It may seem a little thing, but little things weigh with young ladies in their seventeenth year, and this dream turned the scale. Mollie thought about it a great deal that morning as she made her toilet.
“I wonder if he is so very handsome? I like handsome men,” mused Mollie. “He told me he was, and I know he must be, if he ever was a flirter of mine. Mr. Sardonyx is the plainest man I ever let make love to me, and even he was not absolutely plain. I shouldn’t wonder if my captor were he, or else Doctor Oleander. Oh, why—why—why can’t I recognize that voice?”
That day wore on, long, drearily, endlessly, it seemed to poor Mollie. Its dull course was broken, as usual, by Sarah fetching the daily meals; and it ended, and night came, and still Mollie had not spoken.
Another day dawned, and its dawning brought the climax. She had passed a sleepless night, and awoke feverish, unrefreshed, and utterly desperate.
“If it was death instead of marriage I had to undergo,” said Mollie to herself, “I should prefer it to this slow torture. It’s horrid to yield, but it’s a great deal more horrid to hold out. I’ll yield.”
Accordingly, when Sarah came up with the morning meal, Miss Dane promptly addressed her:
“Sarah, is your master in the house?”
“Not at present, miss.”
“Do you expect him?”
“Oh, yes, miss! He comes every day.”
“Is he coming up here no more until I send for him?”
“I think not, miss. He is a great deal too polite to force himself upon a lady.”
A glance of withering scorn from Mollie.
“He is a cowardly, contemptible tyrant, and you are a vile, lost creature and fool! But that is not what I wanted to say. As soon as he comes, tell him I wish to see him.”
“Very well, miss.”
Sarah departed. The long hours dragged on—oh, so long!—oh, so long! Mollie could take no breakfast that morning. She could only walk up and down her prison-chamber in a frenzy of impatience for the coming of the man she hated.
He came at last—cloaked and masked, and wearing the false hair and beard—utterly unrecognizable.
“At last, Miss Dane,” he calmly said, “you have sent for me. You are tired of your prison? You long for freedom? You accede to my terms?”
“Yes,” said Mollie, with a sort of sobbing cry, for she felt utterly broken down. “Anything, anything under heaven for freedom! Another week like this, and I should go mad! But, oh! if you are a man—if you have any pity in your heart—don’t ask this sacrifice! Let me go as I am! See, I plead to you!—I, who never pleaded to mortal before! Let me go, for pity’s sake, now, as I came! Don’t, don’t, don’t ask me to marry you!”
She held up her clasped hands—bright tears standing in her passionate eyes. But the tall, masked man loomed up like a dark, stern ghost.