The Bassett Claim
i Copyright by American Press Assooiaiion. 1 [ CONTINUED. ] "Oh, ít's ;i great secret.'' she rattled on. "Yes. tpy heart is uot my own, but we have been snch good friends, Mr. Bassett; you are so - so splendid! Such a gentleman! Why, I didn't suppose you were in earnest that way, you know. You liked me, of course; I saw that, and we have had such jolly times together, and getting so well acquainted! Do, Mr. Bassett, let us forget what you have said, and let us go on being real royal good friends." "Oh, certainly, if you wish," said Windward slowly and coldly. He was thinking of what McArdle had said of the idiotie ambition of the crushed rose of love to be the roast beef of friendship. They two, forsooth, to be "friends" after this! On the morrow he would leave claim, famüy, city, country, life itself, if necessary, to be free again; the sky was acarcely broad enough to cover them both at once. "You are not angry, Mr. Bassett?" she said, with a caressing gestare. "Oh, no," replied Windward, with averted eyes. He spoke calmly and gently, and she pitied hiin. "Poor fellow," she mused, 'he's got it bad!" They had reached the doorstep. "I feel this very deeply, Miss Willis," said the young inan, releasing her arm. "I can't teil you how much. And if I had any chance I'd fight for it, too, like a man," He gave her a last, anxious look, but she shook her head sadly, looked down and was süent. It was over. "Good night," he said. She extended her hand, and for an instant it lay in his, idly and cold. "Grood night," she replied, and thus they parted. CHAPTER XX. CONSEQCENCES. Windward sluiik home like a thief, avoiding the few people he met by a wide turnont, bis head down and tears of grief and shame in hia eyes. Arrived at the house he found, not much to his liking, the lieatenant and Florence standIng in the parking before the porch. They had geen hnn coming, and now met his approach with a playfal volley of reproofs on his suspicious delay. It was poor sport, though, for neither tbo lieatenant nor Florence seemed quite ;.t ease, and Windward could not disguise his wretchedness, thoagh he attempted to assume jolUty and good fellowship. So, after a few forced pleasantries, all three entered the house, Florence restraining her brother with a touch as the lieutenant softly bade them good morning and stole up stairs to bed. "What is the matter. Windward?" she wMspered, leading him jast inside the parlor door to the sofa. "Oh, nothing," grumbled Windward. "Hush!" whispered Florence. "Don't disturb Miss Sophia; she sleeps now in the back room. Bnt really, brother, you looked so forlorn. Please teil me; please, Windward." The poor, lonely, bruised heart melted. "She's refused me!" he murmured, and he buried his face in his hands. "Why, my dear brother," whispered Floy, putting her arm around her brother"s neck. "The horrid little , tonight, did she?' Windward nodded assent. "She's jast too hateful for anything!" Irissed Floy. "I was going to put you on yonr guard to-morrow. Tut! tut! Well, Windward, dear, it'ssad, of course, very sad, but really and truly you're well out of it. She isn't the woman you want, and youil begin to see it now. She's silly and useless and treacherous, and as to her beauty, she's all made up, and her disposition is horrid; I can see that!" "Pshaw! it'fl easy enough to run her down now," mnttered Windward. "I never liked her," insisted Floy, "nor mother neither. Fiddlesticks! All that I regret is that you gare her the chance to jilt you. She's a perfect boni flirt. I'm provoked at myself for pot speaking before. It's my fault, darling, this is. Men don't know anything about women, especially if they're the least bit pretty!" Here the other arm stole around his neck, and the dear girl pat her sweet, pure lips to his and Mssed them sweetly and kindly . "Don't grieve, Windward," she whispered. "It is mortifying, of oourse, but that wül 'pass away, and you will soon be glad you escaped. I feel bad, of course, but you can't think how much worse I shonld feel if you had told me she had taken you." These, somehow, were very comforting words; his pride revi ved a little; life did not seem so utterly ruined; she might be right "Thank you, Floy,"he whispered; and the n rising, he kissed her" good night and they passed up stairs to their chambars. "Well, that ends it!" soliloquized Mis3 Sophia, settling back on her pSlow, as their footstep8 died in the halls. ing and whlípertng in the parlor at 1 o'clock in the momingl Well, I did not suppose Florence Bassett was that kind of a girl, bat it only shows one can never teil. As for that Lient. Quire, he is capable of aftything. Well, I thank the Lord I'vo escaped his toils. I don't want that sort of a man!" And in token of her gratitude and joy at her deliverance she cried herself to sleep. There were sleepy faces at breakfast the next morning, bnt apparently noun-" happy ones. The boarders met with smiles, the common salutations were exchanged, and the dishes were dispatched mnch as usual. Even the Hen tenant got bis tidbit as if nothing had happened. Ah, wnat a pother the world has made abont a man in an iron mask! If now we could find anybody without a mask that might be worth mentioning! As a side dish to the jests and pancakes the servant bronght in the ïnorning's mail, and as one item inít a letter to Mr. Bassett from Mr. Blamnfc. Windward knew the handwriting, and in his passing mood was half inclined to thitiw the missive tmopened into the fire. Ho quite agreed for the moment with the member that Blamms wrote too many enthosiastic letters. However, he toro open the envelope wearüy, and on reading its contenta he grew rather interested in the frank tale it told of taonble and anxiety. "My affairs are despret," he wrote. ■ 'Tve got to get help somehow. Please teil me if I can place any reliance on the claim. If not let me know the worst at once." This letter bronght matters to a head. "It is," thooght Lawyer Bassett, "in the nature of instrnctions. And Blamms is rigfat. It is time I shonld give him an answer. It is a fair day; 111 tafee a walk and think it out-claim, Clara, Qtrire, and all the rest of 'em." And in this mind he set ont for a long ramble, with his dottbts for company; nor did he turn his face again from nature to men untü he had traversed with hasty steps mnch of that lovely wilderness that echoes the inurmurs of Rock Creek, and only waits its poet to be famous. The hard walk cleared his mind and fortified him to see and speak the truth. "I believe TO throw it np and qtüt," he soliloqnized. "I don't see what good I am here. The longer I work on the , claim the more doubtf nl of success I grow. I have made a terrible blunder in love, and there is that lieutenant dangling after Florence; and she pleased with him, maybe. Stevens has grown so mysterious I can't make him ont. He evidently has got something better than the claim and is swinging off. McArdle and the agency can do all the work in that line, anyhow, or if necessary I can run down here occasionally and put in a few words. But I don't see why I should sacrifice the whole winter. It's a pleasant climate, but I doubt if it is as good as it looks. I'm chilly and hot sometimes. I shouldn't wonder if it was malaria." This mood held till he reached home, bo that on getting to his desk he sat down at onco and penned the following letter to his cliënt: "I don't ad vise yon to place any dependence on the claim, as the passage of a bill at.this session is very doubtfcü. I have come to this conclusión relactantly, bat such is my opinión, and so fixed is it that I have alxrat decideá to abandon further personal efforts for the present, and leave the business, as heretofore, in the hands of local parties. I really don' think, Mr. Blamms, yon do them ju The agents have worked long and 1. and I can ese now why so often nu failure meeting them in the end. In fact, my only wonder is that the claims have actually passed congress twice. "I am very sorry, Mr. Blamms, that I feel obliged to make such a discouraging report. My own stake is larger than yoors, and I ;un anxious to get it, but I think our chances so slight that I advise you to look elsewhere fei resources, and for my own part I have about decided to return to New York and the practice of my profession." "Poor Blamms!" thought Windward, as he sealed the letter; "that wül gicken him But it is the truth, and as for me I don't propose to drag along here in a kind of stalemate life between a flirt and a claim - that's another flirt, ril go back to New York, where there is real business, and fine women, too. It is true, as Floy says, that Clara 'makes up,' even I can see that, as so many of the girls do around here, painting and powdering and what not. I don't like it; it looks 'f ast.' Now and then you meet a lady like Miss Sheflteid- by the way, Pve a notion to talk this over with her. Probably Clara wül teil her if I don't. Fmyl Must I go all over town as her last conquest? It can't be true she is so heartleBs, bat I see now McArdle was putting me on my guard. An odd man that!" He had brushed the dust from his clothes by this time and now pushed forth again in the direction of Col. McAdle's residence. It was about noon when he called, a little early for visitors, andhefound Louise, as he had hoped, alone. She received him cordially as usual, and began by asking him how he had nked the play. "Why, has Miss Willis been here?" he stammered out, blushing hot and red. "No," replied Louise, noticing his confusión, but not twitting him upon it "Bat you mentioned you were going the other day. "So I did," said Windward, feeling very foohsh. "Well," thought he, "it might be as well to blurt it right.out at once; here goes." "Miss Sheffield," he eiclaimed, hanging bis head, "I spoke to her last night, and she won't have me!" "Why, Mr. Bassett!" said Louise, getting up and taking a seat close at bis side. "Is that bo? Well, I'm very, very sorry - for her." And as she spoke she laid a hand on his and looked into his downcast face with alAost a motherly solicitude and affection. "You are very kind to put it so," said Windward, with tears in his eyes, "but I am sorry for myself , too. " "And I would be," said Louise gently, "if I thooght yuuwerorreally an,l deepl? :n love. I don't think yon are. I don't' think Clan is capable of exciting your real, genuino love. liad sbe yiel-led you would have had a pretty toy to dresh and nurse and pet, and you wonld probably have gono throagh life imagining yon were in love. But in one week from today, mark me, in one week, you will see it was not love, but a sentimental whim. I give yon a week, no more; after fhat there will be left for a while a scar of chagrín at failure - nothing else. You don't love her. I can see it thia moment. You nevar did. Yon are vexed, mortitïed, uncomfortable; t)ut despair - that is another thing! You have not feit that, and I pray to Grod you never may - I have." She spoke these two worda with a solomn tenderness that thrilled her listener and shamed him back to manhood. What child's play had filled his idle brains compared with the true sorrow that dignifies the lives of a large type of man and woman! "I should 'ike to know about that," he said frankly. and yet meekly, as one that wished instruction in mysteries.' Louise smiled sadly, not displeased at his genuine interest in her barden. "I couldn't teil the whole story, even if I chose," she said; "but I loved a man once, truly and completely. I had imagined I loved others before, for I was always in society a good deal, where I met many agreeable gentlemen, and we looked and talked love as a matter of course. That is what society is for. Possibly, if I had married any one of half a dozen of my gentlemen friends I should have gone on through hfe reasonabiy happy and contented, calling it that I was in love with my husband. But as it happened, I didn't marry before I actually feil in love, and it was like the still waters and green pastures of heaven!" Her voice faltered and she hesitated a moment; then regaining her habitual composure, she continued: "That love I supposed was returned in kind and degree, and I was happy, perfectly happy. But I was deceived, and when I knew the truth, then, aa I said, I feit despair. Windward, it broke my heart, and my heart needed brtaking. Up to that time I had lived a perfectly selfish Ufe. I was the center of my circle. I lived for my own happiness, not sinful happiness, but my happiness. And love, that most selfish of the virtues, as my dear uncle once called it, aggravated my disease. But in my dark day light came finally, and it was my uncle brought it. I was pining; I frankly said I had lived enough. Very well,' said my uncle once. 'Consider then y-ir own life done. There, it is over. Now livo for others, for duty, to help people. Help me for instance' - and oh, Windward, he used to be so tempted then!- 'do church work, nursing, take any crotchet, live for anything any body but self - that, we agree, is dead and buried.' "Oh, how I studied over these words! Of course I had always been told it was wrong to be selfish, and I supposed I was Very good and unselfish; so at first I couldn't understand what he meant, bet I knew In; meant something, for he always does when he speaks at all, so I brooded and brooded, and finally I began to see what the words meant, and I thoaght them brutal; I resented them; I almost hated him, and with him everything good. But at lasi I was given a better mind." She paused, as if her story was flnished, and Windward feit he certainly liad no right to interrógate her further. "Your uncle is a fine man," he said; "I, like and admire him very mach. A curions man, too. Teil me, was he ahroy io calm and Iacouic7" "He has grown more so of late yeara, ehe replied, "and I don't mind telling you that it is largely duo to the care be is obliged to take of his healUi. He suffers from an affection of the heart of such a nature that any sudden extreme of emotion, either of joy or sorrow, would probably prove fatal. He has accustomed himself, therefore, to ai stoicism, though to be sure it comes easil to him, as it fits his nature. HÍ3 'telegraphic brevity," as no doubt yon have heard him explain, is due chiefly to the value he sets on time and speech, but he was always a silent man. For years" - and here the narrator smiled merrily - "he pretended to be a little deaf , so as the better to ward off volubility, and he suffers from occasional attacks even yet. It used to be very amusing sometimes. The longer his tormentor talked the deafer he would grow, till he got him fairly shouting, and so actually wore him out." "Quite a scheme," laughed Windward. "Yes, Tve had many a laugh over it. I could always teil when he was bored. 'Excuse me,' he would say, 'I ara a little hard of hearing.' That would set me off tittering. Alas, Tra past the tittering age now!" 'And I am glad of it," exciaimed Windward. "And speaking of tittering reminds me of Miss Willis." "Why, Mr. Bassett!" said Louise demurely, "so soon? Eemember, you have a week." , "Well, I don't care. She has a laugh that is half way between a giggle and a snicker. Oh, I like it, though!" he added, resolved on sadness. "You haven't told me anything about it," said Louise, who no doubt feit she had a right after her own confessions to hear those of her friend. "Wliy. " said Windward, with a hangdog air, "she said she didn't suppose, and so forth and so on, and hoped we should always be friends, you know, and she said she was engaged" "Engaged!" exclaimed Louise. "Well, that Vas tobe a secret; I forgot," said Windward, looking sheepiah. "Oh, a secret." Louise spoke so scornfully that Windward looked at her for an explanation. "Why," he asked, reading her expresaion, "don't you believe it?'' "Oh, she may be," said Louise. "She is, off and on, most of the time." "You ought to have told me more about her at first, "said Windward, coloring deeply and looking down. "That is so," Louise replied frankly. "I should; and I own my fault. But I hate gossip, and I didn't suppose till very lately that you were in any danger. And then when 1, or rattier my uncie, uiu speak we - didn't think yoa were particularly plensed." Windward was silent. He saw he waa no match for these people. He wonld change the subject. 'I think, Miss Sheffield," he said, "I will give np working the claim. My trouble with Miss WilUs unsettles me, of course, and I want to leave town on that account; but apart from that, I see I am of very little nse here, and I can do as much by occasional visits aa by constantly dinning at congress. I believe there are a good many members like your uncle; if you talk too much to them they are all apt to grow a little hard of hearing." "Perhaps," said Louise with a smile. "Well, I shall bereally sorry to lose you. Mr. Bassett, but I understand better than you do, probably, how sensible your decisión is - if you have decided." "Not yet," said Windward, "but my mind tends that way, especially after last night's tronble. And I should go the more readüy as our interestis are so well cared for." He accented the "our" as if to cali attention to the word. "Our interests?" said Louise inquiringly. "Tes," replied Windward, withacartjless air, but watching her keenly. "You know you have a rittlo interest in the claims, too." "What, I?" exclaimed Louise, bewildered. "How so?" "Oh," said Windward, rather confused, "I mean you, of course, are interested in the colonei's success, and he would make handsomely if the biü passed." "Oh, certainly," Louise replied, assnming a satisfaction in the answer she could not feel. "I don't think he maant just that," she mused, "And I wonder what he did mean." The doubt made her silent and constrained for the' moment, and Windward on his part fidgeted nneasily, so that there was an awkward pause. "Yes," said Windward finally, clearing his throat, "the claims will get along just as well without me. is your uncle, who knows all about them and about congress, and there is the agent, an extraordinary man. Miss Sheffield, an invalid, but a dauntless being, who fights from his bed and. aays he shall not die till the claims are passed." "Indeed!" exclaimed Louise. "I should like to know him. Bedridden, do you say? Almost? Could I do any thing for him? He must be an interesting character." "Very," said Windward. "He has no end of pluck, and personally he is very agreeable and winsome." "I would like to know," said Louise. "I think now Tve heard my uncle speak of him Suppose we cali on him some day, and cheer him up with fiowers and 8O forth. That would be helping, Vm snre" llVery well," said Windward. "I should be delighted. Say I cali to-morrow aftemoon and take you to the agency?" "That will snit me; but you are not going?" "Yes," said Windward, "or youll be getting hard of hearing too." "Don't teil anybody about that," she said, shaking her fínger at him, and added, more serionsly, "nor the othermatters." [ TO Bï COKTINOKD.
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