Chapter 21




LUELLA'S PAINFUL DISCOVERY.

"What business had that girl with you, papa?" asked Luella Ferguson, when, stung by her insolence, Ruth had left the house.

"She told you," answered the father evasively.

"Is it true that you were trustee of any property belonging to her?"

"Well, there is some truth in it. Her father was an old schoolmate of mine, though we were never intimate, and when he died, considerably to my surprise, he asked me to settle his estate."

"How much did it amount to?"

"After paying all bills, including funeral expenses, there was seventy-five dollars left."

"A fine estate, upon my word!" said Luella with a scornful laugh. "Really, the girl is a great heiress."

"She thought she ought to have been. What do you think she and her mother expected?"

"Something amusing, no doubt."

"They thought that they would realize ten thousand dollars, and be completely provided for."

"They must be fools!"

"We won't use so harsh an expression. Women know very little about business."

"Some women, papa. You will please make an exception in my case."

"Well, I admit, Luella," said her father complacently, "you do seem to have a sharp eye to your own interests."

"Why shouldn't I? I come honestly by it, papa, don't I?"

"Well, perhaps——"

"You have been pretty sharp yourself, eh, papa? I fancy you have a pretty good sum of money salted down—that's the term, isn't it?"

"Well, I have something, but I don't care to make a boast of it. There would be plenty who would want a share—for instance, Mrs. Fenton."

"That reminds me; her son is a train-boy on the Erie road."

"Did you see him?"

"Yes, he made himself very obnoxious by his impertinent intermeddling. He insisted upon my removing my poor Fido, in order to give that girl a seat."

"What concern was it of his?"

"None at all, but he made such a fuss that I had to do it."

"You need not have done so. The train boy has no authority in such matters."

"He called the conductor, and he took my poor darling into the baggage car. Papa, can't you get him discharged?"

"I have no influence with the Erie officials, my dear. Besides, if I deprive him of his chance to make a living, he and his mother will be importuning me for money. Better leave well enough alone!"

This was the sort of argument that weighed with Luella Ferguson. She was meanness personified, and would rather save money than be revenged upon Fred.

"Do you think you will have any more trouble with this girl who called to-night?"

"I should not be surprised if she called again to ask me to help her to employment."

"If she does, advise her to go out to service. She could get a position as chambermaid without difficulty."

"Remember, Luella, that in her own town she has held a good social position. She may have too much pride."

"Then let her starve!" said Luella, harshly. "It is preposterous for a pauper to be proud."

"She is not exactly a pauper," said Mr. Ferguson, who was not quite so venomous in his hatred as his daughter.

"I forgot—she has a fortune of seventy-five dollars. Will you do me a favor?"

"What is it?"

"If the girl comes again, turn her over to me."

"Very well, my dear. I shall be glad to do so. It will relieve me from embarrassment."

"I shall feel no embarrassment. I shall rather enjoy it."

"By the way, Luella, how are you getting on with young Lindsay?"

Luella flushed a little, and a softer light shone in her eyes. She had very little heart, but such as she had was given to Alfred Lindsay. At first attracted by his wealth and social position—for on his mother's side he belonged to one of the Knickerbocker families—she had ended by really falling in love with him. In his company she appeared at her best. Her amiable and attractive manners were not wholly assumed, for the potent spell of love softened her and transformed her from a hard, cynical, selfish girl to a woman seeking to charm one who had touched her heart.

"He comes to see me very often, papa," she answered, coyly.

"And he seems impressed?"

"I think so," said Luella, lowering her eyes, while a gratified smile lighted up her face.

"He has never actually proposed?" asked Ferguson eagerly.

"Well, not exactly, but from his manner I think he will soon."

"I hope so, Luella. There is no one whom I would more prefer for a son-in-law."

"I shall not say him nay, papa."

"Of course not. He is rich and of distinguished family. He will make a very suitable mate for you."

"Yes, papa, I appreciate that, but you too are rich and of high social position."

"Well, daughter, I stand fairly, but as to family, I can't boast much. My father—your grandfather—was a village blacksmith. I have never told you that before."

"Horrors, papa!" exclaimed Luella. "You cannot mean this?"

"It is a sober fact. I have never told you, for I knew it would shock you."

"Does any one know it in our circle?"

"No. Indeed, the only one who is likely to have any knowledge of it is Mrs. Fenton and her son."

"The train boy!"

"Yes."

"If it should get out I should die of mortification."

"Neither you nor I are likely to mention it. I only referred to it to show the advantages of marrying a man of high lineage like Alfred Lindsay. I have money, but I have never been able to get into the inner circle to which the Lindsays belong. Money will buy much, but it won't buy that. I hope yon will do your best to bring the young mail to the point."

"I will manage it, papa," said Luella complacently. "Do you know I have made up my mind to go to Europe on a wedding trip?"

"If Lindsay consents."

"He will do whatever I wish. I expect him to call this evening."

"Do you?"

"Yes, and—papa, something might happen," added Luella playfully.

"I hope so sincerely, my dear."

"Mind, if he comes to you, not a word about the blacksmith! I wish you hadn't told me."

"Forget it then, Luella. We will keep it a profound secret."

Luella left her father's presence with a smile upon her face. It was already eight o'clock. Half an hour passed, and she became anxious. Fifteen minutes more clipped by, and still the welcome ring at the bell was not heard. She was ready to cry with vexation, for she had made up her mind to lead the young man to a declaration that very evening if it were a possible thing.

She summoned a servant.

"Jane," she said, "Mr. Lindsay has not called this evening, has he?"

"No miss. If he had of course I would tell you."

"I thought perhaps there might have been some mistake. If he should come—and it isn't very late yet—let me know at once."

"Surely I will, Miss Luella."

"She's dead gone on that man," said Jane to herself. "Well, I don't wonder, for he is awfully handsome, that's a fact. But my! if he could only see her in some of her tantrums, he'd open his eyes. He thinks she's an angel, but I know her better."

Several days passed and still Alfred Lindsay did not call. Luella became alarmed. Was she losing her hold upon him? She was considering whether it would be proper to write a letter to the young lawyer at his office, when she chanced to make a very painful discovery.

About five o'clock on Saturday afternoon she was coming out of Lord & Taylor's up-town store when in a plainly dressed girl who was just passing she recognized Ruth Patton. Curiosity led her to address Ruth.

"So you are still in the city?" she said abruptly.

"Yes, Miss Ferguson," answered Ruth calmly.

"Of course you are very poor. I think I can get you a place as chambermaid in the family of one of my friends."

"Thank you, but I have a position I like better."

"What sort of a position?"

"I am in a lawyer's office, copying legal papers."

"Indeed! I suppose you are poorly paid."

"I receive ten dollars a week."

"That is ridiculously high pay. Of course you don't earn it."

"Mr. Lindsay fixed the salary—I did not."

"Lindsay!" gasped Luella, "what Lindsay?"

"Alfred Lindsay. He has his office in the Mills Building."

Ruth Patton passed on, having unconsciously given poignant anguish to the haughty Miss Ferguson.

"Where could she have met Alfred?" Luella asked herself with contracted brow. "I must get him to discharge her. I had no idea she was such an artful minx."



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