV.


For long hours after the doctor had left Ida May, she wept so bitterly
over the fate of her little child that Miss Fernly grew alarmed.

"Crying will not bring the baby back," she said. "The Almighty knew
best whether He wanted it to live or die. You must not rail against the
judgment of God!"

She felt that she must draw her mind into another channel.

"Say that you will be more composed when I see you again," she replied,
earnestly, "though it may not be for some days."

"I will try," murmured Ida May, with a sigh. "Will it be long before I
see you?" she added, wistfully.

"I am going to my niece's wedding," answered Miss Fernly. "I may remain
a few days after at the house."

Ida May drew a long, deep sob.

"How strange the word 'marriage' sounds to me now," she moaned. "When I
hear of a young girl's marriage nowadays, I earnestly pray Heaven that
her husband may not deceive her!"

"I am sure that there need be nothing to fear in _this_ instance," said
Miss Fernly. "My niece sent me her _fiancé's_ picture this morning. He
seems to be a noble young fellow. By the way, I will show it to you,"
she added, still believing that the one thing needful was to divert the
girl's mind.

Thoughtless as to what would accrue from her action, Miss Fernly drew a
small case from her pocket and touched the spring.

The lid flew back, disclosing a magnificent affair in ivory--the
portrait of a young and handsome man.

"He has an honest look in his eyes, and a fair, open countenance," said
Miss Fernly. "It was painted three years ago."

As she uttered the words, she handed the portrait to Ida May.

One glance, then a cry of the wildest horror broke from the girl's
white, terrified lips.

"God have mercy!" she gasped, "it is he!"

Miss Fernly sprung to her feet, quite as white and terrified as Ida.

"You--you do not mean to say that this is the man who wrought all your
woe?" she cried, in horror too great for words.

"Yes!" cried Ida May, springing to her feet, and crying out: "I swear
to you that this is Royal Ainsley, the man whom I wedded, and who
deserted me! This is the father of my little dead babe!"

The expression upon Miss Fernly's face was horrible to see.

She rose in awful wrath and struck her hands sharply together as she
turned and faced the girl.

"It was fate that sent you across my path," she exclaimed, hoarsely.
"But for this timely intervention my innocent niece would have wedded
that villain on the morrow. But I thank Heaven that I am now able to
prevent it, and to avenge you as well, my poor child. Ah!" she cried,
as a sudden thought flashed through her mind, "an idea has come to
me, by which I can not only wreak my vengeance upon him, but mete out
justice to you as well."

"Oh, no, no; do not do anything to harm him!" cried Ida May, in terror.
"Cruel as he has been to me, I love him still, and I shall always love
him!"

"What I intend to do will not harm him. I repeat that it will right
your wrong," she added, grimly. "There shall be a wedding to-morrow,
my poor, unfortunate girl. But listen to me well, and heed what I
say--_you_ shall be this man's bride to-morrow, instead of my niece.
Leave everything to me."

She gathered up her wrap and gloves and put them on.

"I shall have a great deal to do between now and nightfall. But this I
say to you, Ida May: Be ready to go with me when I shall come for you.
It may be to-night, perhaps to-morrow night. Ask me no questions now,
but trust in me implicitly. Since the hour I came across you in your
misfortune, you have found me a good friend to you, Ida May, have you
not?"

"Yes," sobbed Ida May, wretchedly. "I--I--would have perished in the
street but for you, noble lady. I respect and have all confidence in
you."

"Then by that confidence do as I bid you," repeated Miss Fernly. "I
will send some clothing for you to wear. Wrap about you the long, dark
cloak you wore in coming here, and be in readiness."

With these words, Miss Fernly fairly flew from the cottage.

Ida May sunk back in her chair, pale and excited.

"Why should the announcement that he is to be married to-morrow have
shocked me?" she moaned. "I had every reason to expect that would occur
any day after I read it myself in the paper."

She did not sob or cry out. It seemed to Ida that the very heart within
her was crushed. She had borne so much that it appeared there was
nothing more left for her to endure.

Miss Fernly was thankful beyond words that she had not brought her maid
with her on her last visit.

In all possible haste she hurried to the magnificent home of her sister
on Riverside Drive.

Although living in the same city, the married sister saw very little of
Miss Fernly, the latter devoted so much of her time to charity. She had
not been to the house but once since Mrs. Cramer had written to her of
her daughter Hildegarde, and that she was soon to be married.

Hildegarde was delighted when she looked out and saw her aunt drive up.

"What a surprise, dear aunt!" she cried, throwing her white arms about
her. "Mamma and I were just speaking of you. I was almost afraid that
you had forgotten the date set for the wedding. And just to think you
have never met my intended, and he so anxious to see the darling aunt
I have always been talking of! I want you to see him, he is so lovely.
But what did you think of the picture?" rattled on Hildegarde, in her
gay, girlish fashion, without giving the other a chance to answer.

"You are very, very much in love with him?" asked Miss Fernly,
anxiously.

"Why shouldn't I be?" cried the girl, blushing as red as a rose, and
hiding her peachy face against her aunt's broad shoulder. "No girl
ever had a more devoted lover."

"Yes, it is plainly to be seen that you do love him," said Miss Fernly,
sternly.

"I do not know what to tell you about him, auntie, except that he is
the dearest fellow in all the world, and just adores me; at least, that
is what he tells me," said Hildegarde.

"Humph!" ejaculated Miss Fernly.

"I would rather you would see him for yourself, then you could form
your own opinion. He will be here this evening. I am sure you will like
him."

"At what time do you expect him!" asked Miss Fernly, with unusual
interest.

"Let me answer you in the words of the song," said Hildegarde, laughing
lightly.

     "'Somebody's coming when the dew-drops fall.'"

"Do not be silly, Hildegarde," said her aunt, sharply.

"I asked you what time this young man is to call here this evening."

"It is generally half past seven when he arrives," said Miss Cramer,
smiling mischievously.

"Very well," said Miss Fernly. "When he calls, I will go down into the
parlor and interview him."

"I'm sure he would be most delighted," returned the young girl,
demurely.

"That's neither here nor there," returned Miss Fernly. "I do not care
whether he likes me or not."



CHAPTER XXVI.


Miss Fernly had made her resolution. She would interview this man when
he came. She would foil him, this fiend in human form, who would wed
one young and lovely girl after bringing sorrow to another.

When Miss Fernly made up her mind to a course, nothing could change it.

"What I am about to do is for Hildegarde's good," she told herself
grimly. "There will be a few tears at first, but the time will come
when she will thank me with all her heart for saving her from such a
consummate rascal. The woman of our race have never forgiven men who
have deceived other women. Hildegarde should not be an exception to the
rule. She is young now, but when she comes to know more about life she
will thank me for saving her."

"Now," said her aunt, aloud, depositing herself in the nearest chair,
and deliberately removing her hat and mantle, "tell me about this
sweetheart of yours."

Hildegarde came over to the hassock and flung herself down upon it and
looked up with laughing eyes into her aunt's face.

"I sent you his picture," she said, "because you did not seem inclined
to come here to meet him, auntie, so that you could see for yourself
just how he looks. But it does not do him justice," went on Hildegarde,
clasping her hands. "That portrait does not tell you how good and noble
he is, and how much he thinks of me!"

An expression that was almost divine came over the face of Hildegarde
Cramer as she uttered the words in a low, sweet voice.

"Tell me about him," again urged her aunt, anxious to fathom just how
deep was the love the girl bore him.

Should she confide in Hildegarde the story of Ida May, Miss Fernly knew
that the present state of affairs must end.

There were girls who would turn in horror from a man who had done
as cruel a deed as that which was laid at the door of the man whom
Hildegarde was about to marry. But might not Hildegarde cling to him
despite all?

"He is all that is noble," continued Hildegarde, dreamily.

"What if he should cease to love you?" said her aunt.

Hildegarde started; a quiver of pain passed over the lovely face.

"Cease to love me!" she repeated. "Ah! do you know what would happen to
me, auntie, if that were to occur? I should die, that is all. When all
was gone that made life worth living, how could I live?"

"It is not easy to die," said Miss Fernly, huskily.

"It would be easy for me," declared Hildegarde.

"One can not live without a heart, and I have given mine to my love."

She continued to talk of her lover in a sweet, girlish fashion; but
Miss Fernly scarcely heard a word she said, she was so engrossed in her
own thoughts and plans.

"You would be so glad if you knew just how perfectly happy I am,
auntie," she went on, in a half-dreamy fashion. "Why, it doesn't seem
the same world to me. He came into my life as the sun breaks upon the
flowers, suddenly, swiftly, and all at once my life became complete. I
met him on board the steamer. I shall never forget how it came about.
I had just come upon deck, and was about to walk to the railing, when
the ship suddenly gave a lurch and I fell forward. I would have fallen
to the deck had not a young man who was standing near-by sprung quickly
forward and caught me. That was the beginning of our acquaintance. My
mother, who had followed me on deck, thanked him warmly. Love came to
me swiftly. At the first glance, when our eyes met, I knew that I had
met the only one in the world that I could ever love. I loved him then
with all my heart."

"Such a sudden love could not be a happy one; it could not end happily."

The girl smiled.

"In most instances that is the case," replied Hildegarde. "But in
mine--mine--ah, Heaven is to be thanked--mine is to be a happy love,
and will have a happy ending!"

Ah, if she had but known, if she had but guessed the thoughts that
filled Miss Fernly's heart, she might have died then and there.

The sun set, and the dusk crept into the room; but it was a subject
that Hildegarde loved, and she could have talked on forever about her
lover.

"Mamma is quite late in returning," she said, at length. "She may not
even come home to dinner."

This proved to be the case. Hildegarde and her aunt dined alone. She
could not help but notice how her niece watched the clock with the
brightest of eyes, the color deepening on her cheeks.

"I shall want to talk with this lover of yours alone," said Miss
Fernly, a trifle hoarsely.

"Will you want to talk to him long, auntie?" asked her niece, wistfully.

"Yes, an hour, or perhaps two. I ordered my carriage at seven; it will
be here as soon as he arrives. He will drive home with me, and can talk
with me in the carriage."

Hildegarde was a little surprised at this announcement, but it did not
occur to her to offer any objection.

"Ah, here he comes _now_!" cried Hildegarde, blushing furiously, all in
a flutter of delight.

In a moment it seemed to her that her aunt had donned her hat and
mantle. She was at the door as soon as the servant, dragging Hildegarde
by the arm.

Eugene Mallard was surprised to see Hildegarde coming to the door to
meet him. Then his eyes fell upon the tall, austere woman in the rear.

He felt intuitively that this must be the aunt of whom Hildegarde
was always speaking. Even before he heard the hurried words of
introduction, the young man held out his hand with a cordial smile.

"I am most pleased to meet you, Miss Fernly," he said. "I have heard
Hildegarde speak of you so much that I feel as if I really knew and
loved you already."

Was it only his fancy, or was the greeting of Hildegarde's aunt a
trifle chilly?

"You are to accompany my aunt to her home," said his _fiancée_; adding,
with a little twinkle in her eye: "Auntie has something to say to you."

For a moment he looked crestfallen; then he added, gallantly:

"I shall be most pleased. Pray command me, Miss Fernly."

Another moment, and they were seated in the carriage. He began to talk
brightly to his companion; but to his great surprise, she answered him
only in monosyllables.

"I am very much afraid she does not like me," he thought, with some
consternation, and he redoubled his efforts to be agreeable. Any one
who was related in any way to his darling Hildegarde was dear to him.
He was always liked by women; he hoped from the depths of his heart
that this lady would not form an aversion to him. But somehow he felt a
cold, uncomfortable chill creeping over his heart. Was it a premonition
of the evil that was so soon to come?



CHAPTER XXVII.


Although Eugene Mallard tried his best to entertain Hildegarde's aunt
as they rode along, it seemed to him an almost impossible undertaking.
She stared at him too intently that he wondered what she was thinking
of. He thought it might be as to whether he would make Hildegarde a
good husband, and he wished with all his heart to set her doubts at
rest on this point, so he began to talk of Hildegarde, and tell her how
much he thought of her.

The more he spoke of her niece, the sterner Miss Fernly's face seemed
to grow.

He was wondering to himself how long she would detain him, he longed so
for to return to Hildegarde, who he knew was waiting for him with the
utmost impatience.

Suddenly Miss Fernly turned to him.

"You say you would do anything for Hildegarde's good--for her future
happiness?" she asked, slowly.

"Yes--certainly," he answered. "I would lay down my life for her. No
sacrifice would be too great for me to make."

"You are sure of that?" she asked, quickly.

"There is no question of it," Hildegarde's lover answered, promptly.
"To save her from a moment's pain, I would lay down twenty lives if I
had them."

"Very well; I will soon put you to the test," thought Miss Fernly.

Suddenly the carriage came to a stop. To the young man's great
surprise, he found, as he assisted Miss Fernly to alight, that they
were in front of a small and unpretentious church.

"Step this way," she said, leading him round to the door of the
parsonage.

He had heard that Miss Fernly was very religious; but her action now
rather puzzled him. Still without a thought of what the outcome might
be, he followed where she led.

She spoke hurriedly to the coachman, and with a bow, he drove quickly
away.

"The minister has been called suddenly away to a sick person," said the
girl who admitted them to the parsonage. "He has begged me to say that
he would return within the hour."

The young man wondered what business she had with the parson; but he
made no comment, but followed her into the parsonage. The reception
room into which they were shown was dimly lighted. Miss Fernly seemed
to be well acquainted there.

Mr. Mallard took the seat Miss Fernly indicated.

"I have something to say to you," she began, in a hard, set voice. "I
shall break right into the subject at once. Your wedding with my niece
is fixed for to-morrow night, is it not?"

"Yes," he said, wonderingly.

"Why should not your marriage take place to-night--_here_ and _now_?"
she asked, looking intently at him.

For an instant he almost believed that the good lady had taken leave
of her senses. He stared at her in the most complete bewilderment.

In a slow and emphatic voice she repeated her words.

"My dear madame," he said, "I do not see how that could possibly
be. You know it is not to be a _quiet_ affair. Over five hundred
invitations have been issued."

"You will be married to-night, and let to-morrow night take care of
itself," said Miss Fernly, sternly.

Had Hildegarde sent her aunt to make this arrangement? He could hardly
believe his own senses. But surely it must be so.

He remembered the twinkle in her eyes as she had said.

"You are to ride with auntie, she has something to say to you."

"I am so dumfounded, I do not know how to answer you," he declared.

"You will not refuse me?" she asked.

"Refuse you! How could I refuse a request in which my happiness is so
much bound up?" he answered, eagerly.

"It is well!" said Miss Fernly. "Your bride is on the way here by this
time."

"Is this idea one of _your_ planning?" asked Hildegarde's lover,
curiously.

"Yes," she answered, very quickly.

It seemed a very strange proceeding to him, but he then did not pretend
to understand the ways of women. He was only too anxious to carry out
Hildegarde's slightest wish. He was so deeply in love with her that he
did not question the strangeness of her aunt's action.

Before he had time to think over the matter, two carriages drove up to
the door from different directions. Out of one stepped the minister,
and from the other a slender figure, robed in snowy white, and almost
enveloped in a white tulle veil.

He would have sprung to meet her, but Miss Fernly held him back.

"Not yet," she said. "She will meet us at the altar; the minister will
bring her in."

Miss Fernly seemed to be running this novel affair, and he did not
suppose that it would be worth while to try to dissuade her, since she
must have talked it over with Hildegarde.

He followed her into the dimly lighted church, and down the long aisle
to the altar-rail. Only one light was lighted, which left all the
corners of the great edifice in darkness and gloom.

He had naturally a great deal of nerve; but to save his life he could
not help a feeling of awe coming over him.

Before he had time to say anything, he saw the minister in his clerical
robes coming from an opposite direction with the bride-elect on his
arm. His heart throbbed, every pulse quickened; a moment more, and they
had advanced.

"My darling!" he cried, as he sprang forward and clasped the trembling
girl in his arms.

She tried to speak, but the words died away in her throat. It seemed to
Eugene Mallard that he was in a dream. Even the girl who stood by his
side seemed scarcely real. The folds of the filmy veil almost concealed
her.

"Are you ready?" asked the minister, opening the book.

"Yes," answered Eugene Mallard, promptly.

"Yes," said Miss Fernly, speaking for the bride-elect.

The marriage ceremony was begun. Then came the question solemnly,
warningly, from the minister's lips: "If any one knows aught why this
man or woman should not be united in holy wedlock, let him now speak,
or forever hold his peace!"

There was an ominous silence. Miss Fernly trembled. She was doing a
noble action in righting a terrible wrong, she told herself, and there
was no response to the clergyman's appeal.

In a voice which seemed still more solemn, he pronounced the two before
him man and wife.

The bridegroom caught the bride in his arms, and he laughed gayly to
see how she trembled in his embrace.

"My wife!" he cried, straining her to his heart. "Sweet," he murmured
in a voice just audible to his bride, "to be the lover of the girl you
love, is bliss; but to be the husband of the girl you love, is heaven!
Tell me, Hildegarde, are you not as happy as I am?"

A low cry broke from the white lips of the girl he held in his arms.
The minister had stepped into the parsonage in response to a summons
from one of the servants, and invited the newly wedded couple and Miss
Fernly to follow him.

He was not surprised that they held back a moment. It seemed to be the
custom with all new-married couples to loiter for a moment in the dim
shadows of the old church. The critical moment of Miss Fernly's triumph
had come. She had done a noble action, she told herself. But somehow
she trembled at the thought of what Eugene Mallard would do when he
discovered that the girl whom he had wedded was not the beautiful
Hildegarde but the cruelly wronged Ida May.

The young husband had drawn his bride beneath the chandelier of the
church, and all unmindful of Miss Fernly's presence, he declared,
rapturously:

"I must have a kiss from the lips of my wife."

As he spoke he drew aside her veil. One glance at the face it had
hidden--oh, so piteous to behold in its awful pallor! and a cry, surely
the most bitter that ever broke from human lips, issued from Eugene
Mallard's. His arms fell from the supple figure, and he drew back,
crying hoarsely:

"You are _not_ Hildegarde! Great God! what does this mean? Who are you?"

Miss Fernly stepped forward.

"I wonder that you ask such a question!" she cried, shrilly. "Look upon
her, and behold for yourself the young girl you _duped_ and deserted!
Now, thank Heaven, she is your wedded wife!" she added, triumphantly.
"I have helped her to right her wrongs!"

"But I never saw this young woman before!" cried Eugene Mallard,
striking his forehead with his clinched hand. "There is some terrible
mistake! Speak out!" he cried to the girl at his side, who was
trembling like an aspen-leaf. "Who are you who has done this terrible
deed?"

Like one dying, the hapless bride fell on her knees at Miss Fernly's
feet.

"There is some terrible mistake!" she cried, wildly. "I--I did not
discover it until he drew back my veil. He--is--not--the man!"

"Not the man?" repeated Miss Fernly, aghast, hardly believing that she
had heard aright, her eyes almost starting from their sockets. "I--I do
not understand!" she cried, recoiling from the girl. "Do you mean that
the man you have just wedded, and the one to whom you told me was the
cause of wrecking your life, is not one and the same?"

The girl shook her head, while Eugene Mallard looked from one to the
other like one in a dream from which he was expecting to soon awake.

Miss Fernly caught her by the shoulder.

"What does it mean?" she cried, hoarsely. "You assured me that this man
was the cause of all your trouble, and now you dare to tell me that
he is not the one! And I--brought about this, making you his wife! It
was a trick of yours, you shameless creature, to secure a husband for
yourself. Quick! Be gone from this sacred edifice ere I strike you down
at my feet, you most shameless outcast, you horrible creature!"

Ida May drew back in terror from the upraised hand.

"Hold!" cried Eugene Mallard, stepping between them. "No matter what
this poor creature has done, she is, in the eyes of God and man, my
wife!"

By a dexterous movement he had raised the poor girl from her knees, and
had swung her out of the reach of the blow that had been meant for her.
Despite his anguish, it aroused all the pity and chivalry in his nature
to see how the poor thing clung to him in her terror.

"Save me from her wrath," she murmured, clinging to him with
death-cold hands, and adding vehemently: "Believe me, it was all a
horrible mistake! I saw your picture, and--and I mistook you for
another. The church was so dimly lighted, I--I could not see, and I did
not know the terrible mistake until--until it was too late! Oh, tell
me, tell me, what can I do to undo the great wrong that I have done
you?"



CHAPTER XXVIII.


Eugene Mallard had sunk into the nearest seat, covering his face
with his hands. The horror of the situation had just come to him. By
the cruel working of fate he had been wedded to one woman through a
horrible mistake, while his heart and soul were another's.

It seemed to him like some horrible dream from which he must soon
awake. He had parted from Hildegarde full of hope and love, scarcely
an hour before, saying to himself, as he turned and looked back at
her, that ere the sun would rise and set again, she would be his own,
that they would never be parted from each other after that. And now
a barrier had suddenly risen between them which parted them just as
surely as though one of them lay in the grave.

His whole soul was bound up in Hildegarde; yet he was wedded to
another. It seemed to him that the anguish of it was more than he could
bear.

Then came to him the thought that he must protect the woman he had
wedded--this poor young creature who still clung to him, imploring him
to save her from Miss Fernly's wrath, repeating to him, over and over
again, that it was a mistake.

Eugene Mallard roused himself from the stupor which was stealing over
him. He must face the terrible consequences of that rash marriage.
Although this girl had wrecked his life, ruined his future, yet he
could not find it in his heart to curse her.

He could not help but believe her--that it was some terrible mistake;
he could not judge her before he knew more about what had prompted her
to do this deed. He could not rest until he knew the reason that lay
behind it.

"Tell me all about it," he said, hoarsely, turning to the girl, "that I
may judge for myself of this action of yours."

"Yes, tell him," cried Miss Fernly, "that I may be cleared of my part
in this transaction. You deceived me as well."

In a faltering voice that sounded as though she were dying, Ida May
told her story, the man she had married listening intently.

He did not speak until she had concluded, but Miss Fernly saw that the
girl's story was greatly affecting him.

"No wonder you mistook me for Royal Ainsley, when you saw that
picture," he exclaimed, "for we are cousins. The resemblance between us
was most marked when that picture was taken."

"I--I--thought the name Miss Fernly told me was an assumed name, or
else you had given me a false one."

Miss Fernly's self-control seemed to leave her entirely as she listened.

"I am responsible for it!" she groaned, wringing her hands. "Oh, what
will Hildegarde and my sister say!"

Eugene Mallard and Miss Fernly looked into each other's faces, and
their lips were mute.

"Let me go to her and tell her my story," sobbed the hapless bride,
"then I will go away, and you shall never look upon my face again!"

"That would not mend matters," replied Eugene Mallard. "I have married
you, and nothing can undo that."

"Oh, do not say so!" cried Ida May. "I will free you from the bond
whose links have just been forged. You shall have a divorce. I will set
you free!"

Eugene Mallard shook his head.

"You would do so if you could," he answered; "but, alas! you can not.
Those whom God hath joined together no one has the right to put
asunder."

With a sigh that nearly rent his heart, he rose to his feet. The
carriage still stood in waiting at the door.

"Where are you going?" asked Miss Fernly.

"We will all three go to Hildegarde, and break it as gently as we can
to her--tell her what has happened--break the sad story to her as
gently as we can," Eugene repeated.

As one whose feet refused to do her bidding, Miss Fernly tottered up
the aisle behind them. What would Hildegarde say--what would she do?
Perhaps she would fall dead at their feet, for she loved, with all the
passionate love of her heart, the man whom she had promised to wed on
the morrow.

"Oh, if I had not been so hasty!" cried Miss Fernly. "I meant to do a
noble action, but instead I have wrecked two lives!"

They entered the carriage in silence--a silence which was not broken
until they reached the door of the beautiful Cramer mansion. They saw
Hildegarde standing at the lace-draped window, peering out into the
darkness, eagerly watching for them.

The hapless young lover groaned aloud. Miss Fernly hid her face in her
hands. Hildegarde was at the door to greet them almost as soon as the
servant.

"You have been gone very long, Eugene!" she cried. "Dear me! how
surprised I was to see Aunt Fernly returning with you!"

Then her eyes fell upon the girl in bridal robes her lover was holding
by the hand. She did not recognise Ida May because of the veil which
she had drawn down over her face, nor did she hear the cry of surprise
Ida May uttered when she recognized her.

Miss Fernly had always spoken of the bride to be as her niece, but had
never once mentioned her name.

For one moment Ida May stood irresolute. She now realized what she had
done, and wondered how Hildegarde would take the terrible mistake.

For a moment the three stood silent. Who would be the one to break the
terrible news to Hildegarde?

"What is the matter, and who is this beautiful young girl, clad in
bridal robes, whom you hold by the hand, Eugene?"

He tried to speak, but he could not utter a word if his life had
depended upon it. Even Miss Fernly seemed to have been stricken dumb.
Ida May knew that it devolved upon her to utter the words which would
stab Hildegarde Cramer to the very soul. She saw the lover try to
speak, and fail, and also saw Miss Fernly's lips twitch convulsively.

Nerving herself for the ordeal through which she must pass, she stepped
forward.

"Let _me_ answer for them," she said, in a voice that sounded to
Hildegarde's ears like the strain of some half-forgotten melody. And as
she uttered the words she threw back her veil.

"Ida May!" cried Hildegarde, aghast.

"Yes, I am that hapless creature whom you knew as Ida May."

For an instant there was silence, broken only by the sound of the
labored breathing of Miss Fernly, Hildegarde, and Eugene Mallard.

In an instant the haughty heiress had recovered herself. She recoiled
from the girl who advanced pleadingly before her.

"Hildegarde! Hildegarde!" Ida cried, much to the astonishment of Miss
Fernly and her companion, "I did not know that it was you whom I was to
confront in this awful hour!"

But Hildegarde shrunk still further from her. How dared this creature,
who had passed those weeks at Newport a living lie, to claim
acquaintance with her!

She flushed crimson, and retreated from her in abhorrence, wondering
how this creature had come here, accompanied by her aunt and lover.

"Hildegarde!" cried Ida May, "listen, for the love of Heaven, and do
not judge me too harshly until you have heard all!"

Sobbing wildly, Ida caught at the hem of Hildegarde's dress.

"Auntie!" cried Hildegarde, turning to her relative, "I do not care
to listen to anything this--this person has to say. The very air she
breathes stifles me. Eugene!" she cried, springing to her lover's side,
"take me in to the drawing-room. I--I can not talk to this young girl."

He did not clasp her in his arms, though he made a movement to do so.
His arms fell to his sides, and his head drooped to his breast.

He was enduring torture so acute that many a man would have fainted
under the strain of it.

Hildegarde looked up into his face in wonder.

"Eugene, my darling!" she cried "are you ill? Tell me! Something
terrible must be the matter! Why do you not speak?"

In that instant she seemed to forget the presence of everybody, save
the lover who had parted from her a few hours since, and who was now
standing before her so greatly changed.

She looked from one to the other in consternation.

"Something has happened," she said. "Why do you keep me in suspense?"

"I am trying to tell you," sobbed Ida May, "but you will not listen."

"Must I listen to her, auntie?" cried Hildegarde, turning to her aunt.

"Yes," said Miss Fernly, "you must listen, my poor child, while I pray
to Heaven to give you strength to bear it."

"Eugene!" cried the girl, "why are you silent?"

He could not answer her. He only looked at her with a world of woe in
his gaze, his whole frame trembling with anguish.

Ida May never knew in what words she told her strange story. Hildegarde
listened like one turned to stone. Ida May told her of the awful
mistake that had blasted two lives and parted two who fondly loved each
other.

Those who saw the look of pity in the face of Hildegarde would never
forget it.

Her face became as pale as marble; the blood receded from the ripe-red
lips.

She passed through a life-time of woe in those few minutes. She did not
look at Ida May or her lover when the former ceased speaking, but she
turned her white, set, tragic face to her aunt.

"_You_ have done this dreadful thing!" she cried. "I wonder that Heaven
does not strike you dead for it!"

"Hildegarde! Hildegarde!" cried Miss Fernly, "I would only be too glad
to give my life to atone for my part in this dreadful affair."

The girl looked at her with eyes like jets of flame.

"If you had but told me," she said, in a voice that was more sorrowful
than any tears could have been. "You took the reins into your own
hands; you meddled with the affairs of another, and see the mischief
you have wrought!"

A sort of frenzy seemed to possess her.

"Go!" she cried, turning to Ida May, and pointing toward the door. "Get
out of this house, out of my sight, before I call the servants to fling
you into the street!"

Ida May crept toward the door. To Hildegarde's intense surprise, Eugene
Mallard turned to follow her.

"I will go with you," he said, huskily, "for you--you are my--my wife!"



CHAPTER XXIX.


"Yes; where she goes, I must follow," repeated Eugene Mallard, in a
voice husky with emotion, "for she is my wife!"

The words fell upon Hildegarde's ears with a dreadful shock. It was not
until then that she realized her lover was separated from her.

She saw him take Ida May's hand and lead her slowly out of the house.

In the years that followed she wondered that the sight did not kill her.

When the door closed after them, Hildegarde stood for a moment stunned,
with a white, awful pallor on her face.

Miss Fernly watched her in silence.

Was Hildegarde going mad? If she would only cry out, utter some word.
But no; only that awful silence. "Hildegarde," said Miss Fernly,
approaching her tremblingly, "what can I say, what can I do, to repair
the terrible wrong I have done you?"

"The only thing you can do is to kill me," answered the girl, in a
hoarse, unnatural voice.

"Oh, my niece! my precious niece, do not say that!" replied Miss
Fernly, beside herself with grief. "You will break my heart!"

"Yours is not the only one that will be broken," returned Hildegarde.

Miss Fernly attempted to approach her, but Hildegarde drew back in
loathing.

"Do not come near me!" she cried, with flashing eyes, "lest I forget
who you are, and strike you dead at my feet!"

With a quick motion, Hildegarde turned, and without another word, flew
up the staircase and up to her own _boudoir_, and closed the door
securely after her.

"Let me realize it," she murmured. "A few hours ago I was the happiest
girl the world held; now I cry out to Heaven to end my life."

She crept up to the mirror, and she stood before it, tall, slender, and
erect in the dignity of her own despair, her face white, her dark eyes
dark with sorrow.

"Can that be me?" she murmured, crossing her hands over her breast. But
the figure reflected gave back no answer.

"He has gone out of my life. What am I to do?" she murmured. "One can
never be sure of anything in this world. He left me only a few hours
ago, and there was nothing between us but love. I can not believe it!
It is some awful dream from which I shall presently awake!"

She wrung her hands wildly; she tore her beautiful dark hair; she was
as one mad with anguish. Then she thought of Ida May, and she clinched
her hands.

Some one knocked at the door

"Let me in, Hildegarde!" cried her mother, anxiously.

"No!" answered the girl. "I can not--do not ask me. Only leave me here
alone. The sight of human faces, the sound of human voices, would drive
me mad!"

All in vain the mother pleaded. Suddenly she heard a fall, and when one
of the servants whom Mrs. Cramer had summoned burst open the door, she
found Hildegarde lying face downward on the velvet carpet.

Miss Fernly had told her sister all, made a clean breast of the whole
affair. But Hildegarde's mother did not curse her, as she feared she
might do. She only looked at her sister with horror-stricken eyes.

For a fortnight Hildegarde lay on the bed where they had placed her.

The doctor had worked over her for hours.

"She is young," he said to the heart-broken mother, "and while there is
life there is hope."

When she arose from her bed, every one was startled at the change in
her. She made no complaint, even to Miss Fernly, who hovered around her
in an agony more pitiful than words can describe.

Hildegarde was like one on whom the shadow of death had fallen. She
grew thin and white; the light was gone from her beautiful eyes, the
color from her beautiful face.

No smile, no sound of laughter, came to the pale lips. If her mother,
whose heart ached over her beloved child, tried to cheer her, she had
but one answer for her, and it was:

"I shall die soon, my heart is slowly bleeding to death."

Then came the announcement that Hildegarde was going abroad. But the
paper did not state how long she would remain.

This looked very serious indeed to the friends who had hoped against
all hope.

Mrs. Cramer was anxious that none of her companions should behold her,
she was so terribly altered. She could not bear the criticisms which
she knew her appearance would be sure to occasion. But Hildegarde had
stoutly declared she would not go abroad.

"I want to die in my native land," pleaded the girl, piteously.

She sought her couch early, because her mother was anxious about her;
but her mother did not know that she paced the floor until the gray
dawn.

Now her mother hastened the preparations for the trip abroad.

"She is young, and a change of air and scene will surely bring about
forgetfulness," thought Mrs. Cramer.

It was well for her that she could not foresee what was to happen in
the near future.



CHAPTER XXX.


We must return to Ida May, dear reader, and picture to you the awful
woe she experienced as she turned from Hildegarde, saying. "Let me go
away out of your lives; if my life could atone for what I have done, I
would give it."

She scarcely heard Eugene Mallard's words, "Where you go, I must
follow, for you are my wife."

She was unaware of his presence, until fleeing down the graveled walk,
she heard a step behind her, and a firm hand caught her arm. Turning,
she saw the man whom she had just wedded.

She drew back in fear and trembling. He noticed her action, and despite
his bitter woe he could not but feel sorry for her.

"We can not undo what has been done, my poor girl," he said. "It was a
terrible mistake, but we must face it bravely."

She looked up into his face with wistful eyes.

"If you would only kill me here and now, I would be so grateful to you.
No one would ever know. My life is of so little account that not one
in the whole world would miss me or grieve for me, and then you could
marry Hildegarde!"

He drew back shocked.

"You must not speak in that way," he said. "The life of every human
being is sacred. You are entitled to your life, no matter what has
happened, until God calls you. I do not blame you, my poor girl, for
what has happened. I only say we must try to face the future, and to
see what can be done."

Before he could realize what she was about to do, she had flung herself
on her knees at his feet, and covered his hands with kisses. Her heart
was full of the deepest gratitude to him. He was the only being who had
ever spoken kindly to her of late.

He raised her gently.

"You should not kneel to me," he said, "it is not right."

"Yes, I will!" she cried, impulsively. "You are good--you are noble.
You do not curse me for what I could not help. I want to show you how
bitterly I deplore what has been done! But how are you to realize it?"

While they were speaking, a few drops of rain fell from the heavens,
and Ida May, looking up, said to herself that even the angels above
were weeping for her.

"Come!" he said, taking her by the hand and leading her along as though
she were a little child, "you can not stand out in the rain. Come with
me!"

He hailed a passing cab and placed her in it.

"Where are we going?" she asked, timidly, looking up into his troubled
face.

"I do not know until I have had time to think," he answered. "I have
told the driver to drive about for an hour. By that time I shall have
arrived at some conclusion."

The girl's dark head drooped. Great as her own sorrow was, her heart
bled for the trouble which she had unintentionally caused this young
man.

On and on rolled the cab. So busy was Eugene Mallard with his own
troubled thoughts that he almost forgot the girl shrinking away in her
corner, who was regarding him so piteously and anxiously.

Suddenly he turned to her.

"There is but one course left open to us," he said, huskily, "and that
we must follow. You are my wife, and I must take you to the home that
has been prepared to receive my bride."

She uttered a low cry; but before she could speak, he hastened to add:

"No advantage shall be taken of the position in which you are so
strangely placed. You shall be my wife in the eyes of the world, but
to me you shall be just as sacred as a sister. We will live our lives
through in this way."

She bowed her head. Whatever he suggested must be wisest and best, she
thought.

"Indeed, I can see no other way out of it at the present outlook," he
went on, his voice trembling a little. "I will take you to a hotel near
where I am stopping. To-morrow, at this time, I will come for you to
take the train with me!"

A little later Ida found herself alone in the comfortable room which he
had secured for her at the hotel.

It was then and not until then that the poor girl gave vent to her
grief, suffering almost as deeply as did Hildegarde, as the long hours
of the night passed away.

The sun was shining bright and warm when she opened her eyes the next
morning. For a moment she was dazed and bewildered; then a rush of
memory came to her, and she remembered all that had taken place. She
sprung from her couch with a bitter sob on her lips. Some one tapped at
the door. It was the chamber-maid.

"Your breakfast is to be served to you here, ma'am," she said. "The
waiter is bringing it. I will take it from him. Here are also some
large packages which arrived for you."

"Thank you!" murmured the girl. "Just put them on the table. But stay,"
she added in the next breath; "you may as well open them. I do not
think they are for me."

With deft fingers the girl unwrapped the bundle, and held up to her
astonished gaze a beautiful brown traveling suit of the finest cloth,
with hat, shoes, gloves, and _lingerie_ to match. Gazing upon the
outfit with wide-opened eyes, she forgot her sorrow for the moment.

This was another proof of the thoughtfulness and kindness of the man
whose life she had wrecked.

"What a superb traveling-dress!" cried the maid, with delight. "I have
never seen anything like it. And the hat; why, it is a veritable dream,
madame. It is so exquisitely dainty! There is something in the pocket
of the dress!" exclaimed the maid. "Does madame wish me to see what it
is?"

"Yes," said Ida.

The next moment the girl had produced a tiny box. On a bed of violet
velvet reposed a band of plain gold. Within were the engraved words:
"My wife!"

The poor girl caught her breath with a sob as the maid handed it to
her. The color came and went on her face; her eyes grew dim with tears.
It was with the greatest difficulty that she succeeded in hiding her
emotion from the maid, whose eyes were intently fixed on her.

"I thought she was a single young girl," she thought, "but she seems to
be married."

Ida May turned away; she could not bear to have any one see her emotion.

"I can not accept it, nor any of his gifts, because I can not make use
of them," she thought. "I am going away from here, going out of his
life. I could not go with him to his Southern home; I have no right
there!"

When the maid came to her, and asked her if she wished all her meals
served in her room, she mechanically answered, "Yes." Tempting dishes
were brought, but they went back untasted.

"The lady in Room 27 seems very ill," said the chamber-maid, when she
went down to the servant's hall below. "She is _very_ mysterious. Her
eyes are so big, so black, and so mournful, you are sure she is going
to burst into tears at every word she utters. She looks like a creature
who has passed through some great sorrow. With the exception of _one_
lady, I never saw any-one else look like that. And oh, mercy! she had
the same room too--No. 27.

"This woman left word that I was to come to her in the morning. To my
great surprise, I found the door open as I turned the knob. As I went
forward to awaken her, I saw the still form lying on the bed. As I
approached, I saw, to my great amazement, that her eyes were wide open
and staring at me.

"'I beg your pardon for not coming sooner, ma'am,' I said. 'I did not
think you would be awake so early. There--'

"The rest of the sentence was never finished. I saw that the eyes
staring up into mine were glazed in death. The scream I uttered brought
half the people in the hotel to the scene, a physician being among them.

"He said that the young lady had been dead some hours. She had taken
poison. The mystery surrounding her--who she was, and whence she came,
has never been solved from that day to this. There is much the same
look in this lady's face as there was in that other one's. I think she
will bear watching.

"You know, too, that nine out of ten of the people who think of
committing suicide choose a hotel in which to commit the deed. This
young lady in No. 27 seems to be dazed. She scarcely knows what one is
speaking to her about."

Having told her story, the chamber-maid left the room, shaking her
head as she went. The clerk of the hotel, who was passing through the
corridor, and who had heard the story was a little annoyed over it. He
knew the habit of the maids to gossip; still, there might be some truth
in the story.

It would certainly not be amiss to look into the matter a little. He
remembered a tall and handsome gentleman had made arrangements for the
lady, paying her bills in advance.

He thought he would wait a day and then speak to the proprietor
concerning the matter.

The sunshine of the afternoon faded; the gloaming crept up, deepening
into the soft beauty of the starry night.

As the hours rolled by, the girl made a resolve to end it all.

She arose quietly and donned the dark cloak which Miss Fernly had
wrapped about her as they stepped from the rector's cottage. She was
glad to have it now, for it would cover the bridal robes which she had
donned. Her bridegroom was to be death!



CHAPTER XXXI.


With trembling hands, this hapless girl, who had taken such a terrible
resolve, opened the door of her room, and glided softly down the long
corridor and out of the hotel.

Ida May had scarcely gained the street before a carriage drove up, and
Eugene Mallard sprung from it. He was surprised at seeing Ida advancing
to meet him. She drew back with a cry.

"Are you ready?" he asked; but before she could answer, he went on:
"You do not wear your traveling-dress. Was there anything amiss with
it?"

She tried to keep back the sobs from her lips; but almost before she
was aware of it, she had confessed to him that she was about to flee
from him.

Standing there, very gently and patiently, he went over the ground
with her, insisting upon her following out their original plan;
and the upshot of it all was, she returned to her room, donned her
traveling-dress, joined him again, and took a seat beside him in the
carriage.

A little later the railway station was reached, and they were soon
whirling away toward the mysteries of the future.

"We will reach our destination a little before midnight," Eugene said,
seating himself opposite her. "There will be a number of old friends
at the station to give my bride a welcome home," he added in a voice
that was husky, despite his efforts at self-control; and Ida knew that
he was thinking of that _other_ bride whom he had intended to bring to
them, and she felt most wretched at the effort he was making to look
the present difficulty in the face and bear up under it.

How he must loathe her! Her very presence must be hateful to him! The
thought of that made her shrink still further from Eugene Mallard.

She felt like opening the car window and springing from it out into the
blackness of the night. Then he would be free to marry Hildegarde. On
and on through the darkness rushed the express.

"The next station will be ours," he said at length. Ida looked up in
apprehension. There would be a party of friends awaiting Eugene's
home-coming; but, ah! what would they say when they saw that it was not
Hildegarde whom he had wedded? Had he a mother--had he sisters?

Perhaps he divined her thoughts, for quite as soon as they had flashed
through her brain he turned to her, and said, abruptly:

"I have told you nothing of my home life. It was an oversight on
my part, possibly because the idea did not occur to me. I have no
relatives upon the face of the earth, except the scape grace cousin
you know of. From my uncle I inherited the Virginia home to which
I am taking you. It is presided over by Mrs. Rice, an old lady who
has served in the capacity of housekeeper for twenty years. All the
servants have been in the household quite as long a time. They are
good and faithful to me. They will receive you warmly. Your word shall
be their law. No one outside the household will know of our strained
relationship. The secret will be kept faithfully from the world by the
members of my household."

"I do not deserve so much consideration at your hands," murmured the
girl.

Before he had time to reply, their station was reached. There were few
people at the station owing to the lateness of the hour.

An old-fashioned carry-all was waiting at the rear. Peering out from it
was the face of old Black Joe.

"Welcome, marse! welcome!" he cried. "An' a thousand welcomes to the
lovely young missus, your bride! There's a great company at the house,
sir, awaiting you both."

Eugene Mallard thanked the old colored servant for his kind wishes for
himself and bride, as he helped Ida into the vehicle.

There was a long ride over a rough mountain road, during which time,
much to old Black Joe's surprise, scarcely a word was exchanged between
the bride and groom, and it puzzled the good old man.

Was the lady ill? So great was his concern over it, that he was tempted
to ask his master the question a dozen times. But prudence restrained
him.

At length, in turning an abrupt curve in the road, a gray stone
mansion, fairly ablaze with lights from cellar to dome, loomed in
sight--lights that twinkled like glow-worms in the distance. They could
hear the strains of music, and as they approached they could even hear
the sound of voices.

Still no word was uttered by either of them.



CHAPTER XXXII.


In less time than it takes to tell it, the strained relationship
between Eugene Mallard and his bride was whispered through the
household. They had laughed at old Black Joe when he had whispered the
story of their silence from the railroad station, declaring he was
romancing. Later events certainly gave color to the story, however. She
was all that was sweet and fair. What could be the trouble?

"If there was ever a bride most wretchedly unhappy, she is that one,"
said Mrs. Rice, shaking her head.

"Why did he marry her if he did not love her? I can not understand it,
I am sure."

Mrs. Rice went to the bride's room the next morning to awaken her.
She found her already up and sitting by the window, and there was
no indication that she had removed her dress. This was reduced to a
certainty when she went into the adjoining apartment and found the
couch just as it had been the previous evening.

She went back to where young Mrs. Mallard was sitting, and laid her
hand gently upon the girl's arm.

"I hope you will be happy with us here, my dear," she said in her
sweet, gentle old voice, "for we will do everything to serve you. I
have been here for many years and have witnessed the home-coming of
many of the brides of the Mallards. There was never one that I took to
more than I did to you, my dear child. I felt like taking you in my
arms and pressing you to my heart. But you seem lonely. Tell me, is
there anything I can do for you?"

Ida lifted her face.

"You are very, very kind," she said, gratefully, "and I thank you with
all my heart."

She looked as if she were about to add something, but quickly checked
herself.

"Perhaps you would like to see the grounds, my dear," said Mrs. Rice.
"Will you come out into the garden?"

The young woman acquiesced readily enough.

"Your trunks have not come yet, my dear," said Mrs. Rice, as they
walked along. "The railway service in this part of the country is
abominable. It looks strange to have you come down to breakfast in your
traveling-dress, but--"

"I have no trunks coming. This is the only dress I have to wear at
present," returned the girl, quietly.

It was as much as the old housekeeper could do to restrain herself from
an exclamation of astonishment at this announcement.

What could it mean? Why had Eugene Mallard's bride no _trousseau_,
as he had been preparing for this event for months, as eager in his
anticipation of it as a school-boy for a holiday! She could not
understand it; she felt mystified. But with the quick wit habitual to
her, Mrs. Rice replied almost instantly:

"A wardrobe can be easily supplied by our Virginia _modistes_. Indeed,
they are world-famous, I may add. They make dresses for many of the
ladies of Washington on the shortest notice. Mr. Mallard pressed a roll
of bills into my hand when he arrived, and said: 'See that my wife has
everything needful, Mrs. Rice.' I could not think what he meant at the
time. Now I see it was your wardrobe he referred to. You and I will set
about getting the things at once. Or if it will fatigue you too much
after your journey, you leave it to me, and I will see that you have a
complete wardrobe in a short time. You must not say no, my dear; for
remember, it is your husband's wish, and you surely wish to please him."

The girl looked at her with the strangest expression in her dark eyes.

"Nothing that I could do would please him," she said, hopelessly.

Mrs. Rice did not tell that remark to the servants, or there would have
been no end of gossip among them.

"There is some great mystery between Eugene Mallard and his bride," she
said to herself. "I will not attempt to probe into the mystery, but I
will endeavor to bring them together, if it lies within human power."

The fortnight that followed, the old mansion was fairly alive with
guests coming and going.

Eugene Mallard could not help but admire Ida for bearing up so bravely
under the terrible ordeal. During that fortnight a strange thing
happened--the cruelest blow that Heaven could have dealt Ida. The
lovely girl had learned to love Eugene Mallard with all the strength of
her nature. She was in love with him, and he was cold and indifferent.

Another fortnight passed, and yet another. Everything at the great
mansion passed pleasantly enough to the outside world. But the young
girls for miles around who envied the young bride never dreamed of the
skeleton that existed in that magnificent mansion.

Eugene Mallard was all that was kind and considerate. It seemed a
necessity to him to have the house full of company. He was never alone
with Ida. How gayly he talked to his guests! Looking at him, Ida said
to herself:

"If he would but smile so when he speaks to me! His eyes are always
cold; no warmth or brightness ever comes into them for me."

Although Eugene Mallard appeared so bright and gay before his guests;
yet, unknown to any one, his heart was filled with the bitterness of
death. It did not seem possible for him to live through the hours day
after day. He felt thankful to Heaven that no one guessed that he had
brought home a different bride from what he had intended. He dashed
recklessly from one gayety to another, his object being to try to
forget Hildegarde, his love. He never voluntarily looked at the girl he
had married.

At the end of six weeks most of the guests returned to their homes, and
Eugene Mallard suddenly found himself alone with his young wife and the
servants.

"I must not let this happen again," he said. "To live here alone
requires more strength than I am possessed of."

They breakfasted alone in the great oak dining-room, and each felt the
restraint which they could illy conceal.

As she took her place at the table she was perfectly calm and
self-possessed, but the mask of smiles she had worn before his guests
fell from her face. She did not attempt any conversation with him, but
with a quick, flashing smile she answered when she was spoken to.

"It seems to take the servants exceptionally long to serve breakfast,"
he said, impatiently; adding: "Will you permit me to glance over the
morning paper? I am interested in this column on stocks."

She bowed her head gracefully, and watched him, as he read in silence.
There came over her face an air of sadness painful to see in one so
young.

To Ida the departure of the company was a great relief. Indeed, she
longed for solitude, and thought that if they did not go soon she could
not keep up much longer.

She had wanted to go away long ago; but she had remained there, and now
the attraction was so great that she would not break away even if she
could. Her love for her husband was like a magnet, strong as her very
life-blood, a part of every heart-beat.

For long hours she would muse over her strange position.

It was an uncommon fate--young, with life all before her, she longed
for its blessings. It was pitiful for her to know that the man she had
learned to love cared for another, that she was no more to her husband
than she would be to a brother.

How sad it was that she should long for the love of her husband as
she had never longed for anything else in life! It seemed so strange
to live in that magnificent home, to have everything that her heart
desired, to be wealthy, honored, and envied, yet to have no husband's
love.

Did he still sigh for Hildegarde? Was he thinking of her when that
dreamy look came into his eyes? She would give the world to know. She
felt a terrible jealousy in her heart.

"Will he never change?" she asked herself, in despair. "Living under
the same roof with me, seeing me day after day, will his heart never
warm ever so little toward me?"

Once more the old resolve, to steal away from the house, came to her.
Should she go to him, kneel at his feet, and sob out:

"I can not remain in this house any longer, because I--I--have learned
to love you."

She could picture the surprise on his face. Perhaps there would be
anger, scorn. The eagle dared to look at the sun, the worm dared to
creep into the tender heart of the rose. Was it strange that she had
dared to love him?

Hers was a dreary fate, and she tried to bear it bravely. If she had
only some one to confide in, some one to talk to! Was his heart dead
because of his bitter disappointment?



CHAPTER XXXIII.


One morning Eugene Mallard informed his young wife at the
breakfast-table that he had invited a party of friends from the
adjoining city, and had just received word that they would be with them
that day. This was sorrowful news to Ida, for she realized that she
would see less of her husband when they came. But he seemed to await
their arrival in a fever of impatience.

While she was wondering how many there would be in the party, her
husband said, as if in answer to the unexpressed thought:

"There will be six in the party--Mrs. Staples and her two daughters,
Dora and Louisa, Captain Drury, Arthur Hollis, and--and Vivian Deane."

Ida looked up quickly as her husband pronounced the last name. Was it
only her fancy, or did he turn away abruptly?

Somehow she could not rid herself of the fancy.

Then suddenly it occurred to her that she had heard the name, Vivian
Deane, before. She remembered the conversation well.

While their former guests were there, she had been sitting in the
rose-embowered veranda one day, while two of them passed on the lawn,
and the fragments of their conversation floated up to her.

"I am surprised to find that Vivian Deane is not here," said one.

"Indeed! I would have been more surprised if she had been here," said
the other.

They were idle words, almost meaningless, as far as she was concerned,
but the name, Vivian Deane, clung to her for many days afterward. This
was the last morning she would have with her husband. It was generally
his custom to smoke in the grounds after breakfast. If she walked over
the lawn she might be able to have a little chat with him.

She made a tour of the grounds, but to her surprise she did not see
Eugene Mallard. Perhaps he was detained in the library writing letters.
A little brook ran through a far corner of the grounds, and on either
side of it tall laurel bushes grew.

Would life ever be any different for her? Would fate be always as
unkind as now? Bitter tears, which she could not restrain, sprung to
her eyes and coursed down her cheeks.

She tried to stop their flow, but she could not, though she realized
that they would be a sorry object before her husband's guests. At that
moment she heard the sound of footsteps.

Looking through the bushes she saw two of the servants walking
leisurely along, one carrying a basket of newly gathered fruit, and
the other a basket of freshly cut roses.

Was it fate that caused one of them to say:

"Let us not return to the house just yet. The morning is warm and fine,
why not sit down here under the shade of this tree and tie the roses
into bunches? I can do it as well here as in the house."

Whereupon they leisurely proceeded to seat themselves.

"It isn't the same house since master brought home his bride," said the
other. "It's nothing but company, company, all the time. Now we are to
have another new lot of guests."

"And guess who is invited _this_ time," said her companion.

"Mr. Mallard seems to know everybody in the country, so it would be a
pretty hard guess," laughed the girl.

"Well," returned the other, "as you are not so good at guessing, I may
as well tell you--it is Miss Vivian Deane."

"Pray, who is _she_?" asked the girl who was tying the roses.

"Oh, I forgot you were not here long enough to know about her. Well,
I will tell you. She is a young girl who lives a few miles away in
a magnificent house called Deane Castle. She is as beautiful as a
dream, and as heartless as she is beautiful. She has a doll-like
pink-and-white face, big blue eyes, and a wealth of flaxen curls.
Though she looks like an angel, a bigger devil in woman's form never
lived.

"She was a great favorite with old Eugene Mallard, the uncle, and his
fond wish was that his favorite nephew should fall in love with and
marry the pretty girl. But, bless you, the young man had ideas of his
own."

"Who else is coming?" was the next question.

"A lady and her two daughters. They used to be dead in love with Mr.
Mallard, until they found it was useless. They were more sensible,
however, than Vivian Deane. They turned their attention elsewhere, and
they are still looking for eligible husbands."

Ida May's heart throbbed wildly. Now she knew why her husband's face
had flushed as he mentioned the name of Vivian Deane. And this was the
young girl whom she was so soon to meet!

Ida felt nervous at the very thought of the ordeal before her. She knew
she must be in the drawing-room to welcome his guests. Her husband
would expect that of her.

Drying her tears, though her heart was heavy indeed, the young wife
stole back quietly to the house, and up to her own room. When she had
removed the traces of tears, she looked with pitiful wistfulness at the
face which the mirror reflected.

How long would it take this Vivian Deane, who loved her husband so
madly, to discover that he was most unhappy in his marriage?

There was a light tap on the door, and in answer to her "Come in" one
of the maids entered the room.

"If you please, Mrs. Mallard, your husband would like to have you come
down into the drawing-room. He says the guests are likely to arrive at
any moment."

"Say that I will be down directly," she replied, and her voice sounded
so hoarse and unnatural that she feared the girl would notice her
emotion.

"Would you like me to help you arrange your toilet, ma'am?" she asked,
still holding the door knob in her hand.

Her toilet! she had not thought of it, so deeply had she been engrossed
in her thoughts. Yes, she must make every effort to look well, because
the eyes of her rival would be upon her.

"Yes, you may help me if you will," she said, wistfully. And when she
was dressed and standing before her mirror, she was so nervous she
could hardly stand. The maid noticed her trembling.

"You are ill, my lady," she cried, in alarm; "your face has grown very
pale. Do let me bring you a glass of wine!"

"No," replied her young mistress; "it is only a momentary pain. I will
be better presently."

As the maid watched, Ida's face grew from deathly pale to a flushed
appearance, and her hands were burning hot.

"I think I must go and see the housekeeper. I am sure Mrs. Mallard is
not fit to receive guests. She is very ill," she said to herself.

"If you only felt as well as you looked, my lady," said the girl, aloud
and admiringly.

"Do you think I look well, Marie?" she asked, with a pitiful eagerness
in her voice.

"Oh, ma'am, if I dared speak the truth without being accused of
flattery, I would say I never saw any-one so beautiful in all my life!"

"Do I look more beautiful than Vivian Deane?" was the question that
rose to her lips. But she checked the words just in time. At that
moment another maid tapped at the door, and inquired if her mistress
would soon be down.

"Yes," returned Ida. "I am coming directly."

As she uttered the words, she heard the sound of carriage wheels. By a
great effort, she nerved herself for the ordeal.

"Why, how foolish I am!" she said, with a nervous little laugh. But
somehow a premonition of coming evil crept over her which she could not
shake off.



CHAPTER XXXIV.


Eugene Mallard did not look up as his young wife entered the room. He
was gazing so steadily out of the window that he did not even hear her
light footsteps. She went up to him timidly. Whatever she was about to
say died away on her lips, for the expression on his face startled
her. She had never seen him look so cross before.

At that moment the servant announced: "Mrs. and the Misses Staples!"

Eugene Mallard stepped forward quickly to receive them. How his face
lighted up! Was it only her fancy, or did he hold the hand of the
prettiest girl a moment longer than was necessary? Then he turned and
introduced them to his young wife. Louisa and Dora Staples looked at
her eagerly; she could see great surprise in their faces.

Were they disappointed in her? That was the first thought that crossed
Ida's mind. How was she to know their thoughts? Dora Staples came
forward, holding out her hands and blushing like a school-girl. Louisa
stood back, gazing in puzzled wonder at the bride.

"We were very sorry that we could not be here to witness your
home-coming and to participate in the grand wedding reception that
every one is talking about even yet. But we were miles and miles away."

Then the conversation drifted into other channels.

A few moments later two gentlemen arrived--Captain Drury and Arthur
Hollis. Ida remembered them well; they had been to the reception. The
two girls were delighted at this acquisition to the party, and in a
few moments Dora Staples had captured the dashing captain for a chat,
leaving Arthur Hollis for her sister Louisa.

But Mr. Hollis was not in a mood to enjoy the senseless chatter of Miss
Louisa Staples, for whom he inwardly felt a cordial dislike.

On the pretense of wishing to smoke a cigar, especially as her mother
and Mrs. Mallard had joined the group, he begged her to excuse him for
a little while. He saw his host on the terrace, and stepped out of the
long French window, and went at once to where he stood.

"I congratulate you upon the rare beauty of your wife," he said,
touching him familiarly upon the arm. "I thought her exceedingly
pretty the first time I saw her; she has grown more beautiful since."

"I really ought to be obliged to you for the compliment," returned
Eugene Mallard, laughingly.

"You ought to love her very much, for she is worth loving," said Arthur
Hollis, bluntly, as he knocked the ashes from his cigar.

"Has any one told you that I do not?" asked Mallard, quickly.

"No, certainly not; but she does not look happy," returned Hollis,
thoughtfully. "As a friend of many years' standing, I feel myself
privileged to speak without reserve to you, my old comrade. Forgive
me for saying that though your bride's eyes ought to be filled with
sunshine, they are noticeably sad and dreary. Hers is not a happy face,
Eugene."

Mr. Mallard frowned. He had heard quite enough of this topic. His
wife's face did not interest him. Arthur Hollis had been his friend for
long years; they had been chums from childhood. Suddenly Eugene turned
and laid his hand on Arthur Hollis's shoulder.

"I have a strange explanation to make to you," he said in a voice husky
with emotion. "Your keen eyes have discovered, Hollis, what I would
fain have kept from you. A full confession is good for the soul, they
say, and I will tell you this much, Arthur: the girl whom I told you
so much about, is not the one whom I have married. At the altar, in a
dimly lighted church, this girl took the place of the one whom I was
to wed, and I did not find it out until we had been pronounced man and
wife."

Hollis could not have been more completely astounded if a volcano had
opened at his feet.

Eugene Mallard had to repeat his words before Hollis could grasp the
whole meaning of what he had heard.

"You must not think that I wronged her in any way, that she had any
claim upon me," went on Eugene Mallard, huskily. "Do not judge me too
hastily. It all came about through a mistake. She--she--mistook me for
Royal Ainsley, my cousin, and hearing that I was to be married, came
there, and--and, by the aid of a woman, succeeded in becoming my bride.
And now, because of it, three lives are ruined. I am trying to make
the best of it, but it seems, at times, as though I will not be able
to bear up under it--my whole heart belonging to one woman, while I am
wedded to another."

"Great heavens!" exclaimed Hollis. "I did not dream of such a state of
affairs!"

"She is my wife in name only," added Eugene Mallard, bitterly. "I do
not know what the future will bring forth. I can only say that I am
trying to live it out as best I can. My life is full of wretchedness,
and I can not see what will be the end of it all."

Now Arthur Hollis could readily understand the brooding look in Ida's
eyes. Why she was graver, more thoughtful, more abstracted than when he
had seen her last.

While they were talking, another carriage drove up.

They saw a beautiful face at the window.

"It is Vivian Deane," said Mr. Mallard.

Hollis looked surprised.

"I hope, my dear boy," he said in a tone of jest, beneath which was
certainly a vein of earnestness, "that Miss Deane has got over her mad
infatuation for you, now that she knows you are married!"

Mr. Mallard looked thoughtful.

"I suppose you are wondering why I invited her here," he said, slowly,
"and I may as well tell you the truth, that you will not for a moment
imagine I sent for her to indulge in a flirtation. Miss Deane wrote me
that she was coming to pay my wife a fortnight's visit, so what could I
do. Without waiting to receive a reply from me, here she is. You will
come with me, and welcome her?"

"Certainly," said Hollis, understanding Eugene's position.

Miss Deane looked exceedingly annoyed as the two men approached.

She had calculated upon meeting Eugene alone. She meant to tell him
in a few words that her life was ruined because of his marriage. Now
she could only exchange the merest formal greeting. Biting her red lips
fiercely, and forcing a smile to them, she held out her hand.

"I am so delighted at seeing you again, Mr. Mallard," she declared,
giving Hollis a stiff, haughty bow.

Eugene assisted her from the carriage and avoided looking at her as
much as possible--a fact which annoyed her exceedingly.

"And I am so anxious to see your bride," she continued.

Eugene could readily understand that, and so could Hollis.

Hollis followed his friend to the drawing-room. He stood by the young
bride's side when Vivian Deane was presented to her.

He had expected to see an expression of bitter dislike on the doll-like
pink-and-white face. He was surprised and relieved to see Vivian hold
out her little hands and murmur in her cooing voice:

"I am so delighted to see you, Mrs. Mallard, I am sure we shall be
friends."

Ida gazed anxiously, wistfully, into the pink-and-white face. Vivian's
sea-blue eyes met her gaze unflinchingly; her red lips, which suggested
more of art than nature, wore a mask of the sweetest smiles.

The young bride drew a deep breath of relief. She had been
unnecessarily frightened, she told herself. Now that Vivian knew
Eugene was married, she had in all probability resigned herself to the
inevitable.

"Probably she has another lover by this time, and thinks no more of
Eugene," thought Ida.



CHAPTER XXXV.


Alone in her room, Vivian Deane stood before her mirror and critically
viewed the face reflected in it.

"I am more beautiful than Eugene Mallard's wife," she cried, nodding
approvingly to the dimpled, smiling face, "and I will make that beauty
tell. He does not look happy," she mused. "I, who know him so well, can
see it. He has married her, but he is dissatisfied. There is something
amiss between them. Ere I have been in this house a week, I will
discover what it is." She nodded to the reflection in the mirror. "I
had hoped that, seeing him married, I could steel my heart against him,
but I find I can not."

"There is something connected with the manner in which Eugene Mallard
first met his wife that I must find out," was Vivian's mental comment.

It was not long before Vivian discovered that her beautiful young
hostess knew almost nothing of music.

"I think I have discovered her secret," she said to herself. "She must
have been a poor girl, perhaps a working-girl."

Instead of seeing the wisdom of God in such an alliance, whereby the
wealthy might share with the poor the gifts God had showered upon them,
she was angrier than ever.

From the hour in which she had asked Ida the question concerning her
meeting with Eugene Mallard, the young wife avoided being alone with
her guest.

Vivian could not help but notice it, and she smiled to herself. She
seemed to have no wish to capture handsome Captain Drury or Arthur
Hollis. She preferred to talk to her hostess on each and every occasion.

"Yon have not told me," she said one day, "whether you lived in New
York, San Francisco or Boston."

"Most of my life was spent in a little village outside of the great
metropolis," said Ida, inwardly hoping the inquisitive girl would not
think of asking the name of the village.

Vivian did think of it, but concluded that it would be wisest not to
pursue her inquiries too ardently.

"All this ought to have been mine," muttered Vivian, clinching her
hands tightly--"all mine! I loved him first, and I loved him best. She
had no right to take him from me!"

These thoughts often ran through Vivian's mind while Ida was talking to
her, believing she was entertaining the best and truest friend she had
in the great cruel world.

If the young wife had known her as she really was, she would have
turned in utter loathing from the beautiful pink-and-white face; she
would have prayed Heaven to save her from this, her greatest foe.

As it was, she saw only Vivian Deane's beauty and grace. She heard only
kindness in her voice, and she thought to herself that she was very
fortunate indeed in securing such a friend.

She talked and laughed so happily that the poor young wife almost
forgot her sorrow while listening to her.

Vivian wondered if by any chance the young bride had found out how
desperately she had been in love with her husband in other days.

The young wife became more and more unhappy day by day. Once, in
following the windings of a brook, Ida was startled at finding herself
several miles from home. Glancing up with a start, she found that the
sun had almost reached its height. She had been gone longer than she
had intended.

Perhaps there was some way by which she could take a shorter cut to
the house. She saw a woman slowly advancing along the path, carrying a
little baby in her arms. She stopped short as the woman approached. She
recognized her as the wife of one of the village merchants.

Ida had often seen her driving on the road with her husband, holding
the little child in her lap, and she had said to herself, as she
turned away to hide the tears that would spring to her eyes: "That
woman has everything in the world to make her life happy. I would
exchange places with her gladly if I could."

The woman smiled as she saw Eugene Mallard's young wife, and appeared
annoyed upon observing that she was about to stop and speak to her. She
answered her question readily enough, and pointed out the way, a short
cut over the meadows, that would bring her near her home. Still Ida
lingered, looking wistfully at the young mother.

"I have often seen you, from my window, rambling by the brook-side. You
must be very fond of out-door life," said Ida.

"I do love the sunshine," replied the young woman; "but I do not come
out for it only for myself, but for baby's sake also."

A great, sudden thrill that made her soul grow faint and dizzy filled
Ida's whole being as her gaze rested on the babe she carried. She
thought of that other one, in a nameless grave, sleeping under the
daisies. It would have been just about the age of this little one had
it lived.

"How happy you must be!" sighed Ida.

"We are not always what we seem," replied the woman, with a sigh. "I
love this little thing very dearly, but it is not my own child. I had a
little one whom I loved better than my life," went on the woman, sadly.
"When it died, I refused to be comforted. I took on so that my husband
grew frightened.

"'Don't fret, Margaret,' he said; 'I will find a way to comfort you.'

"He sent to some foundling asylum in the great city, and this little
one was brought to me to fill the aching void in my heart. I love it
very dearly, but oh! it can never take the place of the one I lost."

Eugene Mallard's wife was looking at it with her soul in her eyes.

"Poor little waif!" she sighed; "it was very fortunate in securing a
home with you."

"Thank you, Mrs. Mallard," said the woman. "We are poor and plain
people, but we will do what we can for the poor little thing."

She was about to pass on, thinking she had taken up too much of the
lady's time with her story.

Suddenly Ida turned, her beautiful dark eyes heavy with tears.

"Would you mind letting me hold the baby for just one minute?" she
asked, wistfully.

"No, certainly not," replied the woman, with a pleasant smile.

Again that thrill which she could hardly define shot through her as she
received the babe from the woman's arms. She bent her face over the
little rose-leaf one that lay upon her breast. Her lips moved, but no
sound came from them.

It seemed to rend her very heart-strings to relinquish her hold of the
infant--to hand it back to the woman who waited to receive it. The
moments seemed to fly by on golden wings.

It seemed to Ida that she could stand there for long hours looking
down into that lovely little face and those two great starry eyes
that looked up wonderingly into her own. It cost her a great pang to
hand the child back to the woman. But time was fleeting. She could
not remain there longer, for the distant bells of the village were
already ringing, proclaiming the noonday hour, and she must go home, or
luncheon would be kept waiting.

"You come here often?" she asked, turning again to the woman.

"Almost every day," was the reply.

The hapless young wife made up her mind that she would see them often.
Acting upon a sudden impulse, she took out her purse and handed the
woman a golden coin.

"Take that for the little one," she said. "What is its name?"

"We haven't decided upon its name yet," returned the woman; "we have
only had the child a few weeks."

"Would you think over it if I suggested a name?" asked Ida, wistfully.

"Yes, indeed," replied the woman. "You may be sure I would."

"Why not call her 'Ida May'?" murmured the young wife, with her whole
heart and soul in her eyes.

"That is a beautiful name," cried the woman--"Ida May Lester. That is
what it shall be!"

Somehow the naming of the poor waif gave to the hapless young wife a
great relief.



CHAPTER XXXVI.


Ida wended her way over the flower-strewn meadow, with her heart
beating more wildly than it had ever beaten before. She could not
forget the flower-like little infant that had looked up into her face,
and which had so strangely affected her.

Even the guests noted her heightened color; and Vivian Deane, watching
her narrowly from across the table, wondered what brought the
brightness to her eyes.

She looked at Eugene Mallard with intense interest. Surely there was
no corresponding gladness in his eyes. Indeed, he looked unusually
careworn.

"I will soon find out what has happened," said Vivian, with a pang of
bitter jealousy.

A little later Vivian sought Ida in her _boudoir_.

"It has commenced to rain," she said, "and I am at a loss to know
what to do with myself. The Staples girls have gone to their rooms to
rest, and their mother wearies me talking about Christian charity. The
gentlemen have repaired to the smoking-room, and so I have sought you."

"You are very welcome," said Ida. "I will do my best to amuse you."

As she looked at Vivian, she said to herself:

"How foolish I have been to imagine that this brilliant, beautiful girl
should care for a man who belonged to another girl."

Vivian had a very fascinating way when among women, and now she exerted
herself to please Eugene Mallard's young wife as she had never exerted
herself to please any one before.

"What a very cozy _boudoir_ you have, Ida!" she said. "It is like a
casket for some precious jewel. How considerate your husband was to
have it furnished to suit your rich dark beauty. I used to think that
nothing was pretty except white and gold or blue and white."

"That is only natural," returned Ida. "You are a pronounced blonde, you
know."

"Then you do not agree with me that there is a possibility of blondes
liking rich dark surroundings?"

"No; I should not fancy so," returned Ida, "except that blondes usually
fall in love with dark men."

Vivian flushed a vivid scarlet, which Ida did not see, for at that
moment Vivian's face was turned from her.

"Yes, that is very true," returned Vivian, making an effort to control
her emotion.

In her case, Vivian knew that the old saying was at fault. The strong,
passionate love of her heart had gone out to Eugene Mallard, and he was
fair. He was her ideal of manly beauty. The faces of other men appeared
quite insignificant when compared to his. She was anxious to turn the
conversation into another channel.

"I have often thought, amid all this gayety, how lonely you must be at
times without some girl friend to talk matters over with you," said
Vivian.

"You are quite right," said Ida, eagerly. "I _do_ need a girl friend,
some one of my own age, to whom I could open my heart."

Vivian glided up to her and threw her arms about her neck.

"Let me be that friend," she whispered, eagerly.

The young wife looked at her wistfully; her cheeks flushed.

"I shall be only too glad, Vivian," Ida said.

"If she had heard that I was in love with her husband, I must first
throw her off the track," thought Vivian.

"I am going to tell you a secret," she murmured, aloud; "but you must
not reveal it to any one, I have had a strange love affair, Ida."

She felt the young wife start, her figure tremble; she saw the lovely
face grow pale. But not appearing to notice her agitation, she went on:

"My hero is as dark as a Spanish knight. I met him recently. It was a
case of love at first sight. He proposed to me within a fortnight. But
my relatives do not like him, wealthy, handsome, courteous though he
is. They have forbidden him the house, yet I think in time they will
overcome their objections."

She could plainly see how her fictitious story relieved the young
wife. The color came back to Ida's cheeks, the light to her eyes. She
threw her arms impulsively about Vivian, and kissed her fair, lovely,
treacherous face.

"You are indeed to be envied, Vivian," she said, earnestly. "To love
and be loved is the greatest happiness God can give any one. I hope,
for _your_ sake, that your lover may win his way to the hearts of your
relatives. But you know that the course of true love never did run
smoothly."

"My lover is a great friend of your husband's, and perhaps he has told
you about it?"

"No," said Ida. "I assure you that Mr. Mallard has not spoken to me on
the subject," and she looked very discomforted.

"I am sure your husband must have received a letter from my lover and
hidden it away somewhere. Won't you be so kind as to look thoroughly
through his desk, and see?" asked Vivian.

Ida drew back in alarm.

"Oh, I could do not do what you ask. Mr. Mallard's rooms are in another
part of the house," Ida answered, thoughtlessly.

Ida now realized the importance of the admission she had thoughtlessly
made. But she could not recall her words--it was too late.

Vivian looked astounded. This was a state of affairs of which she had
never dreamed. Her idea had been to find some pretext to look through
Eugene Mallard's desk, and to abstract all the notes she had written to
him.

She remembered one or two which she had written in which she had poured
out her love for him in a mad fashion, and she would not like any one
to come across them.

But here she had unearthed a startling surprise. Eugene Mallard's rooms
were in another part of the house. Then they were indeed estranged. She
must find out the secret that lay between them.

"I am so sorry to have unearthed so sad a secret," cried the false
friend, winding her arms more tightly about Ida, and turning her face
away, that the young wife might not observe the look of triumph in it.
"But every life has its sorrow, and perhaps it was meant that I should
comfort you. If you are wearing out your heart longing for the sympathy
of a true friend, oh, dear Ida, please do confide in me, and let me
help you!"

The words had such a ring of sympathy in them that it was no wonder the
young wife believed her. She was young and unversed in the ways of the
world, or this beautiful false friend could not have deceived her so.

"Oh, Vivian, I _am_ unhappy," she sobbed, "surely the most unhappy girl
the sun ever shone on! I must make a confidant of some one--tell some
one my troubles, or I shall die. My--my husband does not love me!"

"Does not love you!" repeated Vivian. "Then why on earth did he marry
you?"

The hapless young wife could find no answer to that question; her head
drooped, and her lips were dumb.

"I am so glad you told me this," said Vivian; and it was strange that
Ida did not notice the ring of triumph in the voice of her false friend
as she said: "I will do my best to bring you two together. I do not ask
which one is at fault. Both can not be entirely blameless."

"There is a shadow between us which never can be lifted," sobbed the
young wife, putting her head on Vivian's shoulder. "There is love on
only one side," went on Ida, despairingly. "He is indifferent to me,
and--and he will grow to hate me."

"Forgive me, please, if I have been so engrossed in my own love affair
that I did not notice anything was amiss between my old friend Eugene
and his fair young bride."

"I almost dread to think of the future," moaned the young wife. "There
are times when I give myself up to wondering over the strange problems
of life, and I ask myself why I, who should be happy, find the world so
dark and dreary."

"You must be very patient," said Vivian, "and above all things,
let me warn you against being the first to make overtures for a
reconciliation."

"Oh, I am so very, very glad that I have had this talk with you,"
sobbed Ida, "for during the past week I had come to the conclusion that
the very first time I found my husband in the library, I would go up
to him, and say; 'This kind of life is killing me. It would be better
far for you to plunge a knife in my breast and kill me. Either take
me to your heart, either make me your wife in fact as well as name,
or send me out into the coldness and bitterness of the world. I can
endure this no longer. Your friends crowd about me, thinking I am the
happiest person in the world, while I am the most miserable. I must go
from here, because I have learned to love you, my husband, with all
my heart and soul. You may be surprised to hear this from me, but it
is the truth. I love you as no one else ever will. You may live for
years, flattered and happy, but no love like mine will ever come to you
again. Although you married me, yet you do not love me, and never will.
Always remember that the wife who is leaving you loves you with all her
heart. I would not tell you this now, but that I know in this world we
may never meet again.'"

Her voice died away in a whisper as she uttered the last word, and the
false friend who had determined to part husband and wife said she had
learned just in time what was necessary to prevent a reconciliation
between Ida and her husband.



CHAPTER XXXVII.


After Vivian Deane had learned of the estrangement of Eugene and Ida,
she made up her mind that she would part them forever.

But how? She thought over the matter long and earnestly. She was
standing in the magnificent drawing-room one morning, when Arthur
Hollis entered.

"How does it happen that you are not out for a canter on horseback with
our host and Captain Drury?" she asked. "This is such a delightful
morning."

"Ah, Miss Deane," he replied, laughingly, showing a handsome set of
white teeth, "I was just bemoaning that fact. But I had some important
letters to write, and I was obliged to remain in my room and finish
them."

At that moment they saw their young hostess crossing the lawn. Vivian
saw Arthur Hollis look after her with a long, steady, earnest gaze,
until she was quite out of their sight.

"Are you admiring our young hostess?" she asked, suddenly, with
something like a frown on her face.

"Yes," he answered, frankly. "I was just thinking that Mrs. Mallard has
the sweetest face and most charming manner of any woman I ever met."

"Then you admire her style of beauty?" said Vivian, a little piqued.

"Yes, very much," said Arthur Hollis. "If I had met her before she
married our friend Eugene, I think I should have fallen in love with
her myself."

The words were innocent enough; but Arthur Hollis never for a moment
dreamed of the terrible mischief they were to do in the after years.

Those words so simply uttered sent a thrill through the heart of the
girl who listened.

"Ah, I have it!" she said to herself. "A way is opened to me at last
to part Eugene Mallard and his wife. I will encourage Arthur Hollis's
admiration for the beautiful Ida. Men are easily flattered. There is no
knowing what the end will be."

It was a plot worthy of a fiend incarnate; but this girl, who loved
Eugene Mallard, would stop at nothing to gain her end.



CHAPTER XXXVIII.


During the fortnight that followed, Arthur Hollis sunned himself each
day more and more in Ida's presence.

No one noticed it save Vivian Deane. He saw no danger, nor did she, in
their companionship. In the meantime, the shadow darkened and deepened.
It was simply the old story in another form.

They were both young. She was gifted with the sweetest grace that ever
a woman possessed; he was brave, courteous, and noble, with the first
throb of a mighty passion in his heart.

What usually happens in such cases? He fell desperately in love with
Ida.

At first Arthur told himself it was pity for her loneliness that
actuated him to be always at her side, to make time pass pleasantly for
her. He realized, when it was too late, that pity had deepened into a
mighty love. And he told himself, in his despair, as the truth forced
itself upon him, that he loved her.

The truth came to him like a great shock. He went to Eugene Mallard,
and told him he must go away at once. It would have been better if he
had told him why; but he did not.

"I will not listen to such a thing!" cried Eugene. "You have promised
to stay until the shooting season, and I will hold you to your word."

In vain he pleaded. But Eugene was obdurate.

"There is no good reason for your hurrying away," said Eugene.

"Then you want me to stay, no matter what happens?" replied his friend,
quickly.

"Yes," replied Eugene Mallard; and he thought of Arthur's words for
many a day afterward.

Arthur Hollis tried to reason with himself, saying that it was better
to go. But he was like the moth, who felt insensibly attracted toward
the flame, drawing nearer and nearer, until, like the moth, he would
perish in it.

After his conversation with Eugene, he proceeded to shut his eyes to
the danger.

He was a free-lance. No woman's face had ever touched his heart before,
and he was frightened at the intensity of the love that thrilled his
heart for beautiful Ida Mallard.

He would sun himself in her presence for one brief fortnight longer,
and then go away. Surely it was not much in a life-time. He would not
deprive himself of the one glimpse of sunshine that had drifted into
his life.

Every day found them together.

Although Ida did not realize what was in his heart, yet she felt
intuitively that there was a great change in Arthur Hollis since he had
been beneath that roof.

Although he lingered with his feet on the edge of a precipice, yet
he stood face to face with the truth--he loved at last with all the
passionate strength of his heart and nature.

He said to himself that if marriages were made in heaven, she was the
one woman intended for him; she was the only woman in this world that
he could ever love.

If she had only been free, he would have given her his life, his
love--all that he had on earth to give.

To make the situation all the more pitiful, he knew that she was a
wife in name only to the man whose name she bore; that she was as far
removed from him as though she dwelt in an opposite part of the world
from him.

She was so young, so unhappy, he pitied her with all his heart. He was
perplexed, agitated.

How he enjoyed the rambles, the rides with her! The sweetest moment of
his life was when he could steal upon her unawares.

He saw no danger, and in the meantime the shadow darkened and deepened.
Vivian Deane watched them with exultant eyes.

"It will end in an elopement," she told herself, triumphantly. "Their
hearts are drifting nearer and nearer together, and the end is not far
off."

Every day seemed to make Ida more cold and careless, and to leave an
added sternness upon the face of Eugene Mallard, and a harshness in his
voice.

His marriage had been a bitter regret. It was an effort now to even
keep up appearances. He had sealed his misery. There were times when he
wished fiercely, miserably, that he could sever that most unhappy bond
and set her free.

Not all the wealth and luxury and the army of obsequious servants
could make the grand old mansion a home in its true sense.

The young wife plunged into a ceaseless round of frivolity with a
reckless _abandon_ quite foreign to her nature.

She accepted every invitation that came to her, and gave in return a
series of entertainments of so extravagant and magnificent a character
that the people around opened their eyes in astonishment, and whispered
it was well that Eugene Mallard's pocket was a deep one.

But before long they found something else to comment upon. Wherever
Ida went, whether she went abroad or entertained at home, at dinner,
ball, assembly, there, always closely in her train, might be seen the
handsome Arthur Hollis.

Gossip began to circulate, slight and vague at first, but it soon
became plainly hinted that Eugene Mallard's beautiful young wife
was flirting with Arthur Hollis--flirting defiantly, desperately,
recklessly. People wondered in indignant astonishment if her husband
was blind or mad.

Almost everybody was discussing the piquant scandal. Even those who had
been her guests found something to say, declaring that they had noticed
it from the first, adding this or that detail as the occasion prompted.

They wondered why some one did not drop a hint to the husband.
Unsuspicious by nature, and disregarding the formal calls of society
whenever he could possibly do so, he very seldom accompanied his wife
on the rounds of gayety on which she had embarked. For weeks neither
significant words nor glances came to him.

But he did hear of it at last, and then the blow struck him with
terrible effect. It was only a few sentences spoken by a couple of
ladies, and pointed with a venom which only a woman's tongue can give,
coupling the name of his wife with that of Arthur Hollis.

But the import of their words was unmistakable, and the shock seemed
momentarily to stop the young man's breath. The two scandal-mongers
lingered over their gossip with keen delight, not knowing that they
were overheard. It was at a garden-party given by Ida. Eugene Mallard
had gone into the grounds to enjoy a cigar in a favorite little retreat
which few of the guests had as yet discovered. He did not care for the
dancing on the lawn, and could not be induced to join the dancers.

Hidden by a group of laurel-bushes, Eugene's quick ear caught the words
of two young girls walking slowly down the path.

"Have you seen our hostess, young Mrs. Mallard?" asked one of the
other. "I have been searching for her everywhere."

"Look for handsome Arthur Hollis," returned her companion. "You will
surely find her with him."

The rest of the sentence was uttered in a whisper, but Eugene Mallard
heard every word of it.



CHAPTER XXXIX.


Eugene Mallard flung down the cigar which he had just lighted as soon
as the girls passed, and made his way from the place.

He resisted the impulse to turn fiercely upon them and demand how they
dared to speak of his young wife in that manner. It required all his
strength of will to keep down his anger.

He passed the two girls on the path a moment later, and though they
gave a start, they believed that he had not heard their remarks, for he
did not betray his anger in his face.

Eugene looked about for his wife. His eyes wandered sharply around as
he threaded his way among the dancers. But Ida was not visible.

Crossing the lawn, he encountered Vivian Deane and Captain Drury. She
was looking her sweetest in pale-blue summer silk half veiled by white
lace and pink rosebuds.

He would have passed them by, with a few forced words of pleasantry,
but Vivian would not have it so.

"You have not danced once this afternoon, Eugene," she said; "and a
host who does his duty should figure in some of the waltzes at least.
Are you looking for a partner now? Shall I find you one?"

"No; thanks, Vivian," he answered. "I am looking for my--my wife. Do
you know where she is?"

"Yes," returned Vivian. "I saw her a moment ago. Let me see where it
was. Oh, yes; I remember--down by the clump of oaks. She and Mr. Hollis
had danced four consecutive dances together, and were resting. By the
way," she added, with a gay little laugh, and something like a pout on
her pretty red lips, "you must tell her not to monopolize Mr. Hollis,
Eugene. It is too bad of her. It does not give a _single_ girl a fair
chance, you know."

Vivian moved away with the captain after giving him that parting shot,
and Eugene was not rendered much easier by her last words, although
they were apparently gayly and carelessly spoken.

He walked hurriedly to the further end of the grounds, and there, under
a huge oak-tree, he caught a glimpse of a filmy white dress.

Advancing, he saw his wife sitting there, with Arthur Hollis beside her.

Neither saw him. Ida's eyes were fixed upon a crimson rose she was
recklessly plucking to pieces. She seemed to be hardly heeding her
companion's words.

Arthur was leaning back against the oak-tree, looking down at the dark,
curly head, and he was speaking earnestly in a tone hardly above a
whisper.

A handsome couple they looked, and surely like nothing so much as
lovers.

Eugene realized this, and a feeling of wrath took possession of him. He
did not love her; in fact, there were times when he told himself that
he hated her with the bitterest kind of hatred; but she bore his name,
and she must not be allowed to set the tongues of gossipers wagging.

Eugene knew that she did not mean anything by receiving the attentions
of handsome Arthur Hollis, his friend. She was but a young girl, after
all, and she thoughtlessly allowed herself to drift into this most
wretched flirtation.

His thoughts went no deeper, no further than that; but that was far
enough, and for the sake of her good name, this thoughtless, reckless
nonsense must be stopped. He trusted her implicitly, yet he felt a mad,
unreasonable rage against the two sitting there.

It was well his will was so strong and his temper so well under
control, or he could not have advanced as calmly as he did.

Ida was dressed in white. It struck him that she looked very beautiful.
But just then her beauty seemed to exasperate and harden her husband
toward her.

Ida glanced up, and seeing him, started.

Arthur Hollis appeared a little uncomfortable, but after the first
sharp glance, Eugene Mallard did not look at him, feeling that he could
not trust himself to do so. He addressed his wife, looking at her with
a dark frown on his face.

"Vivian told me you were here," he began. "Are you going to dance the
next set?"

Her face flushed, her hands trembled. Was _he_, her husband, coming to
ask her to dance with him? His next words showed her how mad she had
been to cherish such a hope.

"I was going to ask Vivian to dance," he said. "I see there are three
couples standing over there ready to dance. It will require one more
couple to fill up the set."

With something like haughty pride, she raised her dark head.

"I shall not dance," said Ida, in a cold, bitter voice. "I am tired."

Arthur Hollis had the grace to laughingly excuse himself. He had been
enjoying his _tête-à-tête_, and the sudden appearance of her husband
on the scene was not welcome. Besides, he had noticed that there was
something in Eugene Mallard's face which he did not like.

Arthur Hollis did not speak, and Eugene Mallard waited until he was
well out of hearing. The silence lasted so long that Ida broke it by
petulantly saying:

"As I shall not dance this set, would it not be as well for you to find
some one else? The music is just starting."

He did not appear to listen to the remark. His eyes were riveted on the
little satin programme, suspended by a little silver cord at her belt,
and he saw the initials of Arthur Hollis written opposite six or eight
dances.

His face grew hard, stern, and rigid. Had he been blind not to have
noticed what was going on, when it was so plainly apparent to every one
else?

"I should like to ask something of you," he said, pointing to the card.
"I want you to promise me that you will not dance any more with Arthur
Hollis."

With a feeling of mingled rage and pain he saw that Ida turned first
pale then scarlet. She drew herself up to her full height and looked at
him with a _hauteur_ which she never knew she possessed.

"May I ask why you make such a request?" she asked, sharply.

"For to-day let it be enough that I make the request. Will you promise
me?"

All the spirit that Ida possessed was up in arms.

"Certainly not," Ida responded. "I would not dream of breaking an
engagement for no reason whatever."

There was a pause, filled only by the strains of distant music.

Paler than usual and with a stern look overspreading his face, Eugene
Mallard waited for his wife to continue, as she seemed to have
something more to say.

"If you objected to your friend dancing with me, you--you should have
made the request before the engagements were made."

He looked at her angrily, his fair, handsome face flushing.

"A half dozen engagements should not have been made," he returned.
"People will certainly comment upon it. They are already whispering of
my friend's attention to you."

A strange look which he could not analyze crossed the beautiful face.

"You must stop this gossip," he went on, "or I will take measures to do
so. I have made a request of you, and shown you why I made it. Will you
grant it--for your own sake?"

"I refuse!" she repeated. "I am sorry that you do not think me capable
of protecting my own name--and yours."

With something like a muttered imprecation on his lips, he turned on
his heel, and strode rapidly from her side.

"Fool that I was!" he muttered, clinching his hands together. "To save
her honor I married her. But what does she care for my honor?"

The breech between them grew wider than ever now.

Ida danced with Arthur Hollis, and the tongues of the gossips wagged.
If Eugene Mallard heard, he paid no heed. Strange thoughts were passing
through his mind.

All unmindful of what Eugene Mallard had to say to his wife, Arthur
Hollis danced with her, and hovered more closely than ever by her side.

He was growing desperate. His stay was drawing to a close. He meant
to make the most of the few hours of sunshine and happiness before he
turned his back on all that made life worth the living.

At the finish of one of the dances a messenger-boy was seen approaching
with a telegram.

"For Mr. Arthur Hollis," he called.

Mechanically Arthur held out his hand. It was a dispatch requiring his
immediate presence in Baltimore to attend to some urgent business.

"Have you bad news?" asked Ida, turning to him; for she saw his face
had grown very pale.

"Yes--no," he answered, incoherently, a troubled look coming into his
eyes. "I must go away." He did not look at her as he uttered the words.
"I must go within the hour," he said, huskily. "Come down by the brook
where we have passed so many happy hours. I should like to say good-bye
to you there."

For a moment she hesitated; then seeing the sorrowful look on his face,
she quietly allowed him to lead her down the path toward the brook.

In silence they walked through the sunshine, heedless that there were
two pairs of eyes following them--Vivian Deane's from one part of the
grounds, and Eugene Mallard's from another.

Vivian turned and followed them. That was the beginning of the tragedy
that darkened three lives.



CHAPTER XL.


Slowly Ida and Arthur Hollis walked together over the beautiful green
lawn, Vivian Deane creeping like the shadow of fate after them.

Arthur seated Ida in her favorite nook on the mossy stone. For a moment
neither of them spoke; then he suddenly caught her little hand in his.
Ida did not know why she trembled, why her hand grew cold in his clasp.

There was not a cloud in the blue sky overhead. The cool, sweet breeze
shook the rose leaves and scattered them on the grass; the leaves of
the oak-trees stirred on the great boughs. A calm, sweet and solemn in
its beauty, stole over them.

"Ida," he whispered, hoarsely, "did ever a great pity fill your heart
for any one? If so, let pity fill it now for me, for I am in need of
it."

"Why?" she asked, looking wonderingly up at him.

"How I shall look back to this hour when I am gone!" he said, brokenly.

"When I am gone!" The words had a sad murmur in them, like the fall of
autumn leaves. They pierced the very heart of the girl who heard them.

"When you are gone?" she repeated. "What do you mean?"

"I am going away within the hour," he said. "The telegram I received
calls me back to Baltimore by the first train," he added.

Involuntarily Ida drew closer to him, her face paling. Suddenly the
light went out of the sun, the glory faded from the blue sky; the music
of the birds was hushed, the bitterness of death seemed to have fallen
over her heart.

"Going away?" She repeated the words over and over again, but she could
not realize their meaning.

"I--I have been so happy, I forgot you would have to go away," she
said, slowly.

"I am going down to Central America. I may die of fever and never come
back," he answered, with passionate pain in his voice. "If I am spared
to return, it may not be for years. I will have passed out of your
thoughts by that time. You will have forgotten the pleasant hours we
spent together, forgotten our rambles through the sunny hours. You will
have grown into a woman of the world by that time. You have not begun
life yet."

"I feel as though I had finished with it," she murmured.

She did not try to check the words that came throbbing to her lips.

"I wish you had not come into my life only to go out of it," she added,
with passionate pain.

He looked at her, and strong man though he was, his lips trembled. She
had raised her face to his, and she looked so beautiful, so unhappy,
that he turned away with a groan which came from the very depths of his
heart.

Vivian Deane had crept near enough to hear the first words that had
passed between them. She knew that he had received a telegram calling
him away. He had either taken Ida Mallard down to the brook-side to say
good-bye, or to urge her to elope with him. Most likely the latter.

She would go and fetch Eugene. He should be a silent witness to the
scene; then her vengeance would be complete.

She knew his pride, his temper. She knew he would not raise his voice
to utter one word to stay her steps. He would spurn her, he would force
her to go.

Vivian hurried back to the dancers on the lawn. Eugene Mallard was
standing apart from his guests. She glided up to him and laid a little
white hand upon his arm.

"Eugene," she said, in a voice which trembled with excitement, "I have
always been your true friend. If I saw you in danger, my first impulse
would be to save you. If I saw an enemy pointing a deadly arrow at your
heart, I would try to turn it aside. If I saw a dark cloud hanging over
you, my first impulse would be to warn you."

"I anticipate what you are going to say, Vivian," he broke in, with
an expression of annoyance on his face. "You are going to repeat some
gossip to me, and I will say, before you begin, that I do not care to
hear it."

"If you will not heed the words of warning of one who wishes you well,
you must submit to the jeers of the whole country. I advise you to go
to the brook-side, where your wife is saying farewell to Arthur Hollis;
or perhaps she is going with him."

She saw the look that passed over his face as she turned swiftly and
hurried away. He could not have answered her if his life had depended
upon it. Glancing back over her shoulder, she saw that he had strolled
off in the direction which she had indicated.

"He will catch them making love to each other, and then--Ah, well, we
shall see!"

Ida and Arthur had walked in silence by the brook, and they stood
beside it for some moments without speaking; then suddenly Arthur
Hollis turned toward her.

"Say that you will miss me when I am gone," he murmured, with emotion.

"You know that I will," she answered. "But for you, my life here would
have been very lonely."

"Do you really mean that?" he asked, quickly.

"Yes," she returned, with something very like a sob on her lips.

Impetuously he caught the little white hand that hung by her side.

"Those words will linger in my memory until the day I die!" he cried,
huskily. "Ida, I am going away. You will never see me in this world
again. I shall never come back."

She looked at him with her great dark eyes.

"It breaks my heart to say farewell," he continued, huskily, "for when
I leave you, Ida, I go out into the darkness of death."

"Oh, do not say that!" she cried.

"Yes, the hour has come when I must tell you," he answered. "It will
ease my heart. Only forgive and forget me. Oh, how am I to say good-bye
to you?" he asked, sharply, looking, with desperation in his eyes,
at the lovely pale face. "I have lived under the same roof with you.
I have been thrown into your society day by day, yet I have kept my
secret in my own heart. Now I am going away, and I will tell you the
truth--I love you, Ida--I love you!"

He caught her hands in his, and she was too bewildered and dazed to
withdraw them.

"You must forgive me!" he cried. "Have pity on me, if my words do not
please you!"

She was carried away by his reckless impetuosity, and was too much
surprised to interrupt him. She had not even recovered herself
sufficiently to withdraw her hands from his. All she knew, in her
bewilderment, was, that he was kneeling upon the grass at her feet,
with his head bent, and that hot, passionate tears were falling from
his eyes.

"I have brought you here because I could not bear the pain any longer.
I must speak to you or die. I love you! Ah, Heaven knows how I love
you!"

She had no power to stop the torrent of words that fell from his lips.

"You will no doubt wonder how I dare say this to you," he went on,
brokenly, "but my answer is--love dares anything. It must express
itself in action or words. No mortal can keep it back."

She tried to check him, but it was impossible.

"Hush--hush!" was all she could say.

"I know the gulf that lies between us," he went on: "I realize that it
can never be bridged over. If I had met you first, I feel all would
have ended differently. You would have loved me as I love you. I feel
it--I know it."

At that moment Eugene Mallard, who had hurried down the path at the
suggestion of Vivian Deane, arrived upon the scene.

Only the tall lilac bushes sheltered him from the two who stood by the
brook-side. For a moment he was horrified at what he saw and heard. He
stood fairly rooted to the spot. His first impulse was to dash in upon
them, fling Arthur Hollis to the earth, and beat his very life out.

His next impulse was to rush to the house for his revolver, return with
it, and shoot his false friend before his guilty wife's eyes.

He acted upon the latter impulse, turned on his heel, and a moment
later, white as death, he dashed into the house and ran up a rear
stair-way to his room.

He did not love the girl who bore his name, but she should learn, even
if it were at the cost of a life, what it meant to drag his name, his
honor, through the mire.



CHAPTER XLI.


Although scarcely five minutes had elapsed since Eugene Mallard dashed
into the house in search of his revolver, when he returned to the
brook-side neither his wife nor Arthur Hollis was to be seen.

His rage was so great that he could scarcely contain himself. In his
present state of mind he did not dare return to his guests, lest his
emotion should betray him.

He thought they were planning an elopement; but he would nip that in
the bud.

The woman to whom he had given his name should not disgrace him. He
determined upon that as he hurried up a rear stair-way to his wife's
apartments to verify his suspicions.

To his utter surprise, as he flung open the door, he saw her sitting
by the window. She sprung to her feet, looking at him with widely
distended eyes.

It was the first time that her husband had ever crossed the threshold
of her apartments.

He entered the room, closed the door behind him, and stood with folded
arms before her.

Husband and wife looked at each other.

It was he who broke the awful silence. He strode up to her, and seized
her wrist in a vise-like grasp.

"There is little use in making a preliminary speech," he cried,
hoarsely. "I will come to the point at once!"

His face was ghastly, his lips trembled with uncontrollable rage.

Ida, pale, terrified, wondering, gazed at him with undisguised terror
in her eyes.

"What is it?" she gasped.

"You guilty woman!" cried Eugene Mallard--"you cruel, guilty woman, I
have interrupted you in your preparation for flight, it seems!"

His stern face, the anger that shone in his eyes, and the harsh voice
frightened her. She shrunk back as though he had struck her. Her lips
parted as though she would speak; but all sound died away on them.

"It is time," said Eugene Mallard, "that we came to a clear
understanding. In every way you have deceived me! I have been fatally
betrayed! Your shameless flirtation has tarnished my name and lowered
my position! I am ashamed to look men in the face! Where is he?" he
demanded, looking about him, as though he expected to see Arthur Hollis
in the room.

"Down by the brook," she faltered.

Eugene laughed a harsh, satirical laugh.

"He must have seen me coming while he waited there for you, and fled
from my wrath." He turned on his heel. "I repeat, if you stir from this
room until I give you leave, it will end in a tragedy!"

In his anger, he did not see that he was trampling under foot a noble
heart. If she had been able to calmly explain to him just what had
occurred, she might have been saved. She attempted to speak, but he
held up his hand.

"Not one word!" he cried. "I will not listen!"

He turned suddenly, hurried from the room, closed the door after him,
and went quickly to his library, where he could be alone.

Ida, left alone, reeled into the nearest chair. She shook as if in an
ague; she was cold, and her head reeled. Her keen pain and agony kept
her from fainting.

She tried to imagine her future life. What was Eugene Mallard about to
do? Her future was now ruined, sacrificed. Eugene Mallard had been cold
and indifferent to her before, now he hated her.

He said she was to remain in that room until he should return. She
flung herself face downward upon the floor. He had called her guilty
and cruel; he had vented his rage upon her. Her brain was dizzy with
the unusual excitement.

When Vivian Deane glided into Ida's room to find out what was going on,
to see whether Ida had really eloped, she found her in a deep swoon.
She did not call the servants, but set about reviving her herself.

Ida lay white and still as one dead. Above her bent Vivian Deane,
half terrified at the result of her work. Very soon her labors were
rewarded, and Ida opened her large, dark eyes.

"Vivian--Vivian!" she murmured, catching at the arms of her false
friend, her teeth chattering.

The blinding tears that now fell from Ida's eyes was a mercy sent
directly from Heaven, for they saved the hapless young wife from going
mad.

"Something has gone wrong with you, my dear," said Vivian, in her
sweetest, most cooing voice. "Tell me what it is, Ida, dear. Let me
console and comfort you."

Another fit of sobbing more violent than the first, and Ida threw
herself into the arms of her treacherous friend, sobbing out:

"Oh! Vivian, I must tell some one."

In a voice that shook with emotion, she proceeded to confide to her
enemy what had happened down by the brook-side, adding that her husband
had discovered it in some way, and accused her of encouraging Arthur
Hollis.

"Even if you had given him encouragement, no one could have blamed
you," Vivian said in a soft, purring voice, "for your husband's neglect
has been noticeable by every one!"

"But I did not encourage him!" cried Ida, in agony. "He was pleasant
company, but I thought no more of him, even though I spent so much of
my time in his society, than I did of Captain Drury, or any of the
other guests beneath this roof. Oh! I do wish I were dead--I do--I do!"

In this exaggerated feeling of one ill in body and in mind, in a state
of nervous tension, a true friend would have shown the unhappy Ida that
her position was not so desperate and hopeless as she imagined. Matters
could not, however, be carried to an extremity without an explanation.

"He bid me to remain here until he should return," sobbed Ida. "What do
you suppose he means to do?"

"Do you really want my honest opinion?" asked Vivian, with a steely
glitter in her blue eyes.

"Yes!" said the young wife, anxiously, fairly holding her breath in
suspense.

"Well, then, my dear, if you must have it, here it is: I, who know the
fierce temper of the Mallards, say to you that I think he intends to
call all the guests here, to openly denounce you before them, and then
turn you away from his house!"

The face of the girl-wife who listened grew ghastly.

"I would never stay beneath this roof to face his anger," said Vivian,
her eyes glistening. "I would gather up what money and jewels I could
lay my hands on, and run away--go as far away as possible."

"Would you?" cried Ida, in a hushed, awful voice.

"Yes," advised Vivian, firmly. "And every moment of delay brings you
nearer and nearer to face the terrible ordeal that I am sure he intends
to mete out to you!"

Ida rose suddenly to her feet

"I will do as you advise, Vivian," she whispered, her dark eyes filled
with terror. "I will fly at once!"



CHAPTER XLII.


Vivian Deane looked down at the cowering girl at her feet. It seemed to
her then that her triumph was complete. She could scarcely keep back
the cry of exultation that rose to her lips.

"How shall I leave the house without being seen?" whispered Ida,
piteously.

"Leave that to me," murmured Vivian. "I am very sorry for you, Ida, and
I will do all I can to aid you in this, your hour of greatest sorrow."

"You are, indeed, a true friend to me," sobbed Ida. "I shall never,
never forget your kindness."

Vivian looked a trifle uncomfortable at these words of unmerited
praise. She dared not remain longer with Ida, for she knew that two or
three partners would be looking for her.

"Stay here for at least fifteen minutes," she said, eagerly, "and by
that time I will join you, and tell you what plans I have made for you."

Ida could not think for herself, her brain was so benumbed. She could
only nod in silence.

Scarcely five minutes had elapsed since Vivian had quitted the
_boudoir_, until Eugene Mallard again knocked for admittance at the
door.

There was no answer. He turned the knob, entered, and found his young
wife lying senseless upon the carpet. For the second time, Ida had
given away to the awful agony that consumed her. Among those at the
_fête_ was a young doctor. Eugene summoned him hastily.

"Dear me, this is quite serious!" exclaimed the doctor, as he bent over
the prostrate form which Eugene had borne to a couch. "Your wife has
brain fever. It is a serious case, I fear."

The garden-party broke up quite suddenly. The news that Mrs. Mallard
had been taken ill was rumored among the revelers, and silently but
quickly the guests took their departure, all save Vivian Deane.

She went up to Eugene, and laid a hand on his arm.

"Let me remain and nurse my dear friend Ida," she pleaded. "Do not
refuse, I beg of you!"

"Let it be as the doctor says," answered Eugene.

But the physician shook his head decisively.

"This is a case requiring the most competent nurses. I am sorry to
refuse you, Miss Deane, but in this instance I must do so."

Vivian controlled the anger that leaped into her heart.

"You certainly mean well," added the doctor, "but in such a case as
this even her nearest relatives are not to be allowed in the sick-room."

Vivian was obliged to swallow her chagrin as best she could. If she
had been allowed her way, the young wife who had come between her love
and herself would never rise from her bed.

"When she is convalescing I will visit her," she said to herself.

As she had no excuse to remain longer in the house, she was obliged to
take her departure along with the other guests.

When Eugene Mallard had hurried to his room, after bidding Ida to
remain there until his return, it was his intention to go to his room
for writing materials, and returning to Ida, force from her a written
confession of her love for his friend, and her intention to elope with
him.

Under the circumstances, he could not very well carry his plan into
execution. His rage against his hapless young wife turned to pity when
he saw her lying there so helplessly before him.

During the fortnight that followed, the servants, who knew of their
master's estrangement from his young wife, and how little he cared
for her, were greatly surprised to find themselves banished from the
sick-room, while Eugene Mallard took possession of it.

The fact was, he was puzzled at her raving. Sometimes, when taking
the place of the trained nurse for an hour, he was troubled beyond
expression to hear her go over again and again the scene that had taken
place by the brook.

In her delirium, Ida vehemently repulsed Arthur Hollis, demanding of
him how it was that he dared speak a word of love to her, the wife of
another.

Then the scene would change, and she would fancy herself once more in
her own room, falling on her knees and crying out to Heaven that she
could not bear her husband's coldness.

Often would Eugene listen intently while Ida clasped her hands and
moaned:

"Oh, Eugene! Eugene! will I ever be more to you than I am now? I love
you! Yes, I love you, but you will never know it! If you only knew it,
you would be surprised. A wife never loved a husband more dearly, more
devotedly than I love you. I would have devoted my whole life to you.
I would have died for you! Every beat of my heart, every thought of my
mind, every action of my life is for you! I love you as no one else
ever will, as no one has loved you! You may live many years, happy,
flattered by the women of the world, but no love like mine will ever
come to you. The wife who is to you as the dirt beneath your feet is
the truest friend you have!"

Eugene Mallard looked terribly distressed as he listened.

"Ida, my dear wife, listen to me," he would say. "I--I--shall try very
hard to be kinder to you than I have been. Do you hear me, do you
understand?"

There was no gleam of love in the pale face; no light such as he had
thought his words would bring there; no gleam of joy. She did not seem
to understand him. He said to himself that he must be cautious; that he
must not distress her by speaking words that would give her hope.

The news of the illness of Eugene Mallard's young wife had traversed
far beyond the small Virginia town. He was well known in New York, and
the papers of the metropolis copied the bit of news; but in doing so,
they made a great mistake. The items read that the young wife of Eugene
Mallard had died from the effects of brain fever.

Miss Fernly read the article, and without delay she wrote to Eugene
Mallard.

In one part of her letter she said:

 "I should never have written you the following if the wife whom you
 had wedded through _my_ mistake had lived. But now that she is gone,
 I will tell you the truth--that hapless deed came very near costing
 your poor Hildegarde her life. From the time of your marriage to the
 present, she has never been the same. She loved you then, she still
 loves you.

 "This is what I would advise you to do: wait a reasonable length of
 time, and then come and claim Hildegarde, and this time nothing shall
 happen to prevent the marriage of you two whom Heaven had intended for
 each other. I know Hildegarde is breaking her heart day by day, hour
 by hour, for love of you.

 "I urge you to come to her just as soon as you think it prudent, as I
 think it is my duty to warn you that Hildegarde is fading away before
 our very eyes, and your presence is the only thing that can save her
 life.

 "I here inclose you a small portrait of her I had taken only a little
 while ago. Her face is as sweet as a flower, but, ah, me! one can not
 help but read the sadness in every line of it."

It was just at the time when Eugene Mallard was feeling kinder toward
his wife than ever that he received Miss Fernly's letter inclosing
Hildegarde's picture. He had done his best to try to crush out his
hopeless love for one from whom Heaven had so strangely parted him.

Great drops of perspiration stood out on his brow as he folded the
letter and turned the picture face downward on his desk.

It seemed to Eugene that the bitter waves of death were sweeping over
him. It was the reopening of the old wound in his heart that he prayed
Heaven to heal. He loved Hildegarde with all the strength of his
manhood. He wished that he were dead. The pain seemed greater than he
could bear. He found that he still loved sweet Hildegarde; but he was
bound to another in honor and conscience. He would try to do his duty
toward the one who bore his name.

He took the letter to the open fire-place, where a log fire burned
lazily, and knelt down before it, holding it to the flame. Red tongues
of fire caught at it gleefully, and the next instant it was a heap of
ashes in one corner of the grate.

Then he held out the picture to the flames, but involuntarily he drew
it back. He could not allow it to burn. It seemed to him that his own
heart would burn first.

"Heaven give me strength to destroy it!" he cried. "I dare not trust
myself to keep it. It will drive me mad!"



CHAPTER XLIII.


The flames touched the portrait, and with a cry Eugene Mallard hastily
drew it back.

"No, no--a thousand times no!" It would be as easy to burn the living,
beating heart in his bosom.

While he had the strength, he hurried to his writing-desk, placed it in
a pigeon-hole, shut down the lid, and turned the key. Then he buried
his face in his hands.

He ruminated upon the strangeness of the position he was placed in.
Both of these young girls loved him, while he loved but one of them,
and the one whom he loved so deeply could never be anything in this
world to him. He wondered in what way he had offended Heaven that such
a fate should be meted out to him.

At that moment quite a thrilling scene was transpiring at the railway
station of the little Virginia town.

The New York Express, which had just steamed in, stood before it, and
from one of the drawing-room cars there stepped a handsome man dressed
in the height of fashion.

He sauntered into the waiting-room, looking about him as though in
search of the ticket-agent.

A woman entered the depot at that moment carrying a little child in her
arms. She recognized the man at a single glance.

"Why, Mr. Royal Ainsley!" she cried, "is this indeed you returning to
your old home?"

Turning hastily around at the mention of his name, he beheld Mrs.
Lester standing before him.

"Yes; I have returned like a bad penny, Mrs. Lester," he said, with a
light, flippant laugh. "But, judging from the expression on your face,
you are not glad to see me."

"I have not said so," she answered.

"Sit down, Mrs. Lester," he said, flinging himself down on one of the
benches. "I should like to inquire of you about the women-folk of the
village."

The woman sat down beside him, in obedience to his request.

"There is very little to tell," she answered; "everything in our
village moves on about the same, year in and year out. Nothing of
importance has taken place, except the marriage of your cousin, Eugene
Mallard."

"Ha! ha! ha! So my fastidious cousin has changed his name from Royal
Ainsley to that of Eugene Mallard to please his uncle, has he? Well,
I read of it in one of the New York papers, but I scarcely credited
it. Between you and me, Mrs. Lester, that was a mighty mean piece of
work--the old fool leaving his entire fortune to him, and cutting me
off without a cent."

"Every one knows that you were warned of what was to come unless you
mended your ways," answered the woman.

"Bah! I never thought for a moment that the old fool would keep his
word," retorted the other. "But you say that my cousin is wedded. That
is indeed news to me. Whom did he wed--Vivian Deane?"

"Oh, no," she answered, "not Miss Deane. Every one in the village
prophesied that he wouldn't wed her, although she was so infatuated
with him."

"I suppose she is an heiress," said Ainsley, savagely knocking the
ashes off his cigar. "It's easy enough to marry another fortune if you
have one already."

"I don't know if she is an heiress," returned Mrs. Lester; "but she's
a real lady. Any one can see that. But I fear that he is in great
danger of losing her. She is now very low with brain fever, and it is
doubtful whether she will live."

"Humph!" he muttered. "My visit here is most inopportune then. I
wanted to see my cousin, and strike him for the loan of a few thousand
dollars. He won't be in very good humor now to accede to my request. I
think I'll keep shady and wait a fortnight before seeing him. But who
is _this_?" he cried, looking at the child she carried in her arms. "I
understood that your baby died."

"So it did," replied Mrs. Lester. "This is the little foundling whom
we are about to adopt. My husband brought it to me from a foundling
asylum."

"Well, I do declare!" said Ainsley. "That's quite a risky operation,
taking a little waif into your home, when you don't know its parents."

"But I _do_ know its mother," she answered. "I wrote and found out
all about its mother. She was a young girl who was taken ill in the
streets. A poor family permitted her to be brought into their house,
and there her babe was born. The young mother was so ill that the babe
was taken to the foundling asylum by the doctor who attended her, where
it could have constant attention, for its little life was despaired
of. By a strange mistake, word was sent to the mother that the little
one had died. But the baby rallied and recovered. Almost heart-broken
over the news of its death, the young mother disappeared. There was
no one so interested as to make search for her, and tell her that her
little one had been spared. In her flight she left behind her a package
which contained some articles that may lead to her identity, if the
child should ever want to find her hapless mother when she grows to
womanhood. I have them with me now. Do let me show them to you, Mr.
Ainsley."

At that moment the little one, who had been sleeping, slowly opened its
great, dark, solemn eyes, looked up into the face of Royal Ainsley, and
uttered a plaintive little sob.

It was not often that he noticed little children--indeed, he had an
aversion to them--but he could not understand the impulse that made
him bend forward and look with interest into the flower-like little
face.

Where had he seen just such a face? The great, dark, solemn eyes, so
like purple pansies, held him spell-bound.

An impulse which he could not control or define caused him to reach out
his trembling hand and touch the waxen little fingers, and the contact
made the blood rush through his veins like fire. He tried to speak, but
his tongue seemed too thick and heavy to perform its functions.

The woman did not notice his agitation. She was busily engaged in
unwrapping a small parcel which she had tied up in oil silk.

Then, to his astonished gaze, Mrs. Lester held up before him a
beautiful bracelet made of tiny pink sea-shells, with a heavy gold
clasp, upon which was engraved, "From R. to I."

If Mrs. Lester had but looked at him, she would have seen that his face
had grown ghastly.

At a glance he recognized the bracelet as one which he had designed
and presented to Ida May, at Newport, when he believed her to be the
heiress of the wealthy Mays.

"That is not all," said Mrs. Lester, holding up a man's pocket-book,
which he recognized as his own---the identical one he had sent up to
Ida May by the porter, with a little change in it, on the morning he
deserted her.

Again he opened his mouth to speak; but no sound issued from his
lips. The pocket-book contained only a part of a sleeve-link that had
belonged to himself, the other part of the link was in his pocket at
that moment.

In a flash, the truth came to him--this little one was Ida May's child.

He now recalled the appealing letters she had written to him at the
hotel after he had deserted her. He had never answered them, for by
that time he was trying to win the beautiful heiress, Florence St.
John. He had told Ida May that his marriage to her was not legal, while
in truth it was as binding as Church and State could make it.

He had cast all upon the throw of a dice, and it would never do for the
poor young girl whom he had married to come between him and the young
girl whom he was about to win.

He had resolved upon a desperate scheme to gain a fortune, by deluding
the young girl whom he had made his wife into believing that she was
not such, and going through the ceremony with the heiress, Florence St.
John.

But Fate had snatched the beautiful Florence St. John from his grasp
just as he was about to wed her. Her brother came on the scene, and
Royal Ainsley beat a hasty retreat, as he had commenced to inquire into
his antecedents.

All these thoughts flashed through his brain in an instant. Then he
realized that Mrs. Lester was speaking to him.

"A pretty baby, is she not?" said the woman, holding the infant toward
him. "But we have decided not to keep her, after all. I am going to
take the first train to New York, and return the baby to the foundling
asylum, though Heaven knows I shall miss her sorely. We are too poor to
keep her."

Royal Ainsley turned toward her with strange eagerness.

"What do you say if I take your charge off your hands?" he asked,
huskily.

"You, Mr. Ainsley?" exclaimed the woman, amazed. "Why, what in the
world could _you_, a young bachelor, do with a baby?"

"I will give you one hundred dollars to give me the child. Is it a
bargain, Mrs. Lester? Speak quickly, before I change my mind!"



CHAPTER XLIV.


Royal Ainsley leaned forward, and caught Mrs. Lester's arm, saying
hastily:

"I repeat, that you shall have one hundred dollars if you will but give
the child into my custody."

"Again I ask, what could you, a bachelor, do with it, Mr. Ainsley?"
said Mrs. Lester.

He had an answer ready for her.

"I know a family who lost a little one, and would be only too delighted
to take the infant and give it a good home."

Mrs. Lester breathed a sigh of relief.

"I am very poor, as you know very well, Mr. Ainsley," she answered,
"and I can not refuse your kind offer. Take the little one with
welcome. Only be sure that it is a good home you consign it to."

He counted out the money and handed it to her, and she resigned the
infant to his arms. At that moment they heard the shriek of the
incoming express.

"That is the train I was going to take," she said, "and now I am out
the price of my ticket, which I bought in advance."

"If you will give it to me, I will use it," he said.

She handed him the ticket, and in another moment Mrs. Lester saw him
board the train with the child.

"I wonder if I have done right or wrong," she thought, a scared look
coming into her face. "It was all done so quickly that I had not the
time to consider the matter. But this much I do know; I have the
hundred dollars in my pocket, and that is a God-send to me. We need the
money badly just now."

She turned and walked slowly away; but somehow she did not seem quite
easy regarding the fate of the little child.

"I ought to have asked him the name of the family to whom he was going
to take the baby," she mused; "then I could have written to them to be
very careful, and to bring her up to be a good and true woman. I shall
certainly ask him all about it the very next time I see him--that is,
if I ever _do_ see him."

Meanwhile the train thundered on, carrying Royal Ainsley and the child
away. It was hard to keep back the expression of mingled hatred and
rage with which Royal Ainsley regarded the infant he held in his arms.
He knew full well that the child was his own, but he had no love for
it. If it had died then and there, that fact would have afforded him
much satisfaction.

But one course presented itself. He would take it to New York, and once
there, he would have no further trouble with it--he would manage to
lose it. Many waifs were found on the doorsteps, and no one ever could
trace their parentage, or whose hand had placed them there.

In all probability he would never run across Ida May again. She
believed her child dead.

While these thoughts were flitting through his brain, the little one
commenced to cry. Its piteous wails attracted the attention of more
than one person in the car.

"Mother," said a buxom young woman sitting opposite, "I am sure that
young man is a widower, left with the little child, and he is taking it
to his folks. You see he is in deep mourning.

"I'll bet that baby's hungry, mother, and I'll bet, too, that he hasn't
a nursing-bottle to feed it from."

"You can depend upon it that he has one," remarked her mother. "Every
father knows that much about babies."

"Of course he has it in his pocket; he never came away without one; but
he is so deeply engrossed in his own thoughts that he does not hear the
baby. Don't you think you ought to give him a little reminder of it?"
said her daughter, thoughtfully. "You're an elderly woman, and can do
it."

"He might tell me to mind my own business," said the elder woman. "Some
strangers don't take kindly to other people meddling in their affairs."

As the plaintive wails of the infant increased instead of diminished,
the elder woman got up and made her way up the aisle.

Royal Ainsley started violently as he felt the heavy hand on his
shoulder.

"Why don't you feed your baby, sir?" she said, brusquely.

He looked at her angrily, his brows bent together in a decided frown.

"What do you mean by interrupting my thoughts, woman?" he cried,
harshly.

His angry retort roused all the antagonism in the woman's nature.

"I mean just what I say--your baby's hungry, mister," she replied. "If
you had the feelings of a loving father, you'd know enough to feed it."

He looked at her in consternation.

"Feed it?" he echoed, blankly. "I--I was not prepared for anything like
this. Such a thing did not occur to me."

"And you didn't bring a nursing-bottle along with you?" echoed the
woman.

"No," he responded, curtly, but also somewhat blankly.

"Good Lord! that's just like a man, to forget important things like
that."

"What am I to do?" he asked, appealingly. "What would you suggest,
madame. I am at sea."

She looked at him perplexedly; then her motherly face brightened as she
glanced about the car.

"I will soon see what can be done," she answered, making her way as
quickly as the moving train would allow to the end of the car, where
two women sat with tiny infants on their laps.

Very soon she returned with the article she had gone in search of.

"Let me take the poor little thing," she said, "and feed it. Men, and
more especially young men, don't know anything about such things."

Royal Ainsley gladly delivered his charge into her keeping. Very soon
the woman had stilled its cries, and it was sleeping peacefully in her
arms. An idea then came to Royal Ainsley. His pale-blue eyes glittered
with a fiendish light.

He almost laughed aloud at the thought that flashed through his mind.

"Do you think the baby will sleep a little while?" he asked, drawing
his hat down over his face.

"It is likely to," she answered; "still, one can not always tell.
Samantha, my daughter here, never slept ten minutes on a stretch when
she was a baby. She was a lot of trouble to me then; but I don't mind
it now, for she's a heap of comfort to me, sir. I wouldn't know how to
get along without Samantha. She----"

Royal Ainsley interrupted her impatiently.

"I was going to say that if you would be kind enough to hold the little
one for awhile I would like to go into the smoking-car and smoke a
cigar."



CHAPTER XLV.


Royal Ainsley thought the woman did not hear his question, for she did
not answer, and he repeated, in his suave, winning way:

"Could I trouble you to hold the little one a few moments, while I
enjoy a smoke in the car ahead?"

Widow Jones answered readily enough:

"To be sure I will take care of the little one, sir. Go right along and
enjoy your cigar. I know just how a man feels when he is deprived of a
smoke. My husband had to have his pipe every night after his supper,
just as sure as the sun went down. If he missed it, he was fairly
beside himself--like a fish out of water."

It suddenly occurred to Royal Ainsley that it wouldn't be a bad idea to
know more about this woman.

"Do you live near here?" he asked.

"Just three stations above--near Larchmont village. We won't reach
there for nearly three-quarters of an hour, so that need not trouble
you, sir. I take it that you are a widower, sir," she went on, before
he could rise from his seat.

"Yes," he answered, shortly, and with considerable impatience.

"It's too bad!" chimed in Samantha--"and to be left with such a young
baby, too. It's too bad that you didn't get a nurse for her, unless you
are taking her to some of your folks."

"I have no relatives," he answered. "I am going to New York for the
express purpose of finding some one to take care of the child."

"Indeed!" exclaimed Widow Jones. "How strange that you should
come across me! Why, do you know, I used to take little ones in
occasionally, and keep them for their fathers until they were old
enough to get about. Before you look further, sir--although I don't
like to recommend myself--I'd like to have you stop off at Larchmont
and inquire all about me. There isn't a man, woman, or child for miles
around but can tell you about me."

"Why, it is indeed a piece of good luck that I should have come across
you, madame!" declared Royal Ainsley. "We may be able to come to terms
here and now."

"Don't ask too much, ma," whispered Samantha, under her breath.

"You can set your own price," said Royal Ainsley, in an off-hand manner.

"Oh, I will leave that entirely to you, sir," said the widow. "I'll
take the baby and care for her, and you can come and see her whenever
you like. I'll leave the pay entirely to you. That's fair enough, sir,
isn't it?"

"You are entirely too magnanimous," he declared. "By the way, here's a
ten-dollar note to start with. That's the only bill I have, save those
of very large denomination. In the course of a few weeks I will make
permanent arrangements with you."

"But surely you are going to stop off at Larchmont, sir, and see where
I live. I don't expect that you will trust a dear little baby like this
to a stranger. You will most likely want a recommendation."

"Your face is certainly recommendation enough, my good woman," he
declared. "Nevertheless, I shall, of course, stop off with you."

He rose with a bow.

"Remember, sir," chimed in Samantha, "that part of the train switches
off just a few miles below there. If you don't look out, you'll be
taken on to New York."

"I must look out for that," he said. "I had certainly intended to take
a little nap after my smoke. I haven't closed my eyes for two nights;
the baby was not feeling well. Your warning will put me on my guard, at
all events."

Again he bowed, and in an instant he had disappeared.

"I wonder what his name is," said Samantha. "You forgot to ask him, ma."

"So I did, to be sure. But it's easy finding that out."

Further conversation was stopped by the sudden waking up of the pretty
dark-eyed babe; but a little milk from the bottle and a few soothing
words soon succeeded in quieting her.

"We are almost at the switch," said Samantha. "Ought not somebody go
into the smoking-car and inform the gentleman of it?"

"Why, certainly not. It's likely he knows of it. He was told of it,
and it's likely some one will inform him. You had better look after
your boxes and bundles. Be sure to pick up the bag of candy, the
ginger-snaps, the bunch of bachelor buttons, the rosemary, my shawl,
and your new pair of shoes."

"If I have to hold this baby and pick up my dress, it will be as much
as I can do. But I'm quite sure the gentleman will come and take care
of the baby himself," added Samantha, wistfully.

The conductor called out the station. It was the busiest junction in
the northern part of Virginia. Two trains met and passed each other
here, while still another was side-tracked, waiting for the right of
way. There was always a rush of people at the station, and consequently
confusion and noise. Widow Jones and Samantha stepped from the car to
the platform.

"We ought to have waited," declared the girl. "See, we have missed him,
as I told you we would. I had better run back and see if he's there.
He's probably going on to New York. But he will be sure to see us, no
matter what car he is in."

A moment more, and the two trains moved on. Even Widow Jones was now
thoroughly alarmed. What her daughter had feared had taken place. The
young man had certainly missed them.

"Overcome with fatigue, he probably fell asleep in the smoking-car, in
spite of himself," said Samantha.

"Well, anyhow he knows your name and address, mother. He will be sure
to telegraph back to us at Larchmont."

Still, Widow Jones, who held the baby close in her arms, looked
troubled.



CHAPTER XLVI.


"He has certainly been carried on to New York," said Widow Jones.
"There is nothing left but to get home and await results."

"I guess you're about right," said Samantha.

They left word at the railroad station to at once bring up any telegram
that might come for them.

An hour after they arrived at Larchmont, every one had heard of Mrs.
Jones and the baby, and her experience with the handsome stranger.

When a fortnight passed, and the weeks lengthened into months, Mrs.
Jones began to be a little skeptical.

"We will keep the baby until he _does_ come for it, Samantha," she said.

Somehow the little waif with the great dark eyes and the little
rose-bud mouth had crept into their hearts, and they could not turn it
away.

Samantha did her share in looking after the baby; but it was a little
hard, for she had a great deal to do waiting upon customers in the
village bakery.

The mother and daughter made no further mention of the handsome
stranger.

"If we had but asked him his name. I wanted you to, ma," declared
Samantha. "But there's no use in crying now. We have the satisfaction
of having a baby, anyhow," declared the girl, spiritedly.

"Yes," assented her mother, dubiously; "but it's quite a task to bring
up other people's children."

Meanwhile, freed from the care of the child, Royal Ainsley walked
through the train. It was just approaching the station, when, all
unobserved, he swung from the back platform just as the express was
moving out again.

A chuckle of delight broke from his lips.

"That was most cleverly managed. My compliments to Mrs. Jones, of
Larchmont. She has been exceedingly useful to me."

He did not trouble himself as to what disposition they might make of
the child.

The question that occurred to him was--"how am I to destroy the proofs
I have concerning the child?"

But no answer came to him regarding this dilemma. He thrust them back
into his pocket. He would have plenty of time to plan when he reached
New York.

Suddenly the thought came to him, that he would be foolish to turn back
from the course he had marked out for himself. Instead of returning, he
would go back and see Eugene.

There was a friend of his living in the vicinity. He would find him,
and pass a week or two with him, then he would carry out his original
scheme. He acted upon this thought.

It was the fishing season, and Royal Ainsley made a valuable addition
to a party of young men already gathered at his friend's quarters. Five
weeks elapsed before the party broke up.

"By this time Eugene's wife must have recovered from her illness," he
said, grimly. "If I don't go and see him now, they will probably be
getting ready to go off somewhere, and I will miss them."

Suiting the action to the word, Royal Ainsley took the train the next
day and arrived at his native village at dusk.

He had taken the precaution to provide himself with a long top-coat and
a slouch hat.

He avoided the depot and its waiting-room, lest he should meet some one
who might recognize him.

He struck into a side-path, and a sharp walk of some fifteen minutes
brought him in sight of the old mansion.

How dark and gloomy the night was! There was no moon, and not a star
shone in the heavens.

A short cut across the fields brought him to a little brook. He looked
down upon it in silence as it gurgled on sullenly over its rocky bed.

He looked back at the grand old mansion looming up in the distance. And
as he looked, he clinched his hands, and the bitterness in his heart
became more intense.

"But for Eugene, all that would be mine," he muttered. "He stepped
between me and the fortune. When we were boys together, I realized that
he would do it, and I hated him--hated him for his suave, winning ways
and the love which every one showered on him. He was always lucky."

He turned and looked again at the great stone mansion, whose turrets
were dimly outlined against the sky. And as he looked he saw a door on
the rear porch open and a figure clad in a white, fleecy dress glide
out upon the porch and walk slowly into the grounds.

"That is probably the bride," he muttered, with a harsh little laugh.

To his surprise, she crossed the lawn and made directly for the spot
where he stood.

"I shall not be likely to get a good look at her unless the moon comes
out," he thought.

He drew back into the shadow of the alders that skirted the brook. His
bitter, vengeful thoughts were turned aside for a moment while watching
the advancing figure.

"Why should my cousin have wealth, love, happiness, while I have to
knock about here and there, getting my living as best I can, being
always in hard luck and a mark for the arrows of relentless fate?" he
soliloquized.

Nearer and nearer drew the slender, graceful figure.

Royal Ainsley was right. It was his cousin's wife.

She went on slowly over the greensward in the sweet night air, little
dreaming what lay at the end of her path.

By the merest chance the hapless young wife had come across the letter
that Miss Fernly had written to Eugene Mallard. It had fallen from his
pocket when he was looking over some papers on the porch one day.

Passing by soon after, Ida saw the paper lying there, picked it up, and
opened it. There, while the sun shone and the birds sung, she read it
through, and the wonder was that she did not die then and there.



CHAPTER XLVII.


From the moment that Ida had learned through Miss Fernly's letter how
Hildegarde Cramer had mourned for her lover, the young wife's life had
become very unhappy.

She knew well that she stood between Hildegarde Cramer and her
happiness. She had done her best to die, but Heaven had not so willed
it.

The pity of it was that her love for Eugene Mallard had increased a
hundred fold. It was driving her to madness.

"Oh, if it were all ended!" she cried aloud. "Better anything than this
awful despair!"

No one heard her. There was no one near to hear what she moaned out to
the brook that kept so many secrets.

She heard a crash in the branches near by--a slight crash, but she
started. It was only a bird that had fallen from its nest in the tree
overhead, she told herself.

But even after she had said it she felt a sense of uncontrollable
terror that she could not account for; felt the weight of some strange
presence.

That voice!

When Ida cried aloud in her despair, the words fell like an electric
shock upon the ears of a man who listened behind the alder branches.

"By all that is wonderful!" he cried, under his breath. "Either my ears
have deceived me, or that is the voice of Ida May! Well, well! Will
surprises never cease?"

He stepped quickly forward, and the next moment he was by her side. How
strange it was that at that instant the moon came out from behind a
cloud and rendered every object as bright as if in the noonday sun.

At the sound of the step, Ida started back in affright.

One glance into the face looking down into her own and she started back
with a cry that was scarcely human.

"You!" she gasped.

Then her lips grew cold and stiff. She could not utter another word.

"The surprise is mutual!" he answered. "What in the name of all that is
wonderful are you doing in this house? Come, my dear, let us sit down
on this log while you explain matters."

Ida drew back in loathing.

"Stand back!" she cried. "Do not attempt to touch me, or I shall cry
out for help!"

A fierce imprecation broke from the man's lips.

"What do you mean by all this high and mighty nonsense?" he cried.
"Speak at once. You are my wife! Why shouldn't I lay hands on you?"

"No!" she cried. "Though you have so cruelly deceived me, I thank God
that I am not your wife."

He threw back his fair, handsome head, and a laugh that was not
pleasant to hear fell from his lips.

"Don't make any mistake about that!" he cried. "I remember what I
wrote you--that there was some illegality in the ceremony which made
our marriage invalid. But I learned afterward, when I met the chap
who performed the ceremony, that it was entirely legal. If you doubt
that what I say is true, I can easily convince you of the truth of my
assertion."

Ida drew back with a cry so awful that he looked at her.

"Well, well, who can understand the ways of women?" he remarked,
ironically. "I thought that you would rejoice over the fact that our
marriage was legal, but I find that you are sorry."

Still she was looking at him with wide-open eyes.

"I can not, I will not believe anything so horrible!" she gasped. "It
would drive me mad!"

"I assure you it is true," he declared. "Like yourself, I believed that
the marriage was not binding. But I found it was, and that saved me
from wedding another girl."

A cry that seemed to rend her heart in twain broke from her white lips.

"But tell me, what are you doing here?" he asked, wonderingly.

Then it was that something like an inkling of the truth came to him.

"Great God!" he cried, "it can not be possible that you are in any
way connected with my cousin--that you are the bride he brought home?
Speak! Why are you trembling so? Has my guess come anywhere near the
mark?"

Ida looked up at him with wild, frightened eyes like those of a hunted
deer.

"Speak!" he cried again, fiercely grasping her arm, "or I will wring
the truth from you!"

"I--I am Eugene Mallard's wife," she whispered in a voice that would
have touched any other man's heart than the one who was bending over
her with rage depicted on his face.

He laughed aloud, and that laugh was horrible to hear.

She did not spare herself. She told him all the bitter truth--how,
being thrown in contact with Eugene Mallard day after day, she had
learned to love him with all the strength of her nature; how, seeing
how good, kind and true he was--a king among men--she fell face
downward in the dew-wet grass and cried out to Heaven that her life
would cease the moment she went out of Eugene Mallard's life.

"This is, indeed, a fine state of affairs!" he cried out.

"What would you have me do?" cried the unhappy young girl in the voice
of one dying.

He did not answer her at once; but, taking a cigar from his pocket, he
coolly lighted it.

"When you are through with your hysterics, we will talk the matter
over," he assented, frowningly.

She struggled to her feet.

"Sit down!" he commanded, pointing to the trunk of a tree.

Feeling more dead than alive, she sat down in the place which he had
indicated. She expected that her life would end at any moment, the
tension on her nerves was so great.

He did not speak; but the short, harsh laugh that broke from his lips,
as he puffed away at his cigar, was more cruel than the harshest words.

"This is what one might call a melodrama in real life," he said, at
length. "It savors of comedy, too, and illustrates fully the old
saying: 'Truth is often stranger than fiction!' But, to get down to
business. Turn around and face me, while I tell you the injunction I
lay upon you, and which you dare not refuse to obey!"



CHAPTER XLVIII.


The hapless young wife looked into the hard, set face above her, her
eyes dilating with fear.

Her brain reeled; it seemed to her that she was dying.

"Listen to what I have to say," exclaimed Royal Ainsley, his hand
tightening on her shoulder. "You have a fine home here--much finer
than I could possibly offer you--and I propose that you shall keep
it. There is no use in wasting sentiment between us. We do not care
for each other, and you _do_ care for Eugene Mallard. It will be some
satisfaction for you to live beneath this roof, and I won't mind it
at all, providing you make it worth my while. I will make my meaning
clearer to you. I must have some money, and you are the one who must
help me to it. Get a thousand dollars, and I will go away and never
again molest you. Come, now, what do you say?"

Ida drew back and looked at him.

"You know that I could not get it for you," she said, with calmness.

"You know the alternative," he said, harshly.

"No matter what the alternative is, I--I could not help you," she
answered, huskily.

"If you refuse," he went on, "I can have Eugene Mallard and yourself
arrested for bigamy. I can send you both to prison, and, so help me
Heaven, I'll do it! You say that you love Eugene Mallard. We will see
if you love him well enough to save him."

"You monster!" she gasped, wildly, "you would not do such a thing, I
say. You dare not outrage Heaven like that."

"The shoe is on the other foot. It is _you_ who have outraged Heaven
in violating the law. I must have that money, and you know I am a
desperate man."

He would not tell her just now that her child was alive. He would save
that piece of news for some other time.

Before she could reply, they saw some of the servants crossing the lawn.

"I must go!" she cried, wrenching herself free from his grasp. "They
have come in search of me!"

"I shall be here to-morrow night at this very spot awaiting your
answer," he said, harshly.

Why had Heaven let Royal Ainsley find her? Had he not already brought
misery enough into her life?

She turned the matter over in her mind. Every word he had said, every
threat he had made, occurred to her.

Would he make good his threat, and take vengeance upon the man she
loved if she refused to raise one thousand dollars for him?

She knew he was what he had said--a desperate man.

Oh, if she had but dared creep into the library, throw herself at
Eugene Mallard's feet, and tell him all, what woe would have been
spared her. But, alas! she dared not.

Heaven help her! How could she leave Eugene Mallard, whom she loved
better than life.

She crept up to her room, and during the long hours of the night she
fought the fiercest battle that woman ever fought with herself. If she
gave Royal Ainsley the money he had asked for, he would certainly go
away and never cross her path again.

Her heart leaped at the thought. The thought that she was still bound
to Royal Ainsley brought with it the most poignant grief--a feeling of
horror.

She did realize what it meant to live there beneath that roof, even
after she had found out the truth--that she was not Eugene Mallard's
wife.

What harm was there in living in the home of the man she loved, seeing
that they were so far apart in heart as well as in purpose?

"No, I can not tear myself away from the only one I have ever loved!"
she cried. "If I were living here with Eugene Mallard as his wife, then
my duty would be plain--I would have to leave here at once."

No, no! Come what might, she could not tear herself away from Eugene
Mallard.

In the drawer of her writing-desk lay a roll of bills which Eugene had
handed her the day before, to purchase new furniture for her suite of
rooms.

"Select it the first day you go to the city," he had said.

She had intended purchasing it the following week.

Now she went hurriedly to her desk, took out the roll of bills, and
counted them.

There was just a thousand dollars. She drew a great sigh of relief.
That would buy Royal Ainsley's eternal silence. Before handing it to
him, she would swear him to secrecy forever.

She never knew how she lived through the next day.

There was not a moment that Royal Ainsley's handsome, cruel, sneering
face did not appear before her.

How she loathed him! She hated, with fierce, intense hatred, the very
sound of his name.

Night came at last.

The few guests that were stopping at the house were assembled in the
drawing-room, and it was not an easy matter to find some convenient
excuse to get away from them.

But when the hands of the clock on the mantel pointed to the hour of
eight, she felt that she must get away.

Some one suggested playing a piece of music which she had taken to her
room the day before to study.

"I will go and search for it," she said; and with that remark she
glided from the room.

How dark the night was! She almost shivered as she touched the graveled
walk and hurried down to the brook-side.

When this night had passed away, a life-time of happiness would lay
before her. The wind moaned fitfully among the trees, and the branches
of the tall oaks swayed to and fro. She heard the murmur of the brook
before she reached it, and as she drew near and became accustomed to
the dim light, she saw a tall man pacing up and down.

He did not hear the light step on the grass. He was muttering
imprecations that made the girl's heart turn cold with dread as she
listened. Then he saw her.

"Ah! you have come!" he eagerly called out. "It is well for you that
you did," he continued, "for I had just made up my mind to go to the
house and ask for you."

In the dim light he saw her recoil. Although she made no answer, he
fancied he could almost hear the wild throbbing of her heart.

"Did you bring the money?" he asked.

"Yes," she answered hoarsely; "but before I give it to you, I shall
exact a solemn promise that you will never come near me again!"

"Certainly you shall have the promise--a dozen of them if you like,"
he cried, forcing back an insolent laugh.

"You must solemnly promise that you will never come near me again if I
give this money to you," she said.

"No," he answered; "I will never come near you. I will go abroad. Does
that satisfy you?"

"Yes," she answered. "Only go so far away that I shall never see your
face again."

He closed his hand eagerly over the money, saying to himself that it
was a veritable gold mine that he had found.

"Let me go!" she panted, as he put out his hand to touch her.

With the swiftness of a startled deer, she fled past him into the
darkness of the grounds.

Royal Ainsley laughed harshly.

"This money will last me for a few weeks, my lady," he muttered, "and
then--Ah! we shall see!"



CHAPTER XLIX.


When Ida re-entered the house, the guests were still assembled in the
drawing-room.

Eugene Mallard was standing a little apart from the rest, looking
thoughtfully into vacancy.

As she entered the room, he started, and, to her surprise, he crossed
over to her.

"Ida," he said, "will you come out on the porch with me for a few
moments? I wish to speak with you."

She looked at him in terror. Had he learned of the return of Royal
Ainsley?

A great darkness seemed to suddenly envelop her, and it was by the
greatest effort that she kept herself from swooning. But the fresh air
revived her.

Eugene placed a chair for her, and as she was trembling violently,
she was glad to sink into it. There was a seat near. Eugene did not
take it, but, instead, stood leaning against one of the fluted columns
of the porch. For a few moments he was silent, and those few moments
seemed like long years to Ida.

"I have brought you out here to have an earnest talk with you," he
said, huskily. "The time has now come when we should try to understand
each other. Don't you think so?"

She looked up at him in affright. Was he going to send her away? Was he
growing tired of the position in which they stood to each other?

"Yes," she answered; and it caused her a desperate effort to utter the
word.

"I am going to take you into my confidence, Ida," he said. "Come under
this swinging lamp. I want to read you this letter."

She followed him with faltering steps.

To her great surprise she saw him take from his breast-pocket the very
letter which Miss Fernly had sent, and which she had slipped into
his desk. But she dared not tell him that she knew what the letter
contained.

"I will preface my remarks by saying that the news of your illness has
spread far and wide, and that the report was repeated in different
forms. Instead of saying that you were ill, some of the papers had it
that my young wife had died. Miss Fernly, whom you have good reason to
remember, thereupon wrote me this letter."

She listened, her face white as death. He handed her the letter. Every
word made a new wound in her heart. How well she remembered each and
every sentence! Slowly she read the letter through. Then she folded and
handed it back to him.

"Ida," he said, "I have been trying to forget the past as no man has
ever tried before. All my time has been given up to it. I have drawn
a curtain over my past, and shut out its brightness, its hopes, from
my life. I have pulled the roots of a beautiful budding plant from my
soul, and bid it grow there no more. I have tried to do my duty by you,
and now I have come to this conclusion--you must help me bury the past.
I have brought you out here to ask you to be my wife in fact as well as
in name."

He did not tell her that during her illness he had discovered the
secret of her life--that she loved him with all the passionate love of
her nature, and that his indifference was eating out her life.

Ever since he had been turning the matter over in his mind, and asking
himself what he should do, and at last he was brought face to face with
the truth--he had no right to marry her unless he intended living with
her.

So clearly had his duty become defined to him that the path of
the future was now plain before him. He must forget his love for
Hildegarde, and the only way to do that was to ask the wife he had
wedded to help him.

"I ask you this after much calm deliberation," he said, slowly. "Be
my wife in reality as well as in name, and we may yet make good and
useful lives out of what is left of them!"

He heard a cry escape from her lips, but he could not tell whether it
was one of pleasure or pain.

"I do not ask you to give my answer at once, unless you choose to do
so," he said, gently.

He bent over her and took her hand. He was startled at its icy
coldness. He could feel that she trembled at his touch.

"I have startled you," he said, gently. "I would advise you to go to
your room, instead of mingling with the guests to-night. There you can
reflect upon what you wish to do. I will leave you here," he said. But
before he turned away, he involuntarily stooped down, and kissed the
white face raised so appealingly to his.

It was the first caress he had ever offered her, and that kiss burned
her face for long hours afterward. It filled her to the very depth of
her soul, to the very center of her heart.

Like one stricken suddenly blind, Ida groped her way to her room.

"Ah! if I could only die with the memory of that kiss burning my lips!"
she cried.

She was like one stunned. What she had longed for, yearned for with all
the intensity of her soul, was laid at her feet at last. But it was too
late.

His love was offered her now, when she dared not claim it, dared not
accept it.

Ida rose the next morning with a heavy heart. She had slept the sleep
of exhaustion.

Eugene was surprised when she came down to the table, she looked so
changed. There were heavy circles under her eyes, as though she had
been weeping.

He could not understand her. He was quite sure she would meet him with
a happy, blushing face and downcast eyes. Ida would be glad when she
could escape his wondering eyes. An hour later she was standing at the
window of the morning-room, which opened out on the terrace, her mind
in a tumult, when she heard Eugene's voice at the other end of the
room. She knew instinctively that he was looking for her. Only two days
ago she would have waited there for him--would have eagerly sought the
opportunity of a few words with him; but now she hastily unfastened the
long French window, and fled out into the grounds.

Eugene saw the flutter of the white figure hurrying down the terrace.

"She wishes to escape an encounter with me," he thought; and he was
puzzled.

Ida went to the further end of the garden, where the tall rose-bushes
hid her from human eyes. She sat down upon a little rustic bench and
tried to think. But her brain grew confused.

Only a short time ago she had cried out to Heaven to give her the love
of Eugene Mallard. Now that it was laid at her feet, what should she do?

"Heaven direct me," she cried out; "I am so sorely tempted! I used to
wonder what people meant when they talked of the agony of death. Now I
know."

She was frightened at the vehemence of her emotion; the memory of that
caress made her tremble. She dreaded the moment when she should see
Eugene alone again, but, woman-like, hoped that it would be soon. Her
heart was awakened at last. The sun of love shone in its glory upon her.

It had come to her, this woman's heritage, this dower of passion and
sorrow, called love, changing the world into a golden gleam.

How was she ever to calm the fever that burned in her veins? Yes, she
loved him. She who had never, until she met Eugene Mallard, known what
love meant; she, so young, beautiful, made so essentially for love, and
yet whose life had been so joyless and hopeless, loved at last.

Eugene Mallard noticed her avoidance of him during the week that
followed. She was trying to think out the problem in her own mind. Dare
she drink of the cup of joy that he had pressed to her lips? In her
simplicity, Ida thought that she had done much in denying herself a
look at him.

If she had been the most accomplished of coquettes, she could not
have chosen a method more calculating to awaken his interest than by
avoiding him.

"She does not care for me as much as I thought," he told himself; and,
man-like, he felt a trifle piqued.

He had fancied that all he would have to do would be to ask her, and
she would come straight to his arms.

This was, indeed, a new phase of her character. Yet he could not help
but admire her maidenly modesty.

He would give her her own time to think over the proposition that he
had laid before her. He would not seek her, would not intrude upon her.
He looked at her more during that day than he had during all the time
she had been under his roof.

He had not known before that she was so beautiful, so sweet, so
womanly. How careless he had been in letting her go about by herself, a
prey for such rascals as Arthur Hollis!

Once he surprised her in the grounds. He had come up to her very
quietly.

"Ida," he said, "have you forgotten that you have not so far answered
the question I asked of you two weeks ago on the porch? Tell me, when
am I to claim my wife?"

His wife! Great Heaven! Had she been mad, dreaming? What had she been
doing? What had she done?

His wife! She was Royal Ainsley's wife, and she could not belong to any
other man. She looked at him with the pallor of despair in her face,
the shadow of death in her eyes.

What had she been doing to think of love in connection with Eugene
Mallard, when she was bound by the heaviest of chains? The shock was
terrible to her in those few minutes, and the wonder is that it did not
kill her.

"I must have your answer here and now," Eugene said, a trifle
impatiently.



CHAPTER L.


Eugene Mallard, looking down at the lovely, terrified face, wondered
what there could be to frighten her so.

He was intending to do a kind action. That she should take the matter
in this fashion rather surprised him. He told himself that he could not
understand women and their ways.

"My reason for coming to this conclusion," he said, "is that I am
intending to take a trip through the country, and desire that you shall
accompany me, Ida. We could not go as we are now, and lead the same
life as we are living under this roof," he added, as she did not appear
to understand him. "You understand what I mean?" he asked.

She answered "Yes," though he doubted very much if she really did
comprehend his words.

"That will be a fortnight from now. It will give you plenty of time to
think the matter over."

With these words he turned and left her.

She sank down into a garden-seat near by, her heart in a tumult. The
sheltered spot in which she sat was free from observation. The tall,
flowering branches screened her.

During the days that followed, Eugene Mallard watched Ida sharply. If
the girl loved him as well as she said she did, how strange it was that
she was unwilling to come to him.

One day, while they were at the breakfast-table, the servant brought in
the morning's mail.

"Here is a letter for you, Ida," said Eugene, handing her a square
white envelope.

One glance at it, and her soul seemed to turn sick within her. It was
from Royal Ainsley!

What had he to say to her? When he left her he promised that she should
never see his face again, that he would never cross her path.

What did this communication mean?

Breakfast was over at last, and she hastened to the morning-room, where
she could read her letter without being observed.

 "MY LITTLE WIFE.--I am running in hard luck after all. I invested all
 the money you were so generous as to give me, and lost every cent
 of it. An open confession is good for the soul. Having told you the
 truth, I feel better. I will need just the same amount of money to
 float me, and you must raise it for me somehow. I use the word _must_
 to duly impress it upon you. I will be at the same place where I met
 you last, on the evening of the fourteenth. That will be just ten days
 from the time you receive this letter. Do not fail me, Ida, or I might
 be tempted to wreak vengeance upon my amiable cousin, fascinating
 Eugene.

     "Yours in haste, and with much love,

     "ROYAL."

She flung the letter from her as though it were a scorpion. A look of
terror came over her face, her head throbbed, and her brain whirled.
Oh, Heaven! the torture of it!

What if he kept this up? It would not be long before she would be
driven to madness.

"My little wife!" How the words galled her; they almost seemed to take
her life away.

"He will torture me to madness," she thought, with the agony of despair.

How was she to raise the money to appease the man who was her
relentless foe?

Then she thought of her diamonds. Among the gifts which she had
received from Eugene was a diamond necklace. This he had inherited from
his uncle.

"The setting is very old," he had said, "because the necklace has been
worn by the ladies of our family for generations. The stones, however,
are remarkably white and brilliant. They are among the finest in this
country, and worth a fortune in themselves."

She had often looked at them as they lay in their rich purple-velvet
case.

"I--I could raise the money on them," she thought, with a little sob.

But she did not know it was to end in a tragedy.



CHAPTER LI.


Ida no sooner found herself alone than she took from her wardrobe a
black dress, a long cloak, a bonnet and black veil. She quickly donned
them, then stole into the corridor, locking the door after her, and
putting the key in her pocket.

If she could get out of the house and into the grounds unobserved, all
would be well. Fortune favored her; no one was in sight.

She made her way to the railway station, and bought a ticket for
Washington. On the train was quite a number of people whom she had met
before. But they did not recognize her with the veil pulled so closely
over her face.

The world seemed to stand still; but her heart seemed to beat wildly,
as she thought of it all.

At last Washington was reached, and for a minute she stood irresolute
as she stepped upon the platform of the depot. Then she timidly crossed
over to where a policeman stood.

"I--I would like to be directed to a pawn-broker's store, if--if you
know where there is one," she said.

The guardian of the peace looked at her suspiciously.

It was a part of his business to believe all strangers dishonest until
he found them otherwise.

"Are you so much in need of money as to have to resort to that?" he
asked, taking in the stylish make and fine texture of the clothes she
wore.

"Yes," she answered, timidly.

The policeman pointed to a store a couple of blocks further up, and Ida
started for the place indicated, after stopping to inquire when the
train returned to where she had come from.

He gave her the information, and watched her curiously until she was
out of sight.

"It is evident that she has come to Washington simply for the purpose
of pawning something. As soon as I reach the other end of my beat I
will make it my business to step into Uncle Samuel's and ask what she
has disposed of. It is just as well for me to know."

Meanwhile, Ida hurried quickly on her errand.

The pawn-broker's clerk glanced up impatiently as the door opened and
the dark-clad figure glided in.

"I--I should like to see the proprietor, to ask if he will advance me a
sum of money on some diamonds."

"Have you got them with you?" asked the man, carelessly.

"Yes," said Ida, faintly; "but can't I see the proprietor?"

"You can deal with me just as well," he answered.

After a moment's hesitation, Ida produced the package from her pocket,
and unwrapping it, disclosed the magnificent diamonds.

A cry of surprise broke from the clerk's lips. In all the years of his
life he had never seen anything so grand as the diamond necklace. But,
like all shrewd men in his calling, he carefully suppressed the cry of
astonishment.

"How much do you want to realize on this?" he asked, indifferently.

"One thousand dollars," said Ida, faintly.

"Ha! ha! ha!" he laughed. "That's pretty good, when you know full well
that you couldn't realize one-half that sum on them."

"But I shall have to!" cried Ida.

The man closed his hand down over the lid.

"How did you come by these?" he asked.

He saw the slender figure shiver.

"You have no right to ask me anything like that," she replied.

"Probably not," returned the man; "still, when we don't ask, we
generally do a great deal of guessing. But to end the matter, I will
advance you a couple of hundred on them."

"I must have a thousand dollars," repeated Ida. "If it were not
absolutely necessary for me to raise the money on them, I should not
have brought them here."

"Two hundred is a nice little sum," said the man. "If you refuse to
take that, I might take it into my head to hold you on suspicion, and
call in a policeman. Bear in mind, I will give you that amount of money
without asking you where they came from. A policeman would want to
know the whys and wherefores of the whole thing."

"I--I _must_ raise a thousand dollars on them," she reiterated,
grasping the jewel-case.

The man's bluff had not worked.

"That's all _I'll_ give; but father might accommodate you with a little
more," he added, touching a little bell.

The summons was instantly answered by a short, stout little man who
looked as if he had overheard the conversation.

A quick glance passed between them.

"Here is something for you to decide," went on the young man. "This
lady tells me that she wants a certain amount for these diamonds."

"I must have a thousand dollars," interposed Ida, "and if you can
not advance me that amount, do not detain me, please; I must look
elsewhere."

Again the lid was thrown back, and the casket exposed to the elder
man's gaze. He fairly caught his breath as the blazing jewels met his
eye. A wolfish expression leaped into his face.

"I think I can accommodate the lady," he said, blandly. "My motto is to
please the ladies even if I have to strain a point to do so."

He placed his hand in his pocket and brought forth a roll of bills.

"How will you have the money--in tens or twenties?" he asked.

"It does not matter much," said Ida.

He handed her a roll of bills.

"You can count it, and see if the amount you wish is there," he said.

She counted it over with trembling hands. Yes, there was just a
thousand dollars there.

"You will take great care of the diamonds?" she asked, eagerly.

"Certainly--certainly. They are as safe in my hands as though they were
in your own keeping, lady."

She put the money in her pocket, and hurried from the place.

"Abraham! Abraham!" cried the old man, excitedly, as soon as the street
door had closed upon her, "our fortune is made! This necklace is worth
at least a cool seventy-five thousand if it's worth a penny, and we
have got it in our possession for a paltry thousand dollars!"

"I knew the diamonds were very fine, and worth a fortune," replied the
young man; "but I did not know they were worth as much as that. What do
you intend to do with them, father? You will have to give them up to
her if she claims them."

"Do you think I'm a fool!" exclaimed the elder man, angrily. "She'll
never lay eyes on those stones. Depend on that!"



CHAPTER LII.


Ida hurried back to the depot, purchased her ticket, and boarded the
train for home.

She had scarcely stepped from the ticket-agent's window, ere the
policeman who had directed her to the pawn-shop accosted the agent.

"Where did that veiled woman buy her ticket for? What is her
destination?" he whispered.

He told him, and the officer jotted down the name of the station in his
note-book.

With the money securely in her possession, Ida reached home. Dusk had
crept up; the stars were out in the sky.

She succeeded in gaining her own room unobserved. She was tired and
hungry; indeed, she had not thought of food since she had left the
house early in the day.

She threw off the long black cloak, the bonnet, thick veil, and black
dress she had worn on her visit to Washington. After bathing her face
in fragrant water and donning a silken house-robe, Ida rang the bell
for her maid.

"Nora," she said, "you may bring me a cup of tea and a biscuit."

"I am very glad that you are awake at last," said Nora. "I wanted very
much to tell you something; but as you bid me not to disturb you on any
account, I dared not come and knock on the door, ma'am."

"You are quite right," said Ida, wearily, "not to disturb me. I needed
rest--rest," said Ida, brokenly.

"I wanted to tell you about the man who was skulking in the grounds.
I was hurrying along here a few moments ago, when some one sprung out
from behind the rose-bushes and grasped me by the arm.

"I certainly would have cried out with terror, but he put his hand over
my mouth.

"'Keep still, and I won't hurt you,' he said, with an oath.

"Trembling with terror, I stood still. I saw that he was a gentleman;
but I noticed also that he was very much under the influence of wine.

"'Tell me, are you one of the maids from the house?' he asked.

"'Yes,' I answered.

"'Do you know me?' he questioned.

"'No,' I replied. 'I am a stranger in the village. I have only been in
my lady's employ a little more than a fortnight.'

"'I want you to give your mistress _this_,' he said, producing an
envelope from his pocket."

She did not add that the stranger had given her a bill to insure the
safe delivery of his message, and to keep her from saying anything
about it.

As the girl spoke, she produced an envelope.

Even before the hapless Ida saw it, she knew full well from whom it
came.

Poor, hapless Ida! She sunk down into the nearest seat, white as she
would ever be in death. She did not dare open it until after the girl
had gone for the tea.

She drank it eagerly.

"Please bring me another cup, Nora," she said, "stronger than the
first."

"I am afraid that you have a fever, my lady," said the girl, anxiously.

"I am only thirsty. You may as well take the biscuit back; I am afraid
it would choke me," said Ida.

"But you must be hungry," persisted the maid. "I am sure you have eaten
nothing since breakfast time."

When the girl had gone, Ida tore open the envelope, and read:

 "My clever little wife, I am here a day earlier than I anticipated.
 Meet me at once in the same place. Of course you have the money by
 this time. Bring it with you."

She crushed the note in her hand. No one heard the gasping, the bitter
sob, the despairing cry she uttered. The iron had entered her soul.
There was nothing but to obey his commands.

The girl had said that he was under the influence of wine.

Ida had seen him in that condition once before, and that was on his
bridal-eve, and the memory of it had never left her.

He was terrible enough when sober, but under the influence of liquor he
might be a fiend.

The girl brought a second cup of tea, which Ida drank eagerly.

"Now, leave me, Nora," she said, "and do not come again until I ring
for you."

With trembling hands, Ida placed the money in her bosom, drew the black
cloak over her shoulders, and hurried into the grounds.

Trembling with a vague apprehension, she sped by a path that was seldom
used down to the brook-side.

"True to your tryst!" said a well-known voice. "Fairest, cleverest of
women, how can I thank you enough for your promptness?"

She stood still, cold as marble, her face ghastly white in the
flickering light of the stars.

"Have you no word for me?" he cried, with a harsh, derisive laugh.
"Have you no smile, no kiss, no kind word? Have you nothing to say to
me? You have no love, no light of welcome in your eyes, and yet you
loved me so dearly once, my sweet Ida? Do you remember? And now----"

"You mocking demon!" she panted, "how dare you utter such words to me?
I wonder you are not afraid that Heaven will strike you dead where you
stand!"

"Heaven strike me dead?" he repeated. "What a horrible idea! Afraid?
Oh, no, my dear. You are the first charming creature I ever saw who
flew into such a rage because her husband was pleased to be sentimental
to her."

He heard her draw her breath hard. She stood before him white and
trembling, her eyes filled with burning fire.

"Say, Ida, couldn't you manage somehow to get the rest of the
money--the five thousand?"

"No!" she answered, pitifully.

"That's only a bluff," he cried. "But it won't work with me!"

"You have sworn eternal silence _now_!" she cried; "you have given your
oath, and you dare not break it. I can not raise any more money!"

"Perhaps you will pay that amount for a little secret which I possess,
my lady," he said, mockingly.

"There is nothing more you could tell me that would interest me."

"We shall see," he replied, sneeringly.

He pulled from under his coat a dark-lantern, shot back the slide, and
a flood of light illumined the scene. He drew a package from his pocket
and unwrapped it. Ida watched him like one in a dream.

Suddenly an awful cry broke from her lips. One by one he took from the
package the articles of clothing that had been worn by the little child
he had secured from the village merchant's wife.

A cry awful to hear broke from her lips.

"I suppose, Ida, it isn't the proper thing to keep a person in
suspense," he cried. "You deserted your little child--never once sought
to discover whether it were dead or alive. By the merest chance, I ran
across it lately. I took possession of it, and I have it now."

"I can not, I will not believe you," she answered, quickly.

"Perhaps this will convince you," he said, reading aloud a letter from
the superintendent of the foundling asylum where the child had been
placed.

It gave a full account of all that could be ascertained of the hapless
mother of the child. As he read by the light of the dark-lantern, she
knew that it was all true.

Her child alive!

The rapture of the thought was drowned in the horror that it was in
this man's possession.

She fell on her face in the long grass, mad with misery and despair.



CHAPTER LIII.


For a moment it seemed as though the darkness of death had come over
Ida.

"My revelation surprises you," Royal Ainsley said, with a most horrible
laugh.

The laugh and the words recalled her to her senses. She sprung to her
feet and faced him.

"Where is my child?" she cried, wildly. "Speak, for the love of Heaven,
I pray you."

"It will cost you just another thousand dollars to find that out. Bring
me that amount here to-morrow night at the same hour, and I will give
you full information. Isn't that fair enough?"

Pleadings and prayers were alike unavailing.

"Do you suppose I am going to tell you for nothing, when I can make you
pay handsomely?"

"But I haven't the money," she sobbed, "and--and you know it!"

"How did you get this thousand?" he asked.

Then Ida told him all.

"You were a fool to get rid of the diamonds before you had asked Eugene
Mallard for the money and been refused. Go to him and ask him for the
money now. He does not know how to refuse a woman, and he will give it
to you."

"And if I refuse?" she asked, desperately.

He shrugged his shoulders.

"Then you and the man you love will be thrown into prison," Royal
declared, "to serve a term of fifteen or twenty years. After that you
can not complain as to how I brought up your daughter, if she follows
in the footsteps of her mother!"

He could not have used a more conclusive argument.

"Have you no heart, man--no mercy?" cried Ida.

"Come, come, I say, do not be theatrical; the role does not become you!
Better be sensible, and consider the proposition I make you."

"I will leave you now," he said; "but I will be here, at this same
hour, to-morrow night."

"No, no!" she cried. "Give me a week to think it over, and--and to see
what I can do about raising the money."

"Well, then, a week, if you must have it," he replied; "but no longer.
Here, you can take these proofs of my story regarding your child and
look them over at your leisure," he said, thrusting the package into
her hand.

The next moment he was gone. She did not faint; she knew that if she
did she would be found there with the package in her hand. She was so
dazed, so bewildered, she never remembered how she reached the house
and her own room. Again she rang the bell for Nora.

"You may bring me another cup of tea," she said, faintly, "as strong as
the last one."

The girl, noticing how pale and ill her mistress looked, thought it
would be best to bring her a glass of wine as well.

"Unless I am very much mistaken, she has a sick spell coming on. Her
face is pale, but every now and then it flushes burning red."

Ida did not seek her couch that night until she had eagerly scanned
every article of clothing the parcel contained.

Her excitement knew no bounds as she read the letter from the
superintendent of the foundling asylum, concerning all that he knew
of the baby's parentage, in which he stated that the doctor who had
attended the young mother had brought the child to the institution in a
dying condition, as he supposed, and was hastily called abroad, and had
barely time to make the outgoing steamer. He had told them that they
could tell the hapless young mother when she was able to bear the sad
news.

Ida wept as she had never wept before as she read those written words,
and her excitement increased as she saw that the letter was directed
to the village merchant's wife, Mrs. Lester, who had taken the child.

It was, then, her own child that she had clasped in her arms, the eyes
of her own babe into which she had gazed with such agony and yet with
such rapture.

Then another fear seized her. She had not seen the little one for weeks.

Was it ill? Had anything happened to it? She could not visit Mrs.
Lester's home until the day broke.

How came her little child in the possession of Royal Ainsley?

The suspense which she endured almost drove her insane. The next
morning she was up as early as the servants were.

"Joe," she said to the old coachman, "I want you to harness up the
swiftest horses you have in the stable, and take me to the village. I
want to go to the store kept by the Lesters."

"You will not find it open so early in the mornin', ma'am," declared
Joe. "Dem village folk am pow'ful lazy."

"We will go to their garden, and perhaps be fortunate enough to find
them there," said Ida, eagerly. "Harness the horses at once, Joe."

The hapless young mother scarcely breathed during that ride.

After what seemed to her almost an endless ride, they drew up before
the village store kept by the Lesters.

As Joe had predicted, the door was closed, and the blinds drawn.

"There they are in the garden yonder; at least, there am Mrs. Lester
in the strawberry-patch, and there am her husband, off further in the
fields."

"I will go to her," said Ida, stepping quickly from the carriage.

So busy was Mrs. Lester with her task of gathering the ripe fruit, that
she did not know of the presence of her visitor until she stood beside
her.

"Mrs. Lester," said a quick, eager, husky voice, "I do hope I have not
surprised you this morning."

"Well, well, you have surprised me, for a fact. I suppose you want to
get something from the store."

"Yes, I do, but not just now," returned Ida, with feverish impatience.
"Let me sit down here a few moments and talk with you."

"Certainly," said the woman; "but I haven't anything out here to invite
you to sit upon, save that little garden-seat which I always take
around with me, so that I can rest myself when I get tired."

"It will do very well, thank you," said Ida, feeling so weak and faint
that she could hardly stand.

"I have not seen you nor your little child lately," began Ida.

Then she stopped short, lest her quivering voice should betray her
terrible anxiety.

"No," returned Mrs. Lester. "I no longer have the little one, bless its
poor, dear little heart!"

"Has anything happened to it?" asked Ida, the agony of death in her
voice. "Oh, tell me, where is it? Is the little baby dead?"



CHAPTER LIV.


It seemed to Ida that it took ages for the woman to reply. She leaned
forward breathlessly, fairly devouring her with her dark, dilated eyes.

"Oh, no! the baby did not die," said Mrs. Lester, "although it was a
weak, puny little thing.

"I'll just tell you all about it, for I feel just like talking it over
with some one.

"The child required so much care that my husband decided we could not
keep it, and I was on my way to take it back to the foundling asylum in
New York, when the strangest thing happened.

"In the depot I met a young man who used to live in the village. His
name is Royal Ainsley."

"Yes! yes!" interposed Ida, faintly, feeling almost more dead than
alive.

"I was telling him all about the baby, showing him the letters that
came with it, and the proofs I had of its identity, when he suddenly
exclaimed:

"'I will tell you in a few words what I'll do. I'll take this little
one back to New York, and save you the trip!'

"He offered me one hundred dollars to give him the child then and
there. We are very poor, Mrs. Mallard, and a hundred dollars seemed a
fortune to me.

"It's over a fortnight since that occurred, but I have not ceased to
worry about it, I assure you."

Young Mrs. Mallard suddenly staggered to her feet and turned away.

"I think I will not wait any longer," said Ida, in a strangely altered
voice. "Good-morning, Mrs. Lester!"

The next moment she hurried down the garden-path, and entered her
carriage.

Like one wild with terror, Ida hurried back to the carriage and
re-entered it.

"Home!" she said; and old Joe was surprised at the sound of her voice,
it was so unnatural.

"What Royal Ainsley told me is indeed too true!" she said to herself,
with an inward moan. "He has possession of my little child. Only Heaven
knows how he will use his power to crush me, and the fair, sweet,
innocent babe as well!"

It seemed to her as though the very thought of it would drive her mad.
She knew she was in his power, and that he would certainly use that
power to extort every dollar from her that he possibly could. And then,
when there was no more money to be gained, what would he do?

She avoided Eugene Mallard during the next few days, lest he should
repeat the question he had asked when he last talked with her.

He watched her in wonder. Her apparent coyness amused as well as
surprised him.

"There is no way of understanding women," he said to himself. "To-day
they are eager for something; to-morrow they will not have it!"

He was surprised when he received a message from her one day, asking
him if she could see him alone in the library.

He sent back a reply in the affirmative, and awaited her coming with
some curiosity, no doubt entering his mind as to what she wished to say.

It was some time before she put in an appearance. He was not aware of
her presence, he was gazing so intently out of the window, until she
stood by his side.

"Mr. Mallard," she began, hesitatingly, "please pardon me for intruding
upon you; but I could not wait."

He looked down wonderingly at the lovely young face so strangely pale.

"Would it not be as well for my wife to address me as Eugene?" he
asked, with a grave smile.

She looked up at him and tried to utter the word; but somehow it seemed
as though she could not.

My wife!

How those words cut her! If they had been the sharp thrust of a sword,
they could not have cut her deeper.

His wife!

She would have given everything in this world if indeed it were true
that she was Eugene Mallard's wife.

Another face rose before her vision--a fair, handsome, sneering
face--and she drew back with a shudder.

He noticed it, and the kindly words he was about to utter were hushed
on his lips.

After placing a chair for her, and taking one near it, he waited for
her to proceed.

"I--I have come to ask your indulgence in a little matter," she said,
faintly.

"Yes?" he said, kindly.

For a moment there was silence between them--a deep, painful, awkward
silence, which was broken at length by Ida.

"I have been looking over some furniture," she said, tremulously,
"and--and I could use just double the amount of money you gave me.
Would you be very, very angry if I asked you for a thousand dollars
more?"

He threw back his head and laughed outright.

"One would think, by the manner in which you express yourself, that
you were suing for some great favor, the granting of which you doubted."

She looked at him with dilated eyes, the color coming and going in her
face.

She could not understand, by his remark, whether or not he intended
giving it to her.

He turned at once to his desk, saying:

"I will write out a check for the amount you wish."

"No; not a check, please," she answered, piteously. "I would so much
rather have the money."

He looked surprised.

"I haven't the amount you wish," he said. "I have not half that amount
probably. I always use checks in preference to carrying money about
with me."

He was quite mystified at the look of terror that crept into her eyes.

"I must have it in cash," she said, imploringly. "Could you not get it
for me somehow?"

"Yes--certainly," he replied. "When will you want it?"

"To-night," she answered, piteously.

"You shall have it," he answered.

But there flashed through his mind a suspicion he would have given
anything to have removed.



CHAPTER LV.


Eugene Mallard thought long and earnestly after Ida had left him: "What
can Ida want with the cash, and in so short a time?"

He put on his hat, went round to the stables, and ordered his horse. A
canter over the hills would drive away these gloomy, unhappy thoughts.

The sun had crept to its zenith, and was now sinking toward the west as
he reined his horse before the little village inn at Hampton Corners.

Every one knew Eugene Mallard. The proprietor of the hotel on the old
Virginia turnpike road warmly welcomed him. He had concluded to rest a
little and refresh his horse.

As he lighted his cigar and sat down on the porch, the first person he
saw was Dora Staples.

"I am really so delighted to see you, Mr. Mallard," she said in her
pretty lisping accent.

"I had not expected to see you before the fourteenth. We have not had
an acknowledgment of the invitation to our ball which we sent you and
your wife a week ago; but I feel sure you won't disappoint us. We count
upon you two as our most particular guests."

Eugene flushed hotly.

"Oh, certainly," he said. "I hope you will pardon my not answering your
kind favor at once. I will see that my wife writes you and accepts the
invitation."

"By the way," went on Dora. "I saw Mr. Hollis only yesterday. We went
to Richmond to do some shopping, and the first person I met was Mr.
Hollis. I am sure he tried to avoid me, though he says he didn't. I
told him about the ball, as I did not know where to send the invitation
to him. I told him that you and Mrs. Mallard would be there, and that
all we now needed to make the affair as pleasant as the one at your
house was his presence.

"'I will come if I can,' he said; 'but don't feel hard toward me if
I should fail to be there. I have a matter of considerable importance
on hand for that date, and I do not know just how I will be able to
arrange it.'"

Eugene Mallard drove slowly homeward. Although he tried to banish
Dora's words from his mind, yet they still haunted him.

What was Arthur Hollis doing in Richmond? He was more puzzled over it
than he cared to own.

As he rode up to the door, he saw Ida on the veranda, talking to a
group of friends. It then struck him as it had never struck him before
that his young wife was very handsome; and he was beginning to wonder
how it was that he had been so blind as to not see that which was
attracting the attention of every one else.

She wore a tight-fitting dress of pale-blue silk, with a crimson rose
in its bodice. She held a bunch of roses in her white hand. There were
several other ladies present, but not one of them could compare with
her.

For the first time since his marriage a feeling of exultation stole
into his heart at the thought that this peerless creature belonged
solely to him.

They were speaking of the grand ball the Staples's were to give, and
commenting on what they were going to wear.

"How about _you_, Mrs. Mallard? What are _you_ going to wear? Don't
keep what you are going to wear a secret, and then spring some
wonderful creation upon our wondering gaze."

"I assure you," said Ida, "that I have no intention of doing anything
of the kind. Indeed," she declared, earnestly, "in sending out the
invitations, I am _sure_ they have forgotten us!"

At this juncture, Eugene stepped forward, saying:

"Is there any excuse a man can offer for forgetting so great a favor
as an invitation to a grand ball? That is exactly what has occurred.
I received the invitation for the Staples's ball one day last
week. I should have taken it direct to my wife, but you know that
'procrastination is the thief of time.' It has proved so in this case.
I laid it down, and in the press of other matters, I forgot it. My
papers must have covered it, and the matter entirely escaped my mind
until to-day."

"Of course you will go?" remarked the ladies in chorus.

"Oh, yes; we are sure to do so," he responded.

A little later he found Ida alone in the drawing-room.

"I do hope you will look your best at this particular ball," he said.
"The governor of the State; in fact, any number of my old friends will
be there. I want you to wear your most becoming dress, and all the
family diamonds."

Ida had been looking down calmly at the roses she held. But as mention
of the diamonds fell from her husband's lips, a change that was
alarming came over her face.

She grew white as death; her eyes lost their light. The roses which she
held fell to her feet.

"Why, Ida, you look as if it were an occasion for sorrow instead of one
of joy," Eugene remarked.

"What is the date of the ball?" she asked.

"The fourteenth," he responded.

Again that ashen pallor spread over her face, leaving it white to the
lips.

That was the date upon which Royal Ainsley was to bring her child to
her.

What was the great ball to her compared with this event?

While in the village Eugene had got the money she had asked of him. He
had handed it to her inclosed in an envelope.

Oh, how kind and good he was to her! How very despicable it was to
deceive him! But what could she do? Fate was against her.

Eugene could not help but notice the intense excitement under which she
labored during the time that elapsed to the coming of the ball. She
longed, yet dreaded to have the day arrive.

The day came at last, bright and clear. There was no cloud in the blue
sky; the sun shone brightly in the heavens. She was glad that there
were several guests at the house, as her husband would not have much
opportunity of observing her.

How that day passed she never knew. One moment she was as white as
death, the next she flushed as red as a rose.

"Heaven help me to live over the excitement of to-day!" she murmured,
clasping her hands tightly.

She prayed for the noonday to linger. But time, which stays at no man's
bidding, rolled on. The sun went down in a sweep of crimson glory; dusk
gathered and deepened into the darkness of night.

Seven o'clock sounded from the pearl-and-gold clock on the mantel.
Seven o'clock resounded from the great brass-throated clock in the main
hall.

"Nora," said Ida to her maid, "go down to the library and tell Mr.
Mallard that I am indisposed and can not go with him to the ball, but
that I earnestly pray he will go without me, and enjoy himself. Say
that I wish particularly that he should go; and notice what he says,
Nora, and come back and tell me."

It seemed to Ida that Nora would never deliver the message.

Why did she linger? At last the girl returned.

"What did he say, Nora?" she asked, breathlessly, fixing her startled
eyes eagerly on the girl's face.

"He made no reply, ma'am," returned Nora; "but I am sure he will go,
since you so earnestly requested it."



CHAPTER LVI.


It was with the greatest surprise that Eugene Mallard received the
message that Nora delivered--that Ida was too ill to attend the grand
ball with him.

"She did not seem to be ill this afternoon," he said to himself.

Obeying a sudden impulse, he hurried from the room, intent upon going
to Ida's _boudoir_ and offering her his sympathy; but, on second
thought, he concluded that in all probability she would not care to be
disturbed.

He felt grievously disappointed. He knew that many of his friends would
be present; and besides, what could he say to Mrs. Staples and her
daughters?

Some of her friends had left Ida apparently in the best of health
and spirits at noon. How could he account to them for her sudden
indisposition?

During the forenoon he saw that there was something on Ida's mind; that
she was greatly troubled.

Perhaps the words he had said to her only a short time before had much
to do with her indisposition. He felt that he ought to have a talk with
Ida. If he were to reassure her that she could have everything her own
way, she might feel much relieved.

A second time he started for her _boudoir_; but again he drew back. He
could not tell what prompted him to do so.

"Such strange, contradictory emotions seem to possess me," he said. "I
will go out into the grounds and smoke a cigar. That will quiet me a
little, and afterward I will have a talk with Ida."

Eugene Mallard wandered about the grounds for half an hour or more. He
heard a clock strike the hour of eight.

How dark and gloomy it was! There was no moon, but the stars shed a
faint, glimmering light.

He had smoked a cigar; but still he paced aimlessly up and down the
grounds, lost in thought.

He came to one of the garden benches. It looked so inviting that he
threw himself down upon it.

How long he sat there he never knew. Presently he was disturbed by the
sound of slow, cautious footsteps. It could not be one of the servants
stealing through the grounds in that manner. It must be some poacher.

He drew back into the shadow of the trees, and watched with no little
curiosity. He had been so kind to the villagers that he felt surprised
at this apparent ingratitude.

Presently a figure came down the path. The more he watched the figure
the more certain he became that he had seen it before. Its every move
seemed familiar to him.

Suddenly a thought flashed into his mind that made him hold his breath.

"Great Heavens! can it be Arthur Hollis?" he ejaculated.

His face paled; great flashes of fire seemed to come from his eyes. The
very blood in his veins seemed to stagnate. Faint and dizzy, he leaned
back against the trunk of a tree.

Great God! what could it mean? His wife supposed him to be by this time
on his way to the ball. During his absence would she meet, dared she
meet Arthur Hollis?

The tall, familiar-looking figure paced impatiently by the brook-side
under the dim light of the stars. Yes, the man was there waiting for
some one.

From where he stood he could plainly see a faint light in the window
of his wife's room, and as his eyes were fixed upon it, the light was
extinguished.

If a sword had been plunged into Eugene Mallard's heart, it could not
have given him a greater shock.

Many a night he had paced up and down the grounds, watching the light
in that window. Then it had never been put out before ten. Why should
it be extinguished so early to-night?

The thought troubled Eugene Mallard, as he turned his head and saw the
figure still pacing restlessly up and down by the brook.

He dared not utter a word. He would await developments. He scarcely
breathed, in his suspense. It seemed to him that the blood in his veins
was turned to ice.

He took up a position where there was no possible danger of being
observed, and there he watched and waited.

Up in her _boudoir_ Ida was donning with trembling hands, the long
cloak that was to disguise her.

She had sent Nora from her room. But it seemed to her that the girl
looked back suspiciously as she went out and closed the door after her.

"Heaven help me to get through with this exciting scene!" Ida muttered.

Her heart was throbbing so, her limbs were so weak, that she was
obliged to sit down for a minute.

"Oh, Heaven help me! How thankful I am that Eugene did not send for me
before he left for the ball. He has reached there by this time!" she
muttered.

She looked at the clock, and said to herself that time was flying, and
she must hasten to keep her appointment.

Again she counted over the money which Eugene had given her--the money
that was to restore her little child to her--the money that was to
purchase her freedom and end forever Royal Ainsley's persecutions.

"What would Eugene say if he knew all?" she asked herself, in great
trepidation.

She trembled even at the thought of it.

Was she doing right in concealing the truth from Eugene Mallard?

She sprung from her chair and paced hurriedly up and down the room.

If Eugene knew all, he would certainly tell her that her path lay with
Royal Ainsley, that his roof would shelter her no more. And now she
could not part from him. Every fiber of her heart was woven about him.

She tried to look into the future; but, think what she would, the
pictures presented frightened her.

Presently she paused before the window. Was it only her fancy, or did
she hear the patter of rain-drops?

She turned out the light and threw open the window. She felt relieved
to find that it was only the leaves that were tapping against the
window-pane. She closed the window, with a sigh, and opened the door
softly.

The corridor was empty; the gas-jets of the great chandelier were
turned low. Like a thief in the night, she stole noiselessly down the
winding passageway.

The sound of laughter from the servants' hall below floated up to her
through the awful stillness.

What if one of the doors on either side should open, and some one step
out and confront her?

She drew her long cloak closely about her, and pulled the hood down
over her head.

There was a side door opening on to a porch, and leading directly into
the grounds.

Ida hurried toward this door and opened it cautiously. For a moment
she stood on the threshold, and in that moment a gust of wind blew the
cloak from about her shoulders, and it fell at her feet.

The light from the hall lamp clearly revealed her form to Eugene
Mallard, who stood leaning against an oak-tree scarcely one hundred
feet distant.

"It is Ida!" he muttered, hoarsely.

She turned her steps down toward the brook, as he had feared she would
do.

"She stayed away from the ball to meet that scoundrel!" he muttered
under his breath.

With hesitating steps, little dreaming of what the end of her adventure
would be, Ida hurried on to her doom.

The wind sighed a mournful requiem in the trees, the songs of the birds
were hushed, and the sweet murmur of the brook seemed to end in a sob
as it rushed onward to the sea.

The night was warm, but a great shiver crept over Ida as she turned out
of the path and hurried along through the garden by a short cut to the
place where she knew Royal Ainsley was impatiently waiting for her.



CHAPTER LVII.


Royal Ainsley was not a man to be trusted when under the influence of
drink. As the minutes went by, and Ida did not come, he was beside
himself with rage.

"What does she mean by keeping me waiting in this manner?" he roared.
"By the Lord Harry, I'll make her pay for this!"

Then, like Eugene Mallard, who was watching but a few feet from him, he
saw the light go out in Ida's room.

"That must be _her_ room. She is coming at last," he murmured.

He braced himself against the trunk of a tree, for by this time his
limbs were none too steady under him.

When the door opened, and he saw Ida approach, an exclamation of
satisfaction broke from his lips.

He sat down upon the mossy rock and watched the slim figure as it moved
slowly over the greensward.

"She is certainly in no hurry to see me," he muttered, with a grim
smile. "But I'll change all that."

Meanwhile, Ida had stopped short, and was standing motionless in the
path.

Putting her hand into the pocket of her dress, the girl found, to her
great amazement, that she had come away without the roll of bills she
had intended to bring with her. In her excitement she had left the
money on the table.

What should she do? There was no course to pursue but go back for it.

Then a superstitious terror for which she could not account seemed to
seize her.

"It will surely be a bad omen to return to the house." she told
herself; "and yet I dare not meet Royal Ainsley without the money. He
will say that my story about forgetting the money is only an excuse."



CHAPTER LVIII.


As Ida paused for a moment, wondering what course would be best to
pursue, she concluded that her only course would be to return to the
house for the money.

She had scarcely turned, before a piercing cry sounded through the
grounds, coming from the direction of the brook.

Ida, terrified, stood for a moment rooted to the spot. She tried to
fly, but if her life had depended upon it, she could not have stirred
hand or foot.

She distinctly heard the sound of voices. Still, all power to fly
seemed to have left her.

What could it be? Had some of the servants discovered Royal Ainsley's
presence?

She tried to think, but she was powerless. Every sound seemed confusing.

Guided by the light, Nora had dashed quickly down toward the brook.
But ere she could reach the figure pacing up and down so impatiently,
she was seized from behind by a pair of strong arms, a white angry
face bent over her, and a voice, which she instantly recognized as her
master's, cried harshly:

"Let me understand what this means!"

The girl was too frightened to speak.

"This is why you would not come to the ball, is it?" he cried,
excitedly, dragging her toward the spot where her lover stood. "Come,
you and I will confront the lover whom you stayed away from the ball to
meet here!"

Royal Ainsley took in the situation at once. He recognized Eugene's
voice.

"He has discovered Ida Mallard's appointment with me in some way," he
thought. And the knowledge terrified him, coward as he was.

He turned and beat a hasty retreat, dodging directly into the arms of
old Joe.

"Ha! I've caught you _this_ time!" cried the old servitor.

With an oath, Royal Ainsley flung Joe from him.

"Out of my way!" he cried, fiercely, "or I'll kill you!"

The voice, as well as the words, startled old Joe, and threw him
entirely off his guard for an instant. In that instant a heavy blow was
dealt him which caused him to loosen his hold on the intruder.

Then Royal Ainsley sped like a deer through the grounds, every foot of
which he knew well, and was quickly lost to sight in the darkness.

After that first sharp cry, Nora regained something of her natural
bravado.

In less time than it takes to tell it, her master had dragged her
toward the house and under the full light of the swinging lamp.

"Oh, master!" she cried, gaining her breath at last "It's I, Nora, the
maid!"

Eugene Mallard's tightly clinched hands fell from her; he stared aghast
at the girl.

"You, Nora!" he cried, in the greatest amazement, with a world of
relief and thankfulness blended in his voice.

"Pray for--forgive me, Mr. Mallard," sobbed the girl. "I--I did not do
any intentional wrong. I was only going down to the old south gate to
meet my lover, sir. I--I did not think for a moment that any one would
mind. My lady did not need me for an hour or more. Oh, please forgive
me if my action has displeased you!"

"It was your lover that you were going to meet?" repeated Eugene
Mallard, as if to satisfy himself that he had heard aright.

He drew back and looked at Nora with fixed intentness, the color that
had left his face surging back to it again.

Eugene Mallard now walked to his library, and flung himself down to
think over the situation.

He felt grateful beyond words that matters were no worse. He was
ashamed of the thought that for a moment had found lodgment in his
brain against the wife whom he had wedded.

Then it came to him--his love for Ida, whom he knew now that he
worshipped with all the passionate love of his heart. How different it
was from the love he had borne Hildegarde Cramer!

He wondered that he had been so blind as not to have noticed his love
for her sooner. He could scarcely wait until the day dawned, that
he might go to her and tell her of the great love for her that was
consuming his soul.

He said to himself that it was only her innate modesty that caused her
to hold aloof from him of late, and to make her hesitate about giving
him her answer.

He looked shudderingly backward over the past for the last time. Yes,
he would urge her to give him his answer on the morrow. It never once
occurred to him but that her answer would be "Yes."



CHAPTER LIX.


When Royal Ainsley shook himself free from old Joe's detaining grasp,
his first impulse was to get as far away from the place as possible.

With second thoughts, however, came another decision. No; he must learn
all that was taking place.

Quickly circling the grounds, he soon gained a vantage-place behind a
group of bushes not far from the house. There he could easily see and
hear all that transpired without being seen himself.

He saw Eugene Mallard as he drew the girl beneath the swinging lamp in
the hall, and heard the conversation that passed between them.

"So!" he muttered, grinding his white teeth savagely, "the girl is my
lady's maid, eh? I dare say, she sent her with some message to me when
she was intercepted by Eugene Mallard. But Ida will find that this will
not work with me. See her I shall, if I have to stay in these grounds
till broad daylight."

He watched and waited until he saw even old Joe relax his vigilance and
go into the house.

Royal Ainsley waited there until the old mansion was wrapped in gloom
and darkness, then he slipped from his hiding-place, passed noiselessly
over the graveled walk, and stood beneath Ida's window.

Stooping, he caught up a handful of pebbles. One by one he flung them
up against the window-pane. Just as he had expected, he saw a white,
terrified face appear at the window, and two white hands threw up the
sash.

He saw at once that it was Ida. He moved out from the shadow of the
trees. She saw him at once, and recognized him.

"Is it _you_?" she cried, in the greatest alarm. "What in Heaven's name
are you doing there, pray?"

"Your common sense ought to tell you _that_;" he retorted, harshly.
"Come down here at once, I tell you, and be sure to bring that money
with you!"

"Oh, no! no! I can not!" she answered him, piteously.

"Why?" he demanded, with something very much like an imprecation upon
his lips.

"I dropped the money in the dining-room as I was passing through it to
get out into the grounds. The room is locked; I can not get it until
to-morrow morning. Old Joe always carries the key with him."

"It is a lie!" he cried, fiercely.

"No! no! On my life, it is true!" she answered, with a piteous quiver
in her voice; adding: "I was hurrying through the room, and there I
must have dropped it. I searched for it in every other place."

"Then hear what I say," he retorted, with an oath, "in these very
grounds I shall stay until you come to me. I know well that old Joe is
astir at dawn. You must be up then, find the money which you say you
dropped, and bring it out to me. I will be waiting for you at the same
place."

Before she could utter a word of protest, he had turned and disappeared
in the darkness.

All night long Ida Mallard paced the floor of her room, scarcely
heeding the hours that dragged their slow lengths by. Dawn came before
she realized it. She was startled from her reverie by hearing old Joe
throwing open the shutters about the house. That recalled her to a
realization of passing events.

Joe had unlocked the door of the dining-room at last, but his sight was
so poor that he could not espy a small roll of bills lying on the floor.

Ida, gliding into the room as soon as his footsteps echoed down the
corridor, found the package.

She stole to the door as soon as it was unlocked.

Ah! how sweet and fragrant was the early morning. How cool and green
the grass looked, wet with the morning dew! Little she dreamed that ere
the day waned that same grass would be dyed with a human being's blood.

She shivered as she stepped forth into the grounds. With hurried steps
she crossed the lawn, and went into the rose-garden beyond. There she
saw Royal Ainsley. He was pacing the little path by the brook, his face
white, his eyes angry-looking, downcast and sullen.

"So you have come at last, eh?" he exclaimed, angrily.

"I am here," she responded, tremulously.

"I was just about to go and wake up the household," he cried, his rage
increasing.

"Now, that I am here, you will not have to do that," she answered,
wearily.

"Where is the money?" he asked, abruptly.

She held it in her hand, but clutched it more tightly.

"I have it with me," she responded; "but it is not yours until you
carry out your promises!"

He looked at her with a cunning gleam in his eyes.

"To be sure I will carry out my agreement," he said.

"But I must have proof that you will do so before I part with so much
money," she said. "You must give me your written word that you will
never trouble me again. You must also tell me where I can find my
child, for I see that you have not kept your word about bringing her
with you!"

He laughed aloud--a harsh, mocking laugh.

"I am not surprised at hearing a remark like that from your lips. A
woman who could abandon her child as easily as _you_ did, without so
much as knowing its fate, and who is content to live here as Eugene
Mallard's wife, whenever he is ready to take you to his heart, is
capable of doing anything. I do not wonder that you supposed the little
one was here in the grounds all night long awaiting your fancy to
appear!"

She recoiled at the words as though he had struck her a blow.

"Let me tell you where your child is," he said, hoarsely. "You shall
know its fate!"

As he spoke, he seized the hand that held the money, and tore the bills
from her grasp.



CHAPTER LX.


Ida sunk on her knees before him.

"Come," he said; "you must go quietly with me."

"Inhuman monster!" moaned Ida.

"Come. This is no time to exchange compliments," he said. "We have
parleyed here too long already."

His grasp tightened on the slender wrist, but she did not seem to heed
the pain of it.

"I can not, I will not go with you!" she panted.

A taunting laugh answered her. He was dragging her by main force down
the path, when the figure of a man suddenly sprung before him.

"You!" cried Royal Ainsley, furiously.

"Yes, it is I!" returned Eugene Mallard, sternly. "I am just in time,
it appears, to save my--this lady from you."

At the sight of Eugene, Ida flung up her hands with a wild cry, and
sunk at his feet unconscious. Royal Ainsley sprung forward to catch her
in his arms, but Eugene dashed up to him.

"Lay one hand on her at your peril!" he commanded.

"And who shall prevent me, when she is my wife?" sneered Royal Ainsley.

"She is _not_ your wife!" cried Eugene Mallard, his face darkening;
"and here and now, I propose to avenge the wrongs you have done her.
There will be a duel to the death between us! I have two pistols in my
pocket, you shall take one and defend yourself, I will use the other."

Royal Ainsley sprung forward. Quick as a flash he drew something from
his vest-pocket. It was a sharp steel dagger which he always carried.

He made a lunge forward, but his foot slipped, and he fell to the earth
in mortal pain. The dagger he had intended to plunge into the body of
his cousin had been the cause of his own death.

In an instant Eugene was bending over him.

"It is too late!" gasped the miserable man--"it is all over with me
now. I am about to pass in my checks. Don't you think so?"

"Yes," said Eugene; "you are mortally wounded, I can see that. Heaven
forgive you for the sins you have committed!"

Eugene carried Ida to her own room, thanking Heaven that he had met no
one. No one would know of her presence in the grounds.

Then he quickly summoned the servants.

Royal Ainsley, lying there with his face upturned to the sunlight and
his hand clutching the fatal dagger, told its own story.

As soon as Ida was able to see him Eugene sent for her to come to the
library.

When she received the summons, the poor soul, white as death, fell upon
her knees.

"He is going to denounce me for my sin, and for not telling him when I
found it out," she said.

Could she face him, now that he knew all?

As she knelt there she caught a glimpse of herself in the great mirror
opposite.

Again the girl knocked at the door.

"Tell your master that I will see him to-morrow," she whispered in a
strained, strange voice; and the girl went away.

Strange fancies seemed to throng through her brain.

Royal Ainsley was dead, she had heard them say; and she fancied that
her child was dead, too.

And now the man she loved had sent for her to turn her from the house,
and she would never see him again.

Then she thought of the brook, so deep, so wide, that struggled on to
meet the sea.

Yes, she would go there where some of the happiest, ay, and some of
the most sorrowful moments of her life had been spent. The deep waters
would carry her away on their bosom.

At intervals the girl came to the door to inquire if she wanted
anything. The answer was always the same--"No."

She never knew how the long hours passed; she was like one in a dream.

At last night came. She waited until the house was dark and still.
There was silence in the hall. All the lights were out, every one was
asleep, and the troubles of the day were blotted out.

She raised the long French window that opened out onto the lawn and
stepped out into the garden.

As she passed the room in which Eugene Mallard was quietly sleeping,
she knelt and laid her cold white lips on the threshold his feet would
press.

How cruelly Heaven had punished her, because in those other days she
had longed to be a lady, like the heroines she had read of in the great
world of beauty and fashion.

She reached the brook and knelt down beside it. The moon threw a
silvery light upon it, and in its song she seemed to hear Eugene's
voice mingled with that of the little child she had lost.

"I am coming to you, little baby!" she muttered below her breath. Then
aloud, she said: "Good-bye, Eugene--good-bye forever!"

Suddenly a pair of strong arms clasped her, and Eugene's voice
whispered:

"Not good-bye, my darling!"

Only the stars and the moonlight and the rippling waters of the brook
heard what he said--how he pleaded with her to live only for him and
her little child.

Ida could not believe the great happiness that had suddenly fallen upon
her like a mantle from God's hands.

They talked by the brook-side for long hours. The next day the master
and mistress of the great mansion went away.

When they reached New York, another ceremony was performed, which made
Ida Eugene Mallard's wife until death should part them.

Then they quietly went and obtained the little child, whom both
idolized, and went abroad, where they remained for years.

No one learned the strange romance of the fair young girl whom Eugene
Mallard worshipped so fondly.

When they returned to their home, years after, with a lovely, dark-eyed
little girl and a sturdy, blue-eyed boy, no one guessed but that they
were Eugene Mallard's children.

While they had been abroad they read of the marriage of Hildegarde
Cramer to Philip Ravenswood, the noble young man who had loved her ever
since they had first met on the Newport sands.

The same paper also brought the intelligence of the engagement of
Arthur Hollis and pretty Dora Staples, and the sad ending, in a
railroad accident, of beautiful, hapless Vivian Deane and her maid Nora.

Eugene passed the paper to his wife, and Ida read it, making no
comments. But after awhile, as though the subject weighed heavily on
her mind, she went up to Eugene, and laid her soft white arms round his
neck, and whispered:

"Does the knowledge of Hildegarde's marriage bring you any regrets,
Eugene?"

"No, my darling!" he cried, clasping her in his strong arms. "For all
the love of my heart is yours now, and--and--our children's."

"I have often wanted to ask you, Eugene," she murmured, with her face
hidden on his breast, "if the story of my past were known, how would
people judge me? Would the world say, 'Ida May had sinned'?"

Let us hope all our readers will join heartily in his answer--"No."


THE END.



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Transcriber's note:

Obvious printer errors have been corrected. Otherwise, the author's
original spelling, punctuation and hyphenation have been left intact.





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