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The Bassett Claim

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I Copyright by American Tress Assoelation. 1 [CONCLUDED.] There was the point. Loase slept little that night for thinking of that momentous "unless." Nor did the mornlng bring a solution. But as tho day wore on she fonnd one alternative ontliñing itaelf - they should still be as they had been, or closer; the truth shonld not separate them. To get thus far was progresa, and gave her a standpoint on which she could meet her benefactor with the grace and ontward calm, if not the peaoe, of yore. The rest conld be postponed; and, as it happencd, sho had not long to wait. That night as - after bolting the world out - they drew up before the open fire on the hearth, for the happiest hour of the day, the colonel seemed strangely nervous and ill at ease. For a time he sat silently watching the prancing flames, then tuming suddenly toward Louise he said, gently, but in his finnest manner: "Louise, you will be thirty in March. I think you ought to marry." What did he mean! Her heart began to throb quiokly and unsteadily. Shí could not speak or look at him. But if he noticed her confusión he did not choose to heed it, and continned: "Protestantisin offers no career for a fernale celibate. Individual cases there may be of spinsters who have chosen a single life and fonnd satisfaction in it. But I don"t think you would, especially, if I may say so, after my death." Louise, who hung breathlsss upon his words, now began to perceive their drift. He went on : "I think you ought to marry. I advise you to marry. And, Louise, I recognize that I am, in this, counselling against myself. I assunie that the marriage wonld be a wise and happy one: that means you would love yonr husband; that means I should lose you.'' "And I you!" exclaimed Louise, impulsively, drawing nearer to the colonel. 'Únele, I shall nevei" lea ve yon!"' "No, no!"' he replied, calm, but so only by a visible effort. "No, you must not say that, dear! No, you don't lose me: that is different. No, I want you to marry; to taste th3 sweetest joys and the finest eorrows of iife. Pvo read that in Corea the male human being who is nnmarried is never called a man, whatever his age. That is right, and a marriage is even more to the woman than the man." "As to persons,'' he continued, "I shouldn't think of advising, though I shonld hope to have your confidence. Bnt I have been thinking of this young Mr. Bassett. He is a handsome, honest, agreeable man, about your own age" "Oh, don't ondel" she interrupted. "Very well, Lonise," he said; "I see I pain you. Let it rest there for the present, and let your heart be your guide. Fortunateiy you aro independent. You inherited eome monoy, and I may as well say now that at rny death my property will continue to be yours." "You good, kind, noble man!" exclaimed Louise, her eyes brimful of tears. "And yet you would drive me away?" "For your good, Louise." "Unció, I shall never leave you!" she cried, with passionate earnestness. "Never! You are everything to me, and you shall be always, and if you die first, which heaven for bid! I'll love your memory alone!" "Why, my child," said the colonel, his own eyes filliug, "this is extravagance." "Listen," exclaimed Louise. "Lately by accident - no, by the blessed providence of God - I learned a secret. My darling, noble benefactor and friend, how can I thank you for your life loi'g Mudness to a poor, homeless, friendless waif!" The colonel stared at her in consternation. "What is this yon say?" he gasped; and as he spoke suddenly au ominous change came in his face; his cheeks and lijis grew pale, liis features became rigid, his eyes shone with au uunatural brüiiancy, and with a stifled groan of pain he pressed his hand upon bis heart. Louise was at his side in an instant. "Be calm!" she cried, herself as white as death. "Be happy: it is well. Cahi yourself. Live! Live for me!" and, stoopiug, she printed a kiss of love on those firm, cold lips. "The vial!" lic said. She flew to the desk and snatched froin it the medicine that had lain there for years, ready for a crisis Uke this, and with swift hands prepared and offered the restoratiye. H" took it silently, presaing her hands in thanke, bnt with flxed eyi's, breath'ing heavily, suffering and öghting strongly for life; Loui aidhimandto be ready for anyemergency, keeping ap meanwhile a pretensa of coolness and bravery, but trembling and faint. The colonel Bat thus a long, long time, facing death, hoping and striving for life: then turning his face, still marked with the linee of pain bnt benignant with loving Idndness, to Lonise, he said in a tone that melted her very heart: "Why, my ohild, I au an old man!" "What of that?" cried Lonise, kissin his hands tor joy and passion. "After what 1 have geen and suffered, that is to your advantagel Are you better? Are yon safe now and better? Is it over?" "Joy never kills," said the colonel gravely, with his whole heart in his eyes. "My Darling!" She had lallen apon his breast, and he rained kiises in her hair. CHAPTER XXIX. A BAD DAY FOB MUS. EX. When Wïndward came down late to breakfast the following, or rather the same, niorning, he found a letter beside his plate. The postmark was familiar, though the handwriting was not, and he tore the envelope open rather impatiently. "That tedionsBlanims!" heexclaimeil. But he was mistaken. Blamms was to bore hún no more. "WhewP he whistled, as his eyea ran down the page. It read as follows: Mr. WintUvarrl Bassctt: Mt Dear Sir- I have tn inform yoa that Mr. piiLmm, at whoee instance, I belleve, yon went to Washington, is deceased. Ho had been subject to niclaiirlinly for some time, and yestcrday he was fouucl hangint? in bis barn with lif o extinct. His pecuniary ciroumstances have of latí' been strnitened, and they weighed upon his miud tül it gave way. I regret to say that his family aro dostitatc, so that I hope you will Bpare no effort to press the claim in order to assist them in thia extremity. The letter was signet! by a lawyer of the village, who, evidontly, was in charge of the dead man's business affairs. The missive slipped from his hand. "Am I guilty?" he thought. Reason said, "No, you did all you could, and you told the troth;" but conscienc pricked him still. "Am I guilty?" he repeated after he had reasoned his innocence out quite clearly. With a heavy heart he sought the family. "Mother,"saidhe,"Mr. Blamms, my cliënt, has committed suicide." "Why, Windward, howshocMngl" she replied. "Yes, indeed," said Windward. "And now, of course, I wish I'd worked hardei and done more." Then, of course, the mother at once took her boy '8 part against himself. "Why, Wiudward, you did all you could, I'm gure. You cainelown here to oblige him. You nevar espected to get any money; at least Tm sure I didn't. And now I hope you see the folly and ruin of it all and will give it up and go back to New York." "The widow and children still live," Raid Windward. "Well, they'll starve on the claim," replied Mrs. Bassett. "I think you did right to teil him there was no chance, and I think he might better have kept alive and worked for his family. I don't see what good hanging himself did. Not but I'm sorry for him and all of them." "I think about as you do, mother," said Windward. ''But despair is not logical. Poor fellow. I feel, in spite of myself, that I was a little harsh and hasty . " "I don't see how," chimed in Floy, "and you mustn't feel so. You are not that sort of a man. Of course it's terrible to think of, and perhaps we can help the family." "Yes," said Windward, "I was thinking of that, too. I believe I will go on to the funeral and see that the family are not to suffer. And I think we had better all break up here. I was going to propose it soon anyway." " "Yes, I think so," said Mrs. Bassett. "I bate to go," said Floy, tapping hc chair and looking out of the window into a far country beyond. Windward smiled faintly. "Well," he said, "we need not be abrupt. But I feel that I should go on at once, and I can either return here for you or meet you in New York." "We will talk it over again," observed Mrs. Bassett, "and meanwhile you have some things to see to, I suppose, if you are going on at once." "Ye," said Windward, "I mast see a few people, but I'll be back at lunch," and so saying he left them. "I don't want to go, mother," Baid Floy, coming up to her mother and winding her arms abont her neck. "Why not, my child?" replied Mrs. Bassett, with a gentle kiss. "Becauee," said Floy, laying her cheek upon her mother"s, "bëcause Mr. Stevens says he lovea me very much." "My deur childl" said Mrs. Bassett, fondly. "And does that make you hapvy" 'Yes, pretty happy," Floy answered with a sub, hiding her face upon her mother's shoulder. Windward, meanwhile, hastened to Stevens' dei i al the dopartment, but his seat was. vacant, and a fellow clerk said he had not been there that morning ttras far; so Windward was hurrying on to McArdle's office when he met Stevens just coming in, fresh and happy. "More good news!" he exelaiined. "Yes:" saiil Windward. "Well, you teil yours iirst. tor l've got bad news." Whai !" cried Stevens, his face changing its expression instantly to one of alarm and dismay. "What bas happened'.'" ■'Oh, nothing toyou," said Windward, smiling at his friend's quick apprehen.siuu.s; "liut poor Blamms has comniitted suicide!" "Js it possible? How terrible!" exclaimed Stevens, brightening up at 1 1 and very much relieved. "Why, how did that happen?" Whereupon Windward ■at down and tuld liiiïi the whola story, and Lis parpóse, so far as he had framed them. "I don't see as you can blamo yourself ," said Stevens. 'Tin sure you have been very kind and painstaking. And it will be good and suitable for you to go on to the funeral. And, as you say, I suppos : you will all now be soon returning to New York. I need not say that I hate to have you go." Windward smiled archly. "That's just what Floy Baid," he answered. "Oh, did she, the dear- well, no matter; but was that not good in her! Well, now I can teil iny news, and it fits in very well." "Yes, what is it?" aaks Windward. "Why, l've been to the genie today,1' explained Stevens, "and told him all about it. He was delighted, called me a 'brick,' and hoped Buttons wonld hang himself; but that is serious business dow, isn't it, Windward? Well, I told him it wasn't done vet; and then I begged right hard for a chance to get a start in railroading. 'Very well,' said he, in his grufï way, TH put ; a in the New York office, and what beeomee of you afterward depends on yourself.' So I am going there as soon as I can settle up here." "Gtood for you!" exclaiined Windward. "Oh, you are all right now; and how pleasant it will be to be all together in New York!" "Splendid!"' said Stevens. "Oh, let me teil yon a funny thing. The genie and I were still talking when who should come in bnt Atwood, juat the same as ever, full of work, and settle right down as if nothing had happened!" "Well, I don"t anderstand ü!" exclaimed Windward. "Nor I either," said Stevens laughing. "But ii' the " ld Man' can stand it I suppose we can."' And now Windward rusbed over to McArdle, to whom he told again his story. ïhe colonel was interested, but only nodded his head, and at the end said, merely by way of comnient, "One more unfortunate!" Then, lowering his voice, he continued, "Mr. Bassett, you have made some changes in my family, too." Windward was startled. Had Louise, then, told the colonel tlie di.scovery at the agency?" "Yes," Mi'Ardleproceeded: "you have lost me my only and beloved niece, but you have given me - and I thank you for the exchange - a wife." "Is that possible!" exclaimed Windward, and a very queer and subtle pang cut through liis heart as he spoke. "Perhaps Louise would rather teil yin the rest herself,'' said the colonel. "I think Bhe is at home and would like to see you." "I congratúlate you, colonel," said Windward. "Sho is a noble woman." "True," replied the laconic colonel; and rose to bid his visitor good-by. "I expect you, Mr. Bassett, to make our house your home when in Washington, and I hope to see you often- only don't get the claim on the brain. And if you find the Blamms people in need, as I presume you will, please let me know." " 'A noble woman;' yes, she is," thought the colonel, as he returned to his work after this episode, "and I guess that youngster was beginning at last too late to find it out. At least it was best to let him know the situation at once - even if his week of mourmng ign't quite out." Louise, Windward found, was a happy woman. Arnied with the colonel's permission he plunged at once into the midst of things, and after a moment's hesitancy she sat down and frankly told him what had happened, and how it had happened, and joined him in marveling at the strange links of circumstance that had brought so joyful a catastrophe. She pressed him to stay to lunch, but his limited time obliged hún to decline, and so with sincere regret he lef t her, to hurry home to make the last preparations for departure. And now his stay in Washington was measured by minutes. Once at home, he bolted his lunch, settled his account with the regretful Mrs. Ex, reciprocated compliments and regrets with Misa Sophia, and gave the parting directions and errands to the ladies who were to follow him northward in a few days. Mr. Quire was at home and among them at lunch also, but uncommonly glum and silent; for he, too, had gotten a letter that moming- a letter de cachet - in the ghspe of a brief, cold order to cruise for three years in the antipodes. They all congnitulated him, and at the same time e-pressed their deep sorrow at parting, but the lieutenant, who, as a wanderer, had some skill in interpreting the language of farewells, could not but notice that the yoting ladies acquiesced in their loss with ready resignation. "So mucli the better," thought the lieutenant. "It would be foolish to get all tangled up just bef ore a long cruise. Besides, there'a no telling what 1 might strike abroad, or how a woman would seem three year.s later." And now the hack came, and after hand shakings and last messagea and kisses Windward waved his hand and had started on his jonrnej'. Stevens mèt him at the Btation, where the two ■ ü htful last fiveminu; e ivmiüiseences of the eventful weeks now wided. and bright hopes for the future. Then the gong sounded and cut short anee and sentiment. 'Good-by. Take care of mother and Floy," .said Windward, stepping on the moving plati'orm. "I will- with my life!" Stevens replied. "Good-by till we meet agaiu." and so they parted. "Good-by. good friends," thought Windward. aa he sat brooding with folded arn;s while the train swept around the base of the Capítol and sped on to the nOfth. "Good-by, you beautiful dome. I know you do not mean to be unjnst. Good-by. There! I knew I'd forgotten something. I forgot Clara Willis. How stupid! I wish I'd seen her. 1 rather ought to have seen her, and ril write her a pretty note. Well, let it go so. It wasn't a very glorious campaign. My love's goae wrong, and my cliënt bas hanged liimself, butlhave brought happinees and been a blessing to others; and as for myself, there is still the future." CHAPTEU XXX l'envoy. Dr. Benjamin Franklin wrote, paraphrasing Horace, "As well might a reader expect co?uplet&iess in the preface as in life, that ppeface to eternity." Nevertheless a novel reader does expect completeness, pays for the volume on that understanding, and very properly feels cheated if on examination he finds his little toy world only half done. What, then, has happeued in the four years that have elapsed since the principal events that have been narrated in the foregoüig pages? Col. McArdle and Louise were married in the spring, went abroad on an extended wedding trip, and since their return have lived quietly and happily in Washington. They have one son - Thomas Bassett McArdle. Louise's change of identity and her marriage threw Miss Clara Willis into a delicious rever of excitement, and amply confirmed her belief that "Lulu Sheffield was splendid, bnt deep, very deep." Clara is still single, though now that Lieut. Quire has returned from the Asiatic station they are inuch together, and rumor has it that they are more than "only friends," despite Miss Clara's declaration to that effect. Florence Bassettis Jlrs. Peter Stevens, the loving, happy wife of a strong and loyal man. And with whom does the reader suppose they play bezique these wiatry nights in slush bound New York: Why, with Mr. and Mrs. Atwood, to be sure, and Mrs. Atwood is none othei than our aflfable and sensible Miss Sophia. Af ter Mrs. Ex"s table was so broken up by the departure of the Bassette, Stevens and Quire, Mr. Atwood and Miss Sophia were left quite dangerously alone. Atwood, as the magnate had said, knew a good thing when he saw it, and for that reason, in bis silent and matter of fact way, had heen thinking Miss Sophia ovei for some time; and so one day he told her she would do, and she did. The consequence is, as they say in the eircuitous game of that name, that she is now a happy mother, rides in her own carriage, and will no doubt be a wealthy woman. Mr. Atwood, after the diplomatic episode which gave Stevens his opportunity, had his salary raised for the tact he had displayed in betraying by express direction, certain alleged secreta whereby a large flock of credulous "lambs" stumbled over one another in their eagerness to get first to the shearer's knife. To these poor, shivering folk the "Old Man" did not figure as a benevolent genie, but as an abhorred wrecker lighting false beacons on a dangerous coast. Stevens, as a clerk in the company's office, learned the history of the case, and bad his laugh over the incident with Atwood, whom he came to like, and whom he found, like other men, to be, outside of the tricks of his trade, an honorable man. The member failed of re-election. The invalid still lives, and so do the French spoilation claims. A great author, after scattering calamity with a remorseless hand among his characters, dismis&es one of them as follows: "He also carne to a tragic end - he married." But a mere shocking fate even than this awaited Windward Bassett - he is still a bachelor! THE END.


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