Mrs. Georgie Sheldon.

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with M.A., Lock Box 95, she will learn something to her advantage.

This was the advertisement, and Virgie knew at once that she had been
recognized by that man muffled in the cloak.

"That means me," she said, growing deadly white, "and I was not mistaken.
He has come back. How dare he? What can he want of me? But I will never
see him. I will have nothing to say to him. I will hide myself from him.
It is evident he has not discovered where I live, else he would have been
here before this, and I will take care that he does not find me out."

After that she was very careful about going out, always closely veiling
her face, and wearing a long circular to conceal her form, when she was
obliged to do so, which was not often, as, with rare exceptions, her
business with Mr. Knight could be mostly transacted by correspondence.

Thus several months passed without her seeing or hearing anything more of
the person who had so disturbed her, until at last she believed he must
have left the city, and she gave herself no further concern about him.




Chapter XXIV.

The Tie Is Broken.



There was no lack of employment now for Virgie. She had plenty to occupy
heart, and brain, and hands, and of such a congenial nature that she
reaped great benefit from it both mentally and physically.

Of course nothing could ever blot out from her memory the terrible trouble
and suffering that she had had to endure, but her work brought its own
enjoyment so that she no longer spent such wretched days and nights as
formerly. Her baby was every day growing interesting and a source of great
comfort to her, while her life generally was tending to bring out the
latent qualities of her character, the energy and self-reliance, the skill
and talent which otherwise might never have developed into activity.

More than a year went by, while every month she was earning a handsome
sum, having been permanently engaged by Mr. Knight to keep him supplied
with those novelties which she was so skillful in originating.

Her "Gleanings from the Heights" proved a great success, selling faster
than the firm could issue them. Besides this she had been awarded the
first prize on the other souvenirs, so that, pecuniarily, she had nothing
to fear for the future.

And now she set about another undertaking which she had long contemplated;
that of obtaining a divorce from her husband.

She did not take this step because she had any desire to break the tie
that bound her to him, and she would never have moved in the matter at all
but for the fact that others had assailed her fair name and assumed that
her child was dishonored.

Her chief aim, in collecting the proofs of the legality of her marriage,
had been to secure to little Virgie the right to the name she bore, and an
indisputable title to her inheritance by and by when she should be of a
suitable age to claim and enjoy it.

She meant to give her every advantage as she grew older, and do everything
possible to fit her for a high position in life; and when, at length, she
should reach her majority, she would claim her rights and take care that
she secured them in spite of all opposition.

This was all the revenge that Virgie ever intended to take for the wrong
that she believed herself to have suffered at her husband's hands. She
would scorn to accept anything for herself, but the lawful position of her
daughter must and should be recognized.

Her residence of a year in San Francisco had given her the right to apply
to the court to have her marriage bonds annulled, and she put her case
into the hands of a competent lawyer, recommended by Mr. Knight, to whom
she had confided something of her history, and solicited his advice
regarding the matter.

He had advised her not to take any legal proceedings until she had tried
to confer with Sir William again.

"There is some mistake, I feel sure," he said, "some misunderstanding
which might be explained if proper measures were adopted."

"A mistake!" repeated Virgie, scornfully, her eyes blazing with
indignation. "I imagine that the only mistake about the whole matter is
that I allowed myself to become the dupe of an unprincipled man."

"It can at least do no harm to write him what your intentions are,"
suggested Mr. Knight, mildly.

"I wrote him letter after letter while I was in New York. Mrs. Farnum, of
whom I have told you, knew the whole family, and wrote of me to Lady
Linton, but they appeared to be in total ignorance of even my existence,
while Mrs. Farnum asserted that Sir William had been engaged for years to
Miss Stanhope, and I have already told you of his subsequent marriage with
her."

"Still I cannot comprehend how he should dare to commit such a wrong,"
persisted Mr. Knight. "He must have known that his marriage with you was
legal, according to the laws of the State in which it occurred, and the
mere fact of his leaving the country could not annul it. If he had assumed
a name while he was here, it would not seem so inexplicable, but all the
papers which you hold go to show that he married you under his own name
and title; while your description of the character of the man makes it
seem utterly impossible that he should be guilty of such conduct."

"True. When I think of that, I am heart-broken," said Virgie, breaking
down for a moment. "He seemed so true and noble in every respect, and he
was particular to have his title appear in the certificate, although he
did not adopt it while traveling because he found he was less conspicuous
as plain Mr. Heath."

"It almost seems to me as if some plot had been laid to separate you,"
said Mr. Knight, thoughtfully.

"Impossible! How could such a thing be?" queried Virgie, skeptically. "Who
would plot against us?"

"Your letters on both sides may have been intercepted by some enemy with
that end in view."

"He has no enemy that I am aware of; neither have I. I did not know a
single individual when I went to New York, so there was no one there who
would be likely to meddle with our correspondence. More than this, if he
did not hear from me, and was true to me, or had possessed an atom of
affection for his child, it is but natural to suppose that he would have
taken prompt measures to ascertain what the trouble was. No; the more I
dwell upon it, the more I am convinced that what he has done was a scheme
to secure my property, and then leave me to my fate. I can think of no
other object that he could have had."

Alas! Virgie realized long after how she had wronged a noble man with
these dreadful suspicions, and even while she was giving utterance to
them, her heart was heavy with a sense of injustice done the man whom,
even then, she loved most fondly.

Mr. Knight shook his head in a doubtful manner at her last words, and yet
he looked perplexed.

"You think I am too hard," Virgie continued, bitterly "but does not even
the provision which he made for me before leaving New York look as if he
did not intend to return to me?"

"You refer to the five thousand dollars which he deposited for you; it was
a very generous amount, truly."

Of course I could not begin to use such a sum in the few weeks that he
pretended he should be away; while the additional five hundred dollars
which he sent me through his sister goes to prove that he had no intention
of ever coming back to me, yet did not wish me to suffer for lack of
means."

"I do not like the aspect of that transaction at all," responded Mr.
Knight, emphatically. "It looks to me as if his sister had had more to do
with the matter than rightly belonged to her. Who knows but what she may
have been opposed to her brother's marriage and has been at the bottom of
all the trouble?" he concluded, reasoning with a shrewdness which he did
not realize.

But Virgie could not be convinced.

"I do not believe that," she said, with a sigh; "it looks to me as if he
was ashamed - conscience-smitten - and did not have the moral courage to
communicate with me himself."

Yet, even as she said it, she knew that such a course was utterly at
variance with his character, as she had known it.

"Well, Mrs. Alexander - or Mrs. Heath, I suppose I ought to call you - I
will not say more to dissuade you from your purpose; but let me advise
you, as a sincere friend, to go to England and ascertain for yourself just
how matters are, before you proceed any further."

Virgie started to her feet, with crimson cheeks and flashing eyes.

"Go to England! - to Heathdale! to find another woman queening it there in
my place! - to be brow-beaten and insulted by that proud family! - to be
disowned by the man who has already wronged me beyond all forgiveness!
Never, sir!"

"You could at least demand your own - the money that your father left you."

"And do you suppose I should get it? I have no proof that my father ever
left me a dollar. Sir William has every paper in his own possession. I
have not a scrap even that would enable me to wrest so much as a pound
from him as my right."

Mr. Knight looked grave. Certainly matters were not very promising for the
injured wife.

"Well, it is the most incomprehensible affair that I ever heard of," he
said. "I still think, though, that a personal interview would be the wiser
course before proceeding further. However, a proper notice will have to be
served upon the man, and if there has been any misunderstanding, or he has
any desire to contest your appeal for a divorce, he will probably make it
apparent when the right time comes. And now, regarding the best counsel
for you, I think my friend, Templeton would work well for you, and secure
a bill with as little notoriety as any one."

Virgie shivered at this business-like talk of "a bill." It was almost like
severing soul from body to break the sacred tie that bound her to the man
she so fondly loved, and nothing save the belief that another was
occupying the place that rightly belonged to her could have induced her to
take such a step.

She applied to Mr. Templeton, as Mr. Knight advised He, too, counseled
further intercourse with the baronet, for, to his keen mind, also, the
whole affair appeared more like a conspiracy on the part of enemies than a
willful wrong perpetrated by the husband.

But Virgie utterly refused to hold any communication with Sir William.

"He will have to be notified regarding the proceedings about to be
instituted against him," she said, "and if he is guiltless of wrong he
will surely hasten to make it apparent."

In spite of her obstinate refusal to make further overtures, something of
hope had been revived in her heart by the united opinions of Mr. Knight
and her lawyer that some enemy had plotted to separate her from her
husband. She remembered what Mrs. Farnum had told her about the pride of
his family, and it might be there was some foundation for the belief of
the two gentlemen. She could understand how that might possibly be the
case as far as intercepting their letters was concerned, but those other
facts of the long engagement and the marriage with Miss Stanhope were
things which she could not explain by any reasoning.

Still she kept hoping for some word during the time that intervened
between the notification and the day set for the hearing of the case. Day
after day she waited and watched for some tidings from her husband
starting at every unusual sound, growing almost faint at the opening and
shutting of a door, and even imagining she saw a familiar form as she sat
at her window and eagerly scanned every passer-by.

She grew thin and pale with this dreadful suspense; she seemed to be
consuming with fever, and was so restless and nervous that her friend, Mr.
Knight, feared that her mind might suffer from such tension.

She hoped until the last moment, although she tried to conceal it, but
when the dreaded day arrived, when her case was presented and there was
no one to contest it; when the judge rendered his decision, declaring that
her marriage was null and void, that henceforth in the eyes of the law and
the world she was free from the man to whom she had solemnly promised to
cling until death should part them, her courage and strength forsook her,
and she was carried lifeless from the court-room, while for three weeks
afterward she lay weak and ill, and almost indifferent to life.

The only grain of comfort in this time of woe was derived from the fact
that the child had been given to her, and she had no fear of ever having
it taken from her, even if Sir William should ever be moved to a desire to
have her.

For a time she seemed wholly unlike herself; but the kind-hearted
publisher knew that the best antidote for all kinds of trouble is work,
and he kept her crowded with orders, until she felt obliged to rally her
failing energies and to take up the burdens of life once more.

Thus the winter passed; but, when summer came again, little Virgie began
to droop in the noisome atmosphere of the city, and the physician said she
must be taken where she could have purer air and country living; so Virgie
went to a quiet little place a few miles out of the city, where she
remained the entire season, not returning to San Francisco until late in
October, and thus a cruel fate again seemed to mock her, for during her
absence Sir William Heath had come to seek her again, and not finding her,
he, too, had grown heart-sick with despair and hope deferred.




Chapter XXV.

Sir William Becomes Guardian.



Very distressing were the thoughts of the young baronet, who had so
suddenly returned to his home and been stricken with illness.

He had been sick at Alexandria when he received the document notifying him
that Virgie was seeking a divorce.

He was absolutely paralyzed as he read it, and saw by the date that it
would be utterly impossible for him to reach America in time to stay the
proceedings.

He could not even reach England in season to cable for that purpose, and
he was so overcome by the knowledge and his own helplessness, as to render
him unable to travel for a couple of weeks longer.

One thing gave him some satisfaction. He at least knew that Virgie was in
San Francisco, and that she must have been residing in the State for some
time to allow her the right to apply for the divorce there. She must have
been there even while he was there searching for her, and it seemed
terribly cruel to him that he should have missed her.

But he resolved that he would find her yet, if she lived. Poor darling!
what a bitter lot had been hers during this last year, believing what she
must of him. It should not go on, however; he would seek her and vindicate
himself; he would prove to her that he had never wavered in his truth to
her in spite of all the evidence against him. He would prove his love for
her, and he would win her again, even though the dread decree had been
pronounced, bring her back with him to Heathdale, and they would be happy
yet.

And his child - the precious little one whom he had never seen - his heart
cried out for her with an uncontrollable yearning - his baby! his miniature
Virgie!

Thus, as we already know, he went directly to Heathdale where he arrived
on the very evening that Lady Linton had received the papers announcing
that his wife had secured a decree of divorce.

He was very wretched in spite of his sister's hearty welcome and efforts
to render him comfortable; and during her absence from the room to see
that something unusually nice should be prepared for him, anxious, bitter
thoughts crowded his mind, and he rebelled against the arbitrary weariness
and lassitude that bound him, as with chains of iron, and compelled him to
rest.

Gradually, however, his glance began to wander over the familiar room,
lingering now upon some picture, now upon some rare article of virtu, each
endeared by peculiar associations, until at length it rested upon the
table and that document, which his sister had dropped and forgotten in her
surprise at his appearance.

Its likeness to the one he had previously received startled him.

He arose and went forward to examine it. Its postmark told him at once
whence it had come.

A deathly paleness overspread his face; a horrible numbness fell upon his
heart.

With trembling hands he tore it open, and one glance was sufficient to
tell him the nature of its contents.

It was the one bitter blow too much, even though he had half-expected it,
and, with a despairing cry that would have melted the hardest heart,
"Lost! lost! Virgie, my love! my love!" he fell prone upon the floor,
clutching that fatal paper in his grasp.

Long weeks of watching and anxiety followed - weeks during which Lady
Linton began to fear that she was paying dearly for her plotting and
treachery, even though her son might become the master of Heathdale in the
event of her brother's death.

But he did not die. His constitution was naturally rugged, and by the end
of winter, after many alternations of hope and fear, he slowly began to
rally.

As soon as he was able to be dressed and sit up he began to talk of going
again to America.

Of course Sir Herbert Randal vetoed such a proposition at once.

"You are not to stir outside the grounds of Heathdale for three months at
least," he said, decidedly.

"But I must, Sir Herbert. You have no idea how much is at stake," the sick
man pleaded.

"You must not. I cannot help how much there is at stake," returned the
physician, firmly. "I have had hard work to get you up, even so far, from
this nervous prostration and the least excitement or imprudence will cause
a dangerous relapse."

And so, with despair at his heart, Sir William was obliged to submit.

He tried to write to Virgie, intending to send the letter to her through
the lawyer whom she had employed and whose name had appeared in connection
with the papers he had received, but he could not; he found that his brain
was too weak to permit of the framing of even a sentence, and he knew that
he could never plead his cause successfully in such a state.

He shrank from asking any one else to write for him; his sister he knew
was not in sympathy with him, and he would not confide in her.

When his mind had become strong enough to realize what was going on about
him, he had one day asked Lady Linton to bring him both documents that had
come to him from America.

She obeyed him, making no comment, though her manner betrayed that she
knew well enough their character.

He told her to lock them in a certain drawer which no one was ever allowed
to open save himself.

She did so in his presence, and earnestly hoped, as the key clicked upon
them, that that episode in her brother's life was buried for all time.

But she was not long in finding that she was to be disappointed

As summer advanced Sir William gained more rapidly and by August he was
pronounced comparatively well, although he was still but the ghost of his
former self.

Then he announced his determination of again crossing the Atlantic, and
Lady Linton's heart failed her. Would he never relinquish his chase after
that miserable girl?

She earnestly pleaded that he would not leave home again.

"I must," he replied, sternly. "I must find my wife."

"Your wife!" she retorted, losing all patience; "you have no wife."

"Be still, Miriam," he commanded, growing frightfully pale. "I see that
you know what has occurred, and though the law may have succeeded in
breaking the tie between us, yet in my heart I claim Virgie as my wife
just as truly to-day as she ever was. I will search the world over for
her; if I find her the law will give her to me again, for I believe that
she is still true to me, whatever she may think of me; if I do not find
her, I shall live and die cherishing her image alone."

Lady Linton knew that he meant what he said.

"That will be bad for Sadie's hopes," she thought; "but doubtless Percy
will be the gainer, unless he succeeds in finding that girl. I never
believed his pride would let him go chasing after her like this."

The last of August found him again on the ocean.

The voyage proved beneficial, and he was in much better health and
strength when he landed in New York than when he left England.

He proceeded directly to San Francisco as fast as steam and wheels could
take him, determined to seek out Mr. Templeton, Virgie's lawyer, who, he
believed, would tell him where she could be found.

But a terrible disappointment awaited him there.

Mr. Templeton had retired from business at the beginning of summer, and,
with his family, had gone abroad for an indefinite period.

He could not even obtain his address, and was thus prevented from
communicating with him by letter.

Then he began another wearisome search. Day after day he haunted the
streets of the city. He inquired, he advertised, and used every method he
could think of to ascertain where his darling was, but without avail, for,
as we know, she had gone into the country on little Virgie's account,
while Mr. Knight was away on a trip to British Columbia, or he might have
seen Sir William's advertisements, and helped him in the matter so near,
his heart.

About the middle of October he decided to go once more to her old home
among the mountains of Nevada, hoping to learn something of her there.

But, of course, he did not, and he finally came to the conclusion that she
must have left California after obtaining her divorce. At least he thought
she would leave San Francisco, for he knew that there were unpleasant
associations connected with her past life there, and he did not believe
she would like to make her home in that city, where disagreeable rumors
might still exist. But, still resolving to find her at any cost, he turned
his face in another direction, and began anew his wanderings up and down
the land.

Three weary years he spent thus, following every clew, but all to no
purpose. Then, saddened and disheartened he was compelled to give up the
chase and return to Heathdale, for his estate demanded his personal
attention.

Mrs. Farnum and her daughter were full of hope, after learning that the
decree of divorce had been granted, that the beauty and belle would at
last succeed in securing the prize she had so long coveted.

Every art was made use of to captivate the wealthy baronet, but it was
evident that his heart was irrevocably fixed - that he had no intention of
ever marrying again. Finally the disappointed girl gave her hand to a
rich, but aged and feeble lord, and tried to satisfy her heart and
ambition with the golden husks thus achieved.

Mrs. Farnum lost her husband soon after her return from America, and
afterward made her home mostly with her daughter. But she was far from
being a happy woman, even though she had everything which unlimited wealth
could purchase. Her conscience never ceased to trouble her for the part
she had played in helping to ruin the life of that beautiful wife and
mother whom she had met in New York. She was ever haunted by that sad,
sweet face. She had been half-tempted, many times, to confess everything
to Sir William, hoping thus to atone in part for what she had done, and
because, after she found that Sadie's cause was hopeless, she began to
pity that poor, injured girl; but her fear of Lady Linton, and also of Sir
William's righteous anger, prevented her doing so.

Thus five years passed.

It was now ten years since Sir William Heath's marriage with Virgie, but
he was still true to the one love of his youth. He continued to cherish
her image in his heart, even as he had vowed to do, and though he had come
to believe her lost to him forever, he had determined that no other should
occupy the place he had once given to her.

But about this time something occurred to create a pleasant change in his
saddened life.

A dear friend of his youth died, leaving to his care his fine, manly
little son, now in his twelfth year, who had been the pride of his
father's heart, the comfort of widowered, lonely years.

Major Hamilton had been in Her Majesty's service for many years, and at
the time of his death was serving on an important appointment abroad.

During this service he had acquired many honors and great wealth. His wife
was the second daughter of Lord Shaftonsberry, but she had lived only one
short month after the birth of their only son, Rupert, who was now to
become the ward of Sir William Heath.

He was a noble little fellow, and it was not long before the baronet
became fondly attached to him, and believed that perhaps he had at last
found, in rearing this child of promise to manhood, something that would
add interest and zest to his dreary and monotonous life.


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