THE FAULT WAS MINE!
by Mrs. ALEX. McVEIGH MILLER
A bolt from heaven could not have stricken Daisie Bell more suddenly from her feet than the words Mrs. Fleming had spoken in such venomous triumph.
The poor victim tottered, moaned, and fell; but Dallas caught her in his arms ere she touched the floor, lifting her up tenderly and pressing her close to his breast.
“Daisie, my darling, speak to me!” he cried, in wild alarm, for her head fell heavily like a broken flower.
Mrs. Fleming cried angrily:
“Give her to her husband! It is his right to hold her now! Why do you not take her, Royall?”
“Hush, Lutie! I do not understand what you mean. Explain yourself,” Royall replied, with stern brevity, though, if angry, jealous looks could have killed, Dallas might have dropped dead then and there.
But Mrs. Fleming, with a start and shudder, exclaimed:
“Ah! true, true, you do not know what I have done, Royall; you do not guess that Daisie Bell is really your wife. I must confess the deceit I have practiced on you both. But wait—wait till Daisie revives; for she must hear it all, too.”
And even at that moment Daisie trembled in the clasp of her lover, and opened her dazed, blue eyes.
“I—oh, what is that matter?” she began; and, gently soothing her, Dallas placed her in her seat, and stood by her side, offering the other seat to Mrs. Fleming.
She took it, for the story she had to tell was enough to make her too nervous to stand.
Royall stood at the back of her chair, and Dallas by Daisie’s side, in a protecting attitude, but pale as death with dread of what was coming.
He said gently to his trembling little love:
“Do you feel better? For Mrs. Fleming has a confession to make, if you are strong enough to bear it.”
“I am better; let her go on,” Daisie faltered, with pallid lips.
Mrs. Fleming, strengthened by the wine she had taken, answered, with glib readiness:
“Let no one blame Royall Sherwood for what has been done. The plot was mine, and I did not know I was making a grave mistake. Of course, I knew that Daisie and Royall had broken their engagement, but I thought it was made up again, as he was going to see her the same every day. So when I knew that Daisie would help us with the entertainment to-night, and take the bride’s part in the mock wedding, I thought what a joke it would be—and not an unwelcome one, either—to marry them really. So I impulsively, without due thought, employed a real minister to read the ceremony, and—now they are tied fast, man and wife, as tight as law can bind them to each other.”
There was a moment’s blank pause; then Royall Sherwood bent the knee humbly before silent, stricken Daisie, crying out in pleading accents:
“She speaks truly; the plot was hers, unknown to me; but, Daisie, she read my heart aright, if not yours; for never had bride such a cordial welcome to a husband’s heart, and never would a loyal husband strive more patiently to win a wife’s love, if you will give yourself to me in truth, as you are mine already by to-night’s vow.”
But she shrank from his extended arms, with a cry of woe that made Dallas Bain soothe her with warning words:
“Do not let him frighten you, Daisie; for who knows but that he was in the plot which he disclaims so glibly? If you do not want him as a husband, do not take him; for the law will free you from this fraud that has been perpetrated on you. Your friends will join with me in taking your part.”
“‘Whom God hath joined together, let not man put asunder,’” quoted the widow flippantly.
“Do not bring that sacred name into such a farce!” rebuked Dallas sternly.
At that moment Daisie sprang to the window and gazed with straining eyes into the thronged drawing-room.
The next moment she stepped over the low sill, and disappeared.
They followed her—the anxious three—and presently they saw her force her way through a pleasant group surrounding the clerical-looking young man who had performed the marriage ceremony.
She rushed up to him, and, clutching his sleeve[Pg 113] with her little hand, cold and white as a snowflake, she cried shrilly, not caring if the whole world heard:
“Is it true that you are a real minister? That that marriage was real, and not a sham, as I thought?”
He turned on her with dignified eyes of surprise and disapproval, saying stiffly:
“Certainly, I am a real minister, and the marriage was real. What else?”
“But it was meant for a sham. I never would have given my consent to the reality,” she cried, in breathless dismay.
He turned startled eyes on her excited face, and exclaimed:
“But Mrs. Fleming employed me. Surely she knew!”
“Yes, it was my fault. I knew Royall and Daisie were engaged, and thought it would be great fun to marry them offhand, believing they would be pleased to have it so. But Daisie’s dignity is offended, I’m sorry to see. Royall, I know you can soon bring her around to forgive me!” chirped the widow, suddenly making herself mistress of the situation.
But Daisie’s eyes blazed with anger as she turned and placed her hand on the arm of Dallas Bain.
“Mr. Bain, will you please take me home to Aunt Alice?” she exclaimed; then bitterly: “I will never forgive you, Mrs. Fleming, for this outrage, and to-morrow I will call in the law to free me from your cousin’s fetters.”
With those words, she swept from the room with Dallas, and no one was bold enough to try to arrest her exit.
The Strength of Love by Mrs. ALEX. McVEIGH MILLER
Author: Mrs. ALEX. McVEIGH MILLER
Native Language: English