“Miss Helen Lennox,” she read in astonishment. “How came Helen Lennox’s letter here in mother’s room, and from Mark Ray, too,” she continued, still more amazed as she took the neatly folded note from the envelope and glanced at the name. “Foul play somewhere. Can it be mother?” she asked, as she read enough to know that she held in her hand Mark’s offer of marriage which had in some mysterious manner found its way to her mother’s room. “I don’t understand it at all,” she said, racking her brain for a solution of the mystery. “But the letter at least is safe with me. I’ll send it to Helen this very day and to-morrow I’ll tell Mark Ray.”
Procrastination was not one of Bell Cameron’s faults, and for full half an hour before her mother and Juno came home, the stolen letter had been lying in the mail box where Bell herself deposited it, together with a few hurriedly written lines, telling how it came into her hands, but offering no explanation of any kind.
“Mark is home now on a leave of absence which expires day after to-morrow,” she wrote, “but I am going around to see him, and if you do not hear from him in person I am greatly mistaken.”
Very closely Bell watched her mother when she came from her room, but the letter had not been missed, and in blissful ignorance Mrs. Cameron displayed her purchases and then talked of Wilford, wondering how he was and if it were advisable for any of them to go to him.
The next day a series of hindrances kept Bell from making her call as early as she had intended doing, so that Mrs. Banker and Mark were just rising from dinner when told she was in the parlor.
“I meant to have come before,” she said, seating herself by Mark, “but I could not get away. I have brought you some good news. I think—that is—yes, I know there has been some mistake, some wrong somewhere, whether intended or not. Mark Ray,” and the impetuous girl faced directly toward him, “if you could have any wish you might name what would it be? Come now, imagine yourself a Cinderella and I the fairy godmother. What will you have?”
Mark knew she was in earnest and her manner puzzled him greatly, but he answered, laughingly: “As a true patriot I should wish for peace on strictly honorable terms.”
The word dropped very prettily from Bell’s lips as with a shrug she continued:
“You men are very patriotic, I know, especially if you wear shoulder straps, but isn’t there something dearer than peace? Suppose, for instance, Union between the North and South on strictly honorable terms, as you say, was laid upon one scale and union between yourself and Helen Lennox was laid upon the other, which would you take?”
Mark’s lips were very white now, but he tried to laugh as he replied: “I should say the Union, of course.”
“Yes, but which union?” Bell rejoined, and then as she saw that Mrs. Banker was beginning to frown upon her she continued: “But to come directly to the point. Yesterday afternoon I found—no matter where or how—a letter intended for Helen Lennox, which I am positive she never saw or heard of; at least her denial to me that a certain Mark Ray had ever offered himself is a proof that she never saw what was an offer made just before you went away. I read enough to know that, and then I took the letter and—”