By Edyth Kirkwood, Peterson’s Magazine, February 1884
“Ah! there you are at last, Cora. I was just going to send your breakfast up to you. Did you have a pleasant time, at the party, last night?”
Cora drew up her chair, stirred her coffee sleepily, repressed a yawn, and replied, slowly:
“It was a perfect crush. I got myself ensconced, and enjoyed myself in a corner: I had no mind to spoil my dress by trying to dance in such a crowd.”
Mrs. Blondin—for Cora’s sister was married—stared. Cora was usually willing to dance, if she could get standing-room and no more.
“You must have had a most agreeable companion,” she observed, sagely. “Who was it?”
“I was talking most of the evening to a friend of Mr. Melton’s,” she replied, the color growing deeper in her cheeks. “He is visiting here.”
“Oh! I wonder if it wasn’t Val—” began Mrs. Blondin. “But here is Kitty with the letters,” she said, stopping short in her sentence.
“No, ma’am,” answered the maid; “the postman hasn’t come round yet. It’s only a note from Mrs. Melton, which the messenger said I wuz to be very particular to give into your own hands; and he’s waiting for an answer.”
While Cora finished her coffee, Mrs. Blondin broke the envelope, read the note, and then, with an evident effort to repress a smile, put it in her pocket, and going to a table near by, dashed off a few lines, and gave it to the maid.
Cora’s eyes followed every movement curiously. “My dear sister,” she purred, coaxingly, “what is it all about? And why this mystery? Let me see it, too;” and she held out her hand.
“It’s only a note from Mrs. Melton, saying she will call this evening with her husband, and asking permission to bring their friend—Mr. Hartwell,” replied Mrs. Blondin.
“Oh! is that all?” pouted Cora, in a tone of pretended disappointment.
“What did you suppose it was?” asked her sister, teasingly. “Not a valentine, eh? Although this is the great day.”
Cora made a little face, and ran out of the room; and then her sister laughed heartily, as she drew the note out of her pocket, and read it again. It ran thus:
“Dear Nellie: When we were school-girls together, you were always begging me not to scheme and plot; but ’tis my nature to,’ and you know I never use my gifts maliciously. I have composed a little snare for your sister, whose interest in our friend Mr. Hartwell only equals to his in her. You remember Valentine, don’t you? You know he is everything that is good and manly; so you need have no scruples in aiding me. All I want of you is silence concerning Mr. Hartwell’s first name. Don’t breathe it; and leave the rest to me. Shall you be at home this evening? If so, Mr. Melton and I will call, about eight; and I suppose I have your permission to bring our friend.”
“Ever yours, Agusta Melton.”
The day wore on. Kitty, the maid, got a lace-paper missive, with two clasped hands, a cupid, a church-door, a ring, and a rhyme, which made her heart light for the rest of the day: for who but the milk-man sent it?
As for Cora, the valentines she received were almost legion. No one was so popular. And now to-night she sat at a little round table in the drawing-room, with her pile of valentines before her. Never had she looked prettier. She wore a simple black-silk dress, which brought out in exquisite relief her fair rose-bloom complexion. Her golden hair, bound by a narrow fillet of black velvet ribbon across her head, fell in masses down her back. Her blue eyes looked up with a soft far-away expression. Her rich red half-pouting lips were as tempting as ripe pomegranates.
Her sister was standing by her, taking up one valentine after another, and commenting on them, wondering from whom each came. “I should have thought your new acquaintance of last night would have sent one,” she said. “I wonder if this, after all, is not from him,” she added, as she held up an unusually elegant one.
At this instance the door opened, and the maid announced “Mr. Hartwell,” before the speaker could put down the valentine.
As the girl spoke, a tall handsome gentleman entered. He bowed to Mrs. Blondin, and said, holding out a letter:
“Mrs. Melton was so earnest in her entreaties that I should bring you this note, that I hurried off before her, at her own desire; and she begged me to ask you to open and read it at once.”
“Oh,” said Mrs. Blondin, “it is for my sister,” glancing at the envelope.
“Mrs. Melton is abounding in mysteries to-day, laughed Cora, as she rose, and, courtesying to the new-comer, took the letter. “She sent a fleet messenger early this morning with some secret communication for my sister. I wonder what is in it. But pray sit down.”
He complied. She sank again into her chair, and read the note. But having done so, she looked perplexed. She turned the papers over, shook them, peeped into the envelope, saying:
“Why, how strange! Is this all, Mr. Hartwell? Didn’t she give you another letter for me?”
“That was all, Miss Cora; and although she did not acquaint me with the contents, she seemed to attach great importance to my personally giving it to you.”
“Well, I don’t suppose there is any reason why you shouldn’t know the contents. Mrs. Melton only says she sends me a valentine, which she hopes I will accept,” said Cora.
Mr. Hartwell uttered an inarticulate exclamation: started for the door; came back; and, muttering a vague apology, stood gazing at the fair speaker. “Has he lost his senses?” thought Mrs. Blondin. As for Cora, she looked at him in undisguised wonder.
“I believe in my heart you have lost it, Mr. Hartwell,” she said at last, with a gay laugh. “You have lost my valentine, and you are afraid to confess. Isn’t it so? Really, you act like one with something on his conscience. Well, I’m sorry to lose it; but never mind.”
“One moment, I beg!” he cried. “Let me explain; for Mrs. Melton will tell you if I do not. My Christian name is Valentine, and she-you know she is full of fun-she must have meant that when she sent the note by me. She sent you a Valentine.”
“Oh!” said Cora, stiffly; “was that it? Yes, she certainly is full of fun; but I must say I think her joke has been carried a little too far this time.” Her voice was quite indignant.
“Miss Grayson, I beg you to believe me. I did not know any more about it than you. I am truly distressed,” said the visitor.
“Pray don’t apologize. I believe you. Let us drop it.” Softening a little in her tone.
But Mr. Hartwell did not wish to drop it.
“Miss Cora, there is something else, Mrs. Melton send you a valentine which she hoped you would accept. We have met but twice, it is true; and I should never have presumed, on my own part, to offer myself on such a short acquaintance. But is has been done fore me; and—pardon me—I do not regret it. there is such a thing as love at first sight; and I love you devotedly.”
He tried to take her hand, forgetful of her sister’s presence-who, however, had retired discreetly into the background. But Cora drew back shyly. Neither of them heard the door-bell ring, nor saw a laughing group gathered at the door of the room. Both stared violently when Mrs. Melton’s merry voice rang out:
“Upon my word, things seem to be progressing nicely. The good fates always preside over my little plots. So my Valentine pleases you?”
As she spoke, she came in effusively, and patted the young girl’s flushed cheek.
“Not at all!” began Cora, indignantly. Then she stammered: “At least—I mean—” and suddenly stopped.
“It was really very amusing of you, Mrs. Melton,” said Mr. Hartwell, lightly, coming to the rescue. “Not at all a bad joke.”
“Then she accepted you, Valentine?” queried the saucy little lady.
“She did not refuse me flatly,” he replied. “As to accepting, in time I hope she may.”
And in time she did. Yes! she married her VALENTINE.