“If,” he went on, “the Baroness should propose to six well-known ladies here in this city whom I could mention, I would wager six Johannisbergers, and an equal amount of champagne, that every one of them would accept him.”
The others loudly applauded this proposal, and Ralph accepted the wager. The letters were written on the spot, and immediately despatched. Toward morning, the merry carousal broke up, and Ralph was conducted in triumph to his home.
Two days later, Ralph again knocked on Bertha’s door. He looked paler than usual, almost haggard; his immaculate linen was a little crumpled, and he carried no cane; his lips were tightly compressed, and his face wore an air of desperate resolution.
“It is done,” he said, as he seated himself opposite her. “I am going.”
“Going!” cried she, startled at his unusual appearance. “How, where?”
“To America. I sail to-night. I have followed your advice, you see. I have cut off the last bridge behind me.”
“But, Ralph,” she exclaimed, in a voice of alarm. “Something dreadful must have happened. Tell me quick; I must know it.”
“No; nothing dreadful,” muttered he, smiling bitterly. “I have made a little scandal, that is all. My father told me to-day to go to the devil, if I chose, and my mother gave me five hundred dollars to help me along on the way. If you wish to know, here is the explanation.”
And he pulled from his pocket six perfumed and carefully folded notes, and threw them into her lap.
“Do you wish me to read them?” she asked, with growing surprise. “Certainly. Why not?”
She hastily opened one note after the other, and read.
“But, Ralph,” she cried, springing up from her seat, while her eyes flamed with indignation, “what does this mean? What have you done?”
“I didn’t think it needed any explanation,” replied he, with feigned indifference. “I proposed to them all, and, you see, they all accepted me. I received all these letters to-day. I only wished to know whether the whole world regarded me as such a worthless scamp as you told me I was.”
She did not answer, but sat mutely staring at him, fiercely crumpling a rose-colored note in her hand. He began to feel uncomfortable under her gaze, and threw himself about uneasily in his chair.
“Well,” said he, at length, rising, “I suppose there is nothing more. Good-by.”
“One moment, Mr. Grim,” demanded she, sternly. “Since I have already said so much, and you have obligingly revealed to me a new side of your character, I claim the right to correct the opinion I expressed of you at our last meeting.”
“I am all attention.”
“I did think, Mr. Grim,” began she, breathing hard, and steadying herself against the table at which she stood, “that you were a very selfish man—an embodiment of selfishness, absolute and supreme, but I did not believe that you were wicked.”