The man sat stunned where she had left him. Could it be true? And what was the mystery of that far-away night of his youth? The more he pondered the more complete grew the chain. Senator Carleton had married a Kentucky girl, it was true; but her youth had been passed on a Mississippi plantation. He had years ago heard more or less idle gossip about the hard, miserly nature of the old planter, Hamilton, and of his bitter opposition to his daughter’s match with penniless young Carleton. There had been an elopement, or something. It came back to him like some hideous nightmare. His pure, spotless darling—his promised wife! Could there be sin or shame enveloping such a being? He must know. He wrote to Mrs. Carleton. In earnest words of manly truth and honor he besought her to explain to him the past. Eleanor was visiting a friend in a distant city. No answer came. He went to the house and was denied admittance. He followed Eleanor only to learn that she had been hastily summoned home. That was not the day of rapid transit. He returned at last to find a letter of farewell forever—his beloved had been spirited away to other scenes. Then Egbert Mason left his native land, baffled, broken-hearted, and devoted the next three years to the study of special lines in his profession.
* * * * *
In a stately drawing room of an ideal Kentucky home are Eleanor Carleton and Egbert Mason, once more face to face.
“Oh, my love,” he moaned, bending almost reverently before her, “what a mistake, I knew it all when too late. The letters were all found when that unhappy woman was sent to the asylum. Did you think I could change? ‘Forget thee dear?’” he quoted unconsciously—he had said the lines so often;
“God knows I would not if I could:
For sweeter far has been to me the pain
Of love unsatisfied, than all the vain
And ill spent years I lived before we met.”
Still she stood, gravely looking at him, her maturing beauty made the fairer by the sable gown she wore.
“Forgive me,” then she spoke. “I thought you knew. I have been Leslie Walcott’s wife these four months.”
As he sat beside his solitary hearth there was a fumbling outside the door. He opened to admit old Ailsie, now crippled with rheumatic pains.
“I know’d dat was you. Marse Doctor, ’n I follered yer, I want to tell yer:—Mistress ’splained all ’bout dat ‘fore she died. Dey wan’t nothin’ wrong. Her an’ her ma was ’feared to let old Master know she hed run ‘way an’ married Marse Henry. He said he wan’t gwine ter will her nary cent. So mistess and her sister, Miss Ellen, arter while, dey fotch her up to de springs. Den ole master he died sudden like, an’ Marse Henry, he had done ben ’way off to New Auleens—never know’d dey had fooled old Master ‘bout de chile an’ all dat. Po’ Mistress! she nebber could tell him no better, and she was always skeerd-like arter she seed you agin. But she sot right down dat day and writ all about it to you an’ I goes and gives de letter to dat purty white lady what was sich a good frien’, and den she gimme yourn, ain——”