“No, no. Please care for yourself, Mr. Heath, and let me follow you,” the young girl pleaded. “I know every step of the way, and it is all strange to you.”
But he stood still in the way, with his hand outstretched to her, resolute yet smiling. He would not yield his point, and without another word she laid her own within his, and together they went down the mountain path, he guiding her steps as carefully as if she had never been over the ground before, and she finding it very pleasant to be so shielded and attended.
When they reached more level ground he drew the hand he held within his arm, and they slowly wended their way back in the gloaming to the cottage, Virgie feeling strangely light-hearted and happy, and almost as if a new and beautiful life was about opening before her, while William Heath, with a twinkle of amusement in his fine eyes, wondered what his aristocratic mother and sister would say; what another brilliantly beautiful woman would think to see him thus playing the devoted cavalier to this simple and unpretending mountain maiden whom he thought so lovely.
He had at that moment in his pocket, letters from two of them, begging him to “quit his wanderings,” to “come home and settle down to the real business of life. The property needed his care, and—Sadie had not been like herself since his departure.”
These words came to him now, but they did not change in the least the purposes that were taking root in his mind—the determination to remain in that isolated hamlet as long as Virginia Abbot’s father should live.
“Who Is He, and Why Is He Here?”
The next morning Mr. Abbot and his young guest visited the mine, and, after a thorough examination of the former’s claim, and instituting some inquiries, more for form’s sake than anything else, regarding the wealth of the mine generally, Mr. Heath became the purchaser of Mr. Abbot’s property, and at once set about hiring competent miners to work it for him.
“It may prove but a foolish, quixotic undertaking after all,” he told himself, when his negotiations were completed, “but I must have some excuse for remaining here. That girl is the most beautiful being I ever met. She has power to move me as I was never moved before. I simply cannot go away and leave her. I am sure her father can live but a little while, and then—”
What was to happen after Mr. Abbot should be taken away remained unsaid, and Mr. Heath walked on for a while with bent head and thoughtful brow.
He was looking about him a little to find a place in which to live while he should remain on the mountain, for he was resolved that he would trespass upon Mr. Abbot’s hospitality no longer than he was obliged to, although every hour in Virgie’s presence was perfect delight to him.