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A Face Illumined by E. P. Roe

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After becoming more calm, and as if acting under a sudden impulse,
she hastily made a simple but singular toilet.

When completed, her mirror reflected a plain, close-fitting, black
gown, which left her neck and arms bare. Around her white throat
she placed a black velvet band, and joined it by a small jet poniard
studded with diamonds. Her sunny hair was wound into a severely
simple coil, and also fastened with a larger poniard, from the haft
and guard of which glistened diamonds of peculiar brilliancy. She
took off all her rings, and wore no other ornaments. Then taking
from her table a book, bearing conspicuously as its title the word
"Misjudged," she went down to the parlor.

She paused a moment on the threshold before she was noticed. Her
mother was eagerly gossiping with two or three fashionable
women about a scandal that she hoped might cause her own family's
short-comings to be forgotten in part. Miss Burton was telling a
story in her own inimitable style, and ripples of smiles and laughter
eddied from her constantly. Stanton's and Van Berg's faces were
aglow with pleasure, and it was plain the speaker absorbed all
their thoughts.

"In the same way he will forget me, after I am dead," said the
unhappy girl to herself, and the thought sent a colder chill to
her heart, and a deeper pallor to her face.

Her gaze seemed to draw his, for he looked up suddenly. On
recognizing her his first impulse was to coldly avert his eyes,
but in a second her unusual appearance riveted his attention. She
saw the impulse, however, and would not look towards him again. She
entered as quietly and as unexpectedly as a ghost, and the people
seemed as much surprised and perplexed as if she were a ghost.

She took a seat somewhat apart from all others, and apparently
commenced reading. She was not so far away but that Van Berg could
decipher the title, "Misjudged," and having made out the significant
word, its letters grew luminous like the diamonds in her hair.

Never before had he been so impressed by her beauty, and yet there
was an element in it which made him shiver with a dread he could
not explain to himself. He was surprised and shocked to find how
pale and wan her face had become, but in every severe marble curve
of her features he saw the word, "Misjudged." He could scarcely
recognize her as the blooming girl that he had first seen in the
concert garden. Suffering, trouble of mind, was evidently the dark
magician that was thus transforming her; but why did she suffer so
deeply? As she sat there before him, not only his deeper instincts,
but his reason refused almost indignantly to associate her any
longer with Sibley. There was a time when she seemed akin to him;
but now she suggested deep trouble, despair, death even, rather
than a gross "bon vivant." Was she ill! Yes, evidently, but he
doubted if her malady had physical causes.

"What a very strange toilet she has made!" he thought; "simple and
plain to the last degree, and yet singularly effective and striking.
Her fingers were once loaded with rings, but she has taken them all
off, and now her hands are as perfect as her features. She does
not wear a single ornament, save those ominous poniards. Does she
mean to signify by these that she is wounded, or that she proposes
to inflict wounds? Ye gods! how strangely, terribly, exasperatingly
beautiful she is! I have certainly both misjudged and misunderstood
her."

These thoughts passed through his mind as he stole an occasional
glance at their object, who sat with her profile towards him almost
in the line of his vision. At the same time he was apparently
listening to a prosy and interminable story from one of the group
of which he was a member. They had been telling anecdotes of travel,
and the last speaker's experience was, like his journey, long and
uninteresting.

Van Berg soon observed that many others besides himself were observing
Miss Mayhew. She seemed to fascinate, perplex, and trouble all
who looked towards her. The singular beauty and striking toilet
might account, in part, for the lingering glances, but not for the
perplexity and uneasiness they caused. If Ida had been dead her
features could not have been more colorless; and they had a stern,
hard, desperate expression that was sadly out of harmony with what
should be the appearance of a happy young girl.

Her presence seemed to cause an increasing chill and restraint.
The healthful and normal minds of those about her grew vaguely
conscious of another mind that had been deeply moved, shaken to
its foundations, and so had become almost abnormal and dangerous
in its impulses.

There is a very general tendency both to observe and to shrink
from that which is unnatural, and if the departure from what is
customary is shown in unexpected and unusual mental action, the
stronger become the uneasiness and dread in those who witness it.
All who saw Ida recognized that she was not only unlike herself,
but unlike any one in an ordinary state of mind, and people who were
intimate looked at each other significantly, as if to ask--"What
is the matter with Miss Mayhew? What is the matter with us all?"

Were it not that the maiden occasionally turned a leaf, in order
to keep up the illusion that she was reading, she might have been
a statue, so motionless was her form, and so pallid her face.
But she felt that she was perplexing and troubling those who had
wounded her, and the consciousness gave secret satisfaction. Her
past experience taught her to appreciate stage effect, and, since
she meditated a tragedy, she proposed that everything should be as
tragic and blood-curdling as possible.

There is usually but a short step between high tragedy and painful
absurdity, which exasperates us while we laugh at it; but poor
Ida's thoughts were so desperately dark and despairing, and her
exquisite features, made almost transparent by grief and fasting,
so perfectly interpreted her unfeigned wretchedness, that even those
who knew her but slightly were touched and troubled in a way that
they could not explain even to themselves.

Miss Burton was evidently meditating how she could approach Ida,
who seemed encased in a repellant atmosphere. Van Berg saw that
Stanton looked anxious and perplexed, and that Mrs. Mayhew was
exceedingly worried and annoyed. At last he hastily approached
her daughter and whispered,

"For heaven's sake, Ida, what's the matter? You look as if you
had gone into mourning."

The young lady glanced coldly up and said stonily:

"You have at least taught me to dress appropriately."

"Nonsense," continued the mother, in a low, irritable tone. "Why
can't you cheer up and act like other people? Don't you see you're
giving us all the shivers?"

She slowly swept the room with her eyes, and saw that not a few
curious glances were directed towards her. Then, with bowed head,
she glided from the room without a word.

Miss Burton caught up with her in the hall-way. "You are ill, Miss
Mayhew," she said, with gentle solicitude.

"Yes," Ida replied, in the same stony, repellant manner; "but you
are not a physician, Miss Burton. Good evening." And she went
swiftly up to her own room, as if determined to speak with no one
else that evening.

Chapter XXXVI. Temptation's Voice

Van Berg had been so near that he could not help overhearing Mrs.
Mayhew's words which had led to the abrupt and silent departure of
her daughter from the parlor.

"There is some misunderstanding here," he thought, "whose effects
are becoming outrageously cruel. The poor girl was driven away
from the supper-table, and now she is driven out of the parlor.
She has been an anomaly from the moment I saw her, and I now mean
to fathom the mystery. Her exquisite face indicates that she
is almost desperate from some kind of trouble. She is becoming
ill--she is wasting under it. Sibley would be a fatal malady to
any respectable girl, but I must give up all pretence of skill at
diagnosis if he is the cause; for were her heart set on him why the
mischief can't she go to him with all her old reckless flippancy?
There is no need of any elopement, as Ik fears. She can easily
compel her mother to go to the city, and her father would have no
power to prevent the alliance, were she bent upon it. I believe her
family misunderstand and are wronging her, and I may have occasion
to go down on my knees myself, metaphorically, and ask her pardon
for my superior airs."

These and kindred other thoughts passed through his mind as he
slowly paced up and down a side piazza which he often sought when
he wished to be alone. Stanton, having lost Miss Burton for the
evening, soon joined him, and threw himself dejectedly into a chair.

"Van," he said, "I used to be rather self-complacent. I thought
I had learned to take life so philosophically that I should have a
good time as long as my health lasted. But to-night I feel as if
life were a horribly heavy burden which I, an overladen jackass,
must carry for many a weary day. How little we know what we are
and what is before us! I've been a fool; I am a fool!"

"Well, Ik," replied Van Berg with a shrug, "I imagine there is a
pair of us. My reason--all that's decent in me--refuses to regard
Sibley as the cause of your cousin's most evident distress. For
heaven's sake don't confirm your words of this afternoon, or I shall
feel like taking the first train, in order to escape from the most
exasperating paradox that ever contradicted a man's senses."

"Van, you are right. I am mortified with myself beyond measure,
and I am bitterly ashamed that my aunt, her own mother, should
have so grossly misjudged her. Sibley, no doubt, IS the occasion
of her trouble in part, for she seems fairly to writhe under the
false position in which he has placed her by leading every one to
associate her name with his; but I now believe that she loathes
and detests him more than you or I can. Certainly no woman could
speak of a man in harsher or more scathing terms than she spoke
of him to-night. Well, to sum up the whole miserable trough, by
taking her mother's view for granted, I made such a mess of it that
I doubt if she ever speaks civilly to either of us again."

"Why! was my name mentioned?" asked Van Berg, quickly.

"Yes, confound it all! When things are going wrong there is a
miserable fatality about them, and the worst always happens. She
asked me point-blank if you shared my estimate of her, and I suppose
got the impression you did."

"Well really, Stanton," said Van Berg, with some irritation, "I
think you must have been unfortunate in your language."

"Worse than unfortunate. The whole blunder is unpardonable.
Still, do me justice. I could not answer her question with a bold
lie. And what would have been its use? How could you explain your
bearing towards her at the supper table? Your manner would have
frozen Jezebel herself."

"I was an infernal fool," groaned Van Berg.

"It is due to us both that I should say I told her you had tried
to form a good opinion of her, and very reluctantly received the
view her mother suggested. I said, in effect, you wished to think
well of her, although she had treated you so badly."

"Treated me badly! I have treated her a thousandfold worse. She,
at least, has never insulted me, and I can never forgive myself
for the insult I have offered her.

"Well, I hope to find her in the mood to accept an apology in the
morning," said Stanton.

"I'm in a confoundedly awkward position to apologize," growled
Van Berg. "Any reference to such an affair will be like another
insult;" and the friends parted in an unsatisfactory state of mind
towards each other, and especially towards themselves.

But that was a sad and memorable night to Ida Mayhew. She felt
that it might be her last on earth; for her dark purpose was rapidly
taking definite form.

she was passing into that unhealthful condition of mental excitement,
in which the salutary restraints of the physical nature lose their
power. In the place of drowsiness and weariness, she began to
experience an unnatural exaltation which would make any reckless
folly possible, if it took the guise of sublime and tragic action.

Few realize to what degree the mind can become warped and disordered,
even with a brief time, by trouble and the violation of the laws
of health; and some, by education and temperament, are peculiarly
predisposed to abnormal conditions. Science has taught men how
to build ships with water-tight compartments, so that if disaster
crushes in on one side, the other parts may save from sinking.
There are fortunate people who are built on the same safe principle.
They have cultivated minds, and varied resources in artistic and
scientific pursuits. Above all else, they may have faith in God and
a better life to come; such possessions are like the compartments
of a modern ship. Few disasters can destroy them all, and in the
loss of one or more the soul is kept afloat by the others.

But it would seem that poor Ida's character had been constructed
with fatal simplicity, and when the cold waves of trouble rushed
in there was nothing to prevent her from sinking beneath them like
a stone. Her mind was uncultivated, and art, science, literature
offered her as yet no resources, no pursuits. She had a woman's
heart that might have been filled with sustaining love, but in its
place had come a sudden and icy flood of disappointment and despair.
She loved, with all the passion and simplicity of a narrow, yet
earnest nature, the man who had awakened the woman within her,
and he, she believed, would never give her aught in return, save
contempt. She naturally thought that she had been degraded in his
estimation beyond all ordinary means of redemption; therefore, in
her desperation and despair, she was ready to take an extraordinary
method of compelling at least his respect.

Moreover, Ida was impatient and impetuous by nature. She had a
large capacity for action, but little for endurance. It would be
almost impossible for her to reach woman's loftiest heroism, and
sit "like Patience on a monument, smiling at grief." It would be
her disposition rather to rush forward, and dash herself against an
adverse fate, meeting it even more than half way. All the influences
of her life had tended to develop imperiousness, willfulness, and
now her impulse was to enter a protest against her hard lot that
was as passionate and reckless as it was impotent.

Apart from her supreme wish to fill Van Berg with regret, and awaken
in him something like respect, the thought of dragging on a wretched
existence through the indefinite years to come was intolerable. The
color had utterly faded out of life, and left it bald and repulsive
to the last degree.

Fashionable dissipation promised her nothing. She had often tasted
this, to the utmost limit of propriety, and was well aware that
the gay whirl had nothing new to offer, unless she plunged into
the mad excitement of a life which is as brief as it is vile. It
was to her credit that death seemed preferable to this. It was
largely due to her defective training and limited experience, that
a useful, innocent life, even though it promised to be devoid of
happiness, was so utterly repulsive that she was ready to throw it
away in impatient disgust.

As yet she was incapable of Jennie Burton's divine philosophy
of "pleasing not" herself. he who "gave his life for others" was
but a name at the pronunciation of which, in the Service, she was
accustomed to bow profoundly, but to whom, in her heart, she had
never bowed or offered a genuine prayer. Religion seemed to her a
sort of fashion which differed with the tastes of different people.
She was a practical atheist.

It is a fearful thing to permit a child to grow up ignorant of God,
and of the sacred principles of duty which should be inwrought in
the conscience, and enforced by the most vital considerations of
well-being, both for this world and the world to come.

But Ida Mayhew thought not of God or duty, but only of her thwarted,
unhappy life, from which she shrank weakly and selfishly, assuring
herself that she could not and would not endure it. In her father
she saw only increasing humiliation; in her mother, one for whom
she had but little affection and less respect, and who would of
necessity irritate the wounds that time might slowly heal, could she
live in an atmosphere of delicate, unspoken sympathy; in herself,
one whom she now believed to be so ignorant and faulty that the man
she loved had turned away in disgust on finding her out. If all
this were not bad enough, unforeseen and unfortunate circumstances,
even more than her own folly, had brought about a humiliation from
which she felt she could never recover. In her blind, desperate
effort to hide her passion from the man she loved, she had made it
appear that she was infatuated with the man she loathed, and who
had shown himself such a contemptible villain that her association
with him was the scandal of the house. If her own mother and
cousin could believe that she was ready to throw herself away for
the sake of such a wretch, what must the people of the hotel think?
What kind of a story would go abroad among her acquaintances in
the city? She fairly cringed and writhed at the thought of it all.

It seemed to the tortured and morbidly excited girl that there was
but one way out of her troubles, and dark and dreadful as was that
path, she thought it could lead to nothing so painful as that from
which she would escape.

But after all, her chief incentive to the fatal act was the hope
of securing Van Berg's respect, and of implanting herself in his
heart as an undying memory, even though a sad and terrible one.
With her ideas of the fitness of things this would be a strong
temptation at best; but the present conditions of her life, as we
have seen, so far from restraining, added greatly to the temptation.

And, as has been said, while the act seemed a stern and dreadful
alternative to worse evils, it was not revolting to her. She had
seen so many of her favorite heroines in fiction and actresses on
the stage "shuffle off the mortal coil" with the most appropriate
expressions and in the most becoming toilets and attitudes, that
her perverted and melodramatic taste led her to believe that Van
Berg would regard her crime as a sublime vindication of her honor.

Her only task now, therefore, was to frame a letter that would
best accomplish this end, and at the same time wring his soul with
unavailing regret.

But she was too sincere and sad to write diffusely and vaguely.
After a few moments' thought she rapidly traced the following lines:

"Mr. Van Berg:

"You first saw me at a concert, and your judgement of me was correct,
though severe. Your eyes have since been very cold and critical.
I have followed your exploring glances, and have found that I am,
indeed, ignorant and imperfect--that I was like the worm-eaten rose
bud that you tossed contemptuously down where it would be trampled
under foot. Seldom is that unfortunate little emblem of myself
out of my thoughts. If I dared to appeal to God I would say that
he knows that I would have tried to bloom into a better life, even
though imperfectly, if some one had only thought it worth while to
show me how. It is too late now. Like my counterpart, that you
threw away, I shall soon be forgotten in the dust.

"Although your estimate has been so harsh, I will not dispute it.
Circumstances have been against me from the first, and my own folly
has added whatever was wanting to confirm your unfavorable opinion.
But to-day your thoughts wronged me cruelly. You have slain all
hope and self-respect. I do not feel that I can live after seeing
an honorable man look at me as you looked this evening. You believed
me capable of flying to he man who attempted your life--who insulted
and orphan girl. You looked at me, not as a lady, but an object
beneath contempt. This is a humiliation that I cannot and will
not survive. When you know that i have sought death rather than
the villain with whom you are associating me, you may think of me
more favorably. Possibly the memory of Ida Mayhew may lead you,
when again you see a worm-eaten bud, to kill the destroyer and help
the flower to bloom as well as it can. But now, like my emblem,
I have lost my one chance.

The night was now far spent. Her mother, having been refused
admittance, had fumed and fretted herself to sleep. The house was
very still. She opened her window and looked out. Clouds obscured
the stars, and it was exceedingly dark.

"The long night to which I'm going will be darker still," sighed
the unhappy girl. "Well, I will live one more day. To-morrow I
will go out and sit in the sunlight once more. I wish I could go
now, for already I seem to feel the chill of death. Oh, how cold
I shall be by this time to-morrow night!"

She shuddered as she closed the window.

After pacing her room a few moments, she exclaimed, recklessly,

"I must sleep--I must get through with the time until I bring time
to an end," and she dropped a powerful opiate into a glass.

Holding it up for a moment with a smile on her fair young face that
was terrible beyond words, she said slowly,

"After all it's only taking a little more, and then--no waking."

Chapter XXXVII. Voices of Nature.

Before retiring, Ida had unfastened her door, so that her mother,
finding her sleeping, might leave her undisturbed as late as possible
the following day; and the sun was almost in mid-heaven before she
began slowly to revive from her lethargy.

But as her stupor departed she became conscious of such acute
physical and mental suffering that she almost wished she had carried
out her purpose the night before. Her headache was equaled only by
her heartache, and her wronged, overtaxed nervous system was jangling
with torturing discord. But with the persistence of a simple and
positive nature she resolved to carry out the tragic programme that
she had already arranged.

She was glad to find herself alone. Her mother, with her usual
sagacity, had concluded that she would sleep off her troubles as
she often had before, and so left her to herself.

The poor, lost child made some pathetic attempts to put her little
house in order. She destroyed all her letters. She arranged her
drawers with many sudden rushes of tears as various articles called
up memories of earlier and happier days. Among other things she
came across a little birthday present that her father had given
her when she was but six years of age, and she vividly recalled
the happy child she was that day.

"Oh, that I had died then!" she sobbed. "What a wretched failure my
life has been! Never was there a fitter emblem than the imperfect
flower he threw away. I wish I could find the poor, withered, trampled
thing, and that he might find it in my hand with his letter."

She wrote a farewell to her father that was inexpressibly sad, in
which she humbly asked his forgiveness, and entreated him, as her
dying wish, to cease destroying himself with liquor.

"But it is of no use," she moaned. "He has lost hope and courage
like myself, and one can't bear trouble for which there is no
remedy. I'm afraid my act will only make him do worse; but I can't
help it."

To her mother she wrote merely, "Good-by. Think of me as well as
you can till I am forgotten."

Her thoughts of her mother were very bitter, for she felt that she
had been neglected as a child, and permitted to grow up so faulty
and superficial that she repelled the man her beauty might have
aided her in winning; and it was chiefly through her mother that
her last bitter and unendurable humiliation had come.

Mrs. Mayhew bustled in from her drive with Stanton, just before
dinner, and commenced volubly:

"Glad to see you up and looking so much better." (Ida knew she
was almost ghastly pale from the effects of the opiate and her
distress, but she recognized her mother's tactics.) "Come now, go
down with me and make a good dinner; then a drive this afternoon,
to which Ik has invited you, and you will look like your old
beautiful self."

"I do not wish to look like my old self," said Ida coldly.

"Who in the world ever looked better?"

"Every one who had a cultivated mind and a clear conscience."

"I declare, Ida, you've changed so since you came to the country
that I can't understand you at all."

"Do not try to any longer, mother, for you never will."

"Won't you go down to dinner?"

"No."

"Why not?"

"I don't wish to, for one thing; and I'm too ill, for another.
Send me up something, if it's not too much trouble."

"I'm going to have a doctor see you this very afternoon," said Mrs.
Mayhew, emphatically, as she left the room.

To do her justice she did send up a very nice dinner to Ida before
eating her own. As far as doctors and dinners were concerned, she
could do her whole duty in an emergency.

"Isn't Ida coming down?" whispered Stanton to his aunt.

"No. I can't make her out at all, and she looks dreadfully. You
must go for a doctor, right after dinner."

Van Berg could not hear their words, but their ominous looks added
greatly to his disquietude. He had been too ill at ease to seek
even Miss Burton's society during the morning, and had spent the
time in making a sketch of Ida as she stood in the doorway before
entering the parlor the previous evening.

But Jennie Burton did not seem to feel or resent his neglect in
the slightest degree. Indeed, her thoughts, like his own, were
apparently engrossed with the one whose chair had been vacant so
often of late, and who, when present, seemed so unlike her former
self.

"I fear you daughter is more seriously indisposed than you think,"
she said anxiously to Mrs. Mayhew.

"I'm going to take Ida in hand," replied the matter-of-fact lady.
"She IS ill--far more so than she'll admit. I'm going to have the
doctor at once and put her under a course of treatment."

"Curse it all!" thought Van Berg, "that is just the trouble. She
has been under a course of treatment that would make any woman ill,
save her mother, and I'm inclined to think that I was the veriest
quack of them all in my treatment."

"I wish she would let me call upon her this afternoon," said Miss
Burton, gently.

"Oh, I think she'll be glad to see you!--at least she ought to be;"
but it was too evident that Mrs. Mayhew was at last beginning to
grow very anxious, and she made a simpler meal than usual. Stanton
in his solicitude, hastened through dinner, and started at once
for the physician who usually attended the guests of the house.

Ida, in the meantime, had forced herself to eat a little of the food
sent to her, and then informing the woman who had charge of their
floor that she was going out for a walk, stole down and out unperceived,
and soon gained a secluded path that led into an extensive tract
of woodland.

Stanton brought the doctor promptly, but no patient could be found.
All that could be learned was that "Miss Mayhew had gone for a
walk."

"Her case cannot be very critical," the physician remarked, smilingly;
"I will call again."

Stanton and his aunt looked at each other in a way that proved the
case was beginning to trouble them seriously.

"She knew the doctor would be here," said Mrs. Mayhew.

"I fear her complaint is one that the doctors can't help, and that
she knows it," replied the young man, gloomily. "But you seem to
know less about her than any one else. I shall try to find her."

But he did not succeed.

"Miss Burton," said Van Berg, after dinner, "I wish you would call
on Miss Mayhew. I think she is greatly in need of a little of your
inimitable tact and skill. 'A wounded spirit who can bear?' And
in such an emergency, you are the best surgeon I know of. I think
some of us wounded her deeply and unpardonably by continuing to
associate her with Sibley, after he revealed what an unmitigated
rascal he was. Strong as appearances were against her, I feel that
I cannot forgive myself that I took anything for granted in a case
like that."

"I am glad," she answered, "that you have come to my own conclusion,
that Miss Mayhew, with all her faults, is too good a girl to be
guilty of a passion for a man like Sibley. If she regards him in
any such way as I do, I do not wonder that it has made her ill to
be so misjudged. I must plead guilty also to having wronged her
in my thoughts. While I try to exercise the broadest charity, my
calling, as a teacher, has brought me in contact with many girls
that--through immaturity and innate foolishness--are guilty of
conduct that taxes one's faith in human nature severely. Goodish
sort of girls are sometimes infatuated with very bad men. I suppose
it is evident to all that Miss Mayhew's early and, indeed, present
influences are sadly against her; but unfortunate as have been
her associations of late, I am coming to the belief that, however
faulty she may be, she is not naturally either silly or weak. But
my acquaintance with her is very slight, and I must confess I do
not understand her very well. For some reason she shuns me and
has evidently disliked me from the first."

"I don't understand her at all," said Van Berg, in a tone that
proved him greatly annoyed with himself. "I have thought that I
had sounded the shallow depths of her character several times, and
then some new and perplexing phase would present itself, and put
me all to sea again. It may seem ludicrous to you that her beauty
should irritate me so greatly because of its incongruous associations."

"Not at all," she replied, with a little nod. "I was not long in
discovering that you were a pagan, and that beauty was your divinity."

"Correct in all respects save the divinity," he answered promptly;
and he would have said more, but she passed into the parlor among
the other guests.

Ida found herself too weak and unnerved to walk far, but she
discovered a secluded nook into which the sunlight streamed with a
grateful warmth; for although the day was warm, she shivered with
cold as if the chill in her heart had diffused itself even to her
hands and feet. Dense shrubbery hid her from the path along which
she saw Stanton pass in his fruitless quest.

For a long time she sat in dreary apathy, almost as motionless as
the mossy rock beneath her, and was conscious only of her throbbing
forehead and aching heart. Gradually, however, nature's vital
touch began to revive her. The sunlight warmed and tranquilized
the exquisite form that had been entering its shuddering protest
against the chill and corruption of the grave. The south wind,
laden with fresh woodland odors, fanned her cheeks, and whispered
that there were flowers blooming that she could not see, and that
the future also might reveal joys now hidden and unknown, if she
would only be patient. Every rustling leaf that fluttered in the
gale, but did not fall, called to her with its tiny voice: "Cling
to your place, as we do, till the frost of age or the blight of
disease brings the end in God's own time and way." A partridge with
her brood rustled by along the edge of the forest, and the poor
girl imagined she saw in the parent bird, as she led forward her
plump little bevy, the pride and complacency of a happy motherhood,
which now would never be hers; and from the depths of her woman's
heart came nature's protest. Then her heavy eyes were attracted
by the sport of two gray squirrels that were racing to the top of
one tree, scrambling down another, falling and catching again, and
tumbling over each other in their mad excitement. She felt that,
at her age, their exuberant life and enjoyment should be a type of
her own, but their wild, innocent fun, in contrast with her despair,
became so unendurable that she sprang up and frightened them away.

But after she was quiet they soon returned, barking vociferously,
and sporting with their old abandon. It was not long since they
had left the next in the old hemlock tree, and they were still like
Ida, before she had learned that there was anything in the world
that could harm her. Other wild creatures flew or scampered by,
some stopping to look at her with their bright quick eyes, as if
wondering why she was so still and sad. the woods seemed full of
joyous midsummer life, and Ida sighed:

"Innocent, happy little things; but if they knew what was in my
heart, they would be so frightened they could scarcely creep away
to hide."

Then with a sudden rush of passionate grief, she cried:

"Oh, why cannot I life and be happy, too?" and she sobbed till she
lay exhausted on the mossy rock.

Whether she had swooned, or from weakness had become unconscious,
she did not know, when, considerably later, she roused herself
from what seemed like a heavy and unrefreshing sleep. Her dress
was damp with dew, the sun had sunk so low as to fill the forest
with a sombre shade; the happy life that had sported around her
was hushed and hidden, and the wind now sighed mournfully through
the trees. Gloom and darkening shadows had taken the place of the
light and joyousness she first had seen. In the face and voices
of nature, as in those of earthly friends, the changes are often
so great that we are tempted to ask in dismay, are they--can they
be the same?

She was stiff and cold as she rose from her rocky couch, but she
wearily turned her face towards the hotel, muttering, as she plodded
heavily along,

"The little people of the woods are happy while they can be, as I
was, but the sportsman's gun, or the hawk, or winter's cold, will
soon bring to them bitter pain, and death. their brief day will
soon be over, as mine is."

"Ah, the sun is sinking behind that cloud," she said, in a low tone,
as she came out into the open fields. "I shall not see it again;
it will not be able to warm me to-morrow;" and with a slight gesture
of farewell, she continued on her way with bowed head.

Chapter XXXVIII. A Good Man Speaks.

As Ida approached the hotel, Van Berg and Stanton saw her, and the
latter hastened down the steps to join her.

"Why, Ida!" he exclaimed, "where have you been? I've searched for
you high and low."

"You had no right to do so, sir," she said coldly, as she passed
on.

"Wait a moment, Ida, please. I wish to speak with you--to ask your
pardon--to apologize in the strongest terms."

She would not break again her ominous silence, but continued on
with bowed head, up the steps, and through the hall. Stanton, to
save appearances before the guests who were near, walked at her
side, but her manner chilled and embarrassed him so greatly, that
only as she was about to enter her room did he again address her,
and now entreatingly:

"Ida, won't you speak to me?"

"No!" was her stern, brief response; and she locked her door against
him.

"Van," said Stanton gloomily, "I'd give a year's income if I had
not spoken to my cousin as I did last night. She'll never forgive
me. It seems as if my words had turned her into ice, she is so cold
and calm; and yet her eyes were red with weeping. I have strange
misgivings about the girl."

"Yes, Ik," said the artist, gloomily, "we have both made an
unpardonable blunder. If Miss Burton cannot thaw her out, I shall
not dare to try."

"With her usual perversity," replied Stanton, "she dislikes Miss
Burton, and I doubt if she will listen to her."

"I have great faith in her tact and genuine goodwill. It was wonderful
how quickly she brought Mr. Mayhew under her genial spells. She
has promised to see your cousin this evening."

"I'm sorry," said Stanton, gloomily, "that it should have been
at your request rather than mine. But I suppose your wishes are
becoming omnipotent with her."

"No, Ik; I regret to say that they weigh with her only as those of
a friend," was Van Berg's quiet response.

"Well, well, Van, bear with me, for I'm in a devil of a scrape."

Even Miss Burton's efforts could not brighten the clouded faces
that gathered at the supper-table. In truth, her attempts were
brief and fitful, for she seemed absorbed in thought herself. She
heard Mrs. Mayhew whisper to Stanton,

"If I were a perfect stranger she could not keep me at a greater
distance. I can do nothing with her or for her."

To their surprise, Ida quietly walked in and took her place. Her
face was very grave and very pale; the traces of her grief were
still apparent, and they caused in Van Berg the severest compunction.
She was now dressed richly, but plainly and unobtrusively. Her
manner was quiet and self-possessed, but there was an expression
of desperate trouble in her eyes that soon filled Van Berg with a
strong and increasing uneasiness. She returned his bow politely,
but distantly. Poor Stanton scarcely dared to look towards her. At
supper, on the previous evening, he had taken no pains to conceal
his contempt and displeasure; now he was unable to hid his
embarrassment and fear. As in the parlor on the previous evening
so now again, there was an element in Ida Mayhew's appearance or
in herself that caused deep disquietude.

"I'm very glad, Ida, you've changed your mind and come down," began
Mrs. Mayhew, volubly.

"I have not changed my mind," she replied, with such sad, stern
emphasis that they all involuntarily looked at her for a moment.

Poor Mrs. Mayhew was so quenched and depressed that she did not
venture to speak again.

Only Miss Burton was able to maintain her self-possession and tact,
and she was intently but unobtrusively studying Miss Mayhew. Her
college-life had made her acquainted with so many strange feminine
problems that she had the nerve and experience of a veteran, but she
could not penetrate the dark mystery in which Ida had now shrouded
herself. Resolving, however, that she would not succumb to the
chill and restraint that paralyzed the others, she persisted in
conversing with her in simple, natural tones.

Ida replied in perfect courtesy and not with unnecessary brevity,
but if her words were polished, they were also as cold and hard
as ice. Nothing that Miss Burton said could bring the glimmer of
a smile athwart her features that were growing so thin and transparent
that even an approach to a pleasant thought would have lighted them
up with a momentary gleam. Miss Burton found her task a difficult
one.

"She affected me as strangely," she afterwards said to Van Berg,
"as if a dead maiden were sitting at my side, who had still, by
some horrible mystery, the power of speech."

As for Van Berg, he had hitherto supposed that his quiet, well-bred
ease would be equal to every social emergency, but he now found
himself tongue-tied and embarrassed to the last degree. He could
not speak to the woman whom he felt he had so deeply wronged in
his thoughts and manner, and who was also well aware of the fact.
He felt that he had no right to speak to her until he had first
asked and secured her forgiveness. This could not be done in
public, and he greatly doubted whether she ever would pardon him.
As a chivalric man of honor, he was overwhelmed with a sense of
the insult he had unwittingly offered to the maiden opposite him,
who now appeared as if mortally wounded. Beyond a few forced
remarks to Stanton and Miss Burton, he made a show of eating his
supper in silence. But he longed to escape from his present ordeal,
and resolved to leave the table as soon as appearances permitted.

One thing in Ida's manner perplexed him greatly. She now looked
at him as if he were an object, scrupling not to meet his eye with
her strange, unwavering gaze. There was nothing of the haughty
indifference which she had manifested the evening before in her
occasional glances. She rather looked as one who is trying to fix
an object in his memory that he may carry an accurate picture of
it away with him.

The thought crossed his mind more than once, "We have wakened our
Undine's sleeping mind with a vengeance, but have jostled it so
rudely that I fear the frail article is hopelessly shattered."

Miss Burton tried once more to make the conversation general, but
her effort ended rather disastrously.

"Mr. Van Berg," she said, "I've been reading an essay this afternoon
in which the writer tries to prove that science has done more for
humanity than art and religion combined. Now I suppose you would
be inclined to take the same ground in regard to art that I ought
in respect to religion."

Van Berg was about to reply, when his attention was caught by a
vivid gleam in the face of Ida, who looked up as if she wished to
speak.

"I think Miss Mayhew has an opinion on this subject," he said, with
a bow.

She looked steadily at him as she replied promptly, "I have a
decided opinion, though I base it on such poor and narrow grounds
as personal experience. I think art is by far the most potent.
It has accomplished for me much more than science or religion ever
did, or could."

"What has it done for you, Miss Mayhew?" he asked, dreading the
answer.

"It has filled me with despair," she replied with a glance and
tone which he never afterwards forgot. Then, with the same cold,
quiet manner in which she had come, she left the table.

Van Berg turned very pale, for he at once understood her reference
to the emblematic rose-bud he had thrown away, and his remark, "Art
can tolerate no such imperfection."

Her words and manner hopelessly perplexed the others, but Van
Berg believed he had found light on the problem that had hitherto
baffled him, but so far from being reassured, he had never been at
such bitter odds with himself before.

He also soon after left the table, hoping to find an opportunity
to express his regret that he had been so harsh by prejudice; but
Miss Mayhew was not to be found.

"Can it be," he thought, as he strode off into the shrubbery, "that
I have been blind to the very effects that I hoped to cause? Can
it be that she has been made to feel her imperfection so keenly,
and in such a way as to create only utter discouragement? She
evidently understands the worm-eaten rose-bud I tossed away to be
the emblem of herself. Oh, the curse of Phariseeism--the 'holier
than thou' business, whatever form it takes. It has made an
egregious fool of me."

"But her relations with Sibley, confound it all! I can't understand
them. Why did she associate with him so constantly, and then say,
'Congenial society, or none at all'? Seems to me she ought to
have seen what he was before he showed his cloven feet so plainly.
Well, perhaps the most rational as well as charitable explanation
is that her eyes were opened to see him in his true colors, as
well as herself. Had Titania's eyes been disenchanted when she was
fondling the immortal Weaver, she might have perished with disgust;
and it is scarcely strange that Miss Mayhew should be ill on finding
that she was infatuated with a man who was both ass and villain.
She evidently sees things now as they are, and since her vision has
become so good, I am very sorry I do not appear to better advantage.
People who stalk along through life with elevated noses, are not
pleasing or edifying spectacles."

His disquietude soon caused him to return to the hotel, in hopes
of seeing the object of his thoughts.

He had hardly reached the piazza before Ida appeared, dressed in a
plain walking suit. She hesitated a moment in the door-way as if
undecided in her course. A party of gay young people were just
starting on a stroll to a neighboring village. With apparent
hesitancy, she said to one of the young girls:

"I have an errand to the village; may I walk with you for company?"

"Oh, certainly," replied the girl, but evidently not welcoming this
addition to their party, and Ida went away with them, but not as
one of them, isolated more, however, by her own manner than by the
bearing of her companions.

The explanation of her action was this: on opening her drawer after
returning to her room, she found, with a sense of dismay--as if a
misfortune had occurred instead of an incident that gave a chance
for better thought--that in taking the opiate the night before,
she had replaced the cork in the phial insecurely, and that nearly
all its contents had oozed away. Some might have regarded this
incident as an omen or a providential interference; but Ida was
neither superstitious nor speculative in her nature; she was positive
and willful, rather, and the current of her purposes always flowed
strongly, though it might be in narrow channels.

"There is nothing left for me to do," she muttered, "but go to the
village. I don't know whether Mr. Burleigh has laudanum, and my
asking for it might excite suspicion."

It was terrible to see her fair young face grow hard like marble
in her stern determination to carry out her awful design, and the
impress of this remorseless purpose filled Van Berg with so great
foreboding that he could not resist the impulse to follow the
desperate girl. If harm should come to her through the harshness
of others, and as he now feared, more especially his own, he would
never forgive himself.

Mrs. Mayhew and Stanton did not see her departure--they were in
anxious consultation in one of the small private parlors, and the
artist, to disarm suspicion of his design, entered the hotel, and
passed out again by a side door, from which he took a short-cut
across the field intending to watch Ida, without being himself
observed.

Having found some dense copse-wood by the road-side, and near to
the village, he sat down and waited. The gay, chattering party
soon passed, Ida walking by herself on the opposite side of the
road, with head bowed as if wholly wrapped in her own thoughts. Her
unhappy face appealed to his sympathy even more than her graceful
carriage to his sense of beauty, and he longed to join her and make
such amends as were possible.

He now followed at too great a distance for recognition in the
deepening twilight, and saw the young people enter a confectionery
shop, but observed, with increased uneasiness, that Miss Mayhew
parted from them and went to an adjacent drug-store. She soon
joined the party again, however, and they all apparently started
homeward.

Van Berg at once determined to go to this drug-store and learn, if
possible, if there were anything to confirm the horrible suspicion
that crossed his mind. He remembered that despair and desperate
deeds often went together, and the daily press had taught him how
many people, with warped and ungoverned moral natures, place their
troubles beyond remedy by the supreme folly of self-destruction.

By a considerable detour through a side street, he reached the
store unperceived, and found the druggist rather disquieted himself.

"Are you staying at Burleigh's?" he asked.

"I am," Van Berg replied.

"Do you know a young lady boarding there with large dark eyes and
auburn hair?"

"I do."

"Is there--is there anything wrong about her?"

"Why should there be? Why do you ask?"

"She has just been in here, and she looked sick and strangely, and
all she wanted was a large phial of laudanum. Somehow her looks
and purchase have made me uneasy. I never saw so white a face in
my life, and she seemed weak and very tired. If she's sick, how
comes it she's walking to the village? Besides, she seemed to have
very little to do with the party she joined after leaving here."

Van Berg controlled himself only by a powerful effort, and was very
glad that the brim of his soft hat concealed the pallor of his own
face. He managed to say quietly:

"The young lady you describe has not been well, and has probably
found the walk longer and more wearisome than she supposed. As
for the laudanum, that's used in many ways. Some cigars, if you
please--thank you. I'll join the lady and see that she reaches home
safely," and he hastily left the store and walked swiftly away.

"He wouldn't go as fast as that if he wasn't a little uneasy, too,"
muttered the druggist, whose dearth of business gave him abundant
leisure to see all that was going on, and to imagine much more.

Van Berg determined to overtake Ida before she reached the hotel,
and his strides were as long and swift as mortal dread could make
them.

In the meantime, while the artist was making the detour necessary
to reach the drug-store without meeting Ida, she and her companions
had started homeward. As they approached a church on the outskirts
of the village, the bell in the steeple commenced tolling.

"What's that for?" asked a young man of the party of a plain,
farmer-like appearing man, who was just about to enter.

"For prayer-meetin'," was the good-natured reply. "It wouldn't
hurt you to come to it;" and the speaker passed into the lecture-room.

"I call this frivolous assemblage to order," cried the youth,
turning around to his companions. "If any one of our number has
ever attended a prayer-meeting, let him hold up his right hand.
I use the masculine pronoun, because the man always embraces the
woman--when he gets a chance."

No hands were held up.

"Heathen, every mother's son of us," cried the first speaker.
"The daughters are angels, of course, and don't need to go to
prayer-meetin', as he of the cowhide sandals just termed it. But
for the novelty of the thing, and for the want of something better
to do, I move that we all go to-night. If it should be borous,
why, we can come out."

The proposition pleased the fancy of the party, and with gay words
and laughter that scarcely ceased at the vestibule, they entered
the place of prayer and lighted down among the sober-visaged,
soberly-dressed worshippers like a flock of tropical birds.

Ida reluctantly followed them. At first she half decided to walk
home alone, but feared to do so. She who had resolved on facing
the "King of Terrors" shrank, with a woman's instinct, from a lonely
walk in the starlight.

She sat in dreary preoccupation a little apart from the others and
paid no more heed to the opening services than to their ill-concealed
merriment.

the minister was away on his August vacation. Prayer-meetings
were out of season, and very few were present. The plain farmer
was trying to conduct the service as well as he could, but it was
evident he would have been much more at ease holding the handle of
a plow or the reins of his rattling team, than a hymn-book. Dr.
Watts and John Wesley might have lost some of their heavenly serenity
could they have heard him read their verses, and certainly only a
long-suffering and merciful God could listen to his prayer. And
yet rarely on the battle-field is there more moral courage displayed
than plain Thomas Smith put forth that night in his conscientious
effort to perform an unwonted task; and when at last he sat down
and said, "Bruthren, the meetin' is now open," he was more exhausted
than he than he would have been from a long day of toil.

"The Lord looketh at the heart" is a truth that chills many with
dread, but it was a precious thought to Farmer Smith as he saw that
his fellow church members did not look very appreciative, and that
the gay young city-people often giggled outright at his uncouth
words and manner.

Ida would have been as greatly amused as any of them a few weeks
since, but now she scarcely heard the poor man's stumblings, or
the wailing of the hymns that were mangled anew by the people. She
sat with her eyes fixed on vacancy, thinking how dreary and empty
the world had become; and it seemed to her that religion was the
most dreary and empty thing in it.

"What good can this wretched little meeting do any one?" she thought,
more than once.

She was answered.

Near her was a very old man who had been regarding the ill-behaved
party with an expression of mingled displeasure and pity. Now that
the meeting was open to all he rose slowly to his feet, steadying
himself with his cane.

"He looks like the Ancient Mariner," giggled an exceedingly immature
youth, who sat next to Ida.

She turned upon him sharply and said, in a low tone, "If you have
the faintest instincts of a gentleman you will respect that venerable
man."

The youth was so effectually quenched that he bore the aspect of
a turnip-beet during the remainder of the service.

"My young friends," began the old main in tones of gentle dignity,
"will you listen patiently and quietly to one that you see will
not have the chance to speak many more words. My eyes are a little
dim, but you all appear young and happy; and yet I am sorry for
you, very sorry for you. You don't realize what you are and what
is before you. You remind me of a number of pleasure boats just
starting out to sea. I have been across this ocean, and have almost
reached the other shore. I know what terrible storms and dangers
you will meet. You can't escape these storms, my young friends.
No one can, and you don't seem prepared to meet them.

"Your manner has pained me very much, and yet, as my Master said,
so I have felt, you 'know not what you do.' There is a Kingly
Presence in this place that you have not recognized. Do you not
remember who it was that said, 'Where two or three are gathered
together in my name, there am I in the midst of them'?

"I am very old, but my memory is good. It seems but a short time
ago that I was as young thoughtless as any one of you, and yet it
was seventy years ago. I have tested the friendship of Jesus Christ
for over half a century. Have I not then a right to speak of it?
Ought I not to know something about him?

"Do you ask me if my Master has kept me from trouble and suffering
all these years? Far from it. Indeed, I think he has caused me a
good deal of trouble and pain in addition to that which I brought on
myself by my own folly and mistakes; but I now see that he caused
it only as the good physician gives pain, in order to make the
patient strong and well. But one thing is certainly true. He has
stood by me as a faithful friend all these years, and has brought
good to me out of all the evil. I have been in sore temptations
and deep discouragement. My heart at times has seemed breaking
with sorrow. Mine has been the common lot. But when the storm was
loudest and most terrible, his hand was on the helm, and now I am
entering the quiet harbor. There has been much that was dark and
hard to understand; there is much still; but there is plenty to
prove that my Heavenly Father is leading me home as a little child.

"It is a precious, blessed truth that I wish to bring you fact to
face with to-night, and yet it may become a very sad and terrible
truth, if you shut your eyes to it now and remember it only when
it is too late. I wish to assure you, on the ground of simple,
down-right experience, through all these years, that God's 'unspeakable
gift,' his only Son, is just what our poor human nature needs.
Jesus Christ 'is able to save them ot the uttermost that come to
God by him.' He helps us overcome that awful disease--sin. He
brings to our unhappy hearts immortal life and health. I know it
as I know that I exist. He has helped me when and where there was
no human help. I have often seen his redeeming work in the lives
of other faulty, sinful people like myself.

"The question therefore which you must each decide is not whether
you will believe this or that doctrine, or do what this or that
man teaches. The question is this:--Here is a tender, merciful,
Divine Friend. He offers to lead you safely through all the dangers
and hard places in this world, as a shepherd leads his flock through
the wilderness. Will you follow him, or will you remain in the
wilderness and perish when the night comes, as it surely will? If
you will follow him as well as you can, he'll bring you to a happy
and eternal home. Thanks to his patient kindness which never
falters, he has brough me almost there.

"And now, my young friends, beat with an old man, and let me say,
in conclusion, that you all need the kind, patient, faithful Friend
that I found so long ago. No evil, no misfortune can come into any
human life that is beyond his power to remedy and finally banish
forever. I you have not found this Friend, this Life-giver, I am
younger and happier than you are to-day, although I am eighty-eight
years old."

Once before a rash, despairing man lifted his hand against his life,
but God's message to him, through his apostle, was, "Do thyself no
harm." And now again a faithful servant, speaking for him whose
coming was God's supreme expression of good-will towards men, had
brought a like merciful message to another poor soul that had taken
counsel of despair. Ida Mayhew might learn, as did the jailer of
Philippi, that God has a better remedy than death for seemingly
irretrievable disasters.

The old gentleman's words came home to her with such a force
of personal application that she was deeply moved, and even awed.
They seemed like a divine message--nay more, like a restraining
hand. "How strange it was," she thought, that she had come to this
place!--how strange that a serene old, man, with heaven's peace
already on his brow, should have uttered the words best adapted
to her desperate need. If he had spoken of duty, obligation, of
truth in the abstract, his tones would have been like the sound of
a wintry wind. But he had spoken of a Friend, as tender, patient,
and helpful as he was powerful. What was far more, he spoke with
the strong convincing confidence of personal knowledge. He had tried
this Friend through all the vicissitudes of over half a century,
and found him true. Could human assurance--could human testimony
go farther? Deep in her heart she was conscious that hope was
reviving again--that the end had not yet come.

The gay young party, touched and subdued, passed out quietly with
the others. But Ida lingered.

"Who is that old gentleman?" she asked of a lady near her.

"That is Mr. Eltinge--Mr. James Eltinge," was the reply.

Ida passed slowly towards the door, looking wistfully back at the
old man, who stopped to greet cheerily one and another.

"No one need be afraid to speak to him," she thought. "His every
look and tone show him to be kind and sincere. I'll see him
before--before"--she shuddered, and scarcely dared to put her dark
purpose in thought in the presence of one who had lived patiently
at God's will for nearly a century.

She stepped out into the night and watched for his coming. In a
moment or two the old gentleman also passed out, and stood waiting
for his carriage.

Timidly approaching him, she said, "Mr. Eltinge, may I speak with
you?"

He stepped with her a little aside from the others.

"Mr. Eltinge," she continued, in a voice that trembled and was
broken by her feeling, "I am one of the young people you spoke to
this evening. I'm in trouble--deep trouble. I want such a Friend
as you described to-night."

He took her hand and said, in a hearty voice, "God bless you, my
child. He wants you more than you want him."

"May I come and see you to-morrow morning?" asked Ida, hurriedly,
for his tones of kindness, for which her heart was famishing, were
fast breaking down her self-control.

"I'll come and see you," was his prompt and cordial response.

"No," she faltered, "let it be as I wish. Please tell me where to
find you."

As he finished directing her, she stooped down and kissed his hand,
and then vanished in the darkness.

"Perhaps I'm not yet a cumberer of the ground," murmured the old
man, wiping a sudden moisture from his eyes.

Chapter XXXIX. Van Berg's Escape.

Ida found the party, on whose companionship she had in a measure
forced herself, waiting and calling for her. The words of the old
gentleman had inspired them with kinder and more considerate feeling.

"I'm coming," she answered; "don't wait for me, I'll keep near
you."

As they had already observed her evident wish to be left to herself,
they complied with her request.

The icy calm of her despair was now broken.

"God bless him for his kindness!" she murmured, and "God bless
him for his hearty, hopeful words; they may save me yet," and she
followed the others, crying softly to herself like a little child.
It would seem as if every warm tear fell on her heart, that had
been so hard and desperate before, so rapidly did it melt at the
thought of the old man's kindness.

But before she reached the hotel she began to grow excessively
weary. She had not only overtaxed her powers of endurance, but
had over-estimated them.

At last, as she was about to ask her companions to walk more slowly,
lest she should be left alone by the roadside in her weakness, she
heard the sound of strong, rapid steps.

"Where is Miss Mayhew?" was the anxious query of a voice that made
her heart bound and color come into her face, even at the moment
of almost mortal weakness and weariness.

"Here is Miss Mayhew," said one of the half-grown youths. "She
prefers to walk by herself, it seems."

"Thank you," replied Van Berg, decisively. "I will see her safely
home;" and the part went on, leaving him face to face with the
maiden whom he now believed he had very greatly wronged, and who,
he feared might yet proved herself capable of a terrible crime.

She stood before him with bowed head. In her weakness and agitation
she trembled so violently that even in the starlight he could not
help seeing her distress, and it filled him at once with pity and
alarm.

"You are ill, Miss Mayhew," he said, anxiously.

"Yes," she answered; then, conscious of her growing need, she
said, appealingly, "Mr. Van Berg, with all my faults I am at least
a woman. Please help me home. I'm so weak and weary that I'm
almost ready to faint."

He seized her hand and faltered hoarsely, "Miss Mayhew, you have
not--you have not taken that drug---"

She was so vividly conscious of her own dark secret, and so
impressed by his power to discover all the evil in her nature, that
she replied in a low tone,

"Hush. I understand you. Not yet."

"Thank God!" he ejaculated, with such a deep sigh of relief that
she looked at him in surprise. The he drew her hand within his arm,
and weary as she was, she could not help noting that it trembled
as if he had an ague.

For a few moments they walked on without speaking. Then the artist
addressed her.

"Miss Mayhew---"

"Mr. Van Berg," she said, hastily interrupting him. "Spare me
to-night. I'm too weary even to think."

Again they walked on in silence, but his agitation was evidently
increasing.

"Let me enter by that side door, please," she said as they approached
the hotel.

"Miss Mayhew," he began in a low, hurried tone, "I must speak. You
said you were a woman. As such I appeal to you. A woman may, at
times, have no pity on herself, but it rarely happens that she is
pitiless towards others, and it is said that she is often the most
generous and merciful towards those who have wronged her. I have
wronged you cruelly and unpardonably. I knew it as soon as you
entered the parlor last evening. There is no excuse for me--I
will never forgive myself, but I do most sincerely apologize and
ask your forgiveness. Miss Mayhew, I appeal to your generosity--I
appeal to your woman's heart. If you should consummate the awful
purpose which I fear has been in your mind, I should go mad with
remorse. You would destroy me as surely as yourself. Pardon me for
speaking thus, but I fear so greatly--O God! can she have already
committed the fatal act?"

Ida's overtaxed powers had given way, and she would have fallen had
he not sustained her. His words had overwhelmed her, and, taken
in connection with those spoken by old Mr. Eltinge, had given a
glimpse of the awful abyss into which she had well nigh plunged,
dragging others, perhaps, after her. She recoiled from it all so
strongly that she became sick and faint from dread; and Van Berg
was compelled to support her to a rustic seat near the path. He
was bout to leave her in order to obtain assistance, when she put
her hand on his arm and gasped:

"Wait--give me time--I'll soon be better. Do not call any one, I
beg."

"Let me quietly bring you a little wine, then, from my own room?"

She bowed her assent.

The stimulant soon revived her. He stood at her side waiting with
intense anxiety till she should speak. At last she rose slowly
and weakly, saying in a low tone:

"Mr. Van Berg, I suppose I have now reached the lowest depth in
your estimation, but I cannot help it. I admit that I was in an
awful and desperate mood, and was about to act accordingly. There
is no use of trying to hid anything from you. But a good man spoke
kindly to me to-night, and the black spell is broken. There is
the drug I purchased," and she handed him the phial of laudanum.
"You many now dismiss all fears. I will explain further another
time if you care to hear. Please let me go in by myself."

"Pardon me for saying, no," he answered, gently. "I think I am
best able to-night to judge of what is right. You must go in at
the main entrance, and on my arm. Henceforward I shall treat you
with respect, and I intend that all others shall also."

With a low sob, she said, impulsively: "Oh, Mr. Van Berg, forgive
me! but that was my motive. I meant to compel your respect; and
I thought there was no other way. I thought that if I went to my
grave, instead of going to the man who attempted your life, you
would see that you had misjudged me. Here is a letter which I wrote
you. It should go with the poison. It is all that I can offer in
excuse or extenuation."

"Good God!" he exclaimed. "I have escaped a worse fate than yours
would have been," and she felt his arm again trembling violently
beneath her hand.

"I did not think you would care so greatly," she murmured.

"Miss Mayhew," he said, in a deep voice, "promise me, before God,
that you will never harbor such a thought again."

"I hope I never may," she replied, despondently, "but I've lost
all confidence in myself, Mr. Van Berg."

"Poor child! What a brute I've been," he muttered; but she heard
him.

As the mounted the piazza, they met Stanton and Mrs. Mayhew.

"Why, Ida," exclaimed her mother, "I thought you were in your room."

"I walked to the village with a party of young people," was her
hasty reply, "and Mr. Van Berg met me on our return. I'm very
tired. Good-night," and she went directly to her room.

The artist's manner in parting was polite and respectful, and by
this simple act, he did much to reinstate her in the social position
she had well nigh lost, through her supposed infatuation with the
man who was now a synonym in the house for everything that was
vile.

On the following day, through the aid of Miss Burton, he caused
the impression to be generally given that Miss Mayhew had been
exceedingly mortified that she had ever associated with such a
villain as Sibley had shown himself to be, and still more pained
to think that she should be imagined capable of any other feeling
save contempt for him, after learning of his disgraceful words and
actions. These explanations gave an entirely new aspect to the
matter, and sufficiently accounted for her increasing indisposition
and rather odd behavior. Indeed, people placed it to her credit
that she was so deeply affected, and were all the more inclined to
make amends for having misjudged her.

Mrs. Mayhew accompanied her daughter to her room, but Ida told her
that she was too weary to answer a single question, and that she
wished to be alone.

"Van, may I speak with you?" Stanton had asked, anxiously.

When they were sufficiently far from the house to ensure privacy
he began again: "Van, what's the matter? You were as white as if
you had seen a ghost."

"I'm not afraid of ghosts," said the artist, almost sternly, "but
there are things which I mortally fear, and chief among these are
blunders--stupid, irrational acts, but involving results that may
be beyond remedy. You and I have just made one that might have
cost us dear. Of course you will treat your cousin hereafter as
you please, but I most decidedly request that you do and say nothing
that involves any reference to me. I wish her to form her opinions
of my attitude towards her solely from her own observation."

"I think you are a trifle severe, but I suppose I deserve it," said
Stanton, stiffly.

"I admit that I am strongly moved. I do not excuse myself in the
least; and yet you know I was misled. I must tell you plainly that
Ida Mayhew is not a girl to be trifled with. I fear her mother
wholly fails in understanding her, and from what you yourself have
told me of her father, she has no help there. She has no brother,
and you should take the place of one, as far as possible. The
only right I have to speak thus is on the ground of the great wrong
I have done her, and for which I can never forgive myself. Miss
Mayhew and I are comparative strangers and our brief summer sojourn
here will soon be over. By mere accident facts have come to my
knowledge to-night which prove in the most emphatic manner, that
she requires kind, unobtrusive, but vigilant care. I never knew
of a girl who needed a brother more than she. She is not bad at
heart--far from it, but she is fearfully rash, and she is warped
by education, or its lack, and by the vile literature she has read,
to such a degree that she cannot see things in their true moral
aspects. I'll give you a plain hint, and then you must not ask me
anything further, for both you and I must be able to say that the
history of my last interview was never given. My hint is this--I
do not believe that self-destruction ever appeared to Miss Mayhew
as an awful and revolting crime. Her actual life, hitherto, has
been a round of frivolity. Only on the stage or in the absurd woes
of her stilted heroes and heroines, has she given any attention to
the sad and serious side of life. Men and women committing suicide
to slow music is the chief stock in trade in some quarters, and
when serious trouble came to her this devil's comedy had been robbed
of its horror by the clap-trap of stage effect. That is the only
way in which I can account for it all or excuse her. But the fact
that she recoiled from Sibley so strongly and felt the disgrace
of her association so keenly, proves that she possesses a true
woman's nature. But, as I said, she needs a brother's care. You
are nearest of kin, Stanton, and you must give it. Indeed, Ik,
pardon the freedom of an old friend whom circumstances have strangely
mixed up in this affair, I think you are honor-bound to give this
brother's protection; and you ARE a man of honor if you pass your
word."

"Do you--do you think there is still any danger that she will---"

"No; the danger is passed for this occasion; but you must guard
her from deep despondency or strong provocation in the future."

"The task you require is a difficult one. I doubt whether she ever
forgives me even."

"I think she will. I have also learned to-night that genuine
kindness and sympathy have great weight with her. Pledge me your
word that you will do the best you can."

"Well, Van, I suppose I ought--I will. But your words have quite
unnerved me."

"Unnerved! I'm worse than that. I feel as if I had passed through
a month's illness. Never breathe a whisper of all this to any one.
Good-night." And he strode away in the darkness.

Having reached a secluded spot, he ground the phial of laudanum
that Ida had given him under his heel with the vindictiveness with
which he would stamp out the life of a poisonous reptile.

Then he returned to his room and took out Ida's letter, but his
hands trembled so that he could scarcely open it. As he read, they
trembled still more, and his face became almost ashen in its hue.
He was so appalled at what might have happened that his heart seemed
for a second to cease its pulsations.

"Great God!" he said, in a hoarse whisper--"what an escape I've
had!"

Hour after hour passed, but he sat motionless, staring at the abyss
into which he had almost stumbled.

The song of a bird without reminded him that morning was near. He
drew the curtain and saw that the dawn was reddening the sky.

"Thank God," he cried, fervently, "for the escape we both have
had!"

Then, in order to throw off the horrible nightmare that had oppressed
him, he stole quietly out into the fresh, cool, dewy air.

Chapter XL. Van Berg's Conclusions.

Van Berg knew that the word "discouragement" was in the dictionary,
and he supposed he understood its meaning, but Ida Mayhew's farewell
letter proved to him that he was mistaken. There are some things
we never learn until taught by the severe logic of events and
experience. There had been nothing in his own history or character
that enabled him to realize the dreary sinking of heart--the
paralyzing despondency of those who believe or fear that they have
been defeated and thwarted in life. Through the weaknesses and
dangers of early life he had been shielded with loving vigilance.
His mind and taste had been fostered with untiring care, and yet
every new development praised as unstintedly as if all were of
native growth. Fortunately he abounded in virile force and good
sense, and so gradually passed from self-complacency and conceit
to the self-reliance and courage of a strong man, who, while aware
of his ability and vantage-ground, also recognizes the fact that
nothing can take the place of skillfully directed industry in
well-defined directions. The confidence that had been created by
the favorable conditions of his lot had been increased far more
by the knowledge that he could go out into the world and hold his
own among men on the common ground of hard work and innate strength.
He expected esteem, respectful courtesy--and even admiration--as
a matter of course. They were in part his birthright and partly
the result of his own achievement, and he received them as quietly
as his customary income. Their presence was like his excellent
health, to which he scarcely gave a thought, but their withdrawal
would have affected him keenly, although he had never considered
the possibility of such a thing.

What in him was confidence and self-reliance had been in Ida little
else than vanity and pride, and these, circumstances had enabled
him to wound unto death. He had, from the first, calmly and
philosophically recognized the fact that he must break down, in
part, the Chinese wall of her self-approval, before any elevating
ideas and ennobling impulses could enter, and as much through
unforeseen events as by his effort, this had been done to a degree
that threatened results that appalled him. He had been taught
thoroughly that faulty and ignorant as she undoubtedly was, she
was by no means shallow or weak. To his mind the depth of her
despondency was the measure of her power to realize her imperfection,
for he now supposed her depression was caused immediately by the
fact that she had been so harshly misjudged, but in the main because
of her resemblance to the flower he had tossed away and which he now
remembered, with deep satisfaction, was in his note-book, ready to
aid in the reassuring and encouraging work upon which he was eager
to enter.

He did not dream that by tactics the reverse of those pursued by
her numerous admirers he had won her heart, and that the apparent
hopelessness of her passion had outweighed all other burdens.

Her kindest sentiment towards him, he believed, was the cold respect,
mingled with fear and dislike, in which a sever but honest critic
is sometimes held; and as he recalled his course towards her he
now felt that she had little reason for even this degree of regard.
He had awakened her sleeping mind not to an atmosphere of kindness
and sympathy like that in which the beauty in the fabled castle
had revived, but to a biting frost of harsh criticism and unjust
suspicion. That there seemed, at the time, good reason for these
on his part did not make it any easier for her to bear them;
and in the fact that he had so misunderstood and wronged her, his
confidence in his own sagacity received the severest shock it had
ever experienced. He felt that he could never go forward in life
with his old assured tread and manner.

Moreover the kindness and respect which he now proposed to show
Ida were caused more by compunction and fear than by any warmer
and friendlier motive. He wished to make amends for his injustice,
to reassure the girl, to smooth over matters and extricate himself
from his fateful office of critic. This experimenting with human
souls for artistic purposes was a much more serious matter than
he could have imagined. He had entered upon it as a part of his
summer recreation, but had found himself playing with forces that
had well-nigh destroyed him as well as the subject of his fancied
skill. Hereafter he proposed to illumine faces with thought,
feeling, and spiritual beauty on canvas only, so that, in case he
should become discouraged or disgusted with his efforts and throw
the work aside, there might be no such tragic protest as Ida
Mayhew had almost offered. While he pitied, and now in a certain
sense respected her, she filled him with the uncomfortable dread
and nervous apprehension which rash and unbalanced natures always
inspire. The charge he had given Stanton revealed his opinion.
She was one who must be watched over, not with the tender care and
sympathy that he hoped to bestow on Jennie Burton, but with kind,
yet firm and wary vigilance, in order to prevent action dangerous
both to herself and others; and a heavy, anxious task he believed
such care would be.

His aim was not to heal the wounds he had made by a decided
manifestation of kindness and respect which should be as sincere
as possible in view of his knowledge of her faults; and if her
present good impulses were anything more than passing moods, to
encourage them, as far as he could, and then retire from the scene
as soon as circumstances permitted. He had been too thoroughly
frightened to wish to continue in the role of a spiritual reformer,
and he had a growing perception that, with his present motive and
knowledge, the work was infinitely beyond him. He began to fear
that he was like certain physicians, whose skill consists chiefly
in their power to aggravate disease rather than to cure it. He
had found Ida a vain, silly girl, apparently. He had parted the
previous evening from a desperate woman, capable of self-destruction,
and her letter inseparably linked him with the marvellous change.
Thus he gained the uneasy impression that there was too much
nitro-glycerine in human nature in general, and in Ida Mayhew in
particular, for him to use such material in working out metaphysical
and artistic problems.

At the end of his long morning walk he concluded:

"Poor child! after her eyes were opened she could not help seeing
a great deal that was exceedingly depressing. In regard to her
parents, she is far worse off than if orphaned. In regard to herself,
she finds that her best years are gone, and she has neither culture
of mind nor heart--that her beauty is but a mask that cannot long
conceal the enduring imperfection and deformity of her character.
She associates these discoveries with me because I first disturbed
her vanity; but the beauty of Jennie Burton's life, the dastardly
behavior of Sibley, and the deep humiliation received through him,
with other circumstances, have all combined to bring about the
revelation. And yet, confound it all! I did act the stupid Pharisee
on several occasions, and I might as well own it both to her and
myself. A Pharisee is a fool 'per se.' Well, I'm sorry to say, her
outlook for life is dark at best, even if she were not so fearfully
rash and unbalanced. As it is I expect to hear some sad story of
Ida Mayhew before many years pass. I'll try to brighten a few days
for her, however, before I go to town, and then the farther we can
drift apart the better. How delightful, in contrast, is the sense
of rest and security that Jennie Burton always inspires in spite
of her sad mystery."

Chapter XLI. The Protestant Confessional.

Ida's sleep was almost as deep and quiet, and when her mother stole
in to look at her from time to time the following morning, her face
was as colorless, as if she had taken the drug which Van Berg's
heel had ground into the earth; but Mrs. Mayhew observed with
satisfaction that her respiration was as regular and natural as
that of a little child. Wronged nature will, to a certain extent,
forgive the young and restore to them the priceless treasures of
health and strength they throw away. Ida had been a sad spendthrift
of both lately, but now that the evil spell was broken, the poor
worn body and mind sank into a long and merciful oblivion, during
which a new life began to flow back from the, as yet, unexhausted
fountain of youth.

She awoke late in the morning, and it was some moments before she
could recall all that had happened. Then, as she remembered her
dreadful purpose, there came a strong rush of grateful feeling that
she HAD awakened--that life and its opportunities were still hers.

For a moment she portrayed to herself what she had supposed would
have happened that day--she imagined herself lying white and
still--the people coming and going on tiptoe and speaking in hushed
tones, as if death were but a troubled and easily broken sleep;
while they looked at her with faces in which curiosity and horror
were equally blended; she saw her father staring at her in utter
despair, and her mother trying, in a pitifully helpless way, to
think how appearances might still be kept up and a little shred of
respectability retained. She saw the artist looking at her with
stern, white face, and heard him mutter: "What were you to me
that you should commit this awful deed and lay it at my door, thus
blighting a life full of the richest promise with your horrible
shadow?"

"Thank God, thank God!" she cried passionately. "It's all like a
dreadful dream and never happened."

"Why, Ida, what IS the matter?" said Mrs. Mayhew, coming in hastily.

"I had a bad dream," said Ida, with something like a low sob.

"Ida, I want you to see the doctor, to-day. You haven't acted like
yourself for over two weeks."

"Mother, what time is it?"

"Ten o'clock and after."

"Please draw the curtain. I want to see the sunlight."

"The sun is very hot to-day."

"Is it?" Then under her breath she murmured: "Thank God, so it
is."

She arose and began making her toilet slowly, for the languor of
her long sleep and excessive fatigue was on her still. But thought
was very busy. The subject uppermost in her mind was the promised
visit to old Mr. Eltinge, and she resolved to go at once, if it
were a possible thing. Mrs. Mayhew having again referred to her
purpose of sending for a physician, Ida turned to her and said,
decisively:

"Mother, do you not realize that I am not a child? What is the use
of sending for a doctor when I will not see him? I ask--I insist
that you and Mr. Stanton interfere with me no longer."

"My goodness, Ida, shall not I, your own mother, take any care of
you?"

"It is too late in the day now to commence taking care of me. You
have permitted me to grow up so wanting in mental and moral culture
that you naturally suspect me of the vilest action. Henceforth
I take care of myself, and act for myself;" and she abruptly left
the room and went to Mr. Burleigh's office, requesting that the
light phaeton and a safe horse, such as she could drive, should be
sent around to he door at once.

"Miss Ida, you've not been well. Do you think you had better go
out in the heat of the day?" asked Mr. Burleigh, kindly.

She looked at him a moment, and then said, a little impulsively,
"Mr. Burleigh, I thank you for speaking to me in that way. Yes,
I wish to go, and think I shall be better for it."

As she entered the large hall, Van Berg, who had been on the watch,
rose to greet her, but she merely bowed politely and distantly,
and passed at once into the dining room. After a hasty breakfast
she returned to her room by a side passage, and prepared for her
expedition, paying no heed to her mother's expostulations.

Van Berg was on the piazza when she came down, but she passed him
swiftly, giving him no time to speak to her, and springing into the
phaeton, drove away. His anxiety was so deep that he took pains to
note the road she took, and then waited impatiently for her return.

After driving several miles, and making a few inquiries by the
way, Ida found herself approaching an old-fashioned house secluded
among the hills.

It was on a shady side road, into which but few eddies from the
turbulent current of worldly life found their way.

The gate stood hospitably open, and she drove in under the shade of
an enormous silver poplar, whose leaves fluttered in the breathless
summer air, as if each one possessed a separate life of its own.

As she drew near to the house she saw old Mr. Eltinge coming from
his garden to greet her.

"I had about given you up," he said, "and so you are doubly welcome.
Old people are like children, and don't bear disappointments very
well."

"Did you really want to see me very much?" Ida asked, as he assisted
her to alight.

"Yes, my child," he replied, gravely, holding her hand in a strong,
warm grasp. "I felt, from your manner last evening, you were
sincere. You come on an errand that is most pleasing to my Master,
and I welcome you in his name as well as my own."

"Perhaps if you knew all you would not welcome me," she said in a
low tone, turning away.

"Only for one cause could I withdraw my welcome," he said, still
more gravely.

"What is that?" she asked in a lower tone, not daring to look at
him.

"If you are not sincere," he replied, looking at her keenly.

Giving him her hand again, and looking up into his face, she said,
earnestly:

"Mr. Eltinge, I am sincere. I could not be otherwise with you
after your words last night. I come to you in great trouble, with
a burdened heart and conscience, and I shall tell you everything,
and then you must advise me, for I have no other friend to whom I
can go."

"Oh, yes, you have, my child," said the old man, cheerily. "The
One they called the 'Friend of sinners' is here to-day to welcome
you, and is more ready to receive and advise you than I am. I'm
not going to do anything for you but lead you to him who said,
'Come unto me, all ye that are heavy laden;' and, 'Whosoever cometh
I will in nowise cast out.'"

"How much you make those words mean, as you speak them," faltered
Ida. "You almost lead me to feel that not far away there is some
one, good and tender-hearted, who will take me by the hand with
reassuring kindness, as you have."

"And you are right. Why, bless you, my child, religion doesn't do
us much good until we learn to know our Lord as 'good and tender-hearted,'
and so near, too, that we can speak to him, whenever we wish, as
the disciples did in old times. So don't be one bit discouraged;
see, I'll fasten your horse right here in the shade, and by and by
I'll have him fed, for you must spend the day with us, and not go
back until the cool of the evening. It hasn't seemed hospitable
that you should have stood so long here under the trees; and I
didn't mean that you should, but things never turn out as we expect."

"It is often well they don't," thought Ida, as she looked around
the quiet and quaintly beautiful spot, to which a kind Providence
had brought her. It seemed as if her burden already were beginning
to grow lighter.

"Now come in, my child, and tell me all your trouble."

"Please, Mr. Eltinge, may I not go back with you into the garden?"

"Yes, why not? We can talk there just as well;" and he led her
to a rustic seat in a shady walk, while from a tool-house near he
brought out for himself a chair that had lost its back.

"I'll lean against this pear-tree," he said. "It's young and
strong, and owes me a good turn. Now, my child, tell me what you
think best, and then I'll tell you of One whose word and touch
cures every trouble."

But poor Ida had sudden and strong misgivings. As she saw the
old gentleman surrounded by his flowers and fruits, as she glanced
hesitatingly into his serene, quiet face, from which the fire and
passion of youth had long since faded, she thought. "So Adam might
have looked had he never sinned but grown old in his beautiful
garden. This aged man, who lives nearer heaven than earth, can't
understand my wicked, passionate heart. My story will only shock
and pain him, and it's a shame to pollute this place with such a
story."

"You spoke as if you were alone and friendless in the world," said
Mr. Eltinge, trying to help her make a beginning. "Are you an
orphan?"

"No," said Ida, with rising color, and averting her face. "My
parents are both living."

"And yet you cannot go to them? Poor child! That is the worst
kind of orphanage."

"Oh, Mr. Eltinge, this place seems like the garden of Eden, and I
am bringing into it a heart full of trouble and wickedness."

"Well, my child," replied the old gentleman, with a smile. "I've
brought here a heart full of trouble and wickedness many a time,
so you need not fear hurting the garden."

"But I fear I shall pain and shock you."

"I hope you will. I'm going to feel with and for you. What's the
good of my sitting here like a post?"

"Well," said Ida, desperately, "I promised to tell you everything,
and I will. If there is any chance for me I'll then know it, for
you will not deceive me. Somehow, what I am and what I have to say
seemed in such sad contrast with you and your garden that I became
afraid. You asked about my parents. My father is a very unhappy
man. He seems to have lost hope and courage. I now begin to see
that I have been chiefly to blame for this. I do nothing for his
comfort. Indeed, I have been so occupied with myself and my own
pleasure that I have given him little thought. He does not spend
much of his time at home, and when I saw him he was always tired,
sad, and moody. He seemed to possess nothing that could minister
to my pride and pleasure save money, and I took that freely, with
scarcely even thanks in return.

"I don't like to speak against my mother, but truth compels me to
add that she acts much in the same way. I don't think she loves
papa. Perhaps our treatment is the chief reason why life, seemingly,
has become to him a burden. When he's not busy in he office he
drinks, and drinks, and I fear it is only to forget his trouble.
Once or twice this summer he has looked like a man, and appeared
capable of throwing off this destroying habit, and then by my
wretched folly I made him do worse than ever," and she burst into
a remorseful passion of tears.

"That's right, my child," said Mr. Eltinge, taking off his
spectacles that he might wipe his sympathetic eyes; "you were very
much to blame. Thank god, there are no Pharisees in this garden.
God bless you; go on."

"This that I've told you about my father ought to be my chief
trouble, but it isn't," faltered Ida. "I fear you won't understand
me very well now, and you certainly will never be able to understand
how I could be tempted to do something at the very thought of which
I now shudder."

"No matter; my Master can understand it all if I can't. He's
listening, too, remember."

"It frightens me to think so," said Ida, in an awed, trembling
tone.

"That's because you don't know him. If you were severely wounded,
would you be frightened to know that a good physician was right at
hand to heal you?"

"But isn't God too infinite and far away to listen to listen to
the story of my weakness and folly? I dare not think of him. My
difficulty is just this--he IS God, and what am I?"

"One of his little children, my dear. Yes, he is infinite, but
not far away. In the worst of my weakness and folly he listened
patiently, and helped me out of my trouble. How are you going to
get over this fact? He has listened to and helped multitudes of
others in every kind of trouble and wrong. How are you going to
get over these facts?"

Ida slowly wiped her eyes. Her face grew very pale, and she looked
at Mr. Eltinge steadily and earnestly, as if to gather from his
expression and manner, as well as words, the precise effect of her
confession.

"Mr. Eltinge," she said, "at this time yesterday I did not expect
to be alive to-day. I expected to be dead, and by my own hand.
Will God forgive such wickedness?"

"Dead!" exclaimed the old gentleman, starting up.

"Yes," said Ida, growing still paler and trembling with apprehension,
but still looking fixedly at Mr. Eltinge as if she would learn
from his face whether she could hope or must despair because of
her intended crime.

"And what changed your awful purpose, my child?" he said, very
gravely.

"Your words at the prayer-meeting last night."

The old gentleman removed his hat and reverently bowed his head.
"O God," he murmured, "thou hast been merciful to me all my days;
I thank thee for this crowning mercy."

"But will God be merciful to ME?" cried Ida, in a tone of sharp
agony.

The old man came to he side, and placing his hands on her head spoke
with almost the authority and solemnity of one of God's ancient
prophets.

"Yes, my child, yes, he will be merciful unto you--he will forgive
you. But in your deep need you require more than the assurance
of a poor sinful mortal like yourself. Listen to God's own word:
'Thus saith the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose
name is Holy: I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also
that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of
the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones.'

"'Like as a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth them
that fear him.'

"'If we confess our sins he is faithful and just to forgive us our
sins; and the blood of Jesus Christ, his Son, cleanseth us from
all sin.' God answers your question himself, my child."

"Oh, may He bless you for your kindness to me! It has saved me
from despair and death," sobbed Ida, burying her face in her hands,
and giving way to the natural expression of feeling that ever
relieves a heart that has long been overburdened.

For a few moments Mr. Eltinge said nothing, but gently stroked the
bowed head as he might caress a daughter of his own. At last he
asked, with a voice that was broken from sympathy with her emotion,

"How about my Master, whose kind providence has brought all this
about?"

Ida gradually became more quiet, and as soon as she could trust
herself to speak she lifter her head and answered:

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