Chapter 818407

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Chapter NumberXV
Chapter TitleA FATHER'S THREAT.
Chapter Urlhttp://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article818407
Full Date1881-07-02
Page Number4
Corrections5
Word Count5050
IllustratedN
Last Corrected2018-04-15
Newspaper TitleThe Maitland Mercury and Hunter River General Advertiser (NSW : 1843 - 1893)
Trove TitleA Mystery
article text

FICTION.

(From English, American, and other Periodicals.)

A MYSTERY

CHAPTER XV.

A FATHER'S THREAT.

" Ah ! Mr. Wayne," with a peculiar emphasis upon his name that somehow startled Earle. "Quite an interesting occasion. Pray, Miss Dalton, are you in the habit of entertaining your callers In this ex- tremely -- ah -- amusing manner ?" he demanded, with

a cold sneer.

Editha's fair face flushed with mingled shame and indignation at his coarseness, while Earle's eyes flashed dangerously at his utmost insulting

manner to his betrothed.

"Papa, Mr. Wayne sails for Europe to-morrow," Editha said, to divert his attention, and hoping thus to tide over a scene, until Earle should be out of the way.

" Ah, indeed? I am happy to hear it -- extremely happy to hear it," with a satirical bow to Earle, yet with a start of surprise and a searching glance into the young man's face; "and I presume he was taking a friendly leave of you, my dear; quite interesting -- quite effection -- ah! quite."

It is impossible to describe the malice and satire contained in his words, or the evil expression on Mr. Dalton's face, as his eyes restlessly searched first one countenance and then the other of the lovers before him.

" No, sir !" Earle replied, rising, and pale to ghastliness with the effort he made at self-control at this insulting language and manner. " I was not taking leave at Miss Dalton, and since I do not approve of concealments or secret engagements, I will state that she has just consented to do me the honor to become my wife at some future time."

The young man stood proudly erect, confronting his enemy, and still holding one of Editha's hands,

as he made this bold statement.

"Do you dare stand there and tell me this,"Mr. Dalton hissed, with strange malignity.

" And why should I not dare, sir ?" Earle asked, with forced respect, remembering that he was speaking to Editha's father.

Sumner Dalton did not reply, but turning fiercely upon Editha, demanded in a voice of concentrated passion :

" Is what he says truth ?"

Yes, papa," she replied, firmly, but with downcast eyes, and painfully flushed cheeks.

" You have promised to marry him ?" pointing with

a shaking finger at Earle, and speaking in the same

tone as before.

" Yes, sir."

" You have dared to do this thing without either my knowledge or sanction ? You, marry a thing like

him!"

The blue eyes were downcast no longer, but flashed up to meet his, with a clear and steady

glance.

" Sir," she began, and her tones, though respect- ful, were firm and unfaltering, " I was twenty-one years of age some time ago ; and I can now, so to speak, act upon my own authority, if I choose. I am, at all events, old enough to know my own mind, and I believe I told you once before, that I consider I have a right to judge and act for myself in a mat- ter so vital to my own happiness and interests."

She paused a moment, and her look of independ- ence changed to one of pain, as she added, more gently :

'* I would much prefer to have your consent and approbation in all that I do, but --"

" You will have my curses and hate instead," he interrupted, nearly purple with passion, that she should face his so dauntlessly.

" Please do not say that, papa," Editha cried, in deep distress.

" Mr. Dalton," Earle now said, gravely, yet feeling as if he could hardly keep his hands off the man for wounding her so, "may I ask what your objections are to my union with Miss Dalton ?"

"It seems exceedingly strange to me, that you should need to ask any respectable and honorable citizen, what his objections would naturally be to your marrying his daughter," was the intensely sarcastic reply.

Earle flushed, but still controlled himself.

" I understand you, sir," he said, proudly " but I can assure you that I am guiltless of the deed which you would impute to me. I have even now a clue to the real culprits --"

"You have?" Mr. Dalton interrupted, with a

startled look.

"Yes, sir, and though I have suffered a felon's

disgrace, yet let them once be brought to justice, and

my name will be cleared from every breath of taint."

" Your name will be cleared from every breath of

taint!" Mr. Dalton repeated, with an emphasis and look that made Earle start violently, and regard him with perplexity.

Then he answered with firm assurance :

" Yes, sir ; I think I can safely promise, that in six months from this time I shall be able to convince you that I am as honorable and respectable a man as you yourself claim to be, and shall be able also to offer Miss Dalton a position in life that even you will be proud to accept for her."

Mr. Dalton now started as if stung at these last words, and his face would have been a study for a painter.

He had grown very pale while Earle was speak- ing, and his countenance wore a half-frightened, perplexed expression, while his eyes were fixed upon the young man as if fascinated.

" How can you do this thing -- what do you mean?" he at last demanded, in a wondering tone.

"Pardon me it I say I cannot explain just now,'' he answered, with a slight smile, and a quick, fond glance at Editha, as if she would be the flrst one to be told of any good that came to him, " but, provid- ing that I can thus convince you of my honesty and respectability, will you then consent to my union

with Editha?"

"No!" burst from the irate man, who seemed to recover himself at this question.

Earle looked surprised, and as if utterly unable to comprehend the man's strange demeanor, and his peculiar animosity toward him.

" Have you any other objection to my making Miss Dalton my wife?" he asked, in his straightforward

way.

"Yes, sir, I have."

" May I ask what it is ?"

" You may ask, but it does not follow that I shall tell you. Suffice it to say that you shall never marry

Editha Dalton."

Earle Wayne smiled calmly.

" Pardon me, but that is a question which Editha alone can decide," he replied, respectfully but con-

fidently.

" Aha ! do you think so ?" sneered Mr. Dalton.

Then turning to Editha with a malicious smile, he

demanded :

"And what is your opinion about the matter

miss?"

" I wish we could be at peace, papa. Oh, why cannot you be reasonable, and let me be happy?" she exclaimed, with gathering tears and a bitter pain at the rupture she foresaw.

"Speak! What do you think of your lover's state- ment?" reiterated Mr. Dalton, harshly.

" If I must speak, then -- I must," she began, with quiet dignity, "although I dislike to cause you either anger or sorrow. I think this is a matter which I alone can decide, and -- I have decided."

" How have you decided?" thundered Mr. Dalton, striding toward her.

" I have decided that if we both both do live, I shall be Earl Wayne's wife," she said, with a quiet firmness

that left no room for doubt.

A proud, glad light leaped into Earle's face at these brave words, though he would cheerfully have shielded her at almost any cost from this angry

scene with her father.

" Aha! have you, have you ?" he returned in tones that made her shrink from him, and move nearer Earle, so if for protection from some impending ill, though she knew not what.

Mr. Dalton marked the gesture, and it enraged him

still more.

" I suppose you think you love this fine young gentleman very much," he said, with a strange smile upon his lips.

" Yes, sir, I do," she answered, unflinchingly. "And you, sir?" turning fiercely upon Earle.

He would not have deigned a reply to the trivial question had he not deemed it best for Editha's sake to temporise with him.

"I have loved Miss Dalton since the day Mr. For- rester introduced me to her, more than six years ago," he answered, quietly.

" I can crush you both with a breath -- you shall never marry each other," Sumner Dalton whispered hoarsely.

Earle thought this but an idle threat uttered in the heat of passion, and paid no particular heed to it ; but he longed to put an end to the disgraceful scene.

" Mr.Dalton," he said, speaking very calmly," why will you not listen to reason? Do you not see that there is nothing to be gained by so much passionate opposition? Editha and I are both of an age, capa- ble to act for ourselves, and we both also believe that there can be no impediment to our union, except, perhaps, the fancied one of social unfitness ; and for that, we do not propose to sacrifice the happiness of our lives. I do not desire to be at enmity with you, and I cannot understand why you should be so violent in your dislike of me, since I am not conscious of ever having done you any injury. I do not mean to be unreasonable in my resistance of your will and authority, but your own good sense will tell you that no man would lightly yield the woman he loved as his own life; and while I believe that every child should obey the divine injunction to 'honor one's parents,' yet there is a limit beyond which this will not apply. Now, if you have any good and sufficient reason for what you assert, I desire to hear it."

Mr. Dalton's eyes had been fixed upon him while he was speaking in that same strange gaze that he had noticed once before, and now, as then, he had grown deadly pale.

" I have a good and sufficient reason, and I would see her on the rock before I would allow you to marry her," he said, bending toward him, and speak- ing with a vindictiveness that sent a cold chill creep- ing over Earle's flesh,

" Oh, papa, what can you mean ?" exclaimed Editha, with a shudder.

" I cannot understand this fierce hatred which you seem to entertain for me," began Earle regarding him thoughtfully.

" You have hit the nail on the head at last, I hate

you -- hate you -- and I have cause to hate you,'' Sumner Dalton answered, shaking like a leaf in the

wind as he uttered the fearful words.

" I repeat, I cannot understand it," Earle said, wonderingly.

" I suppose, practically speaking, you do not even know the meaning of the word," sneered Mr. Dalton.

" I hope, I do not, sir. We are commanded not to hate, but rather to love our enemies, and to do good to those who injure us."

"I suppose you put that in practise, since you preach it."

" I desire to practise it, most certainly," was the

grave response.

" How would it be if you could find those real thieves, from whom you pretend you have suffered disgrace ?" was the searching query.

Earle's face was very noble and earnest as he re- turned, thoughtfully :

" Beyond proving my own innocence, and justify- ing myself in the eyes of the world, I believe I can honestly say I wish them no ill."

" And you would not revenge yourself by making them serve a double sentence if you could?" demanded Mr. Dalton, skeptically,

" It might be necessary for the good of the public that they should be put where they could do no more injury ; but it would afford me no personal gratification, I can assure you," Earle answered with a sigh, feeling that it would be but sad pleasure to be the cause of another's serving out a term of weary years in State prison, as he had done.

Then, with a pitying glance at his enemy, he said, even more gently than he had yet spoken :

" Mr. Dalton, did you never read what Milton says of that ignoble sentiment of which you speak ?

'Revenge, at first though sweet,

Bitter ere long back on itself recoils.' "

Mr. Dalton laughed mockingly.

" You should have continued your very apt quota- tion, for, if I remember rightly, a few lines below

read like this :

' I reck not, so it light well aimed --

Spite then with spite is best repaid.'

I must confess that your creed is beyond both my comprehension and inclination; and mark my words, you yourself will yet prove it fallacious by practical illustration."

" I trust not, sir ; the world would be a sad place in which to live, if such passion ran riot in the hearts of all men," Earle said, sadly.

" Let an enemy fall into your hands, and see ; let some one do you a deadly injury -- let him crush your hopes, and every prospect for the fulfilment of your most ambitious desires, and bar you for- ever from the one prize you covet most on earth and then see if you will preach about love to your enemies," Mr. Dalton said, with a fierceness that was absolutely startling, and Earle wondered more and more what possible connection all this could have with his hatred of him.

He was not conscious of having crushed any of his hopes, nor of hindering the fulfilment of any ambitious desires, nor of barring him from any coveted prize, although he thought Mr. Dalton was guilty of all this in regard to himself.

" Are you not doing that very thing now ? Are you not seeking to wrest from me the dearest object which earth holds for me ?" he asked, gently, and really pitying one who was so at the mercy of his fierce passions.

" Yes ; and aren't you longing to grapple me with those powerful bonds of yours and crush me for it ?" he laughed in return.

" Honestly, no, Mr. Dalton," Earle exclaimed with solemn earnestness ; "I would not avail myself of the slightest advantage to do you an injury. You suffer more from the exercise of your own vindictive- ness than I ever can from its effects."

"And yet you are determined to marry her," with a gesture toward Editha, who now sat with bowed head weeping, " in spite of all my threats."

" Not 'in spite of your threats,' Mr. Dalton, for they do not move me in the least ; but because our love and our happiness are both too sacred to be sacrificed to the malice of any one," Earle replied, with dignity,

"You will not head me -- you are determined to marry Editha ?" he demanded, scowling darkly.

"If Miss Dalton consents to be my wife, I shall most certainly make her so."

" And you will not be warned?"

" What possible cause, sir, can you have for this fierce opposition and resentment? Will you tell me?" Earle demanded, nearly wearied out with this controversy.

"No! that is my secret -- I shall not tell it to you. I shall keep it to crush you both with -- and crush you It will -- if you attempt to thwart me" he answered, sternly.

Earle bent his head in deep thought for a moment, then seeking Mr. Dalton's eye with a searching look, he said :

"Mr. Dalton, tell me one thing ; it is not possible -- you do not think that it is Editha's money I am seeking."

" It would not be so strange a thing if you were ; Editha has a pretty penny of her own, but let me tell you not a dollar of it will you get more than you have already got," he snapped savagely, and with a scowl at his daughter, as he thus referred to her defiance of him regarding Richard Forrester's legacy to Earle.

"I have never touched that money, sir, nor do I ever intend to do so; and it seems to me as if that fact alone should convince you that I am no fortune hunter," the young man said, flushing with disgust that such a motive should be imputed to him.

"That is a very pretty theory, and doubtless wins that silly girl's warmest admiration, as being so disinterested and noble in you ; when, if you should be so fortunate as to succeed in your designs to marry her, you would have the handling of the whole," was the sarcastic rejoinder.

" Sir, if you were any other than Editha's father, you would be made to repent of and apologize for those words."

Earle's eyes emitted glances of fire, and his clenched hands and heaving chest showed how hard it was for him to refrain from bestowing the chastisement the evil-minded man so richly merited.

A sardonic grin for a moment distorted Mr. Dal- ton's features at these words; but turning to Editha, who at that last insult to her lover had risen and now stood at his side, white and quivering with pain and indignation, he said, in low, concentrated

tones :

"Remember -- if you dare to defy me in this mat- ter as you did in that other, my secret and my hate shall crush you both."

Then without another word he turned and left the

room.

CHAPTER XVI. THE PARTING.

"Oh! Earle, what can he mean? for the first time in my life I am actually afraid of my own father." Editha said, sinking back upon the sofa from which she had so recently arisen, and bursting into nervous weeping,

Earle knelt upon the floor beside her, and lifting her head to his breast, folded his strong arms around her.

" My darling, I think he is so beside himself with anger at some fancied injury, that he scarcely knows what be means himself. Do not allow his words to distress you, Editha, and time, I feel, will bring everything right," he said, soothingly.

"Papa has changed so during the last two or three years -- I cannot understand it at all. He used to pet and indulged me as a child; and only laughed at my whims end fancies, as he termed my childish willfulness, but since mamma's and Uncle Richard's death, he has seemed entirely different. He will not bear the least opposition from me upon any subject. We have had more than one controversy regarding you, Earle -- I will stand up for what I know to be right and honorable, and if it happens to conflict which his ideas, he is so angry. Besides --"

She stopped suddenly, blushing vividly,

"Well, my 'happiness?'" Earle said encourag- ingly.

" I had occasion to offend him deeply not long ago, and I suppose be cannot recover from his dis- appointment."

Then she went on to tell him of Mr. Tressalia's proposals, and her repeated rejection of the same.

" I should not feel it right to speak of this to any one else," she said, in conclusion, " for I think it is very wrong for any woman to boast of having given pain in any such way ; but henceforth I am to have no secrets from you, and it is but proper that you should know of this."

" I thought perhaps Mr. Tressalia would win you, Editha, at one time, and such was the report." Earle said, wondering if she had read of that gentleman's succession to a marquisate and great possessions.

But she knew nothing of it as yet, and only nestled nearer to him as she returned :

"Did you hear of that, Earle, and did you believe it ?"

"I cannot say that I really believed it, for I cherished a little hope myself all the time; and yet, I do not know but that it is a wonder he did not carry off my treasure after all," he returned as

he folded her closer.

" No, it is not a wonder ; if there had been no Earle Wayne in existence, I might have learned to love him, but there was an Earle Wayne in the world, consequently it was an impossibility," Editha answered, with a twinkling little smile in her deep blue eyes.

Earle bent and touched her red lips with fond thanks for the sweet words they had uttered, but there was an expression of thoughtfulness mingled with anxiety on his brow.

" Mr. Tressalia is a noble man, if he is all you represent him, and it is a sad thing to have all his hopes blighted thus," he said, in tones of regret.

"Yes, I cannot tell you how sorry I was for him, and I hope I may never see such a look on another face as long as I live, as I saw on his, when I left him that night," Editha replied, her eyes filling with tears at the remembrance.

"Editha," Earle said suddenly, after a short silence, "you do not believe that I care for your fortune -- that I give it even a thought?"

" My sensitive Earle, no," she answered, with a skeptical smile.

"Then I am going to propose a bold measure. I dread, I almost fear to go away and leave you. I know you will be unhappy with your father's displeasure constantly following you, and I have a strange presentiment -- something tells me that I must not leave you behind. Editha, will you marry me and go with me to Europe to-morrow as my wife ?"

" Earle !"

She started from his infolding arms, sitting suddenly erect, her face as white as a snow-flake at the proposition.

" Does the idea startle you so, my own? It is

sudden, I know; but would it not be best for our I mutual happiness?"

" And papa -- would be left behind entirely alone,"

she said, thoughtfully.

"Only for a short time, dearest, I shall re- turn as soon as I can arrange my business there to do so, even if I have to go back afterword. Perhaps by that time Mr. Dalton will look at matters in a different light from what he does now,"

Earle urged.

Editha heaved a long sigh that meant a good

many things.

" Earle, I would like it so much," she said, sorrow- fully, after a long and thoughtful pause, " both the going to Europe, where I bave always longed to and -- being your wife ; but --"

His arms clasped her more tightly at that word of

doubt.

"Must there be a 'but'?" be whispered.

" I am afraid there must," and her hand went up to his face with a caressing motion, " Perhaps if I stay and wait, I may be able to win papa over to our way of thinking. At any rate, I must strive for peace with him. It will not be so very long, will it,

Earle?"

"I cannot tell, dear, exactly how long. I may have to be gone six months ; I do not think it can possibly take any longer than that to decide my

case."

"Six months!" with another sigh, and slight quiver of her lips. "I feel that it is best to wait, Earle. I must be patient, and try to do what is right. Papa may be angry with me, but I cannot think be is wholly devoid of affection for me, and he is so alone in the world, he might miss me."

" It shall be just as you wish or say," Earle re- plied, but looking disappointed nevertheless. It really seemed to him as if something told him he

must not leave her behind.

"I would rather come to you with my hands full," he added;" and, Editha, if I am successful in my business abroad, I feel that even your father, with all his prejudice against me, will be proud to give you to me."

"That settles it then, Earle; we will wait; for it is better to win than to displease him. But I shall miss you ; it is hard to let you go," she said, with a quiver in her voice.

"My darling, do you not think it is hard also for me to go away and leave you? -- particularly as I fear you are not going to be very happy. And dearest, for fear that something may happen to our letters, in the same way that there did to your flowers, I will secure a lock-box at the office for you, before I go, and send you the key."

"That will be a good plan," she answered flush- ing.

It was hard to feel that her father would be guilty of anything so underhanded as to intercept her letters, but she had discovered, by questioning his servant, that he had intercepted and destroyed her flowers, and the distrust now would naturally arise.

"Every mail, dear," Earle went on, "I shall expect to hear from you, and I will write as often to you. Now, my darling, I must say farewell. I shall not have time to come again, as I have much to do, and the steamer sails to-morrow at noon."

"So soon? -- can I let you go so soon?" Editha sighed; then looking up, with an effort to smile, she

added:

"I ought not to murmur, for of course the sooner you go the sooner you will return."

" That is my brave little comforter! I could not bear to leave you sorrowing. Now put your hands in mine and tell me once more that you love me, then I can go quite content," Earle pleaded, but his lips trembled slightly, nevertheless, as they sought hers in a mute caress ; for this parting was not an easy thing for him, strong man though he was.

Editha folded her white hands together, and laid them upon his palm.

" I love you, Earle ; I never have loved any one but you ; and I shall love only you as long as my life shall last, she said, solemnly, her grave, sweet eyes lifted with a beautiful trust to his face.

" Bless you, my happiness." I cannot help calline you that, it is so fitting; those words will ring sweetly in my ears all the long months I am separated from you."

He bent and touched her white forehead with his lips, then with a long, fond embrace, he bade her farewell and went away.

At half-past eleven the next morning Editha Dalton's carriage might have been seen drawn close to the wharf, near where the great steamer, which was to bear her lover across the ocean, lay panting like a thing of life in mortal agony.

Earle had said he could not come to see her again, but she had resolved to go to see him off instead.

She must look once more into his face, and hear him speak again in the tones that had grown so dear

to her.

Her fair face looked forth from the carriage window, her eager eyes anxiously searching the countenance of each new-comer as he hurried to- ward the boat anxious to secure his state-room and get settled for the voyage.

Perhaps, after all, she thinks, as she looks in vain for the beloved face, she was foolish to come, and will miss him in the throng and confusion.

But her heart longs inexpressibly for one last look, and word, and hand-clasp, and she resolves to linger until the last moment.

But suddenly her face lights and flushes, and a glad, tender gleam beams from her beautiful eyes.

She sees a manly form coming with quick, firm

tread toward the wharf.

He also is evidently musing upon something plea- sant, for a smile of rare sweetness curls his handsome lips, and lights his noble face.

All at once he lifts his head, and as if drawn by some magnetic influence, his eyes meet those of his betrothed, and with a bound he is beside her carriage

in an instant.

" My darling! I did not expect this," he said, with a warm clasp of her hand, his face all aglow.

" I could not help it, Earle, it was foolish in me, I suppose, after you had once said 'good-by,'" she said, with a lovely color rising in her cheeks.

" A very agreeable kind of foolishness to me, dear; and I shall take it as a good omen for my journey, that I have had such a pleasant surprise."

hd onswered, smiling tenderly down upon that lovely face, with its shining golden crown. It was the most beautiful thing in all the world to him.

"I was not sure of seeing you, but I thought at least I should see the vessel that was to take you away from me, and that would be something," she returned with an answering smile, though it bade fair to be rather a dewy one, judging from the

tears in her eyes.

"Do you so dread to have me go, Editha? I wish I might have taken you with me," he said wistfully, as he noted the tears, "something un- accountably impresses me that you will not be safe until I have you within my sheltering care."

"I shall not express another regret if it is going to trouble you so; but, Earle, I shall be glad to have you safely back again," she returned, leaning toward him with a yearning on her fair face thrilled him through and through.

" My darling, do you know how very lovely you are?" he asked, with eager fondness, as his eyes lingered upon the sweet picture before him.

She flashed a brilliant glance at him, and colored beautifully at this involuntary tribute.