Chapter III.
 

It was little more than half an hour after the Secretary of the Navy parted with Jenny, ere she entered his office again; but now with her beautiful face flushed and eager.

"I have found him!" she exclaimed; "I knew he was on board this ship!"

The Secretary's interest had been awakened by the former brief interview with Jenny, and when she came in with the announcement, he was not only affected with pleasure, but his feelings were touched by her manner. "How is it, then," he inquired, "that his name is not to be found in the list of her crew?"

"He entered the service under the name of Edward James."

"Ah! that explains it."

"And now, sir," said Jenny, in a voice so earnest and appealing, that her auditor felt like granting her desire without a moment's reflection: "I have come to entreat you to give me his release."

"On what ground do you make this request?" inquired the Secretary, gazing into the sweet young face of Jenny, with a feeling of respect blended with admiration.

"On the ground of humanity," was the simple yet earnestly spoken reply.

"How can you put it on that ground?"

"A young man of his education and abilities can serve society better in another position."

"But he has chosen the place he is in."

"Not deliberately. In a moment of disappointment and blind passion he took a false step. Severely has he suffered for this act. Let it not be prolonged, lest it destroy him. One of his spirit can scarcely pass through so severe an ordeal without fainting."

"Does Mr. Lofton, his grandfather, desire what you ask?"

"Mr. Lofton is a proud man. He entertained high hopes for Mark, who has, in this act, so bitterly disappointed them, that he has not been known to utter his name since the news of his enlistment was received."

"And his father?"

Jenny shook her head, sighing--

"I don't know anything about him. He was angry, and, I believe, cast him off."

"And you, then, are his only advocate?"

Jenny's eyes dropped to the floor, and a deeper tinge overspread her countenance.

"What is your relation to him, and to his friends?" asked the Secretary, his manner becoming more serious.

It was some moments before Jenny replied. Then she said, in a more subdued voice:

"I am living with Mr. Lofton. But--"

She hesitated, and then became silent and embarrassed.

"Does Mr. Lofton know of your journey to Washington?"

Jenny shook her head.

"Where did you tell him you were going?"

"I said nothing to him, but came away the moment I heard the ship was expected to arrive at Norfolk."

"Suppose I release him from the service?"

"I will persuade him to go back with me to Fairview, and then I know that all will be forgiven between him and his grandfather. You don't know how Mr. Lofton has failed since Mark went away," added Jenny in a tone meant to reach the feelings of her auditor.

"He looks many years older. Ah, sir, if you would only grant my request!"

"Will the young man return to his family! Have you spoken to him about it?"

"No; I wished not to create hopes that might fail. But give me his release, and I will have a claim on him."

"And you will require him to go home in acknowledgment of that claim."

"I will not leave him till he goes back," said Jenny.

"Is he not satisfied in the service?"

"How could he be satisfied with it?" Jenny spoke with a quick impulse, and with something like rebuke in her voice. "No! It is crushing out his very life. Think of your own son in such a position!"

There was something in this appeal, and in the way it was uttered, that decided the Secretary's mind. A man of acute observation, and humane feelings, he not only understood pretty clearly the relation that Jenny bore to Mark and his family, but sympathised with the young man and resolved to grant the maiden's request. Leaving her for a few minutes, he went into an adjoining room. When he returned, he had a sealed letter in his hand directed to the commander of the ship ----.

"This will procure his dismissal from the service," said he, as he reached it towards Jenny.

"May heaven reward you!" fell from the lips of the young girl, as she received the letter. Then, with the tears glistening in her eyes, she hurriedly left the apartment.

While old Mr. Lofton was yet wondering what Jenny could want with fifty dollars, a servant came and told him that she had just heard from a neighbor who came up a little while before from the landing, that he had seen Jenny go on board of a steamboat that was on its way to New York.

"It can't be so," quickly answered Mr. Lofton.

"Mr. Jones said, positively, that it was her."

"Tell Henry to go to Mr. Jones and ask him, as a favor, to step over and see me."

In due time Mr. Jones came.

"Are you certain that you saw Jenny Lawson go on board the steamboat for New York to-day?" asked Mr. Lofton, when the neighbor appeared.

"Oh, yes, sir; it was her," replied the man.

"Did you speak to her?"

"I was going to, but she hurried past me without looking in my face."

"Had she anything with her?"

"There was a small bundle in her hand."

"Strange--strange--very strange," murmured the old man to himself. "What does it mean? Where can she have gone?"

"Did she say nothing about going away?"

"Nothing--nothing!"

Mr. Lofton's eyes fell to the floor, and he sat thinking for some moments.

"Mr. Jones," said he, at length, "can you go to New York for me?"

"I suppose so," replied Mr. Jones.

"When will the morning boat from Albany pass here?"

"In about two hours."

"Then get yourself ready, if you please, and come over to me. I do not like this of Jenny, and must find out where she has gone."

Mr. Jones promised to do as was desired, and went to make all necessary preparations. Before he returned, a domestic brought Mr. Lofton a sealed note bearing his address, which she had found in Jenny's chamber. It was as follows:

"Do not be alarmed at my telling you that, when you receive this, I will be on a journey of two or three hundred miles in extent, and may not return for weeks. Believe me, that my purpose is a good one. I hope to be back much sooner than I have said. When I do get home, I know you will approve of what I have done. My errand is one of Mercy.

"Humbly and faithfully yours, JENNY."

It was some time before Mr. Lofton's mind grew calm and clear, after reading this note. That Jenny's absence was, in some way, connected with Mark, was a thought that soon presented itself. But, in what way, he could not make out; for he had never heard the name of the ship in which his grandson sailed, and knew nothing of her expected arrival home.

By the time Mr. Jones appeared, ready to start on the proposed mission to New York, Mr. Lofton had made up his mind not to attempt to follow Jenny, but to wait for some word from her. Not until this sudden separation took place did Mr. Lofton understand how necessary to his happiness the affectionate girl had become. So troubled was he at her absence, and so anxious for her safety, that when night came he found himself unable to sleep. In thinking about the dangers that would gather around one so ignorant of the world, his imagination magnified the trials and temptations to which, alone as she was, she would be exposed. Such thoughts kept him tossing anxiously upon his pillow, or restlessly pacing the chamber floor until day dawn. Then, from over-excitement and loss of rest, he was seriously indisposed--so much so, that his physician had to be called in during the day. He found him with a good deal of fever, and deemed it necessary to resort to depletion, as well as to the application of other remedies to allay the over-action of his vital system. These prostrated him at once--so much so, that he was unable to sit up. Before night he was so seriously ill that the physician had to be sent for again. The fever had returned with great violence, and the pressure on his brain was so great that he had become slightly delirious.

During the second night, this active stage of the disease continued; but all the worst symptoms subsided towards morning. Daylight found him sleeping quietly, with a cool moist skin, and a low, regular pulse. Towards mid-day he awoke; but the anxiety that came with thought brought back many of the unfavorable symptoms, and he was worse again towards evening. On the third day he was again better, but so weak as to be unable to sit up.

How greatly did old Mr. Lofton miss the gentle girl, who had become almost as dear to him as a child, during this brief illness, brought on by her strange absence. No hand could smooth his pillow like hers. No presence could supply her place by his side. He was companionless, now that she was away; and his heart reached vainly around for something to lean upon for support.

On the fourth day he was better, and sat up a little. But his anxiety for Jenny was increasing. Where could she be? He read her brief letter over and over again.

"May not return for weeks," he said, as he held the letter in his hand. "Where can she have gone? Foolish child! Why did she not consult with me? I would have advised her for the best."

Late on the afternoon of that day, Jenny, in company with Mark, the latter in the dress of a seaman in the United States service, passed from a steamboat at the landing near Fairview, and took their way towards the mansion of Mr. Lofton. They had not proceeded far, before the young man began to linger, while Jenny showed every disposition to press on rapidly. At length Mark stopped.

"Jenny," said he, while a cloud settled on his face, "you've had your own way up to this moment. I've been passive in your hands. But I can't go on with you any further."

"Don't say that," returned Jenny, her voice almost imploring in its tones. And in the earnestness of her desire to bring Mark back to his grandfather, she seized one of his hands, and, by a gentle force, drew him a few paces in the direction they had been going. But he resisted that force, and they stood still again.

"I don't think I can go back, Jenny," said Mark, in a subdued voice: "I have some pride left, much as has been crushed out of me during the period of my absence, and this rises higher and higher in my heart the nearer I approach my grandfather. How can I meet him!"

"Only come into his presence, Mark," urged Jenny, speaking tenderly and familiarly. She had addressed him as Mr. Clifford, but he had forbidden that, saying--

"To you my name is Mark--let none other pass your lips!"

"Only come into his presence. You need not speak to him, nor look towards him. This is all I ask."

"But, the humiliation of going back after my resentment of his former treatment," said Mark. "I can bear anything but this bending of my pride--this humbling of myself to others."

"Don't think of yourself, Mark," replied Jenny. "Think of your grandfather, on whom your absence has wrought so sad a change. Think of what he must have suffered to break down so in less than two years. In pity to him, then, come back. Be guided by me, Mark, and I will lead you right. Think of that strange dream!"

At this appeal, Mark moved quickly forward by the side of the beautiful girl, who had so improved in every way--mind and body having developed wonderfully since he parted with her--that he was filled all the while by wonder, respect and admiration. He moved by her side as if influenced by a spell that subdued his own will.

In silence they walked along, side by side, the pressure of thought and feeling on each mind being so strong as to take away the desire to speak, until the old mansion house of Mr. Lofton appeared in view. Here Mark stopped again; but the tenderly uttered "Come," and the tearful glance of Jenny, effectually controlled the promptings of an unbroken will. Together, in a few minutes afterwards, they approached the house and entered.

"Where is Mr. Lofton?" asked Jenny of a servant who met them in the great hall.

"He's been very ill," replied the servant.

"Ill!" Jenny became pale.

"Yes, very ill. But he is better now."

"Where is he?"

"In his own chamber."

For a moment Jenny hesitated whether to go up alone, or in company with Mark. She would have preferred going alone; but fearing that, if she parted even thus briefly from Mark, her strong influence over him, by means of which she had brought him, almost as a struggling prisoner, thus far, would be weakened, and he tempted to turn from the house, she resolved to venture upon the experiment of entering Mr. Lofton's sick chamber, in company with his grandson.

"Is he sitting up?" she asked of the servant.

"He's been sitting up a good deal to-day, but is lying down now."

"He's much better?"

"Oh, yes!"

"Come," said Jenny, turning to Mark, and moving towards the stairway. Mark followed passively. On entering the chamber of Mr. Lofton, they found him sleeping.

Both silently approached, and looked upon his venerable face, composed in deep slumber. Tears came to the eyes of Mark as he gazed at the countenance of his grandfather, and his heart became soft as the heart of a child. While they yet stood looking at him, his lips moved, and he uttered both their names. Then he seemed disturbed, and moaned, as if in pain.

"Grandfather!" said Mark, taking the old man's hand, and bending over him.

Quickly his eyes opened. For a few moments he gazed earnestly upon Mark, and then tightened his hand upon that of the young man, closed his eyes again, and murmured in a voice that deeply touched the returning wanderer--

"My poor boy! My poor boy! Why did you do so? Why did you break my heart? But, God be thanked, you are back again! God be thanked!"

"Jenny!" said the old man, quickly, as he felt her take his other hand and press it to her lips. "And it was for this you left me! Dear child, I forgive you!"

As he spoke, he drew her hand over towards the one that grasped that of Mark, and uniting them together, murmured--

"If you love each other, it is all right. My blessing shall go with you."

How mild and delicious was the thrill that ran through each of the hearts of his auditors. This was more than they expected. Mark tightly grasped the hand that was placed within his own, and that hand gave back an answering pressure. Thus was the past reconciled with the present; while a vista was opened toward a bright future.

Little more than a year has passed since this joyful event took place. Mark Clifford, with the entire approval of his grandfather, who furnished a handsome capital for the purpose, entered, during the time, into the mercantile house of his father as a partner, and is now actively engaged in business, well sobered by his severe experience. He has taken a lovely bride, who is the charm of all circles into which she is introduced; and her name is Jenny. But few who meet her dream that she once grew, a beautiful wild flower, near the banks of the Hudson.

Old Mr. Lofton could not be separated from Jenny; and, as he could not separate her from her husband, he has removed to the city, where he has an elegant residence, in which her voice is the music and her smiles the ever present sunshine.