Feeling intuitively that Irving and Alice would rather say their parting words alone, Hugh drew his mother with him as he advanced into the midst of the sobbing, howling negroes assembled to see him off. But Alice had nothing to say which she would not have said in his presence. Irving Stanley understood better than Hugh, and he merely raised her cold hand to his lips, saying as he did so:
“Just this once; I shall never kiss it again.”
He was in the carriage when Hugh came up, and Alice stood leaning against one of the tall pillars, a deep flush now upon her cheek, and tears filling her soft blue eyes. In another moment the carriage was rolling from the yard, neither Irving nor Hugh venturing to look back, and both as by mutual consent avoiding the mention of Alice, whose name was not spoken once during their journey together to Cincinnati, where they parted company, Irving continuing his homeward route, while Hugh stopped in the city to arrange a matter of business with his banker there. It was not until Irving was gone and he alone in his room that he opened the little note given him by Alice, the note which would tell him of her approaching marriage, he believed. How then was he surprised when he read:
“DEAR HUGH: I have at last discovered the mistake under which, for so many years, I have been laboring. It was not Irving Stanley who saved me from the water, but your own noble self, and you have generously kept silent all this time, permitting me to expend upon another the gratitude due to you.
“Dear Hugh, I wish I had known earlier,
or that you did not leave
us so soon. It seems so cold, thanking you on paper, but I have no
other opportunity, and must do it here.
“Heaven bless you, Hugh. My mother prayed often for the preserver of her child, and need I tell you that I, too, shall never forget to pray for you? The Lord keep you in all your ways, and lead you safely to your sister.
Many times Hugh read this note, then pressing it to his lips thrust it into his bosom, but failed to see what Alice had hoped he might see, that the love he once asked for was his, and his alone. He was too sure that another was preferred before him to reason clearly, and the only emotions he experienced from reading her note were feelings of pleasure that she had been set right at last, and that Irving had not withheld from her the truth.
“That ends the drama,” he said. “I don’t quite believe she is going with him to Europe, but she will be his when he returns; and henceforth my duty must be to forget, if possible, that ever I knew I loved her. Oh, Golden Hair, why did I ever meet, or meeting you, why was I suffered to love her so devotedly, if I must lose her at the last!”
There were great drops of sweat about Hugh’s lips and on his forehead, as, burying his face in his hands, he laid both upon the table, and battled manfully with his love for Alice Johnson, a love which refused at once to surrender its object, even though there seemed no longer a shadow of hope in which to take refuge.