Alex. McVeigh Miller
Pretty Geraldine, the New York Salesgirl; or, Wedded to Her Choice

Pretty Geraldine, the New York Salesgirl; or, Wedded to Her Choice
Alex. McVeigh Miller

Mrs. Alex. McVeigh Miller

Pretty Geraldine, the New York Salesgirl; or, Wedded to Her Choice

CHAPTER I.

ON THE THRESHOLD OF HER FATE

"If I could have my dearest wish fulfilled,
And take my choice of all earth's treasures, too,
Or choose from Heaven whatsoe'er I willed,
I'd ask for you!

"No one I'd envy, either high or low,
No king in castle old or palace new;
I'd hold Calconda's mines less rich than I
If I had you!"

"There is more charm for my true, loving heart,
In everything you think, or say, or do,
Then all the joys that Heaven could e'er impart,
Because it's you!"

She stood behind the counter in H. O'Neill's splendid dry-goods emporium on Sixth avenue—only one of his army of salesgirls, yet not a belle of the famous society Four Hundred could eclipse her in beauty—pretty Geraldine, with her great, starry, brown eyes lighting up a bewitching face, with a skin like a rose-leaf, and a low, white brow, crowned by an aureole of curly hair, in whose waves the sunshine was tangled so that it could not get free. Her round, white throat rose proudly from a simple, nun-like gown of fine black serge, unadorned save by the beauty of the form it fitted with easy grace.

She would have graced a queen's drawing-room, this lovely girl with her starry eyes and demure dimples, but untoward fate had placed her behind a glove counter in New York.

It was very cold up to ten o'clock that bright October morning, and the great throngs of fall shoppers were not yet out in force, so Geraldine had an idle moment in which to gossip with her chum, plump, gray-eyed Cissy Carroll.

They both belonged to an amateur dramatic society, and a generous manager had sent them tickets for the play that evening. It was of this anticipated pleasure that they were chatting joyously, when a low, deep, masculine voice spoke to Geraldine across the counter:

"Gloves, please."

She turned quickly toward her customer, and at the same moment a very exacting lady claimed Cissy's attention.

The shop was rapidly filling with elegantly dressed women of fashion, and they would have no more leisure that day.

Geraldine saw before her an elegant-looking gentleman—tall, broad-shouldered, graceful, with a clean-shaven face, clear-cut features, fair, clustering locks, and large, glittering, light-blue eyes, keen and clear as points of steel in their direct gaze, but with something unpleasant somehow in their admiring expression that made the pretty salesgirl drop her eyes bashfully, as he continued, easily:

"I have lost a bet of a box of gloves to a lady, and would like you to assist me in selecting some pretty ones to pay the debt."

"What size?" she asked, as she began pulling down the boxes.

"Sixes," he replied, and added: "She is a gay and pretty young girl—an actress."

"An actress!" Geraldine sighed, enviously, then smothered the sigh by saying, carelessly: "We both wear the same size of glove."

"Ah!" and the customer gazed admiringly at the slender, dimpled white hands sorting out the gloves, then continued: "And I am an actor, and it pleases me to tell you that I am Clifford Standish, the leading man in 'Hearts and Homes,' the society play you are going to see to-night."

He laid his elegantly engraved card before her, and she started with surprise and pleasure, faltering, eagerly:

"I—I am proud to know you—but how did you guess I was going to the theatre to-night?"

"I beg your pardon for listening, but I heard you and your chum talking about it while I stood at the counter waiting for you to notice me."

"Oh, did I keep you waiting? I am very sorry; and if the floor-walker had observed my inattention, I should have been scolded."

Clifford Standish drank in with keen delight the music of her voice, and thrilled with rapture at her rare beauty, so he answered, gallantly:

"He did not see you, and I was in no hurry, for it pleased me just to stand there and watch you. I was watching your spirited face and gestures and thinking that you would make a clever actress. You belong to an amateur dramatic society, do you not?"

"Oh, yes, and I enjoy it so much. It is the dream of my life to be an actress!" exclaimed Geraldine, impulsively, her eager, brown eyes shining like stars. Her beauty thrilled his blood like a draught of rare old wine, and he felt that here was the love of his life, for no woman had ever touched his heart as maddeningly as this one; so he answered, almost as passionately, in a swift, overmastering impulse to draw her within the circle of his life:

"A dream that may easily become a reality. Will you let me help you to become an actress? I am almost sure that I can secure you a position in my company."

"Oh, I would be so grateful," smiled Geraldine, her cheeks glowing crimson with joy.

"Then you will permit me to call on you and talk it over? Let me see—you will be at home this evening at seven o'clock, will you not? May I come for half an hour at that time?"

"If you please," she answered, eagerly, scribbling her address on the back of his card.

He took it with thanks, his keen, blue eyes gleaming with triumph at the success of his ruse, and then gave his attention to the gloves, which he paid for and directed to be sent to his hotel.

He lingered as long as he dared after the purchase, but another customer soon claimed Geraldine's attention, so he smiled and bowed himself away, leaving the young girl with a fluttering heart and blushing cheeks, the result of this chance, but fateful, meeting.

Geraldine and Cecilia were close friends, having come together from their country homes to seek employment among strangers in the great city. They roomed together in the third story of a cheap apartment-house, and Cissy, as her intimates called her, was like an older sister to the ambitious Geraldine.

Cissy was twenty-five, and her friend only eighteen, so she always assumed the role of adviser to her junior, and as they walked home from the store that evening, she said, reprovingly:

"My dear, I didn't like the young man who talked to you so glibly over the gloves this morning."

"Ah, Cissy, you don't know who that young man was, or you would be proud of his notice!" And Geraldine poured out a breathless account of her good fortune.

But, to her surprise, Cecilia answered, gravely:

"Oh, I heard a good deal that he was saying to you, and noticed, too, that he looked at you as if he would like to eat you up. But, dear Geraldine, please don't let him persuade you with his silly flatteries to go on the stage. It's a hard life for a young girl, they say, and full of terrible temptations. Believe me, you are better off behind O'Neill's glove counter."

Geraldine's pride was cruelly wounded at Cissy's lack of sympathy in her pet ambition, and she answered, rashly:

"Cissy Carroll, you're just jealous, that's why you preach to me! I can't help being pretty and attractive, can I? And I know that if he had offered to make you an actress, instead of me, you'd have sung quite another tune."

Cecilia felt her friend's slur on her own attractiveness, and flushed with quick resentment.

She knew that she was not as beautiful as Geraldine, but she had the soft, plump prettiness of a gray dove, so attractive to many men, and she had not lacked for admirers, although, for reasons of her own, she was single still, so she tossed her pretty dark head, her gray eyes flashing scorn, and made no reply to the ungenerous attack.

Geraldine, still angry, continued, patronizingly:

this