Albert Ross.

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suppose I am as bad a man as ever lived, but in this
respect I am no worse than the rest."

Dalton shook his head slowly, as though far from
convinced. Still he did not like to enter upon an
argument with his benefactor.

" Shall I prove it to you ?" asked Roland, after a
pause. " You are not a child, though sometimes
you put on the look of one. I want you to come
with me some evening to the village post-office, or
one of the stores, and listen to the talk of the men
who gather there. They may discuss politics or
business while a dozen women come and go. But
presently one will appear at whose advent all con-
versation languishes. While she remains little is
done but staring her in the face, or nudging some
newcomer to call his attention to her.

" What has happened ? Why, gossip has begun
to connect her name with scandal. Someone has
hinted that she is not as good as she might be.
Young Parkley has been driving with her, and every-
body can guess what that means. She has been
seen in another town, late in the evening, walking
with a man not known in Montvale. The group in
the store or post-office stare at her as long as she
remains, and when she goes out they discuss her
alleged faults with glistening eyes and lickerish
mouths, leaning over each others' shoulders, fearful


lest they should lose a word. Montvale is a town
of more than average virtue, but I have seen this
here, even in the brief time since my return. And
what happens here occurs in increasing ratio in
towns of larger size all over the country all over
the so-called civilized earth."

An expression of the deepest horror spread over
the face of the listener.

"These men who sit around the stores and par-
ticipate in these discussions," continued Roland,
apparently pleased to find that he was making an
impression, " have, many of them, daughters of their
own. If one of them saw a dog worrying a neigh-
bor's sheep he would leave his work till he got the
animal into its fold. If he heard that a wolf had
been seen on the hillside he would mention it to
every farmer he met, that they might bring in their
young cattle. If his neighbor's daughter was
going for a sail on the lake, and he knew that the
boat was leaking, or noticed a storm coming up, he
would run a mile to save her. But when he hears
something that may wreck her life forever, how
seldom will he warn either her or her parents !

" It is notorious that the father and mother of a
girl who goes astray are the last persons to suspect
that anything is the matter. Everybody else will
tell you they have been suspicious for a long time,
but to her own family her fall comes like a clap of
thunder. The mother will say, ' I knew Mamie was
fond of company and a good time, but I never
dreamed that anything could go wrong with her.'
Yet these men at the post-office knew ! Some of


them had talked with her in a way which showed
they did not think very severely of her peccadilloes.
Had there been opportunity they would have joined
their guilt to hers, as freely as if they had not known
her in her cradle, as if she had not played with their
children in pinafores !"

The listener sat like one entranced.

" I have made a study of this thing, my boy, and I
speak by the card," continued Roland. " I presume
I have talked with hundreds of girls in all countries,
for I have been a great traveller. Until a little while
ago I had not seen my native land for three years.
When I went abroad I was as innocent as you seem
to be. [ could hardly believe that I should find in
the United States what had so astonished me on the
other side of the world. Now I know there is no
difference, or if there is, it is not to the credit of
America. If I were to proclaim aloud what I have
seen, there would arise a howl that could be heard
from here to San Francisco."

The speaker rose and took a few steps up and
down the room, and Guy found words to ask if
Roland had any remedy to suggest for the state of
affairs which he pictured.

"7 suggest !" echoed young Linnette, suddenly
dropping his sober manner and breaking into a
laugh. " I would be a nice sort of individual to sug-
gest things, wouldn't I ? My residence is made of
crystal. I am not going into the stone-throwing
business to any alarming extent."

" But something must be done," persisted Guy,


" Some one has said," smiled Roland, " that the
best way to reform the world is for each person to
reform himself. It is easier for the child who never
tasted wine to abstain from drunkenness than it is
for the confirmed sot. It is rather late for me, but
you can set the world a shining example."

He meant to bring a laugh to the countenance of
his guest, but Guy was as sober as ever.

"You began this," he said, hesitatingly, "by a
reference to Miss Arline. Surely it has no rightful
connection with her ?"

" Indeed it has," was the reply. " Maud is poor
as a church-mouse, pretty and friendless. Our
wretch of a landlord assigns her to my especial use
because he knows that my bills will be paid, no
matter how large he makes them."

" And also, I hope, because he has confidence in

"Nothing of the kind. He knows that Maud is
in danger."

Guy stared wildly at his companion.

" But she is not in danger from you ?" he whis-
pered, hoarsely.

Roland looked earnestly at the impetuous youth.

" Do you think so ?" he replied.

"You cannot mean "

"Don't get excited, my dear boy," said Linnette,
with a trace of weariness in his tone. " I only know
what results follow certain conditions."

Guy had risen and taken a step nearer his com-
panion, where he stood with folded arms, defying


him. He was as picturesque a figure, Roland
thought, as he had ever seen.

" You shall not ! " he cried. "1 will prevent you !"

" I certainly give you leave," laughed Roland.
"And, I assure you, you have my best wishes for

Guy looked into the amused face and heaved a
sigh of relief.

" Forgive me," he said. " I forgot what I was
doing. It is plain that you were jesting."

"Don't be too sure," replied Roland, putting on
his overcoat. " But I am going out to take a walk.
To-morrow, if it is pleasant, you ought to be able to
stand a sleigh-ride with me."

It was to the counting room of the Montvale
Optical Company that the young man took his way.
Before he returned he had made Tom Hobbs prom-
ise to offer Guy a place in the manufactory, in such
a manner that the young fellow would not suspect
he had any hand in it.

Two hours later Miss Arline came to young Mr.
Linnette's apartments to see if anything was re-
quired, and Guy found courage to say a few words
to her.

" I fear I am making you double work while I
stay," he ventured.

" That's nothing ; I have very little to do," she

" I believe you have only these rooms to see to,"
said he.

" Only these," replied the girl, with a slight blush.


" Are you glad I came ?" demanded Guy, earnestly,
" or would you rather he were here alone ?"

The question startled her. It seemed almost
impertinent, but as she regarded the eyes that
looked into hers she could not take offence.

At this juncture Roland came unannounced into
the room.

"What! Conspiring already!" he exclaimed,
gaily, glancing from one to the other




The engagement of young Dalton as assistant in
the Optical Works was hailed by him with the great*
est delight. He had chafed severely at his enforced
idleness, and at the indebtedness which he was
piling up.

" Congratulate me !" he cried to Roland. " I am
the happiest fellow in the world. Not only can I
earn my bread and repay you what I have borrowed,
but I shall still be where I can see you often."

" With all my heart, if you wish it," was the
response. " And so, I am sure, will Maud."

Dalton blushed at this, which made Roland laugh

" You will share these rooms with me, just tha
same, I hope," he said. " If you go elsewhere therd
will be no one to keep an eye on me and the pretty

Guy answered, hesitatingly, that he feared he
could hardly afford so expensive a home.

" That's an original idea !" said the other. " A man
who is going to draw a salary can't afford as good
quarters as he did when he was earning nothing !
Stay where you are, and I will see that Hanson
makes it all right. He charges me enough for tlwee
or four, as it is. And, really, I need the restraint of


your presence and example more than I can tell

So it was settled that Guy would stay at the Mont-
vale House for the present.

Roland had been thinking a good deal of that face
he had seen at the window of the Linnette mansion
the face, as Roger Butler had told him, of " the
housekeeper's daughter." It was the kind to appeal
to his love of the beautiful ; and there was another
element which had its full effect on a mind so sus-
ceptible as his. There was a decided mystery con-
nected with the affair.

Why had his uncle left orders that the great gates
to his exetnsive grounds should be kept locked
during his absence ? Roland could remember them
from his earliest years, standing wide open all day.
There could be nothing in the grounds which needed
the special protection of their strong arms, unless it
was this sylph-like creature.

" The housekeeper's daughter !"

She surely was not the daughter of the house-
keeper that he remembered. Mrs. Martin must
have gone away. What kind of housekeeper was it
who could be fhe mother of such a creature ? And
what had Willard Linnette, the confirmed bachelor,
the man who had always avoided feminine society,
to do with either of them ?

Roland determined not to leave Montvale until he
had found an answer to these questions. His heart,
or what Miss Arline had left untouched of it, had
gone out to the face he had seen at the window.
For the fiftieth occasion in the course of his brief


life he was entangled in what he believed a genuine
case of unalterable affection.

The first time he found Butler alone he stopped
for another talk with him.

" Do you know what became of Mrs. Martin, who
was housekeeper here so long?" was his initial in-

He had already heard from people at the hotel
that she had left Montvale.

"I believe she went West to live with one of her
sons," responded Roger.

" What a cross old lady she was !" exclaimed
Roland, with a reminiscent laugh. " I used to think
sometimes my uncle was really afraid of her. Not
much like the one he has now," he added, at a ven-

" I think everybody likes Mrs. Warren," replied
the unsuspecting old man, " though she keeps in-
doors so much. But, of course, Miss Eva's not being
well makes a difference."

Roland replied, with a wise look, that it did,

" Miss Eva does not go out much, either ?"

" Much ?" repeated Roger. " Never. It is months
since I saw her outside the grounds. She doesn't
mix with the town people, you see. And since she
left the boarding school her teachers always come
on the train and go directly to the house. She has
had all the eddication they can give her, but if she
doesn't live to grow up it won't do her much


The young man felt a blow at the heart. Could
it be that his idol was stricken with a fatal disease ?

"What is it that ails her?" he found strength to

" They can't find out," replied Roger. " They've
had every big doctor there is, and every one of 'em
is puzzled. She looks well enough, all but the pale-
ness, but she is failing every day. It's my opinion
she'll go sudden."

Roland cried out, as if he had been struck.

" Don't say that, Roger !" Then, in return to the
surprised look of the old man, he continued, "It
seems dreadful that one so young should be destined
to death ! Not only for her, but for "

He hesitated, being about to add " her mother,"
but Roger misunderstood him, and innocently
revealed another secret.

" Yes, he does take it to heart pretty badly, Mr.
Roland. Having never been married, and so having
no children of his own, this little girl sort of filled a
vacancy in the place."

He rambled on, with much more to the same
effect, but the young man hardly heard him. He
knew what vacancy this girl had filled. He saw, as
if by the drawing away of a curtain, why his uncle
had endured his absence so well ; why he had shown
such a mild joy at his return ; why he had preferred
to have him live at the hotel ; why he had locked
the big gates. But with all these reflections no feel-
ing of selfishness came to the surface. His interest
in the face he had seen at the window was too great
for that.


When Roland went away it was with the deter-
mination to see Miss Eva, even at the risk of his
uncle's displeasure. Though he haunted the neigh-
borhood for a good part of each day, it was nearly
a week before he had an opportunity such as he
desired. He wanted a private interview with the
girl, which he had no reason to believe he could
obtain unless her mother was absent from the
premises. At last his patience was rewarded by see-
ing a lady driven out by the coachman who had
served the family ever since Roland could remem-
ber. She, he had no doubt, must be the new house-

The gates were closed and locked promptly after
the passage of the carriage, and ten minutes later
the watcher rang the bell at the lodge entrance.

A lame and aged servitor answered the ring, and
stared with much surprise when he saw who had
given the summons.

" Ah, it's you, is it, Mr. Roland ?" he said, with an
attempt at cordiality. " I heard you were in the
village, but I did not expect to see you, and you
have changed a great deal. You are looking finely,
though. I suppose you thought your uncle had
returned, but he has not come yet. We expect him,
now, in a day or two."

There was nothing in this plausible address that
implied a welcome to the prospective heir of the
house. On the contrary, the porter seemed impa-
tient to close the interview and the gate at the same
time. Roland decided on a bold front.

" I want to get some books, Slocum," said he,


brushing by the man unceremoniously. u I know
exactly where they are. There is no need for you
to go with me."

The porter was in a quandary. Though Mr. Lin*
nette had said nothing which absolutely directed him
to exclude his nephew from the house, he had im-
plied by innuendo that he was not expected there.
Slocum had a grave fear of displeasing his employer,
and, on the other hand, no one could tell how soon
this young fellow might become master of Montvale.
Roland did not give him long to debate these ques-
tions, for he started off at a good rate of speed
toward the house.

"You cannot get into the library," called Slocum,
hobbling after him, his lameness not permitting a
faster gait. "The master locked up everything
when he went away."

The young man did not slacken his pace in the

" Mrs. Warren must have the keys," he called

" Mrs. Warren has gone out, sir," protested the
man, nervously.

" Well, she will probably soon return."

" No, sir, she will be gone several hours. She has
gone to Steinberg, to consult the doctor."

This was exactly what Roland wanted to know.
Feeling that undue haste was no longer necessary,
he paused till the old servant could reach him.

" I hope Miss Eva is not worse," he said. And, in
spite of all he could do, he looked anxious.

" No, sir, not specially," replied Slocum, thrown


off his guard by Roland's familiar manner. " She is
no worse, but then again she is no better, and
the doctor has to be consulted frequently. He
comes here twice a week, but Mrs. Warren had not
been out for some days, and I think she wanted the
ride. It is confining for her, sir, just now."

Roland stood for a few moments in thought.

*' Where does she keep the library keys ?" he
asked, finally.

" I I think it will be better," stammered the
man, " if you will wait till she returns. She does
not like to have anyone go into the house when she
is out."

Slocum had no sooner said this than he quailed
before the glance that met his.

" When I want your advice," said Roland,
severely, " I shall probably ask for it ! You have a
great deal of assurance to offer it unsolicited. You
know where the keys are kept as well as you know
where your tongue is."

Feeling that he had done all that could be required
of him, and reflecting that, after all, Mr. Linnette
had given no positive directions in the matter,
Slocum began to make the most profuse apologies.

" Oh, drop that," replied Roland, shortly, " and
tell me where those keys are !"

" I think Miss Eva has them, sir. Shall I go "

"Yes, when you are asked to," interrupted the
young man, stopping the servant as he was starting
toward the mansion. "And let me tell you now,
once for all, that I will not stand your imperti-


nence. Show me where I can find Miss Eva, and
then return to your duties."

The old man was plunged into new alarm. While
it was true that no directions had ever been given
upon the subject, he knew, by that unspoken and
unwritten law on which tradition is based, that no
person ought to make his way in such a manner into
Miss Warren's presence. Teachers had always been
piloted through the house, and not even her phy-
sicians had been permitted to meet her unchaper-

Slocum felt that his situation might depend on
this unlucky dilemma, and yet he saw no way to
escape from it. More sternly than before, Roland
demanded in what part of the house he might expect
to find Miss Eva.

The old man, in great perturbation, began to move
slowly toward the dwelling.

" No, I will not trust you," said Roland. " You
had as lief report some invention of your own as the
truth. Go back to your lodge. I will ring the
house-bell myself."

Glad to escape at any cost, Slocum limped away,
and Roland proceeded up the walk toward the front

Before he reached the edifice, however, a young
girl came forth unattended. It was the vision which
for so long had haunted his waking and sleeping

Seeing a stranger, the girl paused and seemed
about to retreat ; but he pressed eagerly forward.

" I am Roland Linnette," said he.


"Why, so you are," was the reply, delivered in a
voice of wonderful sweetness.

Then, without more ado, she came to meet him,
and as frankly as an old friend, put her hand m




Miss Eva, though eighteen years of age, looked
considerably younger, on account of the illness from
which she suffered. She appeared more like a child
than a young lady, and her manner completely
charmed the young man who had made such an
effort to see her.

"You speak as if you had met me before," said he,
as soon as the first greetings were over.

" I saw you once," she replied. " You were talk-
ing with old Mr. Butler, out there in the road.
"One of the domestics told me who you were;
and besides, there is a large picture of you in your
uncle's room, which I have often looked at."

In his uncle's room ! She was evidently on pretty
familiar terms with her mother's employer.

" That picture was painted a very long while ago,'*
he responded. " It can't look much as I do now."

" Oh, yes, it does. And I've heard a great deal
about you."

He bent upon her his brightest glance.

"What have you heard about me ?" he queried.

" Why, I know that you have been a great traveller,
and that you are staying at the hotel, and but
won't you come into the house ? I can't remain out
long on account of the dampness."


He accepted the invitation, though much surprised
to receive it. This young girl had not been brought
up so very strictly, or she would have declined to
meet him thus alone.

" I have been in Montvale two months," he said,
when they were seated. " I suppose you think it
strange that I have not called here sooner."

She shook her head smilingly.

" No, I did not expect you at all."

" That requires an explanation. Didn't you know
this was the home of my childhood, in fact the only
place which could be called a home that I have ever
known ?"

Miss Eva bowed thoughtfully.

" Yes, I knew. When I first came here your uncle
was always talking of you. He read a great many
of your letters to me. At that time he seemed so
wrapped up in you that I thought he would soon
send for you to return."

A contemplative sigh escaped from the listener.

" But he never did," said he. " I was gone more
than three years, and he seemed to get along with-
out me very well."

" Yes," assented the girl. " He got reconciled after
a while. We can get used to anything in time, I

He could not help uttering the thought that was
uppermost in his mind.

" And he had you to help him, you know."

"Yes," she said, with a bright smile. "He had
me, then."

Was ever a girl of her age so childlike ! She had


stepped into his place in the uncle's regard, and
talked as if he ought to be rather pleased to
hear it.

" They tell me you are not well," he said, with a
touch of anxiety in his tone. " What seems to be
the matter ?"

" I don't know. The doctors don't know, either,
though I have had a dozen of them. But I'll tell
you what I think. It is too dreary for me here, see-
ing the same things and doing the same things day
after day. I need something to excite my mind, to
stir my blood. Your uncle has tried to do every-
thing for me. Before I had been here a month he
bought me a pony to ride ; but when I am on his
back I have nowhere to go. They don't like to let
me outside the grounds. It is very dull, cantering
through the same roads and back again. Then I
have my language teachers, and music masters, and
I get so tired of them ! If I was ever to put their
teaching to any use it would be different, but every-
one tells me I must do nothing, that I am to be a
lady, and it all seems so selfish. I am not really
sick. There is no pain in me anywhere, unless it is
here, at my heart, like that of a prisoned bird that
pines to escape from the gilded cage that is kill-
ing it."

She clasped her hands over her left side, emphasiz-
ing the expression.

"Does my uncle kaow how you feel ?" he asked,

" Oh, no ! I could not talk to him as I am talking
to you. Indeed, I hav never said as much before,


not even to my mother. Something betrayed me
into it, for which I cannot account. Perhaps it was
because I have envied so much your opportunities to
travel, to know what the world is by actual observa-
tion. I'm afraid my chief sin is that of envy. Why,
I envy even the servants in this house, who have their
regular afternoons when they can go out alone, with-
out giving an account of every moment. I have
actually dreamed of running away, to become a happy
shop-girl, or to ask alms in the street, for the very
beggars have more freedom than I."

What a wild idea to enter the brain of that child i

" If you are to be a lady," said Roland, thought-
fully, " you must take the trammels of your position
along with its advantages."

The girl laughed softly.

" But I did not ask for any of these things. Though
we were very poor when we came here, I was con-
tented. We had only two gowns apiece, but that was
quite enough. Mr. Linnette insists on all these
extra expenses, and I wish so much that he wouldn't.
I can't make mother understand the way I feel about
it. She says it is very hard for a woman to earn a
living who has only herself to rely upon. But I had
rather live like a gipsy than the way we do."

Roland was getting information with a vengeance.
It was evident that his uncle had practically adopted
this girl and her mother. He began to wonder if a
new will had been made, entitling them to a large
share in the estate which was to have been his. Not
a hateful sensation came with the thought, however ;
only astonishment that the staid old bachelor could


have had his heart so much affected by anything in
the shape of womankind.

" My uncle did not intend I should know you
were here," he said, exchanging confidence for con-
fidence. " I only learned by accident that he had
changed housekeepers. When he met me at New

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Online LibraryAlbert RossLove at seventy → online text (page 6 of 18)