The girl laughed loud and shrilly. “Ah! ah!” she cried after them. “The good gentleman! the brave fellow! For this I would follow you! aye! follow you, my lad, from Belton to Tyburn Hill!”
“It is then true, my Betty? And I am to wish you joy?” cried Mary Jones, with both hands outstretched.
“It is true,” answered Betty, her lips parted in a smile of sunshiny happiness. “Congratulate me, Mary; yes, wish me joy, for there is no happier woman to-day between the Northern and Southern seas.”
“I am glad to see you so happy, dear child!” cried Mary affectionately, but there was something pinched and starved in her voice. Ah, pity for those who possess the capacity for love and yet must go hungry to their dying day!
This odd want is none the less bitter that it meets with scant sympathy in this hard world. In the breast of many an unsought woman lies a wealth of wasted treasure, treasure which no one has cared to seek, and yet what a treasure it might have been!
Mary Jones’s heart had grown somewhat starved, but it was the heart of a loving woman still, and when the bright sunshine of her young friend’s happiness shed its light on her soul, it awakened an echo of old dead days, and swelled it with sympathy.
“Sit down, sweet one,” she said, drawing Betty down on the sofa beside her. “Tell me all about it. When did he ask you to be his wife?”
“This morning, Mary, only this morning; but it seems as if years had passed since then.”
“And what says Mr. Ives? Does he welcome the stranger who takes from him his only child?”
“Not far, Mary—but two miles away—and my father is always to live with me, if he so will it, so says Mr. Johnstone.”
“But is he pleased?” asked Mary, with a little persistence.
“Yes, he is well pleased; he already loves him as a son. Mary, perhaps the thing that most readily won my heart was his reverence and tender courtesy to my father.”
“I can believe it, Betty. His manners are perfect. I was only making that same remark to Deborah this morning. Yes, I knew only one other whose manners could compare with your John Johnstone’s, Betty—only one.”
Mary Jones sighed deeply and looked down. Betty gently pressed her hand.
Hitherto she had always laughed at her friend’s tender recollections; now, it seemed to her that her eyes were opened to her former cruelty.
But Mistress Mary was too much interested to waste too much time even on such reflections.
“You must tell me all, dear,” she said. “What is his family? Has he parents living, brothers and sisters? Is his fortune assured?”
“Ah, there is some little difficulty there,” answered Betty, her face falling a little. “He has no parents, no friends, no kindred; he is all alone in the wide world. And as for his fortune, that is assured, but it is somehow mysteriously bound up in trusts—I know not what—he has no papers to show my father, he asks for perfect confidence.”