“I don’t think I understand what you have come to tell me,” she said with difficulty.
“The village is ringing with the news. She wanted every one to know; her father has come home.”
“Ah, you didn’t guess, after all. I think we were all blind. Andrew Bolton has come back to Brookville, a miserable, broken man.”
“But you said—her father. Do you mean that Lydia Orr—”
“It wasn’t a deliberate deception on her part,” he interrupted quickly. “She has always been known as Lydia Orr. It was her mother’s name.”
Fanny despised herself for the unreasoning tumult of joy which surged up within her. He could not possibly marry Andrew Bolton’s daughter!
He was watching her closely.
“I thought perhaps, if she consented, I would marry Lydia Orr,” he forced himself to tell her. “I want you to know this from me, now. I decided that her money and her position would help me.... I admired her; I even thought at one time I—loved her. I tried to love her.... I am not quite so base as to marry without love.... But she knew. She tried to save me.... Then her father—that wretched, ruined man came to me. He told me everything.... Fanny, that girl is a saint!”
His eyes were inscrutable under their somber brows. The girl sitting stiffly erect, every particle of color drained from her young face, watched him with something like terror. Why was he telling her this?—Why? Why?
His next words answered her:
“I can conceive of no worse punishment than having you think ill of me.” ... And after a pause: “I deserve everything you may be telling yourself.”
But coherent thought had become impossible for Fanny.
“Why don’t you marry her?” she asked clearly.
“Oh, I asked her. I knew I had been a cad to both of you. I asked her all right.”
Fanny’s fingers, locked rigidly in her lap, did not quiver. Her blue eyes were wide and strange, but she tried to smile.
His voice, harsh and hesitating, went on: “She refused me, of course. She had known all along what I was. She said she did not love me; that I did not love her—which was God’s truth. I wanted to atone. You see that, don’t you?”
He looked at Fanny and started.
“My God, Fanny!” he cried. “I have made you suffer too!”
“Never mind me.”
“Fanny, can you love me and be my wife after all this?”
“I am a woman,” said Fanny. Her eyes blazed angrily at him. Then she laughed and put up her mouth to be kissed.
“Men will make fools of women till the Day of Judgment,” said she, and laughed again.
When the afternoon mail came in that day, Mr. Henry Daggett retired behind his official barrier according to his wont, leaving the store in charge of Joe Whittle, the Deacon’s son. It had been diligently pointed out to Joe by his thrifty parents that all rich men began life by sweeping out stores and other menial tasks, and for some time Joe had been working for Mr. Daggett with doubtful alacrity.