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MISS DOUGLAS RECEIVES A MESSAGE.
Florence Douglas felt somewhat uneasy after the visit of Orton Campbell. Though he had no legal right to interfere with her, even as the representative of his father, she knew the unscrupulous character of the man, and that he would not have spent time and money in a visit to California unless he had a strong hope of carrying her back with him. Her chief fear was that he would carry out his father's threat and try to have her pronounced of unsound mind, in which case he could have her confined in an asylum.
"If I could only hear from Richard Dewey!" she fervently ejaculated. "If he were here I would have nothing to fear."
Two days passed, and, considerably to her relief, she heard nothing from Campbell. She began to hope that he had given up his purpose and made arrangements to return to the East. She was determined to refuse him an audience if he should call upon her again, either with or without companions. That she might feel more secure, she took her landlady, Mrs. Armstrong, into her confidence.
This lady had become much attached to her guest, and listened with great indignation to the account which Florence gave her. "My dear Miss Douglas," she said, "if that man Campbell calls, leave me to deal with him."
"How would you propose to do it?" asked Florence, smiling.
"I would give him a piece of my mind, you may depend upon that."
"He would be rude to you."
"In that case I would order him out of the house," said Mrs. Armstrong, resolutely. "The man needs a lesson, and I should like to be the one to give it to him."
"I shall be very glad to have you meet him in my place," said the young lady. "An interview with him is something which I would gladly avoid."
"That you shall! I only hope he'll come soon. He'll find one woman that isn't afraid of him."
"I am not afraid of him, Mrs. Armstrong, but I own that I am apprehensive of what he may do. It would not surprise me at all if he should make his appearance with some needy physician who for a fee will be ready to pronounce me insane."
"Don't be alarmed, Miss Florence. I'll send the doctor packing, as well as his employer. Perhaps he will pronounce me insane. If he does, he is welcome to. I think he would find me an unsatisfactory patient."
"I think so too," said Florence, smiling, as she scanned the firm, determined face and the tall and muscular form of her hostess, who certainly would never be classed as a weak or timid woman.
On the afternoon of the third day a knock was heard at the door, for as yet it was unprovided with a bell.
Mrs. Armstrong and Florence were sitting together.
The two glanced at each other, and the same thought came to each.
"It may be Orton Campbell," said Florence, who was the first to speak.
"Then let me go to the door. Stay where you are, Miss Douglas; I will receive the gentleman."
But when the landlady opened the door she saw a man who looked like a coachman. A covered carriage was at the gate, which he had evidently driven.
"Well, sir, what can I do for you?" demanded the landlady, sharply.
"Is there a young lady living with you named Florence Douglas?" asked the man.
"Miss Florence Douglas boards here," answered Mrs. Armstrong.
"I've got a message for her, ma'am."
"If it's from Mr. Orton Campbell, you can go back and tell him that she won't receive any messages from him," said the landlady, resolutely.
"I don't know who you mean, ma'am," replied the man, in apparent surprise. "I don't know any such gentleman."
"Then who sent you?" inquired the landlady, whose turn it was to be surprised.
"It's a man just come from the mines," said the driver--"a Mr. Dewey."
Florence had drawn near to the head of the stairs in her interest to hear who had called, and she caught the name of her lover. She came flying down stairs, and demanded breathlessly, "What about Richard Dewey? I am Miss Douglas, and your message is for me."
Jones, for it was he, touched his hat respectfully, and held out a note penned on rough paper and written in pencil.
"This will explain everything, miss," he said.
Florence took the paper, and with some difficulty read it. It ran thus:
I have struggled to reach you, but have been struck down by fever when I was nearly at the end of my journey. I have had bad luck at the mines, and was almost discouraged, when I learned that you were in San Francisco. Poor as I was, I determined to come to you, even at the risk of your misjudging me. I am not able to write much, and must defer particulars till I see you. I am staying at the house of a kind stranger a few miles from the city. The man whom I send with this note is trustworthy. If you will trust yourself to his guidance, he will bring you to me. I know that I am asking a great deal of you, but I think you will not fail me.
"Yours, with love,
The writing was hurried--indeed, it was hardly more than a scrawl.
"He must be very weak," thought Florence, her heart swelling with painful emotions.--"My good friend," she said to the landlady, "Richard is sick and poor. He asks me to come to him. I must go."
"But can you trust that man? Is the letter genuine?" asked Mrs. Armstrong, suspiciously.
"I am sure it is genuine. It is written as Richard would write."
"But don't be in haste, Miss Douglas--Florence. Make some inquiries, and find out whether this news can be depended upon."
"Would you have me hesitate when Richard needs me?" asked Florence, reproachfully. "No, Mrs. Armstrong, I must go, and at once. I have waited so long to see him!"
"He will be very glad to see you, miss," said Jones respectfully. "He has been talking about you constant."
"Were Ben and Mr. Bradley with him? Why didn't one of them come?"
"Because, miss," said Jones with ready invention, though he had never heard of either of the persons mentioned, "one went for the doctor, and the other stayed to take care of him."
This seemed very plausible. Without a particle of suspicion Florence Douglas hastily dressed herself and entered the carriage in waiting.
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