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Unfettered By Sutton E. Griggs Characters: 11141

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03

When Lemuel Dalton rode into his yard fresh from his encounter with Harry Dalton, Aunt Catherine and Morlene were in a wagon ready to be driven to the city, where it was their purpose to dwell.

Lemuel Dalton noticed the look of inquiry which his battered appearance evoked from Morlene's expressive eyes, and, as if to prevent her from thinking that he had been worsted and that her prophecy was already coming true, said in a haughty tone: "I do not know how much interest a knowledge of the fact may be to you, yet, I inform you that I have just shot down that impudent Negro, Harry Dalton."

Morlene was of a deeply sympathetic mould, and, upon receiving this information, tears came into her eyes. Alighting from the wagon, she said: "Go! Go! Aunt Catherine, from this accursed place. I will come to the city soon. It may be that Harry is not killed. If I can save his life I can ward off that much of the terrible debt that this man is piling up against himself." Gathering her skirts about her, weeping as she ran, she arrived at Stephen Dalton's house and assumed charge of the nursing of Harry.

Harry's wound was an exceedingly dangerous one, but the doctor's skill, supplemented by Morlene's zealous care, eventually brought him to a stage of convalescence. But Morlene's tenderness of heart had brought her into a situation where unforeseen complications arose to sorely disturb her peace of mind.

So, soon as Harry became conscious of Morlene's presence in his home as his nurse, he began to look upon his being shot as an especially kind act on the part of providence. From early childhood he had been an ardent admirer of Morlene, but her stay at the Dalton house under the guardianship of Maurice Dalton, had caused him to feel that there was an impassable gulf between them. He had never been able to summon sufficient courage to go up to the "big house" with the intention of paying his respects to Morlene. He now entertained not one spark of ill will toward Lemuel Dalton for shooting him, since it was the means of drawing Morlene to his side. The scrupulous care and great tenderness exercised by her in the nursing of Harry, were construed by him to be indications of a strong attachment, and his hopes of a favorable outcome of his suit grew greater from day to day, until he at last regarded his acceptance as an assured fact.

One day, after he was able to sit up, he beckoned for Morlene to come to his side, intending to make a declaration of love. Morlene came and looked into Harry's face tenderly, awaiting his request, which she presumed would be upon some matter in line with her duties as a nurse. When Harry looked up into her face, so tenderly beautiful, his heart failed him. "Too beautiful for a fellow like me," he thought. "I have changed my mind, Miss Dalton," said Harry, abandoning his purpose for the time being.

Morlene looked at Harry out of those wondrous eyes of hers, playfully feigning reproach, shaking her forefinger at him the while, in no wise dreaming of the emotions at work in Harry's bosom.

The day at last came when Harry found himself possessing sufficient courage to make a declaration of love. It was indeed a rude awakening for Morlene when she realized in what manner she had been the object of Harry's thoughts, a contingency upon which she had in no wise calculated. When her emotion of surprise had sufficiently abated to permit it, she told Harry in a very pleasant manner that he was sick and should wait until he was well before giving attention to so grave a question as marriage.

Harry had discerned how his proposal had surprised Morlene, and he now knew that she had not given him one thought as a possible husband. He saw clearly that Morlene's many acts of kindness to him were based purely on sympathy, not love. This so discouraged Harry that it was not many days before he began to grow worse. His decline was so persistent, refusing to yield to any treatment, that the doctor was sorely puzzled as to the cause of the relapse and the treatment necessary to effect a change.

Harry's illness now reached such a stage that all began to despair of his life. Beulah kept constant watch at his bedside, noting his every expression. She noticed how Harry's eyes followed wherever Morlene moved about in the room; how that he was restless when she was out of sight and contented when she was near. And in all this devotion exhibited by Harry she intuitively felt the presence of hopelessness. She framed the theory in her mind that the mysterious cause of Harry's decline was none other than an unrequited love for Morlene.

The doctor came, felt Harry's pulse, shook his head, and left the room. Beulah also went out and revealed to him her thoughts.

"By Jove!" said he, "Why did I not think of that myself? The girl is as beautiful as a sylph. She can save him, I am sure. That boy's relapse can be explained on no other hypothesis. See what you can do with the girl. It is the only hope left." So saying, the doctor went his way.

Beulah now re-entered the house and asked Morlene to take a walk with her. Arm in arm the two girls went down the little pathway leading from the house. Coming opposite to a grove of trees they turned toward it, entered, and sat down upon a fallen log.

"Morlene, are you in love with any one?" asked Beulah.

"No, my dear. Why do you ask?" replied Morlene.

"I have a request to make of you, which I can the more freely do since you say that you are not in love."

Morlene's face took on a puzzled expression.

"What possib

le relation does my not being in love bear to any request that you might make?" inquired Morlene.

"The doctor has told me that the only hope of saving Harry's life lies in your consenting to marry him. He is dying of love for you," said Beulah.

Morlene stood up affrighted.

Beulah continued: "Harry looks at you so sad-like. A word from you, Morlene, will save him."

Morlene sat down and raised a hand to her forehead. "Beulah," said she, "I fear that there is something in what you say. I now recall that his decline in health began about the time when I refused to consider a proposal of marriage which he made. But Beulah, I do not love Harry. I think well of him, but I do not love him."

"You could learn to love him," said Beulah.

"No, I am quite sure, Beulah, that I could never love a man on Harry's order. Something within tells me that somewhere in the world there is an ideal man that awaits my coming. He shall awaken all the slumbering fires of my soul and my life shall entwine itself about his. Beulah, I believe all this with my whole heart."

Morlene spoke in tones quavering with emotion, her beautiful face showing signs of tragic earnestness and her eyes assuming a far-off expression as if the soul was seeking to divine the future.

"Morlene, you and I are poor country girls and can talk plainly to each other. You have been reading books up at the Dalton house which set forth the deeds of mighty men. Out of all that you have gleaned from books you have constructed your ideal man whom you feel awaits you in the world. Morlene, we country girls have only a limited education and know but little of the requirements of the higher walks of life. The man whom your imagination has selected will be so much your superior in point of culture that he will not notice you."

This was a well directed shaft and Morlene's body twitched as if it had been entered by some deadly missile; for it had been the one dread of her life that the man whom she could love would consider her mind too poorly trained to become his companion. Morlene buried her face in her hands.

Beulah followed up the advantage which she saw that she had gained, saying:

"Morlene, your own judgment must teach you that your ideal is impossible of attainment. Put over against this impracticable ideal my honest, industrious, wounded brother, who is being destroyed by his love for you. Do not, Morlene, allow poor Harry to die because of a vague hope."

A pet squirrel which had been tamed by Harry, and which was very fond of him, was jumping from limb to limb in a neighboring tree. Spying Morlene and Beulah, it began to descend, making looks of inquiry at various stages of its journey. Upon reaching the ground, it began to hop in the direction of the two girls, halting now and then to turn its little head first one way and then another, always keeping one or the other of his brown eyes looking in their direction. When only a few feet from them, it reared upon its hind feet and looked intently at them. They were evidently too sad in appearance, for it immediately scampered away to resume its sport.

"Even the squirrel has come to plead for Harry, Morlene," said Beulah.

Morlene's answer was a deep sigh.

"Beulah," said Morlene, taking her hands from her face, "you hardly know what you ask. This love which God has planted in a woman's bosom is the source of the highest joy that she knows during her stay on earth. You are asking me to surrender the most precious gift of my Creator, my one chance of supreme happiness."

Beulah now burst into crying, calling into play woman's most formidable weapons-her tears.

"All right, Morlene. Poor Harry will be dead to-morrow, and I shall soon die of grief. You know how my dear father loves us. Our deaths will break his heart. When we are dead, Morlene, remember that the surrender of an idle hope on your part would have saved us all."

Beulah, weeping bitterly, now arose to go. Morlene's sympathetic nature could not longer resist the strain.

"Beulah, Beulah, it is hard to do as you ask. How hard, the future alone can tell. I consent to sacrifice myself. I don't understand this world, anyway! Why am I placed in such a trying situation? I will marry Harry!"

It was now Morlene's time to cry. She wept bitterly, her gentle spirit chiding the cruel fate that had woven such a web about her feet. Parentless, homeless, friendless, now doomed to a loveless marriage, she considered her lot an inexpressibly hard one.

The two girls wept together, Beulah now weeping over the necessity of imposing such a marriage on Morlene. Having as Harry's sister persuaded Morlene into agreeing to the marriage, she now as a woman wept in sympathy with Morlene over a prospective wedlock without love. When the two had regained self-control, they returned to the house. Morlene went to Harry's bedside and knelt there. She took his enfeebled arm and laid it across her shoulder, smiling at him sweetly the while.

"Harry," said she, "I have come to tell you that I am going to be your wife, a true wife-one that will do all that is in her power for your comfort and welfare."

So saying she leaned forward and sealed her doom with a kiss.

Beulah, eager to insure Harry's recovery, and fearing that Morlene, after a period of reflection, might deny the binding force of a vow extorted from her in the dread presence of death, hastened matters. The next day Harry and Morlene were duly pronounced man and wife.

When a woman's hand is chained and her heart is free!

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