Chapter-18 The Strength of Love

Chapter 18



Half dazed with horror, Daisie followed Mrs. Fleming over the threshold into the darkened room, where a grave-faced physician watched by the bedside of the dying man.

She saw Royall Sherwood lying among the pillows, his delicate blond complexion changed to a purplish pallor, his eyes closed, lying as still as if already dead.

The physician came to them softly, and whispered:

“He has fallen asleep, and it might be better not to disturb him until he awakes naturally.”

“But will he ever awake?” whispered Mrs. Fleming, with a stifled sob.

“Oh, yes, I think so. You may withdraw into another room, and I will call you as soon as he opens his eyes.”

They obeyed him, going softly to another room, where Mrs. Fleming left Daisie alone a few moments, saying:

[Pg 126]

“I must go and see to your aunt’s comfort; then I will return, for I have something very serious to say to you.”

Daisie was left alone in the luxurious boudoir, where the electric lights, filtered through rosy globes, shed a warm, pink glow on her pallid face. But she did not think of envying the rich widow her wealth and splendor. Her heart sped on the wings of love to Dallas, from whom she had been so cruelly parted, and, with a sudden feeling that she was powerless in the grasp of the untoward fate that beset her, she fell on her knees, praying humbly:

“Oh, God, deliver me from the snare of my enemies!”

That was all, for she was too wretched to add another word; but in her despair she remained upon her knees, her golden head bent low in the attitude of prayer, and thus Mrs. Fleming found her when she presently returned.

The sight might have moved a tender-hearted woman to pity, but Lutie Fleming was as hard as the nether millstone.

She would rather have seen her successful rival crushed with grief and woe than happy in the[Pg 127] love of Dallas Bain, as she had seen her such a little while ago.

“Their triumph was short-lived,” she smiled to herself, as Daisie dragged herself up to a sitting posture, showing her wild, white, woeful face, from which all the light of joy had been stricken out by sorrow.

“Well, your aunt has retired, as there was really nothing to be gained by her sitting up, so you and I will keep our vigil together,” the widow said, and Daisie bowed coldly, without answering. What, indeed, could she say? She felt herself caught in the toils of a terrible fate from which she could see no escape. “As I was saying to you a little while ago, Daisie, the outcome of this matter depends on you,” continued Mrs. Fleming. “My position is a very delicate one. My cousin, whom I dearly love, has been murdered in cold-blooded malice by the man you love—by your lover!”

“Ah, no, no—never; he did not do it! Dallas would not be so cruel. You have made a mistake,” sobbed Daisie piteously.

“There is no mistake. I saw the murder done—saw Dallas Bain flying from the scene of the[Pg 128] crime. And the motive is plain. It was murderous wrath because Royall had married you. He did it to set you free for himself, forgetting that even you could hardly dare to brave public opinion by marrying your husband’s murderer.”

Daisie shuddered, without answering, and watched the light-blue orbs of Mrs. Fleming as if they were a basilisk’s eyes, feeling the while as if a serpent’s folds were tightening around her, slowly crushing her to death.

“Of course,” continued her tormentor, “my duty is plain. I should denounce Royall’s cowardly murderer to the law, and let him suffer for his crime. But that would not restore my poor cousin to life.”

“No,” faltered Daisie, almost appealingly, in her horror of the woman’s trying to fasten such a crime on Dallas, for she felt in her heart he was innocent.

“But my first thought is to soothe my cousin’s dying hours. The doctor has told me that he may die to-night or to-morrow, or linger for days in misery. There is even one single chance of his recovery—the chance of a strong constitution[Pg 129] triumphing over his terrible wound. You see, I am quite frank with you, Daisie.”

“Yes, and I see you have some faint hope of your cousin’s recovery. I hope, indeed, that he may live.”

“You need not wish that, Daisie. He would rather die than live without your love.”

There was a brief silence. The midnight hour was very still. They could hear the tide booming in upon the shore, the solemn, mysterious voice of the sea. To poor Daisie it seemed to murmur of despair.

“Do you see what I am trying to get at, Daisie? Do you understand me? In my regret for the terrible mistake I made in uniting your fate to Royall’s, in my sorrow for my poor boy, and my wish to secure his happiness, I am willing to make a bargain with you—the strangest bargain ever made—to shield a cruel murderer for the sake of his victim. Grant me this boon, Daisie: Be true to Royall for the brief span of his life—whether long or short—give him the obedience of a wife, and I, on my part, will keep your lover’s terrible secret, and let him go[Pg 130] free, his only punishment his accusing conscience.”

Again silence, and Daisie felt as if the last fold of the serpent were wound around her, crushing her to death.

She cried desperately:

“Dallas did not do it—never, never!”

“I saw him with my own eyes,” Mrs. Fleming returned, with cold malice, and waited for the answer.

Meanwhile, Daisie asked herself, in anguish, if she could bind herself by such a terrible promise—to give up her lover, whom she believed innocent; her lover, whom she loved with the passion of her life—and bind herself to Royall Sherwood for the time that he should live.

“And who knows but that he may recover? This woman may be deceiving me to gain her point,” whispered her heart; and she remained silent so long that Mrs. Fleming exclaimed impatiently:

“Well, what do you say? What will you do?”

Daisie’s beautiful violet eyes, now dark with emotion, brimmed with tears as she cried piteously:

[Pg 131]

“Oh, give me a little time to decide—until to-morrow!”

“You wish to warn Dallas Bain that his crime is known, that he may escape!” sharply.

“No—no, for he is innocent, and if accused can no doubt prove it!” the girl cried proudly.

“How? By an alibi? How long had he left you when you were called here?” demanded the widow suspiciously, fearing the failure of her scheme.

But Daisie’s answer set her fears at rest.

“No, I could not prove an alibi for Dallas, because he left me at my door as soon as he had taken me home; but of course he went straight to his hotel, and can no doubt prove where he was at the time you thought you saw him here. Oh, believe me, you have made a terrible mistake in imputing this deed to him. Why should he wish to kill your cousin to set me free, when he knew that the law would break my fetters so easily?” pleaded Daisie wildly.

“It was jealous malice. He feared that Royall might persuade you to remain his wife.”

“Ah, no; for Dallas knew my love too well,” began Daisie; but they were interrupted by a tap[Pg 132] on the door to summon them to Royall, who had awakened.

Mrs. Fleming whispered pleadingly:

“Oh, Daisie, be kind to my poor cousin. Tell him you will stay with him as long as he lives.”

“I will be kind to him, yes; how could I be harsh with him now? But I will make no rash promises,” the young girl returned, with sudden spirit.

“At least, promise not to hold any communication with Mr. Bain until to-morrow.”

“I can make no promise,” Daisie reiterated, so resolutely that the arch schemer had to give up her point, and proceeded in sullen silence to the presence of the dying man.

He was awake and conscious, his eyes turning to the door with a look of yearning.

Daisie’s tender heart was touched with pity as she gazed on the pallid, pain-drawn face, and she softly touched his hand while she whispered:

“I am so sorry!”

Then she saw that they had all gone out into the hall, except the widow, leaving them alone with the sufferer.

[Pg 133]

She felt herself pushed gently into a chair by Mrs. Fleming, who whispered:

“I pray you be kind to him.”

“Be kind to me,” echoed Royall faintly, as his cousin withdrew to the window, and his sunken blue eyes searched her face wistfully for some sign of tenderness.

It was a cruel position for any girl to be placed in. Daisie felt its pathos in the depths of her tender heart, that ached for the dying man, who had given her his love in vain.

She whispered again, with a broken sob:

“Oh, I am so sorry for you!”

A faint, tremulous smile illumined his features, and he groped for her hand.

She let him have it, and he pressed it feebly, whispering:

“You are not angry now?”

“No,” she answered solemnly, out of the depths of her pity. “Do we not forgive everything to the dying?”

And surely he looked like a dying man, under the light of the flickering lamp.

“Bless you!” he murmured, in that faint voice, and added: “You will stay with me to the end?”

[Pg 134]

It was the same petition Mrs. Fleming had offered, and she started and trembled with the same alarm.

The end! What would it be?

The widow had frankly hinted that he had a slight chance for continued life.

And if they extorted from her this ambiguous promise to stay till the end, and he lived, what then? Would they hold her to this promise?

She knew in her heart that he would do it; that he would hold her forever against her beloved. So she dare not promise.

A nervous tremor shook her form, and she faltered:

“I will stay till to-morrow.”

His eyes searched hers with wistful reproach.

“But, dear one, I may not die to-morrow. The physician says I may go out like the flame of a candle to-night, or I may linger on for days. Can you deny me the comfort of your presence till the last hour? Can you be so cruel, when I have loved you so?”

His strained voice broke in a gasp, and he lay looking at her pitifully, love and sorrow in his anguished eyes.

[Pg 135]

It pierced her heart with pity, but she dared not yield, for fear of the uncertain future.

Yet she had a tender heart, and it ached with sympathy, though she had to steel herself against his prayer.

“Cruel, cruel!” he sighed reproachfully, and she shrank as from a blow.

“How can you be so hard and unfeeling?” demanded his cousin, approaching. “Do you not see how you excite him by your refusals? And it is so little that he asks—simply to stay by him till the last hour, that may come sooner than any one expects. See how humbly he sues, when, as your husband, he has a right to command your obedience.”

“I do not acknowledge that claim!” Daisie cried, with a flashing eye.

“Nor do I urge it,” Royall Sherwood faltered quickly. “I waive all rights, if I have any, and ask your stay for sweet pity’s sake.”

That humility touched her heart as no arrogant demands could have done, and it made it all the harder for her to withstand their appeals.

But, bracing herself for a supreme effort, she reiterated:

[Pg 136]

“I—I really cannot stay any longer than to-morrow. I am compelled to return to New York to my work. I—I—have written that I am coming.”

“That makes no difference,” began Mrs. Fleming, but paused in consternation as a slight young figure dashed across the floor to Daisie, and a tremulous voice cried excitedly:

“Cruel, hard-hearted girl! You shall not refuse his prayer! Will you let a man die of heartbreak when your kindness would save his life?”

The Strength of Love by Mrs. ALEX. McVEIGH MILLER

Status: Ongoing


Native Language: English

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