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The Bassett Claim

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i Copyright by American Press AssD':iation. 1 [ CONTINUED. ] She gav; a little smothered cry, het cheeks faded, íier breath carne quickand unsteadily, she grew dizzy, the walls spun around, she heard the in valid shout for help; then darkness blotted out the world. When she awoke she found Windward at her side, the agent bending over her and the assistant bringing water and spirits from the sideboard. "Excuse me," she gasped, het pride reviving with her life. "A sudden faint," and she tried to smile, but she saw the tablet w;is in Windward's hand. He was looking at it very kindly, but very soberly; and in his large, pathetic eyes - the soft, blue eyes of old Toni Bassett - she read the truth of her life. Her flushed cbeeks paled again, and she grew weak and dizzy. "Whisky!" cried the invalid, pressing a g-lass to her Ups. "Sorry, very sorry! Awkward! Never mind! All the same! Up stans? Eest awbdle? Nancy! üp stairs. Too bad! Fooi! FoolP' and he temed his face to the wall with a groan, while Lomae let herself be raiaed and assisted to a bedroom and strotched on a sofa. "Shall I go?" asked Windward, not wishing to intrude, but anxious for her welfare. "No, no," she said faintly. "Sit down. Teil me everything." "In a moment," he said. "You are weak" "Now!" she exclaimed. "I don't know much," he said. "Be frank!" she whispered - "betruthfuL" „ "I will be," he answered, seating himself at her side and taking her hand; it was like ice. "But it is not so painful. Do not be aliirmed." "Teil me!" she cried iinpatiently. "As I understand it, Miss Sheffield" "I'm not Miss Sheffield," she Ínterin terrupted. "Who am I? What's my name?" "It's Louise, any way!" he exclaimed, iesperately. "That's good!" said the sufferer. "Cali me that, then. Go on!" "As I understand it," said Windward, "you were the only child of poor people, who had one of the French claims, and witl 'ommyuneleTomgotacquainted on ... account. It happened that both your purents died while you were an infant, and he had you adopted by his friends, the Sheffields. McArdle was with them. and you all grew up together, as you know. I judge you were to be treated as one of the family and never to know or feel a difference. I found out the truth only a few days ago, by accident, while rejwïing over tne papers of the agency rtlaüng to the claim, interspersed in which are occasional references to family matters." "Is that all?" asked Louise, as Windward paused "Those are the main features as I recollect them," ho replied. "What I know I learned, as I say, from incidental references in the correspondence." "My uncle - " she checked herself- "the colonel knows nothing of this - 1 mean of your knowledge of the secret?" "Oh, no," Windward replied. "I feit that he wished it kept buried, and 1 found by an inquiry that you were ignoran t." "I recollect," inten-upted Louise. "So I have said nothing to any one,' he said. "That is right," said Louise. "You spoke of papers - can I see them?" "I snppose so; certainly." "Would you mind getting them?" she inquired, "Nancy is here if I want help, bat I don't think I shall. Perhaps I'd better rest a moment, ril send Nancy down shortly." "Certainly," replied Windward. "Rest by all means, and do not be distressed. Your friends are the same, your life is not affected. This will bind us all the more closely . " "Thank you, Windward," she said, closing her eyes wearily. "I know you will all be kind and good. But it is nol the same." Her lip trembled and she added, "I am very lonely!" A mad thought flashed through Windward's mind. Should he fling himself at her feet and enrich his life by giving it to her? Had lie spoken then and there who knows what might have been! Perhaps, had he never spoken in vain, it might have been. But we learn caution by faiittre. He paused; he reflected, and he let the one golden moment pass. "I will be down stairs," he said, grave ly and kindly. "Thank you, Windward," replied she-. 'Til feel better directly." And she smiled and motioned him away. "Nancy, my good girl," she then said to the servant, "won't you fetch me a shawl? I feel chilly." Nancy - used to the cares and needs ot a sick room - had one at hand and threw it over the shivering person of the sufferer. "If you'll come back in a few minutes," she said, 'Til try to rest a little." "Yes, miss," the girl replied, 'Til be in the next room, and you can knock or speak if you want me." Saying this, Nancy arranged the shawj the better to protect the lady, and then softly left the room. Louise was alone; alone among strangers, aloneinlife; even memory was false, and the past a myth. One friend, and only one, who knew her, and whom she loved, remained unchanged and unchanging; and to tht iriend, gracious, faithfnl and powerful the special friend of the friendless and the orphan, she went with her crushing load of sorrow. After a few moments, hearingno sound and fearful lest the visitor might be needing assistance, the watchful servant stepped softly to open the door, but stopped, hnshed and awed, on the threshold; for within she saw the strange lady seek ing herself the aid she neededon her knees. CUAPTER XXVI. TUK MAUNATE'S PICNIC. When Windward was asked to the chamber he found Loniso calm and natural, thongh a little paler than asnal. He observed that her eyes showed no trace of tears. She took the fatefnl package of letters with a listfces air, showing no desire to open it, and merel y asking if she conld be permitted to take it with her to examine at leisure. "Certainly; so the agent said," replied Windward. "And he wished me to express his deep regrets and to beg yoar pardon." "It is best to know the truth,"-said Louise. "Of course it was sndden, bat I am much better now. I am sorry I made a scène. Soppose we go, and weTl see the agent and thank him for his attentions. Poor man, our visit wasn't mach comfort to him!" When they entered the parlor office they found the invalid reclining on his sofa, evidently much distressed and excited. "Pardon!" he cried. "Qreat blunder! Feeling better? No matter! Kind friends! All the same!" "Thank you," replied Louise, smiling. "I have, indeed, many good friends. It was sudden, and I was npset, but I feel stronger now. You have been extremely kind, and Nancy here is a good girl. I can get homo very nicelv, and will then look over the papers and try to find out who I am. Meantime, for the present, at least, may I ask you to say nothing of this?" "Certeinly; confidential! Too much said already!" he replied. "I hope you won't worry," continued Louise. "It is no doubt for the best." "Hope so! Good pluck! That's right!' he said. "Going? Come again! Always welcome! Treat you better next time!" "Good day, srrl" she repKed, smiling her thanks and good wishes. "Good-by, Nancy." "I don't realize it yet, somehow!" she said to Windward, when they had reached the street; and, her native humor breakmg through her sadness, she addea: Tm Hke tne ora woman in 'Mother Goose,' who wake np considerably altered and exclaimed, 'If I am not I, then who am I?' " She adopted this playful vein all the way home, assuming to doubt the identity of the most familiar objects, such as the horse cars, the trees and the public buildings, tül she reached the doorstep of the colonel's house. Here she thanked Windward warmly for his attentions, and excused herself f rom asking him in on the ground that she wanted to make the acquaiutance of her ancestors. "She has good nerves," thonght Windward, as he turned away, "but doctors say those patients suffer less who cry and 'take on' than those who shut their teeth and bear the pain in silence. She's a splendid woman, but she was weak and homesick today. And I verily believe if I had told her I'd give her my name for the one I was the means of ner losing she'd have taken it - though I don't suppose any woman likes to wear secondhandlothes, even if they are not quite worn out. Confotmd that pretty mini! I believe I am a fooi. Well, ril go back and sèttle down to business. This has been an unlucky winter. I'll leave claims alone after this; Tve had enough of it for a lifetime; got into trouble myself and all my friends besides. It don't pay." With this American criticism on his labors, he changed the course of his though ts; for now, looking on ahead toward the boarding house which he was approaching, ho saw the "Old Man" coming to meet him. "Now, he has been to the house to see Stevens again. I wish Peter would not be so mysterious, but I suppose I shall know in time." He did not have to wait long, however, to have his curiosity satisfied as to the object of the millionaire's second visit, for on reaching the house he found everybody in a flutter of delight and excitement and eager to teil the news. The magnate, it seemed, had but just gone after making an extraordinary proposition; and Stevens was again the hero of the hour. The "Old Man" had calledat half -past 4 o'clock. He wished, he said, to see Mr. Stevens, but he had not forgotten the ladies by any means. So, while awaiting the clerk's, return from office he chatted affably withMrs. and MLss Bassett and Miss Sophia to their mutual entertainment and pleasnre. "I don'tsee why he isn't like other people!" thonghf. Sophia. "You have a very pleasant group here, I'm sure," he said. "My young men are in luck." "My young men;" Stevens a millionaire's young man ; the ladies made a note of it. "We find them very pleasant," said Sophia. "Oh, yes," replied Millions, "Atwood's a good fellow. Quiet, don't say mnch, but level headed. Knows a good thing when he sees it. Aa for Mr. Stevens, I have seen only a little of him, but he is good timber; a fine, strong man; something to him ; a man to tie to. Not like everybody else, either. And that's the trouble nowadays, Mrs. Bassett; all the young men are just alike, as if they were built by the mile, like Dutch ships1, and sa wed off in lengths to snit." All the ladi s laughed at this ing remark on the modern young mar., and agreed that it was very truc. "Yes, I like to see a youngster like Stevens who isn't commonplace," went on the magnate as innocently aa a babbling brook; lia man with some gumption. He is a good looking chap, too, bnt I don'1 suppose the young ladies need to be told that!" Possibly it was necessary, and possibly the "OM Man" knew whathewasabout. At any rate. now that he had given Stevens a certifícate of beauty as well as character, the ladies remeinbered thai he had good features and fine eyes. It is not on the other side only of the oeean ferry that royalty sets the fashion of admiration." The object of all this extremely casua praise now came in f rom office looking tired and anxious, but he brightened up at once, on seeing bis employer among the ladies. "Ah, Stevens!" exclaimed the magnate familiarly. "Been laiting for you. You ïnust know, now, ladies, I"ve got up a littíe picnic." "A picnic!" exclaimed all the ladies in unisón, and Miss Sophia added, in the exuberance of her emotion, "Oh, my!" "Yes, a picnic," said the magnate. " , shan't use my car to-morrow, and if yon 8ay so FU send you over to lialtimore in it to-morrow night to the opera, anc back after it ia over - that ia, if Stevens will look after the party's comfort." "Why, of coorse," said Stevens, blushing and confused. "Bot yon are too good." "Yes," repeated the chorus of ladies "you are too good." "Oh, no, I'm not," said the magnate with a grim smüe. 'Tve many fanlts, but that isn't among 'em. No, Ti merely like to give you all some fun at Stevens expense if he saya so. It will be an easy way for me to pay a debt; that's all." "Well, I will cali it square on that basis," said Stevens; "that is, if the ladies consent. " Consent! Yes, they consented. So that was settled. "But you are going, too?" asked Miss Sophia. "Oh, no!" said the magnate. "I'm too driven. I have to take my fun by proxy now. Besides, it's Stevens' party, and ] haven't been invited." "We'll try to arrange -that if you'U go," said Floy. "I have no doubt you have great influence with Mr. Stevens," said the magnate gallantly, "but you must excuse me. Very well, Mr. Stevens, the car ia at your service." He then pleaded an engagement, and took his leave, Stevens accompanying him to the sidewalk to expresa inore fully his sense of gratitude. "ShaU I ask them all?' he said. 'Whomever you please; it's your party," was the reply. "I soppose I ought to ask Lieut. Quire?" he said dotibtfully. "Suppose!" exclaimed the magnate in Als narsnest tones, but wttn Infinite merriment twinkling in his eyes. "Of course, man! Why, to snub him that way would spoil it all. You'd find your girl too sick to-morrow afternoon to go, and they'd be engaged before yaa got back. No, take him along and cut him out before hia eyes and everybody else's. Tip the wink to that other girl, and get her to pin him down in a corner and talk him to death while you are making love to your girl across the car. Well, you needn't come around to-night. Have a good time at the house. I've fixed everything for to-morrow - car, tickets, supper and so on. Yoa get her some more flowers. I saw she was wearing some today; were they yonrs?" "I - I guess not- -I didn't notice," stammered Peter. "Didn't notice?" exclaimed the magnate. "Well, you're a pretty lover! You don't deserve toget her - so probably you will. Well, I'll meet you at the train." "Yon overwhelm me with kindness," said Stevens. "Oh, that's all right,"said the millionaire. "You get the girl; that's all I ask. But if you let Buttons run off with her I'll discharge you. Mind the flowers - good night!" CHAPTER XXVTI. S . ALADDIN. N Mr. Stevens and friends, it is needless to say, were promptly and more taan promptly on hand at the station the next day, where the ladies openly and the gentlemen secretly grew very nervous aa the starting time approached without bringing the magnate. But in the crisis of their fears and at the proper moment he ame, all smiles; and then the fun began. The first trinmph was at the train gate, whither, after a moment's chat in the waiting room, the magnate led them; people giving way as they passed and the station employés nudging one auother and beckoning - as the guests noticed out of the corners of their eyes. Ah, but it was rather pleasant for a change to live "in the fierce light that beats against a throne!" At the gate the stern faced guardián, so inexorable to common man, uncapped and stood aside to give the king and his guests ampie passage. "Oh, how superior I feel alreadyt" whispered Sophia to Floy. Just then the three minute gong sounded. "Oh, hurry !" exclxúmedFloy - at which everybody laughed. "As if they would leave us!" observed Sophia with mock hanghtiness. The magnate certainly did not seem hurried or nervous, but quite at his ease walked on with Mrs. Bassett, slighüy in advance of the young people, explaining to her certain features of the excursión which, as chaperone, she might wish to know. "You need not worry, however, madam," he said. "Stevens understands the afEair, and if anything unforeseen happens the train people will be at your cali. I think you'll find everythinj, smooth. That Stevens is a fine younj fellow. He will look out properly for your comfort. It isn't every one I'd le manage a picnic of this sort." And now the car steps were reached with the conductor respectfully in wait ing, flanked by servants, vigilant am agüe in loyal attentions. Up the steps the ladies hurried, and brushed past the civil porter, impatient to catch a firs glimpse of the interior of a palace. Anc oh, how beautiful, how elegant, how perfect it was! "Yes, pretty good," replied the king who had a new and better car making in the shops. "Find seats, ladies? Mrs Bassett, I think you will be comfortable here. Ah, ladies, all on one side? - the sunny side evidentlyl Here, Mr. Qoire you take Miss Sophia over yonder - an improve your chances! Mías Bassett here's a cosy comer, and I presóme Mr Stevens won't mind riding backward under the circumstances. Now, Jim look out for my friends. If riding makes yon hungry, ladies, jost let it be known to Jim- he keeps a cracker in the locker.' Just then the starting gong strock botliie train didn't start. "Isn't this grand!" murmured Miss Sophia to the lieutenant; "we're keeping everybody waiting! Aren't we some though! I hope he'U stay and talk an hour." But the good king reveres the law. So when he heard the signal the magnate stopped his gossip and prepared to leave them. "Well, you're off," he said. 'Tve no doubt you'll enjoy yourselves. Stevens - a moment. Good day, all," and with theee parting words he disappeared, followed by Stevens, who expected to receive a string of final instruetions. Just oulside the door on the car platform, well removed from the guests on the one hand and the cluster of train hands at the car steps on the other, the magnate stopped; and, once more, he winked. "She looks fine!" he whispered. "She's wearing flowers - are they yours?" "I believo so, sir," said the blussing lover. "That's right!" replied the magnate. "Oh, yon'll get her. Buttons is nowhere." Then tnrning to the conductor, who etood obedieotly at the foot of the steps, he exclaimed, in a tone of commasd, "All right; go anead!" The conductor swnng his ana, the watchful fireman, in the far away cab, drew in bis head, the engine bell rang a waming, the engineer pulled the throttle, and with a puff and groan the train started. "Oh, we're off!" cried Floy, and jumping up she ran to the rear platform, where, standing on tipíbe behind Stevens, she waved a dainty farewell over his shoulder to the smiling magnate, who lifted his hat in return. "By - ," he muttered between his teeth, "that's a pretty picture! Andyet I suppoee that boy envies me." He turned away with a frown, and, unmindful of the ei vilities of the railroad employés in his path to the street, walked rapidly thither, where he, the lord of trade, whose palace was whirling past the great white dome that some discontented people said he owned, boarded a crowded street car, and standing in the aisle hung on by a strap with one hand while he fumbled in his pockets with the other to find a nickel. Yes, they were off; and never had the regal vehicle held more cubic f eet of real happiness than tliat night. They were much too happy to long conform to that artful grouping which the magnate had arranged, for every one was eager to try each luxurious seat and exhaust the scope of view in every window. Then they made the tour of the car under esplanatory Jim, whose narrativo and descriptive powers were of a high order. Then for a time they sank on the easy chaira or lounges and enjoyed the simple sense of motion - sinooth, swift and silent. But this pleasure was far too sédate to suit tlie prancing blpod of youth; besides, common folks could sit and talk and read on the cars. "Let's play bezique!" criedSophia; bat Jim confessed with an humbled air that for once his resources failed him; he had not enough cards. "Well, 'Eleinents' then!" cried Floy, a proposition that was ratified with a shout; whereupon the friends pulled their chaira into a circle, and the knotted handkerchief was tossed from one lap to another till, tired and coughmg with laughter ovex this nonsense, they exchanged it for hunt the slipper, and finally, in merry madness, for a very tipsy turvey innings of blindman's buff. Jim meanwhile was busy at the sideboard spreading a tempting lunch which they needed no pressing to attack. Bat just then they noticed the speed of the train was slackened and the rattle of switches and the dancing lights told them that they were nearing Baltimore. "Hurry up, goodpeople!" cried Sophia. "We mustn't lose this lunch!" "Oh, take yoor time, ladies," said Jim, blandly. "You can stay in the car as long as you like. We are switched off here on to a sidmg." "Oh, to be snre," replied Sophia, langhing. "I forgot we were not common folk." And now the conductor entered, not to collect tickets - perish such a plebeian thoaght! - but to pay his respects to the ladies and explain to Stevens the return Bchedule. In another moment the train carne to a standstill in the station, when the party found occupation in looking out and down on the anxious, hurrying people, till a pert little bantam locomotive came fuming up behind and drew the car away from the train and to and rro across the 'switches till it was snugl deposited on a siding. Here, beyond tbs noise and rush of trade, lunch was finished, and an hour of waiting "killed" by an exhibition of card tricks by Mx. Quire, most of them ancient enoagh te have been invented by Noah to reliev the tedinm of those forty rainy eveninga in the ark, but still fresh and bewildering to each new and unsophisticated generation. "It is very surprising," said Miss Sophia; and then she tnrned to Plorenca and whispered: "But af ter all I like Mr. Stevens' magie best!" Floy laughed and admitted that ahí did too. "It's like the 'Arabian Nights,' " she cried aloud. "I believe the -Oíd Man' is really a what-d'-you-call-'em - a genie, and that Mr. Stevens lias a ring or ? pitcher sonipwhere that he rnbs slyly, Then tho genie comes running up anJ says: 'What do you want this time, Mr. Stevens?' and he saya: 'Well, bring m a picnic to Baltimore for six' - and ther it ia!' The group laughed at this f ancif ui picture, and henceforth the "OW. Man" became a genie, wbile Floy dubbed Mr. Stevens Aladdin. EvidtmÜy, he had ceased to be, in her eyes, simply lila any one else. [ TO BI COMTINUED.]


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