Part 3 out of 11
Across the grass plot before the door, burnished pigeons cooed, and
trod their stately minuet, their iridescent plumage showing every
opaline splendor as the sunlight smote them; and on a buttress of
the clock tower, a lonely hedge-sparrow poured his heart out in that
peculiarly pathetic threnody which no other feathered throat
contributes to the varied volume of bird lays. Poised on the point
of an iron spike in the line that bristled along the wall, a mocking
bird preened, then spread his wings, soared and finally swept
downward, thrilling the air with the bravura of the "tumbling song";
and over the rampart that shut out the world, drifted the refrain of
a paean to peace:
"Bob White!" "Peas ripe?" "Not quite!"
In the vast epic of the Cosmos, evoked when the "Spirit of God moved
upon the face of the waters"--an epic printed in stars on blue
abysses of illimitable space; in illuminated type of rose leaf,
primrose petal, scarlet berry on the great greenery of field and
forest; in the rainbows that glow on tropical humming birds, on
Himalayan pheasants, on dying dolphins in purple seas; and in all
the riotous carnival of color on Nature's palette, from shifting
glory of summer clouds, to the steady fires of red autumn skies--we
find no blot, no break, no blurred abortive passages, until man
stepped into creation's story. In the material, physical Universe,
the divine rhythm flows on, majestic, serene as when the "morning
stars sing together" in the choral of praise to Him, unto whom "all
seemed good"; but in the moral and spiritual realm evolved by
humanity, what hideous pandemonium of discords drowns the heavenly
harmony? What grim havoc marks the swath, when the dripping scythe
of human sin and crime swings madly, where the lilies of eternal
"Peace on earth, good will to man," should lift their silver
chalices to meet the smile of God?
A vague conception of this vexing problem, which like a huge
carnivorous spectre, flaps its dusky wings along the sky of
sociology, now saddened Mrs. Singleton's meditations, as she watched
the lengthening shadow cast by the tower upon the court-yard; but
she was not addicted to abstract speculation, and the words of her
favorite hymn epitomized her thoughts: "Though every prospect
pleases, and only man is vile."
The brazen clang of the deep-throated bell rang out on the quiet
air, and a moment later, the piercing treble of a child's cry made
her spring to her feet. She peeped into the chapel all was still.
On tiptoe she passed swiftly down the aisle to the chancel, and saw
the figure crouched at the altar, with one arm twined through the
railing. For many days and nights the tortured woman had not known
an instant of repose; nervous dread had scourged her to the verge of
frenzy, but when the flow of long-pent tears partly extinguished the
fire in her brain, overtaxed Nature claimed restitution, and the
prisoner yielded to overwhelming prostration. Death might be
hovering near, but her twin sister sleep intervened, and
compassionately laid her poppies on the snowy eyelids.
Stooping close, Mrs. Singleton saw that tears yet hung on the black
lashes which swept the flushed cheeks, but the parted lips were at
rest, and the deep regularly drawn breath told her that at last the
weary soul reposed in the peaceful domain of dreams. Deftly, and
softly as thistledown falls, she spread her own shawl over the
drooping shoulders, then noiselessly hurried back to the door.
Locking it, she took the key, ran across the grass, into the arcade,
and up to the great iron barrier, which the guard opened as she
approached. With flying feet she neared her own apartments, whence
issued the indignant wail of her implacable baby girl. As she opened
the door, her husband held the disconsolate child toward her.
"You are in time for your share of the fun; I have had enough and to
spare. How you stand this diabolical din day in, day out, passes my
comprehension. You had not been gone fifteen minutes when Missy
tuned up. I patted and, 'She-e-d' her, but she got her head above
cover, squinted around the room, and not finding you, set up a
squall that would have scared a wildcat. The more I patted, the
worse she screamed, and her feet and hands flew around like a wind-
mill. I took her up, and trotted her on my knee, but bless you! she
squirmed like an eel, and her little bald head bobbed up and down
faster than a di-dapper. Then I walked her, but I would as soon try
to swing to a greased snake. She wriggled and bucked, and tied
herself up into a bow knot, and yelled--. Oh! a Comanche papoose is
a dummy to her. As if I had not hands full, arms full, and ears
full, Dick must needs wake up and pitch head foremost out of the
cradle, and turn a double summerset before he landed upside down on
the floor, whereupon he lifted up his voice, and the concert grew
lively. I took him under one arm, so, and laid Missy over my
shoulder, and it struck me I would join the chorus in self defence,
so I opened with all my might on 'Hold the Fort'; but great
Tecumseh! I only insulted them both, and finding my fifth fiddle was
nowhere in the fray, I feared Jarvis would hear the howling and ring
the alarm bell, so I just sat down. I spread out Dick in a soft
place, where he could not bump his brains out, and laying my lady
across my lap, I held her down by main force, while she screamed
till she was black in the face. If you had not come just when you
did, I should have turned gray and cross-eyed. Hello, Missy! If she
is not cooing and laughing! Little vixen! Oh! but--'lambs'!--I
believe they are! Hereafter tend your own flock; and in preference I
will herd young panthers."
He wiped his forehead where the perspiration stood in drops, and
watched with amazement the sudden lull in the tempest.
Clasped in her mother's arms, the baby smiled and gurgled, and Dick,
drying his eyes on the maternal bosom, showed the exact spot where
she must kiss his bruised head.
"Ned, what have you done? This baby's hair is dripping wet, and so
is the neck of her dress."
"Serves her right, too. I sprinkled her, that's all."
"Sprinkled her! Have you lost your senses?"
"Shouldn't wonder if I had; people in bedlam are apt to be crazy.
Yes, I sprinkled Missy, because she turned so black in the face, I
thought she was strangling; and my step-mother always sprinkled me
when I had a fit of tantrums. But let me tell you, Missy will never
be a zealous Baptist, she doesn't take to water kindly."
"When I want my children step-mothered I will let you know. Give me
that towel, and baby's woollen cap hanging on the knob of the
bureau. Bless her precious heart! if she does not keep you up all
night, with the croup, you may thank your stars."
"Susie, just tell me how you tame them, so that next time--"
"Next time, sir, I shall not trust you. I just love them, and they
know it; that is what tames the whole world."
Edward Singleton stooped over his wife, and kissed her rosy cheek.
"Little woman, what luck had you in No. 19?"
"The best I could wish. I have saved that poor girl from brain-
fever, I hope."
"How did you manage it?"
"Just simply because I am a flesh and blood woman, and not a
blundering, cast-iron man."
"How does she seem now?"
"She has had a good, hearty spell of wholesome crying; no hysterics,
mind you, but floods of tears; and now she is sound asleep with her
head on the altar railing, in the chapel. I locked her up there, and
here is the key. When she wakes, I want her brought up here, put in
that room yonder, and left entirely to me, until her trial is over.
I never do things half way, Ned, and you need not pucker your
eyebrows, for I will be responsible for her. I have put my hand to
the plough, and you are not to meddle with the lines, till I finish
In one of the "outhouses" which constituted the servants' quarters,
in that which common parlance denominated the "back-yard" at "Elm
Bluff," an old negro woman sat smoking a pipe.
The room which she had occupied for more than forty years, presented
a singular melange of incongruous odds and ends, the flotsam of a
long term of service, where the rewards, if intrinsically
incommensurate, were none the less invaluable, to the proud
recipient. The floor was covered by a faded carpet, once the pride
of the great drawing-room, but the velvet pile had disappeared
beneath the arched insteps and high heels of lovely belles and
haughty beaux, and the scarlet feathers and peacock plumes that
originally glowed on the brilliant buff ground, were no longer
An old-fashioned piece of furniture, coeval with diamond shoe-
buckles, ruffled shirts and queues, a brass bound mahogany
chiffonier, with brass handles and tall brass feet representing cat
claws, stood in one corner; and across the top was stretched a rusty
purple velvet strip, bordered with tarnished gilt gimp and fringe, a
fragment of the cover which belonged to the harp on which General
Darrington's grandmother had played.
The square bedstead was a marvel in size and massiveness, and the
heavy mahogany posts nearly black with age, and carved like the
twisted strands of a rope, supported a tester lined with turkey-red
pleatings, held in the centre by the talons of a gilt spread-eagle.
So tall was the bed, that three steps were required to ascend it,
and the space thus left between the mahogany and the floor, was
hidden by a valance of white dimity, garnished with wide cotton
fringe. Over this spacious place of repose, a patchwork quilt of the
"rising sun" pattern displayed its gaudy rays, resembling some
sprawling octopus, rather than the face of Phoebus.
The contents of a wide mantel board flounced with fringed dimity,
(venerable prototype of macrame and Arrasene lambrequins), would
have filled with covetousness the soul of the bric-a-brac devotee;
and graced the counters of Sypher.
There were burnished brass candle-sticks, with extinguishers in the
shape of prancing griffins, and snuffers of the same metal,
fashioned after the similitude of some strange and presumably
extinct saurian; and a Dresden china shepherdess, whose shattered
crook had long since disappeared, peeped coquettishly through the
engraved crystal of a tall candle shade at the bloated features of a
mandarin, on a tea-pot with a cracked spout--that some Darrington,
stung by the gad-fly of travel, had brought to the homestead from
Nanking. A rich blue glass vase poised on the back of a bronze swan,
which had lost one wing and part of its bill in the combat with
time, hinted at the rainbow splendors of its native Prague, and
bewailed the captivity that degraded its ultra-marine depths into a
receptacle for cut tobacco.
The walls, ceiled with curled pine planks, were covered with a
motley array of pasted and tacked pictures; some engraved, many
colored, and ranging in comprehensiveness of designs, from Bible
scenes cut from magazines, to "riots" in illustrated papers; and
even the garish glory of circus and theatre posters.
In one corner stood an oak spinning-wheel, more than centenarian in
age, fallen into hopeless desuetude, but gay with the strings of
scarlet pepper pods hung up to dry, and twined among its silent
spokes. On a trivet provided with lizard feet that threatened to
crawl away, rested a copper kettle bereft of its top, once the idol
of three generations of Darringtons, to whom it had liberally
dispensed "hot water tea," in the blessed dead and embalmed era of
nursery rule and parental power; now eschewed with its despised use,
and packed to the brim with medicinal "yarbs," bone-set, horse mint,
life everlasting, and snake-root.
In front of the fire which roared and crackled in the cavernous
chimney, "Mam' Dyce" rocked slowly, enjoying her clay pipe, and
meditatively gazing up at an engraved portrait of "Our First
President," suspended on the wall. It was appropriately framed in
black, and where the cord that held it was twined around a hook, a
bow and streamers of very brown and rusty crape fluttered, when a
draught entered the apartment.
Obese in form, and glossy black in complexion, "Mam' Dyce" retained
in old age the scrupulous neatness which had characterized her
youth, when promoted to the post of seamstress and ladies' maid, she
had ruled the servants' realm at "Elm Bluff" with a sway as
autocratic as that of Catherine over the Muscovites. Her black
calico dress, donned as mourning for her master, was relieved by a
white apron tied about the ample waist; a snowy handkerchief was
crossed over the vast bosom, and a checked white and black turban
skilfully wound in intricate folds around her gray head, terminated
in a peculiar knot, which was the pride of her toilet. A beautiful
spotted pointer dog with ears like brown satin, was lying asleep
near the fire, but suddenly he lifted his head, rose, stretched
himself and went to the door. A moment later it opened, and the
whilom major-domo, Abednego, came in; put his stick in one corner,
hung his hat on a wooden peg, and approached the fireplace.
"Well, ole man; you know I tole you so."
"You wimmen would ruther say that, than eat pound cake. Supposin'
you did tell me, what's the upshot?"
"That gimlet-eyed weasel is snuffing round you and me; but we won't
turn out to be spring chickens, ready picked."
"Which is to signify that Miss Angerline smells a mouse? Don't talk
parables, Dyce. What's she done now?"
"She is hankering after that hankchiff. 'Pears to me, if she only
went on four legs 'sted of two, she would sell high for a
"Great Nebuckadanzer! How did she find out?"
"Don't ax me; ax the witches what she has in cahoot. I always tole
you, she had the eyes of a cunjor, and she has sarched it out. Says
she saw you when you found it; which ain't true. Eavesdrapping is
her trade; she was fotch up on it, and her ears fit a key-hole, like
a bung plugs a barrel. She has eavesdrapped that hankchiff chat of
our'n somehow. Wuss than that, Bedney, she sot thar this evening and
faced me down, that I was hiding something else; that I picked up
something on the floor and hid it in my bosom, after the crowner's
inquess. Sez I: 'Well, Miss Angerline, you had better sarch me and
be done with it, if you are the judge, and the jury, and the
crowner, and the law, and have got the job to run this case.' Sez
she, a-squinting them venomous eyes of her'n, till they looked like
knitting needles red hot: 'I leave the sarching to be done by the
cunstable--when you are 'rested and handcuffed for 'betting of
murder.' Then my dander riz. Sez I, 'Crack your whip and go ahead!
You know how, seeing you is the offspring of a Yankee overseer, what
my marster, Gin'l Darrington, had 'rested for beating one of our
wimen, on our 'Bend' plantation. You and your pa is as much alike,
as two shrivelled cow peas out'en one pod. Fetch your cunstable, and
Dyce rose, knocked the ashes out of her pipe, and stood like a dusky
image of an Ethiopian Bellona.
"Drat your servigerous tongue! Now the fat's in the fire, to be sho!
Ever since I tuck you for better for wuss, I have been trying to
larn you 'screshun! and I might as well 'a wasted my time picking a
banjo for a dead jackass tu dance by; for you have got no more
'screshun than old Eve had, in confabulating with the old adversary!
Why couldn't you temperlize? Sassing that white 'oman, is a
Under ordinary circumstances, Bedney and Dyce prided themselves on
the purity of their diction, and they usually abstained from
plantation dialect; but when embarrassed, frightened or excited,
they invariably relapsed into the lingo of the "Quarters."
"Hush! What's that? A screech owull! Bedney, turn your pocket."
With marvellous swiftness she plunged her hand into her dress
pocket, and turned it wrong side out, scattering the contents--
thimble, thread, two "scalybarks," and some "ground peas" over the
floor. Then stooping, she slipped off one shoe, turned it upside
down, and hung it thus on a horseshoe fastened to the mantel board.
"Just lem'me know when you have appinted to hold your sarching, and
I will make it convenient to have bizness consarning that bunch of
horgs and cattle, I am raising on shares in the 'Bend' plantation:
and you can have your sarching frolic," said Bedney, too angry to
heed the superstitious rites.
Dyce made a warning gesture, and listened intently.
"I am a-thinking you will be chief cook and bottle-washer at that
sarching, for the appintment is at hand. Don't you hear Pilot baying
She sank into her rocking-chair, picked up a gray yarn sock, and
began to knit unconcernedly; but in a significant tone, she added,
nodding her head:
"Hold your own hand, Bedney; don't be pestered about mine. I'll hoe
my row; you 'tend to yourn."
Then she leaned back, plying her knitting needles, and began to
chant: "Who will be the leader when the Bridegroom comes?"
Hearing the knock on the door, her voice swelled louder, and Bedney,
the picture of perplexity, stood filling his pipe, when the bolt was
turned, and a gentleman holding a whip and wearing a long overcoat
entered the room.
"Good evening, Bedney. Are you and Dyce holding a camp meeting all
by yourselves? I hallooed at the gate till your dog threatened to
devour me, and I had to scare him off with my buggy whip."
"Why, how'dy, Mars Alfred? I am mighty glad to see you! Seems like
old times, to shake hands with you in my cabin. Lem'me take off your
overcoat, sir, and gim'me your hat, and make yourself comfortable,
here by the jam of the chimbly."
"No, Bedney, I can't spare the time, and I only want a little
business matter settled before I get back to town to my office.
Thank you, Dyce, this is an old-time rocker sure enough. It is a
regular 'Sleepy Hollow.'"
Mr. Churchill pushed back his hat, and held his gloved hand toward
"Bedney, I want to see that handkerchief you found in your master's
room, the day after he was murdered."
"What hankchuf, Marse Alfred? I done tole everything I know, to the
"I dare say you did; but something was found afterward. I want to
"Who has been villifying of me? You have knowed me ever since you
was knee-high to a duck, and I--."
"Nobody has vilified you, but Miss Dobbs saw you examining
something, which she says you pushed up your coat sleeve. She thinks
it was a handkerchief, but it may have been valuables. Now it is my
duty, as District Solicitor, to discover and prosecute the person
who killed your master, and you ought to render me every possible
assistance. Any unwillingness to give your testimony, or surrender
the articles found, will cast suspicion on you, and I should be
sorry to have you arrested."
"Fore Gord, Marse Alfred, I--"
"Own up, husband. You did find a hankchef. You see, Marse Alfred, we
helped to raise that poor young gal's mother; and Bedney and me was
'votedly attached to our young Mistiss, Miss Ellie, and we thought
ole Marster was too hard on her, when she run off with the furrin
fiddler; so when this awful 'fliction fell upon us and everybody was
cusing Miss Ellie's child of killing her own grandpa, we couldn't
believe no such onlikely yarn, and Bedney and me has done swore our
vow, we will stand by that poor young creetur, for her ma's sake;
for our young mistiss was good to us, and our heart strings was
'rapped round her. We does not intend, if we can help it, to lend a
hand in jailing Miss Ellie's child, and so, after the Crowner had
'liceted all the facts as he said, and the verdict was made up,
Bedney and me didn't feel no crampings in our conscience, about
holding our tongues. Another reason why we wanted to lay low in this
hiere bizness, was that we didn't hanker after sitting on the
anxious seats of witnesses in the court-house; and being called
ongodly thieves, and perjured liars, and turned wrong side out by
the lie-yers, and told our livers was white, and our hearts blacker
than our skins. Marse Alfred, Bedney and me are scared of that
court; what you call the law, cuts curous contarabims sometimes, and
when the broad axe of jestice hits, there is no telling whar the
chips will fly; it's wuss than hull-gull, or pitching heads and
tails. You are a lie-yer, Marse Alfred, and you know how it is
yourself; and I beg your pardon, sir, for slighting the perfession;
but when I was a little gal, I got my scare of lie-yers, and it has
stuck to me like a kuckleburrow. One Christmas eve jest before ole
Marster got married, he had a egg-nog party; and a lot of gentlemen
was standing 'round the table in the dining-room. One of 'em was ole
Mr. Dunbar, Marse Lennox' father, and he axed ole Marster if he had
saved that game rooster for him, as he promised, Marster told him he
was very sorry, but some rogue had done gone and burnt some sulphur
the week before in his henhouse, and bagged that 'dentical rooster.
Presently Mr. Dunbar axed if Marster would let him have one of the
blue hen's roosters, if he would catch the rogue for him before
midnight. Of course Marster said he would. Mr. Dunbar (Marse Lennox'
pa), he was practicing law then, had a pot full of smut on the
bottom, turned upside down on the dining-room flo', and he and
Marster went out to the hen-'ouse and got a dominicker rooster and
shoved him under the pot. Then they rung the bell, and called every
darkey on the place into the dining-room, and made us stand in a
line. I was a little gal then, only so high, but I followed my daddy
in the house, and I never shall disremember that night, 'cause it
broke up our home preachment. Mr. Dunbar made a speech, and the
upshot of it was, that every darkey was to walk past the pot and rub
his finger in the smut; and he swore a solemn oath, that when the
pusson that stole that fine game rooster, touched the pot, the
dominicker rooster would crow. As Marster called our names, we every
one marched out and rubbed the pot, and when all of us had tried,
the rooster hadn't crowed. Mr. Dunbar said there was some mistake
somewhere, and he made us step up and show hands, and make prints on
his hankcher; and lo, and behold! one darkey had not touched the
pot; his forefinger was clean; so Mr. Dunbar says, 'Luke, here is
your thief?' and shore 'nuff, it was our preacher, and he owned up.
I never forgot that trick, and from that day 'till now, I have been
more scared of a lie-yer, than I am of a mad dog. They is the only
perfession that the Bible is agin, for you know they jawed our Lord
hisself, and he said, 'Woe! woe! to you lie-yers.' Now, Marse
Alfred, if you have made up your mind you are gwine to have that
hankcher, it will be bound to come; for if it was tied to a
millstone and drapped in the sea, you lie-yers would float it into
court; so Bedney, jest perduce what you found."
"That is right, Dyce; I am glad your opinion of my profession has
forced you to such a sensible conclusion. Come, Bedney, no balking
Perplexed by Dyce's tactics, Bedney stood irresolute, with his half-
filled pipe slipping from his fingers; and he stared at his wife for
a few seconds, hoping that some cue would be furnished.
"Bedney, there's no use in being cantankerous. If you won't perduce
it, I will."
Plunging her hand into the blue glass bowl, she pushed aside the
tobacco, and extracted a key; then crossed the room, lifted the
valance of the patriarchal bed, and dragged out a small, old-
fashioned hair trunk, ornamented with stars and diamonds of brass
tack heads. Drawing it across the floor, she sat down near Mr.
Churchill, and bending over, unlocked and opened it. After removing
many articles of clothing, and sundry heirlooms, she lifted from the
bottom a bundle, which she laid on her lap, and edging her chair
closer to the Solicitor, proceeded to unfold the contents. The
outside covering was a richly embroidered Canton crape shawl,
originally white, now yellow as old ivory; but when this was
unwrapped, there appeared only an ordinary sized brown gourd, with a
long and singularly curved handle, as crooked as a ram's horn.
Bending one of her knitting needles into a hook, Dyce deftly
inserted it in the neck, where it joined the bowl, and after
manoeuvring a few seconds, laid down the needle, and with the aid of
her thumb and forefinger slowly drew out a long roll, tightly
wrapped with thread. Unwinding it, she shook the roll, and a small,
gray object, about two inches long, dropped into her lap. Mr.
Churchill sat leaning a little forward, as if intent on Dyce's
movements, but his elbow rested on the arm of the rocking chair, and
holding his hand up to screen his face from the blaze of the fire,
he was closely watching Bedney. When Dyce shook out and held up a
faded, dingy blue silk handkerchief, the lawyer noted a sudden
twinkle in the old man's eyes, but no other feature moved, and he
stooped to take a coal of fire from the hearth.
"There is the hankchuf that Bedney found. But mebbe you don't know
what this is, that I wrapped up in it, to bring us good luck?"
She spread the handkerchief over his knee, and held up the small
gray furry object, which had fallen from its folds.
"Rabbit's foot? Let me see; yes, that is the genuine left hind foot.
I know all about it, because when my regiment was ordered to the
front, my old colored Mammy--Ma'm Judy--who nursed me, sewed one
just like that, inside the lining of my coat skirt. But, Dyce, that
rabbit's foot was not worth a button; for the very first battle I
was in, a cannon ball killed my horse under me, and carried away my
coat tail--rabbit's foot and all. Don't pin your faith to left hind
feet, they are fatal frauds. You are positive, this is the
handkerchief Bedney found? It smells of asafoetida and camphor, and
looks like it had recently been tied around somebody's sore throat."
"Marse Alfred, I will swear on a stack of Bibles high as the
'Piscopal church steeple, that Bedney Darrington gim'me that same
blue hankcher, and he said he found it. I wasn't with him when he
found it, but I hardly think he would 'a stole a' old rag like that.
I have perduced it! now if you want to sarch behind it, you must
She resumed her knitting and her lips closed like the spring of a
"Dyce, I haven't heard the rooster crow yet. Somebody has fought shy
of the pot. See here, I am in earnest now, and I will give you both
a friendly word of warning. Your actions are so suspicious, that
unless you produce the real article you found, I shall be obliged to
send you to jail, and try you for the murder. How do I know that you
and Bedney are not the guilty parties, instead of General
Darrington's granddaughter? This soiled rag will impose neither upon
me, nor upon the court, and I give you five minutes to put into my
possession the real genuine handkerchief. I shall know it when I see
it, because it is white, with red spots on the border."
"Paddle your own 'dug out,' Bedney, and show your s'creshun. If
Marse Alfred wants to set the red-eyed hounds of the Law on an
innocent 'oman, let him blow his horn."
She knitted assiduously, and looked composedly at her husband, whose
lower jaw had suddenly fallen, while his eyelids blinked nervously,
as though attacked by St. Vitus' dance.
"Only five minutes, Bedney."
Mr. Churchill took out his watch, and held it open.
"You see, Marse Alfred, I--"
"I don't see anything but an infernal fraud you two have planned.
Only three minutes more. There is a constable waiting at the gate,
and if he can not persuade you to--"
"Bedney, step and fetch him in, and let Marse Alfred see the
sarching job done up all right."
"No, I don't hunt foxes that way. Instead of searching this cabin,
we will just march you both instanter out of these comfortable
quarters, and let you try how soft the beds are, at the 'State
boarding-house.' You will sleep cold on iron bunks, and miss your
feathers and your crazy quilts. Time's up."
He closed his watch, with a snap, and rose as he returned it to his
"Hold on, Marse Alfred! My head ain't hard enough to run it plum
into a wolf's jaws. I ain't 'sponsible for nobody's acts but my own,
and if Dyce have committed a pius fraud, in this here hank'cher
bizness, to screen Miss Ellie's child, why, you see yourself, I had
no hand in it. I did find that blue 'rag,' as you seen fit to call
it, but it was nigh on to twenty years ago. when I pulled it out of
the breast pocket of a dead Yankee officer, we found lying across a
cannon, what my old Marster's regiment captured at the battle of
Manassas. I gin it to my wife as a screw-veneer o' the war and she
have treasured it accordin'. You are a married man yourself, Marse
Alfred, and you are obleedged to know that wedlock is such a tight
partnership, that it is an awfully resky thing for a man to so much
as bat his eyes, or squint 'em, toward the west, when the wife of
his bosom has set her'n to the east. I have always 'lowed Dyce her
head, 'pecially in jokes like that one she was playing on you just
now, 'cause St. John the Baptist said a man must forsake father and
mother and cleave unto his wife; but conjugular harness is one
thing, and the law is another, and I don't hanker after forsaking my
pine-knot fire, and feather bed, to cleave unto jail bars, and
handcuffs. I see you are tired of Dyce's jokes, and you mean
bizzness; and I don't intend to consume no more of your valuable
solicitous time. Dyce, fetch me that plank bottom cher to stand on."
"Fetch it yourself. Paddling your own canoe, means headin' for the
Bedney hastened to procure the designated chair, which he mounted in
front of the mantel piece, and thence reaching up to the portrait of
President Lincoln, took it carefully down from the hook. With the
blade of his pocket-knife, he loosened some tacks which secured the
thin pine slats at the back of the picture, and removed them. He
took everything from the frame, and blank dismay seized him, when
the desired object was nowhere visible.
"Marse Alfred, I swear I tacked that hank'cher in the back of this
here portrait, between the pasteboard and the brown paper, only
yestiddy; and 'fore Gord! I haint seen it since."
Grasping his wife's shoulder, be shook her, until her tall turban
quivered and bent over like the Tower of Pisa, and Mr. Churchill saw
that in his unfeigned terror, drops of perspiration broke out on his
"Have you turned idjut, that you want us both to be devoured by the
roarin' lion of the Law? My mammy named me Bedney, not Dani-yell,
and she had oughter, for Gord knows, you have kept me in a fiery
furnace ever since I tuck you for better for wurser, mostly wurser.
I want that hank'cher, and you'd better believe--I want it quick. I
found it, and I'm gwine to give it up; and you have got no right to
jeppardy my life, if you are fool enough to resk your own stiff
neck. Gim'me that hank'cher! Fantods is played out. I would ruther
play leap frog over a buzz-saw than--than--pester and rile Marse
Alfred, and have the cunstable clawing my collar."
"You poor, pitiful, rascally, cowardly creetur! Whar's that oath you
done swore, to help 'fend Miss Ellie's child? And you a deacon, high
in the church! If I had found that hank'cher, I would hide it, till
Gabriel's horn blows; and I would go to jail or to Jericho; and
before I would give testimony agin my dear young Mistiss's poor
friendless gal, I would chaw my tongue into sassage meat. That's the
diffunce between a palavering man full of 'screshun, and a 'oman who
means what she says; and will stand by her word, if it rains fire
and brimstone. Betrayin' and denying the innercent, has been men's
work, ever since the time of Judas and Peter. Now, Marse Alfred,
Bedney did tack the hank'cher inside the portrait of President
Linkum, 'cause we thought that was the saftest place, but I knowed
the house would be sarched, so I jest hid it in a better place.
Since he ain't showed no more backbone than a saucer of blue-mange,
I shall have to give it up; but if I had found it, you would never
set your two eyes on it, while my head is warm."
She stooped, lifted the wide hem of her black calico skirt, and
proceeded to pick out the stitches which held it securely. When she
had ripped the thread about a quarter of a yard, she raised the edge
of the unusually deep hem, and drew out a white handkerchief with a
Bedney snatched it from her, and handed it to the Solicitor, who
leaned close to the fire, and carefully examined it. As he held it
up by the corners, his face became very grave and stern, and he
"This is evidently a lady's handkerchief, and is so important in the
case, that I shall keep it until the trial is over. Bedney, come to
my office by nine o'clock to-morrow, as the Grand Jury may ask you
some questions. Good bye, Dyce, shake hands; for I honor your
loyalty to your poor young mistress, and her unfortunate child. You
remind me of my own old mammy. Dear good soul, she was as true as
As Mr. Churchill left the house, Bedney accompanied him to the gate.
When he returned, the door was locked. In vain he demanded
admittance; in vain tried the windows; every entrance was securely
barred, and though he heard Dyce moving about within, she deigned no
answer to his earnest pleadings, his vehement expostulations, or his
fierce threats of summary vengeance. The remainder of that night was
spent by Pilot and his irate master in the great hay bin of the "Elm
Bluff" stables. When the sun rose next morning, Bedney rushed
wrathful as Achilles, to resent his wrongs. The door of his house
stood open; a fire glowed on the well swept hearth, where a pot of
boiling coffee and a plate of biscuit welcomed him; but Dyce was
nowhere visible, and a vigorous search soon convinced him she had
left home on some pressing errand.
Two hours later, Mrs. Singleton opened the door of the small room
adjoining her own bedchamber, to which she had insisted upon
removing the prisoner.
Beryl stood leaning against the barred window, and did not even turn
"Here is a negro woman, begging to see you for a few moments. She
says she is an old family servant of General Darrington's."
Standing with her back toward the door, the prisoner put out one
hand with a repellent gesture:
"I have surely suffered enough from General Darrington and his
friends; and I will see nobody connected with that fatal place,
which has been a curse to me."
"Just as you please; but old Auntie here, says she nursed your
mother, and on that account wants to see you."
Without waiting for permission, Dyce darted past the warden's wife,
into the room, and almost before Beryl was aware of her presence,
stood beside her.
"Are you Miss Ellie's daughter?"
Listlessly the girl turned and looked at her, and Dyce threw her
arms around her slender waist, and falling on her knees hid her face
in Beryl's dress, sobbing passionately. In the violence of her
emotion, she rocked back and forth, swaying like a reed in some
fierce blast the tall form, to whom she clung.
"Oh, my lovely! my lovely! To think you should be shut up here! To
see Miss Ellie's baby jailed, among the off-scourings of the earth!
Oh, you beautiful white deer! tracked and tore to pieces by wolves,
and hounds, and jackalls! Oh, honey! Just look straight at me, like
you was facing your accusers before the bar of God, and tell me you
didn't kill your grandpa. Tell me you never dipped your pretty hands
in ole Marster's blood."
Tears were streaming down Dyce's cheeks.
"If you knew my mother, how can you think it possible her child
could commit an awful crime?"
"Oh, God knows--I don't know what to think! 'Peers to me the world
is turned upside down. You see, honey, you are half and half; and
while I am perfectly shore of Miss Ellie's half of you, 'cause I can
always swear to our side, the Darrington in you, I can't testify
about your pa's side; he was a--a--"
"He was as much a gentleman, as my mother was a lady; and I would
rather be his daughter, than call a king my father."
"I believe you! There ain't no drop of scrub blood in you, as I can
see, and if you ain't thoroughbred, 'pearances are deceitful. I
loved your ma; I loved the very ground her little feet trod on. I
fed her out of my own plate many a time, 'cause she thought her
Mammy's vittils was sweeter than what Mistiss 'lowed her to have;
and she have slept in my bosom, and these arms have carried her, and
hugged her, and--and--oh, Lord God A'mighty! it most kills me to see
you, her own little baby here! In this awful, cussed den of thieves
and villi-yans! Oh, honey! for God's sake, just gin me some 'surance
you are as pure as you look; just tell me your soul is a lily, like
Beryl stooped, put her hand on the turbaned head, and bending it
back, so as to look down into the swimming eyes, answered:
"If I had died when I was a month old, my baby soul would not have
faced God any more innocent of crime then, than I am to-day. I had
no more to do with taking General Darrington's money and his life,
than the archangels in Heaven."
"Bless God! Now I am satisfied. Now I see my way clare. But it sets
my blood afire to see you here; it's a burning shame to put my dear
young Mistiss' child in this beasts' cage. I can't help thinking of
that poor beautiful white deer, what Marster found crippled, down at
our 'Bend' Plantation, that some vagabond had shot. Marster fotch it
up home, and of all the pitifulist sights!"
Dyce had risen, and covering her face with her white apron, she wept
for some minutes.
"Are you not the wife of Bedney, who saved my mother's life, when
the barn burned?"
"Yes, honey, I am Mam' Dyce, and if I am spared, I will try to save
your'n. That is what has brung me here. You are 'cused of the
robb'ry and the murder, and you have denied it in the court; but
chile, the lie-yers are aworking day and night fur to hang you, and
little is made of much, on your side, and much is spun out of
little, on theirn. They are more cunning than foxes, and
bloodthirstier than panters, and they no more git tired than the
spiders, that spin and piece a web as fast as you break it. Three
nights ago, I got down on my knees, and I kissed a little pink
morocco slipper what your Ma wore the day when she took her first
step from my arm to her own mother's knees, and I swore a solemn
oath, if I could help free Miss Ellie's child, I would do it. Now I
want to ask you one thing. Did you lose anything that day you come
to our house, and had the talk with old Marster?"
"Nothing, but my peace and happiness."
"Are you shore you didn't drap your hank'cher?"
"Yes, I am sure I did not, because I wrapped it around some
chrysanthemums I gathered as I went away."
"Well, a lady's hank'cher was found in Marster's room, and it did
smell of chloryform. Bedney picked it up, and we said nothing and
laid low, and hid the thing; but that Godforsaken and predestinated
sinner, Miss Angeline, kept sarching and eavesdrapping, and set the
lie-yers on the scent, and they have 'strained Bedney on peril of
jailing him, to perduce it. When it got into their claws, and I
thought it might belonk to you, my teeth chattered, and I felt like
the back of my frock was a ice-warehouse. Now, honey, can you
testify before God and man, that hank'cher ain't yourn?"
"I certainly can. I had only three handkerchiefs with me when I left
home, and I have them still. Here is one, the other two lie yonder.
But that handkerchief is worth everything; because it must belong to
the vile wretch who committed the crime, and it will help to prove
my innocence. Where is it?"
"The Grand Jury is setting on it."
Here Dyce looked cautiously around, and tip-toed to the door;
finding it ajar, closed it, then stole back. Putting her lips close
to Beryl's ear, she whispered:
"Did you lose a sleeve button?"
"No. I did not wear any."
"Thank God! I feel like all the bricks in the court-house was lifted
off my heart, and flung away. I was in fear and trimbling about that
button, 'cause I picked it up, just under the aidge of the rug,
where ole Marster fell, when he got his death blow; and as sure as
the coming of the Judgment Day, it was drapped by the pusson who
killed him. I was so afeared it might belonk to you, that I have
been on the anxious seat ever since I found it; and I concluded the
safest way was to bring it here to you. I am scared to keep it at
home, 'cause them yelping wolves as wears the sheepskins of Justice,
are on my tracks. I would never give it up, if I was chopped to
mince meat; but Bedney ain't got no more than enuff backbone for
half of a man, and the lie-yers discomfrizzle him so, I could not
trust him, when it comes to the scratch. Now that button is worth a
heap, and I am precious careful of it. Look here."
She took from her pocket two large pods of red pepper, which looked
exactly alike, but the end of one had been cut out around the stem,
then neatly fitted back, and held in place by some colorless cement.
Beckoning Beryl to follow, Dyce went closer to the window, and with
the aid of her teeth drew out the stem. Into her palm rolled a
circular button of some opaque reddish-brown substance, resembling
tortoise shell, and enamelled with gilt bunches of grapes, and
inlaid leaves of mother-of-pearl. Across the top, embossed in gilt
letters ran the word "Ricordo."
The old woman lifted her open palm, and as Beryl saw the button, a
gasping, gurgling sound broke from her. She snatched it, stared at
it. Then the Gorgon head slipped through her fingers, she threw
herself against the window, shook the iron bar frantically; and one
desperate cry seemed to tear its way through her clinched teeth,
over her ashy lips:
"Oh, Mother! Mother--Mother! You are nailing me to a cross."
Nowhere in the vast vista of literature is there an episode more
exquisitely pathetic than that serene picture of the Grove at
Colonus, sacred to the "Semnai Theai;" where the dewy freshness, the
floral loveliness, the spicery, and all the warbling witchery of
nature pay tribute to the Avenging Goddesses.
Twenty-two centuries have sifted their dust over the immortal
figures seated on the marble bench within the precincts consecrated
to the Eumenides, but in deathless tenacity, the rich aroma of
Sophocles' narcissus, and the soft crocus light linger there still;
while from thickets of olive, nightingales break their hearts in
song, as thrilling as the melody that smote the ears of doomed and
So in all ages, we, born thralls of grief, lift streaming eyes, and
chant elegies to stony-hearted Mother-Earth, but her starry orbs
shine on, undimmed by sympathetic tears; her smiling lips show only
sunshine in their changeless dimples, and her myriad fingers
sweeping the keys of the Universal Organ, drown our De Profundis in
the rhythmic thunders of her Jubilate. Wailing children of Time, we
crouch and tug at the moss-velvet, daisy-sprinkled skirts of the
mighty Mater, praying some lullaby from her to soothe our pain; but
human woe frets not her sublime serenity, as deaf as desert sphinx,
she fronts the future.
Some echo of this maddening mystery sounded in the ears of the
lonely woman, who clutched the bars of her dungeon, and stared
through its iron lattice, at the peaceful, happy, outside world. At
her feet lay X---, divided by the silvery river, which, here rushed
with arrowy swiftness under the gray stone arches of the bridge, and
there widened into glassy lakelets, as if weary from the mad plunge
over a distant rocky ledge in mid-stream, whence the dull steady
roar of the "falls" thrilled the atmosphere, like the "tremolo" in a
dim cathedral, where fading daylight dies on painted apse and gilded
pipes. As a chessboard the squares of buildings were spread out,
defined by wide streets, where humanity and its traffic sped, busy
as ants. In a green plot, the sombre facade of the court-house
surmounted by an eyeless stone statue of Justice, frowned on the
frivolous throng below; and along the verge of the common, marble
fingers pointed up to the heaven of blue that bent above "God's
Acre"; while now and then, bulbous towers, and glittering steeple
vanes, caught the sunshine on their polished crests. Beyond the
whole, and bounding the valley filled with a billowy sea of bluish-
green pine tops, rose a wooded eminence, wearing still its Persian
robe of autumn foliage, and on its brow the colonnade and chimneys
of "Elm Bluff" blotted the southern sky, like a threatening phantom.
To-day forest, stream, earth and sky, appeared branded with one
fatal word, as if the world's wide page held only "Ricordo!
Beryl shut her eyes and groaned; but the scene merely shifted to a
dell under the shadow of Carrara hills, where olives set "Ricordo"
among their silver leaves; and lemons painted "Ricordo" in their
pale gold; and scarlet pomegranates and nodding violets, burning
anemones and tender green of trailing maiden-hair ferns all blazoned
The fierce tide of wrath, that indignation and her keen sense of
outraged innocence had poured like molten lead through her throbbing
arteries, was oozing sluggishly, congealing under the awful spell of
that one word "Ricordo." Hitherto, the shame of the suspicion, the
degradation of the imprisonment had caught and empaled her thoughts;
but by degrees, these became dwarfed by the growing shadow of a
possibly ignominious death, which spread its sable pinions along the
rosy dawn of her womanhood, and devoured the glorious sun of her
high hopes. The freezing gloom was creeping nearer, and to-day she
could expect no succor, save by one avenue.
Islam believes that only the cimeter edge of Al Sirat divides
Paradise from perdition. Beryl realized that in her peril, she trod
an equally narrow snare, over yawning ruin, holding by a single
thread of hope that handkerchief. Weak natures shiver and
procrastinate, shunning confirmation of their dread; but to this
woman had come a frantic longing to see, to grasp, to embrace the
worst. She was in a death grapple with appalling fate, and that
handkerchief would decide the issue.
Physical exhaustion was following close upon the mental agony that
had stretched her on the rack, for so many days and nights. To sit
still was impossible, yet in her wandering up and down the narrow
room, she reeled, and sometimes staggered against the wall, dizzy
from weakness, to which she would not succumb.
Human help was no more possible for her, than for Moses, when he
climbed Nebo to die; and alone with her God, the brave soul
wrestled. Wearily she leaned against the window bars, twining her
hot fingers around them, pressing her forehead to the cold barrier;
and everywhere "Ricordo" stabbed her eyes like glowing steel.
The door opened, some words were uttered in an undertone, then the
bolt clicked in its socket, and Mr. Dunbar approached the window.
Mechanically Beryl glanced over her shoulder, and a shiver crept
"I believe you know me. Dunbar is my name."
He stood at her side, and they looked into each other's eyes, and
measured lances. Could this worn, pallid woman, be the same person
who in the fresh vigor of her youthful beauty, had suggested to him
on the steps of "Elm Bluff," an image of Hygeia? Here insouciante
girlhood was dead as Manetho's dynasties, and years seemed to have
passed over this auburn head since he saw it last. Human faces are
Nature's highest type of etchings, and mental anguish bites deeper
than Dutch mordant; heart-ache is the keen needle that traces finest
"Yes, I know you only too well. You are Tiberius."
Her luminous deep eyes held his at bay, and despite his habitual,
haughty equipoise, her crisp tone of measureless aversion stung him.
"Sarcasm is an ill-selected arbiter between you and me; and your
fate for all time, your future weal or woe is rather a costly
shuttlecock to be tossed to and fro in a game of words. I do not
come to bandy phrases, and in view of your imminent peril, I cannot
quite understand your irony."
"Understand me? You never will. Did the bloodthirsty soul of
Tiberius comprehend the stainless innocence of the victims he
crushed for pastime on the rocks below Villa Jovis? There is but one
arbiter for your hatred, the hang-man, to whom you would so gladly
hurry me. Hunting a woman to the gallows is fit sport for men of
Unable to withdraw his gaze from the magnetism of hers, he frowned
and bit his lip. Was she feigning madness, or under the terrible
nervous strain, did her mind wander?
"Your language is so enigmatical, that I am forced to conclude you
resort to this method of defence. The exigencies of professional
duty compel me to assume toward you an attitude, as painfully
embarrassing to me as it is threatening to you. Because the stern
and bitter law of justice sometimes entails keen sorrow upon those
who are forced to execute her decrees, is it any less obligatory
upon the appointed officers to obey the solemn behests?"
"Justice! Into what a frightful mockery have such as you degraded
her worship! No wonder justice fled to the stars. You are the
appointed officer of a harpy screaming for the blood of the
innocent. How dare you commit your crimes, raise your red hands, in
the sacred name of justice? Call yourself the priest of a frantic
vengeance, for whom some victim must be provided; and libel no more
the attribute of Jehovah."
Scorn curled her lips, and beneath her glowing eyes, his grew
restless, as panoplied in conscious innocence she seemed to defy
"You evidently credit me with motives of personal animosity, which
would alike disgrace my profession and my manhood. For your sake,
rather than my own, I should like to remove this erroneous
impression from your mind. If you could only understand--"
She threw up her hand, with an imperious gesture of disdain.
"Save your sophistries; they are wasted here. Why multiply cobwebs?
I understand you. If doves have a sixth sense that warns them before
they hear the hawk's cry, or discern the shadow of his circling
wings, and if mice, dumb in a cat's claws, surmise the exact value
of the preliminary caresses, the graceful antics, the fatal fondling
of the velvet paw, so we, the prey of legal 'Justice' know
instinctively what the swinging of censers, and the chanting of her
high priest mean, when he draws near us. I understand you. You
intend to hang me if you can."
He drew his breath with a hissing sound, and a dark flush Stained
his broad smooth brow.
"On my honor as a gentleman, I came here to-day solely to--"
"Solely to assure yourself of some doubtful link you must weld into
your chain; solely to plunge the scalpel of some double-edged
question. If there must be an ante mortem examination, we will wait,
if you please, for the legal dissection when I am stretched before
the jury-box. Until then, you have no right to intrude upon the
misery you have brought on an innocent woman."
They stood so near each other, that he could count the fierce
throbbing of the artery in her round snowy throat, and see the
shadow of her long lashes; and again some electric current flashed
from her feverishly bright eyes, burning its way to the secret
chambers of his selfish heart, melting the dross that ambition and
greed had slowly cemented, and dropping one deathless spark into a
deep adytum, of the existence of which he had never even dreamed.
Unconsciously he leaned toward her, but she pressed back against the
iron bars, and drew her dress aside as if shunning a leper. There
was no petulance in the motion, but its significance pricked him,
like a dagger point.
"It was the hope of finding you an innocent woman, that must plead
my pardon for what you consider an unwarrantable 'intrusion.' Will
you believe me, if I swear to you, that I have come as a friend?"
"As a friend to me? No. As a friend to General Darrington and his
adopted son Prince? Yes. Oh, Tiberius! Your rosy apples are flavored
like those your forefather offered Agrippina."
"Do you regard me as an unscrupulous, calculating villain, who
pretending kindness, plots treachery? Do you deliberately offer me
this wanton insult?"
His swart face reddened, and the fine lines of his handsome mouth
She shrank a few inches closer to the window, and compressed her
"If you were a man, I should swiftly resent the affront you have
thrust upon me, and suitable redress would be peculiarly sweet and
welcome; but you are a defenceless and unfortunate woman, and my
hands are tied. I desire to help you; you repulse me and insult my
manhood. I will do my painful duty, because it is sternly and
inexorably my duty; but, I wish to God, I had never set my eyes on
The sudden passionate ring in his voice surprised her, and she
looked searchingly at him, wondering into what pitfall it was
intended to lure her.
"If you had never set your eyes on me? Ah, would to God I had died
ten thousand times before I encountered their evil spell! If you had
never set your eyes on me? I should be now, a happy, hopeful girl,
with life beckoning me like the rosy Syrian plains that smiled on
the desert-weary. The world looked so bright to me that day, when
first I smelled the sweet resinous pines, and dreamed of my work,
and all the glory of the victory, I knew that I should win over
poverty and want. I was so poor in worldly goods, but oh!--Croesus
could not have bought my proud hopes! So rich, so overflowing with
high hope! As I think of my feelings that day, among the primroses
and pine cones, it seems a hundred years ago, and I recall the image
of a girl long dead; such a proud girl; so happy in the beautiful
world of the art she loved! Then some strange awful curse that had
lain in wait, ambushed among the flowers I gathered that last day of
my dead existence, fell upon me--I saw you! No wonder I shivered,
when you met me. I saw you. Then my sun sickened and went out, and
my hopes crumbled, and my youth shrivelled and perished forever; and
the wide world is a rayless dungeon, and the girl Beryl is buried so
deep, that the Angels of the Resurrection will never find her!--and
I?--I am only a withered, disgraced woman, hurled into a den;
trampled, branded; with a soul devoured by despairing bitterness,
with a broken heart, a brain on fire! If you had drawn a knife
across my throat, or sent a bullet through my temples, my spirit
might have rested in the Beyond, and I could have forgiven that
which hastened me to heaven; but you strangled my hopes, and
mutilated my youth, and dishonored my father's name!--You robbed me
of my stainless character, and cast me among outlaws and fiends!--
Worse yet, oh! blackest of all your crimes!--you have almost
throttled my faith in Christ. You have torn away my hold upon the
eternal God! You are the curse of my life. You wish you had never
set your eyes on me? Take courage, finish your work; the best of me
is utterly dead already, and when you have taken my blood, and laid
my polluted body in a convict's shallow grave, your enmity will be
satiated. Then I, at least, I shall be free from my hideous curse.
If there be any comfort left me, it lurks in the knowledge that when
you succeed in convicting me, the same world will no longer hold us
Was it the fever of disease, or incipient madness that blazed in her
eyes, flamed on her cheeks, and lent such thrilling cadence to her
pure clear voice? Was she a consummate actress, or had he made a
frightful mistake, and goaded an innocent girl to the verge of
frenzy? Some occult influence seemed clouding his hitherto
infallible perceptions, melting his heart, paralyzing his will. He
walked up and down the floor, with his hands clasped behind him,
then came close to the prisoner.
"If I have unjustly suspected and persecuted you, may God forgive
me! If I have wronged you by suspicion and accusation of a crime
which you did not commit, then my atonement shall be your triumphant
vindication. I would give a good deal to know that your hands are as
pure as they look, and innocent of theft and murder. Tell me--tell
me the truth. I will save you, I will give you back all that you
have lost, and tenfold more. For God's sake, for your own sake, and
for mine, I entreat you to tell me the truth. Did you go back to
'Elm Bluff' that night, after I met you in the pine woods?"
His dark face was close to hers, and his keen blue eyes seemed to
probe the recesses of her soul. If she answered, would the steel
springs of some trap close upon her?
"I did not go back to 'Elm Bluff.' My hands, my heart, my soul are
as free from crime as they were when God sent them into the world. I
am innocent--innocent--innocent as any baby only a week old, lying
dead in its little coffin. Innocent--but defiled, disgraced;
innocent as the Lord Jesus was of the sins for which He died; but
you can not save what you have destroyed. You have ruined my life."
He was a strong man, cold, collected, priding himself upon his
superb physique, his nerves of steel; but as he watched and
listened, he trembled, and the girl's eyes dilated, sparkled through
the sudden moisture that so strangely and unexpectedly gathered in
"Then you must prove the truth of your solemn words; and it was this
faint hope that induced me to come here to-day. Only one
circumstance stands between the Grand Jury and your indictment for
murder; and time presses. Now tell me, do you know this?"
He took from his coat pocket a small parcel wrapped in paper, and
tore off the covering. Beryl stood faint and dizzy, resting against
the window, but erect, on guard and defiant. He shook out and held
up a square of fine linen, daintily hem-stitched. Along the border
ran graceful arabesques, swelling into scallops and dotted with
stars, embroidered in some rich red thread; and in one corner,
enclosed in a wreath of exquisitely designed fuchsias, the large,
elaborately ornate capitals "B. B." were worked in fadeless scarlet
scrolls to match the wreath. Above the drooping flowers, poised the
red wings of a descending butterfly. Artistic instincts had
outlined, and deft delicate touches filled in, with the glowing
Did she know it? Could she ever forget that serene May day when the
air was liquid gold, and the Mediterranean molten sapphire, wreathed
with pearls, as the wavelets crested; when the rosy oleanders and
silvery flakes of orange blossoms floated down upon the ferny cliff,
where sitting by her father's side, she had drawn this design,
spreading the linen on the back of her father's worn copy of
Theocritus? If she lived a thousand years, would it be possible to
forget the thin, almost transparent white hand, with its blue veins
swollen like cords, which had gently taken the pencil from her
fingers, and retouched and rounded the sweep of the curves; the dear
wasted hand that she had stooped and kissed, as it corrected her
As on the golden background of a cherished Byzantine picture, memory
held untarnished every tint and outline of that blessed day, when
she and her father had looked for the last time on the sunny sea
they loved so well.
Did fell fate hover, even then, in that sparkling perfumed air, and
in sinister prescience trace this tangling web of threads, with grim
intent to snare her unwary feet?
Savants tell us, that ages ago, in the dim dawn, primeval rain drops
made their pattering print, and left it to harden on the stone
pages, awaiting decipherment by human eyes and human brains, not yet
"Born of the brainless Nature, Who knew not that which she bore."
Is there an analogous iron chain linking the merest trifles, the
frivolous accidents, the apparently worthless coincidences that
swell the sum of what we are pleased to call the nobly independent
life of the "free-agent" Man? In the matrix of time, do human tears
and human blood-drops leave their record, to be conned when Nemesis
holds her last assize?
As the handkerchief swayed in the lawyer's grasp, Beryl saw the red
"B. B." like a bloody brand. At that instant she felt that the death
clutch fastened upon her throat; that fate had cast her adrift, on
the black waves of despair. In her reeling brain kaleidoscopic
images danced; her father's face, the lateen sail of fishing boats
rocking on blue billows, white oxen browsing amid purple iris
clusters; she heard her mother's voice, her brother's gay laugh; she
smelled the prussic acid fragrance of the vivid oleanders, then over
all, like tongues of devouring flames, flickered "Ricordo." "B. B."
In the frenzy of her desperation she sprang forward, seized the arms
that held up the fatal handkerchief, and shook the man, as if he had
been an infant. Her eyes full of horror, were fixed on the scrap of
linen, and a frantic cry rang from her lips.
"Father! Father! There is no hereafter for you and me! Prayer is but
the mockery of fools! There is no heaven for the pure, because there
is no God! No God!--to hear, to save the innocent who trusted in
Him. Oh--no God!"
Mr. Dunbar dropped the handkerchief, and as the irresistible
conviction of her guilt rolled back, crushing the hope he had
cherished a moment before, a spasm of pain seized his heart, and
with a groan that would not be repressed, he covered his eyes to
shut out the vision of the despairing woman, whose doom seemed
sealed. Her right hand which unconsciously clutched his left
shoulder, shivered like an aspen, and he knew that for the moment
she was entirely oblivious of his presence; blind to everything but
the assurance of her ruin.
After all, he had made no mistake; his keen insight was well nigh
infallible; but his triumph was costly. The luscious fruit of
professional success left an acrid flavor; the pungent dead sea
ashes sifted freely. He set his heel on the embroidered butterfly,
and in his heart cursed the hour he had first seen it. His coveted
bread was petrifying between his teeth.
The grasp on his shoulder relaxed, the hand fell heavily. When he
looked in the face of his victim, he caught his breath at the
strange, inexplicable change a few minutes had wrought. Protest and
resistance had come to an end. Surrender was printed on every
feature. The wild fury of the passionate struggle that convulsed
her, had spent itself; and as after a violent wintry tempest the
gale subsides, and the snow compassionately shrouds the scene,
burning the dead sparrows, the bruised flowers, so submission laid
her cold touch on this quivering face, and veiled and froze it.
From afar the sound of rushing waters seemed to smite Beryl's ears,
to surge nearer, to overflow her brain. She sank suddenly to the
floor, clinging with one hand to the window bar, and her auburn head
fell forward on the up-lifted arm. Thinking that she had fainted,
Mr. Dunbar stooped and raised her face, holding it in his palms. The
eyes met his, unflinching but mournful as those of a tormented deer
whom the hunters drag from worrying hounds. She writhed, freed
herself from his touch; and resting against the window sill, drew a
long deep breath.
"You have succeeded in your mission today. You have the only clue
you needed. You have no occasion to linger. Now--will you leave me?"
He picked up the handkerchief.
"This is your handkerchief?"
She made no answer. A leaden hand was pressing upon her heart, her
brain, her aching eyes.
"You have basely deceived me. You did go back that night, and you
left this, to betray you. Saturated with chloroform you laid it over
your grandfather's face. Load your soul with no more falsehoods.
Confess the deeds of that awful night."
"I did not go back. I never saw 'Elm Bluff' after I met you. I know
no more of the chloroform than you do. I have told the truth first
and last, and always. I have no confession to make. I am as innocent
as you are. Innocent! Innocent! You are going to hang me for a crime
I did not commit. When you do, you will murder an innocent woman."
She spoke slowly, solemnly, and at intervals, as if she found it
difficult to express her meaning. The passionless tone was that of
one, standing where the river of death flowed close to her feet, and
her beautiful face shone with the transfiguring light of conscious
"Hold up your hand, and tell me this is not your handkerchief; and I
will yet save you."
"It was my handkerchief, but I am innocent. Finish your work."
"How can you expect me to believe your contradictory statements?"
Wearily she turned her head, and looked at him. A strange drowsiness
dimmed her vision, thickened her speech.
"I expect nothing from you--but--death."
"Will you explain how your handkerchief chanced to be found on your
grandfather's pillow? Trust me, I am trying to believe you. Tell
In his eagerness he seized her hand, clasped it tightly, bent over
her. She made no reply, and the silky black lashes sank lower, lower
till they touched the violet circle suffering had worn under her
eyes. Like a lily too heavy for its stem, the glossy head fell upon
her breast. Her hot fingers throbbed in his palm, and when he felt
her pulse, the rapid bounding tide defied his counting. Kneeling
beside her, he laid the head against his shoulder.
"Are you ill? What is the matter? Speak to me."
Her parched lips unclosed, and she muttered with a sigh, like a
child falling asleep after long sobbing:
She had fought against fearful odds, with sleepless nights and
fasting days sapping her strength; and when the battle ended, though
the will was unfaltering, physical exhaustion triumphed, and
delirium mercifully took the tortured spirit into her cradling arms.
When Leo Gordon celebrated her twenty-second birthday, Judge Dent,
appreciating the importance of familiarizing her with the business
details and technicalities of commercial usage, incident to the
management of her large estate, had insisted upon terminating his
guardianship, and transferring to her all responsibility for the
future conduct of her financial affairs. New books were placed in
her hands, in which he required her to keep systematically and
legibly all her accounts; she drew and signed her own checks, and
semi-annually furnished for his inspection a neat balance-sheet.
As adviser, and agent for the collection of dividends and rents, the
change or renewal of investments, he maintained only a general
supervision, and left her untrammelled the use of her income. As a
dangerous innovation upon time-honored customs, which under the
ante bellum regime, had kept Southern women as ignorant of practical
business routine, as of the origin of the Weddas of Ceylon, Miss
Patty bitterly opposed and lamented her brother's decision; dismally
predicting that the result must inevitably be the transformation of
their refined, delicate, clinging "Southern lady", into that
abhorred monster--"a strong-minded independent business woman".
Intensely loyal to the social standard, usages and traditions of an
aristocracy, that throughout the South had guarded its patrician
ranks with almost Brahmin jealousy, she sternly decried every
infringement of caste custom and etiquette. Nature and education had
combined to deprive her of any adaptability to the new order of
things; and she rejected the idea that "a lady should transact
business", with the same contemptuous indignation that would have
greeted a proposition to wear "machine-sewed garments", that last
resort of impecunious plebeianism. However unwelcome Leo had found
this assumption of the grave duties of mature womanhood, she met the
responsibility unflinchingly, and gathered very firmly the reins
transferred to her fair hands for guidance. Judge Dent and Miss
Patty were the last of their family, except the orphan niece who had
been left to their care, and as their earthly possessions would
ultimately descend to her, she had been reared in the conviction
that their house was her only home.
Study and travel, potent factors in the march of progress, had so
enlarged the periphery of Leo's intellectual vision, that she
frequently startled her prim aunt, by the enunciation of views much
too extended and cosmopolitan to fit that haughty dame's Procrustean
limits of "Southern ladyhood". Blessed with a discriminating
governess and chaperon, who while fostering a genuine love of the
beautiful, had endeavored to guard her pupil from straying into any
of those fashionable "art crazes", which in their ephemeral
exaggeration approach caricatures of aestheticism, Leo became deeply
imbued with the spirit of classic literature and art; and grew
especially fond of the study of Greek and Roman architecture.
Believing that the similarity of climate in her native State,
justified the revival of an archaic style of building, she ardently
desired and finally obtained her uncle's consent to the erection (as
an addition to the Dent mansion), of a suite of rooms, designed in
accordance with her taste, and for her own occupancy. Hampered by no
prudential economic considerations, and fearless of criticism as
regarded archaeological anachronisms, Leo allowed herself a wide-
eyed eclecticism, that resulted in a thoroughly composite structure,
eminently satisfactory at least to its fastidious owner. A single
story in height, it contained only four rooms, and on a reduced
scale resembled the typical house of Pansa, except that the flat
roof rose in the center to a dome. Constituting a western wing of
the old brick mansion which it adjoined, the entrance fronting
north, opened from a portico with clustered columns, into a square
vestibule; which led directly to a large, octagonal atrium,
surrounded by lofty fluted pillars with foliated capitals that
supported the arched and frescoed ceiling. In the centre, a circular
impluvium was sunk in the marble paved floor, where in summer a jet
of spray sprang from the water on whose surface lily pads floated;
and in winter, shelves were inserted, which held blooming pot
plants, that were arranged in the form of a pyramid. The dome
overarching this, was divided into three sections; the lower
frescoed, the one above it filled with Etruscan designs in stained
glass; the upper, formed of white ground glass sprinkled with gilt
stars representing constellations, was so constructed, that it could
be opened outward in panels, and thus admit the fresh air.
On the east side of this atrium, Leo's bed-room connected with that
occupied by Miss Patty in the old house; and opposite, on the west,
was a large square Pompeian library, with dark red dado, daintily
frescoed panels, and richly tinted glowing frieze. At the end of
this apartment, and concealed by purple velvet curtains lined with
rose silk, an arch opened into a small semi-circular chapel or
oratory, lighted by stained glass windows, whose brilliant hues fell
on a marble altar upheld by two kneeling figures; and here lay the
family Bible of Leo's great-grandfather, Duncan Gordon, with tall
bronze candelabra on each side, holding wax candles. At the right of
two marble steps that led to the altar, was spread a rug, and upon
this stood an ebony reading-desk where a prayer-book rested. Filling
a niche in the wall on the left side, the gilded pipes of an organ
rose to meet a marble console that supported a Greek cross.
In order to secure an unobstructed vista from the front door, that
portion of the building which corresponded to the ancient tablinum,
was used merely as an aviary, where handsome brass cages of various
shapes showed through their burnished wires snowy cockatoos, gaudy
paroquets, green and gold canaries, flaming red and vivid blue
birds, and one huge white owl, whose favorite perch when allowed his
freedom, was a bronze Pallas on a projecting bracket.
Conspicuous among these, was a peculiar cage made of tortoise shell,
ivory and silver wire, which Leo had assigned to a scarlet-crested,
crimson-throated Australian cockatoo. Beyond this undraped rear
vestibule stretched the peristyle, a parallelogram, surrounded by a
lofty colonnade. The centre of this space was adorned by a rockery
whence a fountain rose; flower beds of brilliant annuals and coleus
encircled it like a mosaic, and the ground was studded with orange
and lemon trees, banana and pineapple plants; while at the farther
side delicate exotic grape vines were trained from column to column.
In summer this beautiful court was entirely open to the sky, but at
the approach of winter a movable framework of iron pillars was
erected, which supported a glass roof, that sloped southward, and
garnered heat and sunshine. Neither chimneys nor fireplaces were
visible, but a hidden furnace thoroughly warmed the entire house,
and in each apartment the registers represented braziers of classic
Except for the external entrances, doors had been abolished;
portieres of plush, satin, and Oriental silk closed all openings in
winter; and during long sultry Southern summers were replaced by
draperies of lace, and wicker-work screens where growing ivy and
smilax trained their cool green leaves, and graceful tendrils.
Wooden floors had accompanied the doors to Coventry; and everywhere
squares of marble, and lemon and blue tiles showed shimmering
surfaces between the costly rugs, and fur robes scattered lavishly
about the rooms. Surrounded by a gilded wreath of olive leaves, and
incised on an architrave fronting the vestibule, the golden "Salve"
greeted visitors; just beneath it, on an antique shaped table of
topaz-veined onyx, stood a Vulci black bowl or vase, decorated in
vermilion with Bacchanal figures; and this Leo filled in summer with
creamy roses, in winter, with camellias. Where the shrines and Lares
stood in ancient houses, a square, burnished copper pedestal
fashioned like an altar had been placed, and upon it rose from a bed
of carved lilies, a copy in white marble of Palmer's "Faith".
From the front portico, one could look through the vestibule, the
atrium, the aviary, and on into the peristyle, where among vine
branches and lemon boughs, the vista was closed by a flight of stone
steps with carved cedar balustrade, leading up to the flat roof,
where it sometimes pleased the mistress to take her tea, or watch
the sunset. In selecting and ordering designs for the furniture, a
strict adherence to archaic types had been observed; hence the
couches, divans, chairs, and tables, the pottery and bric-a-brac,
the mirrors and draperies, were severely classic.
An expensive whim certainly, far exceeding the original estimate of
its cost; and Miss Patty bewailed the "wicked extravagance of
squandering money that would have built a handsome church, and
supported for life two missionaries in mid-China"; but Judge Dent
encouraged and approved, reviving his classical studies to
facilitate the successful accomplishment of the scheme. When the
structure was completed and Leo declared herself perfectly satisfied
with the result, it was her uncle who had proposed to celebrate her
twenty-fourth birthday by a mask-ball in which every costume should
be classic, distinctively Roman or Greek; and where the mulsum
dispensed to the guests should be mixed in a genuine Cratera.
To this brilliant fete, one cloudless June night, friends from
distant States were invited; and fragrant with the breath of its
glowing roses, the occasion became memorable, embalmed forever in
Leo's happy heart, because then and there, beside the fountain in
the peristyle, she had pledged her hand and faith to Mr. Dunbar.
Sitting to-day in front of the library window, whence she had looped
back the crimson curtains, to admit the November sunshine, Leo was
absorbed in reading the description of the private Ambar-valia
celebrated by Marius at "White Nights". Under the spell of the
Apostle of Culture, whose golden precept: "BE PERFECT IN REGARD TO
WHAT IS HERE AND NOW," had appealed powerfully to her earnest
exalted nature, she failed to observe the signals of her pet ring-
doves cooing on the ledge outside. Finally their importunate tapping
on the glass arrested her attention, and she raised the sash and
scattered a handful of rice and millet seed; whereupon a cloud of
dainty wings swept down, and into the library, hovering around her
sunny head, and pecking the food from her open palms. One dove
seemed particularly attracted by the glitter of the diamond in her
engagement ring, and perched on her wrist, made repeated attempts to
dislodge the jewel from its crown setting. Playfully she shook it
off several times, and amused by its pertinacity, finally closed her
hands over it, and rubbed her soft cheek against the delicate
"No, no, you saucy scamp! I can't afford to feed you on diamonds
from my sacred ring! Did you get your greedy nature from some sable
Dodonean ancestress? If we had lived three thousand years ago, I
might be superstitious, and construe your freak into an oracular
protest against my engagement. Feathered augurs survive their
shrines. Clear out! you heretic!"
As she tossed it into the garden and closed the window, the portiere
of the library was drawn aside, and her maid approached, followed by
a female figure draped in a shawl and wearing a lofty turban.
"Miss Leo, Aunt Dyce wants to see you on some particular business."
"Howdy do, Aunt Dyce? It is a long time since you paid us a visit.
Justine, push up a chair for her, and then open the cages and let
the birds out for an hour. What is the matter, Aunt Dyce, you look
troubled? Sit down, and tell me your tribulations."
"Yes, Miss Leo, I am in deep waters; up to my chin in trouble, and
my heart is dragging me down; for it's heavier 'an a bushel of lead.
You don't remember your own ma, do you?"
"I wish I did; but I was only five months old when I lost her."
"Well, if she was living to-day, she would stretch her two hands and
pull me out of muddy waves; and that's why I have come to you. You
see, Miss Marcia and my young Mistiss, Miss Ellice, was bosom
friends, playmates, and like sisters. They named their dolls after
one another, and many a time your ma brought her wax doll to our
house, for me to dress it just like Miss Ellice's, 'cause I was the
seamstus in our family, and I always humored the childun about their
doll clothes. They had their candy pullins, and their birthday
frolics, and their shetlan' ponies no bigger 'an dogs, and, oh Lord!
what blessed happy times them was! Now, your ma's in glory, and you
is the richest belle in the State; and my poor young mistiss is in
the worst puggatory, the one that comes before death; and her child,
her daughter that oughter be living in style at 'Elm Bluff', like
you are here, where is she? Where is she? Flung down among vilyans
and mallyfactors, and the very off-scourings of creation, in the
penitenchery! Tears to me like, if old mistiss is as high-headed and
proud as she was in this world, her speerit would tear down the
walls and set her grandchild free. When I saw that beautiful young
thing beating her white hands agin the iron bars, it went to my
heart like a carving knife, and--"
Dyce burst into tears, and covered her face with her apron, Leo
patted her shoulder softly, and essayed to comfort her.
"Don't cry so bitterly; try to be hopeful. It is very, very sad, but
if she is innocent, her stay in prison will be short."
"There ain't no 'ifs'--when it comes to 'cusing my mistiss' child of
stealing and murdering. Suppose the sheriff was to light down here
this minute, and grab you up and tell folks 'spectable witnesses
swore you broke open your Uncle Mitchell's safe, and brained him
with a handi'on? Would you think it friendly for people to say, if
she didn't they will soon turn her aloose? Would that be any warm
poultice to your hurt feelin's? It's the stinging shame and the
awful, disgrace of being 'spicioned, that you never would forgive."
"Yes, it is very dreadful, and I pity the poor girl; but it seems
that appearances are all against her, and I fear she will find it
difficult to explain some circumstances."
"If your ma was here to-day, she wouldn't say that. When she was a
friend, she was stone deaf and mole blind to every evil report agin
them she loved. Miss Marcia would go straight to that jail, and put
her arms 'round Miss Ellice's child, and stand by her till her last
breath; and the more she was pussecuted, the closer she would stick.
Miss Leo, you must take your ma's place, you must heir her
friendship just like you do her other property. I have come to you,
'cause I am going away to New York, and can't feel easy 'till you
promise me you will do what you can. Miss Ellice is laying at the
pint of death, and her poor child is so deestracted about her
needing comforts, that I tole her I'de go on an' nuss her ma for
her, 'till she was sot free and could hurry back. I dreampt last
night that ole mistiss called me and Bedney, and said 'Take good
care of Ellice'; and I got right out of bed and packed my trunk. I'm
just from the penitenchery, and that poor tormented child don't know
me, don't know nothing. Trouble have run her plum crazy, and what
with brain fever and them lie-yers, God only knows what's to become
of her. Handi'ons ain't the only godforsaken things folks are
murdered with. Miss Leo, promise me you will go to see her while I
am gone, and 'tend to it that she has good nussing."
"I will do what is possible for her comfort; and as it will be an
expensive journey to you, I will also help you to pay your passage
to New York. How much money--"
"I don't want your money, Miss Leo. Bedney and me never is beholdin'
to nobody for money. We was too sharp to drap our savings in the
'Freedman's Bank', 'cause we 'spicioned the bottom was not soddered
tight, and Marster's britches' pocket was a good enough bank for us.
We don't need to beg, borrow, nor steal. As I tole you, I was the
seamstress, and just before Miss Ellice run away from the school,
ole mistiss had a fine lot of bran-new clothes made ready for her
when she come home to be a young lady. She never did come home, and
when ole mistiss died I jist tuck them new clothes I had made, and
packed 'em in a wooden chist, and kept 'em hid away; 'cause I was
determed nobody but Miss Ellice should wear 'em. I've hid 'em
twenty-three years, and now I've had 'em done up, and one-half I
tuck to that jail, for that poor young thing, and the rest of 'em
I'm gwine to carry to Miss Ellice. They shan't need money nor
clothes; for Bedney and me has got too much famly pride to let
outsiders do for our own folks; but Miss Leo, you can do what nobody
else in this wide world can. I ain't a gwine to walk the devil
'round the stump, and you mustn't take no 'fence when I jumps plum
to the pint. Mars Lennox is huntin' down Miss Ellice's child like a
hungry hound runs a rabbit, and I want you to call him off. If he
thinks half as much of you as he oughter, you can stop him. Oh, Miss
Leo, for God's sake--call him off--muzzle him!"
Leo rose haughtily, and a quick flush fired her cheek; but as she
looked at the old woman's quivering mouth and streaming eyes,
compassion arrested her displeasure.
"Aunt Dyce, there are some things with which ladies should not
meddle; and I cannot interfere with any gentleman's business
"Oh, honey! if Miss Marcia was living, she wouldn't say that! She
would just put her arm round Miss Beryl and tell Mars Lennox: 'If
you help to hang my friend's child, you shan't marry my daughter!'
Your ma had pluck enuff to stop him. Mark what I say; that poor
child is innercent, and the Lord will clear up everything some day,
and then He will require the blood of them that condemned the
innercent. Suppos'n appearances are agin her? Wasn't appearances all
agin Joseph's bruthren when the money and the silver cup was found
in their bags, and them afleein home? And if the 'Gyptian lie-yers
could have got their claws on that case, don't you know they would
have proved them innercent boys guilty, and a hung em? Oh, I am
afeerd of Mars Lennox, for he favors his pa mightily; he has got the
keenest scent of all the pack; and he went up yonder, and 'cused,
and 'bused, and browbeat and aggervated and tormented that poor,
helpless young creetur,'till she fell down in a dead faint on the
jail floor; and sence then, the Doctor says her mind is done clean
gone. Don't get mad with me, Miss Leo; I am bound to clare my
conscience, and now I have done all I could, I am gwine to leave my
poor young mistiss' child in God's hands, and in yourn, Miss Leo;
and when I come back, you must gim'me an account of your stewudship.
You are enuff like Miss Marcia, not to shirk your duty; and as you
do, by that pussecuted child, I pray the Lord to do by you."
She seized Leo's hand, kissed it, and left the room.
For some moments Leo sat, with one finger between the creamy leaves
of her favorite book, but the charm was broken; her thoughts
wandered far from the stories of Apuleius, and the oration of
Aurelius, and after mature deliberation, she put aside the volume
and rang the library bell.
"Justine, is Mrs. Graham here?"
"She is coming now; I see the carriage at the gate."
"Do not invite her into Aunt Patty's room, until I have seen her.
Tell Andrew to harness Gypsy, and bring my phaeton to the door; and
Justine, carry my felt hat, driving gloves and fur jacket to Aunt
Confined to her bed by a severe attack of her chronic foe,
inflammatory rheumatism, Miss Dent had sent for her dearest friend
and faithful colleague in church work, Mrs. Graham, who came to
spend a day and night, and discuss the affairs of the parish.
"Aunt Patty, Mrs. Graham is in the parlor, and as I am well aware
you can both cheerfully dispense with my society for the present, I
am going into town. Dyce Darrington has been here, and I have
promised to go and see that unfortunate girl who is in prison."
"Leo Gordon, you don't mean to tell me that you are going into the
"It is highly improper for a young lady to visit such places, and I
am astonished that you should feel any inclination to see the
countenances of the depraved wretches herded there. I totally
disapprove of such an incomprehensible freak."
"Then I will hold the scheme in abeyance, until I ask Uncle
Mitchell's advice. I shall call at his office, and request him to go
"Don't you know that the Grand Jury brought in a true bill against
that young woman? She is indicted for murder, robbery and the
destruction of her grandfather's will. Mitchell tells me the
evidence is overwhelming against her, and you know he was disposed
to defend her at first."
"Yes, Aunty. I am aware that everything looks black for the
unfortunate girl; but I learn she is very ill, and as it cannot
possibly injure me to endeavor to contribute to her physical
comfort. I shall go and sec her, unless Uncle Mitchell refuses his
consent to my visit to the prison."
"But, Leo. what do you suppose Mr. Dunbar will think and say, when
he hears of this extraordinary procedure?"
"Mr. Dunbar is neither the custodian of my conscience, nor the
guardian and dictator of my actions. Good-bye, Aunty dear. Justine,
show Mrs. Graham in." "Mr. Dunbar will never forgive such a step;
because, like all other men, no matter how much license he allows
himself, he is very exacting and fastidious about the demeanor of
"I shall not ask absolution of Mr. Dunbar, and I hope my womanly
intuitions are a safer and more refined guide, than any man's
fastidiousness. Remember, Aunt Patty, religion's holiest work
consists in ministering to souls steeped in sin. Are we too pure to
follow where Christ led the way?"
"Madam, I ordered the prisoner's head shaved. Did you understand my
"Why were my orders not obeyed?"
"Because I don't intend you shall make a convict of her, before she
has been tried and sentenced. She has the most glorious suit of hair
I ever looked at, and I shall save it till the last moment. Doctor
Moffat, you need not swear and fume, for I don't allow even my
husband to talk ugly to me. You directed a blister put on the back
of the neck, as close as possible to the skull; it is there, and it
is drawing fast enough to satisfy any reasonable person. I divided
the hair into four braids and plaited them, and you can see I have
hung up the ends here just loose enough to save any pulling, and yet
the hair is out of the way, so that I keep her head cool with this
India-rubber ice-bag. I will be responsible for the blister."
Mrs. Singleton spread her arms over the sick girl, as a hen shelters
her brood from a swooping hawk.
"But, Susie, the Doctor knows better what is--"
"Hush, Ned. Perhaps he does; but I 'detailed' myself to nurse this
case; and I don't propose to surrender all my common sense, and all
my womanly judgment, and maternal experience, in order to keep the
Doctor in a good humor. I will have my own head shaved before hers
shall be touched."
Mr. Singleton discreetly withdrew from the conference, softly
closing the door behind him; and Doctor Moffat bent over the
thermometer with which he was testing the temperature. When he
raised his head, a kindly smile lurked in his deep set eyes:
"I can't afford to quarrel with you, madam; you are too faithful and
watchful a nurse. After all, the chances are, that it will
ultimately make very little difference; she grows worse so rapidly.
I will come in again before bed-time, and meanwhile make no change
in the medicine."
The warden's wife replenished the ice in a bowl, whence a tube
supplied the cap or bag on the head of the sufferer, and taking a
child's apron from her work-basket on the floor, resumed her sewing.
After a while, the door opened noiselessly, and glancing up, she saw
"May I come in?"
"Yes. You need repentance; and this is a good place to begin."
"Is there any change?"
"Only for the worse. No need now to tip-toe; she is beyond being
disturbed by noise. I think the first sound she will notice, will be
the harps of the angels."
"I trust the case is not so hopeless?"
"Queer heart you must have! You are afraid she will slip through
your fingers, and get to heaven without the help of the gallows and
the black cap? Death cheats even the lawyers, sometimes, and seems
to be snatching at your prey. You don't believe in prayer, and you
have no time to waste that way. I do; and I get down here constantly
on my knees, and pray to my God to take this poor young thing out of
the world now, before you all convict her, and punish her for crimes
she never committed."
"Madam, her conviction would grieve me as much as it possibly could
you; and unless she can vindicate herself, I earnestly hope she may
never recover her consciousness."
The unmistakable sincerity of his tone surprised the little woman,
and scanning him keenly as he stood, hat in hand, at the foot of the
cot, her heart relented toward him.
"You still consider her guilty?"
"Since my last interview with her, I have arrived at no conclusion.
Whether she be innocent or guilty, is known only by her, and her
God. All human judgments in such cases are but guesses at the truth.
Is she entirely unconscious, or has she lucid intervals?"
"Mr. Dunbar, on your honor as a gentleman, answer me. Are you here
hunting evidence on a death-bed? Would you be so diabolical as to
use against her any utterances of delirium?" The flash of his eyes
reminded her of the peculiar blue flame that leaps from a glowing
bed of anthracite coal; and she had her reply before his lips moved.
"Am I a butcher, madam? Your insinuations are so insulting to my
manhood, that it is difficult for me to remember my interrogator is
a lady; doubly difficult for me to show you the courtesy your sex
demands. Sooner than betray the secrets of a sick room, or violate
the sanctity of the confidence which that poor girl's condition
enjoins, I would cut off my right arm."
"I intend no discourtesy, sir; but my feelings are so deeply
enlisted, that I cannot stop to choose and pick phrases, in talking
to the person who caused that child to be shut up here. She thinks
you are the most vindictive and dangerous enemy she has; and I had
no reason to contradict her. Don't be offended, Mr. Dunbar."
He deigned no answer, but the dilation of his thin nostrils, and the
stern contraction of his handsome lips, attested his wrath. Mrs.
Singleton rose and laid her fingers on his coat sleeve.
"If I felt sure I could trust you--"
"I decline your confidence. Madam, if I could only tell you, that
your vile suspicions are too contemptible to merit the indignation
they arouse, I should to some extent feel relieved."
"Then having said it, I will let you off without an apology; and
wipe the slate, and start fresh. You are sensitive about your honor,
and I am determined to find out just how much it is worth. Trusting
you as an honorable gentleman, I am going to ask you to do something
for me, which may be of service to my patient; and I ask it, because
I have unlimited faith in your skill. Find out who 'Ricordo' is."
"Why? I must thoroughly understand the import of whatever I
undertake, and if your reasons are too sacred to be communicated to
me, you must select some other agent. I do not solicit your
confidence, mark you; but I must know all, or nothing."
"The day she was taken so ill, I was undressing her, and she looked
at me very strangely, and said she believed she was losing her mind.
Then she raised her hands and prayed:
"'Lord, be merciful! Lord, seal my lips! Seal my lips!'
"Since then she has not known me, but several times she cried out
'Ricordo'! Last night she sat up suddenly, and stared at something
she seemed to see right before her in the air. She shook her head at
first, and said--'Oh, no! it cannot be possible'. Then she clutched
at some invisible object, and a look of horror came into her eyes.
She struck her palms together, and I never heard such an agonizing
cry, 'There is no help! I must believe it--oh Ricordo!--Ricordo--
Ricordo'. She fell back and shivered as if she had an ague. I tried
to soothe her, and told her she had a bad dream. She kept saying:
'Oh, horrible--it was, it was Ricordo!' Once, early this morning,
she pulled me down to her and whispered: 'Don't tell mother--it
would break her heart to know it was Ricordo!' She has not spoken
distinctly since, though she mutters to herself. Now, Mr. Dunbar, if
I did not feel as sure of her innocence as I am of my own, I should
never tell you this; but I want your aid to hunt and catch this
'Ricordo', because I am satisfied it will help to clear her."
"Was it not 'Ricardo'?"
"No, sir--it sounded as if spelled with an o not an a--and it was
"Ricardo is a proper name, but I am under the impression that
'Ricordo' is an Italian word that means simply a remembrance, a
souvenir, sometimes a warning. I am glad, however, to have the clue,
and I will do all I can to discover what connection exists between
that word, and the crime. Can you tell me nothing more?"
"Sometimes she seems to be drawing and painting, and talks to her
father about pictures; and once she said: 'Hush! hush--mother is
ill. She must not know I died, because I promised her I would bear
everything. She made me promise'."
At this moment the keen wail of a young child, summoned the warden's
wife to her own apartment, and Mr. Dunbar sat down in the rocking-
chair beside the iron cot.
In that strange terra incognita, the realm of psychology, are there
hidden laws that defy alike the ravages of cerebral disease, and the
intuitions of the moral nature; inexorable as the atomic affinities,
the molecular attractions that govern crystallization? Is the day
dawning, when the phenomena of hypnotism will be analyzed and
formulated as accurately as the symbols of chemistry, or the
constituents of protoplasm, or the weird chromatics of spectroscopy?
Beryl's head, that hitherto had turned restlessly on its pillow,
became motionless; the closed eyes opened suddenly, fastened upon
the lawyer's; and some inexplicable influence impelled her to
stretch out her hand to him.
"Tiberius, you have come for me."
"I have come to ask if you are better to-day."
Her burning fingers closed tightly over his, and the fever flame
lent an indescribable splendor to eyes that seemed to penetrate his
heart. Bending over her, he gently lifted a shining fold of hair
from her white temple, and still clasping her hand, said in a low
"Beryl, do you know me? Are you better?"
"Wait till I finish the sketch from San Michele. After I am hung,
you will sell it. The light is so lovely."
Up and down, her right hand moved through the air, making imaginary
strokes as on canvas, but her luminous gaze, held by some powerful
fascination, never left his. The gray depths had darkened, swallowed
by the widening pupils that made them almost black; and as Mr.
Dunbar recognized the complete surrender of physical and mental
faculties, her helplessness stirred some unknown sea of tenderness
in the man's hard, practical, realistic nature.
Phlegmatic rather than emotional, and wholly secretive, he had
accustomed himself to regard romantic ideality, and susceptibility
to sentimentality as a species of intellectual anaemia; holding
himself always thoroughly in hand, when subjected to the softening
influences that now and then invaded professional existence, and
melted the conventional selfish crust over the hearts of his
colleagues, as the warm lips and balmy breath of equatorial currents
kiss away the jagged ledges of drifting icebergs. In his laborious
life, that which is ordinarily denominated "love" had been so
insignificant a factor, that he had never computed its potentiality;
much less realized its tremendous importance in solving the problem
of his social, financial, and professional success. Beauty had not
allured, nor grace enthralled his fancy; and his betrothal was a
mere incident in the quiet tenor of business routine, a necessary
means for the accomplishment of a cherished plan.
To-day, while those hot slender fingers clung to his, and he leaned
over the pillow, watching his victim, a rising tide surged, rolled
up from some unexplored ocean of strange sensations, and its
devouring waves threatened to demolish and engulf the stately
structure pride and ambition had combined to rear. A brilliant
alliance that insured great wealth, that promised a secure stepping-
stone to political preferment, was apparently a substantial bulwark
against the swelling billows of an unaccountable whim; yet he was
impotent to resist the yearning tenderness which impelled him to
forget all else, in one determined effort to rescue and shelter the
life he had been the chief agent in imperilling. Clear eyed, keen
witted, he did not for an instant deceive himself; and he knew that
neither compassion for misfortune, nor yet a chivalrous remorse for
having consigned a helpless woman to a dungeon, explained this new
emotion that threatened to dominate all others.
Cool reason assured him that under existing entanglements, the
girl's speedy death would prove the most felicitous solution of this
devouring riddle, which so unexpectedly crossed his smooth path;
then what meant the vehement protest of his throbbing heart, the
passionate longing to snatch her from disease, and disgrace, and
keep her safe forever in the close cordon of his arms?
The door was cautiously opened and closed, and noiselessly as a
phantom, Leo Gordon stood within the room. One swift survey enabled
her to grasp all the details. The small, comfortless, dismal
apartment, the barred narrow window, the bare floor, the low iron
cot in one corner, with its beautiful burden; the watching attitude
of the man, who for years had possessed her heart. Resting one elbow
on his knee, his chin leaned on his left hand, but the light fell
full on his handsome face, and she started, marvelled at the
expression of the brilliant eyes fixed upon the sufferer; eyes
suffused and eloquent with tenderness, never before seen in their
cold sparkling depths.
Mighty indeed must be the compassion, evocative of that intense
yearning look in his usually guarded, irresponsive countenance. A
painfully humiliating sense of her own personal incompetence to
arouse the feeling, so legibly printed on her lover's features,
jarred upon Leo's heart like a twanging dissonance breaking the
harmonious flow of minor chords; but a noble pity strangled this
jealous thrill, and she softly approached the cot.
The rustle of her dress attracted his attention, and glancing up, he
saw his betrothed at his side. One might have counted ten, while
they silently regarded each other; and as if conscious of having
unmasked some disloyalty, scarcely yet acknowledged to himself,
haughty defiance hardened and darkened his face. Involuntarily his
hold on Beryl's fingers tightened.
"Prison wards are not proper fields for the cultivation and display
of Miss Gordon's amateur kid glove charity. I hope, at least, it was
a species of exaggerated high-flown sentimentality, rather than mere
feminine curiosity that tempted you to precincts revolting to the
delicacy and refinement with which my imagination invested you."
"My motives I shall not submit to the crucible of your criticism;
and a little reflection will probably suggest to you, that perhaps
you are unduly enlarging the limits, and prematurely exercising the
rights of anticipated censorship. There are blunders that trench
closely upon the borders of crime, and if professional zeal has
betrayed you into the commission of a great wrong upon an innocent
woman, it is a sacred duty to your victim, as well as my privilege
as your betrothed, to alleviate her suffering as much as possible,
and to repair the injury for which you are responsible. When human
life and reputation are at stake, hypercritical fastidiousness is
less pardonable than the deplorable mistake that endangers both."
"And if I have not blundered; and she be guilty?"
"Then your presence here, can only be explained by motives so
malignant and contemptible, that I blush to ascribe them to you."
"If I am morbidly sensitive about your line of conduct you should
understand and pardon my jealous espionage."
"If I, realizing that you are act infallible, entertain a nervous
dread that unintentionally you may have inflicted an irreparable
wrong, you at least should not feel offended, because I am sensitive