August and September have been numbered with the past since last we saw Regenia Underwood and Mrs. Levitt sitting on the steps of their home at the "Elms," dreaming over the gilded romance and stern realities of bygone days.
The leaves which at that season clothed the oaks and elms in nature's royal green, had grown sere and yellow and left their former associates in winter's rough undress. The crisp wind and biting frost of October had stripped bush and tree of their drooping foliage. The sweltering sun of sultry dog days, followed by the masterful touch of Autumn's artistic brush, had tinted all nature with cardinal and gold, and yet the hasty promises sown during Conclave week, had not ripened into garnered realities. Not a word had penetrated the seclusion of the "Elms" from the undoubted Knight and gallant, Lotus Stone.
If he had written, Regenia had not received the missive. It was not likely, Regenia said to herself, day after day, that a letter directed to the "Elms" could have been miscarried. To this innocent girl, firmly believing the sunshine promises of those she met, the silence of Mr. Stone presented a dilemma too complicated for her solution. Mr. Stone had obtained her permission to further pursue the agreeable acquaintance formed between them by a friendly correspondence. Regenia believed he meant what he said, but despite her faith, the long expected letter did not come.
It did not occur to Regenia that his letter might have been intercepted. The postman could have informed her differently. He could have told her of a polite friend who on several occasions kindly relieved him of the mail intended for the "Elms," and if she had received no letters, Dr. Leighton might account for their disappearance.
In truth, Lotus Stone had written more than once since he left Mt. Clare. His first duty after his return to Washington was to write to the woman to whose unknown keeping he had consigned his heart. He waited more than a month, but received no answer.
He resigned his position in the departmental service and decided to finish the last year of his medical course in one of the great schools of New York. Before leaving Washington, however, he addressed a second letter to Regenia, but that receiving the same fate as the first, he left for his new field of study a sadder but wiser man. For some reason he did not attempt through the medium of Clement St. John to solve the problem of Regenia's silence. Concealing his disappointment beneath the mantle of his pride, he entered upon the pursual of his course a more determined if a less happy man. He tried to shut Regenia out of his thoughts and efface the image of the sweet girl from his memory, but the effort was in vain. He wasted the nights that should have been given to rest and recuperation for the work before him in idly indulging his fancy in the most ridiculous conjectures. He would sometimes imagine himself dead, and from a martyr's heaven watching Regenia as she stood above his cold corpse weeping herself away in the remembrance of her disregard for his devotion. Again he would congratulate himself that he had succeeded in forgetting her, this stage of the case, however, would rarely last longer than a day. Whenever books and lectures left his mind to its own resources, Regenia Underwood, try as he might to banish her, occupied it to the exclusion of every other thought. He had arrived at that stage of self-deception, or he at least flattered himself that he had, when he believed women as inconstant as the wind. "What more is she to me than any other butterfly of a day's devotion?" he asked himself frequently, and as often answered, "Nothing;" but the response belied the facts. Did he grow thin and petulant worrying over the other butterflies that time and again had flitted into his horizon? In one resolution, however, he was persistent: he would never write again until she answered the letters already sent, nor would he ever manifest his disappointment to Clement. In this determination, however, he was not alone, Regenia had also resolved never to indicate her chagrin to Lucile. If this love-sick swain and innocent lass, hardening their hearts against each other, could have peeped into the secret drawer in a certain specialist's office in Mt. Claire, they would have lost no time in apologizing for a misunderstanding for which neither was to blame.
Dr. Frank Leighton smiled with fiendish delight as he observed the keen disappointment exhibited by Regenia when the postman passed day after day without even so much as a look toward the "Elms." He was not so lost to every trait of the gentleman, however, as to read the letters he had surreptitiously intercepted. He often half relented the tendency to meddle with matters which did not concern him, but whenever he thought of Lotus Stone, whom he bitterly detested, he strengthened his resolve to see to it that Regenia never heard a word from him. During the latter part of October, Lucile was to be married, and although the affair was to be a very quiet one, she had set her heart on having Regenia present.
Mrs. Levitt and Mrs. Underwood had also been invited. For weeks Regenia had been looking forward to this event with the greatest of interest. It was her intention to go a week before the event and remain a week or two after the marriage had been duly solemnized. Mrs. Levitt evinced as much interest in the approaching nuptials as Regenia; she had entered into all of Regenia's plans with the delight of an actual participant and discussed the coming wedding, the gown Regenia was to wear, the present she intended to take Lucile, and everything else about it, to the young girl's unbounded satisfaction. A few days before the time fixed for Regenia to leave to Minton, Mrs. Underwood complained of illness. As her malady was nothing more alarming than a severe headache, the matter elicited but little comment. The day that Regenia and Mrs. Levitt were to start to Minton, Mrs. Underwood's symptoms assumed a more threatening aspect. It was finally thought best for Mrs. Levitt to remain at home, but both Mrs. Underwood and her housekeeper insisted that Regenia should go. She accordingly set off, Dr. Leighton kindly consenting to see her aboard the boat. Regenia was inclined at first to regret that she had not decided to remain at home. Although she so much wished to see her friends married. After hearing Dr. Leighton's opinion that Mrs. Underwood's sickness was nothing more than a passing ailment, consequent upon old age, she was contented to make the journey to Minton.
He adroitly directed the conversation from the illness of his aunt to Mrs. Levitt, and casually observed, "Your foster mother has known you form childhood; I suppose she seems nearer to you than my aunt."
"She is the very soul of kindness," replied Regenia. "I hardly know what would become of me if I did not have Mrs. Levitt's oversight."
"She knew both your mother and father," said Dr. Leighton. "Did she know them when your mother first made that wild goose chase to Canada," she asked.
"Do not say that," answered Regenia. "What my mother did is sacred to me."
"Oh, certainly," said the doctor, seeing he was setting a match to powder. "She acted up to her ideas, and who of us do more?" he added.
"Mrs. Levitt was present when my parents were married, and it was in her house that the wedding dinner was served. You ought to hear her tell about it; she related to me the entire story the night Lucile left for Minton."
"I expect she surrounds it with a romantic halo not justified by the facts," the doctor disparagingly answered.
"Oh, no. She was there, and you know poor mother died in Mrs. Levitt's arms," said Regenia sadly.
"She did?" was what Dr. Leighton said; he thought, however, "Mrs. Levitt knows more than is safe for her or good for me."
"Here we are," he remarked, after a long silence; "we are at the landing." He alighted and assisting Regenia from the phaeton, saw her safe aboard the boat.
The next morning Regenia was met at Minton by her friends and whisked away to Lucile's boarding house. During the days that followed, the girls were busily concerned with preparations for the momentous event. Lucile wondered why Regenia never spoke of Lotus Stone. Regenia wondered if Mr. Stone would be present at the marriage of her friend. To Regenia, the suspense was unendurable and at last she broke the silence. The day of the wedding but one she said to Lucile: "Have you told me of everyone you expect to-morrow?"
"Yes," she answered. "Mr. Stone could not come. We are just as cut up at the thought of his absence as you are," added the impetuous girl.
"Are you sure that he will not be here as you seem to be confident that I am expecting him?" asked Regenia, laughingly.
"Of course you know he will not be present. What was I thinking about anyway? But if he treats you as coldly as he does us," emphasizing the "us," "you are not too well informed of the eccentricities of Mr. Lotus Stone."
"It is not necessary that he should treat me at all. I have never received a line from him. Is he still in Washington?" asked Regenia, blushing at this confession.
"Well, do you tell me he has never written to you?" said Lucile, rising in her excitement. 'What is the matter with that man? He seems to have forsaken all of his friends.
Mr. St. John declares that something has come over Lotus beyond his ability to comprehend. You ought to have seen the stiff letter of regrets he sent in answer to our invitation. We thought you were the cause of his strange actions, but as you are as innocent of any knowledge of his malady as we are, I am at a loss to think what the matter is."
"Do not think at all. Mr. Stone has, perhaps, other interests that engage his attentions, to the exclusion of 'marriage and giving in marriage.'"
"Has he never written to you?" she asked again, ignoring Regenia's admonition. "I can not believe it. He has written and the big fish of you dream has snapped up the precious missive. He has written more than once, I am sure, but failing of an answer he has coiled himself up within himself and gone into a state of hibernation. He is not in Washington, but in New York, concluding his studies." This information, Lucile, in her haste to deliver, fairly threw at Regenia's head.
"I know nothing of Mr. Stone since I last saw him at Mt. Clare, and if he has ever written to me I have not received the letter. Who would be sufficiently interested in Mr. Stone to intercept his letters to me?" asked Regenia excitedly.
"Only one person on earth," answered Lucile slowly, "Dr. Frank Leighton.
"I cannot believe that Dr. Leighton, however much he may dislike Mr. Stone, would stoop to such a scurvy trick. What motive could induce a man of his respectability to commit such a palpable crime?" asked Regenia doubtingly.
"The same motive that induced the big fish to snap up the minnows, because he could and because he wanted to do so," replied Lucile, a little hurt at Regenia's lack of belief in her theory. No argument that Lucile might offer could have convinced Regenia that Dr. Leighton, whom she had never known to do a mean thing, would be guilty of such a crime. At this stage of the discussion Mr. St. John made his appearance and the subject was dropped. During the rest of the day the girls were too much occupied to revive it.
The next evening Lucile and Clement were made man and wife.
At the little stone church, in the presence of quite a few of their most intimate friends, the Episcopal rector read the beautiful ceremony, which forever afterward was to make the interests of Lucile Malone and Clement St. John, one. After the marriage a selected few drove to the snug little home Clement's frugality had provided, and discussed a modest supper.
At the height of the enjoyment, a sharp, potential ring called Mr. St. John to the door. It was a messenger boy, bearing a telegram for Regenia. Clement, with as little ado as possible called the trembling girl into the next room. If was from Mrs. Levitt: Regenia's grandmother was dead.
That night as the clock struck twelve, Regenia Underwood, her head resting on her hand, was a silent passenger on the west-bound train.
Chapter 12 -- Chapter 14