confession on Myrtle a little sooner than he had meant. It was so hard to go on making phrases! Myrtle changed color a little, for she was startled.
The seemingly involuntary movement she made brought her arm against a large dictionary, which lay very near the edge of the table on which it was resting. The book fell with a loud noise to the floor.
There it lay. The young man awaited her answer; he did not think of polite forms at such a moment.
"It cannot be, Mr. Bradshaw,—it must not be. I have known you long, and I am not ignorant of all your brilliant qualities, but you must not speak to me of love. Your regard,—your friendly interest,—tell me that I shall always have these, but do not distress me with offering more than these."
"I do not ask you to give me your love in return; I only ask you not to bid me despair. Let me believe that the time may come when you will listen to me,—no matter how distant. You are young,—you have a tender heart,—you would not doom one who only lives for you to wretchedness. So long that we have known each other! It cannot be that any other has come between us—"
Myrtle blushed so deeply that there was no need of his finishing his question.
"Do you mean, Myrtle Hazard, that you have cast me aside for another?—for this stranger—this artist—who was with you yesterday when I came, bringing with me the story of all I had done for you,—yes, for you,—and was ignominiously refused the privilege of seeing you?" Rage and jealousy had got the better of him this time. He rose as he spoke, and looked upon her with such passion kindling in his eyes that he seemed ready for any desperate act.
"I have thanked you for any services you may have rendered me, Mr. Bradshaw." Myrtle answered, very calmly, "and I hope you will add one more to them by sparing me this rude questioning. I wished to treat you as a friend; I hope you will not render that impossible."
He had recovered himself for one more last effort. "I was impatient: overlook it, I beg you. I was thinking of all the happiness I have labored to secure for you, and of the ruin to us both it would be if you scornfully rejected the love I offer you,—if you refuse to leave me any hope for the future,—if you insist on throwing yourself away on this man, so lately pledged to another. I hold the key of all your earthly fortunes in my hand. My love for you inspired me in all that I have done, and, now that I come to lay the result of my labors at your feet, you turn from me, and offer my reward to a stranger. I do not ask you to say this day that you will be mine,—I would not force your inclinations,—but I do ask you that you will hold yourself free of all others, and listen to me as one who may yet be more than a friend. Say so much as this, Myrtle, and you shall have such a future as you never dreamed of. Fortune, position, all that this world can give, shall be yours!"
"Never! never! If you could offer me the whole world, or take away from me all that the world can give, it would make no difference to me. I cannot tell what power you hold over me, whether of life and death, or of wealth and poverty; but after talking to me of love, I should not have thought you would have wronged me by suggesting any meaner motive. It is only because we have been on friendly terms so long that I have listened to you as I have done. You have said more than enough, and I beg you will allow me to put an end to this interview."
She rose to leave the room. But Murray Bradshaw had gone too far to control himself,—he listened only to the rage which blinded him.
"Not yet!" he said. "Stay one moment, and you shall know what your pride and self-will have cost you!"
Myrtle stood, arrested, whether by fear, or curiosity, or the passive subjection of her muscles to his imperious will, it would be hard to say.
Murray Bradshaw took out the spotted paper from his breast pocket, and held it up before her. "Look here!" he exclaimed. "This would have made you rich,—it would have crowned you a queen in society,—it would have given you all, and more than all, that you ever dreamed of luxury, of splendor, of enjoyment; and I, who won it for you, would have taught you how to make life yield every bliss it had in store to your wishes. You reject my offer unconditionally?"
Myrtle expressed her negative only by a slight contemptuous movement.
Murray Bradshaw walked deliberately to the fireplace, and laid the spotted paper upon the burning coals. It writhed and curled, blackened, flamed, and in a moment was a cinder dropping into ashes. He folded his arms, and stood looking at the wreck of Myrtle's future, the work of his cruel hand. Strangely enough, Myrtle herself was fascinated, as it were, by the apparent solemnity of this mysterious sacrifice. She had kept her eyes steadily on him all the time, and was still gazing at the altar on which her happiness had been in some way offered up, when the door was opened by Kitty Fagan, and Master Byles Gridley was ushered into the parlor.
"Too late, old man!" Murray Bradshaw exclaimed in a hoarse and savage voice, as he passed out of the room, and strode through the entry and down the avenue. It was the last time the old gate of The Poplars was to open or close for him. That same day he left the village; and the next time his name was mentioned it was as an officer in one of the regiments just raised and about marching to the seat of war.
THE SPOTTED PAPER.
What Master Gridley may have said to Myrtle Hazard that served to calm her after this exciting scene cannot now be recalled. That Murray Bradshaw thought he was inflicting a deadly injury on her was plain enough. That Master Gridley did succeed in convincing her that no great harm had probably been done her is equally certain.
Like all bachelors who have lived a lonely life, Master Gridley had his habits, which nothing short of some terrestrial convulsion—or perhaps, in his case, some instinct that drove him forth to help somebody in trouble—could possibly derange. After his breakfast, he always sat and read awhile,—the paper, if a new one came to hand, or some pleasant old author,—if a little neglected by the world of readers, he felt more at ease with him, and loved him all the better.
But on the morning after his interview with Myrtle Hazard, he had received a letter which made him forget newspapers, old authors, almost everything, for the moment. It was from the publisher with whom he had had a conversation, it may be remembered, when he visited the city, and was to this effect:—That Our Firm propose to print and stereotype the work originally published under the title of "Thoughts on the Universe"; said work to be remodelled according to the plan suggested by the Author, with the corrections, alterations, omissions, and additions proposed by him; said work to be published under the following title, to wit: —— ——; said work to be printed in 12mo, on paper of good quality, from new types, etc., etc., and for every copy thereof printed the author to receive, etc., etc.
Master Gridley sat as in a trance, reading this letter over and over, to know if it could be really so. So it really was. His book had disappeared from the market long ago, as the elm seeds that carpet the ground and never germinate disappear. At last it had got a certain value as a curiosity for book-hunters. Some one of them, keener-eyed than the rest, had seen that there was a meaning and virtue in this unsuccessful book, for which there was a new audience educated since it had tried to breathe before its time. Out of this had grown at last the publisher's proposal. It was too much: his heart swelled with joy, and his eyes filled with tears.
How could he resist the temptation? He took down his own particular copy of the book, which was yet to do him honor as