Kate Darlington was a belle and a beauty; and had, as might be supposed, not a few admirers. Some were attracted by her person; some by her winning manners, and not a few by the wealth of her family. But though sweet Kate was both a belle and a beauty, she was a shrewd, clear-seeing girl, and had far more penetration into character than belles and beauties are generally thought to possess. For the whole tribe of American dandies, with their disfiguring moustaches and imperials, she had a most hearty contempt. Hair never made up, with her, for the lack of brains.
But, as she was an heiress in expectancy, and moved in the most fashionable society, and was, with all, a gay and sprightly girl, Kate, as a natural consequence, drew around her the gilded moths of society, not a few of whom got their wings scorched, on approaching too near.
Many aspired to be lovers, and some, more ardent than the rest, boldly pressed forward and claimed her hand. But Kate did not believe in the doctrine that love begets love in all cases. Were this so, it was clear that she would have to love half a dozen, for at least that number came kneeling to her with their hearts in their hands.
Mr. Darlington was a merchant. Among his clerks was the son of an old friend, who, in dying some years before, had earnestly solicited him to have some care over the lad, who at his death would become friendless. In accordance with this last request, Mr. Darlington took the boy into his counting-room; and, in order that he might, with more fidelity, redeem his promise to the dying father, also received him into his family.
Edwin Lee proved himself not ungrateful for the kindness. In a few years he became one of Mr. Darlington's most active, trustworthy and intelligent clerks; while his kind, modest, gentlemanly deportment at home, won the favor and confidence of all the family. With Edwin, Kate grew up as with a brother. Their intercourse was of the most frank and confiding character.
But there came, at last, a change. Kate from a graceful sweet-tempered, affectionate girl, stepped forth, almost in a day, it seemed to Edwin, a full-grown, lovely woman, into whose eyes he could not look as steadily as before, and on whose beautiful face he could no longer gaze with the calmness of feeling he had until now enjoyed.
For awhile, Edwin could not understand the reason of this change. Kate was the same to him; and yet not the same. There was no distance--no reserve on her part; and yet, when he came into her presence, he felt his heart beat more quickly; and when she looked him steadily in the face, his eyes would droop, involuntarily, beneath her gaze.
Suddenly, Edwin awoke to a full realization of the fact that Kate was to him more than a gentle friend or a sweet sister. From that moment, he became reserved in his intercourse with her; and, after a short time, firmly made up his mind that it was his duty to retire from the family of his benefactor. The thought of endeavoring to win the heart of the beautiful girl, whom he had always loved as a sister, and now almost worshipped, was not, for a moment entertained. To him there would have been so much of ingratitude in this, and so much that involved a base violation of Mr. Darlington's confidence, that he would have suffered anything rather than be guilty of such an act.
But he could not leave the home where he had been so kindly regarded for years, without offering some reason that would be satisfactory. The true reason, he could not, of course, give. After looking at the subject in various lights, and debating it for a long time, Edwin could see no way in which he could withdraw from the family of Mr. Darlington, without betraying his secret, unless he were to leave the city at the same time. He, therefore, sought and obtained the situation of supercargo in a vessel loading for Valparaiso.
When Edwin announced this fact to Mr. Darlington, the merchant was greatly surprised, and appeared hurt that the young man should take such a step without a word of consultation with him. Edwin tried to explain; but, as he had to conceal the real truth, his explanation rather tended to make things appear worse than better.
Kate heard the announcement with no less surprise than her father. The thing was so sudden, so unlooked for, and, moreover, so uncalled for, that she could not understand it. In order to take away any pecuniary reason for the step he was about to take, Mr. Darlington, after holding a long conversation with Edwin, made him offers far more advantageous than his proposed expedition could be to him, viewed in any light. But he made them in vain. Edwin acknowledged the kindness, in the warmest terms, but remained firm in his purpose to sail with the vessel.
"Why will you go away and leave us, Edwin?" said Kate, one evening when they happened to be alone, about two weeks before his expected departure. "I do think it very strange!"
Edwin had avoided, as much as possible, being alone with Kate, a fact which the observant maiden had not failed to notice. Their being alone now was from accident rather than design on his part.
"I think it right for me to go, Kate," the young man replied, as calmly as it was possible for him to speak under the circumstances. "And when I think it right to do a thing, I never hesitate or look back."
"You have a reason, for going, of course. Why, then, not tell it frankly? Are we not all your friends?"
Edwin was silent, and his eyes rested upon the floor, while a deeper flush than usual was upon his face. Kate looked at him fixedly. Suddenly a new thought flashed through her mind, and the color on her own cheeks grew warmer. Her voice from that moment was lower and more tender; and her eyes, as she conversed with the young man, were never a moment from his face. As for him, his embarrassment in her presence was never more complete, and he betrayed the secret that was in his heart even while he felt the most earnest to conceal it. Conscious of this, he excused himself and retired as soon as it was possible to do so.
Kate sat thoughtful for some time after he had left. Then rising up, she went, with a firm step to her father's room.
"I have found out," she said, speaking with great self-composure, "the reason why Edwin persists in going away."
"Ah! what is the reason, Kate? I would give much to know."
"He is in love," replied Kate, promptly.
"In love! How do you know that?"
"I made the discovery to-night."
"Love should keep him at home, not drive him away," said Mr. Darlington.
"But he loves hopelessly," returned the maiden. "He is poor, and the object of his regard belongs to a wealthy family."
"And her friends will have nothing to do with him."
"I am not so sure of that. But he formed an acquaintance with the young lady under circumstances that would make it mean, in his eyes, to urge any claims upon her regard."
"Then honor as well as love takes him away."
"Honor in fact; not love. Love would make him stay," replied the maiden with a sparkling eye, and something of proud elevation in the tones of her voice.
A faint suspicion of the truth now came stealing on the mind of Mr. Darlington.
"Does the lady know of his preference for her?" he asked.
"Not through any word or act of his, designed to communicate a knowledge of the fact," replied Kate, her eyes falling under the earnest look bent upon her by Mr. Darlington.
"Has he made you his confidante?"
"No, sir. I doubt if the secret has ever passed his lips." Kate's face was beginning to crimson, but she drove back the tell-tale blood with a strong effort of the will.
"Then how came you possessed of it," inquired the father.
The blood came back to her face with a rush, and she bent her head so that her dark glossy curls fell over and partly concealed it. In a moment or two she had regained her self-possession, and looking up she answered,
"Secrets like this do not always need oral or written language to make them known. Enough, father, that I have discovered the fact that his heart is deeply imbued with a passion for one who knows well his virtues--his pure, true heart--his manly sense of honor; with a passion for one who has looked upon him till now as a brother, but who henceforth must regard him with a different and higher feeling."
Kate's voice trembled. As she uttered the last few words, she lost control of herself, and bent forward, and hid her face upon her father's arm.
Mr. Darlington, as might well be supposed, was taken altogether by surprise at so unexpected an announcement. The language used by his daughter needed no interpretation. She was the maiden beloved by his clerk.
"Kate," said he, after a moment or two of hurried reflection, "this is a very serious matter. Edwin is only a poor clerk, and you--"
"And I," said Kate, rising up, and taking the words from her father, "and I am the daughter of a man who can appreciate what is excellent in even those who are humblest in the eyes of the world. Father, is not Edwin far superior to the artificial men who flutter around every young lady who now makes her appearance in the circle where we move? Knowing him as you do, I am sure you will say yes."
"Father, don't let us argue this point. Do you want Edwin to go away?" And the young girl laid her hand upon her parent, and looked him in the face with unresisting affection.
"No dear; I certainly don't wish him to go."
"Nor do I," returned the maiden, as she leaned forward again, and laid her face upon his arm. In a little while she arose, and, with her countenance turned partly away, said--
"Tell him not to go, father----"
And with these words she retired from the room.
On the next evening, as Edwin was sitting alone in one of the drawing-rooms, thinking on the long night of absence that awaited him, Mr. Darlington came in, accompanied by Kate. They seated themselves near the young man, who showed some sense of embarrassment. There was no suspense, however, for Mr. Darlington said--
"Edwin, we none of us wish you to go away. You know that I have urged every consideration in my power, and now I have consented to unite with Kate in renewing a request for you to remain. Up to this time you have declined giving a satisfactory reason for your sudden resolution to leave; but a reason is due to us--to me in particular--and I now most earnestly conjure you to give it."
The young man, at this became greatly agitated, but did not venture to make a reply.
"You are still silent on the subject," said Mr. Darlington.
"He will not go, father," said Kate, in a tender, appealing voice. "I know he will not go. We cannot let him go. Kinder friends he will not find anywhere than he has here. And we shall miss him from our home circle. There will be a vacant place at our board. Will you be happier away, Edwin?"
The last sentence was uttered in a tone of sisterly affection.
"Happier!" exclaimed the young man, thrown off his guard. "Happier! I shall be wretched while away."
"Then why go?" returned Kate, tenderly.
At this stage of affairs, Mr. Darlington got up, and retired; and we think we had as well retire with the reader.
The good ship "Leonora" sailed in about ten days. She had a supercargo on board; but his name was not Edwin Lee.
Fashionable people were greatly surprised when the beautiful Kate Darlington married her father's clerk; and moustached dandies curled their lip, but it mattered not to Kate. She had married a man in whose worth, affection, and manliness of character, she could repose a rational confidence. If not a fashionable, she was a happy wife.