Elsie's Girlhood by Martha Finley
My heart has been like summer skies, When they are fair to view; But there never yet were hearts or skies Clouds might not wander through. --MRS. L.P. SMITH.
Walter Dinsmore was doing well at college, studying hard, and keeping himself out of bad company. In this last he might not have been so successful but for his brother's assistance; for, though choosing his own associates from among the dissolute and vile, Arthur resolutely exerted himself to preserve this young brother from such contamination. "I've enough sins of my own to answer for, Wal," he would say, sometimes almost fiercely, "and I won't have any of yours added to 'em; nobody shall say I led you into bad company, or initiated you into my own evil courses."
For months Arthur's spirits had been very variable, his frequent fits of gloom, alternating with unnatural gayety, exciting Walter's wonder and sympathy.
"I cannot imagine what ails him," he said to himself again and again; for Arthur utterly refused to tell him the secret of his despondency.
It had been almost constant since the receipt of Egerton's last epistle, and Walter was debating in his own mind whether he ought not to speak of it in his next letter to their mother, when one night he was wakened by a sudden blow from Arthur's hand, and started up to find him rolling and tossing, throwing his arms about, and muttering incoherently in the delirium of fever.
It was the beginning of a very serious illness. It was pronounced such by the physician called in by Walter at an early hour the next morning, and the boy sat down with a heavy heart to write the sad tidings to his parents.
While doing so he was startled by hearing Arthur pronounce Elsie's name in connection with words that seemed to imply that some danger threatened her. He rose and went to the bedside, asking, "What's wrong with Elsie, Art?"
"I say, Tom Jackson, she'll never take you. Horace won't consent."
"I should think not, indeed!" muttered Walter. Then leaning over his brother, "Art, I say, Art! what is it all about? Has Tom Jackson gone to Lansdale?"
No answer, save an inarticulate murmur that might be either assent or dissent.
The doctor had promised to send a nurse and, as Walter now glanced about the room, the thought occurred to him that it would seem very disorderly to the woman. Arthur's clothes lay in a heap over the back of a chair, just as he had thrown them down on retiring.
"I can at least hang these in the closet," thought Walter, picking up the jacket.
A letter fell from the pocket upon the floor.
"Jackson's handwriting, I declare!" he exclaimed, with a start of surprise, as he stooped to pick it up. It was without an envelope, written in a bold, legible hand, and unintentionally he read the date, "Lansdale, Ohio, Aug. -- 185-," and farther down the page some parts of sentences connected with the "D---- family" ... "can't help themselves" ... "the girl loves me and believes in me."
He glanced at the bed. Arthur's eyes were closed. He looked down at the letter again; there was the signature "T. J., alias B. E."
"It's a conspiracy; there's mischief brewing, and I believe I ought to read it," he muttered; then, turning his back toward the bed, perused every word of it with close attention.
It was sufficient to give him a clear insight into the whole affair. Elsie's letters had of late spoken quite frequently of Mr. Bromly Egerton, and so he was the "T. J., alias B. E." of this epistle, the Tom Jackson who had been the ruin of Arthur.
"The wretch! the sneaking, hypocritical scoundrel!" muttered Walter between his teeth, and glancing again at the bed, though the epithet was meant to apply to Jackson and not to Arthur. "What can I do to circumvent him? Write to Horace, of course, and warn him of Elsie's danger." And though usually vacillating and infirm of purpose, on this occasion Walter showed himself both prompt and decided. The next mail carried the news of his discovery to Elsie's natural protector,--her father, who with Rose, the Allison family, and little Horace, was still at Gape May.
This letter and the three from Lansdale were handed Mr. Dinsmore together. He opened Elsie's first. The contents puzzled, surprised, and alarmed him. They were merely a few hastily written lines of touching entreaty that he would not be angry, but would please forgive her for giving her heart to one of whom he knew nothing, and daring to let him speak to her of love; and that he would not believe anything against him until he had heard his defence.
With a murmured "My poor darling! you have been too long away from your father," Mr. Dinsmore laid it down and opened the one directed in a strange hand; rightly supposing it to come from the person to whom she alluded.
Egerton spoke in glowing terms of his admiration for Elsie's character and personal charms, and the ardent love with which they had inspired him, and modestly of his own merits. Ignoring all knowledge of her fortune, he said that he had none, but was engaged in a flourishing business which would enable him to support her in comfort and to surround her with most of the elegancies and luxuries of life to which she had been accustomed. Lastly he alluded in a very pious strain to the deep debt of gratitude he owed her as the one who had been the means of his hopeful conversion; said she had acknowledged that she returned his affection, and earnestly begged for the gift of her hand.
Mr. Dinsmore gave this missive an attentive perusal, laid it aside, and opened Mr. Travilla's.
Rose was in the room, putting little Horace to bed. She had heard his little prayer, given him his good-night kiss, and now the child ran to his father to claim the same from him.
It was given mechanically, and Mr. Dinsmore returned to his letter. The child lingered a moment, gazing earnestly into his father's face, troubled by its paleness and the frown on his brow.
"Papa," he said softly, leaning with confiding affection upon his knee, "dear papa, are you angry with me? have I been a naughty boy, to-day?"
"No, son; but I am reading; don't disturb me now."
Mr. Dinsmore's hand rested caressingly on the curly head for an instant and the boy turned away satisfied. But Rose was not. Coming to her husband's side the next moment, and laying her hand affectionately on his shoulder, "What is it, dear?" she asked, "has anything gone wrong with our darling, or at home?"
"Trouble for her, I fear, Rose. Read these," he answered with emotion, putting Elsie's, Egerton's, and Travilla's letters into her hands, then opening Walter's.
"Travilla is right! the man is an unmitigated scoundrel!" he cried, starting up with great excitement. "Rose, I must be off by the next train; it leaves in half an hour. I shall go alone and take only a portmanteau with me. Can it be got ready in season?"
"Yes, dear, I will pack it at once myself. But what is wrong? Where are you going? and how long will you be away?"
"To my brother's first--Arthur is seriously ill, and I must get hold of evidence that Walter can supply--then on to Lansdale with all speed to rescue Elsie from the wiles of a gambling, swindling, hypocritical, fortune-hunting rascal!"
At a very early hour of the next morning, Walter Dinsmore was roused from his slumbers by, a knock at his door.
"Who's there?" he asked, starting up in bed.
"I, Walter," answered a well-known voice, and with a joyful exclamation he sprang to the door, and opened it.
"Horace! how glad I am to see you! I hardly dared hope you could get here so soon."
"Your news was of the sort to hasten a man's movements," returned Mr. Dinsmore, holding the lad's hand in a warm brotherly grasp. "How are you? and how's Arthur now?"
"About the same. Hark! you may hear him moaning and muttering. This is our study. I have had that cot-bed brought in here, and given up the bedroom to him and the nurse; though I'm with him a good deal too."
"You have a good nurse, and the best medical advice?"
"You must see that he has every comfort, Walter; let no expense be spared, nothing left undone that may alleviate his sufferings or assist his recovery. What is the physician's opinion of the case?"
"He is not very communicative to me; may be more so to you. You'll stay and see him when he calls, won't you?"
"What time? I must be off again by the first train. I want to reach Lansdale to-morrow."
"It will give you time to do that. He calls early."
"Now take me to Arthur; and then I must see that letter, and hear all you have to tell me in regard to that matter."
"What does Elsie say?" asked Walter, with intense interest; "do you think she cares for him?"
"I'm afraid she does," and Mr. Dinsmore shook his head sadly.
"Oh, dear! but you won't allow--"
"Certainly not; 'twould be to entail upon her a life of misery."
"It's her fortune he's after, that's evident, and indeed I would hurry to Lansdale, if I were you, lest they might take it into their heads to elope. Such a shame as it would be for him to get her--the dear, sweet darling!"
"I have no fear that Elsie could ever be so lost to her sense of filial duty; nor, I am sure, have you, Walter," answered Mr. Dinsmore gravely.
"No, Horace; and it's the greatest relief and comfort to me just now to know how truly obedient and affectionate she is to you."
Horace Dinsmore omitted nothing that he could do to add to the comfort of his brothers, saw the physician and learned from him that he had good hopes of a naturally vigorous constitution bringing Arthur safely through the attack from which he was suffering, examined the evidence Walter was able to furnish that Bromly Egerton and Tom Jackson were one and the same--a man in whom every vice abounded--found time to show an interest in Walter's studies and pastimes, and was ready to leave by the train of which he had spoken.
Jackson had not been wary enough to disguise his hand in either the letter that had fallen from Arthur's pocket, or the one written to Mr. Dinsmore, and a careful comparison of the two had proved conclusively that they were the work of the same person. The broken sentences that occasionally fell from Arthur's lips in his delirious ravings furnished another proof not less strong. Also Walter had managed to secure an excellent photograph of Jackson, which Mr. Dinsmore carried with him, safely bestowed in the breast-pocket of his coat. He had studied it attentively and felt sure he should be able instantly to recognize the original.
Bromly Egerton lay awake most of the night following his passage at arms with Mr. Travilla, considering the situation, and how he would be most likely to secure the coveted prize. He remembered perfectly well all that Arthur Dinsmore had said about the difficulty of deceiving or outwitting his brother, and the impossibility of persuading Elsie to disobedience. Of the latter, he had had convincing proof that day, in her firm refusal to engage herself to him without first obtaining her father's consent. The conclusion he came to was, that should he remain inactive until Mr. Dinsmore's arrival, his chances of success were exceedingly small; in fact that his only hope lay in running away with Elsie, and afterwards persuading her into a clandestine marriage.
Their ride was to be taken shortly after an early breakfast, there being a sort of tacit understanding that he was to accompany the young ladies; but before Elsie had left her room, Chloe came up with a message. "Marse Egerton in de parlor, darlin', axin could he see my young missis for five minutes, just now."
Elsie went down at once. Her visitor stood with his back toward the door, apparently intently studying the pattern of her great-great-grandmother's sampler, but turning instantly at the sound of the light, quick footstep, came eagerly toward her with outstretched hand.
"Excuse this early call, dearest, but--ah, how lovely you are looking this morning!" and bending his head he drew her toward him.
But she stepped back, avoiding the intended caress, while a crimson tide rushed over the fair face and neck, and her eyes sought the carpet.
"We are not engaged, Mr. Egerton; cannot be till papa has given consent."
"I beg ten thousand pardons," he said, coloring violently in his turn, and feeling his hopes grow fainter.
"Will you not take a seat?" she asked, gently withdrawing her hand from his.
"Thank you, no; I have but a moment to stay. My errand was to ask if we could not so arrange it as, for once at least, to have our ride alone together? Miss Lottie is a very nice girl, but I would give much to have my darling all to myself to-day."
"I would like it much too, very much, but papa bade me always have a lady friend with me; and--and besides," she added with hesitation, and blushing more deeply than before, "papa's friend. Mr. Travilla, is to go with us. I--I have promised that he shall be my escort to-day."
Egerton was furious, and had much ado to conceal the fact; indeed, came very near uttering a horrible oath, and thus forever ruining his hopes. He bit his lips and kept silent, but Elsie saw that he was angry.
"Do not be offended or hurt," she said; "do not suppose that I followed my own inclination in consenting to such an arrangement. No, I only acted from a sense of duty; knowing that it was what papa would wish."
"And you would put his wishes before mine? Love him best, I presume?"
"He is my father, and entitled to my obedience, whether present or absent."
"But what very strict ideas you must have on that subject! do you really think it your duty to obey his wishes as well as his command?"
"I do; that is the kind of obedience he has taught me, that the Bible teaches, and that my love for him would dictate. I love my father very dearly, Mr. Egerton."
"I should think so, indeed; but you must pardon me if at present I am far more concerned about your love for me," he said, with a forced laugh. "As for this Travilla, I can hardly be expected to feel any great cordiality toward him after his attack upon me yesterday; and I am free to confess that it would not cause me great grief to learn that some sudden illness or accident had occurred to prevent his spoiling our ride to-day."
"Your feelings are perfectly natural; but, believe me, Mr. Travilla has the kindest of hearts, and when he learns his mistake will be most anxious to do all in his power to make amends for it. Will you stay and take breakfast with us?" For at that instant the bell rang.
"No, thank you," he said, moving toward the door. "But promise me, Elsie, that I shall be your escort after this until your father comes. Surely love may claim so small a concession from duty."
She could not resist his persuasive look and tone, but with a smile and a blush gave the promise for which he pleaded.
Procuring as fine a horse as his landlord could furnish, Mr. Travilla rode to Miss Stanhope's, and alighting at the gate, walked up to the house.
He found its mistress on the front porch, picking dead leaves from her vines. She had mounted a step ladder to reach some that otherwise were too high up for her small stature. Turning at the sound of his approach, "Good-morning, sir," she said. "You see I'm like the sycamore tree that climbed into Zaccheus. Shortness is inconvenient at times. My, what a jar!" as she came down rather hard, missing the last step--"I feel it from the crown of my foot to the sole of my head. Here, Simon, take away this ladder-step; the next time I want it I think I'll do without; I'm growing so old in my clumsy age. Walk in and take a seat, Mr. Torville. Or shall we sit here? It's pleasanter than indoors I think."
"I agree with you," he said, accepting her invitation with a smile at the oddity of her address. "You have a fine view here."
They sat there conversing for some time before Elsie made her appearance, Mr. Travilla both charmed and amused with his companion, and she liking him better every moment. When Elsie did come down at last, looking wondrous sweet and fair in a pretty, coquettish riding hat and habit, her aunt informed her that she had been urging "Mr. Vanilla" to come and make his home with them while in town, and that he had consented to let her send Simon at once for his trunk.
"If it will be agreeable to my little friend to have me here?" Mr. Travilla said, taking her hand in his with the affectionate, fatherly manner she had always liked so much in him.
Her face flushed slightly, but she answered without an instant's hesitation that she hoped he would come.
The horses were already at the gate, Egerton was seen crossing the street, and Lottie came tripping in at a side entrance. She had heard a good deal of Mr. Travilla from Elsie, and seemed pleased to make his acquaintance.
Egerton came in, he and Mr. Travilla exchanged the coldest and most distant of salutations, and the party set off; Mr. Travilla riding by Elsie's side, Egerton and Lottie following a little in their rear.
Finding it almost a necessity to devote himself to Miss King for the time being, Egerton! took a sudden resolution to make a partial confidante of her, hoping thus to secure a powerful ally. He told her of the state of affairs between Elsie and himself, of Mr. Travilla's "attack upon him;" how "utterly mistaken" it was, and how he presumed "the mistake" had occurred; giving the story he had told Elsie of the cousin who bore so strong a likeness to him, and so bad a character. He professed the most ardent, devoted affection for Elsie, and the most torturing fears lest her father, crediting him with his cousin's vices, should forbid the match and crush all his hopes.
The warm-hearted, innocent girl believed every word, and rushing into her friend's room on their return, threw her arms about her, and hugging her close, told her she knew all, was so, so sorry for her, and for poor Egerton; and begged her not to allow anything to make her give him up and break his heart.
Elsie returned the embrace, shed a few tears, but answered not a word.
"You do believe in him? and won't give him up; will you?" persisted Lottie.
"I do believe in him, and will not give him up unless--unless papa commands it," Elsie answered in a choking voice.
"I wouldn't for that!" cried Lottie.
"'Children, obey your parents,'" repeated her friend, tears filling the soft brown eyes, and glistening on the drooping lashes. "It is God's command."
"But you are not a child any longer."
"I am papa's child; I always shall be. Oh, it would break my heart if ever he should disown me and say, 'You are no longer my child!'"
"How you do love him!"
"Better than my life!"
Mr. Travilla was already established at Miss Stanhope's, and very glad to be there, that he might keep the more careful and constant watch and ward over his "little friend." Thoroughly convinced of the vileness of the wretch who had won her unsuspicious heart, he could scarce brook the thought of leaving her alone with him, or of seeing him draw close to her side, touch her hand, or look into the soft, sweet eyes so full of purity and innocence. Yet these things no one but her father might forbid, and Mr. Travilla would not force his companionship upon Elsie when he saw or felt that it was distasteful to her. The lovers were frequently left to themselves in the parlor or upon the porch, though the friendly guardian, dreading he hardly knew what, took care always to be within call.
Elsie longed for, yet dreaded her father's coming. She knew he would not delay one moment longer than necessary after receiving their letters, yet he reached Lansdale almost a day sooner than she expected him.
Sitting alone in her room, she heard his voice and step in the hall below. She flew down to meet him.
"Oh, papa, dear, dear papa!"
"My darling, precious child!" And her arms were about his neck, his straining her to his heart. The next moment she lifted her face, and her eyes sought his with a wistful, pleading, questioning look. He drew her into the sitting-room, and Miss Stanhope closed the door, leaving them alone.
"My darling," he said, "you must give him up; he is utterly unworthy of you."
"Oh, papa! would you break my heart?"
"My precious one, I would save you from a life of misery."
"Ah, papa! you would never say that if you knew how--how I love him," she murmured, a deep blush suffusing her face.
"Hush! it horrifies me to hear you speak so of so vile a wretch,--a drinking, swearing gambler, swindler, and rake; for I have learned that he is all these."
"Papa, it is not true! I will not hear such things said of him, even by you!" she cried, the hot blood dyeing her face and neck, and the soft eyes filling with indignant tears.
He put his finger upon her lips. "My daughter forgets to whom she is speaking," he said with something of the old sternness, though there was tender pity also in his tones.
"Oh, papa, I am so wretched!" she sobbed, hiding her face on his breast. "Oh, don't believe what they say; it isn't, it can't be true."
He caressed her silently, then taking the photograph from his pocket, asked, "Do you know that face?"
"Yes, it is his."
"I knew it, and it is also the face of the man whose character I have just described."
"Oh, no, papa!" and with breathless eagerness she repeated the story with which Egerton had swept away all her doubts. She read incredulity in her father's face, "You do not believe it, papa?"
"No, my child, no more than I do black is white. See here!" and he produced Egerton's letter to him, and the one to Arthur, made her read and compare them, and gave her the further proofs Walter had furnished.
She grew deathly pale, but was no more ready to be convinced than he. "Oh, papa, there must be some dreadful mistake! I cannot believe he could be guilty of such things. The cousin has been personating him, has forged that letter, perhaps; and the photograph may be his also."
"You are not using your good common-sense, Elsie; the proof is very full and clear to my mind. The man is a fortune-hunter, seeking your wealth, not you; a scoundrel whose vices should shut him out of all decent society. I can hardly endure the thought that he has ever known you, or dared to address a word to you, and it must never be again."
"Must I give him up?" she asked with pale, quivering lips.
"You must, my daughter; at once and for ever."
A look of anguish swept over her face, then she started, flushed, and trembled, as a voice and step were heard on the porch without.
"It is he?" her father said inquiringly, and her look answered, "Yes."
He rose to his feet, for they had been sitting side by side on the sofa while they talked. She sprang up also, and clinging to his arm, looked beseechingly into his face, pleading in a hoarse whisper, "Papa, you will let me see him, speak to him once more?--just a few words--in your presence--oh, papa!"
"No, my darling, no; his touch, his breath, are contamination; his very look is pollution, and shall never rest upon you again if I can prevent it. Remember you are never to hold any communication with him again--by word, letter, or in any other way; I positively forbid it; you must never look at him, or intentionally allow him a sight of your face. I must go now, and send him away." He held her to his heart as he spoke; his tone was affectionate, but very firm, and decided; he kissed her tenderly, two or three times, placed her in an easy-chair, saying, "Stay here till I come to you," and left the room.
For a moment she lay back against the cushions like one stunned by a heavy blow; then, roused by the sound of the voices of the two she loved best on earth, started and leaned forward in a listening attitude, straining her ear to catch their words. Few of them reached her, but her father's tones were cold and haughty, Egerton's at first persuasive, then loud, angry, and defiant.
He was gone, she had heard the last echo of his departing footsteps, and again her father bent over her, his face full of tender pity. She lifted her sad face to his, with the very look that had taunted him for years, that he could never recall without a pang of regret' and remorse--that pleading, mournful gaze with which she had parted from him in the time of their estrangement.
It almost unmanned him now, almost broke his heart. "Don't, my darling, don't look at me so," he said in low, moved tones, taking her cold hands in his. "You don't know, precious one, how willingly your father would bear all this pain for you if he could."
She threw herself upon his breast, and folding her close to his heart, he caressed her with exceeding tenderness, calling her by every fond, endearing name.
For many minutes she received it all passively, then suddenly raising her head, she returned one passionate embrace, withdrew herself from his arms, and hurried from the room.
He let her go unquestioned; he knew she went to seek comfort and support from One nearer and dearer, and better able to give it than himself. He rose and walked the room with a sad and troubled countenance, and a heart filled with grief for his child, with anger and indignation toward the wretch who had wrecked her happiness.
Miss Stanhope opened the door and looked in.
"You have had no dinner, Horace. It will be ready in a few moments."
"Thank you, aunt. I will go up to my room first and try to get rid of some of the dust and dirt I have brought with me."
"Stay a moment, nephew. I am sorely troubled for the child. You don't approve of her choice?"
"Very far from it. I have forbidden the man ever to come near her again."
"But you won't be hard with her, poor dear?"
"Hard with her, Aunt Wealthy? hard and cruel to my darling whom I love better than my life? I trust not; but it would be the height of cruelty to allow this thing to go on. The man is a vile wretch guilty of almost every vice, and seeking my child for her wealth, not for herself. I have forbidden her to see or ever to hold the slightest communication with him again."
"Well, it is quite right if your opinion of him is correct; and I hardly think she is likely to refuse submission."
"I have brought up my daughter to habits of strict, unquestioning obedience, Aunt Wealthy," he said, "and I think they will stand her in good stead now. I have no fear that she will rebel."
A half hour with her best Friend had done much to soothe and calm our sweet Elsie; she had cast her burden on the Lord and He sustained her. She knew that no trial could come to her without His will, that He had permitted this for her good, that in His own good time and way He would remove it, and she was willing to leave it all with Him; for was He not all-wise, all-powerful, and full of tenderest, pitying love for her?
She had great faith in the wisdom and love of her earthly father also, and doubted not that he was doing what he sincerely believed to be for her happiness,--giving her present pain only in order to save her from keener and more lasting distress and anguish in the future.
It was well for her that she had such trust in him and that their mutual love was so deep and strong; well too that she was troubled with no doubts of the duty of implicit obedience to parental authority when not opposed to the higher commands of God. Her heart still clung to Egerton, refusing to credit his utter unworthiness, and she felt it a bitter trial to be thus completely separated from him, yet hoped that at some future, and perhaps not distant day, he might be able to convince her father of his mistake.
Mr. Dinsmore felt it impossible to remain long away from his suffering child; after leaving the table, a few moments only were spent in conversation with his aunt and Mr. Travilla, and then he sought his darling in her room.
"My poor little pet, you have been too long away from your father," he said, taking her in his arms again. "I shall never forgive myself for allowing it. But, daughter, why was this thing suffered to go on? Your letters never spoke of this man in a way to lead me to suppose that he was paying you serious attention; and indeed I did not intend to permit that from any one yet."
"Papa, I did not deceive you intentionally, I did not mean to be disobedient," she said imploringly. "Lottie and I were almost always together, and I did not think of him as a lover till he spoke."
"Well, dearest, I am not chiding you; your father could never find it in his heart to add one needless pang to what you are already suffering." His tone was full of pitying tenderness.
She made no answer; only hid her face on his breast and wept silently. "Papa," she murmured at length. "I--I do so want to break one of your rules; oh, if you would only let me, just this once!"
"A strange request, my darling," he said, "but which of them is it?"
"That when you have once decided a matter I must never ask you to reconsider. Oh, papa, do, do let me entreat you just this once!"
"I think it will be useless, daughter, only giving me the pain of refusing, and you of being refused; but you may say on."
"Papa, it is, that I may write a little note to--to Mr. Egerton," she said, speaking eagerly and rapidly, yet half trembling at her own temerity the while, "just to tell him that I cannot do anything against your will, and that he must not come near me or try to hold any sort of intercourse with me till you give consent; but that I have not lost my faith in him, and if he is innocent and unjustly suspected, we need not be wretched and despairing; for God will surely some day cause it to be made apparent. Oh, papa, may I not? Please, please let me! I will bring it to you when written, and there shall not be one word in it that you do not approve." She had lifted her face, and the soft, beseeching eyes were looking pleadingly into his.
"My dearest child," he said, "it is hard to refuse you, but I cannot allow it. There, there! do not cry so bitterly; every tear I see you shed sends a pang to my heart. Listen to me, daughter. Believing what I do of that man, I would not for a great deal have him in possession of a single line of your writing. Have you ever given him one?"
"No, papa, never," she sobbed.
"Or received one from him?"
"It is well." Then as if a sudden thought had struck him, "Elsie, have you ever allowed him to touch your lips?" he asked almost sternly.
"No, papa, not even my cheek. I would not while we were not engaged; and that could not be without your consent."
"I am truly thankful for that!" he exclaimed in a tone of relief; "to know that he had--that these sweet lips had been polluted by contact with his--would be worse to me than the loss of half my fortune." And lifting her face as he spoke, he pressed his own to them again and again.
But for the first time in her life she turned from him as if almost loathing his caresses, and struggled to release herself from the clasp of his arm.
He let her go, and hurrying to the farther side of the room, she stood leaning against the window-frame, with her back toward him, shedding very bitter tears of mingled grief and anger.
But in the pauses of her sobbing a deep sigh struck upon her ear. Her heart smote her at the sound; still more as she glanced back at her father and noted the pained expression of his eye as it met hers. In a moment she was at his side again, down upon the carpet, with her head laid lovingly on his knee.
"Papa, I am sorry." The low, street voice was tremulous with grief and penitence.
"My poor darling, my poor little pet!" he said, passing his hand with soft, caressing movement over her hair and cheek, "try to keep your love for your father and your faith in his for you, however hard this rule may seem."
"Ah, papa, my heart would break if I lost either," she sobbed. Then lifting her tear-dimmed eyes with tender concern to his face, which was very pale and sad, "Dear papa," she said, "how tired you look! you were up all night, were you not?"
"Last night and the one before it."
"That you might hasten here to take care of me," she murmured in a tone of mingled regret and gratitude. "Do lie down now and take a nap. This couch is soft and pleasant, and I will close the blinds and sit by your side to keep off the flies."
He yielded to her persuasions, saying as he closed his eyes, "Don't leave the room without waking me."
She was still there when he woke, close at his side and ready to greet him with an affectionate look and smile, though the latter was touchingly sad and there were traces of tears on her cheeks.
"How long have I slept?" he asked.
"Two hours," she answered, holding up her watch, "and there is the tea-bell."