I led Mrs. A—— to the table; I made her laugh very heartily by telling her of the usher’s threats to me, and mine to him, and of the disgrace into which I fell among the three thousand six hundreds. I had never been at any such party before. But I found it was only rather simpler and more quiet than most parties I had seen, that its good breeding was exactly that of dear Betsy Myers.
As the party broke up, Mrs. A—— said to me,—
“Mr. Carter, I am sure you are tired, with all this excitement. You say you are a stranger here. Let me send round for your trunk to the St. Nicholas, and you shall spend the night here. I know I can make you a better bed than they.”
I thought as much myself, and assented. In half an hour more I was in bed in Mrs. A——’s “best room.”
“I shall not sleep better,” said I to myself, “than I did last night.”
That was what the Public did for me that night. I was safe again!
Fausta slept late, poor child. I called for her before breakfast. I waited for her after. About ten she appeared, so radiant, so beautiful, and so kind! The trunk had revealed a dress I never saw before, and the sense of rest, and eternal security, and unbroken love had revealed a charm which was never there to see before. She was dressed for walking, and, as she met me, said,—
“Time for constitutional, Mr. Millionnaire.”
So we walked again, quite up town, almost to the region of pig-pens and cabbage-gardens which is now the Central Park. And after just the first gush of my enthusiasm, Fausta said, very seriously:—
“I must teach you to be grave. You do not know whom you are asking to be your wife. Excepting Mrs. Mason, No. 27 Thirty-fourth Street, sir, there is no one in the world who is of kin to me, and she does not care for me one straw, Felix,” she said, almost sadly now. “You call yourself ’Child of the Public.’ I started when you first said so, for that is just what I am.
“I am twenty-two years old. My father died before I was born. My mother, a poor woman, disliked by his relatives and avoided by them, went to live in Hoboken over there, with me. How she lived, God knows, but it happened that of a strange death she died, I in her arms.”
After a pause, the poor girl went on:—
“There was a great military review, an encampment. She was tempted out to see it. Of a sudden by some mistake, a ramrod was fired from a careless soldier’s gun, and it pierced her through her heart. I tell you, Felix, it pinned my baby frock into the wound, so that they could not part me from her till it was cut away.
“Of course every one was filled with horror. Nobody claimed poor me, the baby. But the battalion, the Montgomery Battalion, it was, which had, by mischance, killed my mother, adopted me as their child. I was voted ‘Fille du Regiment.’ They paid an assessment annually, which the colonel expended for me. A kind old woman nursed me.”