THE CRUEL TRUTH
by Mrs. ALEX. McVEIGH MILLER
That afternoon the sun came out as bright and warm as in April, and tempted Daisie and Annette to go out for a spin on their bicycles.
“And let us call for Lutie. Perhaps she will like to join us,” said Daisie, who had grown almost fond of the deceitful little widow who had chosen to be very kind to her since her treachery had succeeded so well.
As they pedaled along on their shining wheels, both so beautiful, though as different as night and morning in their dark and light types, they attracted much attention and admiration; but their thoughts were too busy with recent events to notice it. Daisie seemed to be charmed over the knowledge that her afflicted husband had secured so suitable a companion.
“He will have no more lonely hours now, with this delightful man to amuse him. Oh, what a burden it lifts from my mind!” she cried gladly.
“Are you learning to love Royall at last, Daisie?” exclaimed Annette.
The dark-blue eyes turned a sweet, sad gaze on the other’s face.
“I love Royall as a friend or a brother—that is all; but I pity him so—I pity him so!” she sighed.
“Perhaps, if he should grow strong and well, some time you might learn to love him as a husband?”
A sudden pallor drifted over the blooming face, flushed by the exercise of wheeling.
“I—I—am afraid not,” Daisie answered sadly; adding: “Oh, Annette, all my love was given once, and thrown back upon my heart! After such a shock I can never love again.”
And her thoughts flew back in anguish to that night when she had been so cruelly sundered from Dallas Bain by the plotting of Royall and his cousin—plotting that she never could have forgiven had it not been proved to her afterward that Dallas Bain was unworthy of her love.
Oh, the bitterness of that knowledge! Could she ever forget the anguish of the first days after she woke to the truth—the crushing struggle between love and pride—the humiliation of knowing[Pg 239] that he had deserted her for silly, chattering Letty, Mrs. Fleming’s servant?
Suddenly she gave such a start that she nearly lost her balance on the wheel.
As they wheeled around the corner, toward Mrs. Fleming’s elegant brownstone mansion, they came face to face with a man loitering on the corner as if waiting for some one, and—the man was James Cullen!
Yes, it was Mrs. Fleming’s old servant, whom no one had heard of since he left Sea View, swearing that he would find Letty and her lover, and kill them both.
Impulsively Daisie flung herself from her wheel, Annette following her example, and beckoned the man to approach.
He slouched toward them sullenly, looking as if he had far rather run away. He was well dressed, in a loud, flashy style, with rings on his stubby fingers, and a thick gold watch chain ostentatiously paraded across his plaid vest.
“How do you do, Cullen? I’m glad to find you looking so prosperous. Did—did—you ever find Letty Green?” demanded Daisie breathlessly.
Cullen turned red and pale by turns, and[Pg 240] shuffled his feet confusedly, giving a rapid, furtive glance down the street toward Mrs. Fleming’s mansion; then he blurted out eagerly:
“No, madame; I swear I’ve never caught up with the little baggage yit!”
With that, he turned quickly from them, and hurried around the corner, losing himself in the crowds on Fifth Avenue.
“The man looked as if he were lying!” exclaimed Annette, as they remounted their wheels.
A few more turns brought them to the widow’s house, and, to their amazement, they saw Letty Green coming down the marble steps, gayly dressed, and looking quite as prosperous as Cullen, a look of satisfaction on her pert little face.
Daisie and Annette looked at each other with a vague suspicion in their eyes, and the latter cried, in a troubled voice:
“Don’t let us speak to the girl—oh, don’t!”
But again Daisie sprang from her wheel in front of the approaching girl, exclaiming sharply:
“Stop, Letty Green, I wish to speak to you!”
Letty paused, with an insolent smile, and swept them both a curtsy.
“I’m sure I’m glad to see you again, Mrs. Sherwood and Miss Janowitz.”
Daisie spoke again, and a strange impulse made her exclaim coolly:
“Letty, we saw Cullen waiting for you at the corner. So you married him, after all?”
Imposed on by the quietly assertive tone, and supposing Cullen had confessed the truth, Letty answered falteringly:
“And,” pursued Daisie gaspingly, her face death-white, “perhaps—perhaps—you didn’t elope with Mr. Bain—after all. It—it—was a lie you wrote to Cullen, was it not?”
“Come away, Daisie,” pleaded Annette; but she shook off the gentle hand impatiently.
“Answer me,” she said imploringly, to Letty, a wild hope springing in her tortured heart. “Did you go away with—him—or not?”
The girl hung her head in shame, and muttered defiantly:
“Yes, madam, I did elope with Mr. Bain. I can’t deny the truth.”
But falsehood was written on her face and in[Pg 242] her eyes that she dare not uplift to the girl she had wronged.
Daisie cried bitterly:
“Then where is he now? Why are you with Cullen instead of——” Her voice broke with emotion, and the crafty Letty rejoined meekly:
“Oh, Mrs. Sherwood, can’t you understand? He—that Dallas Bain, was a—betrayer of innocence! After he persuaded me to go away he wouldn’t marry me. He got tired of me in a month, and then he disappeared, the wretch! Then I was starving—I tried to find him, but I could not, and I was going to drown myself when I chanced to meet Cullen, who had come to the city to look for me—to kill me, as he said. But my misery melted his heart. He forgave me, and agreed to make an honest woman of me if I would behave myself. So I married him, the good, kind soul, and—oh, there he is waiting for me now. Excuse me, ladies;” and Letty darted away to join her husband, who had sneaked back to the corner.
Annette felt like a criminal before her friend that she did not cry out that Letty’s story was a falsehood, that Dallas Bain was true and good,[Pg 243] and that his sweetheart had been lured away from him by the most dastardly plot in the world.
She could have wept as she saw the white agony of Daisie’s face—poor Daisie, whose springing hopes had been so cruelly dashed to earth again, for it did not occur to her to cast doubt on Letty’s specious story.
But again Annette said to herself that in this case ignorance was bliss. She dare not speak, for Daisie’s own sake.
But she put her arm around the girl’s trembling form and supported her up the steps.
“Oh, my poor dear, you are almost fainting! I wish you had not spoken to that hussy!” she lamented.
Mrs. Fleming was startled at the pallor of her visitor, and exclaimed:
“You have had an accident?”
“No; she has seen Cullen and his wife, Letty, outside your door,” explained Annette, as she held Daisie’s head against her breast and patted her cold cheek.
Mrs. Fleming rang for wine, and helped Annette to fuss over agitated Daisie.
“No wonder she is unnerved, poor child!” she[Pg 244] said. “I suppose they told you their romantic story—that Mr. Bain deserted Letty, and Cullen found her about to drown herself, and married her offhand. Well, this is the second time that they have come here begging to be taken back into my service. Of course, I refused, although they were very good help when I had them. But I knew Daisie would not wish to see them about. Drink a little of this wine, dear, it will help you. Now, tell me how Royall likes his new companion. Finds him charming, does he? I am very glad of that. He is very handsome and distinguished-looking, is he not? Do you know there is something familiar about him, as if I had seen him before? And it almost seems to me it was at Gull Beach? Can you recall anything familiar about him, Annette?”
The Strength of Love by Mrs. ALEX. McVEIGH MILLER
Author: Mrs. ALEX. McVEIGH MILLER
Native Language: English