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“Well, some women are remarkable!” exclaimed Miss Shropshire to her sister, Mrs. Lester. “The idea of her having a wedding dress,—white satin, train, and all. She even fussed over at least twenty pairs of slippers, and I was almost afraid to bring home that bridal veil for fear it wouldn’t suit her.”
“I suppose she thinks that weddings, white satin ones, at least, only come once in a lifetime.” Mrs. Lester was a tired little woman, quite subservient to her strong-minded sister. The wedding was to take place in her back parlour at an hour when Mr. Lester, occupied and unsuspecting, would be away from home. She did not approve of the plot; but her opinion, much less her consent, had not been asked.
“I’d like to thoroughly understand Nina Randolph, just for once,” said Miss Shropshire, meditatively. “It would be interesting, to say the least.”
The night before the wedding she went into Nina’s room, and found her standing before the mirror arrayed in her bridal finery,—veil, gloves, slippers, all. She had regained her natural hues; but her eyes were still sunken, her face pinched and hard. She was almost plain.
“Nina! Why on earth have you put on those things? Don’t you know it’s bad luck?”
Miss Shropshire exclaimed, “Umburufen!” and rapped loudly three times on the top of a chair. “There! I hope that will do some good. I know what you are thinking—you are so unlucky, anyhow. But why tempt fate?” She hesitated a moment. “It is not too late. Put it off for six months, and then see how you feel about it. You are morbid now. You don’t know what changes time might—”
“No earthly power can prevent me from marrying Richard Clough to-morrow.”
“Very well, I shall stand by you, of course. That goes without saying. But I believe you are making a terrible mistake. I would rather you married almost any one else. There are several gentlemen that would be ready and willing.”
“I don’t wish to marry a gentleman.”
The next afternoon Nina, Mrs. Lester, and Miss Shropshire were in the back parlour awaiting the arrival of Clough, his best man, and the clergyman, when there was a sudden furious pull at the bell of the front door. Nina sprang to her feet. For the first time in many weeks animation sprang to her eyes.
“It is my father!” she said. “Close the folding-doors. Molly, I rely on you! Do you understand? Send him away, and as quickly as possible. Tell a servant to watch outside, and take the others round the back way.”
Before she had finished speaking, Mr. Randolph’s voice was heard in the hall, demanding his daughter. The servants had been given orders to deny the fact of Miss Randolph’s presence in the house to any one but Dr. Clough. Nevertheless, Mr. Randolph brushed past the woman that opened the door, and entered the front parlour. Miss Shropshire joined him at once. Every word of the duologue that followed could be heard on the other side of the folding-doors.
“Why, Mr. Randolph!” exclaimed Miss Shropshire, easily. “Why this unexpected honour? I thought you were in San José.”
“Is my daughter here?” He was evidently much excited, and endeavouring to control himself.
“Nina? No. Why? Is she not at Redwoods? She was to go down yesterday.”
“She is not at Redwoods. I have received private and reliable information that she is to marry Richard Clough this afternoon, and I have reason to think that she is in this house.”
“What? Nina going to marry that horrid little man? I don’t believe it!” Miss Shropshire was a woman of thorough and uncompromising methods.
“Is Nina in this house or not?”
“Mr. Randolph! Of course she is not. I would have nothing to do with such an affair.”
Mr. Randolph swallowed a curse, and strode up and down the room several times. Then he paused and confronted her once more.
“Molly,” he said, “I appeal to you as a woman. If you have any friendship for Nina, give her up to me and save her from ruin, or tell me where she is. It is not yet too late. I will risk everything and take her abroad. She is ruining her own life and Thorpe’s and mine by a mistaken sense of duty to him, and contempt for herself: I know her so well that I feel sure that is the reason for this act she contemplates to-day. I will take her to Thorpe. He could reclaim her. Clough—you can perhaps imagine how Clough will treat her! Picture the life she must lead with that man, and give her up to me. And, if you have any heart, keep my own from breaking. She is all that I have. You know what my home is; I have lived in hell for twenty-four years for this girl’s sake. I have kept a monster in my house that Nina should have no family scandal to reproach me with. And all to what purpose if she marries a cad and a brute? I would have endured the torments of the past twenty-five years, multiplied tenfold, to have secured her happiness. If she marries Richard Clough, it will kill me.”
“She is not here,” replied Miss Shropshire.
Mr. Randolph trembled from head to foot. “My God!” he cried, “have you women no heart? Are all women, I wonder, like those I have known? My wife, a demon who nursed her baby on brandy! My daughter, repaying the devotion of years with blackest ingratitude! And you—” He fell, rather than dropped to his knees, and caught her dress in his hands.
“Molly,” he prayed, “give her to me. Save her from becoming one of the outcast of the earth. For that is what this marriage will mean to her.”
Miss Shropshire set her teeth. “Nina is not here,” she said.
Mr. Randolph stumbled to his feet, and rushed from the house. He walked rapidly down the hill toward Old Trinity in Pine Street, the church Nina attended, his dislocated mind endeavouring to suggest that he wait for her there. His agitation was so marked that several people turned and looked after him in surprise. He reached the church. A carriage approached, passed. Its occupants were Richard Clough, a well-known gambler named Bell, and a man who carried the unmistakable cut of a parson.
Mr. Randolph rushed to the middle of the street, ordering the driver to stop. The window of the carriage was open. He caught Clough by the shoulder.
“Are you on your way to marry my daughter?” he demanded.
“My dear Uncle James,” replied the young man, airily, “you are all wrong. I am on my way to marry—it is true; but the unfortunate lady is Miss McCullum.”
Mr. Randolph turned to the gambler, and implored him, as a man of honour, to tell him the truth.
Bell replied: “As a man of honour, I dare not.”
Mr. Randolph appealed to the clergyman, but met only a solemn scowl, and mechanically dropped back, with the sensation of having lost the good-will of all men. A moment later the carriage was rattling up the street at double speed, and he cursed his stupidity in not forcing an entrance, or hanging on behind. There was no other carriage in sight.
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