Virgie's Inheritance
Mrs. Georgie Sheldon

Part 2 out of 4

"You thought that I could not have very much of this world's goods since I
had come here to work a mine," Sir William said, completing her sentence.
"But, darling, all that was only a ruse; I have been working more for my
wife than for gold."


"Darling, it is true; that was my only reason for becoming the purchaser
of your father's interest here. I saw you; I loved you; I must have some
good excuse for tarrying near you to try to win you, and now that I have
attained my object, the mine will have to be disposed of, as I have no
further use for it."

Virgie regarded him with astonishment. She had never suspected anything
like this.

"How strange," she said, with a beautiful flush. "I have thought it almost
unaccountable that a man like you should come here to remain. I have
imagined that you were an author or a student, and might be investigating
the formation of the mountains or studying character in order to write a
book, but I never dreamed of anything like this."

Sir William laughed heartily.

"You were making me out to be quite a lofty character truly," he said;
"and now you find your hero only a very human being after all--one who,
for the sake of a beautiful woman, has been almost willing to barter his
birthright. Have I fallen very low in your estimation, Virgie, because I
am not to become a distinguished public benefactor on account of my
research and investigation? Has my confession shocked you very much?"

"Your confession has made me a very, very happy woman." Virgie whispered,
slipping her hand confidingly into his, her heart thrilling with a tender
pride and love that this grand man should have sacrificed so much to win

"And I am exceedingly proud of this happy woman," returned Sir William,
fondly. "I shall take the loveliest bride in the world back with me when
we go home to Heathdale."

"Where you will be Lady Heath my Virgie. Ah, I am very thankful that my
child will occupy so proud a position in life," said the voice of Mr.
Abbot, just behind them.

He had come out to seek them, and had approached just as Sir William
uttered those last words.

"Lady Heath!" exclaimed Virgie, starting up and turning a very astonished
face first upon one and then the other. "What do you mean? I do not

"Haven't you told her?" Mr. Abbot asked of the young man.

Sir William shook his head, with a smile.

"Told me what, papa?"

"That our friend here is Sir William Heath, of Heathdale, and an English

Virgie stood in wondering silence for a moment, her face flushed and
drooping, while a hundred thoughts flashed through her mind.

Her lover a titled peer of England! This noble man, who might have chosen
his wife from the nobility of his own country, had concealed his identity,
had buried himself in the wilds of Nevada, and lived like a common miner
simply to win her, an humble mountain maiden. He who belonged to an
honored race, and possessed both title and wealth, had overlooked the fact
that a heavy cloud enshrouded her own and her father's name, and was
willing to lift her to the proud position of his wife and the mistress of
his beautiful home. These and many other thoughts held her speechless, and
made her tremble with something of fear that in the future he might regret
it all, and wish that he had never seen her.

"I am afraid I am not fitted--" she at length faltered.

"In point of education, Virgie, you are fitted for the proudest position
that could be offered you," her father returned, with some spirit. "All
that you need is a trifle more worldly polish, which you will readily gain
as Sir William takes you into society, and I am proud to give you to him.
God bless you both, my children."

His voice broke.

He would have been glad to go with her to the scenes of her new life, to
watch her develop in a higher atmosphere and see her happiness in her
proud position. But he knew it could not be; and overcome, for the
moment, with the thought of the separation which must soon come, he turned
abruptly away and went feebly back to the cottage.

Chapter VIII.

Mr. Abbot Desires an Immediate Marriage.

Whether it was owing to the excitement of the previous evening, or to a
feeling of relief from care and anxiety upon Virgie's account which made
Mr. Abbot feel that at last he might safely lay down his burdens, it would
be impossible to say, but he was alarmingly ill the morning after the
betrothal, and unable to rise from his bed.

His strength seemed to have left him, and he lay weak as a child, panting
with every breath, a deadly faintness and sinking sensation frequently
seizing him and making him feel as if the world was rapidly slipping from
his grasp.

Virgie was in an agony of fear.

She had never seen her father so ill before, and it seemed to her that he
must die if he did not soon have relief.

"What shall I do?" she asked, in a helpless, appealing way, of Sir

He had been summoned as soon as Mr. Abbot's condition had been discovered,
and he, too, feared that the end was very near, while, being wholly
unaccustomed to sickness of any kind, he felt very useless and

He bent and kissed his darling's pale, upturned face, and then went
swiftly out of the house.

Presently, however, he returned with a foreign looking flask or bottle in
his hand.

"Here is some brandy," he said, giving it to Virgie. "Mix some of it with
two-thirds as much water, and feed your father a teaspoonful at a time
every few minutes until he begins to rally, and call all your courage to
your aid, dear. Meantime, I will go to the nearest telegraph station and
send a message to Virginia City for a skillful physician."

Virgie looked up at him with quivering lips.

"Oh, what a comfort it is to have you to help me at this time!" she said.

He drew her into his arms and held her for a moment while she laid her
lips, softly and gracefully, to his cheek, in the first voluntary caress
that she had ever given him.

The act touched him, and told him how trustfully she relied upon him.

"My darling, I wish I could save you from every pang," he said, tenderly.
"But I must not linger--we must have help for your father as soon as
possible. Good-by, my love, for a little while, and be sure that I will
come back just as quickly as I can."

He went quickly out, and Virgie stole softly into her father's chamber, to
do what she could for him, and her heart began to gather something of hope
and courage when a few minutes later she heard the clatter of a horse's
hoofs outside, and knew that her lover was on the way for help.

Sir William did not spare his horse until he reached the station.

A telegram was sent and before long a reply was received saying that a
physician would leave Virginia City upon the next train coming that way.

But several hours must elapse before he could arrive, and Sir William was
brought up to the highest pitch of anxiety and impatience during the
interval, while to Virgie, anxiously watching and waiting by the bedside
of her father, they were the longest that she had ever known.

But she followed Sir William's directions regarding administering the
brandy, and she could see that after a few potions the invalid began to
rally somewhat.

Just as the sun was going down Sir William and the doctor arrived, and
then the young girl felt as if a mountain had rolled from her shoulders.

They remained all night watching with the patient, insisting that Virgie
should go to her rest, and worn out with her day of watching and anxiety,
she crept away to bed and slept the sleep of exhaustion.

In the morning Mr. Abbot seemed considerably stronger and better, and
Virgie's loving heart began to take courage again and to hope that he was
not really so very ill after all.

But these feelings received a sudden shock, when, after breakfast, her
lover drew her into the little parlor, his face very grave, yet full of
tenderness for her.

"I have something that I wish to say to you, Virgie--something to ask
you," he said; "but, remember, that you are to answer me frankly and
truly. You are not to be unduly influenced by my--by any one's wishes--to
consent to what might seem premature, and thus repugnant to you."

Virgie looked up at him questioningly, growing pale, and a thrill of fear
shooting through her heart.

"Your father feels," Sir William went on, answering her look, "as if he
would like to--to have your future settled before--his strength fails him
any further."

"Oh!" cried the young girl, clinging to her lover, a wild look in her
eyes, "papa is not going to--die! Do not tell me that. He is better
to-day, and he will--he must grow yet stronger."

"My darling," said Sir William, holding her close to him, and speaking
with sorrowful tenderness, "I am not going to deceive you. It would not be
right for me to do so. But Dr. Waters thinks that he cannot stay with us
much longer. He believes that he will rally for a while, but the state of
his system warns him that it will be but a very little while. And, Virgie,
your father wants us to be married at once. Darling, shall it be as he

But Virgie hardly heard these latter sentences.

She threw herself upon that manly breast in a wild burst of grief.

It was a dreadful blow to be told that the die was cast, that her father's
doom was very near.

In an indefinite way she had been dreading it ever since he himself had
talked so plainly about it to her, but with the buoyancy of youth she had
kept hoping against hope, and refusing to believe the fearful truth.

Sir William held her in her fond embrace, and allowed her to weep until
her tears were spent.

He knew that it was better to let her grief have its way. She would be
calmer and stronger afterward, though every sob and tear was bitter pain
to his loving heart.

She grew more quiet after a time, and at length he felt that he might
again speak of the subject so near his heart.

"Will you be my wife, Virgie? I would not have forced this upon you just
now but for your father's desire, and because Dr. Waters, who must return
to-day to his own duties, can make all necessary arrangements for us upon
his arrival in Virginia City.

"A clergyman must be sent to us, and there are some other matters which I
wish attended to, so we must decide now. Still, my darling, if you shrink
from this step, if the thought of it shocks you, I will not urge it, I
will wait until you are quite ready for it."

"Did papa propose it?" Virgie asked, hiding her flushed face from those
eager, loving eyes looking down upon her.

"Yes. I should not have presumed to suggest anything of the kind at such a
time," returned the young baronet, gravely. "But he thinks that his mind
would be easier if he could see you my wife. He wishes to give you away
irrevocably while he is able. Then, dear, I could be with you all the time
to help you in your care of him, to relieve you of much that would
encroach upon your strength. Tell me freely, Virgie, shall it or shall it
not be?"

"Do you really wish it? or--are you only yielding to his desire?" she
asked, in a low voice.

He gathered her closer to his breast until she could feel the eager
throbbing of his great heart.

"The day that makes you my wife will be the most blessed of all my life;
though, for your sake. I could wish our bridal to be celebrated under less
sorrowful circumstances Still it must not be as I wish. You must decide
the question," he said, gravely.

There was a long pause. Then Virgie said, quietly:

"I am willing."

"Is that all, love? Are you simply willing to do as your father requests?
Shall you not be glad to be my wife?" Sin William questioned, with a
slight accent of pain.

"Yes, Will, I shall be glad; but, oh, my father! my father!" she cried,
with a fresh burst of grief, as she realized all that this hurried
marriage meant.

He kissed her forehead softly, and breathed:

"Heaven bless you, my beloved, and help me to make your future as happy
as you have made me to-day."

He made her lie down upon the lounge, for she was nearly exhausted with
her grief. He arranged her pillow, drew down the curtains to soften the
light, and then went quietly out of the room.

When he came back an hour later he found her calm, though with a saddened
gravity upon her that made his heart ache.

He told her that Dr. Waters had gone back to Virginia City, but that they
had arranged for a clergyman to come to them to spend the following
Sabbath, when Mr. Abbot desired the marriage to take place.

Virgie was strangely thrilled by this intelligence. It was Tuesday, and in
five days more she would be Sir William Heath's wife! It all seemed like a
dream to her.

On Saturday afternoon an elderly and venerable-appearing gentleman made
his appearance before Mr. Abbots door.

He came in a strong mountain wagon drawn by a pair of handsome horses, and
with him there was a large trunk--which Sir William ordered carried up
stairs into Virgie's room--and two or three hampers, that were given to
Chi Lu to be taken care of.

Virgie turned a wondering, inquiring look upon her lover at these
proceedings, but he only answered by a quiet smile, and then introduced
her to the Rev. Dr. Thornton.

The young bride-elect received him with the charming ease and
self-possession that was natural to her, at which the stranger could not
refrain from regarding her with a look of mingled wonder and admiration.

When told of the errand upon which he was to go, he had consented for the
sake of the dying man; but he had expected to find a very rustic couple
in this rough region, and he was wholly taken aback to meet a polished
gentleman like Mr. Heath--as he was still known except to Virgie and her
father--and such an interesting and lovely woman as his young hostess
appeared to be.

The clergyman spent an hour with the invalid after tea, and he was no less
mystified and astonished regarding him. He realized that he was in a
household of more than ordinary culture and refinement, and he was sure
that there must be some strange history connected with their lives.

When Virgie went to bid her father good-night before going to her rest, he
drew her down to him and looked tenderly and wistfully into her face.

"My daughter," he questioned, "you have no shrinking no misgivings
regarding the step that you are about to take?"

"None, papa," she said, softly.

"And are you happy in the prospect of becoming Sir William's wife? Tell me
truly, my child."

"As happy as I can be while you are so ill, papa," Virgie answered, with
starting tears.

"Then I am at peace. God bless you, my darling, and may your life have
much of sunshine in it. I give you without fear into Will's care, for I
believe him to be one of nature's noblemen. And now," taking a package
from beneath his pillow, here is your marriage dowry; it is all yours,
Virgie, to do with as you will, and Sir William has promised to settle as
much more upon you, which he will tell you about later. You have been a
dear, good daughter to me, and I am very happy regarding your future; I
could not ask or wish anything better for you."

"Oh, papa, if I could only have you well again!" Virgie whispered, hiding
her tearful eyes upon his pillow.

An expression of pain flitted over the sick man's face.

"We will not think of that now," he said, gently; "and you must not give
way to grief, for it will unnerve us both, and I do not wish to see a pale
or sorrowful bride to-morrow. Now good-night, love, and try to get all the
rest that you can."

He kissed her again, and was about to let her go, when he caught her hand,
saying, with something of eagerness:

"But, by the way, Virgie, what will you wear to be married in?"

The young girl flushed, and her lips trembled.

"Oh papa, I have hardly given a thought to that, my heart has been so
heavy for you," she murmured, brokenly. Then she added, after a moment of
thought: "I have my pretty silk that you sent to San Francisco for in the
spring, and I wondered when I should ever wear it here, you know. It will
do, will it not?"

Mr. Abbot sighed.

"I suppose it will have to, since it is the best you have. I should like
to have you married in something white, dear; but make yourself look as
nicely as you can," he said in an unsteady voice.

Virgie dropped a light kiss upon his forehead, and then went out, her
heart heavy in spite of the great love which she bore the man whose wife
she was to become on the morrow, and the bright hopes which the future
held for her in spite of the shadow of death which was every moment
drawing nearer.

Chapter IX.

Virgie's Wedding-Day

As Virgie passed out of her father's room, Sir William captured her.

"I am not going to keep you from your rest," he said, after caressing her
fondly, "but I wanted to tell you that I have been feeling a trifle
jealous regarding the appearance of the future Lady Heath upon her
wedding-day, and you will find everything that you will need for to-morrow
in a trunk, which I have had carried up into your room."

Virgie lifted her head from his breast, and regarded him questioningly.

"I sent an order by Dr. Waters," he explained, "to the best dressmaker
that he could find in Virginia City, to provide a simple yet appropriate
outfit for a bride, and you will find the best that could be obtained at
so short a notice, awaiting your approval up stairs."

"How kind, how thoughtful you are!" Virgie murmured gratefully, and with a
flush of pleasure. "Papa will be so pleased. He was just lamenting that I
was not properly provided for."

"Then it will be a gratifying surprise when he sees you to-morrow," Sir
William returned.

"Indeed it will. How can I think you? Perhaps I have been very remiss,
but, truly, I had not given a thought to my dress," Virgie confessed, with
some confusion.

"How could you, dear, with your heart so full of other things?" Sir
William replied, tenderly; "and I want no thanks other than to see you
looking like a bride," he concluded, smiling. "I did this chiefly to
gratify my own pride in my love."

He led her to the foot of the stairs, and then, with a lingering clasp,
let her go.

It was quite late, and Virgie thought that she would only allow herself a
peep into the mysterious trunk that night; but she resolved that she would
rise very early in the morning and lay out everything in readiness for the

She wondered how Sir William could have managed it all, and was somewhat
anxious regarding the fit of her bridal dress; but she was set at rest
upon that point when she lifted the lid of the trunk and found a waist of
one of her own dresses lying upon the top of various packages, and she
knew that he had sent it as a measure and guide.

Everything else was wrapped in fine packing paper, and she concluded not
to open anything until morning, although her curiosity was greatly

She knelt and prayed long and fervently, for she felt very solemn in view
of the important event that was to occur on the morrow.

Then she retired, and was soon sleeping peacefully and restfully, as only
the pure and innocent can sleep.

But when the first rays of the sun streamed in at her window in the
morning, she arose, and, after putting her room in perfect order, she
opened the precious trunk and began to remove and undo the packages stored

First, there was a long, flat box.

Opening it, she found a misty and ample veil of finest tulle, simply
hemmed with a heavy thread of silk.

Then there was another smaller but deeper box, which contained a lovely
wreath of pure white heath, with bouquets of the same mingled with lilies
of the valley, for the corsage of her dress.

Still another, in which there was a pair of shining white satin boots,
silken hose, and kid gloves, with a dainty handkerchief, fine and sheer as
a cobweb.

Last, but not least, incased in several wrappings of soft white paper was
the wedding-dress.

Virgie's face paled and flushed many times while she was undoing this, for
many hopes were centered in it, and tears rose unbidden to her eyes when
at last it was laid out on the bed before her.

She had seen nothing one-half so lovely for years--not since she used to
watch her mother dress for gay receptions and parties in the happy days so
long ago.

It was of the finest India mull, very simply yet beautifully made, over an
underskirt of plain white silk--an airy, gauzy thing, just suited for a
youthful bride.

"How kind! how thoughtful!" the young girl breathed, as her glance ran
over the different articles comprising her toilet. "He has not forgotten a
single thing, and it is all so delicate and beautiful. This wreath of
heath--how suggestive! and nothing could be prettier.

"Oh papa! I am glad you will have your wish, for it may be the very last
one that can be gratified," she concluded, with a long sigh.

Had it not been for her father's condition, she would have been supremely
happy on that bright morning. Even as it was, her heart was overflowing
with love and gratitude toward her devoted lover for his kind
consideration and generosity.

She went below at her usual hour to attend to her regular duties, which
she performed in her customary quiet way, helping her father to rise and
dress, arranging the rooms in the nicest order, and then serving breakfast
to the invalid and their reverend guest.

Sir William was nowhere visible. He had spent the night with Mr. Abbot,
and when morning broke he went away to his own cabin, where he remained
until the hour for the ceremony.

The house was very quiet; there was no excitment, no bustle. Chi Lu alone
betrayed any consciousness that an unusual event was to take place, and
this only by a slight nervousness of manner and the restless flash of his
dusky eyes.

After breakfast Virgie saw that her father was made comfortable in his
reclining-chair in the parlor, and then giving him one last, lingering
kiss, she turned to go up to her chamber to dress for her bridal.

Just then there came a knock on the outer door. Chi Lu was called to
answer it, and he brought to Virgie a huge basket laden with the loveliest
of mountain ferns and flowers, the dew still glistening upon them.

They were the offering of some of the miners "for Miss Abbot's wedding,"
the boy who brought them said.

It had become known in some way that Mr. Abbot was failing rapidly, and
had requested that his daughter might be married before his death.

He was much respected in the hamlet, for he had always been the courteous
gentleman, while Virgie was regarded almost in the light of a young
princess, and thus these humble people were prompted to show their
sympathy and good will in this delicate manner.

The young bride-elect was touched to the heart by this tribute, and with
her own hands arranged the lovely flowers to furnish the room where she
was to be married.

Then she went up stairs, and was seen no more until the hour set for the
ceremony, which was eleven o'clock.

Meanwhile Chi Lu and an elderly woman, who had once been very kind to
Virgie when she was ill, and had been asked to "come and help for the
day," were very busily engaged in the small kitchen, arranging a repast
which was to be served later in the day.

Sir William was determined that the occasion should be made as cheerful as
circumstances would allow, and had ordered from the city every delicacy
which his fertile brain could suggest, and thus a "wedding breakfast,"
such as had never been known in that region before, was in process of

At eleven o'clock the happy groom made his appearance and sent Margery
Follet, the woman before mentioned, to Virgie's door to say that he was
ready and awaiting her.

To her tap Virgie gently responded "come in," and a low cry of delight
escaped the humble woman's lips as she opened the door, and then stood
transfixed upon the threshold.

Virgie turned a smiling face to her. "Why, Margery, how came you here?"
she asked.

"The gent sent for me to come and help."

"That was thoughtful in him, and it was kind of you to come," Virgie
returned, graciously.

"It's a boon to me, miss. You look like an angel, and I shall never
forget this day," said the woman, regarding her almost with reverence.

Virgie felt all the happier for being able to contribute this pleasure to
one so unused to pleasure of any kind, and she increased it tenfold by
asking her to assist her in fastening the last button of one of her

"Yes, I'm ready," Virgie replied, as, with a vivid, conscious flush, she
turned away, after one last look in her mirror, and truly she was a vision
to cheer the heart of the fondest bridegroom.

Her dress proved to be a perfect fit, and the delicate fabric fell in
soft, graceful folds over the lustrous white of her silken skirt, while
she was covered from head to foot by the mist-like veil.

The wreath of heath lay lightly upon her brown head, and, with the
beautiful bouquet upon her breast, made a pleasing contrast with the
otherwise spotless costume.

Her figure looked almost regal in her trailing robe, and she was simply
perfect from crown to sole.

"Yes," she repeated, as the woman seemed unable to take her eyes from her,
"you may tell Mr. Heath that I am ready," and as Margery went out, she
bowed her head in prayer for a blessing on her new life.

The next moment she heard Sir William's step on the stairs, and she went
out to meet him.

How his face lighted as he looked upon her! How his heart throbbed with
exultation as he thought:

"This peerless girl is mine! Heathdale has never known a mistress so

He was clad, as became a gentleman, in a dress suit of simple black, fine
and rich, a single diamond of purest water gleaming just beneath his
white satin tie, and his hands were incased in spotless gloves.

"My darling," he whispered, as he took Virgie's right hand and laid it on
his arm, "how beautiful you are!"

She could not make him any reply--the moment was too solemn for words--but
she lifted her eyes to his for an instant, and they were filled with love
and trust.

Then they went below.

Very quietly they took their places in the little parlor, where the
clergyman awaited them, and where Mr. Abbot, after one surprised,
delighted glance at his daughter, lay back in his chair, with a smile of
supreme content upon his lips.

He understood at once who had so delicately and so fittingly arranged
everything for the fair bride, and it was such a comfort to him to have
Virgie properly arrayed for her marriage.

Chi Lu and Margery stood one on either side of the door, just inside the
room, according to Sir William's desire, for there must be witnesses, and
thus the group was complete.

Rev. Dr. Thornton approached the young couple, and in an easy and
impressive, yet graceful manner, performed the marriage service, and those
few moments were very solemn ones to three at least of those present. But
the ceremony was soon over, and the maiden was now a wife--Virgie Abbot
had become Virginia, Lady Heath.

Sir William had not, however, allowed his title to be used, as he shrank
from the notoriety which the knowledge of his position and wealth would
create among the settlers of that region. He had come there in an
unpretentious way, and he wished to leave as quietly. There would be time
enough, he thought, to resume his honors when he and his bride should go
out into the world.

When the benediction had been pronounced over the clasped hands of the
husband and wife, Dr. Thornton offered his congratulations, and then Sir
William led Virgie directly to her father.

She sank upon her knees beside his chair, and putting her arms around his
neck, gave and received a tender caress.

"God bless you always, my daughter!" the sick man murmured, in trembling
tones. "I believe I am guilty of no irreverence in invoking His blessing,"
he added, "for I have learned to feel my need of faith in Him, and,
Virgie, your husband has taught me how to seek it."

The young bride could only press her lips again to his in reply. She was
very grateful for this confession, for her father's previous skepticism
and bitterness had often caused her much sorrow.

Chi Lu and Margery came forward to congratulate the bride and groom, and
then went about their duties in the other room.

Soon after, Dr. Thornton slipped quietly away, thus leaving the invalid
and his children by themselves.

"Virgie, how beautiful you are to-day! How did it happen?" Mr. Abbot
asked, when he found they were alone, and glancing admiringly over her

"It was all Mr.--all Will's doing," she answered, with a charming blush,
and glancing shyly up into her husband's face.

"I suspected as much, and I thank you, Sir William, more than I can
express, for giving me this unexpected pleasure," said the sick man,

"It was to gratify myself as well. I could not be satisfied unless Lady
Heath was arrayed as became a bride of the house," the young baronet
returned, with a fond smile, as he noticed how the color came and went on
Virgie's cheek at the sound of her new name. "But," he added, putting his
arm around her, and raising her to her feet, while with one sweep of his
hand he threw back the veil, "I have not yet had the privilege of saluting
my wife. Virgie, I have the right to the first kiss from your sweet lips."

The beautiful bride lifted her face to him, flushed with a new, almost
holy, happiness.

"My husband!" she whispered, as he held her close for a moment, and he
felt that henceforth his life would be complete, since she loved him, and
was his.

Alas, for the weary years that were to follow!

Was there no one to warn?

For a little while they fell into a quiet chat, and then Chi Lu came to
bid them to the other room, where a really elegant feast awaited them, and
where Sir William exerted himself to make the occasion as merry as
possible, and all through the day nothing occurred to mar its peace and

The next morning Dr. Thornton returned to Virginia City, carrying in his
pocket a much larger fee than he was accustomed to receive; and after
that, life at the mountain cottage resumed its usual quiet routine.

Chapter X.

A Separation and a Little Stranger.

Mr. Abbot appeared to gather new strength after the events related in the
previous chapter, in spite of his own predictions and the fears of others
that he was dying.

The mild September weather and the quiet happiness which pervaded his home
seemed to have a beneficial effect upon him. But as the weather grew
colder, as the chill October winds began to sweep over the mountains, a
decided change came. Just as daylight was fading one evening, and the dull
gray of a coming storm began to settle down upon the mountains, he
breathed his last, peacefully, quietly and willingly, and thus all earthly
sorrow was at an end for him; he had gone where all wrongs would be
righted, where mystery or shame would no longer envelop him.

They buried him, as he desired, beneath the great plumy pine tree that
grew near their cottage, and where Virgie's great happiness had come to
her, and then Sir William felt that he had a right to take his wife away
to a more congenial atmosphere.

He had disposed of his claim some time before, for since he had no longer
any need of an excuse for remaining there, he had given up all pretense of
business and devoted himself exclusively to the care of the invalid and to
making Virgie's duties as light as possible.

The cottage and its furniture were sold; Chi Lu was presented with Sir
William's own neat little cabin with all its contents, besides being
otherwise handsomely remunerated for all his kindness and faithfulness and
then the baronet took his bride directly to San Francisco, which they
decided to make their headquarters for the winter, intending early in the
spring to sail for England.

Sir William had written home long before this of his marriage. But the
news had not been cordially received by the members of his household.

His stately mother had replied in a brief, dignified manner, which did not
fail to convey her displeasure at the step he had taken, while his widowed
sister, who, with her two children, were greatly dependent on her brother,
did not hesitate to express her indignation at his rashness and
inconsideration of their feelings, at least, in marrying so "out of his
own element."

The young baronet, of course, kept all this to himself. He had known well
enough that his marriage would be displeasing to his family, who had long
had other views for him, but he trusted that, when he should present his
bride to them, every objection would disappear like dew before the sun,
and she would be received with open arms and be loved for her own sweet

At all events he was his own master, and he was not a man to tamely submit
to unreasonable prejudices; and if his mother and sister refused to
receive his wife with becoming courtesy and respect, as the mistress of
Heathdale, it would only be the worse for them.

He did not begin to suspect, however, the bitterness which they
experienced when they received the startling information that he had
married a girl from the wilds of the far West. His union had followed so
closely upon his betrothal that he had no opportunity to communicate plans
beforehand, and thus the news had fallen like a thunderbolt upon them.

"He has ruined his life!" cried Lady Linton, his sister, in a white rage,
after reading the letter. "To think of it!--he has married a perfect
savage from the wilds of America! A pretty mistress for dear old
Heathdale, truly. I will never receive her, never!"

"You know what William is, Miriam, and it will not be wise for you to
offend him. He will never tolerate any display of arrogance or discourtesy
to his wife," returned the dowager Lady Heath, more quietly, yet looking
the picture of despair over the mesalliance.

"I cannot help it; it is an abominable insult to all his friends, and
never to tell us anything about it until the die was cast!"

"But he explains why he could not; the marriage was hastened on account of
the father's critical condition replied Lady Heath.

"Oh, I believe it was all a cunning plan to entrap him and secure the girl
a title and position," groaned Lady Linton. "How will Sadie feel; what
will she say?"

"I do not know as she has any right to say anything," answered the dowager,
with some dignity, for she loved her son and could not bear to have any
one assail him, no matter how much she might blame him herself. "William
has never committed himself to her in any way; that plan has been more
ours than his."

She was fully as unreconciled as her daughter; still she was capable of
looking at matters as they really were.

"Oh, I cannot have it so, mamma; do not let us say anything about the
affair at present," pleaded her daughter. "William says it will be some
time before he returns, as he wishes to show his wife something of the
world first. Doubtless," she continued, with increasing bitterness, "he
desires to polish off some of the rough edges before he presents her to
us; so let us suppress the fact of his marriage until the time is set for
their coming; it will be hard enough even then to acknowledge the plebeian

Lady Heath demurred at first at this proposal, but she finally yielded the
point, and nothing was said regarding the baronet's sudden marriage, and
this was the beginning of a plot to ruin the life of a beautiful young
wife, and to bring years of misery upon a noble man.

* * * * *

Virgie found it very pleasant in some respects, though sad in others, to
return to San Francisco, her former home.

She had left the city nearly six years ago, when she was an undeveloped
girl; she returned to it in the full glory of beautiful womanhood, and
owing to her many changes which had occurred there, as well as in her own
personal appearance and position, no one appeared to recognize her as the
daughter of the unfortunate man who had figured so conspicuously in a
terrible scandal there, and then suddenly disappeared covering his tracks
so successfully that no one, either friend or foe, knew whither he had

The young wife was very happy in spite of her recent bereavement; her
husband was kindness and nobility personified, and left nothing undone
that could contribute in any degree to her pleasure, or prevent her from
brooding upon her father's death.

They had a cozy and elegant suite of rooms at the Baldwin Hotel, which Sir
William had engaged for the winter, and from this point they made many
excursions sometimes being away several weeks at a time, traveling, then
returning to rest, after which they would start afresh again.

The fond husband was determined that Virgie should see everything that was
worth seeing in her own country before he took her to their home in

They frequented the opera and theater, attended concerts and lectures, and
Sir William was both surprised and delighted to notice how readily Virgie
adapted herself to the requirements of society and etiquette,
notwithstanding the seclusion of the last half-dozen years.

About the middle of March they started for the East, intending to take the
trip leisurely and visit points of interest along their route.

They arrived in New York early in May, and were intending to sail for
England the last of the month.

But Virgie, although not really ill, was far from well when they reached
the great metropolis, and her husband insisted that she must have medical

He called in a skillful physician, who, upon being told what their plans
were, immediately and emphatically vetoed further travel for the present.

"It will be simply impossible for Mrs. Heath to undertake a sea voyage at
present," he asserted.

"But the trip occupies eight days--" Sir William began.

"If it occupied only three it would make no difference it will not be safe
for her to attempt to cross the ocean under three months," Dr. Knox said,
with an air of decision which admitted of no further argument.

Sir William was disappointed, yet he was too fond and careful of his
beautiful wife to rebel against this verdict.

A week or two passed and Virgie appeared to be improving, when, one
morning, there came a cablegram from Heathdale, announcing that the
dowager Lady Heath was alarmingly ill, and imploring the baronet's
immediate return if he desired to see her alive.

The message threw the young husband into a distressing state of mind.

It seemed like harshest cruelty to obey the summons and leave his wife
alone in that strange city. And yet the alternative of remaining and
allowing his mother to die without seeing him once more, seemed almost
equally unkind.

He sought Dr. Knox again in his extremity and explained his desperate

"I could not answer for the consequences if you take your wife; it will be
a fearful risk for Mrs. Heath to go. She might endure the voyage safely,
but the probabilities are that she would not," the physician gravely told
him. "But," he added, kindly, "I sympathize with you--I appreciate your
dilemma, and, if you must go, I advise you to leave her in my charge and
I promise faithfully to give her every attention during your enforced

This seemed the only thing to be done and Sir William finally decided to
return to his home alone.

Virgie herself urged him to go, though her heart was almost breaking at
the thought of the separation, for it might be that she would never see
him again.

Still she was brave--she put aside her own feelings out of regard for the
duty which he owed his mother, and there was a possibility that he could
return to her in the course of two or three weeks.

"Do not feel unduly anxious for me, Will," she said to him, on the evening
before he was to sail, "I know that Dr. Knox will do all for me that you
can wish. I will either write or send some message to you by every
steamer, and I am going to trust that everything will be well."

"But it is agony to me to leave you--oh! my darling, if your heart fails
you in the least, if you say you prefer to have me stay, I will not go
even now," he said, his own courage failing him and having more than half
a mind to renounce his intended voyage even at that late hour.

"No, dear, I know that it is your duty to go," Virgie answered, gently. "I
should never forgive myself, if your mother should die, for keeping you
from her at such a time."

"But if--I should lose you, too," he was going to say, but checked himself
and concluded, "but if you should be neglected and unhappy?"

"I shall not be, Will; you have provided against the former contingency
most generously, and the latter I can regulate myself. I will not be
unhappy, for I know that you are doing right and that you will return to
me the moment that you are at liberty to do so."

"Indeed I shall," he answered, as he gathered her close to his breast and
rained passionate kisses upon her lovely face.

But his heart was very heavy notwithstanding her apparent cheerfulness.

A superstitious dread seemed to have seized him, warning him that some
fearful calamity would follow this separation. He was not given to such
unreasonable imaginings, and he reproached himself for indulging in them;
but he could not shake them off nevertheless.

Morning came and with it the hour of departure and the last farewells.

Virgie wore a brave and even smiling face through all. She had resolved
that she would not unman him at the last moment.

She watched at her window until he drove away, waving her handkerchief and
throwing him a kiss as he passed from sight, then the pent-up grief of her
heart found vent in a wild burst of tears such as she had not shed since
the hour of her father's death.

But she would not indulge it long.

She had every comfort. Her rooms were cheerful and elegant; a motherly,
middle-aged woman had been engaged to remain with her as companion and
nurse during her husband's absence; she had an abundance of money at her
command, and Dr. Knox had promised to look in upon her every day. Surely
she had nothing to complain of, save the enforced separation from her dear
one, and that would not be for long, she trusted.

The ninth day after the departure of Sir William there came a cablegram,
telling of his safe arrival at Liverpool, and this, at his request, she
immediately responded to, telling him that all was well with her.

The next steamer, she knew, would bring her a letter and after that she
would hear from him every few days.

Sir William found his mother alive, but in a very low state; "she might
rally, she might not," they told him; and, with a sigh of resignation, he
could only wait and try to patiently adapt himself to circumstances.

Thus four weeks went by, and then, early one June morning, a message went
flying through the depths of the ocean, telling that a tiny little maiden,
with eyes and hair like her father's, but bidding fair to become the
counterpart of her mother in form and features had come to Virgie the
morning previous, and "all was well."

The fervent "thank God!" accompanied with something very like a sob, which
burst from Sir William Heath's lips as he read this message, told how
intense had been his anxiety during the weeks of his absence from his
darling, and how great his relief at those favorable tidings.

He returned a message of love and congratulation, and when, a little
later, there came a letter to the happy young mother, it begged that their
little one should be called "Virgie May," the latter name being that of a
dear sister of whom Sir Will had been very fond, and who had died several
years previous.

And thus the little heiress of Heathdale was christened by her mother.

Chapter XI.

"You Have Overstepped All Bounds."

Sir William Heath could hardly control his impatience to fly to his dear
ones across the water.

His fond heart yearned mightily to behold his child and to clasp once more
the beautiful wife who had now become dearer than ever to him.

But his mother's condition did not improve; she still lay hovering between
life and death, and he knew that he must not leave her until there was
some change either for the better or worse.

Her disease was partial paralysis, which, however, had not affected her
brain, and her son's return and presence appeared to be of the greatest
comfort to her.

Still she was liable, at any hour, to have another shock, which would
doubtless prove fatal, and Sir Herbert Randal--an eminent London
physician--commanded perfect quiet and freedom from all excitement, since
the least anxiety or disturbance of any kind would bring the dread
messenger which they all feared so much.

Thus it seemed as if the young baronet was hopelessly bound to Heathdale
for the present.

Not a word had passed between him and his mother regarding his marriage.
Knowing how displeased she had been at the time of it, and fearing to
excite her if he recalled the event to her mind, he had thought it best to
say nothing, but leave her to broach the subject whenever she should feel
inclined, although he wondered that she did not make some inquiry
regarding his young wife whom the family had expected he would bring with
him to Heathdale.

The meeting with his sister had been somewhat cold and formal, for he
could not forget how harshly she had expressed herself regarding his
choice, while she could not and would not forgive him for disappointing
all her ambitious hopes for him.

Like his mother, she ignored the subject of his marriage not deigning to
make the slightest inquiry regarding his wife, although she had been
greatly astonished at the non-appearance of Virgie, and was burning with
curiosity to know why he had returned alone.

This negligence and obstinacy on her part made Sir William very indignant,
and after the first excitement consequent upon his arrival had subsided,
he determined to assert himself, and have it distinctly understood that
his wife was henceforth to be recognized as a member of and a power in his

Therefore, the morning following his return he had drawn Lady Linton into
the library, and after conducting her, with something of formal
politeness, to a seat, remarked:

"Miriam, you have not yet done me the honor to inquire after Lady Heath."

Lady Linton bowed coldly, and lifted her fine eyebrows questioningly.

Sir William flushed angrily.

"It is evident that you are still very angry with me, and intend to annoy
me upon this point," he continued, sternly, "and we may as well understand
each other at the outset. I shall demand and expect that my wife when I
bring her home, will be received with all the honor and courtesy which has
ever been accorded to the mistress of Heathdale in the past."

Again Lady Linton bowed; but she did not deign to open her lips in
response, although a spot of vivid red settled in either cheek.

"She is worthy of it in every respect," her brother resumed a gleam of
fire in his eye, "and will grace the position which I have given her as
well as the most noted London belle could do. I have pictures of her
here--perhaps you will do me the favor to look at them."

He laid two or three fine photographs of Virgie, taken in different
attitudes, before her, as he concluded, and then leaned back in his chair
watching her attentively to see what effect that beautiful face would have
upon her.

Her ladyship adjusted her eyeglasses with English precision, and taking up
one of the pictures regarded it with all the indifference which she could
muster. She was not, however, quite prepared for what she saw; and the
quick, curious, half-admiring gleam which shot into her eye told that she
had not failed to acknowledge the exceeding loveliness of that fair face,
and the natural grace and dignity displayed in the young wife's attitude.

She took up each picture separately, and her brother could see her
indifference gradually melting away, a keen and critical look taking its

"Who was she?" she at length condescended to ask, though somewhat curtly.

"The daughter of a California gentleman," Sir William answered, quietly.

"A California gentleman!" with a scornful accent upon the last word.
"You speak of him as of an equal."

"Certainly," returned the baronet, a smile of amusement slightly curling
his lips, "Mr. Abbot was my equal, if not my superior, in point of
intellect, and all that goes to make a gentleman, while his daughter is
in no wise my inferior."

"How can you make such an absurd statement, William?" demanded his sister,
impatiently. "The idea of an American plebeian being the equal of a Heath
of Heathdale!"

Sir William laughed outright; then he said:

"Your loyalty to your family does you credit, Miriam, but I imagine, if
you should ever visit America--which I trust for your own sake, you will
do some time--that you will return much wiser than you went. Your ideas
regarding people and things, in that grand republic are very crude and
incorrect. But how do you like the face that I have shown you?"

"The face is well enough," Lady Linton was forced to admit.

There is nothing weak about it?"


"It is not lacking in intelligence or character?"

"Not so far as I am able to judge from a simple picture", the woman
confessed, rather reluctantly.

"And yet it does not flatter her; you do not often see a face like that
even among the noble families of England, and she is as lovely in mind as
in person," said Sir William, fondly, as he took up one of the photographs
and gazed upon it with his heart in his eyes.

"Humph! if you are so proud of your American bride, why did you not bring
her home with you?" Lady Linton inquired, in a mocking tone, and then
could have bitten her tongue through for having allowed herself to betray
her curiosity so far.

Sir William flushed hotly. It was evident that his sister was no more
reconciled since seeing Virgie's pictures than before. Her pride of birth
had received a shock which she could neither overlook nor forgive.

"Lady Heath was not able to travel. Her physician told me that if she
crossed the ocean it would be at the risk of her life. Miriam, Virgie will
soon become a mother, God willing."

Lady Linton started and shot a swift look of astonishment at her brother
upon this unexpected announcement.

This information was disagreeable in the extreme, for it made certain
plans, which her fertile brain had begun to weave as soon as she had
learned that her brother had returned without his wife, all the more
complicated, if not well-nigh impossible.

"It was a great trial for me to return without her," Sir William went on,
with a regretful sigh, "but your summons was so very imperative that I
felt obliged to do so. My darling bore it very bravely, however; she
regarded it as my duty to hasten to my mother, even though she would be
left alone, a stranger in a great city, and at such a critical time."

"Of course it was your duty to return to our mother," Lady Linton
responded emphatically, as if the young wife away upon the other side of
the Atlantic was not worthy of consideration. "And," she added, flashing a
look of defiance at her companion, "I am free to confess to a feeling of
relief that you had to come alone--"

"Miriam, I--"

"Hear me out, if you please," she interposed. "Mamma's heart has been
nearly broken at the thought of this ill-assorted marriage, and I believe
the excitement and grief would have killed her outright, if you had
brought her," with a withering glance at Virgie's picture, "to Heathdale
to reign as mistress."

Sir William was tried almost beyond endurance. It was more than a minute
before he could control himself sufficiently to speak, after his sister's
insulting remarks regarding his marriage.

"Miriam," he at length said, in a voice that made her quail in spite of
her effrontery, "you will please never speak like this again; it is, both
to my wife and me, an insult which I will not tolerate. Virgie is a lady
in every sense of the word; even my critical mother could pick no flaw in
her were she to see her, and the moment that I am at liberty to do so I
shall return to the United States and bring my darling back with me. And
let me here repeat what I said a while ago--I expect and demand that she
be received with all proper respect by the entire household."

"The household knows nothing of your marriage."

"What!" cried the young baronet, astonished.

"No one, save mamma and I, knows anything of this--this alliance."

"By whose authority have you kept such a matter secret?" Sir William
demanded, in great wrath.

"We--we thought it best," faltered his sister, shrinking beneath his
anger--she had never seen him so aroused before. "Mamma was so unhappy,
and I was so--so unreconciled, that we determined to wait until you wrote
definitely regarding your coming."

"You have overstepped all bounds, you have presumed beyond excuse,"
retorted her brother, in a voice of thunder. "I know that you are my
senior by fifteen years, and as a boy I was taught to look up to you, and
to render you the respect due an elder. But I am a child no longer. I am a
man, and you forget that I am not only my own master, but the master of
Heathdale as well. I have a right to choose for myself in all matters, and
you are not to consider that I am in leading strings, as I was before
your marriage, when you exercised, to a certain extent, authority over
me. And now if--I abhor thrifts, but I wish you to distinctly understand
me--if you cannot bring yourself to regard my marriage in a proper and
sensible light, and make up your mind to receive my wife as becomes a
sister of the house, the doors of Heathdale will henceforth be closed to

Lady Linton was astounded at this outburst.

Her brother, heretofore, had always been a pattern of amiability and
gentleness, and had allowed her to have her own way mostly in the house.
In minor matters she had always ruled him, and she had never imagined that
he could rise to such a height as this.

She saw that she had gone too far, that she must change her tactics, or
forever lose all influence with him, and make an enemy of him.

She could ill afford to do this for several reasons.

She was the widow of Lord Percival Linton, who had married her chiefly for
her large dowry.

He had been a fast, unprincipled man, who had run through his own property
and most of hers before death put an end to his mad career.

They had one son, Percy, and a daughter, Lillian, and Lady Linton, with
her two children, had been largely dependent upon the generosity of her
brother ever since her husband's death, and he was even now bearing all
the expense of the education of his nephew and niece.

They had made their home chiefly at Heathdale, because Lady Linton's pride
could not tolerate life at Linton Grange when they had no means to keep it
up in proper style, and it was very pleasant and comfortable to be in her
brother's home, where there was abundance of everything, and where she had
been allowed to manage the household in her own way.

It would therefore be very mortifying to have its hospitable doors closed
against her, and, finding herself liable to be ignominiously checkmated if
she persisted in her present course, she resolved to "right about face"
with the greatest grace possible, at least until she was obliged to yield
her position to the future mistress of Heathdale.

"Fie, William, don't allow yourself to get in such a passion," she said,
in a conciliatory tone. "Perhaps I have expressed myself more freely than
I ought, but you ought to make allowance for our great disappointment.
Remember that you are the pride of an old and honored family, and it is
but natural that we should wish you to marry in your own station. But do
not fear. When Lady Heath comes to take her place as mistress here she
shall be received in a becoming manner."

Her ladyship arose as she ceased speaking, her eye falling as she did so
upon the lovely upturned face upon the table, and she vowed in her heart
that if she could prevent it, the girl should never set her foot over the
threshold of Heathdale.

How she was to carry out this vow she had as yet no idea; but all the
malice and enmity of her heart had been aroused against her, and it should
go hard with her if she could not find some way to vent it upon her.

"Thank you, Miriam," Sir William responded, as he opened the door for his
sister to pass out, but he spoke somewhat coldly.

He could not lightly forgive and overlook the scorn that had been heaped
upon the darling of his heart, while the fact that his marriage had been
kept a secret angered him exceedingly, and placed him in a very unpleasant

He resolved that as soon as his mother should be better, he would have a
plain talk with her, also, and insist upon an announcement of Lady Heath's
existence and her expected arrival. But until the invalid was out of
danger he deemed it advisable not to create any excitement on the subject.

Chapter XII.

"I Will Join You Heart and Hand."

Later in the day, while Sir William was engaged with the Stewart looking
over accounts and inquiring into the condition of Heathdale generally,
Lady Linton went quietly up to her brother's rooms to attend to the
unpacking of his trunks and putting his wardrobe in order.

While thus engaged she came across a worn portfolio filled with papers of
various kinds.

She knew at once that it was nothing that belonged to her brother, and
surmised that its contents might contain much of interest regarding the
despised girl whom he had married in the far West of America.

The key was attached by a ribbon to the portfolio, and was tucked into a
fold of the leather, and no sense of either delicacy or honor prevented
her making use of her opportunity for gratifying her curiosity regarding
the young wife, without the necessity of asking questions.

Accordingly, she boldly and unhesitatingly unlocked the portfolio, and
began examining its contents.

These proved to be mostly business papers and legal documents, with some
letters directed to a name that she had never heard before. She would have
liked to read them, but she feared being interrupted while doing so, and
she of course had no wish to have her brother know she was prying thus
into his affairs so she laid them back in their place, resolving at some
future time to examine them more thoroughly. But there was one envelope
among them of much fresher appearance than the others, and with no address
upon it, although it contained a document of some kind.

Lady Linton slipped it out, and, unfolding it, found it to be the marriage
certificate of her brother and his wife.

She was astonished to find that the ceremony had occurred in some place in
Nevada, remote from any city or town--a little settlement of which she had
never heard--and as she read further, her eyes grew wide with astonishment
and her face dark with anger.

"He wrote us that her name was Virginia Abbot," she cried, indignantly, a
crimson flush mounting to her brow, "and here it is given as Virginia--"

A step sounded outside the door in the hall just then, and her ladyship
paused, affrighted, to listen, that last name unspoken on her lips.

But it proved to be only a servant passing on some duty, and she went on
with her investigations.

"There is some inexplicable mystery about this thing," she murmured. "The
name is the same as that on those letters, and I am sure he has deceived
us shamefully. He said that she was the daughter of a once wealthy
Californian, but it seems that they were not in California at all. There
must have been some reason for their burying themselves in that isolated
place, and--I will yet find out what it was!"

She returned the certificate to the envelope, and put back the papers in
their proper places.

All at once her face lighted.

"Sara was going directly to San Francisco. I will write her to look this
thing up. I will have that girl's secret before she is a month older, and
then we will see whether she comes here to Heathdale to queen it over

She resumed her work, but there was a sullen, resolute expression on her
face which told of some purpose that she was determining to carry out at
all hazards.

When Sir William's trunks were at length emptied, she rang for a servant
to take them to a storeroom, after which she repaired to her own
apartment, where she wrote steadily and rapidly for more than an hour.

At the end of that time she folded and sealed her letter, and directed it
to "Mrs. Sara Farnum, Palace Hotel, San Francisco, Cal.," and the very
next post from Heathdale carried on its way the missive that was destined
to help accomplish one of the greatest wrongs that had ever been

The reader will doubtless remember that when the dowager Lady Heath and
Lady Linton were discussing Sir William's sudden marriage the name "Sadie"
was mentioned in connection with the baronet.

Sadie was a beautiful English girl of two or three-and-twenty and the
youngest child and only daughter of Mrs. Sara Farnum, to whom Lady Linton
had just written.

Sadie Farnum had said and thought a great deal upon learning of Sir
William's union with the American maiden, for the news had been a terrible
death-blow to her own hopes and ambitions.

She had long entertained the desire and intention of one day becoming the
mistress of Heathdale; it had been the dearest wish of her heart, and for
years she had used every art in which she was skilled to bring the man
she loved to her feet, and thus accomplish her purpose.

Mrs. Farnum and Lady Linton had been intimate friends from girlhood, and
it had also been a darling scheme of theirs to marry the daughter of the
one to the brother of the other, thus securing a fine position and title
to Sadie, and adding to the already well-filled coffers of Heathdale the
handsome fortune which the young girl would bring to her husband.

But Sir William had never appeared to be particularly fond of the society
of ladies, at least he was not what would be termed a ladies' man,
although he went frequently into company, and did not fall in with those
plans for his future happiness as readily as their projectors desired.

He liked Sadie well enough as a friend, and had been in the way of seeing
a great deal of her, as Lady Linton frequently invited her to spend
several weeks with her. He even promised to correspond with her when he
left England to travel in America, and at the time of his first meeting
with Virgie, he had in his pocket a voluminous letter indited by her.

But she had never touched his heart; she was bright, beautiful, and
accomplished, yet there was something lacking in her nature which his own
demanded and which he recognized at once in the lovely mountain maiden the
moment that he met her that wild night when he came a stranger to her

But Sadie was so broken-hearted over the blighting of all her fond hopes,
and grieved so sorely that her health began to suffer in consequence, and
when Sir William's return began to be talked of, Mrs. Farnum decided to
take her daughter traveling and thus avoid any unpleasant meeting and
fresh grief when the young Lady Heath should come to take possession of
her new home.

Accordingly they sailed for America, and knowing that the baronet was in
New York, went directly to the Pacific coast about a fortnight previous to
Sir William's return to Heathdale.

The letter which Lady Linton sent her friend was written, as we know, the
morning following her brother's return, and five weeks later, upon the
very day of little Virgie May Heath's birth, there came to her an
exceedingly gratifying reply.

A portion of it read thus:

"Regarding the important questions which you have asked about the ----'s.
I will not write the name for fear this letter might sometime chance to
meet other eyes. I find that such a family resided here a number of years
ago. They occupied a high position in society appeared to have unlimited
means at their command and were much respected, but they were suddenly
overtaken by terrible misfortunes which cut them instantly down from their
high estate and they were obliged to flee from the city in disgrace. It is
quite a complicated story, and I have not been able to learn all the
details. I can do so, however, if you wish.

"But what is your object? What do you know about the family? Has it
anything to do with that girl whom your brother so rashly married in such
a romantic manner? If it has, let me know, and I will gladly search the
continent over for material to make her bitterly repent for striking such
a blow to my Sadie's, and indeed to all our hopes. Answer immediately and
whatever instructions you may give me, I will follow most faithfully. I
am ready to join you heart and hand in any vendetta against the disturber
of our peace."

Lady Linton smiled curiously after reading this epistle.

"I imagined as much," she muttered, "and they presumed to aspire to an
alliance with a Heath of Heathdale, when their own name was so hopelessly
disgraced that they did not dare to own it or be known by it, and were
forced to hide their guilty heads in that low mining district. No, sir; my
Lord of Heath, your shameless bride shall never enter this sacred
ancestral house if there are any means, lawful or otherwise to prevent

After the examination of the portfolio which she had found in her
brother's trunk, Lady Linton's curiosity had been insatiable, and
simulating an air of friendliness and resignation which she was far from
feeling, she had encouraged him to talk of his wife, hoping thus to learn
more of her history, and trap him into acknowledging something of the
mystery which surrounded her.

But though Sir William was never loth to talk of his darling, and always
spoke of her in the fondest terms, he would never commit himself regarding
her past; that was to be a sealed book in England, and not even to his
mother and sister would he ever breathe one word of that sad story, that
Mr. Abbot had told him when he pleaded for his daughter's hand, or aught
that would cast a shadow upon any member of her family.

"She was the daughter of a once wealthy Californian whom reverses had
impoverished," he invariably told them. "She was finely educated and
fitted, both by nature and culture, to shine in any circle."

"By whom were you married, William?" his mother asked, having at last
deigned to show some interest in the circumstance.

"By the Rev. Dr. Thornton, an Episcopalian clergyman

"Of San Francisco?"

"No, of Virginia City;" and Sir William smiled that she was not familiar
enough with the geographical location of the place to know that it was not
in California at all.

"Oh, then you were not married in San Francisco?" interrupted Lady Linton,
looking up eagerly, and hoping now to get something definite regarding
that outlandish place in Nevada.

"No," he replied, not thinking it necessary to enter into particulars, and
leaving them to infer what they chose.

Her ladyship was baffled again, not daring to press him further lest he
should suspect that she had been tampering with his papers.

But she tried to console herself with the thought that she would soon know
all there was to be known; then what use she might make of her knowledge
remained to be seen.

Lady Heath was improving, but still far from being out of danger, and
could not endure the least confusion.

Sir William was very restless, and anxious to get back to his dear ones in
America; but Sir Herbert Randall was opposed to his going.

"It would be fatal, my dear sir," he asserted; "the excitement of your
departure and the separation would undoubtedly bring on another shock from
which her ladyship could not possibly rally, even if it did not kill her
outright. Haven't you done roving enough yet?" the physician concluded,
regarding the young man with some surprise.

"But I've left----" Sir William began, when he was interrupted by a
startled cry from Lady Linton, who was in the room, as she carelessly
upset a vase of flowers on the table beside her.

"How awkward of me!" she exclaimed, flushing a deep crimson; "won't you
please ring the bell, William for some one to come and clean up this

He went to the opposite side of the room to do her bidding, and she took
the occasion to inform Sir Herbert in a low tone, that her brother had
left some unfinished business in America, which he was anxious to have

"I'm sorry," replied the physician, "but it will have to remain unsettled
for a while longer, if he has a proper regard for his mother's health."

Of course the great doctor's verdict was decisive, and Sir William was
forced to curb his impatience as best he could. He would not allow himself
to do anything that would endanger his mother's life, and yet his heart
was yearning for his wife and for the little one whom he had never seen.

"Have patience a little longer, my darling," he wrote Virgie that evening;
I will come just as soon as it will do for me to leave home. My heart
longs for you every hour in the day; life seems almost a blank without
you, and I find it difficult to employ myself about anything. If you were
stronger, and our little one was older, I would send some trusty messenger
for you, and another eight days would find you in our beautiful home. But
I fear such a proceeding would be hardly wise at present.

"Write to me often, my Virgie, and be very careful in directing your
letters; I am afraid that I have missed one or two of your last. Oh, happy
day when there will be no longer any need to communicate with each other
in this slow way."

Sir William had indeed missed his wife's last letters and this was the
only one that she ever received from him after that date.

How was it?

Ask Lady Linton, or go seek in the little brazier, which stood at night in
the dressing-room of her mother for the purpose of heating the nourishment
she was accustomed to take at twelve, for the ashes of the loving epistles
which the fond husband and wife believed no other save themselves would

Chapter XIII.

Becoming Acquainted.

Little Virginia May Heath was just six weeks old, and becoming most
interesting to her fond mamma, who was getting stronger every day, and
able to take a little exercise in the corridor outside her rooms, when one
morning as she was pacing slowly back and forth, thinking of her absent
husband, and wishing, oh, so yearningly, that he could come to her, she
encountered two ladies who had just ascended the stairs, and passed on to
their apartments which were just beyond hers.

One was a finely formed, majestic woman, evidently somewhat over fifty
years, having the air and bearing of one accustomed to society and the
ways of the world. She was tastefully and elegantly dressed, every article
of her apparel denoting wealth and a careful regard for fashion.

The other was a young lady, perhaps a year or two older than Virgie, a
perfect blonde, with a tall, beautifully developed form, and with a face
such as poets and artists rave about. It was a pure oval, faultless in
feature and coloring, and yet withal, if closely studied, there was a
suspicion of shallowness and insincerity in the full, sapphire eyes, and
the perfectly formed but rather weak mouth.

Still Virgie, as she lifted her own lovely eyes and beheld this young
lady, thought she had never seen any one more beautiful, while she colored
slightly, and wondered why the strangers should observe her so closely
and with such evident interest.

It was a very warm day, and she was clad in a fine white robe, richly
embroidered and garnished with pale lavender ribbon. If she had but
realized it, she was exquisitely beautiful herself, with her glossy, brown
hair carelessly yet gracefully coiled at the back of her head, the color
beginning to tinge her cheeks, that smile of happiness upon her sweet
lips, and the holy mother-light shining in her violet eyes.

"Mamma, that must be she; that must be Lady Heath," whispered the younger
of the two strangers, when they had passed beyond hearing.

"Lady Heath!" was the scornful repetition, accompanied by a flash of anger
from the dark eyes of the elder woman.

"Well, mamma, you know of course who I mean. She must be the girl whom
Lady Linton wrote about."

"I imagine so. She answers the description that Miriam gave of her
photograph. Yes, hark! she has just opened her door, and surely that was a
baby's cry."

"Well, at last we have seen her," returned the girl, "and I must confess,
I think she is perfectly lovely. She has such beautiful eyes, such a fair,
delicate complexion, and is so peculiarly dainty every way. I do not blame
Sir William for falling in love with her."

"Mercy, Sadie, how you do chatter! no one would believe, to hear you, that
you had been almost heart-broken because this very girl, over whom you are
so enthusiastic, had ruined your prospects," returned her mother,

The young girl flushed crimson at this shaft.

"Thank you, mamma, for reminding me of the fact," she said, bitterly. "It
is true that through her all my fondest hopes have been blighted, and I
suppose I ought to bitterly hate her for it; but truly her exceeding
beauty and sweetness half disarm me."

The elder woman made no reply to this, but her manner betrayed both
contempt and irritation, her brow was clouded with a wrathful expression,
and her lips were drawn into a straight, rigid line, denoting some cruel
and inflexible purpose.

It will readily be surmised that these two ladies were none other than
Mrs. Farnum and her daughter, who, as we learned in the previous chapter,
were traveling in the United States, in the hope of improving the health
and spirits of the latter.

Mrs. Farnum had married while very young, and was the mother of three
children--two sons and one daughter.

She had herself been very attractive as a girl, and had many suitors; but
with an eye to the comforts of life, she had said "no" to all the titled
and impecunious lovers, and given her hand to a man of wealth, who, with
his million of pounds, bade fair to add another million to them in the
course of time.

Miriam Heath, on the contrary, had been rather a plain-looking girl,
somewhat cold and repelling in manner, and was almost an old maid before
she was married; thus she was often an inmate of her friend's palatial
home, and became much interested in her children, and little Sadie Farnum
had scarcely reached her teens before the two women began to plan a union
between the young heir of Heathdale and the heiress to half a million

It had been the cherished dream of years, while almost from childhood
Sadie had been foolishly taught to regard Heathdale as her future home,
and to look upon Sir William as her promised husband; thus the
disappointment had been a terrible one to them all when they learned that
the baronet had married a "nobody" from the hated and disloyal country
that had rebelled against its rightful sovereign.

Lady Linton might be said to have become almost a monomaniac upon this
point, and so bitter was her ire at thus being balked in her plans, so
keen her hatred of the innocent girl who had been the cause of it, that
she abandoned herself to the wildest schemes, casting all honor and
womanliness to the winds, and bending all her energies toward the
destruction of the happiness of the newly wedded couple. She resolved to
begin operations by making an ally of her friend, Mrs. Farnum.

Fortunately she was at that moment in California, the former home of
Virgie, and could perhaps ascertain what mystery overshadowed her former
life that had made it necessary to conceal her true name. This would
perhaps give a clew how to proceed further, and, as we know, her letter
was written at once, and brought an immediate reply. Further
correspondence elicited information which only tended to strengthen Lady
Linton in her evil designs, and Mrs. Farnum was advised to proceed
directly to New York and take up her abode in the same hotel where Virgie
was located, where she could successfully aid and abet her superior in her
malicious operations.

Thus we find Mrs. Farnum and her daughter not only in the same house, but
on the same floor with the young wife and her child, and only waiting for
a favorable opportunity to strike a fatal blow to her happiness.

Virgie had of late experienced a good deal of anxiety regarding her
husband, for his letters, which at first had come with every steamer, had
suddenly ceased entirely.

For a while this had only filled her with hope, for she had told herself
that doubtless he was coming for her; he might even be on the way to give
her a joyful surprise. But as time went on and not a word came from him,
she was haunted with a sickening dread. He might be ill, she reasoned; but
surely in that case he would send some message by another, or, if he could
not do that, some member of her family would certainly let her know.

She wrote faithfully, notwithstanding, giving all details regarding
herself and their little one, never dreaming that her fond letters, having
first been devoured by evil, greedy eyes, were ruthlessly consigned to the

Every day after the arrival of Mrs. Farnum and her daughter, one or both
of the ladies managed to come upon her whenever she walked in the
corridor, and soon they began to nod in a friendly manner when they passed
her; then a smile and a look of interest was added, until finally it came
to be the regular custom to bid her a pleasant good-morning.

But Virgie was retiring by nature, and the acquaintance did not progress
rapidly enough to suit Mrs. Farnum, and she was meditating a bold move,
when one day Sadie came suddenly upon the nurse, who was promenading the
long hall, with her little charge in her arms.

"Oh!" she cried, stopping before her, "I am sure this must be our little
neighbor who serenades us once in a while. I dote on babies. May I have a
look at the darling?"

"I hope, miss, she doesn't disturb you," the nurse replied respectfully,
but looking greatly pleased to have the little one noticed.

"No, indeed; the house is so frightfully still that it is real music to
hear its little voice once in a while. What a little beauty it is, to be
sure!" Miss Farnum returned, volubly, as she pulled away the lace frill
from the small face to get a better view of the young heiress of

"What is its name?" she asked, after contemplating her in silence for a

"Virginia May Heath," the woman replied, thinking the young lady very

"Oh, how pretty! I suppose she will be called 'May.' She looks just like a
little May blossom."

"No, miss; they call her Virgie. Madam would have preferred the other
name, but her husband wanted her called for his wife, of whom he is very

Sadie Farnum's face clouded at this.

"I presume that delicate lady whom I see occasionally walking here in the
corridor is La--is Mrs. Heath?" she said, more to make the nurse talk than
because she desired information on this point.

"Yes, miss; the streets are so rough she does not care much for driving,
and she must have some exercise."

Virgie herself appeared in the doorway of her parlor at this moment, and
smiled as she noticed the young lady admiring her baby.

Miss Farnum colored slightly, then said boldly, with a light laugh:

"Pray do not think me very bold, Mrs. Heath, but I have been seeking an
introduction to your little daughter. She is very lovely, and I am so
fond of babies."

While she spoke her eyes had been fixed upon Virgie's face, and she
thought she had never looked upon any one more beautiful than this woman
who was her rival--for so she regarded her.

She wore a delicate blue lawn, trimmed profusely with filmy white lace;
there was a dainty cap upon her head, while she had a few blush-roses
fastened in her belt. Every day she was growing stronger and better, and
her beauty seemed to increase in proportion.

She bowed to Sadie, and smiled again as she remarked that it was rather
unusual for young ladies to be so fond of children of that tender age.

"Then I am an exception to the rule, Mrs. Heath," Miss Farnum answered;
"but since I have made your daughter's acquaintance, allow me to introduce
myself to you also. I am Sadie Farnum, and mamma and I are your nearest
left-hand neighbors."

"I am very glad to know you, Miss Farnum," Virgie returned, graciously,
and thinking her delightfully frank and pleasant.

She was really very glad to meet her in a less formal way than usual, and
hoped they should be friends.

She had been feeling rather lonely of late, besides being depressed on
account of her husband's long silence; she had no acquaintances, and saw
scarcely any one save the physician and her nurse.

"I am afraid mamma will think I have committed a shocking breach of
etiquette," Sadie went on; "but we are strangers in the city, and I have
been longing to know you ever since our first meeting here in the
corridor. May I come in to see you occasionally, and this little darling?"

She concluded with such a winning air, as she stooped and lightly kissed
the tiny pink face lying upon the nurse's arm, that Virgie's heart was
entirely won.

"Yes, indeed, Miss Farnum; I should be delighted to have you. I am alone
most of the time, and it would be very pleasant to have some young

"Thank you. Then, if you do not object, I will waive all ceremony, and
come to see you in a friendly way. May I bring mamma, too, and introduce
her to you?"

"I shall be very glad to meet Mrs. Farnum," Virgie responded, and then
instantly asked herself if she had spoken the exact truth, for she stood
somewhat in awe of that aristocratic and imposing looking woman, whose
curious, piercing glance, in spite of her assumption of friendliness, gave
her an unpleasant sensation.

"Mamma, the ice is broken at last!" Sadie Farnum cried, rushing in upon
her mother, with a glowing face, after the above interview, and she
proceeded to give her a detailed account of her meeting with Virgie.

"She is as lovely as a dream, mamma," she said, "and as sweet and gracious
as any lady need to be. If she were not Sir William Heath's wife I should
be ready to do homage at her shrine with all my heart."

"Nonsense! Has she any education? Can she converse respectably?" demanded
Mrs. Farnum, with a frown at her daughter's enthusiasm.

"She is a perfect lady, and her language is beyond criticism--she is fit
to be the wife of any peer."

"Gracious! Sadie, how you annoy me!" ejaculated Mrs. Farnum, angrily.
"Just think of her antecedents."

"Well, the girl is not to blame if her father was a scamp, and should not
be made to suffer for his sins," responded her daughter, who was not
naturally bad, and but for her mother's influence, would even now have
been won to a better disposition by Virgie's sweetness.

"What rank folly you are talking!" retorted her mother. "No girl has a
right to marry a respectable man with such a stain on her name."

"Perhaps she does not know anything about her father's crime."

"Pshaw! She was fifteen years old when they had to flee from San
Francisco; she could not help knowing that something was wrong, and as she
grew older she could not fail to understand it. From the way you talk it
is evident that you yourself have fallen in love with the woman who has
cheated you out of your husband."

"Perhaps I have, mamma," Sadie answered, with a spice of defiance and
wickedly taking pleasure in working her mother up to a certain pitch. "She
looked so pretty just now--she has the loveliest complexion, just clear
red and white, with such dark blue eyes that they seem almost black when
she is animated, and such pretty waving brown hair, while her features are
pure and delicate Her taste, too, is exquisite--her dress was just the
right shade to set off her clear skin; she had the daintiest little
matron's cap on her head--real thread, too--while a handful of blush-roses
in her belt made her look too lovely for anything."

"Do hush, Sadie; you irritate me beyond endurance; one would think that
you were only too ready to renounce all your hopes to this plebeian who
has stolen your lover," and Mrs. Farnum turned upon her daughter as if
ready to shake her for her folly.

"Mamma!" she cried, passionately, and bursting into tears, for she had
been working herself up as well, "when I am away from her I hate her for
having won him from me, and I am almost ready to do anything desperate;
but when I am with her she disarms me; there is something about the girl
that almost makes me love her. If you could have seen her this morning,
she looked so proud and happy when I praised the baby."

"Sadie Farnum, I do believe you are becoming demented! Here is poor Lady
Linton almost heart-broken over her brother's mesalliance, his mother
lies at death's door on account of the excitement caused by it, while you,
who ought to be the most interested party of all, are about to turn
traitress and go over to the enemy just because of a foolish
sentimentality for this doll-faced girl. I declare, I have no patience
with you."

"I think you have said enough, mamma," replied Miss Farnum, coldly, and
wiping away her tears, "but there may come a time when you will regret
your present attitude--when you will be sorry that you strove to inculcate
such a bitter spirit into the mind of your only daughter. Lady Linton for
some strange reason wanted us to come here and see for ourselves what this
girl is like; we have seen her. Let us go our way now and not revive old
hopes and ambitions, which, to say the least, are not pleasant to remember
under the circumstances. Yes, let us end this disagreeable business, and
leave Sir William Heath's wife alone."

"I am not ready to leave New York yet, and we will stay where we are for
the present," responded Mrs. Farnum, flushing a deep red, for she had
never told her daughter of the plot which she was helping Lady Linton to
carry out, and she saw now that it would not be wise to do so, since Sadie
might flatly refuse to have anything to do with it, and in her present
state of mind, might do something to upset their well-laid schemes.

Chapter XIV.

The Plot Begins to Work.

The acquaintance between the Farnums and Virgie progressed rapidly after
the meeting between Sadie and the young wife. Mrs. Farnum was duly
introduced, and did not prove to be nearly so formidable a personage as
Virgie had imagined her to be; for although she was not drawn toward her
as she had been to her daughter, yet she was so gracious and exerted
herself to be so agreeable, that Virgie could but acknowledge to herself
that she was a very pleasant and entertaining person.

Visits were exchanged almost every day between them; the baby was praised
and admired, and Virgie was petted and made much of, until her heart and
confidence were entirely won.

They insisted upon her driving with them; "the fresh air would do her
good," Mrs. Farnum declared, "for she had noticed during the last week
that she was losing color;" and thus she made many excursions with the two
ladies, and visited many points of interest. They even proposed that they
should go into the country together, as it was getting so oppressively
warm in the city; but Virgie would not listen to this proposition, because
of her anxiety for letters, and the hope that Sir William might be coming
for her.

Poor child! she was, indeed, losing color, and was almost heart-sick with
the terrible suspense, although she tried to be very brave and to conceal
her trouble from every eye.

She wrote again and again to her husband, begging for one line, one word
even, pleading that he would let her come to him if he was ill and needed
her. She would gladly brave the dangers of the ocean alone, she told him,
if he would but give her his consent to do so.

But still that terrible silence remained unbroken.

She was almost tempted to set out alone in spite of everything, and
nothing but the fear of passing her husband on the way prevented her doing

She had learned that the Farnums were English, but upon discovering that
their home was a long distance from Heathdale--Mr. Farnum owned a large
estate in Bedford County--she reasoned that they could not know anything
of Sir William's family; and being extremely sensitive regarding his
recent apparent neglect of her, she did not once hint that she expected
her own future home would also be in England.

Meantime Lady Linton's plans were ripening. Events were occurring at
Heathdale which she trusted would serve her purpose well; and now Mrs.
Farnum was only waiting for a favorable opportunity to commence aggressive

The opportunity soon came. Sadie had been invited by some friends to spend
a week or two at Coney Island, and her mother, fearing if she should be
there to witness Virgie's grief when she began to work out her plot, that
she might do something to upset her plans, willingly gave her consent for
her to go.

On the afternoon after her departure, Mrs. Farnum with a basket of fancy
work in hand, went to pay Virgie a little visit, saying she was lonely
without Sadie, and had come in for a cozy chat.

The young wife had evidently been weeping, for her cheeks were flushed and
her eyes heavy, but she received her guest cordially, and exerted herself
to be entertaining.

Mrs. Farnum appeared unconscious of anything unusual although she watched
the young wife keenly, and readily surmised what had caused her

She chatted socially for a while on various topics, but after a time laid
down her work, and taking up a book from a table near which she was
sitting, began carelessly turning over its pages.

"Jean Ingelow," she remarked, with a smile. "Are you fond of her poetry,
Mrs. Heath?"

"Yes," Virgie answered, "I think some of her poems are very sweet."

Mrs. Farnum glanced absently at two or three, then turned to the fly leaf
of the book, while Virgie's eyes mechanically followed her movements.

The name of William Heath was written there.

Mrs. Farnum looked up surprised, then smiled.

"Your husband's name is William?" she said, inquiringly

"Yes," Virgie returned, with a slight flush, while a pang shot through her
heart at the sound of the dear name.

"You must be very lonely to be separated from him for so long a time,"
said the woman, in a sympathetic tone.

"Indeed I am," said the young wife, with a long-drawn sigh which did not
escape her companion's notice, "but our separation is compulsory."

"Ah, he was away at the time of our arrival, was he not?"

"Yes, he was called to his home nearly three months ago by the illness of
his mother."

Mrs. Farnum assumed a look of surprise.

"And could not you accompany him?" she asked, as if she thought it very
strange that Virgie should not have done so.

"No, my physician would not allow me to travel; the summons came only a
short time before the birth of my baby, and he said a sea voyage could not
be thought of for me, so my husband was obliged to go without me."

"A sea voyage!" repeated Mrs. Farnum, with a start.

"Yes. My husband's home is in England," Virgie answered, flushing vividly.

A blank look came over Mrs. Farnum's face, then she assumed a grieved

"In England! and you never told us that you were our countrywoman, Mrs.
Heath!" she said, reproachfully.

"I am not. I am a native of California," Virgie explained with some
confusion; but I seldom speak of myself to strangers."

"With good reason, my pert young woman!" mentally retorted Mrs, Farnum,
for her companion's last words had been rather coldly uttered. Then she
said aloud, in a pitying tone:

"It must have been very trying for you to let your husband go on such a
journey without you?"

"Yes, indeed, it was," Virgie replied, with lips that quivered painfully;
"but, of course, I could not keep him from his dying mother."


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