Mrs. Georgie Sheldon.

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would hardly have believed there could be such an exquisite view in this
region; my disagreeable ride, when I came here before, rather prejudiced
me against the locality. Do you come here often?"

"I used to, before papa's health failed him," Virgie answered, with a
regretful sigh, as she remembered how little her father had been able to
go about of late. "We used to come here almost every Sabbath in fine
weather, with our books and papers, and spend half the day - it is all the
church we have had - and I shall always love the spot."

"No doubt you do, and yet - - "

Virgie looked up inquiringly as he paused abruptly.

"I was thinking," he continued, in reply to her glance, "that this
mountain must be a wild and lonely place for one like you to spend your
life in."

"Yes, it is lonely," the young girl responded, with a wistful gleam in her
violent eyes.

"Have you lived here long, Miss Abbot?"

"Five years - a little more."

"So long? Surely you cannot have had much congenial society," Mr. Heath
remarked, as he contemplated with no favoring eye the rude hamlet far
below them on their right.

"None, save my father."

"And have you never been lonely, and yearned for youthful companionship?"

"Oh, yes, often," and the bright tears sprang quickly into Virgie's blue
eyes, as she thought of the nights she had wept herself to sleep from
sheer homesickness and a feeling of utter desolation. "But," she continued
more brightly, and winking rapidly to keep the tell-tale drops from
falling. "I can bear loneliness, or almost anything else, for my father's
sake."

"Poor child! brave little woman!" thought the man by her side, "it must
have been very much like being buried alive, and she has borne it like a
heroine; but she will not have to endure it much longer 'for her father.'
I wonder what will become of her when he is gone."

"Mr. Abbot seems very feeble," he said aloud, "do you not think a change
would be beneficial to him?"

"I - do not know," Virgie began wistfully; then added, more to herself than
to him, "Where could we go?"

"I would advise the sea-shore. I should think the salt air would do him
good. Santa Cruz, Monterey, or any of those places on the California
coast, would be both pleasant and healthful."

A startled look came into Virgie's eyes, and her face grew pale.

She had often been to Santa Cruz and Monterey, in the old delightful days
when her mother was living, where she had reigned like a little queen, and
they had all been so happy, with no suspicion of the black shadow that was
creeping upon them so surely.

"No, no, we could not go there; I - I do not believe that papa could be
persuaded to leave home," she faltered with evident nervousness and
embarrassment.

"There is a sad history and a secret here," said Mr. Heath to himself, and
he wondered more than ever what cruel misfortune could have driven these
people thus into exile.

"Has Mr. Abbot ever consulted a physician?" he asked.

"No; there is no physician near us. But papa understands something of
medicine himself," Virgie answered, sighing, for her heart was very heavy
whenever she thought of her father's condition, and it was evident to her
that Mr. Heath considered him to be in a very critical state.

He saw that it troubled her to talk about it, and resolved that he would
not refer to the subject again.

As they stood there the gorgeous tints faded out of the western sky, a
purplish haze settled over mountain and valley, like a gauzy vail
softening all their outlines, and a mist was beginning to rise from the
depths below.

"The dew is falling, Miss Abbot. I fear you will take cold in this
dampness. Shall I take you back now?" Mr. Heath asked.

"Yes. I think it will be hardly safe for us to linger longer," she
replied. "But, Mr. Heath, be careful as you go down; the path is not
altogether safe."

The young man laughed lightly.

"I have scaled greater heights, climbed steeper and more rugged paths than
these, Miss Abbot," he said. "The Alps, the Pyrenees, the Caucasus, are
all familiar ground, and this is but child's play compared with them."

"Oh, then you have been in Europe?" Virgie cried, with animation.

"Yes, in almost every portion of it," he answered, watching her kindly
face with admiration.

"How favored you are," she sighed wistfully. "I have longed with a mighty
longing to visit foreign lands."

"Have you? Perhaps some time your wish may be gratified. I hope it may
be," he returned, in an earnest tone. "Now give me your hand, and let me
assist you down this slippery path."

"No, no. Please care for yourself, Mr. Heath, and let me follow you," the
young girl pleaded. "I know every step of the way, and it is all strange
to you."

But he stood still in the way, with his hand outstretched to her, resolute
yet smiling. He would not yield his point, and without another word she
laid her own within his, and together they went down the mountain path, he
guiding her steps as carefully as if she had never been over the ground
before, and she finding it very pleasant to be so shielded and attended.

When they reached more level ground he drew the hand he held within his
arm, and they slowly wended their way back in the gloaming to the cottage,
Virgie feeling strangely light-hearted and happy, and almost as if a new
and beautiful life was about opening before her, while William Heath, with
a twinkle of amusement in his fine eyes, wondered what his aristocratic
mother and sister would say; what another brilliantly beautiful woman
would think to see him thus playing the devoted cavalier to this simple
and unpretending mountain maiden whom he thought so lovely.

He had at that moment in his pocket, letters from two of them, begging him
to "quit his wanderings," to "come home and settle down to the real
business of life. The property needed his care, and - Sadie had not been
like herself since his departure."

These words came to him now, but they did not change in the least the
purposes that were taking root in his mind - the determination to remain in
that isolated hamlet as long as Virginia Abbot's father should live.




Chapter V.

"Who Is He, and Why Is He Here?"



The next morning Mr. Abbot and his young guest visited the mine, and,
after a thorough examination of the former's claim, and instituting some
inquiries, more for form's sake than anything else, regarding the wealth
of the mine generally, Mr. Heath became the purchaser of Mr. Abbot's
property, and at once set about hiring competent miners to work it for
him.

"It may prove but a foolish, quixotic undertaking after all," he told
himself, when his negotiations were completed, "but I must have some
excuse for remaining here. That girl is the most beautiful being I ever
met. She has power to move me as I was never moved before. I simply
cannot go away and leave her. I am sure her father can live but a little
while, and then - "

What was to happen after Mr. Abbot should be taken away remained unsaid,
and Mr. Heath walked on for a while with bent head and thoughtful brow.

He was looking about him a little to find a place in which to live while
he should remain on the mountain, for he was resolved that he would
trespass upon Mr. Abbot's hospitality no longer than he was obliged to,
although every hour in Virgie's presence was perfect delight to him.

"I would give a good deal to know their history," he resumed, after a
little. "It is the greatest mystery - their being here. The man shows
culture and familiarity with men and things; he is unusually keen and
shrewd in business matters, while the way he has managed his daughter's
education betrays the scholar and a mind of no ordinary power and ability;
and to be here, working with the common herd in a mine! I do not
understand it!"

While he was speculating thus regarding his new friends, Mr. Abbot and
Virgie were engaged in the same manner with reference to him.

"Well, Virgie, I have sold my claim, and for a generous sum, too. Mr.
Heath is no haggler, and gave me my price without a demur; but I think
that it is very queer that a young man of his stamp should care to engage
in any such business."

"It is rather strange," Virgie admitted, absently.

"He is far above the people with whom he will come in contact," continued
her father. "He has evidently been accustomed to the very best of society,
is well educated and fine appearing, and seems to have an abundance of
means. What do you make of him, dear?"

"I should say that he is very much of a gentleman, papa," replied the
young girl, flushing, as she remembered their walk of the previous
evening, the care and attention which he had bestowed upon her, and the
delight which she had experienced in his presence.

"Yes, that goes without saying; but, does he seem like an American to
you?"

"I had not given a thought to his nationality," Virgie answered, looking
up curiously.

"Well, it strikes me that he may be English, although there is nothing in
his speech or manner to betray it. He is built like an Englishman, and
somehow the idea has taken possession of me that he belongs over the
water, and so, his desire to settle here seems all the more
incomprehensible."

"It may be a whim - a romantic desire to learn something of a miner's
life," observed Virgie; "or," with more animation, "he may be an author,
papa, and is taking this way to study certain phases of character with
reference to writing a book."

"Well, Virgie," said Mr. Abbot, smiling, "I must confess that is the most
reasonable explanation that could suggest itself, and possibly, with your
woman's intuition, you have hit upon the right solution of the mystery.
Yes," after a thoughtful pause, "I shouldn't wonder if you were right. His
saying that he did not intend to work the mine himself goes to show that
it is a secondary object, and he does not care particularly about the
profit of it. He is very pleasant company. I believe his coming has done
me good."

"I am sure it has," Virgie answered, brightly; "and papa, now that your
mind is relieved of all pecuniary care, don't you think you will continue
to improve?"

"No, Virgie," her father returned, gravely; "do not allow my temporary
improvement to deceive you. A fatal disease has fastened itself upon me,
and I know that I have not long to live."

"Oh, papa!" exclaimed the lovely girl, sharply. "I will not believe it.
Pray, pray try what medical advice will do for you."

"Hush, my child," Mr. Abbot returned, deeply moved. "I did not mean to
refer to this again, but you force me to do so; nothing short of a miracle
could give me a sound pair of lungs again."

"Then let us try change of air - anything so that I may keep you with me,"
Virgie pleaded, yet knowing, as she did so, that there was no place on
earth that held so much attraction for her now as the humble home which
heretofore had seemed so lonely and isolated.

A subtle charm seemed suddenly to have fallen upon it; everything looked
brighter; all things surrounding it had become dearer.

"No, dear; no air will be so good for me as this pure, bracing mountain
atmosphere," her father replied, gently. "I would shrink from going to any
place where we should be likely to find familiar faces - nothing would
break me down so quickly. Be patient, Virgie for a little longer, and then
you shall go back to the world, where you ought long ago to have been
with people of your own age."

"Oh, papa! I care nothing for the world nor for society without you," she
sobbed, realizing more fully than she ever had done, that she would soon
be fatherless.

"But it is not right that you should spend your life in such a place as
this," responded Mr. Abbot. "I have written to Mr. Bancroft, and if
anything happens to me suddenly you will find the letter in my desk, and
must send it to him immediately. I would mail it now, only - I cannot feel
reconciled to having any one learn of our hiding-place while I live. One
thing more I must speak of. I should have done so the other night if we
had not been interrupted. When I am gone I want you to lay my body here,
under the shadow of the old pine tree."

"Papa, papa! you will break my heart! Surely you would wish to lie beside
my mother!" Virgie cried, the tears raining over her cheeks.

Mr. Abbot's face was almost convulsed with pain for a moment.

"Yes, if that were possible," he said, at length, "but no one must ever
know the fate of Abbot Al - Ha! Virgie, I had nearly uttered the dishonored
name!" he panted.

"Papa, you shall not talk so," the girl cried, wiping her tears and
turning on him almost indignantly.

"I would not pain you, my darling," he answered, gently; "but if there
were no cloud hanging over us, I should be only too glad to go back to our
old home to die and be laid beside my loved ones. It cannot be, however,"
he concluded, sighing wearily.

"But, dear papa, the dreadful past was caused by no fault of your own, and
it is not right that you should suffer as if it had been," Virgie said,
passionately.

A cynical smile curled the lips of the sick man.

"The world would tell a far different story if it should ferret out my
grave and see my name blazoned above it; and as long as its poisonous
tongues continue to speak slightingly of me, it must never know aught
about me. So do as I bid you; promise that you will obey me, Virgie."

And the almost broken-hearted girl promised, but feeling as if it would be
almost more than she could bear, to go back to the gay world, where she
would be kindly cared for and sheltered, and leave her dear father lying
in his lonely grave upon that desolate mountain.

William Heath entered with great apparent interest upon his mining
operations, and although he frankly acknowledged his entire ignorance of
the business, exhibited a goodly amount of judgment and common sense which
warned the workmen whom he had hired that it would not be well for them to
attempt to take advantage of him.

He was unable to find any place in which he was willing to live, so he
caused a small cabin to be erected just opposite Mr. Abbot's dwelling,
furnished it simply but comfortably from the nearest supply station, and
with Mr. Abbot's permission, contracted with Chi Lu to keep his table
supplied with all needful provisions.

No one would have supposed from his humble surroundings from the
industrious and energetic life which he led, and the total absence of
anything like arrogance or assumption, that he belonged to an almost royal
family, and had been for years the petted darling of fashionable circles
and drawing rooms, the catch of many seasons, and the prize for which fond
mammas and beautiful, aspiring maidens had long angled in vain.

But such was the fact, and William Heath had thus isolated himself from
his home and all that he held most dear simply because, while on a
pleasure trip, he had accidentally met a beautiful girl who had chanced to
touch a chord in his heart that had never vibrated before.

These two young people were now thrown almost daily into each other's
society.

Mr. Heath was quite literary in his tastes, and after the duties of the
day were over he invariably sought the companionship of Virgie, sometimes
reading to her while she worked, and often with her as she still
persisted in reviewing certain studies and authors which she loved.

The failing invalid, too, received much of his care and attention, while
many delicacies, which he had never taken pains to procure for himself,
found their way to his table to help sustain his waning strength.

It is easy to see whither all this tended.

Virgie soon learned to look for Heath's coming, to listen for his
footsteps and the sound of his voice, as she had never looked for or
listened to anything else in the world before. She began to rely upon him,
to experience a sense of restfulness and content in his care that
sometimes made her wonder how she had ever been able to live without him.

There came new beauty, and light, and earnestness into her face, a
tenderer smile to her red lips, a more musical cadence into her voice. The
hours dragged heavily without him, and they took to themselves wings when
he came.

Before she realized the fact she had learned to love him with all the
strength of her nature, and her destiny was sealed.

Thus weeks and months went by.

For a time the warm, genial summer weather seemed to hold Mr. Abbot's
disease somewhat in check, and, as he was cheerful, and enjoyed the
novelty of having two young and charming people about him, there was a
little season during which that small household was very happy.

He studied the young stranger attentively, and was more and more
prepossessed in his favor. They conversed frequently upon topics which Mr.
Abbot had long been in the habit of scoffing at, but there was an element
of reverence in Mr. Heath's nature that commanded his respect in spite of
preconceived ideas and a tendency to skepticism. His arguments were always
reasonable and convincing. He could not fail to feel this influence; and
it was not long before Virgie could see that a great change had taken
place in her father's feelings regarding his relations to an overruling
power and the future, which hitherto had seemed so vague and uncertain.

Yet, notwithstanding all this, he often experienced a feeling of
uneasiness.

He could not fail to perceive that Virgie was learning to care a great
deal for their new friend, and that Mr. Heath was deeply interested in his
daughter.

This was all well enough if Mr. Heath was what he appeared to be, and his
intentions were honorable.

But he could never quite divest himself of the feeling that there was
something rather mysterious in his desire to remain in that remote region,
and it would be terrible if any harm should result from it to his one ewe
lamb.

He had always guarded her so tenderly and carefully no breath of evil,
scarce a sorrow, save their one great sorrow, had ever touched her. Once
or twice the thought had come to him, prompted, no doubt, by the
circumstances which had driven him to that place, that the man might have
become entangled in some wrong or crime, and was hiding, like himself,
from the world and justice; and yet it was difficult to fancy that he was
not all that was honorable and upright, for his life and conduct from day
to day were beyond reproach.

"If they love each other, and he is all he seems, I could give her to
him, and feel more content than I ever thought to be," he said to himself,
while brooding upon the subject one afternoon while Virgie and her lover
were out on a ramble. "She would be far better off under the care and
protection of a kind husband, than she would be to send her to New York.
Her future would be settled, and there would be no fear on account of the
snares and temptations of society in the gay city.

"Still I really know nothing about him. He says nothing about himself, his
home, or his family. If it should turn out that he has a suspicion that
she will have money, and he is seeking her for that, it would be a fearful
blow. I could not bear that her young life should be ruined."

He sat in troubled thought for a long time, considering the subject from
every point, sometimes reproaching himself for not having foreseen the
danger of allowing the two young people to come together, and refused to
sell his claim to Mr. Heath; then again feeling a sense of shame for his
unworthy suspicions of one who bore the stamp of true nobility upon his
very face.

At length he was aroused from his reverie by the sound of the voice he
knew and loved so well; and, sitting suddenly erect and speaking with
resolution, he said:

"I am her father. I have a right to know. He shall tell me who he is, and
why he is here."




Chapter VI.

"Will You Give Me Your Daughter?"



"Papa," said Virgie, putting a flushed, beautiful face inside the room
where her father was sitting, and all unconscious of the very serious
considerations that were agitating his mind: "I have invited Mr. Heath to
take tea with us. A basket of the loveliest peaches came to us this
afternoon from some mysterious source, which, however, I am inclined to
think, he could tell us something about if he chose. So, if you entertain
him for a little while, I will go and prepare a dish of them for him to
share with us."

"Yes, yes. Come in, Mr. Heath. I was waiting to see you. Run away, Virgie,
and attend to your peaches, and I will see that our friend is properly
entertained until tea is ready," the invalid responded, with unusual
animation.

Virgie tripped lightly up to her chamber, where she removed her hat, and
stopped a moment before her glass to rearrange the locks that lay lightly
upon her forehead, and blushed a conscious rosy red as she looked into her
eyes and read the strangely happy expression that lay in their clear
depths. Then she tied a long white apron around her slim waist, and went
down to pare her peaches, never suspecting the vital questions that were
being discussed in the little parlor so near her.

"Mr. Heath," Mr. Abbot began, as the young man had seated himself, "I was
thinking of you just as you entered, and had resolved to ask you a couple
of very plain, and to me, important questions."

"Which, no doubt, I shall be very glad to answer if I can do so," his
companion responded, smiling, yet flushing lightly as he began to suspect
what the nature of the invalid's inquiries might be.

"Thank you," responded Mr. Abbot, courteously, and then added, gravely: "I
do not need to remind you, I am sure, that as a father I am often anxious
regarding my daughter's future, and for this reason I feel compelled to
ask you that which, under other circumstances I should not feel at liberty
to ask. Will you tell me who you are?"

"My name, Mr. Abbot, is - William Heath," the young man began, looking
thoughtful; then seemed to hesitate to go on.

"Is that all that you have to tell me about yourself?" the invalid
inquired, with some dignity, and attentively studying the face opposite
him. "I knew that before," he went on, a suspicion of sarcasm in his tone,
"but I have long felt that there was something of mystery connected with
the circumstances of your being here. It is rather extraordinary that a
young man of your talent and culture should desire to locate in a rough
place like this. It has been evident to me for some time that your mining
operations were of secondary importance to you, for you cannot reap much
if any profit. It must take nearly all you realize to pay the two men you
hire to work your claim, while you lead, comparatively, a life of leisure.
My second question was regarding this - why are you here?"

William Heath lifted his frank, dark eyes, and looked straight into the
face of his host, and said, in a low tone, but with an earnestness which
betrayed that he felt he had much at stake:

"Mr. Abbot, I will answer your last question first, as frankly as you have
asked it, though, no doubt, you will be greatly surprised, and perhaps
startled, by my reply. I am here simply and solely to try and win Virginia
Abbot for my wife."

Mr. Abbot sat erect, looking astonished indeed at this astounding
statement, and a spot of deep red settled in each hollow cheek.

"What can you mean? You never saw her until three months ago!" he said,
excitedly.

"True, I never saw her until that wild, stormy night when I came to you a
weary, dripping traveler and you so kindly extended to me your
hospitality. But I began to love your daughter that very evening. I do not
need to tell you that she is beautiful, for you know it; but to me she
seemed the fairest woman that I had ever seen; her presence moved me as I
had never been moved before, and I felt as if I could hardly go on to join
my friends and leave her. But I suddenly found a pretext for returning
when you mentioned that you desired to dispose of your claim. I resolved
that I would become the purchaser. I would come here and remain to study
the character of your daughter, and if she proved all that I fancied her,
I would strive to win her for my wife. This, my dear sir, is why I am
here; and now - will you give her to me?"

"Have you said anything to Virgie about this?" Mr. Abbot asked, looking
very grave.

"No, sir; I have not breathed a word of my intentions to her; but I
accepted her invitation to tea this evening with the determination to tell
you this, if I could make the opportunity, and ask your sanction to my
suit before speaking to her."

Mr. Abbot looked gratified.

"That was honorable of you," he said. "It meets my estimate of your


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