She was eighteen years old and would graduate in a few weeks, yet Elsie looked like a child, lying there in that little white bed, with her golden curls scattered on the pillow and the soft whiteness of her neck and hands shaded by the delicate Valenciennes with which her night robe was profusely decorated. A quantity of hot house flowers lay scattered on the counterpane, where the girl had flung them, one by one, from a bouquet she was still tearing to pieces. A frown was on her pretty forehead, and her large violet eyes shone feverishly. It was seldom anything half so lovely appeared in the confined sleeping rooms of that highly fashionable boarding school. Indeed, since its foundation it is doubtful if a creature half so beautiful as Elsie Mellen had ever slept within its walls.
Just as the girl had littered the whole bed with flowers, which she broke and crushed as a child breaks the toys he is weary of, the door of the room opened, and a young lady entered, with a plate of hot-house grapes in her hand. She was older than the sick girl by two or three years, and in all respects a grave and most womanly contrast. Calm, gracious and dignified, she came forward with an air of protection and sat down by the bed, holding out her grapes.
"See what your brother has sent you."
The girl started up and flung back the hair from her face.
"From Piney Bend," she exclaimed, lifting one of the purple clusters in her hand, and crowding two or three of the grapes into her mouth at once, with the delicious greed of a naughty child. "Oh, how cool and nice. Dear old Grant, I wonder when he is coming."
"Sometime to-day, the messenger said," answered the young lady, and a soft peach-like bloom swept over her face as she spoke.
Elsie was looking at her friend; and a quick, mischievous light came into her own face.
"Bessie," she murmured, in a voice mellowed and muffled by the grapes in her mouth. "Don't tell me anything—only I think—I think—oh! wouldn't it be fun?—there, there, how you are blushing."
"Blushing, how foolish! But I am glad to see you well enough even to talk nonsense."
"Nonsense! look here, Miss Prim: if you're not in love with my brother Grantley Mellen, I never was in love with anybody in my life."
"There, there! I shan't believe a word you say—more than that, I believe he's in love with you."
No blushes burned that noble face now, for it grew white with a great surprise, and for a moment Elizabeth Fuller's heart ceased to beat.
Could this be true! These light, careless words from a young girl seemed to shake the foundation of her life. Did she love the man, who for three weeks had been a daily visitor in that sick room, whose voice had been music to her, whose eyes had been so often lifted to hers in tender gratitude. Could her heart have proved so cruelly rebellious? Then the other impossible things the girl had hinted at. Elsie had not meant it for cruelty, but still it was very cruel, to startle her with glimpses of a heaven she never must enter. What was she but a poor orphan girl, teaching in that school in order to pay for the tuition which had refined and educated her into the noble woman she unconsciously was. Of course Mr. Mellen was grateful for the care she had taken of his beautiful sister, and that was all. Elsie was almost well now, and would leave the school that term. After that there was little chance that she would ever see Grantley Mellen again.