This excerpt completely captures the essence of women’s romantic dime novels:
“I Have Risked My Life To Save You–Because–I Love You, Little Gay.”
As soon as the breathless throng who had but a few moments before quitted the mill discovered what had happened, the most intense thankfulness prevailed that all were safe.
They had climbed the hill that led to the village beyond not a moment too soon.
Suddenly a voice, shrill and piercing, cleft the night air, striking a cold chill to the hearts of all who heard it.
It was Hazel Esterbrook, who staggered among them with wild, incoherent cries.
For a moment after rushing waters had forced her back from the doorway and among her companions, she had stood there like a marble statue, dumb, motionless, dazed.
Where was Little Gay, her darling? Had they been separated in the crowd and missed each other?
“Gay!” she called, wildly, “Gay!” Oh, God! where is my little sister Gay? She went back to the weaving-room after her key. I–I–cannot find her!”
A terrific peal of thunder and a vivid flash of lightening followed, and intuitively all eyes were turned in the direction of the old mill in the valley below, and a cry of horror burst from every lip.
In that brief flash of lightning they had plainly discerned the slender, girlish future at the window. Her lovely white arms were stretched out toward them in an agony of supplication, terror and despair were written upon every feature of the beautiful face.
They say her lips move, and they knew it was a prayer for help, thought they could not hear her piteous voice.
All this had transpired within a few brief minutes, and as is often the case in great emergencies, the crowd stood by, petrified with horror, unable to act or move.
Hazel Esterbrook’s piercing cry rang out over the seething, surging water, which was fast submerging the mill in the valley below. Heaven pity her! In that instantaneous flash she saw and realized her darling’s peril.
“Oh, my God!” she shrieked, darting toward the dark, seething water, “I must have my Little Gay!”
A strong hand drew her forcibly back and a hoarse voice cried in her ear:
“Take heart; I will save your Little Gay or will perish with her!”
Just as the torches which had been quickly improvised with lighted, Percy Granville–for it was he–tore off his coat, and leaping into the boiling, lashing waves, struck boldly out toward the mill.
He was a strong, athletic young fellow, cool and daring; yet it was no light task to brave that swollen stream that had burst its narrow confines and the freshet of roaring water, which was now a mighty cataract rising higher and higher each moment.
The undercurrent was swift and treacherous too, for the rapids with the huge rocks in its bed lay scarcely a dozen rods below.
How the breathless throng watched him! How they cheered when they saw through the lighting flashes that he had grasped the broad windowledge upon which poor, terrified Little Gay had crept!
And their lusty hurrahs rang out as Gay’s joyous cry floated back to them as she realized that help was at hand.
A moment more and the ledge itself was deluged, and they were standing ankle-deep in the dark, curling waves, with the water rising higher and higher.
Five minutes more and it would cover their heads.
The hope of clinging there until a boat could be procured and sent to their rescue would be madness; no boat could live for an instant on these terrible waves.
“Oh, we are lost! we are lost!” sobbed Gay, clinging to Percy Granville’s arm in abject terror. “Oh, why did you come to save me only to lose your life, too!”
Two strong arms lifted the slight, trembling form out of the seething waters up to his throbbing breast, tightening their clasp about her before he took the perilous leap back in to the water with his clinging burden.
“Little Gay” he whispered hoarsely resting his white handsome face for one brief second against the girl’s dusky cheek–“I have come to save you–because–I love you. You are all the world to me. If you were to die my life would be wrecked. Yes, I love you, Little Gay.”
He clasped the little white arms close around his neck, commanding her to cling to him and not to let go, for he was going to breast the mad waves with her.
“Will you trust your life to me, Gay?” he asked tenderly.
“Yes,” she sobbed faintly, catching her breath with a shudder, her clasp tightening around his neck.
“If we perish, we perish together, my darling,” he said solemnly, straining her to his heart.
The next instant he had plunged back into the roaring waves with his lovely, terrified burden, striking boldly and bravely out for the beacon lights that lined the shore, were a vast throng had gathered.
How the people anxiously watched the two forms that were struggling at the wild mercy of the waves and the storm, which the fitful flashes of lightning revealed to their strained eyes.
“Oh, God! would it be life or death with them?” was the terrified cry that rose to every lip. Mothers knelt down in the pitiless storm and prayed for them. Strong men cried aloud, weeping as they had never wept in all their lives before. Young girls held their breath in piteous suspense.
They dared not cheer the noble hero, or utter any cry lest it might unnerve the brave swimmer and cause him to drop his burden.
Five minutes–ten–that seemed almost an eternity to the breathless watchers–passed. Now he was near enough to catch the rope that was flung out to him.
Strong hands pulled with a will, and amid rousing cheers, Percy Granville gained the shore, and laid his lovely, dripping burden in her sister’s arms.
One instant after poor Gay had struck the water she had lost all sense of her deadly peril, falling heavily back in his arms in a deep swoon.
The sun was shining brightly in the small room the two sisters occupied, when Gay opened her dark, dazed eyes the next day. Hazel was standing over her with a white, scared face.
“Oh, Gay, my darling, I though you would never come to,” sobbed Hazel, sinking on her knees by the white couch, and tenderly stroking the brown curly head.
“Then it was not a dream, after all?’ Gay whispered, in a low, hushed voice. “I really stood on the windowledge–with the cold, dark water rising higher and higher around me, and he came to my rescue–he saved me?”
“Yes, Mr. Granville saved you,” responded Hazel. “Oh, Gay, how grateful we must be to him through life–good, kind, noble Percy Granville, the true friend of the dependent working-girls.”
Gay’s face, which she hid quickly in the white, ruffled pillow, flushed burning hot.
Should she tell Hazel what he had said to her when they stood face to face with death together, and the cold, dark water eddying around them? Should she tell her that he had whispered to her that he loved her–yes, loved the little working-girl who earned her bread in his uncle’s mill–the mill that might one day be his own?
It is hard to tell the sweet love-secrets of a girlish heart even to a sympathetic, tender-hearted sister like Hazel. Gay wanted so much to tell her, but a tender bashfulness sealed her rosy lips.
Handsome Percy Granville had been the hero whom she had always worshipped from afar since first she saw him, and could it really be possible that he cared for her?