When addressed, as recorded above, the beautiful girl had started and grown suddenly pale, and a look of keenest pain shot into her violet eyes.
Then her sweet mouth straightened itself into a stern, resolute line. There was a moment of solemn silence, which she broke, by saying, in a repressed but gentle tone:
“I am sorry that you are feeling worse than usual to-night, papa. I know you must be weary. You are always that after being all day in the mine, and the storm, of course, aggravates your cough; but if you will rest a few days you will surely be better.”
“No, Virgie, it is useless to build upon false hopes. I shall never be any better. My work is done. I shall go no more to my claim, and I have decided to dispose of it to the first one who will offer me a fair price for it. But, dear child, if it were not for you I believe I should be glad to know that my saddened life is almost at an end. I——”
The weary voice quivered and failed here, and the man sank back in his chair with a bitter sigh.
The young girl, her own face now blanched to the hue of death, laid down her work, arose, and moved swiftly to her father’s side, where she knelt by his chair.
“Papa, do not talk so. You must not leave me,” she cried, in a voice of agony. “I cannot spare you. There must be something to help you—to build up your strength. Let us go back home, where you can have the best medical advice.”
The man sat up in his chair, stopping her with a gesture almost of despair.
“Home!” he cried, hoarsely. “Virgie, we have no home but this. You know that I am already the same as dead to every one but you; that even our real name is sunk in oblivion.”
“But, papa, you must try to live for my sake,” Virgie cried, clasping her trembling hands about his emaciated arm, and shuddering as she felt how frail it was. “If you will not go back, let me at least send for Dr. Truel. He is skillful. He was always our friend. He will cheer you and give you something to build you up, and he will keep our secret, too. Oh, you ought to have had advice long ago. What shall I do in this dreary place if you leave me alone?”
The sick man unclasped her clinging hands from his arm, and drew her slight form to him in a tender embrace.
“My darling,” he said, fondly, “that is just what I wish to talk with you about; so calm yourself and listen to me. Neither Dr. Truel, nor any other doctor, can help me now; if I had called him a year ago he might have prolonged my life; but my pride would not let me face any one whom I had ever known. But I will not speak of the past; it is too familiar and painful to both of us. It is useless, however, for me to think for a moment of going back, even to die, in the home where we were once so happy, for only disgrace is connected with our name—disgrace and wrong, all the more keenly felt because unmerited.”