Some such idea flitted across Alice’s mind as she read that letter, and for a single instant her eyes sparkled with delight at the thought of wandering over Europe in company with Mrs. Ellsworth and Irving Stanley; but when she looked at Hugh, the bright vision faded, and with it all desire to go with Irving Stanley, even should he ask her. Hugh needed her more than Irving Stanley. He was, if possible, more worthy of her. His noble, unselfish devotion to ’Lina had finished the work begun on that memorable night, when she said to him: “I may learn to love you,” and from the moment when to ’Lina’s passionate cry, “Will no one pity me?” he had answered, “Yes, ’Lina, I will care for you,” her heart had been all his own, and more than once as she watched with him by ’Lina’s bedside, she had been tempted to wind her arm around his neck and whisper in his ear:
“Hugh, I love you now, I will be your wife.”
But propriety had held her back and made her far more reserved toward him than she had ever been before. Terribly jealous where she was concerned, Hugh was quick to notice the change, and the gloomy shadow on his face was not caused wholly by ’Lina’s sad death, as many had supposed. Hugh was very unhappy. Instead of learning to love him, as he had sometimes hoped she might, Alice had come to dislike him, shunning his society, and always making some pretense to get away if, by chance, they were left alone; and now, as the closing act in the sad drama, Irving Stanley was coming to carry her off forever.
Hugh’s heart was very sore as he sat there waiting for Alice to finish that letter, and speak to him about it. What a long, long time it took her to read it through—longer than it needed, he was sure, for the handwriting was very plain and the letter very brief.
Alice knew he was waiting for her, and after hesitating a while, she went up to him, and laying her hand on his shoulder, as she had not done in weeks, she said:
“You will be glad to see your cousin?”
“Yes; I suppose so. Shall you?”
He turned partly around, so he could look at her; and this it was which brought the blood so quickly to her face, making her stammer as she replied:
“Of course I shall be glad. I like him very much; but—”
Here she stopped, for she did not know how to tell Hugh that she was not glad in the way which he supposed.
“But what?” he asked, “What were you going to say?” and in his eyes there was a look which drove Alice’s courage away, and made her answer:
“It’s queer the doctor did not tell him anything except that ’Lina was sick.”
“There are a great many queer people in this world,” Hugh replied, rather testily, while Alice mildly rejoined.
“The letter has been delayed, and he will be here day after to-morrow. Did you notice?”
“Yes; and as I am impatient to go for Adah, the sooner he comes the better, for the sooner it will leave me at liberty. Would it be very impolite for me to go at once, and leave you to entertain him?”