RIVALS IN LOVE
by Mrs. ALEX. McVEIGH MILLER
When Dallas Bain and Royall Sherwood, with the dashing young widow, Mrs. Fleming, drove down the village street in their fine landau that summer afternoon, Daisie Bell stood on the steps of her aunt’s cottage, plucking the purple wistaria blooms from the vines above her head, and the picture she made in her youth and grace stayed in both the men’s hearts till they died.
Just a slip of a girl—perhaps seventeen or eighteen—gowned very simply, in white, with lavender ribbons at throat and waist; but her figure was grace and symmetry itself; and her face—well, men have died for faces less fair than hers, with its dusk-violet eyes, blue in the light, black in the shade, under the fringed curtain of jetty lashes that contrasted so vividly with the living gold of her hair as it swept in loose waves over her shoulders.
Both the young men gazed at this charming vision in frank delight, and as the unknown beauty and the gay little widow exchanged formal bows, exclaimed simultaneously:
“Who is that beautiful girl?”
Mrs. Fleming frowned jealously, bit her red lips, and answered, with some asperity:
“What geese men are! Always caught by theatricals! Couldn’t you both see that the bold thing was just posing for your benefit?”
“How exceedingly kind of her, to be sure! We certainly enjoyed the tableau very much,” lisped Royall Sherwood, a rich young man of the genus dude, who was Mrs. Fleming’s cousin, and visiting her at her summer home in Maryland, having brought with him Dallas Bain, a new friend he had made on the return trip from Europe, a month ago.
“I don’t know a thing about him, except that he’s clever and handsome, and seems to have plenty of money; but I like him immensely, so I brought him here with me, and if you’re not pleased you can just ship us both when you get tired,” Royall said coolly to his cousin, who answered gayly:
“I’ll never get tired, I assure you; the dear boy is too charming.”
That was ten days ago, and as time went by she found him more charming than ever, though there was about him a careless insouciance, a cynical indifference to her wiles, that piqued her into deeper earnestness, so that by the end of the first week she was passionately in love, and using every feminine art to bring him to her feet.
And, never having loved before, despite several pronounced flirtations, she was desperately in earnest.
At only twenty-five, she was the widow of an old man whom she had married for his money when she was only nineteen years old. Three years later he obligingly died, and left her the mistress of half a million, which she was enjoying in royal fashion. A selfish, careless little beauty, she had never felt the great passion of life till she met Dallas Bain, whose large, dark, flashing eyes had pierced her heart in a moment with love’s keen arrow.
She set herself to win him without a thought of defeat, for she was very pretty in a doll-like fashion, petite, with turquoise-blue eyes, and[Pg 8] crinkly flaxen hair always in the most picturesque disorder. Not a fear of rivalry crossed her mind, for although she had several young girls as guests, she had been careful to invite only those who were plain-looking enough to serve as a foil to her own beauty. To Daisie Bell she had never given a thought till this moment, when, on their drive, the coachman had turned into Temple Street just to vary the route, and her visitors had seen the young girl in her wondrous beauty, that, once seen, could never be forgotten.
What a careless encounter it seemed, yet one fraught with fate!
“Couldn’t you both see that the bold thing was just posing for your benefit?” she exclaimed, in jealous alarm; and Royall had answered as above recorded, winking significantly at his friend; but Dallas said not a word, but gazed, with his heart in his eyes, at the beauty till she was out of sight.
Then he drew a long breath that was mingled delight and pain, and cried eagerly:
“But who is she, Mrs. Fleming?”
“Yes, who is she, and why haven’t we met her at your receptions, Lutie?” added Royall.
Tossing her head and curling a scornful lip, the lady returned maliciously:
“Oh, she isn’t in our set at all—only a poor relation of some people here; a teacher, or shop girl from New York, who comes here every summer to visit her kin and rest from work. And they’re all poor, as you can see from the back street and the five-roomed cottage.”
She thought that this explanation ought to settle the subject forever; but Royall persisted:
“Lutie, why don’t you tell us her name?”
“Well, then,” snappishly, “it is Daisie Bell.”
“Well, she is a daisy, and no mistake, and a belle, too—the rarest beauty I ever saw; and I’m bound to know her soon. I’m in love at first sight.”
His cousin frowned, and cried sharply:
“Royall, you shan’t turn that simple girl’s head with your flatteries.”
“I tell you, Lutie, I’m in dead earnest!”
Dallas Bain said nothing, but his deep eyes gleamed with a subtle fire, and he resolved that he, too, would make the acquaintance of the lovely[Pg 10] girl whose single earnest glance had thrilled him so deeply that it seemed to him already that she must be his fate.
It was strange how much business the two young men had on Temple Street the next few days, either riding or walking, and always watching eagerly for another glimpse of the fair face that had charmed them so.
Once they saw her again on the porch, and twice at the upper window, and finally they met her coming out of her gate, apparently going for a morning call.
She blushed brightly at their admiring glances, and stepped briskly in front of them, walking along for about two blocks, setting them wild with her graceful carriage, like a young princess, then stopped and went into a house whose occupants they knew as acquaintances of Mrs. Fleming.
They nudged each other, and Royall exclaimed eagerly:
“Let us go in and call on that pretty little Miss Janowitz. Then she will introduce us to the beauty.”
But Dallas Bain hesitated, though his heart was following the girl inside.
He said tentatively:
“It does not look quite fair to force an acquaintance. Let us try for an introduction in a more proper way.”
“A fig for the proprieties! I’m bound to get up a flirtation with that beautiful creature,” vowed Royall recklessly, opening the gate and going in while nodding a gay farewell to his friend, who turned away with a jealous pang at his heart, though muttering to himself:
“If she would flirt with him, she is not worth my winning.”
Royall Sherwood was cordially welcomed by Miss Annette Janowitz, a charming little brunette, as brilliant and restless as a humming bird.
“I have seen you passing several times this week, and I wondered if you were looking for me,” she said gayly. “But let me introduce you to my friend, Miss Bell.”
They bowed to each other, Royall with empressement, Daisie with reserve; for, having seen him in the vicinity of her home so much lately, she rather suspected the conquest she had made, but resented this way of forcing an acquaintance.
“The impudence!” she thought resentfully, while Annette continued to chatter gayly, flashing her dangerous black eyes at him.
“I saw Mr. Bain leaving you at the gate. Why didn’t he come in, also?”
“Dallas Bain? Oh, I asked him to come in, but he refused, and went back to Sea View alone. Fact is, he has no eyes for any woman but my cousin, Lutie Fleming. Most absorbing flirtation I ever saw, really,” returned Royall, trying thus early to make a clever move in the game of love, and checkmate Dallas, whom he knew might prove a dangerous rival for Daisie’s heart.
Miss Bell was very quiet. She sat with downcast eyes, playing with a rose in her belt, the seashell glow coming and going on her cheeks with some secret excitement. Royall wondered if it were emotion at his presence or pique that Dallas had not cared for her society. He decided that it must be the latter, for she soon brought her call to an end without having spoken a dozen words to him, and he did not dare offer to walk home with her, as he longed to do.
He felt a jealous certainty that she was vexed at Dallas, and decided that it would take some scheming to divert her thoughts from his handsome friend.
“But I’ll do it, for my heart’s gone, and I’m almost tempted to ask her to marry me already, even if she is poor and not in our set, as Lutie says. But, Jove! She’s the grandest beauty in the world! And wouldn’t she make a sensation as my bride, covered with diamonds! Yes, I’ll win her if I can, and I must manage to keep Dallas out of the running, for she could not help showing disappointment when I said that about his flirting with Lutie; but I’ll make her forget him directly, and all the better for her, too, since I’m the better match of the two,” cogitated Royall, who, though he knew that his effeminate blond beauty, so like his cousin’s, could not compare with the dark splendor of tall and striking Dallas Bain, still considered that his golden charms more than counterbalanced the difference.
“All is fair in love or war,” he said coolly; and, pursuant of his scheme to keep Dallas away from Daisie, he said to him that evening:
“Just as well that you didn’t go in to see Miss Bell to-day. She is disappointing, really. Pretty as a picture, of course, but so bread-and-butterish and schoolgirly, you know. Always posing for effect, as my cousin said, but not much to her, after all, but simpers and giggles.”
Dallas felt a keen thrill of disappointment and disgust, for Daisie’s face had haunted him for many days, and it gave him a shock to think that she was like what Royall said—simpering and giggling like a silly schoolgirl. The young widow had treated him to enough of that, trying to pose as girlish, despite her three years of wifehood and two of widowhood, and he decided that he did not care to know Daisie now, since even the careless Royall was no longer interested.
The Strength of Love by Mrs. ALEX. McVEIGH MILLER
Author: Mrs. ALEX. McVEIGH MILLER
Native Language: English