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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesA Day Of Fate - Book 2 - Chapter 17. My Worst Blunder
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A Day Of Fate - Book 2 - Chapter 17. My Worst Blunder Post by :vision2 Category :Long Stories Author :Edward Payson Roe Date :May 2012 Read :1534

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A Day Of Fate - Book 2 - Chapter 17. My Worst Blunder

BOOK II CHAPTER XVII. MY WORST BLUNDER

I scarcely could foresee how we should get through the following day. I both longed for and dreaded it, feeling that though it might pass quietly enough, it would probably be decisive in its bearing on the problem of my life. Miss Warren would at last be compelled to face the truth squarely, that she had promised a man what she could not give, and that to permit him to go on blindly trusting would be impossible. The moment she realized fully that she had never truly loved him, and now never could, she would give up the pretence. Then why should she not see that love, duty, and truth could go together? That she had struggled desperately to be loyal to Mr. Hearn was sadly proved by her thin face and wasted form; but with a nature like hers, when once her genuine love was evoked, the effort to repress it was as vain as seeking to curb a rising tide. I now saw, as I looked back over the past weeks, that her love had grown steadily and irresistibly till it had overwhelmed all save her will and conscience; that these stood, the two solitary landmarks of her former world. And I knew they would stand, and that my only hope was to stand with them. Her love had gone out to me as mine had to her, from a constraint that she could not resist, and this fact I hoped would reveal to her its sacred right to live. With every motive that would naturally bind her to a man who could give her so much, her heart claimed its mate in one who must daily toil long hours for subsistence. It would be like her to recognize that a love so unthrifty and unselfish must spring from the deepest truths and needs of her being rather than from any passing causes. She would come to believe as I did, that God had created us for each other.

But it seemed as if the whole world had changed and gone awry when we sat down to breakfast the next morning. Adah was polite to me, but she was cool and distant. She no longer addressed me in the Friendly tongue. It was "you" now. I had ceased to be one of them, in her estimation. Her father and mother looked grave and worried, but they were as kind and cordial to me as ever. Reuben and the little girls were evidently mystified by the great change in the social atmosphere, but were too inexperienced to understand it. I was pained by Adah's manner, but did not let it trouble me, feeling assured that as she thought the past over she would do me justice, and that our relations would become substantially those of a brother and sister.

But I was puzzled and alarmed beyond measure by Miss Warren's manner and appearance, and my feelings alternated between the deepest sympathy and the strongest fear. She looked as if she had grown old in the night, and was haggard from sleeplessness. Her deep eyes had sunken deeper than ever, and the lines under them were dark indeed, but her white face was full of a cold scorn, and she held herself aloof from us all.

She looked again as if capable of any blind, desperate self-sacrifice.

Simple, honest Mr. Yocomb was sorely perplexed, but Ms wife's face was grave and inscrutable. If I had only gone quietly away and left the whole problem to her, how much better it would have been!

I tried to speak to Miss Warren in a pleasant, natural way; her answers were brief and polite, but nothing more. Before the meal was over she excused herself and returned to her room. I felt almost indignant. What had I--most of all, what had her kind, true friends, Mr. and Mrs. Yocomb--done to warrant that cold, half--scornful face? Her coming to breakfast was but a form, and she clearly wished to leave us at the earliest possible moment. Adah smiled satirically as she passed out, and the expression did not become her fair face.

I strode out to the arbor in the garden and stared moodily at the floor, I know not how long, for I was greatly mystified and baffled, and my very soul was consumed with anxiety.

"She shall listen to reason," I muttered again and again. "This question must be settled in accordance with truth--the simple, natural truth--and nothing else. She's mine, and nothing shall separate us-- not even her perverse will and conscience;" and so the heavy hours passed in deep perturbation.

At last I heard a step, and looking through the leaves I saw the object of my thoughts coming through the garden, reading a letter. My eyes glistened with triumph. "The chance I coveted has come," I muttered, and I watched her intently. She soon crushed the letter in her hand and came swiftly toward the arbor, with a face so full of deep and almost wild distress that my heart relented, and I resolved to be as gentle as I before had intended to be decisive and argumentative. I hastily changed my seat to the angle by the entrance, so that I could intercept her should she try to escape the interview.

She entered, and throwing herself down on the seat, buried her face in her arm.

"Miss Warren," I began.

She started up with a passionate gesture. "You have no right to intrude on me now," she said, almost sternly.

"Pardon me, were I not here when you entered, I would still have a right to come. You are in deep distress. Why must I be inhuman any more than yourself? You have at least promised me friendship, but you treat me like an enemy."

"You have been my worst enemy."

"I take issue with you there at once. I've never had a thought toward you that was not most kind and loyal.

"Loyal!" she replied, bitterly; "that word in itself is a stab."

"Miss Warren," I said, very gently, "you make discord in the old garden to-day."

She dropped her letter on the ground and sank on the seat again. Such a passion of sobs shook her slight frame that I trembled with apprehension. But I kept quiet, believing that Nature could care for her child better than I could, and that her outburst of feeling would bring relief. At last, as she became a little more self-controlled, I said, gravely and kindly:

"There must be some deep cause for this deep grief."

"Oh, what shall I do?" she sobbed. "What shall I do? I wish the earth would open and swallow me up."

"That wish is as vain as it is cruel. I wish you would tell me all, and let me help you. I think I deserve it at your hands."

"Well, since you know so much, you may as well know all. It doesn't matter now, since every one will soon know. He has written that his business will take him to Europe within a month--that we must be married--that he will bring his sister here to-night to help me make arrangements. Oh! oh! I'd rather die than ever see him again. I've wronged him so cruelly, so causelessly."

In wild exultation I snatched a pocketbook from my coat and cried:

"Miss Warren--Emily--do you remember this little York and Lancaster bud that you gave me the day we first met? Do you remember my half- jesting, random words, 'To the victor belong the spoils'? See, the victor is at your feet."

She sprang up and turned her back upon me. "Rise!" she said, in a voice so cold and stern that, bewildered, I obeyed.

She soon became as calm as before she had been passionate and unrestrained in her grief; but it was a stony quietness that chilled and disheartened me before she spoke.

"It does indeed seem as if the truth between us could never be hidden," she said, bitterly. "You have now very clearly shown your estimate of me. You regard me as one of those weak women of the past whom the strongest carry off. You have been the stronger in this case --oh, you know it well! Not even in the house of God could I escape your vigilant scrutiny. You hoped and watched and waited for me to be false. Should I yield to you, you would never forget that I had been false, and, in accordance with your creed, you would ever fear--that is, if your passion lasted long enough--the coming of one still stronger, to whom in the weak necessity of my nature, I again would yield. Low as I have fallen, I will never accept from a man a mere passion devoid of respect and honor. I'm no longer entitled to these, therefore I'll accept nothing."

She poured out these words like a torrent, in spite of my gestures of passionate dissent, and my efforts to be heard; but it was a cold, pitiless torrent. Excited as I was, I saw how intense was her self- loathing. I also saw despairingly that she embraced me in her scorn.

"Miss Warren," I said, dejectedly, "since you are so unjust to yourself, what hope have I?"

"There is little enough for either of us," she continued, more bitterly; "at least there is none for me. You will, no doubt, get bravely over it, as you said. Men generally do, especially when in their hearts they have no respect for the woman with whom they are infatuated. Mr. Morton, the day of your coming was indeed the day of _my fate. I wish you could have saved the lives of the others, but not mine. I could then have died in peace, with honor unstained. But now, what is my life but an intolerable burden of shame and self- reproach? Without cause and beyond the thought of forgiveness, I've wronged a good, honorable man, who has been a kind and faithful friend for years. He is bringing his proud, aristocratic sister here to-night to learn how false and contemptible I am. The people among whom I earned my humble livelihood will soon know how unfit I am to be trusted with their daughters--that I am one who falls a spoil to the strongest. I have lost everything--chief of all my pearl of great price--my truth. What have I left? Is there a more impoverished creature in the world? There is nothing left to me but bare existence and hateful memories. Oh, the lightning was dim compared with the vividness with which I've seen it all since that hateful moment last night, when the truth became evident even to Adah Yocomb. But up to that moment, even up to this hour, I hoped you pitied me--that you were watching and waiting to help me to be true and not to be false. I did not blame you greatly for your love--my own weakness made me lenient--and at first you did not know. But since you now openly seek that which belongs to another; since you now exult that you are the stronger, and that I have become your spoil, I feel, though I cannot yet see and realize the depths into which I have fallen. Even to-day you might have helped me as a friend, and shown me how some poor shred of my truth might have been saved; but you snatch at me as if I were but the spoil of the strongest. Mr. Morton, either you or I must leave the farmhouse at once."

"This is the very fanaticism of truth," I cried, desperately. "Your mind is so utterly warped and morbid from dwelling on one side of this question that you are cruelly unjust."

"Would that I had been less kind and more just. I felt sorry for you, from the depths of my heart. Why have you had no pity for me? You are a man of the world, and know it. Why did you not show me to what this wretched weakness would lead? I thought you meant this kindness when you said you wished my brother was here. Oh that I were sleeping beside him! I thought you meant this when you said that nothing would last, nothing could end well unless built on the truth. I hoped you were watching me with the vigilance of a man who, though loving me, was so strong and generous and honorable that he would try to save me from a weakness that I cannot understand, and which was the result of strange and unforeseen circumstances. When you were so ill I felt as if I had dealt you your death-blow, and then, woman-like, I loved you. I loved you before I recognized my folly. Up to that point we could scarcely help ourselves. For weeks I tried to hide the truth from myself. I fought against it. I prayed against it through sleepless nights. I tried to hide the truth from you most of all. But I remember the flash of hope in your face when you first surmised my miserable secret. It hurt me cruelly. Your look should have been one of dismay and sorrow. But I know something of the weakness of the heart, and its first impulse might naturally be that of gladness, although honor must have changed it almost instantly into deep regret. Then I believed that you were sorry, and that it was your wish to help me. I thought it was your purpose yesterday to show me that I could be happy, even in the path of right and duty, that had become so hard, though you spoke once as you ought not. But when I, unawares, and from the impulse of a grateful heart, spoke your name last night as that of my truest and best friend, as I thought, you turned toward me the face of a lover, and to-day--but it's all over. Will you go?"

"Are Mr. and Mrs. Yocomb false?" I cried.

"No, they are too simple and true to realize the truth. Mr. Morton, I think we fully understand each other now. Since you will not go, I shall. You had better remain here and grow strong. Please let me pass."

"I wish you had dealt me my death-blow. It were a merciful one compared with this. No, you don't understand me at all. You have portrayed me as a vile monster. Because you cannot keep your engagement with a man you never truly loved, you inflict the torments of hell on the man you do love, and whom Heaven meant you to love. Great God! you are not married to Gilbert Hearn. Have not engagements often been broken for good and sufficient reasons? Is not the truth that our hearts almost instantly claimed eternal kindred a sufficient cause? I watched and waited that I might know whether you were his or mine. I did not seek to win you from him after I knew--after I remembered. But when I knew the truth, you _were mine. Before God I assert my right, and before His altar I would protest against your marriage to any other."

She sank down on the arbor seat, white and faint, but made a slight repellent gesture.

"Yes, I'll go," I said, bitterly; "and such a scene as this might well cause a better man than I to go to the devil;" and I strode away.

But before I had taken a dozen steps my heart relented, and I returned. Her face was again buried in her right arm and her left hand hung by her side.

I took it in both of my own as I said, gently and sadly:

"Emily Warren, you may scorn me--you may refuse ever to see my face again; but I have dedicated my life to your happiness, and I shall keep my vow. It may be of no use, but God looketh at the intent of the heart. Heathen though I am, I cannot believe he will let the June day when we first met prove so fatal to us both: the God of whom Mrs. Yocomb told us wants no harsh, useless self-sacrifice. You are not false, and never have been. Mrs. Yocomb is not more true. I respect and honor you, as I do my mother's memory, though my respect now counts so little to you. I never meant to wrong you or pain you; I meant your happiness first and always. If you care to know, my future life shall show whether I am a gentleman or a villain. May God show you how cruelly unjust you are to yourself. I shall attempt no further self-defence. Good-by."

She trembled; but she only whispered:

"Good-by. Go, and forget."

"When I forget you--when I fail in loving loyalty to you, may God forget me!" I replied, and I hastened from the garden with as much sorrow and bitterness in my heart as the first man could have felt when the angel drove him from Eden. Alas! I was going out alone into a world that had become thorny indeed.

As I approached the house Mrs. Yocomb happened to come out on the piazza.

I took her hand and drew her toward the garden gate. She saw that I was almost speechless from trouble, and with her native wisdom divined it all.

"I did not take your advice," I groaned, "accursed fool that I was! But no matter about me. Save Emily from herself. As you believe in God's mercy, watch over her as you watched over me. Show her the wrong of wrecking both of our lives. She's in the arbor there. Go and stay with her till I am gone. You are my only hope. God bless you for all your kindness to me. Please write: I shall be in torment till I hear from you. Good-by."

I watched her till I saw her enter the arbor, then hastened to the barn, where Reuben was giving the horses their noonday feeding.

"Reuben," I said, quietly, "I'm compelled to go to New York at once. We can catch the afternoon train, if you are prompt. Not a word, old fellow. I've no time now to explain. I must go, and I'll walk if you won't take me;" and I hastened to the house and packed for departure with reckless haste.

At the foot of the moody stairway I met Adah.

"Are you going away?" she tried to say distantly, with face averted.

"Yes, Miss Adah, and I fear you are glad."

"No," she said, brokenly, and turning she gave me her hand. "I can't keep this up any longer, Richard. Since we first met I've been very foolish, very weak, and thee--thee has been a true gentleman toward me."

"I wish I might be a true brother. God knows I feel like one."

"Thee--thee saved my life, Richard. I was wicked to forget that for a moment. Will thee forgive me?"

"I'll forgive you only as you will let me become the most devoted brother a girl ever had, for I love and respect you, Adah, very, very much."

Tears rushed into the warm-hearted girl's eyes. She put her arms around my neck and kissed me. "Let this seal that agreement," she said, "and I'll be thy sister in heart as well as in name."

"How kind and good you are, Adah!" I faltered. "You are growing like your mother now. When you come to New York you will see how I keep my word," and I hastened away.

Mr. Yocomb intercepted me in the path.

"How's this? how's this?" he cried.

"I must go to New York at once," I said. "Mrs. Yocomb will explain all. I have a message for Mr. Hearn. Please say that I will meet him at any time, and will give any explanations to which he has a right. Good-by; I won't try to thank you for your kindness, which I shall value more and more every coming day."

For a long time we rode in silence, Reuben looking as grim and lowering as his round, ruddy face permitted.

At last he broke out, "Now, I say, blast Emily Warren's grandfather!"

"No, Reuben, my boy," I replied, putting my arm around him, "with all his millions, I'm heartily sorry for Mr. Hearn."

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