COALS OF FIRE
by Mrs. ALEX. McVEIGH MILLER
Ray Dering was gazing moodily out at the October woods changing to red and gold beneath the autumn sky, and, with a violent start, he looked at his friend, exclaiming:
“Why do you say I have a love affair? It is not true! I hate all women for the sake of one who has been false to me.”
His pale, handsome face writhed with conflicting emotions, as he added:
“She has ruined my life and made me a remorseful sinner, this cruel little coquette that I loved so dearly.”
He leaned his face down on the window sill, and his form shook with emotion too strong for words.
Dallas Bain was not surprised, for in his month’s association with this man he had become convinced that a rooted sorrow, coupled with strange remorse, lay at the bottom of his heart.
Ray Dering had heavy, restless nights, and[Pg 181] strange, wild dreams, in which he often talked aloud, so that Dallas had conceived suspicions that he would not have breathed aloud.
But he believed that Ray Dering was good and noble at heart, and longed to help and comfort him.
Hence his kind words that had stirred the other’s nature to such wild emotion.
Dallas waited till the storm had spent itself and Ray’s heaving shoulders grew calm again; then he said gently:
“You ask why I know you had a love affair? A drummer on the train, when your arm was broken, told me so, and said you were throwing yourself away for her sake. Now, why should you wreck your noble manhood for the sake of a heartless little coquette?”
“Ah, why—why?” groaned Ray Dering bitterly. “Ah, Dallas Bain, you do not know me, do not guess at the sleeping devil in my nature, or you would not ask me such a question! Listen: I loved my bright, beautiful little sweetheart with all the fire of a jealous, passionate nature, and I thought I had her whole heart in return. We were to have been married this winter, and I[Pg 182] intended to leave the road then, and settle down to a quiet life on a legacy left me by my maiden aunt last spring. Well, I went to see her in August, full of love and pride—and, well, I found out that my pretty little sweetheart was in love—with another man.” Ray Dering shot a fiery glance at Dallas Bain, and added: “You ought to know the girl and the man. She was Annette Janowitz—he was——Ah, you start! No wonder!”
But it was not a guilty start from Dallas. He exclaimed:
“Do you mean Miss Janowitz, of Gull Beach, a little brunette beauty? Why, she was an intimate friend of my own love, Daisie Bell.”
“And perhaps a friend of yours, too?” Ray Dering cried, with a harsh, grating laugh and a penetrating glance that tried to pierce Dallas through and through.
He answered simply:
“I do not know Miss Janowitz very well, having only met her twice at crowded receptions; but I have a great esteem for her because she was Daisie’s true friend, and tried to forward our love affair in many ways.”
A strange light broke on Ray Dering’s mind, and he cried breathlessly:
So Dallas told him the simple story Daisie had whispered to him, of how she had tried to win him back to her by artless artifices, and how Annette had helped her all she could by taking the letter she had written up to Sea View.
“But I never received it, for I had gone away before, and it was a sad mission for little Annette, for while returning through the grounds at Sea View she was hit by a stray shot that nearly cost her her life—poor girl!” he added.
“A stray shot!” murmured Dering.
“Yes; that was the story that Annette told the doctor and every one else. Some believed her, and others doubted, declaring that out of her noble heart she was shielding some one she would not betray,” said Dallas, gazing straight at him with accusing eyes.
Ray Dering dropped his eyes, and groaned:
“You suspect me?”
“Yes, from your own admissions, your guilty looks, and words you have whispered in restless dreams.”
“So she was true, after all—dear little Annette! True as steel to the fiend that doubted her and even tried to kill her! And she would not betray me! She kept that hideous secret of my crime. Oh, the matchless constancy of woman!” cried Ray Dering; and, carried away by his keen remorse, he confessed what he had done to Dallas, saying:
“When I heard her talking so anxiously about sending you that letter, it made me wild, for I believed she was in love with you, and the jealous devil in my nature prompted me to take her life. As soon as the maid left the scene, I rushed upon Annette, uttered some wild words, and fired straight at her tender young heart.”
“And you would have killed her but for the steel of her stays that turned aside the bullet,” added Dallas.
“Thank God for that! Thank God that in my frenzy I was spared the crime of murder! Oh, Heaven! To think how true, and sweet, and noble she is, and that I have lost her forever!” groaned Dering.
Dallas could not help but pity him in his wild remorse, so he said:
“Perhaps she will make it up with you, since she has shown such a forgiving spirit toward you. Shall I write to her for you?”
“Ah, Dallas Bain, you are heaping coals of fire on my head! You who have been so good to me, who rescued me from that awful wreck, who have so faithfully cared for me since. You do not guess what a fiend I have been, and that—I tried also to murder you!”
“Yes, I will confess all, and throw myself on your mercy. I thought you had won Annette from me, and I swore to her I would kill you also. It was my guilty hand that fired the shot that laid Royall Sherwood low—but I thought it was you, Dallas Bain. I had followed you to Sea View, but my brain was dulled with liquor, and I missed you somehow when you went away. Then I thought I saw you walking in the grounds with Annette, as I thought, and I fired recklessly, and escaped. Well, the man is not dead yet, but if he dies I am his murderer, and you may denounce me if you choose, for my life, by reason of my mistakes and crimes, has become almost too great a burden to be borne.”
The Strength of Love by Mrs. ALEX. McVEIGH MILLER
Author: Mrs. ALEX. McVEIGH MILLER
Native Language: English