You know that I cannot refuse the invitation

Bonnibel Vere closed her book and sprang up with a blush and smile of
pleasure.

“Of course you know that I cannot refuse the invitation,” said she,
brightly. “I am just dying to talk to some one.”

“Woman-like!” answered Leslie Dane, laughing, as he assisted her to a
seat.

“I suppose you never find your high majesty in a like predicament,”
said she, rather pettishly, as the skiff swept out into the blue,
encircling waves.

He smiled at the childish air of offended dignity she assumed.

“_Au contraire_,” he answered, gaily, “it was only this evening that
I was experiencing a like feeling. For instance, when I captured your
skiff and set forth alone I was just dying to have you along with me
to talk to. And now I have my wish and you have yours. We are very
fortunate!”

“Do you think so?” she inquired, carelessly. “If gratified wishes make
one fortunate, then I have been fortunate all my life. Uncle Francis
has never refused to indulge me in anything I ever set my heart upon.”

“He has been very kind, then, and you ought to be a very happy girl,”
he answered; “yet you were looking rather grave and thoughtful this
evening as I came around the curve. Was your book so very interesting?”

“It failed to awaken an interest in me,” she answered, simply, “for I
was thinking of other things.”

“Of weighty and momentous matters, no doubt,” he commented.

“Perhaps so,” she answered. “Come now, Mr. Dane, guess what I have been
doing this evening.”

“It would be a hard task to follow the movements of so erratic a star
as Miss Bonnibel Vere,” he said in a light tone of railery, yet looking
at her with all his manly heart in his large, dreamy, dark eyes. “Do
not keep me in suspense, fair lady, this sultry evening. Confess.”

She looked up, and, meeting his ardent glance, dropped her eyes until
the long, curling lashes hid them from view. A scarlet banner fluttered
into her cheeks like a danger signal.

“I have been getting my fortune told–there!” said she, laughing.

“Whew!” said Mr. Dane in profound surprise. “Getting your fortune told!
And by whom, may I ask?”

“Oh, by a horrid old crone who stepped into my path on my way here and
demanded a piece of silver and wished to foretell my future. Of course,
I do not believe in such things at all, but I humored the poor old soul
just for fun, you know, and a dreadful prediction she gave me for my
money.”

“Let me hear it,” said Leslie Dane, smiling.

Bonnibel recounted the words and gestures of the old sibyl with patient
exactness and inimitable mimicry to her interested listener.

“It was Wild Madge, no doubt,” said he, when she had finished. “I have
seen her several times on the shore, and I made quite an effective
picture of her once, though I dare say the old witch would want to
murder me if she knew it. The gossips hereabouts assert that she can
read the future very truly.”

“You do not believe it–do you?” asked she, looking up with a gleam of
something like dread in her beautiful blue orbs.

“Believe it–of course not,” said he, contemptuously. “There were but
two things she told you that I place any faith in.”

“What are they?” she questioned, anxiously.

“I believe you will be an old man’s darling, for I know you are that
already. Your Uncle Francis loves the very ground you walk upon, to use
a homely expression, and, Bonnibel,” he paused, his voice lingering
over the sound of her name with inexpressible tenderness.

“Well?” she said, looking up with an innocent inquiry in her eyes.

“And, Bonnibel–forgive my daring, little one–I believe you will be a
young man’s bride if you will let me make you such.”

They were spoken–words that had been trembling on his lips all these
summer months, in which Bonnibel Vere had grown dearer to him than
his own life–the words that would seal his fate! He looked at her
imploringly, but her face was turned away, and she was trailing one
white ungloved hand idly through the blue water.

“Perhaps I am presumptuous in speaking such words to you, little one,”
he continued, gently. “I am but a poor artist, with fame and fortune
yet to win, and the world says that you will be your uncle’s heiress.
Yet I have dared to love you, Bonnibel–who could see you and not love
you? Are you very angry with me, darling?”

Still no answer from the silent girl before him. She kept her sweet
face turned away from his gaze, and continued to play with the water as
though indifferent to his words. He went on patiently, his full, manly
voice freighted with deep emotion:

“I am as proud as you in my way. Bonnibel, I do not ask to claim you
now in my struggle with the world. I only ask you to remember me, and
that when fame and fortune are both conquered, I may return to lay them
at your feet.”

He paused and waited, thinking that she must be very angry indeed to
avert her face so resolutely; but suddenly, with a ripple of silvery
laughter, she turned and looked at him.

Oh! the beauty of that face she turned upon him! It was fairly
transfigured with love and happiness. It was bathed in brilliant
blushes, tinted like the sunset red that was flushing the evening sky.
A quivering smile played around her delicate lips, and two vivid stars
of light burned in the blue deeps of her eyes.

“Bonnibel,” he cried, rapturously, “you are not angry; you forgive
me–you will let me worship you, and you will love me a little in
return?”

“You are very presumptuous, Mr. Dane,” said she, trying to frown away
the smiles that danced around her lips.

“Do not play with me, Bonnibel,” he said, earnestly. “You are too
young and innocent to play the coquette. Lay your little hand in mine,
dearest, and promise that one day, though it may be years hence, you
will be my wife.”

He dropped the oars, and suffered the fairy bark to drift at its own
sweet will, while he reached his hand to hers. She hesitated one moment
between girlish shyness and a mischievous love of teasing, but a swift
look at the dark, eloquent face of her handsome lover conquered her.
She laid her beautiful hand in his slender fingers, and murmured, in a
tone of passionate tenderness:

“Leslie, the greatest happiness the world holds for me is to be your
wife!”

Leslie Dane’s dark eyes grew radiant with joy and pride.

“My darling, my queen,” he murmured. “A thousand thanks for that
assurance! How can I thank you enough for giving me so much happiness?”

“You have made me very happy, too, Leslie,” said the girl, simply.

“But what will your uncle say to us, do you think, Bonnibel?” said he,
presently. “Will he not be angry with the portionless artist who dares
to sue for this fairy hand?”

“Oh! no,” she said, innocently. “He has never denied me anything in his
life. He will consent when he knows how much I love you. You must ask
him this very evening to let us be engaged while you are away winning
fame and fortune. He will not be angry.”




“I hope not,” said the less sanguine lover. “But the sun is setting,
darling. We must return.”

In the beautiful summer evening they rowed back through the blue waves,
with the curlews calling above their heads, and the radiant sunset
shining on the water with a brightness that seemed typical of the
future which lay before their young and loving hearts.

At length they anchored their boat, and stepped upon the shore in full
view of a large and handsome white villa that stood in the middle of
beautiful and well-kept grounds. Toward this abode of wealth and pride
they directed their footsteps.

“Uncle Francis is sitting out on the piazza,” said Bonnibel, as they
went up the smooth, graveled walk. “You must go right in and ask him,
Leslie, while I run away up-stairs to dress for dinner.”

“Very well, dear. And–stay, darling, if I should not be here when you
come back, run down to the shore after the moon is up, and I will tell
you what answer your uncle gives my suit.”

“Very well; I will do so,” she answered. “But I am sure that Uncle
Francis will keep you to dinner, so I shall see you directly I come
down.”

He pressed her hand and she tripped across the piazza into the hall,
and then ran up the broad stair-way to her room with a lighter heart
than ever beat in her breast again.

Leslie Dane walked down the piazza to where Bonnibel’s uncle and
guardian, Francis Arnold, the millionaire, sat in his easy-chair
puffing his evening cigar, and indolently watching the blue wreaths of
smoke curling over his head.

Mr. Arnold was a spare, well-made man of sixty-five, with iron-gray
hair and beard. His well-cut features were sharp and resolute in
contour, and betokened more sternness than Bonnibel Vere ever dreamed
of in his unfailing tenderness to herself. He was elegantly dressed,
and wore a costly diamond ring on his little finger.

As the young man drew near, the stately millionaire arose and
acknowledged his respectful greeting with considerable cordiality.

“Ah! Dane, good-evening. Have a seat and join me in a cigar.”

“Thank you, I do not smoke,” answered the young artist, politely, “but
I am sorry to interrupt your enjoyment of that luxury.”

“It does not matter,” said the millionaire, tossing his own cigar away
and resuming his seat. “Sit down, Dane. Well, how do you get on with
your pictures?”

The dusky, handsome face lighted up with pleasure.

“Famously, thank you. I have sold two little pictures in New York
lately at quite a fair valuation, and the critics have praised them.
They say I have genius and should study under the best masters.”

“Indeed! I congratulate you,” said Mr. Arnold, cordially. “Do you think
of taking their advice?”

“I do. I shall sail for Rome very soon now, and study there a year
or two,” said Leslie, his features beaming with pleasure. “I believe
I shall succeed in my ambition. I feel within myself the promptings
of genius, and I know that my persistent labor will conquer fame and
fortune.”

The elder man regarded him with some surprise. He had never seen him so
enthusiastic on any subject before, even that of his beloved art.

“You seem very sanguine and determined,” he observed with a smile.

“I _am_ determined,” answered Leslie, gravely. “I mean to _conquer_
success. You remember the hackneyed quotation:

“‘In the proud lexicon of youth which fate reserves to a bright manhood,
There is no such a word as Fail!'”

“I did not know you had such a towering ambition, Dane,” said the
millionaire, with a smile.

“My ambition is no higher than my hopes, Mr. Arnold, for I have come
here this evening to ask you for the hand of Miss Vere when I shall be
in a position worthy of that high honor!”

“Sir!”

The word rolled out of the millionaire’s mouth like a thunder-clap.

He straightened himself in his chair, seeming to grow several inches
taller, and his iron-gray hair seemed to stand erect on his head with
indignant surprise. His keen gray eyes regarded Leslie Dane with a
stony stare of surprise, bordering on contempt.

“I have the sanction of your niece, Miss Vere, to ask of you her hand
in marriage,” repeated Leslie Dane, calmly.

Mr. Arnold sprang to his feet, furious with rage, pale as death under
the influence of this overmastering emotion.

“Villain!” he cried out in loud, excited tones. “Do you mean to tell
me that you have abused the confidence I reposed in your honor as a
gentleman, to win the heart of that innocent, trusting child? You, a
poor, penniless, unknown artist!”

“I grant you I am poor, Mr. Arnold,” answered Leslie Dane, rising and
confronting his accuser with a mien as proud as his own. “But that I
have abused your confidence, I deny! Bonnibel loves me as I love her,
but I have taken no undue advantage to gain her love. You invited me
here, and gave me every opportunity to cultivate her acquaintance. Can
you wonder that I learned to love one so sweet and beautiful?”

“I wonder at your presumption in telling her so!” flashed the angry
guardian. “If you loved her you should have worshiped her from afar as
a star too far away to warm you with its beams. By Jove! sir, do you
know that Bonnibel Vere will be my heiress? Do you know that the best
blood of the land flows in her veins? Do you know that her father was
General Harry Vere, who fell bravely in battle, and left a record as
proud as any in the land?”

“General Vere’s fame is not unknown to me, sir,” answered Leslie,
calmly. “I give him due honor as a hero. But, sir, my blood is as blue
as Bonnibel’s own! I belong to the noblest and best family of the
South. True, we lost all our wealth by the late war, but we belong
to the first rank yet in point of birth. I can give you perfect
satisfaction on these points, sir. And for the rest, I do not propose
to claim Bonnibel until I have realized a fortune equal to her own,
and added fresh laurels to the name that is already crowned with bays
in the far South, from whence I come. My father was an officer in the
army, too, sir, and not unknown to fame.”

“We waste words,” said the millionaire, shortly. “No matter what your
birth, you were presumptuous in addressing my niece, knowing that
your poverty must be an insuperable bar to your union. Perhaps it was
her wealth you were after. The idea of making love to that child!
She _is_ but a child, after all, and does not know her own mind. A
simple, trusting child, ready to fall a prey to the first good-looking
fortune-hunter that comes along.”

“Were it not for your gray hairs, Mr. Arnold, I should not permit you
to apply such an insulting epithet to me!” flashed out Leslie Dane in a
white heat of passion.

“You provoked it, sir,” cried the old man, wrathfully; “_you_ to try
to win my little ewe-lamb from me. She, that her dying mother, my only
sister, gave to my arms in her infancy as a precious trust. Do you
think I would give her to you, or to any man who did not stand head and
shoulders above his fellow-men in every point of excellence? Would I
waste her sweet years waiting for you to grow worthy of her? No, no,
Leslie Dane, you can never have my darling! She shall never give you
another thought. Go, sir, and never darken my doors with your unworthy
presence again!”

He pointed to the door, and the young artist had no choice but to obey.
He was trembling with passion, and his dark eyes blazed with a light
not pleasant to see.

“I obey you, sir,” he said, proudly. “I go, but remember I do not give
up my claim on Bonnibel! Sooner or later she shall yet be my wife! And,
mark me, sir, you have done a bitter work to-day that you shall one day
repent with all your soul.”

With the words he was gone, his tall, proud figure striding down the
graveled walk, and disappearing in the twilight shadows.