“It is true,” I said, turning to Ellen. “I am guilty. I told you I deserved no mercy, and I ask none. I have not asked Miss Sheraton to release me from my engagement. I shall feel honored if she will now accept my hand. I shall be glad if she will set the date early as may be.”
Night was now coming swiftly from the hills.
Ellen turned to pass back toward the door. “Your pardon!” I exclaimed to Grace Sheraton, and sprang after Ellen.
“Good-by,” I said, and held out my hand to her. “Let us end all these heroics, and do our best. Where is your husband? I want to congratulate him.”
“My husband!” she said in wonder. “What do you mean?”
Night, I say, was dropping quickly, like a shroud spread by a mighty hand.
“Belknap—” I began.
“Ah,” she said bitterly. “You rate me low—as low as I do you!”
“But your father told me himself you two were to be married,” I broke out, surprise, wonder, dread, rebellion now in every fiber of my body and soul.
“My father loves me dearly,” she replied slowly. “But he cannot marry me until I wish. No, I am not married, and I never will be. Good-by.”
Again I heard my own horrible laughter.
Night had fallen thick and heavy from the mountains, like a dark, black shroud.
FACE TO FACE
I did not see Colonel Meriwether. He passed on through to his seat in Albemarle without stopping in our valley longer than over night. Part of the next morning I spent in writing a letter to my agents at Huntington, with the request that they should inform Colonel Meriwether at once on the business situation, since now he was in touch by mail. The alternative was offered him of taking over my father’s interests through these creditors, accepting them as partners, or purchasing their rights; or of doing what my father had planned to do for him, which was to care individually for the joint account, and then to allot each partner a dividend interest, carrying a clear title.
All these matters I explained to my mother. Then I told her fully what had occurred at the village the night previous between Ellen Meriwether and my fiancee. She sat silent.
“In any case,” I concluded, “it would suit me better if you and I could leave this place forever, and begin again somewhere else.”
She looked out of the little window across our pleasant valley to its edge, where lay the little church of the Society of Friends. Then she turned to me slowly, with a smile upon her face. “Whatever thee says,” was her answer. “I shall not ask thee to try to mend what cannot be mended. Thee is like thy father,” she said. “I shall not try to change thee. Go, then, thy own way. Only hear me, thee cannot mend the unmendable by such a wrongful marriage.”
But I went; and under my arm I bore a certain roll of crinkled, hairy parchment.