Chapter XXVII

It was about nine o'clock in the evening, and Dick was in his office at the Association building, writing some letters pertaining to the work, when the door opened, and to his great astonishment, Amy entered hurriedly, out of breath and very much excited.

"I beg your pardon for interrupting you, Mr. Falkner," she began, as soon as she could speak; "but I must tell you." And then she broke down, sinking into a chair and crying bitterly.

Dick's face was very grave, and stepping to the window he drew the curtain, then turned the key in the door.

"Now what is it, Miss Goodrich? Please be calm. You know you have nothing to fear from me."

Amy brushed away her tears, and looking up into his face, "I'm not afraid of you," she said. "But--but--, our secret is out."

Dick nodded that he understood, and she continued: "You know that Frank has been at Armourdale the last few weeks, looking after papa's interests in the mines there, and--and he came home this afternoon?"

"Yes, I know," said Dick calmly.

"I was in the sitting-room and he and father were in the library. I--I did not mean to listen, but the door was open and I heard them speak your name."

"Yes," said Dick again.

"Frank met Mr. Cushman and spent several days at the farm where they are prospecting, and--and of course learned that we were together there. Father believes the awfullest things and threatens to kill you; he is so angry. I--I'm afraid for you--and--and I slipped away because I--I thought you ought to know." The poor girl finished with a sob and buried her face in her hands.

Dick thought rapidly for a few moments. He remembered that he had never told Amy how her father had accused him of taking her away at first, and he saw now how that belief would be strengthened by her brother's story. Then as his heart bitterly rebelled at the thought of such a misunderstanding, and of the danger to Amy, his mind was made up instantly.

"Miss Goodrich," he said; "can you let me talk to you plainly?"

She nodded and grew quiet.

"I have known all along that these things would come out sooner or later. I have foreseen that the whole story must be told, and have prayed that the time might be put off until your life could give the lie to the thought that the past was not passed forever, and now I thank God that my prayers have been answered. No harm can come to you now for your Christianity is no vain trifle, but a living power that will help you to bear the reproach that must come. Had this happened before you were strong, it would have driven you back again. But now you can bear it. But Miss Goodrich --Amy--I don't want you to bear this alone. Won't you let me help you? You know that I love you. I have told you so a thousand times, though no word has been spoken. And I know that you return my love. I have seen it in your eyes, and I have waited and waited until the time should come for me to speak. That time is here now. Amy, dearest, tell me that you love me and will be my wife. Give me the right to protect you. Let us go to your father together and tell him all. He dare not refuse us then."

The beautiful girl trembled with emotion. "You must not. Oh, you must not," she said. "Don't, don't tempt me." She buried her face in her hands again. "You--you cannot take for your wife one who has been what I have."

"Amy dear, listen," said Dick. "You and I are Christians. We each have fallen; but Christ has forgiven and accepted both. God has only one love for each, one Saviour for each, one forgiveness for each. There is only one promise, one help, one Heaven for us both. Darling, don't you see that we are equal? I cannot reproach you for your past, because I too, have been guilty. You, in your heart of hearts, must recognize this great truth. Won't you forget it all with me?"

The girl lifted her face and looked into his eyes long and searchingly, as though reading his very soul.

Had there been anything but love in Dick Falkner's heart then, he would have argued in vain. But he returned the look unflinchingly, then--

"Amy listen. On the soul that has been pardoned in the name of Jesus Christ, there is no spot. Won't you put your past beneath your feet as I put mine in the dust, and come to me upon the common ground of Christ's love and forgiveness? Come, because we love each other, and for the good we can do."

The brown eyes filled with tears again; the sweet lips trembled, as holding out her hand she replied, "Oh Dick, I do love you. Help me to be strong and true and worthy of your love. I--I--have no one in all the world but you."

A few minutes later, Dick said, "I must take you home now."

"No, no," she answered, hurriedly; "the folks will think that I am calling on some of the neighbors, even if they miss me at all. I often run out of an evening that way. It is not late and I'm not afraid."

"Listen to me, dearest," he answered. "You must not see your father alone until I have told him everything. I will go up to the house with you now, and we will settle this matter once for--" A loud knock at the door interrupted him. Amy trembled in alarm. "Don't be frightened dear. No harm can come to you from this visit now. Thank God you have given me the right to speak for you."

The knock was repeated. "Step in here," he said, leading her to a chair in the next room, "and be a brave girl now. It's just some fellow on business. He'll be gone in a moment." And leaving her with the door partly closed, he stepped across the room just as the knock came the third time.

Dick threw open the door, and without waiting for an invitation, Adam Goodrich stepped across the threshold. To say that Dick was astonished but faintly expressed his feelings, though not a muscle of his face quivered, as he said:

"Good evening, sir, what can I do for you?"

"You can do a good deal," said Adam. "But first lock that door; we want no visitors here to-night."

Without a word, Dick turned the key again.

"Now sir, I want to know first, is it true that you were with my daughter in the Ozark Mountains this summer? Don't try to lie to me this time. I'll have the truth or kill you."

"I have never lied to you, sir," answered Dick; "and have no desire to do so now. It is perfectly true I did meet you daughter last summer while on my vacation."

"I knew I was right," raved Adam. "I knew you led her away from home. Oh, why did you ever come to this city? Why did I ever see you? Here." And he frantically tore a check-book from his pocket. "Fill this out for any amount you choose and go away again. Oh, I could kill you if I dared. You have ruined me forever--you--"

"Stop sir," said Dick; and when Adam looked into his face, he saw again that nameless something which compelled him to obey.

"You have said quite enough," continued Dick, calmly, "and you are going to listen to me now. But first, I want to beg your pardon for the language I used when you called on me before."--He heard a slight rustle in the next room--"when you accused me of taking your daughter from her home; I told you that you were a liar. I beg your pardon now. I was excited. I know that you were only mistaken. You would not have listened to me then, nor believed me, had I told you what I knew. But the time has come when you shall listen, and be forced to know that I speak the truth."

Adam sat as though fascinated. Once he attempted to answer, but a quick "Silence, sir, you shall hear me," kept him still, while Dick detailed the whole story, omitting nothing from the evening when he had rescued Amy from her drunken escort, to the day he had said good-bye in the Ozark Mountains. When he had finished, the old gentleman sat silent for a moment.

"Can it be possible," thought Dick, "that I have misjudged this man, and that he is grateful for the help that I have given Amy?"

But no; Dick had not misjudged him. There was not a thought of gratitude in Adam Goodrich's heart. Thankfulness for his daughter's salvation from a life of sin had no part in his feelings; only blind rage, that his pride should be so humbled. Leaping to his feet, he shouted, "The proof, you miserable scoundrel; the proof, or I'll have your life for this."

Dick remained perfectly calm. "You shall have the proof," he said, quietly, and turning, stepped to the next room, coming back an instant later with his arm encircling Amy's waist.

Adam sprang forward. "You here at this hour alone? Go home at once. Drop her, you ruffian," turning to Dick.

The latter stood without moving a muscle, and Goodrich started toward him.

"Stop," said Dick, still without moving; and again the older man was forced to obey that stronger will.

"Father," said Amy. "I am going to marry Mr. Falkner. I heard you and Frank talking in the library, and when you said that you would kill him I came to warn him, and--and--his story is every word true. Oh papa, don't you see what a friend he has been to me? You forced me to the society that ruined me, and he saved me from an awful life. I love him and will be his wife, but I can't be happy as I ought, without your forgiveness. Won't you forgive us papa?"

Never in his life had it been Dick's lot to see a face express so much, or so many conflicting emotions, love, hate, pride, passion, remorse, gratitude, all followed each other in quick succession. But finally, pride and anger triumphed and the answer came; but in the expression of the man's face rather than in his words, Dick found the clue to his course.

"You are no longer a daughter of mine," said Adam. "I disown you. If you marry that man who came to this town a common tramp, I will never recognize you again. You have disgraced me. You have dragged my honor in the dust." He turned toward the door. But again Dick's voice, clear and cold, forced him to stop. "Sir," he said; "Before God, you and not this poor child, are to blame. By your teaching, you crippled her character and made it too weak to stand temptation, and then drove her from home by your brutal unbelief."

Adam hung his head for a moment, then raised it haughtily. "Are you through?" he said with a sneer.

"Not quite," answered Dick. "Listen; you value most of all in this world, pride and your family position. Can't you see that by the course you are taking, you yourself proclaim your disgrace, and forfeit your place in society. No one now but we three, knows the story I have just related to you; but if you persist in this course the whole world will know it."

He paused, and Adam's face changed; for while his nature could not forgive, pity, or feel gratitude, such reasoning as this forced its way upon his mind, a mind ever ready to cheat the opinions of men. "What would you suggest?" he asked coldly.

"Simply this," answered Dick. "Do you and Amy go home together. No one shall ever know of this incident. Live your life as usual, except that you shall permit me to call at the house occasionally. Gradually the people will become accustomed to my visits, and when the time comes, the marriage will not be thought so strange. But remember, this woman is to be my wife, and you shall answer to me if you make her life hard."

"Very well," answered Adam, after a moment's pause; "I can only submit. I will do anything rather than have this awful disgrace made public. But understand me sir; while you may come to the house occasionally, and while you force me to consent to this marriage by the story of my daughter's disgrace, I do not accept you as my son, or receive the girl as my daughter; for my honor's sake, I will appear to do both, but I shall not forget; and now come home."

"Good-night, dearest, be brave," whispered Dick. And then as he unlocked and opened the door, he could not forbear smiling at Adam and wishing him a good-night, with pleasant dreams.