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"Pluma--Miss Hurlhurst," he said, "I am sorry you have unfortunately thus expressed yourself, for your own sake. I beg you will say no more. You yourself have severed this night the last link of friendship between us. I am frank with you in thus admitting it. I sympathize with you, while your words have filled me with the deepest consternation and embarra.s.sment, which it is useless longer to prolong."
Drawing Daisy's arm hurriedly within his own, Rex Lyon strode quickly down the graveled path, with the full determination of never again crossing the threshold of Whitestone Hall, or gazing upon the face of Pluma Hurlhurst.
Meanwhile Pluma had arisen from her knees with a gay, mocking laugh, turning suddenly to the startled group about her.
"Bravo! bravo! Miss Pluma," cried Lester Stanwick, stepping to her side at that opportune moment. "On the stage you would have made a grand success. We are practicing for a coming charade," explained Stanwick, laughingly; "and, judging from the expressions depicted on our friend's faces, I should say you have drawn largely upon real life. You will be a success, Miss Pluma."
No one dreamed of doubting the a.s.sertion. A general laugh followed, and the music struck up again, and the gay mirth of the fete resumed its sway.
Long after the guests had departed Pluma sat in her boudoir, her heart torn with pain, love, and jealousy, her brain filled with schemes of vengeance.
"I can not take her life!" she cried; "but if I could mar her beauty--the pink-and-white beauty of Daisy Brooks, which has won Rex from me--I would do it. I shall torture her for this," she cried. "I will win him from her though I wade through seas of blood. Hear me, Heaven," she cried, "and register my vow!"
Pluma hastily rung the bell.
"Saddle Whirlwind and Tempest at once!" she said to the servant who answered her summons.
"It is after midnight, Miss Pluma. I--"
There was a look in her eyes which would brook no further words.
An hour later they had reached the cottage wherein slept Daisy Brooks, heedless of the danger that awaited her.
"Wait for me here," said Pluma to the groom who accompanied her--"_I will not be long!_"
"Daisy," said Rex, gently, as he led her away from the lights and the echoing music out into the starlight that shone with a soft, silvery radiance over hill and vale, "I shall never forgive myself for being the cause of the cruel insult you have been forced to endure to-night.
I declare it's a shame. I shall tell Pluma so to-morrow."
"Oh, no--no--please don't, Mr. Rex. I--I--had no right to waltz with you," sobbed Daisy, "when I knew you were Pluma's lover."
"Don't say that, Daisy," responded Rex, warmly. "I am glad, after all, everything has happened just as it did, otherwise I should never have known just how dear a certain little girl had grown to me; besides, I am not Pluma's lover, and never shall be now."
"You have quarreled with her for my sake," whispered Daisy, regretfully. "I am so sorry--indeed I am."
Daisy little dreamed, as she watched the deep flush rise to Rex's face, it was of her he was thinking, and not Pluma, by the words, "a certain little girl."
Rex saw she did not understand him; he stopped short in the path, gazing down into those great, dreamy, pleading eyes that affected him so strangely.
"Daisy," he said, gently, taking her little clinging hands from his arm, and clasping them in his own, "you must not be startled at what I am going to tell you. When I met you under the magnolia boughs, I knew I had met my fate. I said to myself: 'She, and no other, shall be my wife.'"
"Your wife," she cried, looking at him in alarm. "Please don't say so.
I don't want to be your wife."
"Why not, Daisy?" he asked, quickly.
"Because you are so far above me," sobbed Daisy. "You are so rich, and I am only poor little Daisy Brooks."
Oh, how soft and beautiful were the eyes swimming in tears and lifted so timidly to his face! She could not have touched Rex more deeply.
Daisy was his first love, and he loved her from the first moment their eyes met, with all the strength of his boyish, pa.s.sionate nature; so it is not strange that the thought of possessing her, years sooner than he should have dared hope, made his young blood stir with ecstasy even though he knew it was wrong.
"Wealth shall be no barrier between us, Daisy," he cried. "What is all the wealth in the world compared to love? Do not say that again. Love outweighs everything. Even though you bid me go away and forget you, Daisy, I could not do it. I can not live without you."
"Do you really love me so much in so short a time?" she asked, blushingly.
"My love can not be measured by the length of time I have known you,"
he answered, eagerly. "Why, Daisy, the strongest and deepest love men have ever felt have come to them suddenly, without warning."
The glamour of love was upon him; he could see no faults in pretty little artless Daisy. True, she had not been educated abroad like Pluma, but that did not matter; such a lovely rosebud mouth was made for kisses, not grammar.
Rex stood in suspense beside her, eagerly watching the conflict going on in the girl's heart.
"Don't refuse me, Daisy," he cried, "give me the right to protect you forever from the cold world; let us be married to-night. We will keep it a secret if you say so. You must--you _must_, Daisy, for I can not give you up."
Rex was so eager, so earnest, so thoroughly the impa.s.sioned lover! His hands were clinging to her own, his dark, handsome face drooped near hers, his pleading eyes searching her very soul.
Daisy was young, romantic, and impressible; a thousand thoughts rushed through her brain; it would be so nice to have a young husband to love her and care for her like Rex, so handsome and so kind; then, too, she would have plenty of dresses, as fine as Pluma wore, all lace and puffs; she might have a carriage and ponies, too; and when she rolled by the little cottage, Septima, who had always been so cruel to her, would courtesy to _her_, as she did when Pluma, the haughty young heiress, pa.s.sed.
The peachy bloom on her cheeks deepened; with Daisy's thoughtless clinging nature, her craving for love and protection, her implicit faith in Rex, who had protected her so n.o.bly at the fete--it is not to be wondered Rex won the day.
Shyly Daisy raised her blue eyes to his face--and he read a shy, sweet consent that thrilled his very soul.
"You shall never regret this hour, my darling," he cried, then in the soft silvery twilight he took her to his heart and kissed her rapturously.
His mother's bitter anger, so sure to follow--the cold, haughty mother, who never forgot or forgave an injury, and his little sister Birdie's sorrow were at that moment quite forgotten--even if they had been remembered they would have weighed as naught compared with his lovely little Daisy with the golden hair and eyes of blue looking up at him so trustingly.
Daisy never forgot that walk through the sweet pink clover to the little chapel on the banks of the lonely river. The crickets chirped in the long green gra.s.s, and the breeze swayed the branches of the tall leafy trees, rocking the little birds in their nests.
A sudden, swift, terrified look crept up into Daisy's face as they entered the dim shadowy parlor. Rex took her trembling chilled hands in his own; if he had not, at that moment, Daisy would have fled from the room.
"Only a little courage, Daisy," he whispered, "then a life of happiness."
Then as if in a dream she stood quite still by his side, while the fatal ceremony went on; in a confused murmur she heard the questions and responses of her lover, and answered the questions put to her; then Rex turned to her with a smile and a kiss.
Poor little thoughtless Daisy--it was done--in a moment she had sown the seeds from which was to spring up a harvest of woe so terrible that her wildest imagination could not have painted it.
"Are we really married, Rex?" she whispered, as he led her out again into the starlight; "it seems so much like a dream."
He bent his handsome head and kissed his pretty child-bride. Daisy drew back with a startled cry--his lips were as cold as ice.
"Yes, you are my very own now," he whispered. "No one shall ever have the right to scold you again; you are mine now, Daisy, but we must keep it a secret from every one for awhile, darling. You will do this for my sake, won't you, Daisy?" he asked. "I am rich, as far as the world knows, but it was left to me under peculiar conditions. I--I--do not like to tell you what those conditions were, Daisy."
"Please tell me, Rex," she said, timidly; "you know I am your--your--wife--now."