|Chapter Title||THAT IS MY ULTIMATUM.|
|Newspaper Title||The Maitland Mercury and Hunter River General Advertiser (NSW : 1843 - 1893)|
|Trove Title||A Mystery|
(From English, American, and other Periodicals.)
"THAT IS MY ULTIMATUM."
The twenty-third of December arrived, and Earle Wayne was a free man once more.
Who can portray his feelings, as, once again clad in the habiliments of a citizen -- his prison garb, like the chrysalis of the grub, having dropped from him forever -- he came forth into the world and sought the haunts of men ? No one c:a do justice to them;
such feelings are indescribable !
Earle Wayne was now twenty-three years old.
He was tall, broad-shouldered, and stalwart of
His face was the face of one of nature's noble- men ; a clear, dark skin, eyes of deep hazel, with hair of just a darker shade crowning a forehead broad full, and at every point well developed.
His nose was somewhat large, and of the Roman type; his mouth sweet and gentle in expression, but full of manly strength and firmness ; it had also now something of sadness in its lines, from the long term of cruel endurance and restraint which he had undergone.
But his step was as free and proud, his head as erect, his gaze as clear and unflinching as before any one had dared to accuse him of having robbed his fellow-man, or he had served a criminal's sen-
And why not ?
He had not sinned ; he had done no wrong ; he had never wilfully harmed a human being in all j his life. His own conscience told him he was as
true and noble a man at heart as any that walked the earth ; and he would not sacrifice his self-re- spect because, upon circumstantial evidence, he had been obliged to serve out a sentence in a State prison
for another man's crime.
He returned to the city that had been his home before his imprisonment, and where he had served three pleasant years with Richard Forrester, and where now, since he was dead and gone, he had no hope of having a friendly hand extended to him.
His first night he spent in a quiet but respectable hotel, and slept restfully and well.
The next morning Mr. Felton wended his way, with the all-important document which Editha de- sired in his pocket, to Mr. Dalton's handsome resi-
dence on -th street.
He meant to have attended to it before, but had been unexpectedly called from town on business the morning after Editha's visit to him, and had had no time until then to go to her.
Editha was in a fever of anxiety and impatience on account of it, and for two whole days had watched for his coming from her window almost in- cessantly.
When at last she saw him ascending the steps she sped to the door and answered his ring, where- upon she led him directly to the library, where her father was sitting.
" Papa," she said, speaking as indifferently as she could, after the two men had exhonged greetings, " Mr. Felton has called to-day to settle that business of Uncle Richard's bequest to Mr. Wayne."
Mr. Dalton started and flushed hotly, frowning darkily upon her ; then by an effort curbing his an- ger, he turned to the lawyer with a light laugh.
" Has this young lady been importuning you also upon her sentimental whims?" he asked.
" Miss Editha called several days ago ard told me of her uncle's request, and asked me to prepare the necessary documents," Mr. Felton replied, quietly, and with a sympathetic glance at Editha's hot
" Well, what do you think of it ? Did you ever hear of such a piece of foolishness as she con- templates ?"
" It is a question with me whether it is a piece of foolishness to desire to fulfil the request of a dying man," returned the lawyer, gravely.
Editha gave him a grateful look.
" Pshaw ! Richard Forrester did not know what he was about. He was a feeble paralytic, and not accountable for what he said at that time," said Mr. Dalton, impatiently.
" Oh, papa! how can you say that, when you know that his mind was perfectly clear?" Editha ex- claimed, reproachfully.
" Did you invite Mr. Felton here to-day to argue this point with me ?" he demanded sharply, of her.
" I asked him,* as he has stated, to prepare the necessary papers to settle this money upon Mr. Wayne, hoping that he might convince you that it is
best to allow me to do so."
" Indeed !''
" You know Earle's time expired yesterday, and I am expecting him every moment," Editha said,
with some agitation.
" You are expecting him every moment '" repeated Mr. Dalton, growing excited also, though in a dif- ferent way, and from a different cause.
He had not forgotten the night that he had stolen into her library and tampered with the package committed to her care, nor what secrets that package
" Yes, sir ; I wrote him to come directly here as
soon as he was free."
" And pray did you tell him what he was to come for?" thundered Mr. Dalton, in a rage.
" I told him I had a message for him, and also a package belonging to him," Editha said, quietly.
She was growing more calm as he became excited. "Did you ever hear of such folly?" he asked of
"I think Miss Dalton is perfectly right in wishing to carry out her uncle's desires. She will have a large fortune left, even after giving up the ten thousand, and my advice to you would be to put no obstacle in her path. Of course I know she cannot do this without your consent -- at least not at present."
" Of course not, and I shall not allow it. I am surprised that a man of your prudence and judg- ment should advise such a thing," Mr, Dalton an- swered, with some heat.
" I simply believe in doing as we would be done by. Put yourself in young Wayne's place, Mr. Dalton, and consider whether a little friendly help from the dead friend who was always so kind to him, would not be very acceptable just at this time," Mr. Folton answered, earnestly.
A dark flush mounted to Mr. Dalton's brow at these words.
Put himself in Earle Wayne's -- her son's -- place! Imagine him to be in the position of the man he
had such cause to hate !
The thought stirred all the bad blood in his
" He shall never have one penny of my daughter's fortune! I will never put my name to any paper like what you have brought here to-day!" he cried, angrily, and smiting the table, near which he sat, heavily.
"Papa, let me plead with you," Editha said, gently, beseechingly. " I promised to do this thing at this time. Please do not make me break my word; for my sake let me do as Uncle Richard wished ; do not force me to do a worse thing than that for which Earle was so cruely sentenced,"
" I force you to commit robbery ! Girl, what do you mean? I am preventing you from robbing yourself," he cried, angrily.
" Not so, Mr, Dalton," Mr. Felton said, with dig- nity, for he longed to pommel the man for speaking so to the beautiful girl before him. "I can appre-
ciate Miss Editha's feelings ; she not only wishes to befriend this unfortunate young man on her own account, but she believes that after to-day the ten thousand dollars are no longer hers. Richard For- rester gave the sum from his own property, before it became hers, to young Wayne, and if you refuse to allow her to settle it upon him, you are not only committing a wrong, but forcing her to commit one
" Do I understand that you two are trying to make me out a thief ?" demanded Mr. Dalton, hoarsely.
" It is an ugly word ; but, morally speaking, I should say it was the right one to use in this case ; legally, however, since there was no codicil to the will, I suppose Miss Dalton is entitled to every- thing," Mr. Felton observed, dryly, with a scornful curve of his lip.
Mr. Dalton for a moment was too enraged to reply.
Then he burst forth :
" I will see him in -- before he shall ever touch a penny of her money ! That is my ultimatum."
Mr. Felton, upon this, turned to Editha, who was standing, very pale, but proudly, by the table.
Her father's anger and words had shocked her be- yond expression, but they had also aroused some of the reserve force of her character.
" In that case, Miss Editha, my services are not needed here to-day. I suppose I shall destroy the document I have prepared ?"
" No, sir! Keep it, if you please."
"Keep it ! What for, pray ?" demanded her father,
with a sneer.
She turned to him very quietly, but with a mein which he was learning to dread, and said, in low,
firm tones :
"I shall be twenty-one, sir, in a little less than a year, and according to the law of the land, my own mistress. I shall not then need to obtain the con- sent of any one in order to do as I like with my money. On the twentieth of November next, Earle Wayne shall receive his ten thousand dallars, with a year's interest added. That is the best I can do."
Then, without waiting for Mr. Dalton to reply, and wholly ignoring his dark looks, she turned to Mr. Felton, with one of her charming smiles, and
" We will drop our business for to-day ; and as there is the lunch-bell, won't you come out and try the merits of a cup of coffee and a plate of chicken
The lawyer regarded her with a gleam of admira- tion in his fine old eyes ; he had not thought she possessed so much character.
" No, I thank you," he replied, thinking it best to get out of the tempest as soon as practicable, " You know it is the day before Christmas, and that is usually a busy time; besides, I have another en- gagement in half an hour, and there is barely time to reach my office. You will also excuse me for to- morrow," he added, in a lower tone, and Editha knew that after what had occurred to-doy, it would be no pleasure to him to dine with them, as she had asked him to do. She knew, too, that her little plan regarding making a pleasant day for Earle was blighted.
He bowed coldly to Mr, Dalton, and Editha fol-
lowed him to the door.
"Do no worry over what you cannot help, Miss Editha; eleven months won't be so very long to wait, and meanwhile, if you will send young Wayne to me, I think I can put him in a way to keep his head above water until that time," he said, kindly, as he shook her hand in farewell at the door.
Editha thanked him, with tears in her eyes, and then would have sought her own rooms, but she heard her father calling her, and so returned to the library, though she dreaded another scene.
" A fine spectacle you have made of yourself to- day," were the sneering, angry words which greeted
She walked quietly to where he sat and stood be- fore him ; but two very bright spots now, relieved her unusual paleness.
"Did you wish anything particular of me, papa ? If not, I think it would be better not to keep lunch waiting any longer," she said, gently, though with an evident effort at self-control.
" Do I want anything of you ? I would like to give you a wholesome shaking for what you have done to-day."
She lifted her head and encountered his two blaz- ing, angry eyes, her own glance clear, steadfast, and
" You are a wilful little -- fool ;" he said, nettled by her calm demeanor, and almost beside himself
Still she said nothing, and he instantly grew ashamed of those last words.
" You have no idea how angry you have made me to-day," he said, half apologetically.
" I have no desire to make you angry, sir. I only desire, and intend, to do right," she answered, quietly.
"Intend! Is that a threat ?"
" No, sir; merely a statement of a fact."
"And refers to what you said just before Mr. Fel- ton went out?"
" Yes, sir."
" Editha Dalton, if you dare to defy me in this thing, I'll make your life so miserable that you will wish you were dead," he said, in concentrated tones of passion.
She paled again at the fearful words, and a keen pain smote her heart that her own father should speak thus to her ; then she replied, steadily :
"I have no wish to defy you, sir, but --"
" But you will not obey me -- you would set my authority aside if you could," he interrupted.
"I acknowledge your authority as the highest of any on earth, and I will yield you cheerful obe- dience in all that is right -- beyond that I cannot, I will not go. I have reached an age where I am capable of judging for myself upon all moral ques- tions, and I must exercise that judgment."
" This is a point of business, upon which you set aside my wishes and my authority," he said, mood- ily, and his eyes wavering uneasily beneath her steady gaze.
"It involves the principles of right and wrong also. I promised that Earle Wayne should have this money, and if you will not let me give it to him now, I ahall pay it to him, as I said, a year from now, with interest."
He knew she meant it, and in his passion he half
raised his clenched hand as if to strike her.
But the soft blue eyes, with the keen pain in them, disarmed him, and it dropped heavily back upon
the arm of his chair.
"Oh, papa," she said, her voice full of unshed tears. "Why need we disagree upon so slight a thing?"
"Do you call a matter involving ten thousand dollars a slight thing ?" he asked, with a sneer.
" Yes, in comparison with what will remain, my father," laying her hand softly on his shoulder and pleading in tones that ought to have melted a harder heart. "Let us do what is right ; let us be friends and united in heart, instead of growing so widely apart as we have been during the past year or two." "You will not yield to me."
"In all that is right, I shall be only too glad to," she answered, with a weary sigh.
"But you persist in giving this money to that ---"
" I must. That is settled," she interrupted, firmly, and to prevent the utterance of some obnoxious word, she knew not what.
" Never -- never! Do you think I would let you give it to him -- him of all others in the world ?"
Editha regarded him in surprise at these excited words. They seemed to imply a deadly hatred for which she could not account, knowing that Earle had never done her father any injury.
" A thief -- a robber -- a criminal!" he added, notic- ing her look, and having no desire to have her in- quire into the real nature of his hatred.
"Earle never was either of those," she said, proudly.
" No matter ; he has suffered the disgrace of them all, and there can be no peace between you and me until you promise to yield to me."
"I cannot In this instance."
" Then the consequences be upon your own head. I'll try and have patience with you until the year is out ; then if you defy me I'll make you rue it. Go !'' and he pointed impatiently toward the door.
Without a word Editha glided from the room, her heart heavy and sore.
Soon after she heard him leave the house ; and ten minutes later there came a ring at the door, that, spite of her pain, sent the rosy blood leaping to her very brow in a burning tide, and made her heart leap like a frightened bird in her bosom.
"Earle has come," she murmured, as she sat listening for the servant to come to summon her, and trying to still her throbbing nerves.
"MY LIFE SHALL BE FOURSQUARE."
The servant who answered the ring at Mr. Dal- ton's door found standing there a tall, dignified young man, with the unmistakable stamp of the gentleman upon him.
To his inquiry if Miss Dalton was at home, he re- plied that she was, and ushered him into a small reception-room opposite the drawing-room.
" Take this, if you please, to her,." Earle Wayne said, handing the man a blank unsealed envelope.
The servant took it with a bow and withdrew wondering what that spotless envelope contained, and who the gentleman was who sent no card -- un- less, perhaps, it might be in the envelope, and was intended for Editha's eyes alone.
The fair girl arose with apparent calmness at his rap, and taking the missive from his hand, opened it, and found within her own note, that she had written, bidding Earle come to her as soon as he
should be free.
At that moment she realized how very short and formal it was, and a feeling of remorse stole into her heart that she had not written more freely and kindly, in spite of her sensitiveness at her father's
sneers and insinuations.
Waiting a moment or two to cool the hot color in her cheeks, and to still the fierce beating of her heart, she then went slowly and tremblingly down to meet the brave hero, whom she had not seen for nearly three years.
Would he be much changed ? would he be pale, haggard, and miserable, in appearance ? would he look the same, and speak the same, as he had done on that sad day, when she had bidden him farewell and left him to go to his dreary fate within those four gloomy walls ; or would be be broken and dis- heartened, and feel that the future held nothing but scorn and contempt for him ?
She had read of men, noble, spirited, and energetic, who having been imprisoned for a term of years, were ruined by it, and who had settled down into an existence of profound melancholy and inaction upon regaining their freedom.
Would Earle be like this ?
These were some of the anxious questions which flitted through her mind on the way from her cham- ber to the reception-room, where Earle with equal agitation was awaiting her coming.
She opened the door softly and went in.
He did not hear her -- he was standing at a window, his back toward her, and absorbed in thought.
As if shod with velvet, Editha crossed the room
and stood at his side.
Her eyes had lighted wondrously as they rested upon the proud, handsome figure before her, and the rich color coming and going in her cheeks made her marvelously beautiful.
" Earle, I am so glad you have come," she said, simply, yet with tremulous tones, that betrayed her gladness was almost unto tears, while with something of her old impulse she held out both
fair hands to him.
He started and turned quickly at the sweet tones, and searched the glowing face with eager scrutiny.
Could this tall, beautiful woman, with the shining silken crown about her shapely head, with her deep glowing eyes, her rich, varying color, her cordial, tremulous greeting, be the same Editha of three years ago ?
She had been a fair, plump, and laughing girl, her sunny hair falling in graceful waves over her rounded shoulders; her eyes ever dancing with fun and merriment, her moods never twice the
[?]e, a creature of heart and impulse.
Now her form was grown ; she was more fully de- veloped, with a stately poise which she was not wont to have ; her features were more deeply lined with character, and glorified with a richer, more mature beauty, and the waving sunny hair had been gathered up and wreathed her head in a plaited golden coronet.
But the eyes -- those clear, truthful, heaven-blue eyes, were the same ; the smile was the same upon the scarlet lips, and the sweet, eager, though trem- ulous tones, were the same ; he had never forgotten their music, and his heart bounded with a joy that was almost pain as they again fell upon his ear,
" Earle, I am so glad you have come,"
Words so simple, yet full of heartfelt gladness, never greeted mortal ears before.
He grasped both her outstretched hands, forget- ting all her supposed neglect of him, and without the least hesitation as to his own worthiness to do so.
He knew he was worthy -- his hands, morally speaking, were as fair and free from stain as her own.
Yet he had not expected to find her so cordial and glad to see him, and her manner filled him with deepest gratitude and admiration.
"Editha, Miss Dalton," he said, his whole face glowing, "I thank you for your words of welcome -- I cannot doubt their heartiness."
" Of course not; why should you, Earle?" she asked, with some surprise, as she searched his face.
She saw a shadow of pain flit across it at the question.
" I told you that I should not forget you ; that I should always be your friend ; what reason could you have to think I would not greet you heartily?" she urged, a little look of grieved surprise in her
" I should not if -- if -- pardon me, I ought not to speak thus. Have you been well ?" and he tried to change the subject.
" Quite well ; and you ?"
"Do not my looks speak for me?" he asked, smiling yet with the shadow deepening in his eyes.
He might be well physically, but it would take a long while to heal the would in his soul.
" Earle," Editha said, gravely, meeting his eyes with a steady, earnest look, " what made you speak as you did about doubting the heartiness of my wel- come ? I can see that you have some reason for it ; please tell me -- surely you did not think I would have broken my promise -- my flowers must have proved that I did not forget."
Earle gave her a quick surprised glance.
" That was just why I was in doubt," he said, flushing slightly. "I have not received a single token of remembrance from you for nearly two years."
" Earle !"
Editha instantly grew crimson to the line of gold above her forehead, then white as the delicate lace at her throat, at this startling intelligence.
What could this strange thing mean. Who could have appropriated her flowers and kept them from
Then with a feeling of shame, not unmixed with indignation, her heart told her that her father, in his prejudice against Earle, must have intercepted
" How cruel !" she murmured, " I do not wonder that you doubted my friendship ; but to exonerate myself, I must tell you, that every week I have sent you flowers, or fruit, or something, to show you that you were remembered -- not once have I failed."
"Then forgive me for all the hard things I have thought," he said, in tones of self-reproach [?]" I can never tell you how those sweet little [?] cheered me during my first year in -- that place.[?]
how dreary and lonely I was when they [?] longer to brighten my gloomy cell. After M[? r For-]
rester died," he continued, with emotion, [?] if my only friend had been taken from me. I had
not one to whom to turn for a ray of comfort."
"I know," Editha said, with starting tears; then with rising color, " if you had only dropped me a line, I would have taken care that my offerings reached your safely after that."
" You know the old saying, one may as well be neglected as forgotten;" I never mistrusted that they had been sent and failed to reach their destina- tion, and so imagined a good many things I had no right to, and --"
" And were too proud to remind me of my negli- gence," Editha interrupted, with a smile.
" Doubtless some enemy has done this, or they could not all have missed coming to me ; am I for- given for doubting my stanch little friend?" he asked gently.
" Freely -- I could not blame you under the circum-
" Then let us talk of something else," Earl said, for he began to mistrust from Editha's manner, who had been the guilty one. Tell me of Mr. Forrester and of yourself during these years."
And thus their conversation drifted to other sub- jects, and as they conversed, their old freedom of manner returned in a measure -- in a measure, I repeat, for there could not be quite the former care- lessness and sparkle, while each was trying to con- ceal the secret which their hearts held, and which, for the time at least, they felt they must not reveal.
Earle told her of his life in prison -- of how he had spent his time, of the knowledge he had acquired, and something of his plans for the future.
" Earle," she said, glancing up at him through the tears she could not restrain, when he had completed his account, "you have borne it so nobly -- this suffering for another, that I want to tell you how proud I am of you ; and Uncle Richard would say the same if he were living."
" Thank you," he said, with emotion, " it is almost worth having been a prisoner for three years to hear you say that. If only the world might feel as assured of my innocence as you do, and hold out the same friendly hand of welcome," he concluded, with a sigh.
" It will in time, Earle -- I feel sure that some day your innocence will be established."
" I shall devote my energies to that purpose, and if the guilty ones are never brought to justice, I will live my innocence. I will prove it by my life -- my life shall be foursquare, and I will yet command the faith and respect of all who know me. It will be hard, but I shall strive to fight my battle bravely, and I feel that I shall conquer in the end. You know Pope tells us, that 'He's armed without that's
" You will succeed -- you cannot fail with such an earnest purpose in your heart," Editha said, eagerly ; then she added, musingly :
"You said you would make your life ' foursquare,' I do not think I quite understand that."
Earle Wayne smiled a rare, sweet smile, as lean- ing nearer his fair companion, he said, in a low, rev-
erent tone :
" You have read of the 'city that lieth foursquare' whose 'length is as large as its breadth,' whose ' walls are of jasper,' and whose ' gates are of pearl. That city, Ediths, a perfect square, and embellished with the most precious stones, is, I believe, the em- blem, or symbol of a pure and perfect life, and so I with the help of God, I mean that mine shall be
' foursquare.' "
Editha gave him a look as if she thought it could
not be far from that even now.
After a moment of silence he continued :
« From my early boyhood I have always had a de- sire to become a thoroughly good man -- a man hon- ored and respected by my fellow-men. My mother ever tried to impress me never to be guilty of a mean or ignoble action. I thought her the perfec-
tion of womanhood while she lived, and have tried to treasure her precepts since she died; so you can judge something of what I have endured in the dis- grace of serving out a criminal's sentence. I could not speak of this to any one else," he added, with some excitement, " but you have been so kind and sympathising that it relieves my burden somewhat
to speak of it to you."
Editha did not reply -- sho had no words with which to answer him, but she lifted her blue eyes to his face, and he saw that they were full of tears.
" I am glad," Earle went on, a slight tremulousness in his tones, " that my mother did not live to know of my deep trouble -- much as I have needed her sympathy, love, and counsel -- for she must have suffered torture on account of it. If she knows any- thing about it now, she knows that I am innocent, and also just why this sad experience was permitted
to come to me."
"Earle, how deeply you have suffered from it," Editha said, almost awed by the intensity of his feel- ing, and wondering, also, at his way of looking at the past, as if in some way his trial was meant for his
"But I will rise above it yet; it may be hard for me to battle against the frowns and distrust of the world for awhile, but I shall not allow them to dis- hearten me -- if I had only a few more friends," he
"You cannot long be without them, with such no- bility and resolution in your soul," Editha answered, her face glowing with admiration for him, " and you may count me the warmest of them all until you find
She involuntarily held out her hand as if to seal the compact as she spoke.
He grasped it eagerly, his whole face luminous with sudden joy ; his breath came quickly, his broad breast rose and fell, hie eyes sought hers with an in- tensity of expression that made her veil them with
her white lids.
She did not know how she was tempting him -- she could not know how he had grown to love her dur- ing the past six years, and how sweet and cheering her sympathy was to him just now, when he felt
himself so friendless and alone in the great cold
" God bless you Editha ; if -- I --"
He had begun to speak in low, concentrated tones, but now he stopped short, as if some great inward shock had suddenly cut off his power of speech.
He shut his teeth tightly together, and drew in his breath with a quick gasp ; the great veins in his forehead filled and stood out full and purple, and his hands locked themselves together with the inten- sity of some deep inward emotion.
One quick, searching look Editha flashed up at him, and then her eyes fell again, a rosy flush rising to her very brow at what she had seen on his face.
"I beg your pardon," he said, at length, nervously pushing back the hair from his brow; "I fear you will think me very thoughtless and selfish to weary
you thus with my troubles."
"No, Earle, I -- am glad that you think me worthy of your confidence," she answered, softly.
He looked at her in surprise.
How exceedingly beautiful she was, sitting there with her downcast eyes, the lovely color in her face and the womanly sympathy beaming in every fea-
"Worthy!" he repeated.
"Yes, worthy," she said, her lips relaxing just a trifle into a tremulous smile. " I would like to be your friend in all your troubles -- maybe I could help you if you would trust me enough to tell me of
them. I used to think there was no one like you, when I was a wild and impulsive girl, and you were with Uncle Richard ; you were always so upright, so strong and self-reliant."
"You used to Ihink that of me, Editha ?" he said, flushing again, and trembling.
If she had known how her words moved him ; but she did not dream of his love for her.
He began to grow dizzy with the new, delicious hope that seized him as she spoke.
Could it be that this fair girl had learned to love
He had thought of her night and day, at his work and in his lonely cell, and her image would be stamped indelibly on his heart as long as he should
But he had no right to speak one word of it to her now, his disgrace clung to him, and would clog him, perhaps, for long years.
Oh! if he could but break the cruel fetters that bound him -- if he could but discover the real crimi- nal, and clear his own name ; then he might hope to win the respect of the world once more, fame and position, and the right to tell this gentle girl how
dear she was to him.
"Yes," she returned, noticing his emphasis, and fearing she might have wounded him by wording her sentence thus, " and, Earle, I think you are very -- very noble now, to bear your trouble so patiently and uncomplainingly, and something tells me that it will not be so very long before all the world will be proud to call you friend."
She spoke softly, but in a tone that thrilled hfm through and through.
"And then --"
The words came breathlessly, and before he could
They would not be stayed.
He bent eagerly toward her, his heart in his eyes, his face full of the passion which so nearly mastered
But he checked them, biting them off short as he had done before, but growing white even to his lips with the effort it cost him.
Something in his tones made her start and look up and she read it all, as in an open book -- all his love for her -- all the blighted hopes of the past, the
longing and bitterness of the present, wherein he writhed between the stigma resting upon him, and the mighty self-control which would not presume
upon her sympathy.
A flood of crimson suddenly dyed her face, and throat, and even the soft, white hands which lay in
lap, and which were now seized with nervous trembling.
Then a look of resolution gleamed in her eyes, the red lips settled into an expression of firmness, and though her heart beat like the frightened thing it was, her sweet tones did not falter as she replied :
"And then -- Editha Dalton will be very proud also."
Was ever heaven's music sweeter than those few, low-spoken, unfaltering words?
There was no mistaking them -- they had been uttered with a purpose, and he knew that his love
Eager brown eyes looked into tender blue for one long, delicious minute; no word was spoken, but both knew that for all time they belonged to each other. Earle Wayne, with a glad, though solemn [?] his face, lifted the white hand that
[?] touched it reverently with his lips,
[?] it back in its place.
It was as though he blessed her for the hope thus delicately held out to him, but his innate nobility and self-respect would not allow him to bind her to him by so much as a word, until he could stand proudly before her, and offer her a name that should not have so much as a shadow of a stain upon it.
THE BUNCH OF HOLLY.
" Silence is the perfected herald of joy if
I were but little happy if I could say how much."
Words were never more applicable than these to those undeclared lovers, sitting in such a mute hap- piness side by side, in the little reception-room, on that bright morning so near Christmas-tide.
Editha was the first to break the spell.
" I have not told you uncle Richard's message yet, she said, and an expression of anxiety for the mo- ment chased the radiant look from her face.
" True -- it was like his kindness to remember me," Earle returned, a shadow stealing over his own fine
" He thought a great deal of you, and had great hopes for your future --"
" Which, if it amounts to anything, will be in a great measure owing to his goodness," he inter- rupted, with emotion.
" Yes, Uncle Richard was a true, good man ; but Earle, now I have something unpleasant to tell you. I -- be left you a token of his remembrance."
She hesitated, and he said, with a smile :
" I'm sure there is nothing unpleasant about that." " No ; but wait," she began in some confusion, and hardly knowing how to go on with her disagreeable task, " he left you a little money, ten thousand dol- lars, to give you a start in life, he said."
Earle Wayne started and flushed deeply.
" Did Mr. Forrester do that ?" he asked, greatly
" Yes ; and now comes the disagreeable part of it all. I do not like to tell you, but I must," she said, lifting her crimson, troubled face to him, and he wondered what there was about it that should make her appear so.
"Papa did not like it very well,' she went on, dropping her eyes with a feeling of shame. " He thought that it was not right the money should go to a stranger, and -- and -- oh ! Earle, I know it seems selfish and cruel, but he says you cannot have it."
Editha nearly broke down here ; it had required all her courage to tell him this, and now she sat still, covered with shame and confusion.
A shade of bitterness passed over the young man's face at her last words, and then the least smile of scorn curled his fine lips.
He had never experienced very much respect for Sumner Bolton ; he knew him to be a man devoid of principle, of small mind, and smaller soul; but he was Editha's father, and he could speak no word against him. He saw how ashamed and uncomfort- able she felt to be obliged to make this humiliating confession regarding her only parent, while he ad- mired the fine sense of honor that would not allow her to shrink from her duty in telling him.
"I am going to tell you just how the matter stands," she resumed presently, " and then you must excuse papa as best you can. You doubtless have heard that Uncle Richard was paralyzed -- he had no use of either his hands or his feet, and was entirely helpless, although his mind was clear until just be- fore his second shock, which came suddenly in the night. He told me the day before that he knew he could not live, and gave me directions just what to do. He said if he could only use his hands he would have added a codicil to his will in your favour, but as it was I must attend to his wishes. He said it (the will) had been made many years ago, giving everything
to me, but over since he became interested in you he had intended doing something handsome for you; if he had lived, and you wished it, he would have wanted you to go back to him as a partner in his business as soon as you should be free do so. But he charged me -- made me promise -- to make over to you 10,000 dollars as soon as your time expired."
" He left a large fortune, more than I shall ever know what to do with, and I was so glad of this be- quest to you," Editha went on, heartily, " I asked Mr. Felton to see that everything was done properly, so that you could have the money at once. He did so, and I wanted you to have it for a sort of Christ- mas gift; but, Earle, I am not twenty-one yet, papa is still my natural guardian, and he refused to sign the papers, so --"
"Well," Earle said, encouragingly, as she stopped
in distress, and he pitied her for having to make
this confession [?], while a tender smile wreathed his lips at her truthfulness and her sorrow on his
" So there is no way ; you will have to wait a little while for your money. I shall be twenty-one the twentieth of next November, and my own mistress, and, Earle, you shall have it then, with the year's interest added."
He nearly laughed to see how eager she was for him to have exactly his due ; then he grew suddenly grave, and said, gently, but firmly:
" No, Editha, I do not wish, I can not take one dollar of this money.
" But it was Uncle Richard's dying wish and be- quest to you -- it belongs to you by right," she pleaded, bitterly disappointed by his refusal to take it.
" No ; by your uncle's will, which he did not in any way change, it all belongs to you."
" But he would have changed the will, if he could have held a pen -- he said so -- and the money is not mine," she cried, almost in tears.
" The law would judge differently -- your father is right. It should not come to me" -- this was said with a touch of bitterness, however, "and I will not have one dollar of it."
" Supposing you were in my place just now, and I in yours, would you claim that it all belonged to you ?" she asked, lifting her searching glance to his
He colored, and then laughed/
" No," he said, " but the difference in our posi- tions, because I am not in your place and you in mine, alters the case altogether."
"I cannot agree with you ; and you would have considered me mean and dishonorable if I had taken advantage of the will and claimed the whole, would you not ?"
"But you did not; you have done your duty and consequently have nothing to regret," Earle replied, evasively.
" But you did not answer my question," Editha persisted, "would you think I had done right if I had not wished to give you this money, and withheld it from you."
" N-o," he admitted, reluctantly.
" And, morally speaking, it does not belong to
" The will gave you everything --"
" That is not the question," she interrupted, " if you were pleading the case for some one else, you would claim that the money did not belong to me, and that, morally speaking, I had no right whatever
" Editha, you should be a lawyer yourself."
" That is a side issue, as they say in court, stick to the point, if you please," she again interrupted:
" have I not stated the truth ?"
" I am obliged to confess that you have ; but Editha, I do not want the money, though I am very grateful to Mr. Forrester for his kindness in re- membering me, and to you for wishing to carry out his wishes so faithfully."
" Please, Earle, take it ; I want you to have it, and I wish to do just as he told me to do ; you will wound me deeply if you refuse it," she urged.
It was a very sweet, earnest face that looked up into his, and had she pleaded for almost anything else, Earle would have found it impossible to resist
His own face grew grave, almost sorrowful, as he
"I would not cause you a moment's unnecessary pain, Editha, but I must be firm in this decision. Forgive me if I wound you, but on the whole, I am glad that Mr. Dalton refused to allow you to do this thing, for it leaves me to win a name and position entirely by my own merits. By my own strong arm will I carve out my future, and win my way in the world ; by my own indomitable will and energy, with the help of a greater than I, will I rise to
honor, and not upon the foundation that another has built," be concluded, with an earnestness and solemnity that made Editha's heart thrill with pride
and the conviction of his ultimate success.
" You are very brave," she said, with admiring but still wistful eyes. " But suppose Uncle Richard had
added a codicil to his will in your favor, what then ?"^
A smile of amusement curled his lips.
" Then I suppose the wheels of my car of ambition would have been unavoidably clogged with this fortune. It would not then have been optional with
me whether I would have it or not."
"It shall not be now; the money is not mine -- I will not keep it. I should be as bad as those wretches who robbed us, and then left you suffer for their crime." Editha exclaimed passionately, and almost in despair at his obstinacy.
" I do not see how you can do otherwise than keep it ; every one will tell you that it is legally yours."
" There is many a moral wrong perpetrated under the cloak of "legality,'" she began, somewhat sar- castically, then continued more earnestly :
"My proud, self-willed knight, whose watchwords are truth and honor, whose life is to be ' four-square,' do you think there are no others whose natures are reaching [?] after the same heights? There are others [?] " she said, more softly, with glowing
chees and drooping lids, " who look with longing eyes [?] at the 'jasper walls' and 'gates of pearl;' and [?] be ' true' and ' honorable' and keep what does not belong to one ?"
" How can I convince you, Editha, that I cannot
take this money ?"
" But what will you do, Earle? how will you begin life again ?" she asked, anxiously.
"I have a little, enough for that, laid by ; and now -- with three years' interest added -- it will be suffi- cient to give me a start, and I shall do very well. Do not allow my refusal to comply with your wishes to disturb you. Try to imagine that if Mr. Forrester had never known me, he would never have thought of making a change to the disposition of his property," Earle concluded, lightly.
" But the if exists, nevertheless. He did make the change ; and, once for all, I will not have my con- science burdened with what is not my own. Earle, on the twentieth of next November I shall deposit in the First National Bank of this city ten thousand dollars, with a year's interest, to your credit," she asserted, resolutely.
" Meanwhile," she added, " Mr. Felton told me to say to you that be thought he could arrange some way for you to keep your head above board, if you
will go to him."
"I thank Mr. Felton, but I think the term 'self-
willed' may be applied to some one else besides my- self," Earle answered, smilingly.
" Earle," cried the lovely girl, turning suddenly upon him, and, with something of her old girlish impulse, laying one white hand on his, "if you won't do as I wish for your own sake, won't you for mine? and --" the color mounting to her fore- head as she made the delicate offer -- until the year expires, won't you please go to Mr. Felton and get whatever you need ?"
If Earle was ever impatient and rebellious in his life, he was at that moment at the cruel fate that kept him from reaching out and clasping his beau- tiful beloved in his arms and telling her all the love of his great heart.
How delicately she had worded her proposition ! She had not coarsely offered to give him money from her own income, feeling that his proud spirit would recoil from coming to her, a woman, for help; but she had made Mr. Felton the medium through which all his needs might be supplied until he could establish himself in business.
He ventured to take that small hand and press it gratefully.
"Editha," he said, striving to control the quiver in his tones, " to both of your requests I must re- peat the inevitable 'No,' and for the first, I entreat you not to tempt me, for I cannot tell you how hard it is to refuse anything you ask me, and particularly in that way. As for the other, there will be no need, I trust, for I have enough for all my present wants, and before that is gone, I hope to be in a way to sup- ply all future needs."
Editha sighed, but saw that his decision was un- alterable, and so let the matter drop for the time.
They chatted for an hour on various topics and then Earle rose to take his leave.
She longed to ask him to come again on the mor- row to dine, as she had planned, knowing how lonely he would be when everybody else was so gay ; but she knew that it would be no pleasure for him to meet Mr. Dalton in his present mood ; but she did ask him to call whenever he was at liberty, and she added with one of her charming smiles :
" Uncle Richard's books are all here ; won't you come and avail yourself of them whenever you
He thanked her with a look that made her cheeks hot again ; and then she asked him to wait a moment and she would bring him his package.
She was gone scarcely three minutes, and then came back with it in one hand, and the loveliest little bouquet imaginable in the other.
It was composed of stiff holly leaves with their glossy sheen, and bright winter berries, clear and red, and vivid in their contrast. It was so lovely a bit of floral handicraft as Earle had ever seen, and his eyes lighted admiringly as they rested on it.
" It is for you, Earle," Editha said, simply, seeing his look, and handing it to him. " I made it for you this morning, hoping you would come to-day. You will not expect me to wish you a 'merry Christmas,' but," in low sweet tones, "I will say instead 'Peace, good will toward men.' "
Earle was too deeply moved to reply.
He stood looking down upon the glossy red and green, a mist gathering over his eyes in spite of his manhood, and blessing her in his heart for those precious words which told him he had been remem- bered before he was seen.
She had "made it for him that morning, hoping he would come to-day !"
Her white fingers had put every shining spray in its place, and she had thought of him the while!
Oh! why must he stand there with sealed lips, when he longed to say so much ?
She would not mock him with the usual Christ- mas formula ; but what could have been sweeter or more appropriate than the gentle lowspoken "Peace, good will toward men ?"
He slipped the package into an inside pocket, never mistrusting that it had been tampered with, nor that its contents had unlocked for Summer Dalton the door to a mystery which he had long
sought to penetrate in vain.
"Thank you," he said, as he buttoned his coat, " for caring for this ; it is very precious to me, and some day I will tell you why, and show you its con- tents. This much I will tell you now -- had it been lost or destroyed, my identity would also have been
Editha looked up in surprise at his words, but she
asked no question.
His identity destroyed !
Was it possible that Sumner Dalton's keen eyes could have missed anything of importance within
that package ?
Editha accompanied him to the door, and parted from him with a simple " good-night," and then went quietly and gravely to her own room. But she had sent him forth full of courage and hope in spite of his present loneliness and unpromising future ; and that bunch of holly was the most pre- cious thing that the world held for him that day, the
fair giver excepted.
)To be continued.)