Read CHAPTER XIX. of Mona, free online book, by Mrs. Georgie Sheldon, on ReadCentral.com.

MONA IS JOYFULLY SURPRISED.

“Then you do love me, Mona?” Ray whispered, fondly, after a moment or two of happy silence.  “I must hear you say it even though you have tacitly confessed it and my heart exults in the knowledge.  I cannot be quite satisfied until I have the blessed confirmation from your own lips.”

“You certainly can have no reason to doubt it after such a betrayal as this,” Mona tried to say playfully, to shield her embarrassment, as she lifted her flushed face from its resting-place, and shot a glad, bright look into his eyes.  Then she added in a grave though scarcely audible voice:  “Yes I do love you with all my heart!”

The young man smiled; then with his arm still infolding her he led her beneath the chandelier and turned on a full blaze of light.

“I must read the glad story in your eyes,” he said, tenderly, as he bent to look into them.  “I must see it shining in your face.  Ah, love, how beautiful you are still!  And yet there is a sad droop to these lips”-and he touched them softly with his own-“that pains me; there is a heaviness about these eyes which tells of trial and sorrow.  My darling, you have needed comfort and sympathy, while I was bound hand and foot, and could not come to you.  What did you think of me, dear?  But you knew, of course.”

“I knew-I hoped there was some good reason,” faltered Mona, with downcast eyes.

“You ‘hoped!’ Then you did think-you feared that I, like other false friends, had turned the cold shoulder on you in your trouble?” he returned, a sorrowful reproach in his tone.  “Surely you have known about the stolen diamonds?”

“Yes, I knew that your father had been robbed.”

“And about my having been kidnapped also-the papers were full of the story.”

Mona looked up, astonished.

“Kidnapped!” she exclaimed.  “No; this is the first that I have heard of that.”

“Where have you been that you have not seen the papers?” Ray inquired, wonderingly.

“As you doubtless know,” Mona replied, “Uncle Walter died very suddenly the day after I attended the opera with you, and for a fortnight afterward I was so overcome with grief and-other troubles, that I scarcely looked at a paper.  After that, one day, I saw a brief item referring to the robbery, and it is only since I came here that I had even a hint that you had been ill.”

“Come, then, dear, and let me tell you about it, and then I am sure you will absolve me from all willful neglect,” Ray said, as he led her to a tete-a-tete and seated himself beside her.  “But first tell me,” he added, “how I happen to find you here.  Are you one of the guests?”

“No,” Mona said, blushing slightly, “You know, of course, that I lost home and everything else when I lost Uncle Walter, and now I am simply acting as seamstress and waiting maid to a Mrs. Montague, who is a guest here.”

“Ah!” exclaimed the young man, with a start, as he remembered how Mrs. Montague had denied all knowledge of Mona.  “I have met the lady-is she a relative of yours?”

“No; at least, I never saw her until I entered her house to serve her.”

“My poor child! to think that you should have to go out to do such work,” said Ray, with tender regret.  “But of course, as you say, I can understand all about it, for that, too, was in the papers; but it was very heartless, very cruel in that Mrs. Dinsmore not to make you any allowance, when she could not fail to know that your uncle wished you to inherit his property.  She must be a very obnoxious sort of person, isn’t she?”

“I do not know,” said Mona, with a sigh; “I have never seen her-at least, not since I was a child, and too young to remember anything about her.”

“Do you mean that you did not meet her during the contest for Mr. Dinsmore’s fortune?” questioned Ray in surprise.

“No, she did not appear at all personally; all her business was transacted through her lawyer, as mine was through Mr. Graves,” Mona answered.

“Well, it was an inhuman thing for her to do, to take everything and leave you penniless, and obliged to earn your own living.  But that is all over now,” the young man said, looking fondly into the fair face beside him.  “Isn’t it, darling?  You have told me that you love me, but you have not yet promised me anything.  You are going to be my wife, are you not, Mona?”

“I hope so-if you wish-some time,” she answered, naively, yet with crimson cheeks and downcast eyes.

He laughed out gladly as he again embraced her.

“‘Some time, if I wish,’” he repeated.  “Well, I do wish, and the some time must be very soon, too.  Ah, my sweet, brown-eyed girlie! how happy I am at this moment!  I did not dream that I was to find such a wealth of joy when I came hither at my father’s earnest request.  I was grieving so for you I had no heart for the gayeties which I knew I should find here; now, however, I shall not find it difficult to be as gay as any one.  How glad I am, too, that I came to-night to find you here alone.  My father does not expect me until to-morrow; but I had a matter of importance to talk over with him, so ran up on the evening train.  But I am forgetting that I have a thrilling story to tell you.”

He then related all that had occurred in connection with the bold diamond robbery and his imprisonment and subsequent illness in Doctor Wesselhoff’s retreat for nervous patients, while Mona listened with wonder-wide eyes and a paling cheek, as she realized the danger through which her lover had passed.

“What an audacious scheme!” she exclaimed, when he concluded.  “How could any woman dare to plan, much less put it into execution!  No wonder that you were ill, and you must have been very sick, for you are still thin and pale,” Mona said, regarding him anxiously.

“I shall now soon outgrow that,” Ray responded, smiling.  “It was chiefly anxiety and unhappiness on your account that kept me thin and pale.  You will see how quickly I shall recover my normal condition now that I have found you and know that you are all my own.  Now tell me all about your own troubles, my darling.  Do you know, it seems an age to me since we parted that night at your uncle’s door, and you gave me permission to call upon you?  My intention then was to seek an interview with Mr. Dinsmore within a day or two, tell him of my love for you, and ask his permission to address you.  But, even had no misfortune overtaken me, I could not have done so, since he was stricken that very night; but at least I could have come to you with words of sympathy.”

Mona then gave him a detailed account of all that had happened during those dark days, when her only friend lay dead and she felt as if all the world had forsaken her.

“Mona,” the young man gravely said, when she had finished her story, “I shall tell my father to-night of this interview-he already knows that I love you-and ask his sanction to our immediate marriage, for I cannot have you remain here among my friends and acquaintances another day in the capacity of a seamstress or waiting-maid.”

“But, Ray-” Mona began, then she stopped short, blushing rosily at having thus involuntarily called him by his Christian name.  She had always thought of him thus, and it passed her lips before she was aware of it.

He laughed out, amused at her confusion.

“There, dear, you have broken the ice almost without knowing it,” he said; “now we shall get on nicely if you do not let it freeze over again; but what were you going to say?”

“I was going to ask you not to speak of-of our relations to each other to any one just yet,” Mona returned, with some embarrassment.

“Why not?” Ray demanded, astonished, and looking troubled by the request.

“There are reasons why I must remain for a while longer with Mrs. Montague,” said the young girl.

“Not in the capacity of waiting-maid,” Ray asserted, decidedly; “I cannot allow that.”

“Indeed I must, Ray,” Mona persisted, but with an appealing note in her voice; “and I will tell you why.  I told you that Mrs. Montague was no relative; she is not really, and yet-she was my father’s second wife.”

“Mona! you astonish me,” cried her lover, regarding her wonderingly.

“It is true, and there is some mystery connected with my own mother and my early history which I am exceedingly anxious to learn.  Uncle Walter told me something of it only the day before he died; but I am very sure that he kept back certain portions of the story which I ought to know, and which he was also anxious to tell me when he was dying, and could not.  I have no means even of proving my identity; if I had, I suppose that I could claim some of this wealth of which Mrs. Montague appears to have abundance, and I am sure that she has some proof in her possession.  I want to get it, and that is why I am anxious to remain with her a little longer.  Let me tell you everything,” Mona went on, hurriedly, as Ray seemed about to utter another protest to her wish.  “As I understand the story, my father was dependent upon a rich aunt who wished him to marry the present Mrs. Montague; but he, being in love with my mother, was opposed to so doing, although he was anxious to secure the fortune.  As he was about to start on a European tour he married my mother and took her with him, none of his friends apparently suspecting the union.

“Now comes a part of the story which I cannot understand.  They traveled for several months; but, while in Paris, my father suddenly disappeared, and my mother, believing herself deserted, in her pride and humiliation, immediately left the city, doubtless with the intention of returning to America.  She was taken ill in London, however, and there, a few months later, I was born, and she died only a few hours afterward.  Uncle Walter heard of her sad condition, and hastened to her, but was three days too late, and found only a poor weak infant upon whom to expend his love and care.  It seems very strange to me that she did not write to him at the time she fled from Paris; but I suppose, since she had eloped with and been secretly married to my father, she was too proud and sensitive to appeal to any one.  Later, my father married this Miss Barton to please his aunt and secure the fortune which he so much desired.  I do not know anything about his after-life.  I questioned Uncle Walter, but he would not talk about him-the most that he would tell me was that he was dead, but how, or when he died, I could never learn, and I do not know as there even exists any proof of his legal marriage with my mother, although my uncle confidentially asserted that she was his lawful wife.  I believe, however, that such proofs do exist and that they are in Mrs. Montague’s possession.”

Mona then proceeded to relate how she had happened to secure the position she now occupied.

“It seems very strange,” she said, “that fate should have thrown me thus into her home, and somehow I have a suspicion that she must have been concerned in the great wrong done my mother-that it was because of her influence that my father never owned nor provided for me.  And now,” Mona continued, flushing a deep crimson, “I am obliged to confess something of which I am somewhat ashamed.  When I found myself in Mrs. Montague’s home, and had resolved to remain, I knew that she would instantly suspect my identity if I should give her my true name.  This, of course, I did not wish her to do, and so when she asked me what she should call me, I told her ‘Ruth Richards,’ The name Ruth really belongs to me, but Richards is assumed.  Now, Ray, you can understand why I do not wish to have Mrs. Montague undeceived regarding my identity, as she must be if you insist upon at once proclaiming our relations.  I am very strongly impressed that she knows the secret of my father’s desertion of my mother, and also that she could prove, if she would, that I am the child of their legal marriage.”

Ray Palmer had grown very grave while listening to Mona’s story, and when she spoke of her assumed name it was evident, from the frown on his brow, that he did not approve of having her hide herself from the world in any such way.

“Why not ask her outright, then?” inquired this straightforward young man, as the young girl concluded.

“That would never do at all,” said Mona.  “Uncle Walter told me that she hated my mother, and me a hundred-fold on her account, and she would not be very likely to put any proofs into my hands, especially when they would be liable to be very detrimental to her own interests.”

“True, I did not think of that,” returned Ray, thoughtfully.  “But how do you expect to obtain possession of these proofs, even if she has them, and how long must I wait for you?” he gloomily added.

“I do not know, Ray,” she answered, with a sigh.  “I do not see my way very clearly.  I keep hoping, and something seems to hold me to this position in spite of myself.  Let me remain three or six months longer; then if I do not succeed-

“I will concede three months, but no more,” Ray interposed, decidedly; then added:  “What does it matter whether you know all this history or not?  It cannot be anything of vital importance, or that will affect your future in any way.  I wish you would let me speak to my father and announce our engagement at once, my darling.”

“Nay, please, Ray, let me have my way in this,” Mona pleaded, with crimson cheeks.  She could not tell him that she felt sensitive about becoming his wife until she could have absolute proof of the legal marriage of her father and mother.

He bent down and looked earnestly into her face.

“Mona, is that the only reason why you wish to wait?  You do not shrink from our union from any doubt of your own heart-of your love for me, or mine for you?” he gravely asked.

“No, indeed, Ray,” and she put out both her hands to him, with an eagerness that entirely reassured him even before she added:  “I cannot tell you how glad, how restful, how content I am since your coming to-night.  I was so lonely and sorrowful, the future looked so dark and cheerless because I feared I had lost you; but now all is bright.”

She dropped her face again upon his breast to hide the blushes this confession had called up, and the happy tears also that were dropping from her long lashes.

He gathered her close to his heart, thrilling at her words.

“Then I will try to be patient for three months, love,” he murmured, “and meantime I suppose you will have to be Ruth Richards to me as well as to others.”

“Yes, it will not do to have my real name known-that will spoil all,” Mona replied, with a sigh, for her truthful soul recoiled with as much aversion from all deception as he possibly could do.

“And am I not to see you during all this time?” Ray ruefully asked.

“Oh, yes; not to see you would be unbearable to me,” Mona responded quickly.  “Can you not manage to have some one introduce me to you as Miss Richards while you are here? then neither Mrs. Montague nor any one else would think it strange if you should seek me occasionally; only-

“Only what?” inquired the young man, wondering to see her color so vividly and appear so embarrassed.

“Perhaps I should not tell you,” Mona said, with some hesitation, “and yet you must learn the fact sooner or later from some other sources; but Mrs. Montague appears to be growing quite fond of your father, who is very attentive to her, and she might not exactly like-

“She might not like to have the son of the man for whom she is angling to pay attention to her seamstress, is what you were going to say?” Ray interposed, laughing, yet with a look of annoyance sweeping over his fine face.

“Something like it, perhaps,” Mona responded, flushing again.

“Well, I do not believe she is going to land her fish, if you will pardon the slang phrase,” said the young man, confidently.  “My father has successfully resisted the allurements of the gentler sex for too many years to succumb at this late day; so you and I need give ourselves no uneasiness upon that score.  Does he know you as Ruth Richards?”

“Yes, if indeed he knows me at all.  I have received no introduction to him, and I only knew him from hearing Mr. Wellington greet him and inquire regarding the lost diamonds,” Mona explained.  Then she added:  “Do you expect to recover them, Ray? have you any clew?”

“Yes, we have a slight one, we think, and that is one reason why I am here to-night.  The detective in our employ sent a telegram to my father yesterday mentioning the fact, but he thought it best for me to come up to-night and talk the matter over more fully with him, and hurry him back to New York early on Tuesday morning.  A woman is being shadowed upon the suspicion of having committed a bold swindle in Chicago, and Mr. Rider thinks, without any doubt, that she is the same person who so cleverly did us out of our diamonds.”

“Hark! please,” said Mona, as just then she caught the sound of voices in the distance, “the party is returning from evening service, and I must not be found here with you.”

“I am loath to let you go, my brown-eyed sweetheart,” Ray tenderly responded.

“And I to go,” Mona answered softly, “but it is best that I should; we must both be judicious for a while-we must not be too exacting when we have had this great new happiness come to us so unexpectedly,” and she lifted her luminous eyes to him.

He clasped her to him again.

“Good-night, my darling,” he said; then with one lingering kiss upon her lips, he let her go, and she stole softly up stairs, with a joyous heart and step, while Ray drew a paper from his pocket, and was apparently deeply absorbed in its contents when the party entered the house.

A good deal of surprise was expressed when his arrival was discovered, and he was accorded a warm welcome by the host and hostess as well as by every guest.