Mrs. Georgie Sheldon.

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Lady Linton, who was still at Heathdale, and nominally its mistress,
received the orphaned stranger with great kindness.

He was heir presumptive to the title and estates of Shaftonsberry, if
death should remove the present incumbent who as yet had no children of
his own, and this circumstance, in addition to the great wealth which
young Rupert inherited from his father, made him a person of considerable
consequence.

Her ladyship's mind, with its habitual cunning, leaped forward eight or
ten years, and planned a union of the houses of Linton and Shaftonsberry,
by the marriage of her daughter, Lillian, now eleven years of age, with
her brother's ward.

She argued that everything was in her favor for accomplishing this, for
the children would be reared beneath the same roof, and it would be
comparatively easy to educate them to consider themselves destined for
each other.

Of course this arch plotter kept all this to herself, for she well knew
that her brother would sternly oppose all match-making of this sort; but
it became a dearly cherished plan with her, and she bent all her energies
toward its accomplishment.




Chapter XXVI.

"I Shall Never Marry Again."



Virgie returned to San Francisco about two weeks after Sir William quitted
the city.

Her little girl, now more than two years old, was much improved, and had
grown to be a remarkably interesting child, while she was of the greatest
comfort to her mother whose every hope was now centered in her.

Virgie entered upon her work with renewed interest, although she had not
been idle during the summer by any means. With her pen she had copied
nature in every possible phase, and had brought home, for her winter's
campaign, rich treasures of beauty and art.

She had for some time been engaged upon quite an extensive work, which was
to be elegantly bound, and which promised to be something very rare and
unique.

She threw herself into this with such energy, after her return, and worked
at it so steadily and with so much enthusiasm, that Mr. Knight really
began to fear that she would overtax her strength.

From the first he had been deeply interested in the beautiful and talented
woman who bore her sorrows so bravely and battled so courageously with the
adverse fate that had well-nigh ruined her life. He had pitied her
friendlessness, and tried to throw around her a sort of fatherly care and
protection; but as he came to know her better, to realize her strength of
mind and character, and beauty of disposition, a warmer feeling began to
take the place of pity and compassion, until, as she grew to confide in
and rely upon him more and more, the hope that he might perhaps win her to
share and brighten his lonely home during the declining years of his life,
gradually dawned upon him, and he finally resolved to ask her to become
his wife.

"I could save her from all this toil, and all uncertainty about the
future. I would ask no greater happiness than to see her mistress of my
home during the remainder of my life, and then, when I am gone, she will
have all my wealth to smooth her own future."

Thus he mused while considering the propriety of putting his fate to the
test.

One day Virgie came into his office to consult with him regarding some
point connected with her book, and he thought she appeared weary and
looked paler than usual.

"You are working too hard, Mrs. Alexander," he said. "Do not apply
yourself so closely - there is no need."

"No need?" returned Virgie; "there is every need. I am very mercenary, Mr.
Knight," she added, smiling "I am determined to make all the money I can,
so that my dear little girl may have every advantage by and by."

"But if you tax your strength too severely you may break down, and that
would be far worse than not to make money quite so rapidly."

"I do not think I am going beyond my strength," Virgie replied, gravely.
"Besides, I am much more content when I am very busy; it keeps me
from - thinking."

"You ought to be far more than simply 'content,'" answered Mr. Knight,
regarding the fair face wistfully, "for you are not only making plenty of
money, but winning fame for yourself also. The name of Alexander bids fair
to become renowned."

Virgie started violently at this, and glanced sharply at her companion.
Then a burning blush suffused her face, and she said, in a low, pained
tone:

"Oh, I hope not! I - I do not wish to be known. I am afraid I have done
wrong in using the name at all. I did it hastily, impulsively - - "

She stopped, covered with confusion, a look of distress on her lovely face
for having allowed herself to say so much.

Mr. Knight looked astonished for a moment, while he earnestly studied her
countenance. Then light seemed to dawn upon him suddenly.

"Pardon me," he said, leaning eagerly toward her, "but what you have said
has enlightened me regarding something that has puzzled me since the day I
first met you. You are the daughter of Abbot Alexander who disappeared so
mysteriously from this city several years ago."

"Yes, it is true," Virgie confessed, with bowed head and burning cheeks.
"But, oh, Mr. Knight, pray do not allow any one else to suspect my
identity if you can avoid it. Put some other name to my books, or put no
name at all to them. For my father's sake, I shrink from attracting public
attention to his name."

"My dear young friend, I fear you are morbidly sensitive I used to know
your father, and I always esteemed him as a noble man - one whose honor was
unimpeachable."

"Ah! Then you do not know - "

"Yes, I do know all about that financial earthquake which wrought his ruin
and that of many others; but I am sure he was blameless."

"You judge him, then, more kindly than others," Virgie returned, almost
weeping to hear her father so warmly defended. "There are few, I fear, who
do not believe the very worst of him even now."

"Doubtless that is true," Mr. Knight answered, with a sigh; "but I have
always been convinced that that rascally cashier was at the bottom of the
wrong. You must pardon me for speaking so plainly. I know that he was a
relative, though unworthy the name he bore."

"But all the papers stated that the president and cashier were in league,"
said Virgie.

"I know it; and at first the affair did have that appearance - at least,
such a construction was but natural under the circumstances."

"But papa gave up every dollar he possessed to right the wrong."

"I know he did, but the amount was so small, compared with that which had
been stolen, that people were skeptical regarding his motives, and when he
also disappeared, they were only too ready to believe that he had gone to
share the plunder with the guilty cashier. But I would as soon suspect
myself of a crime as Abbot Alexander. I know that he was an honorable
man."

"Oh, it is such a comfort to hear you say this," Virgie murmured, her
voice husky with emotion, her eyes filled with tears. "Poor papa! his last
years were embittered with the thought that every one believed him a
defaulter - that he had not one friend in all the world, save his daughter,
who had faith in him."

"He made a great mistake in leaving San Francisco as he did," Mr. Knight
remarked. "If he had remained here and quietly lived down the scandal, he
might in time have recovered the confidence of the people."

"Oh! if the stain could be removed from his name and memory!" sighed
Virgie.

"I do not like to pain you, my dear," replied Mr. Knight, sympathetically;
"but that would be very difficult to accomplish, unless that cashier
should come forward and make a full confession."

Virgie looked up, startled, her face growing very white.

"I saw him here in the city last year," she said.

"Impossible!" exclaimed her friend.

"I am very sure I was not mistaken," Virgie affirmed and then she told the
publisher the circumstances of her being followed by that muffled figure
and of the advertisement which appeared in the papers a day or two
following, desiring communication with her.

"I am afraid that you have made a mistake this time," said Mr. Knight,
thoughtfully. "You ought to have communicated with the man."

"But I had such a horror of him; I could not believe that he would be able
to tell me of anything to my advantage."

"At least he could have done you no harm, and he might have told you
something worth knowing. Promise me, if anything of the same nature occurs
again, you will let me know. If he could be arrested he might be forced to
a confession of the truth."

Virgie was greatly disturbed by this view of the matter, and regretted
that she had not had more wisdom at the time. She readily promised to do
as Mr. Knight wished, though she feared she might never again have the
opportunity.

"Now that the ice has been broken, and I know who you are, tell me
something of your life among the mountains," said her friend. "I fear it
must have been a very dreary and monotonous one."

"It was a very quiet and peaceful one," Virgie answered with a sigh, as
she thought of the storms she had buffeted since. "Papa's claim proved to
be an excellent one, and he made a good deal of money from it; and after
we became somewhat used to the change in our life, it was not so bad."

"But all his earnings there had to be sacrificed also. My poor child; what
a hard lot has been yours! I almost wonder at your having any faith
whatever in human nature," said Mr. Knight, feelingly.

"I am sure that you have proved to me that there is at least one noble
man in the world," Virgie returned, gratefully. "I shall never forget your
kindness to me, Mr. Knight; you have been a true friend to me."

The publisher leaned eagerly forward, and gathered her hands in his; her
words had inspired him with hope.

"Let me be more than a friend to you, dear," he pleaded. "Let me take care
of you and your little one in the future. I know that I am much older than
you - old enough almost to be your father; but my home is lonely. I lost my
wife ten years ago. I have no children, and my heart is hungry for some
one to love. Dear child, you have been growing very dear to me ever since
you first came to me, and if you can trust me, if you can give yourself to
me, I will not ask too much, or even expect that you can feel a great deal
of affection for me, for I know how sorely you have been tried and
deceived in that respect; but let me persuade you to come to my home as my
honored wife, and I will surround you with tenderest care. Life shall be
made as pleasant as possible for you, and there will be no need of your
toiling any more."

Virgie sat as one stunned after this unexpected proposal.

She had never thought of anything like this during all her intercourse
with the kind-hearted publisher. She had learned to esteem him very highly
for his goodness to her, and to look up to him almost as to a father, but
the thought of ever being any man's wife again had never occurred to her.

She grew very pale at his words, and instinctively shrank a little from
him.

That act told him far more than words could have done, and he knew at once
that his cause was hopeless.

He gently released her hands, sighing regretfully, while a look of pain
settled upon his fine face.

"Oh! my friend," Virgie began, as soon as she could find her voice, "why
have you said this to me? I have not had the remotest suspicion of - of
your regard and what you have asked can never, never be."

"Then forget that I have said anything about it, my dear. I would not
wound you for the world," said the old gentleman, with exceeding
gentleness, but with a still pained, white face.

"Oh, please do not think me ungrateful for all your kindness," Virgie
cried, the tears dropping thick and fast from her eyes; "but, believe me,
I can never marry again. I feel, morally speaking, that I am just as truly
Sir William Heath's wife to-day as I ever was, even though the law has
rent the bond that existed between us. I do not feel that a marriage can
be broken except by death."

"Then why did you appeal for a divorce?" interrupted Mr. Knight, with
surprise.

"Simply that he might be free in the eyes of the world to make that other
woman a legal wife - so that she need not suffer such a wrong through me."

"But she has already suffered it, if what you have heard is true."

"That may be, but he now has it in his power to do her justice, if he
chooses. At all events, I can never feel free to change my condition in
life. My whole future must be devoted to the preparation of my child for
the position which she will occupy by and by, for I am determined that she
shall be acknowledged the rightful heir to Heathdale," Virgie concluded,
firmly.

"How about the wrong which this other woman and her children will suffer
in that case?" asked the publisher.

"That is something which I cannot help - for which I am in no way
responsible. If others suffer, that must be Sir William Heath's punishment
for the wrong which he has done me and my child."

Virgie was very pale, showing that she felt strongly on the subject, but
she spoke decidedly, as if her purpose was unalterable.

"I can but own the justice of what you have said," responded Mr. Knight,
adding: "But of course it will have to be as you say regarding the matter
of which I spoke. I should have been very happy in providing for your
future, and I had built many hopes upon having your presence in my home.
However, I will never pain you by mentioning the subject again, and you
must consider me the same friend as before. Come to me with all your
plans, your hopes, and your troubles, and believe that I shall always feel
the same interest in them as ever."

He arose and held out his hand to her as he spoke, and Virgie could see
that it shook with the emotion which he was bravely trying to conceal.

Her heart was almost broken for him, for she knew, that his home was very
silent and lonely. There was no one in it save his sister, a maiden lady
of uncertain age, to make it pleasant for him.

"Forgive me!" she said, hardly able to speak, and with an impulsive
movement she bent forward and touched her lips to the hand extended to
her; then turning quickly, she glided from his presence before he could
interpose a word to prevent her.

What happened to Virgie, and the final outcome of all her troubles is told
in the sequel to this story entitled "Threads Gathered Up," which is
published in a handsome cloth binding uniform with this volume.



The End.








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Online LibraryMrs. Georgie SheldonVirgie's Inheritance → online text (page 15 of 15)