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- Opening a Chestnut Burr - 58/76 -

his eyes unnaturally bright.

"And you banish me too," said Annie, hurt and alarmed at the same time.

"Yes, yes; forgive me for saying so. Yes; till I'm stronger. See how I've spoken to you. I've no self-control."

She was most reluctant to go, and stood a moment, hesitating. Timidly she ventured to quote the line:

"Earth has no sorrows that Heaven cannot cure."

"That's a comforting fact for those who are going there," he said, coldly.

With a sudden burst of passionate grief she stooped and kissed his hand, then fled to her own room, and cried as if her heart would break. It seemed as if he were lost to her and heaven, and yet he was capable of being so noble and good!

Miss Eulie entered Gregory's room soon after, and was alarmed at his feverish and excited appearance. She decided that Annie's visits must cease for the present. However, she took no apparent notice of his disturbed condition, but immediately gave a remedy to ward off fever, and a strong opiate, which, with the reaction and his weakness, caused him to sink back into something like his old lethargy.

Hunting had spent the morning with Mr. Walton, preparing his mind for the plan of immediate marriage. He found the failing man not averse to the project, as his love ought to secure to Annie every help and solace possible.

After Annie had removed from her face, to the best of her ability, every trace of her emotion, she came down and took her place at her father's side, intending to leave it only when compelled to. Hunting knew of her mission to Gregory, and looked at her inquiringly, but she sadly shook her head. He tried to look hurt, but only succeeded in looking angry. He soon controlled himself, however, though he noted with deep uneasiness Annie's sad face and red eyes. Mr. Walton fortunately was dozing and needed no explanation.

That night he was much worse, and had some very serious symptoms. Annie did not leave his side. But toward morning he rallied and fell into a quiet sleep. Then she took a little rest.

The next day she was told that there was a gentleman in the parlor who wished to see her. The stranger proved to be one of Gregory's partners, Mr. Seymour, who courteously said, "I should have been here before, but the senior partner, Mr. Burnett, is unable to attend to business at present, and I came away the first moment I could leave. I felt sure also that everything would be done that could be. I hope the injury is not so serious as was first supposed."

"You may rest assured that we have tried to do everything," said Annie, gravely, "but Mr. Gregory is in a very precarious condition. You would like to see him, I suppose."

"If I can with safety to him."

"I think a brief interview may do him good. He needs rallying."

At that moment Hunting, not knowing who was present, entered. Both gentleman started, but Mr. Seymour gave no sign of recognition, nor did Hunting, though he could not at first hide a certain degree of nervous agitation. Annie presented him. Mr. Seymour bowed stiffly, and said, rather curtly, "We have met before," and then gave him no further attention, but continuing to address Annie, said, "I well understand that Mr. Gregory needs rallying. That has been just his need for the last few months, during which time his health has been steadily failing. I was in hopes he would come back--" and then he stopped, quite puzzled for a moment by the sudden change in Annie's manner, which had become freezingly cold toward him, while there was a look of honest indignation upon her face.

"Excuse me, sir," she said, briefly. "I will send you my aunt, who will attend to your wishes;" and she left Mr. Seymour standing in the middle of the room, both confused and annoyed; but he at once surmised that it was on account of his manner toward Hunting, who sat down with a paper at the further side of the room, as if he were alone.

But when, a moment later, Miss Eulie entered with her placid, unruffled face, Mr. Seymour could not be otherwise than perfectly polite, and after a few words, followed her to Gregory's room.

Annie at once came to Hunting and asked, "Why did that man act so?"

"Why, don't you see?" answered he, hastily. "Mr. Seymour is Mr. Gregory's partner. They all have the same reason for feeling hostile toward me, though perhaps Gregory has special reasons," he added, with a searching look.

Annie blushed deeply at this allusion, but said with emphasis, "No man shall treat you in that way in my presence and still receive courtesy from me."

But his jealous spirit had noticed her quick blush more than her generous resentment of the insult she supposed offered him. Therefore he said, "Mr. Gregory would treat me worse if he got a chance."

"But his case is different from any one's else," she said, with another quick flush.

"Evidently so in your estimation."

Then for the first time she noted his jealousy, and it hurt her sorely. She took a step nearer and looked very gravely into his face for a moment without speaking, and then said, with that calmness which is more effective than passion, "Charles, take care. I'm one that will be trusted. Though it seems a light matter to you that he has saved my life, at perhaps the cost of his own, it does not to me."

The cool and usually cautious man had for once lost his poise, and he said, with sudden irritation, "I hear that and nothing else. What else could he have done? If you had stayed at your father's side you would have been safe. He took you out to walk, and any man would have risked his life to bring you back safely."

He now saw in Annie a spirit he could never control as he managed people in Wall Street, for, with a sudden flash in her eyes, she said, hotly, "I do not reason thus coldly about those to whom I owe so much," and abruptly left him.

In bitterness of fear and self-reproach he at once realized his blunder. He followed her, but she was with her father, and he could not speak there. He looked imploringly at her, but could not catch her eye, for she was deeply incensed. Had she not heard him she would not have believed that he could be so ungenerous.

He wrote on a scrap of paper, "Annie, forgive me. I humbly ask your pardon. I'm not myself to-day, and that man's conduct, which you so nobly resented in my behalf, vexed me to that degree that I acted like a fool. I am not worthy of you, but you will perceive that my folly arises from my excess of love for you. I'm going for a walk. Please greet me with pardon in your face on my return."

Impulsive, loving, warm-hearted Annie could not resist such an appeal. She at once relented, and began to make a thousand better excuses for her lover than he could for himself. But she had taught him a lesson, and proved that she was not a weak, willowy creature that would cling to him no matter what he was or did. He saw that he must seem to be worthy of her.

Gregory greeted his partner with a momentary glow of gratitude that he had come so far to see him, and began talking about his business.

"Not a word of that, old fellow," said Mr. Seymour. "Your business is to get well. It seems to me that you have everything here for comfort --good medical attendance, eh?"

"Yes; if anything, too much is done for me."

"I don't understand just how it happened."

Gregory told him briefly.

"By Jove! this Miss Walton ought to be very grateful to you."

"She is too grateful."

"I don't know about that. I met that infernal Hunting downstairs. Of course I couldn't treat him with politeness, and do you know the little lady spunked up about it to that degree that she almost turned her back upon me and left the room."

"Of course," said Gregory, coolly, shielding his secret by a desperate effort; "they are engaged."

"Oh, I understand now. Well, I rather like her spirit. Does she know how accomplished her lover is in Wall Street?"

"No. Hunting is a distant relative of the family. They believe him to be a gentleman, and would not listen to a word against him."

"But they ought to know. He lied like a scoundrel to us, and in your trying all summer to make up the losses, he has nearly been the death of you. I wouldn't let my daughter marry him though he had enough money to break the Street: and it is a pity that a fine girl, as this Miss Walton seems, should throw herself away on him."

"Well, Seymour, that's not our affair," said Gregory, pale and faint from his effort at self-control. "They would listen to nothing."

"Well, good-by, old fellow. I see it won't do to talk with you any more. Get well as soon as you can, for we want you woefully in town. Get well, and carry off this Miss Walton yourself. It would be a neat way of turning the tables on Hunting."

"Don't set your heart on seeing me at the office again," said Gregory, feelingly. "I have a presentiment that I shan't pull through this, and I don't much care. Give my kindest regards to Mr. Burnett, and tell him I shall think of him to the last as among my best friends."

Seymour made a few hearty remonstrances against such a state of mind, and took his departure with many misgivings. Gregory relapsed into his old dreary apathy. Life had so many certain ills that upon the whole he felt he would rather die. But he was too stunned and weak to think much, save when Annie came to him. Her presence was always life, but now it was a sharp revival of the consciousness of his loss. Left to himself, his mind sank down into a sort of painless lethargy, from

Opening a Chestnut Burr - 58/76

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