CHAPTERI. THEWALRAVENBALL. AdarkNovemberafternoon—wet,andwindy,andwild.TheNewYorkstreets were at their worst—sloppy, slippery, and sodden; the sky lowering over those murky streets one uniform pall of inky gloom. A bad, desolate, blood-chilling
Novemberafternoon. And yet Mrs. Walraven's ball was to come off to-night, and it was rather hard upon Mrs. Walraven that the elements should make a dead set at her after this fashion. The ball was to be one of the most brilliant affairs of the season, and all Fifth Avenuewastobethereinitsglory. FifthAvenuewasabovecaringforanythingsocommonplaceastheweather,of course;butstillitwouldhavebeenpleasanter,andonlyahandsomethinginthe clerkoftheweather,consideringMrs.Walravenhadnotgivenaballfortwenty years before, to have burnished up the sun, and brushed away the clouds, and shut up that icy army of winter winds, and turned out as neat an article of weatherasitispossibleinthenatureofNovembertoturnout. Ofcourse,Mrs.WalravendweltonNewYork'sstateliestavenue,inabigbrownstonepalacethatwaslikeapalaceinanEasternstory,withitsvelvetcarpets,its arabesques, its filigree work, its chairs, and tables, and sofas touched up and inlaidwithgold,andcushionedinsilksofgorgeousdyes. AndinallFifthAvenue,andinallNewYorkCity,therewerenothalfadozen oldwomenofsixtyhalfsorich,halfsoarrogant,orhalfsoill-temperedasMrs. FerdinandWalraven. On this bad November afternoon, while the rain and sleet lashed the lofty windows, and the shrill winds whistled around the gables, Mrs. Ferdinand Walraven'sonlysonsatinhischamber,staringoutofthewindow,andsmoking noendofcigars. FifthAvenue,intherawandrainytwilight,isnotthesprightliestspotonearth,
andtherewasverylittleforMr.Walraventogazeatexceptthestagesrattlingup thepave,andsomebelatednewsboyscryingtheirwares. Perhapsthesesamelittleill-cladnewsboys,lookingupthroughtheslantingrain, andseeingthewell-dressedgentlemanbehindtherichdraperies,thoughtitmust beafinethingtobeMr.CarlWalraven,heirtoahalfamillionofmoneyandthe handsomesthouseinNewYork. Perhapsyoumighthavethoughtso,too,glancingintothatloftychamber,with itsglowinghangingsofrubyandgold,itsexquisitepictures,itsinlaidtables,its twinklingchandelier,itsperfumedwarmth,andglitter,andluxury. ButCarlWalraven,lyingbackinabigeasy-chair,inslippersanddressing-gown, smokinghiscostlycheroots,lookedoutatthedismaleveningwiththeblackest ofbitter,blackscowls. "Confound the weather!" muttered Mr. Walraven, between strong, white teeth. "Whythedeucedoesitalwaysrainonthetwenty-fifthofNovember?Seventeen yearsago,onthetwenty-fifthofthishorriblemonth,IwasinParis,andMiriam was—Miriambehanged!"Hestoppedabruptly,andpitchedhiscigaroutofthe window."You'veturnedoveranewleaf,CarlWalraven,andwhatthedemondo youmeanbygoingbacktotheoldleaves?You'vecomehomefromforeignparts to your old and doting mother—I thought she would be in her dotage by this time—and you're a responsible citizen, and an eminently rich and respectable man. Carl, my boy, forget the past, and behave yourself for the future; as the copy-bookssay:'Bevirtuousandyouwillbehappy.'" Helaughedtohimself,alaughunpleasanttohear,andtakingupanothercigar, wentonsmoking. He had been away twenty years, this Carl Walraven, over the world, nobody knewwhere.Areckless,self-willed,headstrongboy,hehadbrokenwildandrun away from home at nineteen, abruptly and without warning. Abruptly and withoutwarninghehadreturnedhome,onefinemorning,twentyyearsafter,and walking up the palatial steps, shabby, and grizzled, and weather-beaten, had strode straight to the majestic presence of the mistress of the house, with outstretchedhandandacool"Howareyou,mother?" And Mrs. Walraven knew her son. He had left her a fiery, handsome, brightfaced lad, and this man before her was gray and black-bearded and weatherbeatenandbrown,butsheknewhim.Shehadrisenwithashrillcryofjoy,and
heldopenherarms. "I'vecomeback,yousee,mother,"Mr.Carlsaid,easily,"liketheproverbialbad shilling. I've grown tired knocking about this big world, and now, at nine-andthirty, with an empty purse, a light heart, a spotless conscience, and a sound digestion,I'mgoingtosettledownandwalkinthewayIshouldgo.Youareglad tohaveyourne'er-do-wellbackagain,Ihope,mother?" Glad!Awidowedmother,lonelyandold,gladtohaveanonlysonback!Mrs. Walraven had tightened those withered arms about him closer and closer, with onlythatoneshrillcry: "Oh,Carl—myson!myson!" "All right, mother! And now, if there's anything in this house to eat, I'll eat it, because I've been fasting since yesterday, and haven't a stiver between me and eternity. By George! this isn't such a bad harbor for a shipwrecked mariner to cast anchor in. I've been over the world, mother, from Dan to—What's-hername!I'vebeenrichandI'vebeenpoor;I'vebeenlovedandI'vebeenhated;I've hadmyflingateverythinggoodandbadundertheshiningsun,andIcomehome from it all, subscribing to the doctrine: 'There's nothing new and nothing true.' Anditdon'tsignify;it'semptyasegg-shells,thewholeofit." Thatwasthestoryoftheprodigalson.Mrs.Walravenaskednoquestions.She wasawiseoldwoman;shetookhersonandwasthankful.Ithadhappenedlate in October, this sudden arrival, and now, late in November, the fatted calf was killed,andMrs.Walraven'sdearfivehundredfriendsbiddentothefeast. And they came.Theyhadallheardthestoryofthewidow'sheir,solong lost, andnow,darkandmysteriousasCountLara,returnedtolorditinhisancestral halls.Hewasaveryheroofromance—awealthyhero,too—andallthepretty man-traps on the avenue, baited with lace and roses, silk and jewels, were comingto-nighttoangleforthisdazzlingprize. The long-silent drawing-rooms, shrouded for twenty years in holland and darkness, were one blaze of light at last. Flowers bloomed everywhere; musicians, up in a gilded gallery, discoursed heavenly music; there was a conservatorywherealabasterlampsmadeasilvermoonlightinamodernGarden of Eden; there was a supper-table spread and waiting, a feast for the gods and Sybarites;andtherewasMrs.Walraven,inblackvelvetandpointlace,upright andstately,despitehersixtyyears,withadiamondstaroffabulouspriceablaze
onherbreast.Andtherebyherside,tall,anddark,anddignified,stoodheronly son,theprodigal,therepentant,thewealthyCarlWalraven. "Nothandsome,"saidMissBlancheOleander,raisingherglass,"buteminently interesting.Helooksliketheheroofasensationnovel,oramodernmelodrama, oroneofLordByron'spoems.Doeshedance,andwillheaskme,Iwonder?" Yes,theduskyheroofthenightdiddance,anddidaskMissBlancheOleander. Atall,gray-eyed,imperioussortofbeauty,thisMissBlanche,seven-and-twenty yearsofage,andfrightfullypassée,moreyouthfulbellessaid. Mr.WalravendancedtheveryfirstdancewithMissOleander,toherinfinitebut perfectlyconcealeddelight. "IfyoucanimaginetheCorsair,whirlinginarapidredowawithMedora,"Miss Oleanderafterwardsaid,"youhaveMr.Walravenandmyself.Therewereabout eightyGuinaresgazingenviouslyon,readytoponiardme,everyoneofthem,if theydared,andiftheywerenotsuchmiserablelittlefoolsandcowards.When theyceasetosmellofbreadandbutter,Mr.Walravenmaypossiblydeigntolook atthem." It seemed as if the dashing Blanche had waltzed herself straight into the affections of the new-found heir, for he devoted himself to her in the most prononcémannerforthefirstthreehours,andafterwardledherintosupper. Miss Blanche sailed along serene, uplifted, splendidly calm; the little belles in lace, androses,andpearls, flutteredandtwitteredlikeangrydoves;andMme. Walraven,fromtheheightsofherhostess-throne,lookedaslantathervelvetand diamondswithuneasyoldeyes. "The last of all you should have selected," she said, waylaying her son after supper."Awomanwithoutaheart,Carl—amodernMinerva.Ihavenowishto interferewithyou,myson;Ishallcallthedayhappythatbringsmeyourwife, but not Blanche Oleander—not that cold-blooded, bold-faced, overgrown grenadier." Madamehissedoutthewordsbetweenasetofspiteful,falseteeth,andglared, aswomendoglare,uponthegray-eyedBlanche.AndCarllistened,andlaughed sardonically. "Awomanwithoutaheart.Somuchthebetter,mother;thelessheartthemore head;andIlikeyourclever,dashingwomen,whoarebigandbuxom,andable
totakecareofthemselves.Don'tforget,mothermine,Ihaven'tproposedtothe sparklingBlanche,andIdon'tthinkIshall—to-night.Youwouldn'thavemefall atthefeetofthosemealy-wingedmothsflutteringaroundus,withheadssofter thantheirpoorlittlehearts—youwouldn't,Ihope?" WithwhichMr.WalravenwentstraightbacktoMissOleanderandaskedherto dancethelancers. MissOleander,turningwithineffablecalmfromabevyofrose-robedandwhiterobedyoungladies,said,"Yes,"asifMr.Walravenwasnomorethananyother man,andstooduptotakehisarm. But there is many a slip. Miss Oleander and Mr. Walraven never danced that particular set, for just then there came a ring at the door-bell so pealing and imperiousthatitsoundedsharplyeventhroughthenoisyball-room. "TheMarbleGuest,surely,"Blanchesaid,"andverydeterminedtobeheard." Beforethewordswerewellutteredtherewasasoundofanaltercationinthehall —one of the tall footmen pathetically protesting, and a shrill female voice refusingtolistentothoseplaintiveprotests.Thentheresuddenlyfellpeace. "Afterastormtherecomethacalm,"Mr.Walravensaid."MissOleander,shall wemoveon?Well,Johnson,whatisit?" For Johnson, the taller of the two tall footmen, stood before them gazing beseechinglyathismaster. "It'sawoman,sir,allwetanddirty,andhorridtolookat.Shesaysshewillsee you, and there she stands, and Wilson nor me we can't do nothing with her. If you don't come she says she'll walk up here and make you come. Them," said Johnson,plaintively,"wereherownlanguage." Blanche Oleander, gazing up at her companion's face, saw it changing to a startled,duskywhite. "Some beggar—some troublesome tramp, I dare say." But he dropped her arm abruptlyashesaidit."Excusemeamoment,MissOleander.Ihadbetterseeher topreventnoise.Now,then,Johnson." Mr.Johnsonledthewaydownagrand,sweepingstaircase,richingildingand carving,throughapavedandvaultedhall,andoutintoaloftyvestibule.
Thereawomanstood,drippingwetandwretchedlyclad,asmiserable-lookinga creatureaseverwalkedthebadcitystreets.Theflareofthegas-jetsshonefull uponher—uponahaggardfacelightedupwithtwoblazingeyes. "ForGod'ssake!Miriam!" CarlWalravenstartedback,asifstruckbyanironhand.Thewomantookastep forwardandconfrontedhim. "Yes,CarlWalraven—Miriam!Youdidwelltocomeatonce.Ihavesomething tosaytoyou.ShallIsayithere?" ThatwasallMessrs.JohnsonandWilsoneverheard,forMr.Walravenopened the library door and waved her in, followed, and shut the door again with a soundingslam. "Now,then,"hedemanded,imperiously,"whatdoyouwant?Ithoughtyouwere deadand—" "Don'tsaythatotherword,Mr.Walraven;itistooforcible.Youonlyhopedit.I amnotdead.It'sagreatdealworsewithmethanthat." "What do you want?" Mr. Walraven repeated, steadily, though his swarth face wasduskygraywithrageorfear,orboth."Whatdoyoucomehereforto-night? Hasthemasteryouservehelpedyoubodily,thatyoufollowandfindmeeven here?AreyounotafraidIwillthrottleyouforyourpains?" "Nottheleast." Shesaiditwithacomposurethebestbredofhismother'sguestscouldnothave surpassed, standing bolt upright before him, her dusky eyes of fire burning on hisface. "I am not afraid of you, Mr. Walraven (that's your name, isn't it?—and a very fine-sounding name it is), but you're afraid of me—afraid to the core of your bitter,blackheart.Youstandtheredressedlikeaking,andIstandhereinrags yourkitchenscullionswouldscorn;butforallthat,CarlWalraven—forallthat, you'remyslave,andyouknowit!" Hereyesblazed,herhandsclinched,hergauntformseemedtotowerandgrow tallwiththesenseofhertriumphandherpower. "Haveyouanythingelsetosay?"inquiredMr.Walraven,sullenly,"beforeIcall
myservantsandhaveyouturnedout?" "You dare not," retorted the woman, fiercely—"you dare not, coward! boaster! andyouknowit!Ihaveagreatdealmoretosay,andIwillsayit,andyouwill hear me before we part to-night. I know my power, Mr. Carl Walraven, and I meantouseit.DoyouthinkIneedweartheserags?DoyouthinkIneedtramp theblack,badstreets,nightafternight,ahomeless,houselesswretch?No;notif I chose, not if I ordered—do you hear?—ordered my aristocratic friend, Mr. Walraven,ofFifthAvenue,toemptyhisplethoricpurseinmydirtypocket.Ah, yes,"withashrilllaugh,"Miriamknowsherpower!" "Areyoualmostdone?"Mr.Walravenreplied,calmly."Haveyoucomeherefor anythingbuttalk?Ifso,forwhat?" "Notyourmoney—besureofthat.Iwouldstarve—Iwoulddie thedeathofa doginakennel—beforeIwouldeatamouthfulofbreadboughtwithyourgold. Icomeforjustice!" "Justice"—heliftedapairofsullen,inquiringeyes—"justice!Towhom?" "Toonewhomyouhaveinjuredbeyondreparation—MaryDane!" Shehissedthenameinasharp,sibilantwhisper,andthemanrecoiledasifan adderhadstunghim. "Whatdoyoumean?"heasked,withdry,parchedlips."Whydoyoucomehere totormentme?MaryDaneisdead." "Mary Dane's daughter lives not twenty miles from where we stand. Justice to thedeadisbeyondthepowerofeventhewealthyCarlWalraven.Justicetothe livingcanyetberendered,andshallbetotheuttermostfarthing." "Whatdoyouwant?" "IwantyoutofindMaryDane,andbringherhere,educateher,dressher,treat asyourownchild." "WhereshallIfindher?" "AtK——,twentymilesfromhere." "Whoisshe?Whatisshe?" "An actress, traveling about with a strolling troupe; an actress since her sixth
year—onthestageelevenyearsto-night.Thisisherseventeenthbirthday,asyou know." "Isthisall?" "Allatpresent.Areyoupreparedtoobey,orshallI—" "There!" interrupted Mr. Walraven, "that will do. There is no need of threats, Miriam—I am very willing to obey you in this. If I had known Mary Dane— whythedeucedidyougiveherthatname?—wasonthiscontinent,Iwouldhave huntedherupofmyownaccord.Iwould,uponmyhonor!" "Swear by something you possess," the woman said, with a sneer; "honor you neverhadsinceIfirstknewyou." "Come,come,Miriam,"saidMr.Walraven,uneasily,"don'tbecantankerous.Let by-gonesbeby-gones.I'msorryforthepast—Iamindeed,andamwillingtodo wellforthefuture.Sitdownandbesociable,andtellmeallaboutit.Howcame youtoletthelittleonegoonthestagefirst?" Miriamspurnedawaytheprofferedchair. "I spurn it as I would your dead body if it lay before me, Carl Walraven! Sit downwithyou?Never,ifmylifedependedonit!Thechildbecameanactress because I could keep her no longer—I couldn't keep myself—and because she hadthevoiceandfaceofanangel—poorlittlewretch!Themanagerofabandof strollingplayers,passingthroughourvillage,heardherbabyvoicesingingsome babysong,andpounceduponherontheinstant.Westruckabargain,andIsold her,Mr.Walraven—yes,soldher." "Youwretch!Well?" "Well, I went to see her occasionally afterward, but not often, for the strolling troupe were here, there, and everywhere—from pillar to post. But I never lost sight of her, and I saw her grow up a pretty, slender, bright-eyed lass, well dressed,wellfed,andhappy—perfectlyhappyinherwanderinglife.Hergreatgrandmother—old Peter Dane's wife—was a gypsy, Mr. Walraven, and I dare saythewildbloodbrokeout.Shelikedthelife,andbecamethestarofthelittle band—the queen of the troupe. I kept her in view even when she crossed the Atlanticlastyear,andpaidheravisitaweekagoto-night." "Humph!"wasCarlWalraven'scomment."Well,MistressMiriam,itmighthave
been worse; no thanks to you, though. And now—what does she know of her ownstory?" "Nothing." "What?" "Nothing,Itellyou.HernameisMaryDane,andsheisseventeenyearsoldon thetwenty-fifthofNovember.Herfatherandmotheraredead—poorbuthonest people, of course—and I am Aunt Miriam, earning a respectable living by washing clothes and scrubbing floors. That is what she knows. How much of thatistrue,Mr.Walraven?" "Thensheneverheardofme?" "Shehasneverhadthatmisfortuneyet;ithasbeenreservedforyourself.Youare arichman,andyouwillgotoK——,andyouwillseeherplay,andwilltakea fancy to her, and adopt her as your daughter. There is the skeleton for you to clothewithflesh." "Andsupposesherefuses?" "She will not refuse. She likes handsome dresses and jewelry as well as any otherlittlefoolofseventeen.Youmakehertheoffer,andmywordforit,itwill beaccepted." "I will go, Miriam. Upon my word I feel curious to see the witch. Who is she like,Miriam—mammaorme?" Thewoman'seyesflashedfire. "Not like you, you son of Satan! If she was I would have strangled her in her cradle! Let me go, for the air you breathe chokes me! Dare to disobey at your peril!" "I will start for K—— to-morrow. She will be here—my adopted daughter— beforetheweekends." "Good!Andthisoldmotherofyours,willshebekindtothegirl?Iwon'thave hertreatedbadly,youunderstand." "My mother will do whatever her son wishes. She would be kind to a young gorillaifIsaidso.Don'tfearforyourniece—shewillbetreatedwell."
"Letitbeso,orbeware!Ablood-houndonyourtrackwouldbelessdeadlythan I!Iwillbehereagain,andyetagain,toseeformyselfthatyoukeepyourword." Shestrodetothedoor,openedit,andstoodintheilluminatedball.Johnsonjust hadtimetovanishfromthekey-holeandnomore.Downthestair-waypealed thewild,melancholymusicofaGermanwaltz;fromthedining-roomcamethe clinkandjingleofsilver,andchina,andglass.Thewoman'shaggardfacefilled withscornandbitternessasshegaveonefleeting,backwardglance. "TheysaythereisajustandavengingHeaven,yetCarlWalravenismasterofall this.Wealth,love,andhonorforhim,andanamelessgraveforher;thestreets, foul and deadly, for me. The mill of the gods may grind sure, but it grinds fearfullyslow—fearfullyslow!" TheywerethelastwordsCarlWalravenheardherutter.Sheopenedthehouse door,gatheredherthreadbareshawlcloseraroundher,andflutteredawayinthe wild,wetnight.
CHAPTERII. "CRICKET." The little provincial theater was crowded from pit to dome—long tiers of changingfacesandluminouseyes.Therewasaprevalentodorofstaletobacco, andorange-peel,andbadgas;andtherewasbustle,andnoise,andlaughter,and aharshcollectionofstringedinstrumentsgrindingouttheoverture. There were stamps and calls for the tawdry curtain to rise, when a gentleman entered,sauntereduptoafrontseat,tookupabillandbegantoreadit—atall, middle-aged,ratherdistinguished-lookingman,blackandbearded,withpiercing eyes,superfineclothes,andageneralaristocraticairabouthim. People paused to look again at him—for he was a stranger there—but nobody recognizedhim,andMr.CarlWalravenreadhisbillundisturbed. Theplaywas"FanchontheCricket,"andthebillannounced,inverybigcapitals, that the part of Fanchon was to be played by that "distinguished and beautiful youngEnglishactress,MissMollieDane." Mr. Walraven saw no more; he sat holding the strip of paper before him, and staring at the one name as if the fat letters fascinated him—"Fanchon, Miss MollieDane." Ashrill-voicedbelltinkled,andthedrop-curtainwentup,andthehouseholdof FatherBarbeaudwasrevealed.Therewasageneralsettlingintoseats,hatsflew off,thenoisesceased,andtheplaybegan. Amomentortwo,and,inragsandtatters,hairstreaming,andfeetbare,onthe stageboundedFanchon,theCricket. There was an uproarious greeting. Evidently it was not Miss Dane's first appearance before that audience, and still more evidently she was a prime favorite. Mr.Walravendroppedhisbill,poisedhislorgnette,andpreparedtostarehisfill. Shewasverywellworthlookingat,thisclear-voicedMollieDane—throughthe
tattersandunkempthairhecouldseethat.ThestarsinthefrostyNovembersky without were not brighter than her dark, bright eyes; no silvery music that the heir of all the Walravens had ever heard was clearer or sweeter than her free, girlishlaugh;nogoldensunburstevermorebeautifulthanthewavingbannerof wild,yellowhair.MollieDanestoodbeforehimabeautyborn. EverynerveinCarlWalraven'sbodythrilledashelookedather.Howlovelythat face!Howsweetthatvoice,thatlaugh!Howeminentlywellsheacted! He had seen women of whom the world raved play that very part; but he had never,no,neverseenitbetterplayedthanhesawitto-night. "Shewillmaketheworldringwithhernameifsheadherestothestage,"Carl Walraven said to himself, enthusiastically; "and she never will play anything better than she plays the 'Cricket.' She is Fanchon herself—saucy, daring, generous,irresistibleFanchon!Andsheisbeautifulastheangelsabove." The play went on; Fanchon danced, and sobbed, and sung, and wept, and was mischievousasascratchingkitten,andgentleasaturtle-dove;tookallthehearts bystorm,andwastriumphantlyreunitedtoherloveratlast. Idon'tknowhowmanyyoungmeninthataudiencewereleftwithoutanatomof heart, how many would have given their two ears to be in handsome Landry Barbeaud'sboots. The roof nearly rose with the thunders of applause when the curtain fell, and CarlWalravengotupwiththerest,hisheadwhirling,hisbraindizzy. "GoodHeaven!"hethought,stumblingalongthedark,chillystreetstohishotel, "what a perfectly dazzling little witch she is! Was there ever such another sparkling,bewilderinglittlefairyintheworldbefore?" Mr.Walravenspentthenightinafeverofimpatience.Hewasoneofthosemen who, when they set their hearts on anything, find no peace, no rest, until they obtainit.Hehadcomeherepartlythroughcuriosity,partlybecausehedarenot refuseMiriam;hehadseenMaryDane,andlo!atfirstsighthewasdazzledand bewitched. Nextmorning,atbreakfast,Mr.Walravenobtainedalltheinformationhedesired concerning Miss Mollie Dane. Some half dozen of the actors were stopping at thehotel,andprovedverywilling,undertheinfluenceofbrandyandwater,to givethefree-handedstrangerMissDane'sbiographyasfarastheyknewit.
Shewasjustascharmingoffthestageason;justaspretty,justassaucy,justas captivating.Shewaswildandfulloftricksasanunbrokencolt;butshewasa thoroughly good girl, for all that, lavish of her money to all who needed, and snubbing lovers incontinently. She was stopping up the street at another hotel, andshewouldinallprobabilitybeeasilyaccessibleaboutnoon. Theseedy,strollingplayersdranktheirdilutedbrandy,smokedtheircigars,and told Mr. Walraven all this. They rather laughed at the New York millionaire whenhewasoutofsight.Hehadfalleninlovewithpretty,blue-eyedMollie,no doubt,andthatwasaverystalestorywiththeshabbyplayers. Noon came, and, speckless and respectable to the last degree, Mr. Walraven presentedhimselfattheotherhotel,andsentuphiscardwithawaitertoMiss Dane. Thewaiterusheredhimintothehotelparlor,coldandprimasitisinthenature ofhotelparlorstobe.Mr.Walravensatdownandstaredvaguelyatthepapered walls, rather at a loss as to what he should say to this piquant Mollie, and wonderinghowhewouldfeelifshelaughedathim. "Andshewilllaugh,"hethought,withamentalgroan;"she'sthesortofgirlthat laughs at everything. And she may refuse, too; there is no making sure of a woman;andthenwhatwillMiriamsay?" Hepausedwithagasp.Therewasaquickpatteroflightfeetdownthestairs,the lasttwoclearedwithajump,a swish ofsilkenskirts,alittlegushofperfume, andthen,brightasaflashoflight,blue-eyedMolliestoodbeforehim.Sheheld hiscardinherfingers,andalltheyellowhairfelloverherplumpshoulders,like ambersunshineoversnow. "Mr.CarlWalraven?"MissDanesaid,withasmileandagracefullittlebow. Mr. Carl Walraven rose up and returned that pretty courtesy with a salute stiff andconstrained. "Yes,MissDane." "Prayresumeyourseat,Mr.Walraven,"withanairywaveofalittlewhitehand. "TowhatdoIowethisvisit?" She fluttered into a big black arm-chair as she spoke, folded the little white hands,andglancedacrosswithbrightlyexpectanteyes.
"Youmustthinkthiscall,fromanutterstranger,rathersingular,MissDane,"Mr. Walravenbegan,considerablyataloss. MissDanelaughed. "Oh,dear,no!notatall—thesortofthingIamusedto,Iassureyou!MayIask itspurport?" "Miss Dane, you must pardon me," said Mr. Walraven, plunging desperately head first into his mission, "but I saw you play last night, and I have—yes, I havetakenaviolentfancytoyou." MissMollieDaneneverflinched.Thewickedsparkleinthedancingeyesgrewa triflewickeder,perhaps,butthatwasall. "Yes,"shesaid,composedly;"goon." "You take it very coolly," remarked the gentleman, rather taken aback himself. "Youdon'tappeartheleastsurprised." "Ofcoursenot!ItoldyouIwasusedtoit.Neverknewagentlemanoftasteto seemeplayyetandnottakeaviolentfancytome.Praygoon." If Miss Dane wished, in her wickedness, to utterly disconcert her middle-aged admirer,shecouldnothaveadoptedasurerplan.Forfullyfiveminuteshesat staringinhopelesssilence. "Haveyouanythingmoretosay?"queriedthedauntlessMollie,pullingouther watch."Because,ifyouhave,youwillpleasesayitatonce.Mytimeisprecious, Iassureyou.Rehearsalisatthree,andafterrehearsaltherearethespanglesto sewonmydress,andafterthat—" "Ibegyourpardon,MissDane;Ihaveagreatdealmoretosay,andifyouwill listen you need never attend rehearsal again, and never sew on spangles any more." "Indeed!" Theblueeyesopenedverywideinafixed,unwinkingstare. "Ilikeyouverymuch,MissDane—somuchthatIthinkitisathousandpities youshouldwasteyouryouth,andbeauty,andgeniusondesertair.So—" "Yes,"saidMissDane—"soyouhavefalleninlovewithmeatfirstsight.Isthat
whatyouaretryingtosay?" "No!"respondedMr.Walraven,emphatically."Iamnotintheleastinlovewith you,andnevermeantobe—inthatway." "Oh,inwhatway,then,Mr.Walraven?" "Iamarichman,MissDane,andalonelymanveryoften,andIshouldliketo have a daughter to cheer my old age—a daughter like you, Mistress Cricket, saucyandbright,andsoprettythatitwillbeapleasureonlytolookather." "Andaverycomplimentarypapayouwillmake.Haveyounodaughtersofyour own,Mr.Walraven?" "None,MissMollie.Ihavethemisfortunetohavenowife." "Andnevermeantohave?" "Can'tsayaboutthat.Imayoneday." "Andyouarequitesureyouwillneverwantmetofillthatvacanthonor?" "Surerthansure,mydearlittlegirlIwantyouonlyformyadopteddaughter." "Andyouneversawmebeforelastnight?" "Never,"saidCarlWalraven,unflinchingly. "Youareaveryrichman,yousay?" "Veryrich—amillionaire—andyoushallbemyheiresswhenIdie." "IamafraidIshallbeaverylongtimeoutofmyinheritance,then.Well,thisisa surprise,andyouaretheoddestgentlemanIhavemetforsometime.Pleaselet mecatchmybreath!Youarequitecertainyouarenotplayingapracticaljokeat myexpenseallthistime?" "No!uponmywordandhonor,no!ImeanpreciselywhatIsay." "AndsupposingIsayyes—supposingIagreetogowithyou,forthefunofthe thing,whatdoyoumeantodowithme,Mr.Walraven?" "TotreatyouasIwouldaMissWalravenofseventeenyearsold,iftherewere such a person; to fill your pockets with money, and your wardrobe with fine clothes;togiveyouahorsetoride,andapianotoplay,acarriagetodrivein,
and a waiting-maid to scold. What more can I do? I will give you masters to teach you everything under the sun. Balls, parties, and the opera at will— everything,inshort,yourheartcandesire." Thestarryeyessparkled,therose-tintedcheeksflushedwithdelight. "I can not believe it; it is too good to be true. Oh, you can't mean it, Mr. Walraven.Nooneeverhadtheirwildestflightoffancyrealizedinthismanner." "Youshallifyouwillbecomemydaughter.Ifmypromiseprovesfalse,areyou not free to return? There are no ogres nowadays to carry young ladies off to enchantedpalacesandeatthem.ComewithmetomyhomeinNewYork.IfI failinaughtIhavepromised,why,returnhere." Molliebroughthertwolittlepalmstogetherwithanenthusiasticslap. "I'lldoit,Mr.Walraven!Iknowit'salladreamandanillusion,butstillI'llsee thedreamtotheend;thatis,ifyoucanmakeitallrightwithMr.Harkner,the manager." "I can make it all right!" exclaimed Mr. Walraven. "Money can do anything underthesun.Hehashisprice,likeothermen,andIcanpayit.IfMr.Harkner andIcometoterms,willyoubereadytostartwithmeto-morrow,Mollie?" "Quiteready.Butyouwon'tmakeitright.Hewillneverletmego;youwillsee." "Iamnotafraid.Iwillcalluponhimatonce,andaftertheinterviewIwilllet youknowtheresult.Heisinthehousenow,ishenot?" "Downatthebar,verylikely.Iwillwaitforyouhere." Mr.Walraventookhishatandleft,delightedwithhissuccess. Themanagerwasatthebar,asMissDanehadpredicted,andeyedMr.Walraven suspiciously from head to foot when he found his business concerned his star actress. He was accustomed to gentlemen falling in love with her, and quite willing to take little bribes from them; but he stared in angry amazement when he heard whatCarlWalravenhadtosay. "Carry off Mollie!" exclaimed Mr. Harkner, "and adopt her as your daughter! Whatdoyoutakemefor,tobelievesuchastoryasthat?"
Mr.Harknerwasprettyfargone,andallthemoreinclinedtobeskeptical.Mr. Walraven saw it, and knew that appearances were dead against him, and so swallowedhiswrath. "It is the truth, upon my honor. Miss Dane believes me and has consented. Nothingremainsbuttosettlematterswithyou." "Iwon'tsettlematters!Iwon'thearofit!Iwon'tpartwithmybestactress!" "Yesyouwillforafairprice.Come,namethesum;I'llpayit." Mr.Harkneropenedhiseyes.Mr.Walravenopenedhischeck-book. "Youdomeanit,then?" "Don'tIlookasifImeantit?Quick,Isay!Ifyoudon'tlooksharpIwilltakeher withoutanyprice!" "She'sapricelesstreasure!"hiccoughedthemanager—"worthherweightingold tome,andso—" HenamedasumthatmadeevenCarlWalravenwince;buthewasagreatdeal toorecklesstodrawback. "Itisamostcold-bloodedextortion,"hesaid;"butyoushallhaveit.Andatyour perilyoueverinterferewithmyadopteddaughterafterward." Hesignedthecheckandflungittothemanager,turnedandwentout,andleft thatindividualstaringinblankbewilderment. Golden-hairedMolliewaspacingimpatientlyupanddowntheparlorwhenMr. Walravenwalkedinagain,hisfaceaglowwithtriumph. "Itisallright,Mollie.ItoldyouIwasmorethanamatchforyourmanager.You havetrodtheboardsforthelasttime." "Excuseme,Mr.Walraven;Iamgoingtotreadtheboardsagainto-night.Itis Cricketstill.Don'tyouwanttobeenchantedoncemore?" "Justasyouplease.Onceisneitherherenowthere.Butyouwillbereadyforthe eightA.M.trainto-morrow,Mollie?" "I have promised, Mr. Walraven, and I always keep my word. So Mr. Harkner has consented? Now, that is not flattering, is it? What winning ways you must
possesstomakealltheworlddoasyousay!" Mr.Walravenhelduphispurse,goldshiningthroughitssilkenmeshes. "Behold the magic key to every heart, Cricket! Here, you shall be my pursebearernow." Hetosseditinto herlap.Mollie's blue eyessparkled. Shewasonlyseventeen, poorchild,andshelikedmoneyforwhatmoneybrought. "Ishallleaveyounow,"Mr.Walravensaid,lookingathiswatch."Threeo'clock, Mollie,andtimeforrehearsal.IshallgoandseeCricketto-night,andto-morrow morningCricketmustbereadytogowithme.Untilthen,myadopteddaughter, adieu!" That night, when the green curtain went up, the strange gentleman sat in the frontseatforthesecondtime,andgazedontheanticsofFanchon,theCricket. Thegirlplayeditwell,becausesheplayedherownwillful,trickyself,andshe kissed her taper fingers to the enraptured audience, and felt sorry to think it mightbeforthelasttime. Next morning, as demure as a little nun, in her traveling suit of gray, Miss Cricket took her seat beside her new-made guardian, and was whirled away to NewYork. "Pray,whatamItocallyou?"sheasked,astheysatsidebyside."AmItokeep at a respectful distance, and say 'Mr. Walraven,' or, as I am your adopted daughter,isittobepapa?" "Well,Cricket,personallyIhavenoobjection,ofcourse;but,then,'papa'—don't youthink'papa'mightsetpeopleaskingquestions,now?" "Very true; and some clever person might get investigating, and find out you weremypapainreality." "Mollie!"saidMr.Walraven,wincing. "That'sthewayinthemelodramas,yousee,andyouareveryliketheheroofa five-actmelodrama.Well,Mr.Walraven,decidewhatIshallcallyou!" "Suppose you say guardian. That will hit the mark, I think. And we will tell people who ask troublesome questions that you are the orphan daughter of a
deadcousinofmine.Whatdoyousay?" "Asyouplease,ofcourse.Itisallonetome." Thetrainthunderedintothedepotpresently,andtherewastheusualturmoiland uproar. Mr. Walraven called a cab, and half an hour's rattling over the stony streetsbroughtthemtotheWalravenmansion. MollieDane,accustomedallherlifetodingyhotelsandlodgings,glancedupat the grand staircase and imposing hall in rapturous surprise. Mme. Walraven stoodgraciouslywaitingtoreceiveher. "Here'sagranddaughterforyou,mother,"saidMr.Walraven—"acompanionto cheerandbrightenyourfuturelife.Myadopteddaughter—MollieDane." Thestatelyoldladybentandkissedthebright,freshface. "Iamveryhappytowelcomeyou,mydear,andwilltryheartilytomakeyour newhomepleasant.Youaretired,ofcourse?Here,Margaret,showMissDane toherroom." Asprucewaiting-maidappearedattheoldlady'ssummons,andledMissDane, through carpeted corridors, into the daintiest of dainty bed-chambers, all blue silkandwhitelacedrapery,andrichfurniture,andexquisitepictures. Inallherlifelong,Molliehadneverbeheldanythinghalfsobeautiful,andshe caughtherbreathwithonelittlecryofdelight. "ShallIhelpyou,miss?"veryrespectfullyaskedthegirl."I'mtobeyourmaid, please,andluncheonwillbereadybythetimeyouaredressed." Miss Dane permitted her to remove her traveling-dress in ecstatic silence, and robeherinazuresilk,justashadelessbluethanhereyes. Very,veryprettyshelooked,withallherloosegoldenringlets,andthatbrilliant flush on either cheek; and so Mrs. Walraven and her son thought when she appeared,likearadiantvision,inthedining-room. The afternoon and evening went like a swift dream of delight in viewing the house and its splendors. She retired early, with a kiss from guardian and grandmamma,herheadinawhirlwiththeeventsoftheday. Margaret'staskswereverylightthatnight;herlittlemistressdidnotdetainher
tenminutes.Whenshehadgone,andshewasfairlyalone,Molliesprungupand wentwhirlingroundtheroominadanceofdelight. "To think of it!" she cried—"to think all my wildest dreams should come true like this, and my life go on like a fairy tale! There is Mr. Walraven, the good geniiofthestory;Mrs.Walraven,theoldbutwell-meaningfairygodmother;and I'mCinderella,withthetattersandragsturnedtoclothofgold,andnothingtodo butwaitatmyeaseforthefairyprince,andmarryhimwhenhecomes.Cricket! Cricket! you're the luckiest witch's granddaughter that ever danced to her own shadow!"
CHAPTERIII. MR.WALRAVEN'SWEDDING. Mollie Dane made herself very much at home at once in the magnificent Walravenmansion.Thedazzleofitsgloriesscarcelylastedbeyondthefirstday, or,ifitdid,nobodysawit.Why,indeed,shouldshebedazzled?She,whohad beenLadyMacbeth,andreceivedtheThaneofCawdoratherowngates;who hadbeenJuliet,theheiressofalltheCapulets;whohadseendukesandnobles snubbedunmercifully everynightofherlifebyvirtuouspoverty,onthestage. Before the end of the first week Mollie had become the light of the house, perfectlyindispensabletothehappinessofitsinmates. Miss Dane was launched into society at a dinner-party given for the express purposeby"grandmamma".Wondrouslyprettylookedtheyouthfuldébutante,in silvery silk and misty lace and pearls, her eyes like blue stars, her cheeks like Juneroses. In the wintery dusk of the short December days, Mrs. Walraven received her guestsinthelibrary,animposingroom,oak-paneled,crimson-draped,andfilled from floor to ceiling with a noble collection of books. Great snow-flakes flutteredagainsttheplateglass,andanicyblasthowleduptheavenue,butinthe glittering dining-room flowers bloomed, and birds sung, and tropical fruits perfumed the air; and radiant under the gas-light, beautiful Miss Dane flashed the light of her blue eyes, and looked like some lovely little sprite from fairyland. Miss Blanche Oleander, darkly majestic in maize silk and jewels, sat at Miss Dane's right hand, and eyed her coldly with jealous dislike. Mollie read her throughatthefirstglance. "She hates me already," thought Mr. Walraven's ward; "and your tall women, with flashing black eyes and blue-black hair, are apt to be good haters. Very well,MissOleander;itshallbejustasyoulike." A gentleman sat on her other hand—a handsome young artist—Mr. Hugh Ingelow,andhelistenedwithanattentiveface,whilesheheldherownwiththe sarcasticBlanche,andrathergotthebestofthebattle.