by Mrs. ALEX. McVEIGH MILLER
The scene shifts from the quiet country under the low-hung October skies to New York, in the following March, when the crisp snow covered the ground, sparkling like jewels under the pallid electric lights.
“Wanted—A refined, educated, companionable gentleman as a companion for an invalid. Liberal salary to a suitable person. Apply at No. — Fifth Avenue.”
A gentleman who read that want in an evening paper became so excited over it that he canceled an engagement for the opera to present himself that same evening at the Fifth Avenue mansion of the invalid.
The sleek servant who opened the door to him looked supercilious when he heard his errand.
“Really, you should ’ave waited till the mornin’,” he said, trying to hide an Irish brogue under an English accent. “Mrs. Sherwood is going hout to the opera, and me master does not see strangers.”
Mrs. Sherwood at that moment was in the library, bidding her husband good evening before she went out.
What a contrast there was between them—the man crouching there in his low-wheeled chair, wasted and worn with illness and a tortured mind, a helpless paralytic, and the beautiful bride in the bloom of youth and health, gowned in white silk and lace, her golden hair an aureole about her graceful head, the fire of diamonds girding her round white throat, pale roses breathing out perfume against her breast.
“Gods! How beautiful you are, my Daisie!” breathed the man, with a gesture of despair. “How I envy the men who will dance with you at the ball to-night!”
She fluttered into a chair beside him, putting her hand on his arm caressingly, as she cried:
“Then I will not go to the ball to-night. I will come home from the opera.”
“You forget your guest, who has set her heart on this grand function,” he replied, half longing to take her at her word.
“Why, Lutie will be glad to chaperon Annette,[Pg 194] and bring her home after the ball,” cried Daisie.
“But I know what Lutie would say—that I am a selfish wretch, and don’t want my wife to go out and enjoy herself. Others will say the same. And it is true, I know. I am jealous, and selfish, and wretched, and miserable—oh, more miserable than words can tell!” wildly.
“Let me stay with you to-night, Royall, and charm away this gray mood. Indeed, I’m not anxious about the opera. And you used to be happier, didn’t you, when I stayed by you more, and didn’t go into society so much?”
“Yes, yes; but Lutie said it was a shame, that the confinement was breaking you down, and you were as pale as a lily and as patient as an angel. No, no—I must not be selfish. You must not neglect your social duties, as Lutie says.”
“Ah, there is the bell! She has come!” exclaimed Daisie, starting up, for she and her friend were to be Mrs. Fleming’s guests at an opera party that night.
“Tell Lutie to come in and show me her new gown,” Royall said, dreading to be left to his loneliness.
Daisie swept out into the hall, where her obsequious maid was waiting to throw the white opera cloak over her shoulders, and thus she interrupted the colloquy between Patrick and the caller, catching enough of the conversation to understand its import.
“Show the gentleman in, Patrick. I have time to see him,” she exclaimed, leading the way to a reception room.
She saw that the caller was a very fine-looking man—young, tall, handsome, clean-shaven, and wearing protecting glasses over penetrating dark eyes.
“I am Reed Raymond, madam, and I called in answer to your ad in the evening paper,” he said, with a very courtly bow.
“It is fortunate you came at this time, for my husband feels very dull this evening,” she answered, adding: “It is for him a companion is desired. He is a helpless cripple, who chafes always against his fate, and I must own that at times he is a most irritable person. But who could blame him—condemned to so sad an existence in the bloom of manhood! What he needs is[Pg 196] a bright, cheerful young man, cultured, acquainted with the world.”
“I can furnish unexceptionable references from Lord Werter, with whom I have traveled the past five months,” the handsome applicant assured the lady.
“I think I will introduce you to—my husband, as he, after all, will be the one to decide on your availability,” said Daisie, rising and motioning the young man to come.
He bowed, and followed her into the hall, thinking to himself that she was certainly the rarest beauty that had ever dawned on his horizon.
“How cruel to lose such a woman! No wonder!” he was thinking, when his eyes were arrested by another vision of beauty, trailing down the grand staircase toward him—no less a person than Annette Janowitz, sparkling, radiant, in rose-pink satin and pearls.
“I am all ready, Daisie, dear!” she cried, in her musical young voice, and the listener reeled backward against the wall, with his hand upon his heart.
“Ah, what is the matter?” cried Daisie, in alarm.
Reed Raymond soon recovered himself, and answered, with a pallid smile:
“I beg pardon—it is nothing. I am—subject—to slight spasms of the heart.”
And he staggered on with her into the library, not daring to glance back at the radiant vision on the stairway, while he groaned to himself:
“Who would have thought of meeting her here? Yet now I remember that Dallas Bain once told me she was Daisie Bell’s dearest friend.”
At that moment Mrs. Fleming entered, exclaiming:
“Well, girls, are you all ready?”
“’Sh-h, Mrs. Fleming! Daisie is taking a stranger into the library.”
“Who is he, Patrick?”
“He came to answer the ad for master’s companion, madam.”
“Come, Annette, let us follow, and see if he will suit Royall,” cried the volatile little widow, snatching Annette’s hand and dragging her along.
“Mrs. Fleming, Miss Janowitz, Mr. Raymond,” said Daisie, and they all bowed formally, the gentleman[Pg 198] standing at the back of Royall’s chair, superb in manly dignity.
“Stunning!” whispered the widow to Annette. But the young girl had grown suddenly very pale and still. She waited silently, her bosom heaving under its pearls, her eyes downcast beneath their jetty fringes, until Mrs. Fleming tittered:
“Well, we must be going, girls. Ta, ta, Royall; so glad you like my new Paris gown. You must try to exist without Daisie a few hours, will you?”
He threw her a bitter smile, and Daisie waited to clasp his cold hand and kiss his brow, heedless of the stranger’s presence, ere she followed the others from the room.
Royall looked up at him, saying wildly:
“Is it not enough to make a man curse God to be the husband of so rare a creature, yet a helpless cripple from his bridal hour?”
He saw the pale face of the stranger working with sympathy as he said hoarsely:
“Do not curse God, but rather the dastard whose hand sent the blow.”
“Ah, you have heard?”
“Yes, it was in all the papers last year, you[Pg 199] know. I have always felt the strangest sympathy for you, and if I can brighten one lonely hour, God knows I shall be glad.”
“I thank you. But do not think I am neglected. My wife has been all devotion, only her health could not bear the strain. She had to have some recreation, hence my wish for a companion. In fact, all three who have just left me have been angelic in their ministrations. My cousin, Mrs. Fleming, is untiring in her kindness. As for little Annette Janowitz, my wife’s dear friend, she is the kindest-hearted girl in the world. On the night I was shot she came to help Daisie and Lutie nurse me. She was as kind as a sister. When the doctor said I would live, she wept for joy. A week later, when the first hope of recovery was wrecked by my sudden shock of paralysis, she was inconsolable. She cried out that it must not be so, God would not be so cruel; and in her excitability she almost went into hysterics. She remained for weeks, and when her mother insisted on her coming home, we all missed her like a dear little sister. But since then we have her often with us, and her sympathy is very sweet and dear. She has been with us now a month, and Daisie[Pg 200] says she has become a great belle and has many lovers.”
“Does—she show—any preference for any?” Reed Raymond asked, in a voice that was husky in spite of his efforts to make it careless.
“I do not know about that. But why are you standing all this while, my dear fellow? Sit down, and let us be sociable. Will you smoke?” ringing the bell. “Wine and cigars, Pierre,” to the attendant. “And now, do you really think you want to be my companion?”
“I wish it, above all things, Mr. Sherwood. Stern necessity forces me to apply for this place, and if you accept my services I shall do my best to deserve your patronage, believe me.”
The strong, eager voice impressed Royall very favorably, as Raymond hurried on:
“I have been a companion for Lord Werter several months, in fact, traveled with him all over the world, arriving in New York only a few days ago, and he permits me to refer you to him as to my reliability.”
“I should fancy that your position with him is more tempting than this with me?” Royall asked tentatively.
“It was very pleasant. I am very fond of his lordship. But—I am weary of travel, and he is a nomad. I am an American, too, and prefer to settle down for a while in my native country,” Reed Raymond rejoined eagerly, in his anxiety for favorable consideration.
In his keen remorse for the evil he had wrought in madness, in his longing to expiate it, in so far as he could, by devotion to his victim, Ray Dering had decided on this step, and nothing could turn him aside from what he believed his duty.
By such disguise as the change of his name by a slight transposition, the shaving off of his luxuriant dark hair, and the adoption of eyeglasses, he felt himself safe from recognition by former friends, and his winning manners at once secured him the boon he craved.
The Strength of Love by Mrs. ALEX. McVEIGH MILLER
Author: Mrs. ALEX. McVEIGH MILLER
Native Language: English