Part 3 out of 5
"No, that won't pay," promptly replied the brisk stranger. "We will be
gone the heft of the afternoon, I reckon. This hoss is awful slow," he
added with a wink of preternatural mystery to Miss Susie.
"Mr. Golyer," said the young lady, "let me interduce you to my friend, Mr.
Golyer put out his hand mechanically, after the cordial fashion of the
West. But Leon nodded and said, "I hope to see you again." He lifted Miss
Susie into the buggy, sprang lightly in, and went off with laughter and
the cracking of his whip after Dow Padgett's chestnut sorrel.
The young farmer walked home desolate, comparing in his simple mind his
own plain exterior with his rival's gorgeous toilet, his awkward address
with the other's easy audacity, till his heart was full to the brim with
that infernal compound of love and hate which is called jealousy, from
which pray Heaven to guard you.
It was the next morning that Miss Susie vaulted over the fence where Allen
Golyer was digging the hole for Colonel Blood's apple tree.
"Something middlin' particular," continued Golyer, resolutely.
"There is no use leaving your work," said Miss Barringer pluckily. "I will
stay and listen."
Poor Allen began as badly as possible: "Who was that feller with you
"Thank you, Mr. Golyer--my friends ain't fellers! What's that to you, who
"Susie Barringer, we have been keeping company now a matter of a year. I
have loved you well and true: I would have give my life to save you any
little care or trouble. I never dreamed of nobody but you--not that I was
half good enough for you, but because I did not know any better man around
here. Ef it ain't too late, Susie, I ask you to be my wife. I will love
you and care for you, good and true."
Before this solemn little speech was finished, Susie was crying and biting
her bonnet-strings in a most undignified manner. "Hush, Al Golyer!" she
burst out. "You mustn't talk so. You are too good for me. I am kind of
promised to that fellow. I 'most wish I had never seen him."
Allen sprang to her and took her in his strong arms: she struggled free
from him. In a moment the vibration which his passionate speech had
produced in her passed away. She dried her eyes and said firmly enough,
"It's no use, Al: we wouldn't be happy together. Good-bye! I shouldn't
wonder if I went away from Chaney Creek before long."
She walked rapidly down to the river-road. Allen stood fixed and
motionless, gazing at the light, graceful form until the blue dress
vanished behind the hill, and leaned long on his spade, unconscious of the
lapse of time.
When Susan reached her home she found Leon at the gate.
"Ah, my little rosebud! I came near missing you. I am going to Keokuk this
morning, to be gone a few days. I stopped here a minute to give you
something to keep for me till I come back."
"What is it?"
He took her chubby cheeks between his hands and laid on her cherry-ripe
lips a keepsake which he never reclaimed.
She stood watching him from the gate until, as a clump of willows snatched
him from her, she thought, "He will go right by where Al is at work. It
would be jest like him to jump over the fence and have a talk with him.
I'd like to hear it."
An hour or so later, as she sat and sewed in the airy little entry, a
shadow fell upon her work, and as she looked up her startled eyes met the
piercing glance of her discarded lover. A momentary ripple of remorse
passed over her cheerful heart as she saw Allen's pale and agitated face.
He was paler than she had ever seen him, with that ghastly pallor of
weather-beaten faces. His black hair, wet with perspiration, clung
clammily to his temples. He looked beaten, discouraged, utterly fatigued
with the conflict of emotion. But one who looked closely in his eyes would
have seen a curious stealthy, half-shaded light in them, as of one who,
though working against hope, was still not without resolute will.
Dame Barringer, who had seen him coming up the walk, bustled in:
"Good-morning, Allen. How beat out you do look! Now, I like a stiddy young
man, but don't you think you run this thing of workin' into the ground?"
"Wail, maybe so," said Golyer with a weary smile--"leastways I've been
a-running this spade into the ground all the morning, and--"
"_You_ want buttermilk--that's your idee: ain't it, now?"
"Well, Mizzes Barringer, I reckon you know my failin's."
The good woman trotted off to the dairy, and Susie sewed demurely, waiting
with some trepidation for what was to come next.
"Susie Barringer," said a low, husky voice which she could scarcely
recognize as Golyer's, "I've come to ask pardon--not for nothing I've
done, for I never did and never could do you wrong--but for what I thought
for a while arter you left me this morning. It's all over now, but I tell
_you_ the Bad Man had his claws into my heart for a spell. Now it's all
over, and I wish you well. I wish your husband well. If ever you git into
any trouble where I can help, send for me: it's my right. It's the last
favor I ask of you."
Susceptible Susie cried a little again. Allen, watching her with his
ambushed eyes, said, "Don't take it to heart, Tudie. Perhaps there is
better days in store for me yet."
This did not appear to comfort Miss Barringer in the least. She was
greatly grieved when she thought she had broken a young man's heart: she
was still more dismal at the slightest intimation that she had not. If any
explanation of this paradox is required, I would observe, quoting a phrase
much in vogue among the witty writers of the present age, that Miss Susie
Barringer was "a very female woman."
So pretty Susan's rising sob subsided into a coquettish pout by the time
her mother came in with the foaming pitcher of subacidulous nectar, and
plied young Golyer with brimming beakers of it with all the beneficent
delight of a Lady Bountiful.
"There, Mizzes Barringer! there's about as much as I can tote. Temperance
in all things."
"Very well, then, you work less and play more. We never get a sight of you
lately. Come in neighborly and play checkers with Tudie."
It was the darling wish of Mother Barringer's heart to see her daughter
married and settled with "a stiddy young man that you knowed all about,
and his folks before him." She had observed with great disquietude the
brilliant avatar of Mr. Bertie Leon and the evident pride of her daughter
in the bright-plumaged captive she had brought to Chaney Creek, the spoil
of her maiden snare. "I don't more'n half like that little feller." (It is
a Western habit to call a well-dressed man a "little feller." The epithet
would light on Hercules Farnese if he should go to Illinois dressed as a
Cocodes.) "No honest folks wears beard onto their upper lips. I wouldn't
be surprised if he wasn't a gamboller."
Allen Golyer, apparently unconscious in his fatigue of the cap which Dame
Barringer was vicariously setting for him, walked away with his spade on
his shoulder, and the good woman went systematically to work in making
Susie miserable by sharp little country criticisms of her heart's idol.
Day after day wore on, and, to Dame Barringer's delight and Susie's
dismay, Mr. Leon did not come.
"He is such a businessman," thought trusting Susan, "he can't get away
from Keokuk. But he'll be sure to write." So Susie put on her sun-bonnet
and hurried up to the post-office: "Any letters for me, Mr. Whaler?" The
artful and indefinite plural was not disguise enough for Miss Susie, so
she added, "I was expecting a letter from my aunt."
"No letters here from your aunt, nor your uncle, nor none of the tribe,"
said old Whaler, who had gone over with Tyler to keep his place, and so
had no further use for good manners.
"I think old Tommy Whaler is an impudent old wretch," said Susie that
evening, "and I won't go near his old post-office again." But Susie forgot
her threat of vengeance the next day, and she went again, lured by family
affection, to inquire for that letter which Aunt Abbie _must_ have
written. The third time she went, rummy old Whaler roared very improperly,
"Bother your aunt! You've got a beau somewheres--that's what's the
Poor Susan was so dazzled by this flash of clairvoyance that she hurried
from that dreadful post-office, scarcely hearing the terrible words that
the old gin-pig hurled after her: "_And he's forgot you!--that's what's
Susie Barringer walked home along the river-road, revolving many things in
her mind. She went to her room and locked her door by sticking a pen-knife
over the latch, and sat down to have a good cry. Her faculties being thus
cleared for action, she thought seriously for an hour. If you can remember
when you were a school-girl, you know a great deal of solid thinking can
be done in an hour. But we can tell you in a moment what it footed up. You
can walk through the Louvre in a minute, but you cannot see it in a week.
_Susan Barringer (sola, loquitur)_: "Three weeks yesterday. Yes, I s'pose
it's so. What a little fool I was! He goes everywheres--says the same
things to everybody, like he was selling ribbons. Mean little scamp!
Mother seen through him in a minute. I'm mighty glad I didn't tell her
nothing about it." [Fie, Susie! your principles are worse than your
grammar.] "He'll marry some rich girl--I don't envy her, but I hate
her--and I am as good as she is. Maybe he will come back--no, and I hope
he won't;--and I wish I was dead!" (_Pocket handkerchief._)
Yet in the midst of her grief there was one comforting thought--nobody
knew of it. She had no confidante--she had not even opened her heart to
her mother: these Western maidens have a fine gift of reticence. A few of
her countryside friends and rivals had seen with envy and admiration the
pretty couple on the day of Leon's arrival. But all their poisonous little
compliments and questions had never elicited from the prudent Susie more
than the safe statement that the handsome stranger was a friend of Aunt
Abbie's, whom she had met at Jacksonville. They could not laugh at her:
they could not sneer at gay deceivers and lovelorn damsels when she went
to the sewing-circle. The bitterness of her tears was greatly sweetened by
the consideration that in any case no one could pity her. She took such
consolation from this thought that she faced her mother unflinchingly at
tea, and baffled the maternal inquest on her "redness of eyes" by the
school-girl's invaluable and ever-ready headache.
It was positively not until a week later, when she met Allen Golyer at
choir-meeting, that she remembered that this man knew the secret of her
baffled hopes. She blushed scarlet as he approached her: "Have you got
company home, Miss Susie?"
"Yes--that is, Sally Withers and me came together, and--"
"No, that's hardly fair to Tom Fleming: three ain't the pleasantest
company. I will go home with you."
Susie took the strong arm that was held out to her, and leaned upon it
with a mingled feeling of confidence and dread as they walked home through
the balmy night under the clear, starry heaven of the early spring. The
air was full of the quickening breath of May.
Susie Barringer waited in vain for some signal of battle from Allen
Golyer. He talked more than usual, but in a grave, quiet, protecting
style, very different from his former manner of worshiping bashfulness.
His tone had in it an air of fatherly caressing which was inexpressibly
soothing to his pretty companion, tired and lonely with her silent
struggle of the past month. When they came to her gate and he said
good-night, she held his hand a moment with a tremulous grasp, and spoke
impulsively: "Al, I once told you something I never told anybody else.
I'll tell you something else now, because I believe I can trust you."
"Be sure of that, Susie Barringer."
"Well, Al, my engagement is broken off."
"I am sorry for you, Susie, if you set much store by him."
Miss Susie answered with great and unnecessary impetuosity, "I don't, and
I am glad of it!" and then ran into the house and to bed, her cheeks all
aflame at the thought of her indiscretion, and yet with a certain comfort
in having a friend from whom she had no secrets.
I protest there was no thought of coquetry in the declaration which Susan
Barringer blurted out to her old lover under the sympathetic starlight of
the May heaven. But Allen Golyer would have been a dull boy not to have
taken heart and hope from it. He became, as of old, a frequent and welcome
visitor at Crystal Glen. Before long the game of chequers with Susie
became so enthralling a passion that it was only adjourned from one
evening to another. Allen's white shirts grew fringy at the edges with
fatigue-duty, and his large hands were furry at the fingers with much
soap. Susie's affectionate heart, which had been swayed a moment from its
orbit by the irresistible attraction of Bertie Leon's diamond breastpin
and city swagger, swung back to its ancient course under the mild
influence of time and the weather and opportunity. So that Dame Barringer
was not in the least surprised, on entering her little parlor one soft
afternoon in that very May, to see the two young people economically
occupying one chair, and Susie shouting the useless appeal, "Mother, make
"I never interfere in young folks' matters, especially when they're going
all right," said the motherly old soul, kissing "her son Allen" and
trotting away to dry her happy tears.
I am almost ashamed to say how soon they were married--so soon that when
Miss Susan went with her mother to Keokuk to buy a wedding-garment, she
half expected to find, in every shop she entered, the elegant figure of
Mr. Leon leaning over the counter. But the dress was bought and made, and
worn at wedding and _in-fair_ and in a round of family visits among the
Barringer and Golyer kin, and carefully laid away in lavender when the
pair came back from their modest holiday and settled down to real life on
Allen's prosperous farm; and no word of Bertie Leon ever came to Mrs.
Golyer to trouble her joy. In her calm and busy life the very name faded
from her tranquil mind. These wholesome country hearts do not bleed long.
In that wide-awake country eyes are too useful to be wasted in weeping. My
dear Lothario Urban us, those peaches are very sound and delicious, but
they will not keep for ever. If you do not secure them to-day, they will
go to some one else, and in no case, as the Autocrat hath said with
authority, can you stand there "mellering 'em with your thumb."
There was no happier home in the county, and few finer farms. The good
sense and industry of Golyer and the practical helpfulness of his wife
found their full exercise in the care of his spreading fields and growing
orchards. The Warsaw merchants fought for his wheat, and his apples were
known in St. Louis. Mrs. Golyer, with that spice of romance which is
hidden away in every woman's heart, had taken a special fancy to the
seedling apple tree at whose planting she had so intimately assisted.
Allen shared in this, as in all her whims, and tended and nursed it like a
child. In time he gave up the care of his orchard to other hands, but he
reserved this seedling for his own especial coddling. He spaded and
mulched and pruned it, and guarded it in the winter from rodent rabbits
and in summer from terebrant grubs. It was not ungrateful. It grew a noble
tree, producing a rich and luscious fruit, with a deep scarlet satin coat,
and a flesh tinged as delicately as a pink seashell. The first peck of
apples was given to Susie with great ceremony, and the next year the first
bushel was carried to Colonel Blood, the Congressman. He was loud in his
admiration, as the autumn elections were coming on: "Great Scott, Golyer!
I'd rather give my name to a horticultooral triumph like that there than
"You've got your wish, then, colonel," said Golyer. "Me and my wife have
called that tree The Blood Seedling sence the day it was transplanted from
It was the pride and envy of the neighborhood. Several neighbors asked for
scions and grafts, but could do nothing with them.
"Fact is," said old Silas Withers, "those folks that expects to raise good
fruit by begging graffs, and then layin' abed and readin' newspapers, will
have a good time waitin'. Elbow-grease is the secret of the Blood
Seedlin', ain't it, Al?"
"Well, I reckon, Squire Withers, a man never gits anything wuth havin'
without a tussle for it; and as to secrets, I don't believe in them,
A square-browed, resolute, silent, middle-aged man, who loved his home
better than any amusement, regular at church, at the polls, something
richer every Christmas than he had been on the New Year's preceding--a man
whom everybody liked and few loved much--such had Allen Golyer grown to
* * * * *
If I have lingered too long over this colorless and commonplace picture of
rural Western life, it is because I have felt an instinctive reluctance to
recount the startling and most improbable incident which fell one night
upon this quiet neighborhood, like a thunderbolt out of blue sky. The
story I must tell will be flatly denied and easily refuted. It is absurd
and fantastic, but, unless human evidence is to go for nothing when it
testifies of things unusual, the story is true.
At the head of the rocky hollow through which Chaney Creek ran to the
river, lived the family who gave the brook its name. They were among the
early pioneers of the county. In the squatty yellow stone house the
present Chaney occupied his grandfather had stood a siege from Black Hawk
all one summer day and night, until relieved by the garrison of Fort
Edward. The family had not grown with the growth of the land. Like many
others of the pioneers, they had shown no talent for keeping abreast of
the civilization whose guides and skirmishers they had been. In the
progress of a half century they had sold, bit by bit, their section of
land, which kept intact would have proved a fortune. They lived very
quietly, working enough to secure their own pork and hominy, and regarding
with a sort of impatient scorn every scheme of public or private
enterprise that passed under their eyes.
The elder Chaney had married, some years before, at the Mormon town of
Nauvoo, the fair-haired daughter of a Swedish mystic, who had come across
the sea beguiled by dreams of a perfect theocracy, and who on arriving at
the city of the Latter-Day Saints had died, broken-hearted from his lost
The only dowry that Seraphita Neilsen brought her husband, besides her
delicate beauty and her wide blue eyes, was a full set of Swedenborg's
later writings in English. These became the daily food of the solitary
household. Saul Chaney would read the exalted rhapsodies of the Northern
seer for hours together, without the first glimmer of their meaning
crossing his brain. But there was something in the majesty of their
language and the solemn roll of their poetical development that
irresistibly impressed and attracted him. Little Gershom, his only child,
sitting at his feet, would listen in childish wonder to the strange things
his silent, morose and gloomy father found in the well-worn volumes, until
his tired eyelids would fall at last over his pale, bulging eyes.
As he grew up his eyes bulged more and more: his head seemed too large for
his rickety body. He pored over the marvelous volumes until he knew long
passages by heart, and understood less of them than his father--which was
unnecessary. He looked a little like his mother, but while she in her
youth had something of the faint and flickering beauty of the Boreal
Lights, poor Gershom never could have suggested anything more heavenly
than a foggy moonlight. When he was fifteen he went to the neighboring
town of Warsaw to school. He had rather heavy weather among the well-knit,
grubby-knuckled urchins of the town, and would have been thoroughly
disheartened but for one happy chance. At the house where he boarded an
amusement called the "Sperrit Rappin's" was much in vogue. A group of
young folks, surcharged with all sorts of animal magnetism, with some
capacity for belief and much more for fun, used to gather about a light
pine table every evening, and put it through a complicated course of
mystical gymnastics. It was a very good-tempered table: it would dance,
hop or slam at the word of command, or, if the exercises took a more
intellectual turn, it would answer any questions addressed to it in a
manner not much below the average capacity of its tormentors.
Gershom Chaney took all this in solemn earnest. He was from the first
moment deeply impressed. He lay awake whole nights, with his eyes fast
closed, in the wildest dreams. His school-hours were passed in trancelike
contemplation. He cared no more for punishment than the fakeer for his
self-inflicted tortures. He longed for the coming of the day when he could
commune in solitude with the unfleshed and immortal. This was the full
flowering of those seeds of fantasy that had fallen into his infant mind
as he lay baking his brains by the wide fire in the old stone house at the
head of the hollow, while his father read, haltingly, of the wonders of
the invisible world.
But, to his great mortification, he saw nothing, heard nothing,
experienced nothing but in the company of others. He must brave the
ridicule of the profane to taste the raptures which his soul loved. His
simple, trusting faith made him inevitably the butt of the mischievous
circle. They were not slow in discovering his extreme sensibility to
external influences. One muscular, black-haired, heavy-browed youth took
especial delight in practicing upon him. The table, under Gershom's
tremulous hands, would skip like a lamb at the command of this Thomas Fay.
One evening, Tom Fay had a great triumph. They had been trying to get the
"medium"--for Gershom had reached that dignity--to answer sealed
questions, and had met with indifferent success. Fay suddenly approached
the table, scribbled a phrase, folded it and tossed it, doubled up, before
Gershom; then leaned over the table, staring at his pale, unwholesome face
with all the might of his black eyes.
Chaney seized the pencil convulsively and wrote, "Balaam!"
Fay burst into a loud laugh and said, "Read the question?"
It was, "Who rode on your grandfather's back?"
This is a specimen of the cheap wit and harmless malice by which poor
Gershom suffered as long as he stayed at school. He was never offended,
but was often sorely perplexed, at the apparent treachery of his unseen
counselors. He was dismissed at last from the academy for utter and
incorrigible indolence. He accepted his disgrace as a crown of martyrdom,
and went proudly home to his sympathizing parents.
Here, with less criticism and more perfect faith, he renewed the exercise
of what he considered his mysterious powers. His fastings and vigils, and
want of bodily movement and fresh air, had so injured his health as to
make him tenfold more nervous and sensitive than ever. But his faintings
and hysterics and epileptic paroxysms were taken more and more as
evidences of his lofty mission. His father and mother regarded him as an
oracle, for the simple reason that he always answered just as they
expected. A curious or superstitious neighbor was added from time to time
to the circle, and their reports heightened the half-uncanny interest with
which the Chaney house was regarded.
It was on a moist and steamy evening of spring that Allen Golyer, standing
by his gate, saw Saul Chaney slouching along in the twilight, and hailed
him: "What news from the sperrits, Saul?"
"Nothing for you, Al Golyer," said Saul, gloomily. "The god of this world
takes care of the like o' you."
Golyer smiled, as a prosperous man always does when his poorer neighbors
abuse him for his luck, and rejoined: "I ain't so fortunate as you think
for, Saul Chaney. I lost a Barksher pig yesterday: I reckon I must come up
and ask Gershom what's come of it."
"Come along, if you like. It's been a long while sence you've crossed my
sill. But I'm gitting to be quite the style. Young Lawyer Marshall is
a-coming up this evening to see my Gershom."
Before Mr. Golyer started he filled a basket, "to make himself welcome and
pay for the show," with the reddest and finest fruit of his favorite apple
tree. His wife followed him to the gate and kissed him--a rather unusual
attention among Western farmer-people. Her face, still rosy and comely,
was flushed and smiling: "Al, do you know what day o' the year it is?"
"Nineteenth of Aprile?"
"Yes; and twenty years ago to-day you planted the Blood Seedlin' and I
give you the mitten!" She turned and went into the house, laughing
Allen walked slowly up the hollow to the Chaney house, and gave the apples
to Seraphita and told her their story. A little company was assembled--two
or three Chaney Creek people, small market-gardeners, with eyes the color
of their gooseberries and hands the color of their currants; Mr. Marshall,
a briefless young barrister from Warsaw, with a tawny friend, who spoke
like a Spaniard.
"Take seats, friends, and form a circle o' harmony," said Saul Chaney.
"The me'jum is in fine condition: he had two fits this arternoon."
Gershom looked shockingly ill and weak. He reclined in a great hickory
arm-chair, with his eyes half open, his lips moving noiselessly. All the
persons present formed a circle and joined hands.
The moment the circle was completed by Saul and Seraphita, who were on
either side of their son, touching his hands, an expression of pain and
perplexity passed over his pale face, and he began to writhe and mutter.
"He's seein' visions," said Saul.
"Yes, too many of 'em," said Gershom, querulously. "A boy in a boat, a man
on a shelf, and a man with a spade--all at once: too many. Get me a
pencil. One at a time, I tell you--one at a time!"
The circle broke up, and a table was brought, with writing materials.
Gershom grasped a pencil, and said, with imperious and feverish
impatience, "Come on, now, and don't waste the time of the shining ones."
An old woman took his right hand. He wrote with his left very rapidly an
instant, and threw her the paper, always with his eyes shut close.
Old Mrs. Scritcher read with difficulty, "A boy in a boat--over he goes;"
and burst out in a piteous wail, "Oh, my poor little Ephraim! I always
"Silence, woman!" said the relentless medium.
"Mr. Marshall," said Saul, "would you like a test?"
"No, thank you," said the young gentleman. "I brought my friend, Mr.
Baldassano, who, as a traveler, is interested in these things."
"Will you take the medium's hand, Mr. What's-your-name?"
The young foreigner took the lean and feverish hand of Gershom, and again
the pencil flew rapidly over the paper. He pushed the manuscript from him
and snatched his hand away from Baldassano. As the latter looked at what
was written, his tawny cheek grew deadly pale. "Dios mio!" he exclaimed to
Marshall. "This is written in Castilian!"
The two young men retired to the other end of the room and read by the
tallow candle the notes scrawled on the paper. Baldassano translated: "A
man on a shelf--table covered with bottles beside him: man's face yellow
as gold: bottles tumble over without being touched."
"What nonsense is that?" said Marshall.
"My brother died of yellow fever at sea last year."
Both the young men became suddenly very thoughtful, and observed with
great interest the result of Golyer's "test." He sat by Gershom, holding
his hand tightly, but gazing absently into the dying blaze of the wide
chimney. He seemed to have forgotten where he was: a train of serious
thought appeared to hold him completely under its control. His brows were
knit with an expression of severe almost fierce determination. At one
moment his breathing was hard and thick--a moment after hurried and
All this while the fingers of Gershom were flying rapidly over the paper,
independently of his eyes, which were sometimes closed, and sometimes
rolling as if in trouble.
A wind which had been gathering all the evening now came moaning up the
hollow, rattling the window-blinds, and twisting into dull complaint the
boughs of the leafless trees. Its voice came chill and cheerless into the
dusky room, where the fire was now glimmering near its death, and the only
sounds were those of Gershom's rushing pencil, the whispering of Marshall
and his friend, and old Mother Scritcher feebly whimpering in her corner.
The scene was sinister. Suddenly, a rushing gust blew the door wide open.
Golyer started to his feet, trembling in every limb, and looking furtively
over his shoulder out into the night. Quickly recovering himself, he
turned to resume his place. But the moment he dropped Gershom's hand, the
medium had dropped his pencil, and had sunk back in his chair in a deep
and deathlike slumber. Golyer seized the sheet of paper, and with the
first line that he read a strange and horrible transformation was wrought
in the man. His eyes protruded, his teeth chattered, he passed his hand
over his head mechanically, and his hair stood up like the bristles on the
back of a swine in rage. His face was blotched white and purple. He looked
piteously about him for a moment, then crumpling the paper in his hand,
cried out in a hoarse, choking voice, "Yes, it's a fact: I done it. It's
no use denying on't.. Here it is, in black and white. Everybody knows it:
ghosts come spooking around to tattle about it. What's the use of lying? I
He paused, as if struck by a sudden recollection, then burst into tears
and shook like a tree in a high wind. In a moment he dropped on his knees,
and in that posture crawled over to Marshall: "Here, Mr. Marshall--here's
the whole story. For God's sake, spare my wife and children all you can.
Fix my little property all right for 'em, and God bless you for it!" Even
while he was speaking, with a quick revulsion of feeling he rose to his
feet, with a certain return of his natural dignity, and said, "But they
sha'n't take me! None of my kin ever died that way: I've got too much sand
in my gizzard to be took that way. Good-bye, friends all!"
He walked deliberately out into the wild, windy night.
Marshall glanced hurriedly at the fatal paper in his hand. It was full of
that capricious detail with which in reverie we review scenes that are
past. But a line here and there clearly enough told the story--how he went
out to plant the apple tree; how Susie came by and rejected him; how he
passed into the power of the devil for the time; how Bertie Leon came by
and spoke to him, and patted him on the shoulder, and talked about city
life; how he hated him and his pretty face and his good clothes; how they
came to words and blows, and he struck him with his spade, and he fell
into the trench, and he buried him there at the roots of the tree.
Marshall, following his first impulse, thrust the paper into the dull red
coals. It flamed for an instant, and flew with a sound like a sob up the
They hunted for Golyer all night, but in the morning found him lying as if
asleep, with the peace of expiation on his pale face, his pruning-knife in
his, heart, and the red current of his life tinging the turf with crimson
around the roots of the Blood Seedling.
Mrs. Ruggles lived near Crawfish Creek. Crawfish Creek ran near Thompson
City. Thompson City was in a Western State, but now is in a Middle one. It
was always in the midst of a great country--accepting local testimony and
a rank growth of corn and politicians as the tests of greatness. The earth
there was monotonously parched in summer, and monotonously muddy at all
other times. The forests were gigantic, the air carbonic, and when the
citizens wished to give Thompson City the highest commendation, they did
so by saying that "fevernagur" was worse in some other places.
In the parlor of Mrs. Ruggles, which was also her kitchen and dining-hall,
hung a frame containing a seven-by-nine mirror, which was the frame's
excuse for being, although a compartment above and one below held squares
of glass covered with paint instead of mercury. The lower one was colored
like the contents of a wash-tub after a liberal use of indigo; and in the
centre was a horizontal stroke of red, surmounted by a perpendicular dash
of white, intersected by an oblique line of black--all of which
represented a red boat, with a white sail and black spar, making an
endless voyage across the lake of indigo. The black crosses in the sky
were birds. The black lines on the left were bulrushes. And among these
bulrushes a certain gloomy little object was either a Hebrew prophet or a
Above the mirror was painted a long-tailed coat, from behind which
extended a hand holding a bell-crowned hat, to whose scarlet lining the
holder seemed inviting the spectator's particular attention. There were
also a pair of legs and boots, a heavy shock of hair, a labyrinth of
neckcloth and a florid human face. Under the boots were the words,
MARQUIS DE LA FAYETTE.
And the beholder was ever in doubt whether the marquis was trying to stand
exclusively upon this title or was unconsciously trampling it into the
Mrs. Ruggles admired this picture. Her knowledge of French was not great,
but her ear was delicate; and thinking the words "sounded handsome," she
had deliberately conferred them in full on her first-born. When in
good-humor she was content with calling him "Marquis-dee." In fact, it was
only when chasing him into the street with a lilac bush in her hand that
she insisted on addressing him by his full name. At such times, between
each flourish of the lilac bush and each yell of the young nobleman, she
pronounced with significant fullness, with fearful exactness, the
handsome-sounding name of Marquis de la Fayette Ruggles. His playmates,
however, had not the delicate ear of the mother, and as the son had brown
specks on his face, he was popularly known as "Frecky Rug."
Mrs. Ruggles and her late husband were pioneers in the Crawfish Valley.
Subsequent settlers knew little, and apparently cared less, about her.
They knew, however, that she had been a Peables, and that Peables blood
was still doing its duty in her veins. And from her independence and
reserve they argued that the Peableses must have been "high up"--at least
in the estimation of Mrs. Ruggles. After Mr. Ruggles had been overcome by
malaria in clearing the creek bottoms the pride of the Peables blood had
sustained her in a long, brave fight with circumstances.
It was while he lay one night upon his deathbed, mistaking a watching
neighbor for his wife, that he started up, saying, "Becky, if I could
prove it to you afore I died!"
"Out of his head," was the quiet remark of Mrs. Ruggles to the watching
neighbor by the bedside. There was no further sign of delirium. That
exclamation of the dying Mr. Ruggles was a mystery to the women of
Crawfish Creek, and remains so to this day.
It may be that the pride of Mrs. Ruggles was in excess of her wisdom. It
may be if that pride had been a little more respected by the irreverent
Crawfish settlers, they would not have had occasion to wonder, as they did
wonder, how a heart so true, an honesty so stoical, a discrimination so
acute could exist with an independence so absurd, a mind so uncultured, a
sense of dignity so ridiculous as were found united in her character. It
may be that the Peables blood was worthy of receiving honor as great as
the ridicule it did receive. It may be if the world had known the
Peableses it would have been as proud of them as she was.
She was a person of scrupulous neatness, careful never to be seen by
strangers except in a tidy dress, and with her hair in a Grecian knot,
gracefully secured by a leather string and a wooden peg. "Weak creepings"
were her main reliance in the way of disease. She was also troubled, at
times, with a "fullness of the head." In addition, there were other times
when her right side "felt separate." But she seldom complained of anything
belonging to herself. Even her maladies, she took pleasure in knowing,
were very different from those enjoyed by certain other women. Unwilling
to be too familiar with any one baser than a Ruggles, she usually dined,
as she lived, alone with her noble son.
On a certain summer evening she stirred her tea a long time in silence.
She stirred it vigorously, creating a maelstrom inside her cup, where,
very like a whale in the story-books, a little crust of bread disappeared
and reappeared, and sailed round and round as if very much perplexed. Then
she unconsciously reversed the current of the maelstrom, sending the baked
and buttered whale to the bottom.
[Illustration: "She smilingly waited a moment for the composure of the
young naturalist's feelings."]
"I never see that air Miller, no odds how well I be," she remarked
mechanically to the tea-pot, "but what I feel weak creepin's come over me.
He puts dye-stuff on his baird. An' when a man's whiskers is gray an' his
head keeps black, it's a sign he uses his jaw more'n he does his brains.
An' that yaller-headed doll-baby o' his'n--the peert thing:--I'll lay
fifty cents she never washed a dish. To think o' her sayin' a thing like
that about Markis-dee!--an' there's more o' the Peables in him to-day--But
I s'pose she don't know no better." And Mrs. Ruggles rose from the table,
while the corner of her apron made a sudden journey to the corner of her
eye. It was evident her moral nature had received a wound that rankled.
A year before this time the marquis and his playmates had watched several
vigorous fellows plant a theodolite on the bank of Crawfish Creek, very
much as the natives must have watched the Spaniards plant their first
cross on San Salvador. The contract for grading the new railway bed was in
the hands of a stranger named Miller, who was said to have known better
days, and in the time of his prosperity had been thought a proper person
to be called Colonel. He was a bluff man of forty years, who appeared to
have known both the ups and downs of life, and whose determination to wear
a black beard was equaled only by its determination to be gray. Rumor said
that he had been a railroad president, that he made and spent vast sums of
money, and that his home was somewhere in the East.
His only child, Alice, ten or twelve years old, bright, fair, full of
animal spirits, who was indulged to the last degree by the roughly
generous colonel, sometimes accompanied him about the half-developed
country, searching for strange birds and blossoms in the woods or watching
demurely the laborers ply their picks and shovels while he inspected their
The two rode almost daily between Thompson City and the line of
excavation, passing the house of Mrs. Ruggles and a cool spring by the
roadside near it, whence that lady had obtained the water which made the
tea which was stirred into the maelstrom which has been described. While
obtaining it, clad in her working garb, the patter of hoofs and a clear
girlish laugh--sweet as the carol of a meadow lark--came ringing along the
road. As the colonel and Alice halted to let her high-mettled pony and his
heavier Morgan drink, Mrs. Ruggles, who could not otherwise escape
observation, with becoming pride and modesty stepped behind the thick
willows, leaving the marquis with a pail of water between his legs and a
bunch of mottled feathers in his hand.
He stood dumb before the lovely girl, with her face sparkling from
exercise and enjoyment, and her golden hair escaping from its prison of
blue ribbons. While the horses drank she espied a cluster of cool violets
brightening the damp grass near the spring. The marquis had presence of
mind enough left to step forward and pluck them. Her "Thank you!" added
greatly to his embarrassment, which he expressed by vigorously twisting
the mottled feathers.
"What bird are those from?" asked Alice.
The question so increased his embarrassment that now the marquis could
express it only by chewing his cap, and she smilingly waited a moment for
the composure of the young naturalist's feelings.
"She was a low, chunky hen," said he, at length--"she was a low, chunky
hen, an' she laid a hundred an' seven eggs, an' then she had spazzums an'
whirled roun' till she died."
A burst of irrepressible laughter escaped Alice, with the exclamation,
"Did anybody ever see such a boy?" as she and her father rode away. And
those were the exceptionable words concerning her son which so rankled
that evening in the heart of Mrs. Ruggles.
The marquis gazed with hungry eyes after the airy little figure as it
dashed down the unlovely, worm-fenced road. The golden hair, overflowing
its boundaries of blue ribbon, was more glorious to him than the golden
sunshine overflowing the blue sky. They met no more at the spring, but
several times a week, from a respectful distance, he watched her riding
by. From Thompson City to the little log bridge over Crawfish Creek the
road lay for four miles through heavy woods. Then came cleared fields, and
soon the house of Mrs. Ruggles.
So the summer days went by. The season was waning, the grading was almost
done, and soon the contractor would be elsewhere. Then came one
particularly warm and sultry day. The screams of locusts everywhere
suggested that they were frying. The colonel, riding once more slowly out
toward the workmen with his daughter, was near the middle of the forest.
The trees on either hand were tall, and the road was so straight and
narrow that the sunlight scarcely touched it. The marquis, in the top of a
tall chestnut that overhung the road near the edge of the wood, was
overhauling a nest of flying squirrels--perhaps in the hope of finding
mottled feathers on their wings. From his elevation he could see for a
great distance down the level, dusty road between the trees, and far
across the surrounding country.
The sun did not shine bright, yet no cloud was in the sky. The atmosphere,
thick, oppressive, opaque, veiled the horizon with strange gloom. Not a
leaf could stir in the vast forest. Not a dimple nor the semblance of a
current broke the surface of the sluggish creek. Not a sound, save the
interminable frying of the locusts.
The colonel slackened his pace, surprised that his horse should so soon
begin to drip and pant--Alice, familiar with the road, in the mean time
riding a mile ahead. The marquis clung to the topmost branches, looking at
the still sky far above him, the still stream far below him, the still
tree-tops far around him, till he caught a glimpse of the only interesting
object to be seen--a black pony bearing its usual burden, if Alice Miller
could be called a burden, and pacing leisurely up the road beneath him. He
gazed as far as the palisade of trees permitted, but her father was not
yet in sight.
Suddenly, in the west, a single vein of lightning darted down the sky. A
few trees shuddered as if to shake the gathering shadows from their
bosoms. Then tenfold stillness. A bird flew past with a scream of terror,
the marquis looking in vain to see a hawk pursuing it. The distant moan of
a cow came from the fields. Not another sound, it seemed, was in the
In an instant the south-west was black. A strange, remote murmur smote the
colonel's ear. Overhead he could see but a strip of hot, hazy sky. Had he
seen the whole heavens, he could have done nothing but go on. Quickly the
murmur became an awful muttering, then a deafening roar. The clatter, the
rush, the crash of a tornado were behind him. The groans of the very earth
were about him. The darkness of twilight was upon him. Alice and Death
were before him. A cloudy demon, towering high as the heavens, in whose
path nothing could live, was striding near and nearer.
Farm-houses were overthrown. Trees were twisted off from their roots and
torn to pieces. Wild animals and birds were dashed to death. Streams were
emptied of their waters. Human beings and horses and cattle were lifted
into the air, hurled hither and thither and thrown dead upon the earth.
The whirlwind was following the line of the road! Colonel Miller had no
opportunity to see this, nor could he ride aside from that line if he
chose. He could but cry aloud, "My darling! O God! Alice!" and lash his
horse forward. The high, close forest would keep the wind from lifting his
horse from the ground or himself from the saddle. But the great trees
crashed like thunder behind him. Their fragments whirled above him. Their
branches fell before him. The limb of a huge oak grazed his face, crushed
his horse, and both rolled to the ground, blinded with dust, imprisoned
within a barricade of splintered trunks and shattered tree-tops.
The marquis, from his high lookout, saw, before any one else, the
approaching tornado, and, descending like a flash, he yet noted its
direction. As Alice reached the foot of his tree he was on the ground, had
seized the pony's mane, was half seated and half clinging in front of her,
had snatched the reins from her hand, and was urging the frightened animal
to its utmost speed. Overcome with terror and confusion, Alice clung
instinctively to the saddle and to him, without hearing his hurried advice
to "stick like a old burdock."
They shot like an arrow up the road. The noise of the tempest was audible.
Closer it was coming, crushing, rending, annihilating all before it. The
way grew darker. The terrified pony scarce touched the ground. His only
will was to go forward, and he still obeyed a firm use of the bit. But who
could hope to outrun a hurricane? Twelve miles an hour against eighty! The
marquis heeded nothing. Not far behind, the road was but a slash of
fallen, writhing tree-tops. The sweat dropped from his face. He dared not
They reached it--the lane, by the log bridge, running at right angles to
the road--and in a moment, behind them, that lane was choked with whirling
But in that moment they had cleared the track of the whirlwind. For the
first time Alice comprehended the conduct of the marquis. For the first
time he turned to see. A quarter of a mile each side the road the
hurricane had carried complete desolation. But after passing the heavy
timber it had veered several degrees, and was sparing the house of Mrs.
With a white face she met them at the gate. A word of explanation from the
marquis--an ejaculation of mental anguish from the girl. Two fugitive
tie-choppers from the woods turned back to find the colonel's body. Mrs.
Ruggles, carrying Alice in her arms to the door--the yaller-headed
doll-baby that never washed a dish--did what she could to soothe her, but
did it as silently as possible.
Mrs. Ruggles intercepted the returning tie-choppers in the lane. A look of
eager joy was in their faces. The bruised colonel, assisted to the
threshold, sank into the big arm-chair, and Alice was in his arms. Mrs.
Ruggles did not see their meeting, not at all. No, her back was toward
them, but the corner of her apron made another journey to the corner of
her eye as the father folded his lost child once more to his heart.
His desire to express his gratitude to Mrs. Ruggles and her boy was
equaled only by her fears that he would do so. As a last resort he called
the marquis to him, and, while a tear stood on his rough cheek, drew a
handful of money from his pocket. But a bony hand appeared majestically
between them, and a voice said, "Not by no means. We're not them kind o'
persons. Markis-dee, put away the camfire."
Then a rickety gig rattled up to the gate: "Contusion--severe--no
danger--there!--be lame a while--so!--the other bandage--bridge
gone--creek half dry--bend your leg--so!--current turned up-stream--now
the shoulder--not strange Crawfish Creek should run backward--he! he!" And
the rickety gig rattled merrily off in search of broken bones.
Alice, meeting the marquis outside the door, approached him in a way that
made him tremble. What was said will never be known, but she placed her
white little hand upon his shoulder, the golden head bowed for a moment
and her sweet lips touched his sunburnt face.
By remaining quiet that night the colonel would be able to get back to
Thompson City in the morning. Before nine o'clock he was at rest in the
bed-room. A couch for Alice had been prepared in the same room. In the
other--kitchen, parlor and dining-hall--a blanket was thrown down for the
marquis, and two chairs fixed for the bed of Mrs. Ruggles. Before
retiring, however, she sat down at her lonely table, where,
notwithstanding the tea she drank to keep them off, an unusual number of
weak creepings came over her.
"I couldn't help it," was all she said to the tea-pot. Whether she
referred to the tornado, or her kindness to the sufferers, or to the
manner of rendering the kindness, no one knows. That was all she said to
the tea-pot, but to her son, who sat for a while beside her, she spoke in
a low tone: "Markis-dee, you could never c'verse with her. You're better'n
she is. Put her out o' yer head. She laughed at ye."
"But she kissed me wi' tears in 'er eyes afterward," was his answer as he
turned toward his bed on the floor.
An hour later the tea was exhausted, but Mrs. Ruggles yet sat at her
lonely table, as still as the sleepers around her. The clock struck ten:
she nervously drew a soiled paper from her bosom. Eleven: she rose with
hesitation and set the tallow candle behind the door. Then she softly
entered the bed-room and stood before the window where Alice lay. The sky
was clear again. The moon shone on the face and form of the sleeping girl,
making softer their graceful lines, richer the shadows in the golden hair,
tenderer the tint of cheek and lip.
She stepped again into the shade and stole to the colonel's bedside. His
disturbed mind had turned backward over the path of life from the sudden
death escaped, and, sleeping or waking, his memory had been busy with the
people and events of other days.
"John Miller!" she said, in a suppressed tone. He started. "John Miller, I
know ye. Common name--I wa'n't sure afore to-day. When you pulled that
money out o' yer pocket I see that in yer face that satisfied me. It's fer
the good name o' the dead I've come. Elseways I never'd ha' troubled ye."
The astonished colonel shifted his position painfully, prepared to speak
or to listen. "There yer girl lies in the light o' heaven. Nex' room my
boy lies in the shadder an' dark. He don't know, an' he never will. John
Miller, I married as honest an' as good a man as ever you see. Folks has
come to me in sickness an' trouble, an' gone behin' my back to talk. Some
said I done right to take him--'twas Christian in me. Some said I must ha'
been a fool. Some said we wa'n't married a-tall. Wasn't I a Peables?
Didn't I know 'twould be flung up to my face? Wasn't I prouder'n any on
A moment's confusion and doubting of senses: then, as the suppressed voice
went on, the colonel remembered. A dozen years ago; before he had meddled
with railroads; back in the old town; soon after taking his father's shop;
he was plaintiff; Ruggles worked in the first room; Porter's testimony;
Becky Peables the sweetheart of both; burglary; loss trifling; George
Ruggles, for one year; came back and married when released; went West. The
old case had scarce crossed his mind for years.
"Yes, you sent him, an' I waited fer him. The day he come out I married
him. We had to dig hard. I'd do it ag'in. Now his boy's saved yer girl's
life to pay ye fer puttin' his father'n State's pris'n. Two year ago
didn't Bill Porter--sick an' a-dyin'--hunt till he foun' me here? Didn't
he go an' swear? Done fer spite. Didn't he sen' me the affydavy?--an' I've
got it safe. Got it swore to by him, with the justice o' the peace's name
signed, an' two witnissis, an' the judge's red seal on top o' that. Could
I go back an' show that paper'n tell how 'twas? Too late! George was dead.
I couldn't go. My folks a'most disowned me when I took him. I said then I
never'd step my foot into their doors. Them that gives me the col'
shoulder once don't do it no more. Come to me?--well an' good. Go to
The bewildered colonel, promising every possible reparation, would have
thrown himself at her feet, could he have done so, for the part he had
taken in the prosecution. But she permitted no interruption, and
continued: "He lay by the winder where yer girl lies. The moon come in on
his bed as it does on her'n. In the night, when I see the light o' the sky
shine there where he died, I feel his sperit in the room. I moved the bed
to this corner, where it's darker. I wa'n't good enough to lie there. But
'twas on his mind. He said, 'Becky, if I could prove it to you afore I
died!' An' I say, George's sperit sent Bill Porter here, an' sent you
here, an' sent me into this room to-night. Now, fer the sake o'him an'
Markis-dee, go back an' tell the truth!"
Speaking the word "truth," she vanished across the light to her dark place
Next morning the colonel examined and copied the confession while a buggy
waited for him at the door. Respecting the evident wishes of Mrs. Ruggles,
he went away with no attempt to express the feelings that were uppermost
in his heart.
She sleeps beside her husband in the orchard. Her old log-house has been
replaced by a large white box, of which her son the marquis is proprietor.
Each year adds to his acres or his stock. An able-bodied wife, whose
industry and English are equal to his own, sits near him at the door on a
summer evening, while he smokes his pipe, takes an oakum-headed child upon
his knee, and gazes quietly in the direction of the spring and across the
grain-fields where once he saw--or rather heard, without waiting to see--a
forest swept down in a moment. He smokes and gazes as he sees again a
dazzling creature ride down the dreary road, and wonders where on earth
that face can be, and how much it has changed, and whether, through so
many years, any memory of him can linger in her heart. He says nothing.
But he hugs closer the oakum-headed child as he remembers the one romance
in his hard, humdrum life.
Under False Colors.
Hoisting The Flag.
A dreary, murky November day brooded over Southampton, and an impenetrable
fog hung over sea and shore alike, penetrating the clothing, chilling the
blood and depressing the spirits of every unlucky person who was so
unfortunate as to come within the range of its influence. The passengers
on the steamship America, from Bremen for New York via Southampton, found
the brief period of their stay at the latter port almost unendurable; and
while some paced the wet decks impatiently, others grumbled both loudly
and deeply in the cabins, or shut themselves up in their state-rooms in
sulky discomfort. Those who remained on deck had at least the amusement of
watching for the steamboat which was to bring the Southampton
passengers--a pastime which, however, being indefinitely prolonged, began
to grow wearisome. It came at last--a wretched little vessel, rather
smaller than the smallest of the noisy tugs that puff and paddle on our
American rivers--and the wet, sick, unsheltered passengers were gradually
transferred to the deck of the ship.
Among those who appeared to have suffered most severely from the rocking
of the miserable little steamboat was a young, fair-haired girl,
apparently about seventeen years of age, who seemed almost insensible. She
would have fallen had not one of her fellow-travelers, a lady evidently
not much her senior, thrown her arm around her; thus aided, she managed to
reach the steamer's deck and to totter down the staircase leading to the
ladies' cabin. The active, busy steward at once bustled up to the two
"Your names, ladies, if you please. I will point out your state-rooms in a
moment. Miss Marion Nugent--Miss Rhoda Steele? Miss Nugent, berth No. 20,
"Cannot I occupy the same state-room with this young lady?" interrupted
the taller girl, who was still lending the support of her arm to sustain
her half-fainting companion.
"Do not leave me, please," murmured the sufferer.
The steward threw a compassionate glance upon the pair, went away, and
after a short consultation with the unseen powers, returned and said that
the arrangement had been effected, and that they could take possession at
once of their state-room, into which he proceeded to usher them. It was
more spacious than such apartments usually are, and abounded with all
those little contrivances for comfort and convenience for which the
steamers of the North German Lloyds are justly famed. The invalid sank
down on the soft-cushioned little sofa and gasped painfully for breath.
"For Heaven's sake, get me some wine or some brandy!" exclaimed her
companion. "This poor thing seems very ill; and do tell the doctor to come
here at once."
With a quick, energetic movement, as she spoke she unclasped the heavy
waterproof cloak of the sufferer and threw it back, thus revealing a fair,
pallid face, framed in loosened curls of silky golden hair. It was a face
that must have looked singularly lovely when tinted with the rosy hues of
health, so delicate were the features and so large and blue the
half-closed eyes, but it was ghastly pale, and a livid, bluish tinge had
settled around the small mouth, whose ruby hues had fled to give place to
a sickly purple. The steward speedily returned with some brandy, the
bull's-eye was thrown open, and the cold sea air and potent spirit soon
asserted their restorative powers. She sat up, a more natural color
over-spreading her countenance, and she murmured inarticulately a few
words of thanks, while the kind-hearted steward hastened away again in
search of the doctor.
"I am subject to these attacks," she said, faintly; to her companion when
they were again left alone. "Only feel how my heart is beating."
The ship's surgeon soon made his appearance. He was a young, light-haired,
solemn-looking German, who shook his head and looked very grave as he
listened to the labored breathing and felt the bounding, irregular pulse
of the sufferer.
"It is a pity that the ship has started," he said in very good English,
"for I hardly think you are fitted to bear the fatigues of a sea-voyage at
this season of the year; and had we been still at anchor, I should have
counseled you to return to shore. But it is too late now, and you must try
to keep as quiet as possible. I would advise you to retire to your berth
at once: it will probably be a stormy night, and you had better settle
yourself comfortably before the motion begins to be unpleasant. I will see
you again in the morning, and if you feel worse meanwhile, let me know at
The doctor and the steward then quitted the state-room, and its two
occupants, being left alone, surveyed each other curiously.
The active and energetic girl who had acted as spokeswoman and directress
throughout the brief scene we have just described had let fall her
waterproof cloak and stood arrayed in a black velvet jacket and dark silk
skirt, both much the worse for wear, and contrasting sadly with the neat
but simple traveling costume of her companion. But about her slender,
finely-proportioned figure there was an air of style and grace which lent
an elegance even to her shabby and faded finery, and which was wanting in
the owner of the fresher and more appropriate attire. Her face was
beautiful, with a singular and weird beauty which owed nothing of its
fascinations to the ordinary charms of delicate outlines and dainty
coloring. Her features were small and attenuated, and her complexion was
of a sallow paleness, whose lack of freshness seemed caused by dissipation
and late hours or by the ravages of illness. Heavy masses of soft silken
hair, black as midnight, with bluish reflections on its lustrous waves
_(bleu a force d'etre noir_, as Alexandre Dumas describes such tresses),
untortured by crimping-pins or curling-tongs, were rolled back in plain
folds above her low, broad brow. Her eyes would have lent beauty to a
plainer face. Large almost to a fault, of that dark, clear blue which is
too perfect and too transparent ever to look black even under the shadow
of such long, thick eyelashes as shaded them in the present instance, they
were perfectly magnificent; and their lustrous azure and ever-varying
expression lent to the mobile countenance of their possessor its most
potent and peculiar charm.
She was the first to speak. "Do you not think you had better retire to
your berth?" she asked. "The rocking of the ship is increasing, and we had
better, early as it is, settle ourselves for the night, before it becomes
so violent as to prevent us from moving."
At this moment two porters made their appearance laden with packages. Two
small new trunks--one marked R.S., the other M.N.--were deposited on the
floor and identified by their possessors. The sick girl then attempted,
with trembling hands, to disembarrass herself of her apparel, but it was
not without much assistance from her companion that she was enabled to
remove her traveling costume and make her preparations for retiring. At
last, however, she was ready, and was about to make an attempt to reach
the upper berth, which was the one allotted to her by number, when a
quick, imperative gesture from her companion stopped her.
"No, no," she said: "you must take the lower berth. I can reach the upper
one without any trouble, and you are not strong enough for so much
"You are very, very kind," said the invalid, gratefully. She sank back on
the pillow and watched the other for some minutes in silence, as she
quietly and quickly gathered up and put in order the scattered articles
with which the state-room was strewn.
"Will you not give me that little black bag?" she said at last. "Thanks!
that is it. I wished to be certain that I had put my letter of
introduction in it. Ah! here it is, quite safe. It would never do for me
to lose that letter, for the lady with whom I am going to live as
governess has never seen me, and she might take me for an impostor were I
to come without it. An English lady who was her most intimate friend
engaged me for her. I wonder what New York is like?--very rough, and wild,
no doubt, and I am afraid I shall be much annoyed by the rattlesnakes. You
are going to New York too, are you not?"
"Have you friends there?"
"I wish I had some acquaintances among our fellow-passengers, but I do not
know a single one. Do you?"
"You have not told me your name yet. Mine is Marion Nugent; and yours--"
"Is not so pretty a one--Rhoda Steele."
There was something in the tone of these replies that quelled the
invalid's disposition to talk, and she remained silent while her companion
finished her arrangements and prepared to take possession of her berth. It
was time that she did so. The threatened gale was by this time blowing in
earnest, and the ship was commencing to roll fearfully; so, after securing
all the boxes and bags as well as possible, and hanging up all the
scattered garments, she made a hasty retreat to her couch, and lay there
only half undressed, but utterly prostrate, and as unable to touch the tea
and biscuits brought by the attentive stewardess as was her more delicate
and suffering room-mate.
Time passed on: the daylight faded from the sky, a feeble glimmering lamp
shed its faint rays into the state-room, and the great steamship went
steadily on, though rocked and tossed like a plaything by the whistling
winds and angry sea. Then midnight came: the lights in the state-rooms
were extinguished and a profound silence reigned throughout the cabins,
broken only by the ceaseless throb of the mighty engines and the noisy
clanking of the screw.
The state-room was wrapped in profound darkness when Rhoda Steele awoke
with a start as from some troubled dream. Was she still dreaming, or did
she indeed hear a strange choking sound proceeding from the lower berth?
She sprang to the floor at once, heeding neither the darkness nor the
violent motion, and clinging to the side of the berth she called aloud.
There was no answer: even the gurgling, choking sound she had at first
heard had ceased. She put out her hand, and it encountered her companion's
face. It was deathly cold, and the features quivered as if convulsed under
her touch. Again she called aloud--still no answer; and then, thoroughly
frightened, she caught up a cloak from the sofa, threw it around her, and
opening the state-room door, she rushed into the cabin. It was almost
deserted. The lamps swung heavily overhead, swayed by the unceasing
rolling of the ship; a drowsy waiter slumbered at one of the tables, his
head resting on his folded arms; and one or two sleepy passengers tried to
maintain a recumbent posture on the broad sofas that lined the sides. The
cries of the terrified girl soon brought several of the waiters to her
assistance, and Captain Wessels himself, who had not retired to rest,
owing to the stormy weather, came to ascertain the cause of the unusual
disturbance. Her story was quickly told: lights were brought, and the
captain accompanied her back to the state-room.
It was a pitiful sight that met their eyes. The young girl lay motionless
in her berth, her face tinged with a livid bluish hue, her eyes closed,
and her small hands clenched as if in agony.
"The doctor!--run for the doctor!" was the instant and universal
exclamation. The doctor came. One look at the pallid face, one touch on
the slender wrist, and he turned with a grave face to the bystanders.
"There is nothing to be done," he said. "She is dead. I feared some such
catastrophe when I saw her last evening. She was in the last stages of
"And who was she?--what was her name?" asked kind-hearted Captain Wessels,
looking down with pitying eyes at the fair pale face.
The steward brought his lists.
"Berth No. 22," he read--"Miss Rhoda Steele."
"And this young lady?" continued the captain, turning to the other
occupant of the state-room, who had sunk back as if exhausted on the sofa,
still enveloped in the shrouding folds of her large waterproof cloak.
She raised her head. The answer came after a moment's hesitation--came
with a strange, defiant ring in its tone:
"My name is Marion Nugent."
Under Full Sail.
More than a year has passed away since the events narrated in our first
chapter took place, and the curtain now rises on a far different scene--a
dinner-party in one of the most splendid of the gorgeous mansions on
Madison avenue, New York.
Mrs. Walton Rutherford, the giver of the entertainment in question, was a
member of a class unhappily now fast dying out of New York society--one of
those ladies of high social position and ancient lineage who adorn the
station which they occupy as much by their virtues as by their social
talents. A high-minded, pure-souled matron, a devoted wife and mother, as
well as a queen of society, inheriting the noble qualities of her
Revolutionary forefathers as well as their great estates--such was the
lady who presided over the brilliant festivity we are about to describe.
She had been left for many years a widow, and her surviving children--two
sons, Clement and Horace--were both of mature age; Horace, the younger,
being just thirty years old, and Clement, the elder, some seven years his
senior. Mrs. Rutherford herself was a few years over sixty. A year or two
before the period at which our story opens a terrible misfortune had
befallen her. Amaurosis--that most insidious and unmanageable of diseases
of the eye--had attacked her vision, and in a few months after it declared
itself she was totally, hopelessly blind. But, although debarred by her
infirmity from going into society, she still received her friends in her
own home; and her evening receptions and elegant dinners were always cited
as being among the most agreeable and successful entertainments of the
Another sorrow had recently come to trouble the calm of her honored and
tranquil existence--the marriage of her eldest son. Clement Rutherford,
unlike any other member of the family, was a cold, reserved man,
unpleasant in temper and disagreeable in manner. When he was still quite a
boy, his mother's only sister, Miss Myra Van Vleyden, had died, and had
bequeathed to him the large fortune which she had inherited conjointly
with Mrs. Rutherford from her father, the two sisters being the only
children of Schuyler Van Vleyden. She was a soured, morose old maid, and
probably saw some congeniality of disposition in her eldest nephew which
caused her to single him out as her heir. After he attained to years of
manhood, he always manifested a decided antipathy to ladies' society, and
was generally looked upon as a confirmed old bachelor; so that when he
announced to his mother the fact of his engagement to Mrs. Archer's pretty
governess, Miss Nugent, her distress of mind was fully equaled by her
astonishment. The match met with her strongest disapproval, as was to have
been expected; for it was hardly probable that she, the oldest surviving
representative of the old Knickerbocker family the Van Vleydens, an
acknowledged leader of society by the triple right of wealth, birth and
intellect, should be inclined to welcome very warmly as a daughter-in-law
the penniless beauty who had been occupied for some months past in
teaching Mrs. Archer's little daughters the rudiments of French and music.
Moreover, the investigations and inquiries respecting the young lady's
origin which she had at once caused to be instituted on hearing of her
son's engagement, had revealed a state of affairs which had placed Miss
Nugent in a very unenviable light. Her parents were well born, though
poor. She was the daughter of a curate in the North of England, who had
lost his young wife by heart disease when Marion was but a few months old,
and two years later Mr. Nugent died of consumption, leaving his little
daughter to the care of his unmarried and elderly brother, the Reverend
Walter Nugent, who, though the living he held was but a small one,
contrived to rear and educate his niece as his own child. He had only
allowed her to leave him and become a governess on the assurance of the
village physician that her health was seriously impaired, and that a sea
voyage and complete change of scene would prove the best and surest of
restoratives. But the pained though manly tone of the letter in which he
replied to Mrs. Rutherford's inquiries had prepossessed that warm-hearted,
high-minded lady most strongly against her future daughter-in-law. "I
loved Marion always as though she were my own child," wrote Mr. Nugent,
"and I cannot but look upon her total neglect of me since her arrival in
America as being wholly inexcusable. She has never even written me one
line since her departure, and I learned of her safe arrival only by the
newspapers. I can but infer from her obstinate and persistent silence that
she wishes to sever all ties between herself and me, and I have resigned
myself to the prospect of a lonely and cheerless old age. I trust that she
may be happy in the brilliant marriage which, you say, she is about to
make, and I can assure her that her old uncle will never disturb her in
her new prosperity."
Mrs. Rutherford had one long, stormy interview with her eldest son, and
learning therein that his determination to marry Miss Nugent was fixed and
unalterable, she had with commendable wisdom accepted the situation, and
resolved to so order the conduct of herself and her relatives as to give
the scandalous world no room for that contemptuous pity and abundant
gossip which an open rupture between herself and her son would doubtless
The manner of the wooing had been in this wise: John Archer, a sober,
staid gentleman of great wealth, was Clement Rutherford's most intimate
friend, and naturally, when the Archers moved into their new and splendid
villa at Newport, Clement was invited to spend a few weeks with them--an
invitation which he readily accepted. A few days after his arrival, Mrs.
Archer, who was a pretty, lively little coquette, not in the least sobered
by some thirteen years of married life, offered to drive him out in her
little phaeton. "John has just given me a new pair of ponies," she
said--"such perfect beauties and so gentle that I long to drive them." So
the pretty, stylish equipage, with its fair driver and faultless
appointments, made its first appearance on the avenue that afternoon, and
also, I am sorry to say, its last; for the "gentle beauties" afore-said,
excited to emulation by the number of spirited steeds around them, became
ambitious of distinction, and sought for and decidedly obtained it by
running away, thereby overturning the phaeton, breaking the harness,
bruising Mrs. Archer severely and dislocating Mr. Rutherford's ankle.
Mrs. Archer was as well as ever in a few days, but the injuries received
by her guest proved sufficiently serious to compel him to maintain a
recumbent position for a long time, and prevented him from walking for
several weeks. She made every arrangement possible for his comfort, and
she had a charming little reception-room on the ground floor, adjoining
the library, fitted up as a bed-chamber, and installed him there; so that
as soon as he was able to quit his bed for a sofa, he could be wheeled
into the latter apartment, and there enjoy the distractions of literature
and society. For a few days after he made his first appearance there his
lovely hostess was all attention and devotion; but, finding that he was
anything but an agreeable or impressionable companion, she soon wearied of
his society. Mr. Archer, shortly after the accident had taken place, had
been summoned from home by important business connected with some mining
property which he possessed, and which necessitated his presence in the
interior of Pennsylvania; so Mrs. Archer, thus left with the entertainment
of her most uncongenial guest exclusively confided to her care, came
speedily to the conclusion that he was a nuisance, and began to look about
for a substitute to relieve her from her unwelcome duties. She decided
that her pretty governess, who spoke French so well, and sang little
French _chansonettes_ so sweetly, and got herself up in such a charming
manner, giving so much "chic" and style even to the simplest of toilettes,
was just the person to take upon herself the task of amusing the
"_Do_ look after Mr. Rutherford a little, there's a dear, good creature,"
whispered Mrs. Archer confidentially to Miss Nugent. "He is dreadfully
tiresome, to be sure, but John thinks the world of him, you know, and it
would not exactly do to leave him alone all the time. I wish him to
receive every attention while he is in the house, of course; but as for
sitting for hours at a time with him in that stuffy little library--just
in the height of the season, too--why, I cannot think of doing it. If you
will just go and sit with him sometimes, and read to him a little, it will
be an absolute charity to me. I'll see that Alice and Emily do not get
into any mischief."
Which, considering that the young ladies in question were, one twelve, the
other ten years of age, and both much addicted to flirtation and dancing
the "German," was rather a rash promise and inconsiderately made.
So Miss Nugent was definitely installed as reader and _garde malade_ in
general, and Clement Rutherford soon learned to await her coming with
impatience and to welcome her with delight. All his life long will he
remember those summer days, when her voice and the low plash of the
far-off ocean waves wove themselves together into music as she read, and
when the blue splendors of her lustrous eyes lent a new meaning to the
poet's story as it flowed in melodious verses from her lips. Then came a
day when the book was laid aside, and the impassioned utterances of poetry
gave place to the more prosaic but not less fervent accents of a
newly-awakened passion. Cold, silent and morose as Clement Rutherford had
always been, it had so happened that but few women had ever attempted to
attract him, notwithstanding his wealth and social position; and the
interested motives of those few had been so apparent that he had been
repelled and disgusted, instead of being fascinated, by their wiles; so
that Miss Nugent's grace and beauty and syren charms proved all too potent
for his unoccupied though icy heart to resist; and thus it chanced that
the day before Mr. Rutherford left Newport he astonished his hostess by
requesting a private interview with her, and therein announcing his
engagement to her governess.
"You could have knocked me down with a feather," Mrs. Archer said
afterward to an intimate friend. "I never should have suspected that such
a quiet, stupid man as he was would fall in love in that ridiculous kind
of a way. Good gracious! how indignant old Mrs. Rutherford will be! and I
shall be blamed for the whole affair, no doubt. I wish John had never
brought the man here--I never _did_ like him; and then, too, it is so
provoking to lose Miss Nugent just now, while we are at Newport. Of course
I can find no one to replace her till we return to New York. Well, I
always _was_ an unlucky little woman."
The marriage took place in the latter part of September, only a few weeks
after the engagement had been first announced. Mrs. Rutherford, true to
her resolution of making the best of the affair, was careful that none of
the usual courtesies and observances should be neglected. The bridal gifts
from the Rutherford family, if less splendid, were as numerous as they
would have been had Mr. Rutherford married a member of his mother's
decorous, high-bred "set," and all his immediate relatives called most
punctiliously on the bride when the newly-wedded pair arrived in New York
after their six weeks' trip to Philadelphia and Washington.
Mr. Rutherford decided to take rooms at the Brevoort House till he could
purchase a suitable residence. His mother's splendid home was not thrown
open to receive him and his unwelcome bride, as it would have been had he
made a choice more consonant with her wishes.
But we have wandered far from the dinner given by Mrs. Rutherford in honor
of her new daughter-in-law, and with which our chapter commences.
It was a superb entertainment, as the Rutherford dinners usually were. The
service of gold plate purchased by Schuyler Van Vleyden when he was
minister to Austria adorned the table, which was also decorated with three
splendid pyramids of choicest flowers. An exquisite bouquet bloomed in
front of each lady's plate, and the painted blossoms on the peerless
dinner-service of rare old Sevres vied in every respect save fragrance
with their living counterparts. An unseen orchestra, stationed in the
conservatory, sent forth strains of music, now grave, now gay, as Gounod
or Offenbach ruled the tuneful spirit of the hour. Twelve guests only were
present, including Mrs. John Archer, to whom Mrs. Rutherford had in this
fashion testified her forgiveness, and who had accepted the proffered
olive-branch with delight, wearing, in order to do honor to the occasion,
an exquisite dress, fresh from one of the most renowned _ateliers_ of
Parisian fashion. Mrs. Rutherford, as usual, notwithstanding her
infirmity, presided with unfailing grace and dignity; and in her splendid
dress of black satin, brocaded with bouquets of flowers in their natural
hues, her cap and collar of priceless old point lace, and her antiquely
set but magnificent ornaments of sapphires and diamonds, she still looked
a queen of society. A well-trained servant was stationed behind her chair,
who from time to time placed before her suitably-prepared portions of the
various delicacies of the entertainment, of which she slightly partook, in
order to obviate the restraint which her presence at the festivity without
participating in it would have occasioned. On her left hand sat her
younger son, Horace, whose watchful eyes followed her every movement, and
whose loving care anticipated her every wish. He was a tall,
stalwart-looking young man, fair-haired and blue-eyed, like his elder
brother, but his frank, joyous expression and winning manners bore no
resemblance to the sullen countenance and surly demeanor of Clement.
The bride was, of course, the, cynosure of all eyes. Attired in rich,
creamy-white satin, the corsage shaded with folds of delicate lace, with
coral ornaments on her neck and arms, and with the heavy masses of her
dark hair interwoven with coral beads, she looked extremely beautiful, and
was pronounced by the ladies present to be "handsome and stylish-looking,
but decidedly dull." This latter accusation was more truthful than such
charges usually are. Mrs. Clement Rutherford did feel unusually stupid.
She was _ennuye_ by the long, formal, stately dinner; she knew but few of
the persons present; and her point-lace fan was frequently called into
requisition to conceal her yawns. The game had been served before her next
neighbor, a sprightly young New Yorker, who had been rather fascinated by
her beauty, contrived to arouse her into something like animation. He
succeeded at last, however, and it was not long before an unusually
brilliant sally drew a merry laugh from her lips. Her laugh was
peculiar--a low, musical, trilling sound, mirthful and melodious as the
chime of a silver bell.
As its joyous music rang on the air, Mrs. Rutherford turned ghastly pale.
She gasped convulsively, half rose from her seat and fell back in a
Of course all was instantly confusion and dismay. The guests sprang up,
the waiters hurried forward--Horace was instantly at his mother's side.
"She has only fainted," he said in his clear, decided tones. "She will be
better in a few moments. Let me beg of you, my friends, to resume your
seats. Clement, will you oblige me by taking our mother's post?"
With the help of Mrs. Rutherford's special attendant, Horace supported the
already reviving sufferer from the room. They conveyed her to her sleeping
apartment, where restoratives and cold water were freely used, and she
soon regained perfect consciousness. But returning animation seemed to
bring with it a strange and overwhelming sorrow. When the servant had
retired, leaving her alone with her son, she refused to answer any of his
queries, and burying her face in her pillow, she wept with convulsive and
irrepressible violence. At length the very vehemence of her grief seemed,
by exhausting itself, to restore her to comparative calm: her tears ceased
to flow, her heavy sobs no longer shook her frame, and she remained for
some time perfectly quiet and silent. At length she spoke:
"What is it, mother?"
"Describe to me the personal appearance of your brother's wife--minutely,
as though a picture were to be painted from your words."
It was no unusual request. Horace was in the habit of thus minutely
describing persons and places for his mother's benefit.
"She is rather below the middle height, and her form, though slender, is
finely moulded and of perfect proportions. Her hands and feet are
faultless, and her walk is extremely graceful, resembling more the gait of
a French-woman than that of an English girl. Her complexion is pale and
rather sallow, and her countenance is full of expression, which varies
constantly when she talks. The lower part of her face is somewhat too thin
for perfect beauty, and the chin is inclined to be pointed, and the cheeks
are rather hollow, but the upper part is superb. Her brow is low and
broad, and she folds back from it the heavy waves of her black hair in the
plainest possible style. Her eyes are her chief beauty, and would
transfigure any face into loveliness. They are very large, and of a dark,
transparent blue, of so lustrous and so perfect an azure that not even in
shadow do they look black. Stay--I can give you a better idea of her
appearance than by multiplying words. Did you, when you were in Munich,
visit the Gallery of Beauties in the Royal Palace?"
"Do you remember the portrait of Lola Montez?"
"Certainly--as though I had seen it yesterday."
"Marion resembles that portrait very strikingly, particularly in the shape
and carriage of her head."
"I am not mistaken--it is she. Would that I had never lived to see this
day!" And Mrs. Rutherford wrung her hands in an agony of helpless,
"It is she?" repeated Horace, in perplexity. "Whom do you mean, mother?
Who was Marion Nugent?"
"She is not Marion Nugent--this impostor who has thrust herself into our
midst, bringing scandal and dishonor as her dower."
"And who, then, is she?"
Mrs. Rutherford turned toward him and fixed on his face her tear-bathed
eyes, as though sight were restored to her, and she were trying to read
his thoughts in his countenance.
"Why should I tell you?" she said, after a pause: "why reveal to you the
shameful secret, and tell of a misfortune which is without a remedy?
Clement is married: what words of mine can divorce him? And who will
believe the evidence of a blind woman? If I were not blind, I might openly
denounce her, but now--" And again she wrung her hands in unspeakable
Horace knelt beside his mother's couch and folded her hands in his own.
"I will believe you, mother," he said, earnestly. "Trust me--tell me all.
If this woman whom my brother has married be an impostor, he may yet be
freed from the matrimonial chain."
"Could that be possible?"
"It may be. Let me try, at least. I will devote myself to your service if
you will but confide in me."
"Close the door, and then come near me, Horace--nearer still. I _will_
tell you all."
Two days later the steamship Pereire sailed from New York for Brest,
numbering among her passengers Horace Rutherford.
Striking the Flag.
The events narrated in our last chapter took place early in November, and
it was not till the following March that the astonished friends of Horace
Rutherford saw him reappear amongst them as suddenly and as unexpectedly
as he had departed. "Business of importance" was the sole explanation he
vouchsafed to those who questioned him respecting the motive of his brief
European tour; and with that answer public curiosity was perforce obliged
to content itself. Society had, in fact, grown weary of discussing the
affairs of the Rutherford family. Clement Rutherford's _mesalliance_, his
mother's sudden illness at that memorable dinner-party, her subsequent
seclusion from the world, and Horace's inexplicable absence, had all
afforded food for the insatiable appetite of the scandal-mongers. Then
Gossip grew eloquent respecting the flirtations and "fast" manners of
Clement Rutherford's wife, and whispered that the old lady's seizure had
been either apoplexy or paralysis, brought on by her distress of mind at
her son's marriage, and that she had never been herself since. Next, the
elegant establishment of the newly-wedded pair on Twenty-sixth street,
with its gorgeous furniture and costly appointments, furnished a theme for
much conversation, and doubts were expressed as to whether the "Upper Ten"
would honor with its august presence the ball which Mrs. Clement
Rutherford proposed giving on Shrove Tuesday, which in that year came
about the middle of March. But as to that, it was generally conceded that
they would. Youth, beauty, wealth and the shadow of an old family name
could cover a multitude of such sins as rapid manners, desperate
flirtations and a questionable origin; and notwithstanding her fastness,
and, worse still, her _ci-devant_ governess-ship, Mrs. Clement Rutherford
was a decided social success.
On the day succeeding that oh which he had arrived, Horace made his
appearance at his brother's house. Clement had not heard of his return,
and received him with a cordiality strikingly at variance with his usual
"Come into the library," he said, after the first greetings had been
exchanged. "I have some fine cigars for you to try, and you can tell me
something about your travels."
"Thank you, Clement: I believe I must decline your offer. I have a message
for your wife: can I see her?"
A cloud swept over the brow of the elder brother.
"I suppose you can," he said, coldly, looking at his watch as he spoke.
"Two o'clock. She took breakfast about half an hour ago, so she is
probably at home. You had better go up stairs to her _boudoir_, as she
calls it, and Christine, her maid, will tell her that you wish to see
He turned away, and was about to leave the room when Horace caught his
"Clement! brother! Answer me one question: Are you happy in your married
"Go ask the scandal-mongers of New York," was the bitter reply: "_they_
are eloquent respecting the perfection of my connubial bliss."
"If she had been a kind and affectionate wife, if she had made him happy,"
muttered Horace as he ascended the stairs, "my task would have been a
harder one. Now my duty is clear, and my course lies smooth and straight
The room into which he was ushered by Christine, the pretty French maid,
was a perfect marvel of elegance and extravagance. It was very small, and
on every part of it had been lavished all that the combined efforts of
taste and expenditure could achieve. The walls had been painted in fresco
by an eminent Italian artist, and bevies of rosy Cupids, trailing after
them garlands of many-hued flowers, disported on a background of a
delicate green tint. The same tints and design were repeated in the
Aubusson carpet, and on the fine Gobelin tapestry which covered the few
chairs and the one luxurious couch that formed the useful furniture of the
tiny apartment. Etageres of carved and gilded wood occupied each corner,
and, together with the low mantelshelf (which was upheld by two dancing
nymphs in Carrara marble), were crowded with costly trifles in Bohemian
glass, Dresden and Sevres porcelain, gilded bronze, carved ivory and
Parian ware. An easel, drawn toward the centre of the room, supported the
one painting that it contained, the designs on the walls being unsuited
for the proper display of pictures. This one picture had evidently been
selected on account of the contrast which it afforded to the gay coloring
and _riante_ style of the decorations. It was a superb marine view by
Hamilton--a cloudy sunset above a stormy sea, the lurid sinking sun
flinging streaks of blood-red light upon the leaden waters that, in the
foreground, foamed and dashed themselves wildly against the rocks of a
barren and precipitous shore.
Horace stood lost in contemplation before the easel, when the door opened
and his sister-in-law entered. He turned to greet her, and her beauty,
enhanced as it was by the elegance of her attire, drew from him an
involuntary glance of admiration. Her dress was an exemplification of how
much splendor may be lavished on a morning-costume without rendering it
absolutely and ridiculously inappropriate. She wore a robe of
turquoise-blue Indian cashmere, edged around the long train and flowing
sleeves with a broad border of that marvelous gold embroidery which only
Eastern fingers can execute or Eastern imaginations devise. A band of the
same embroidery confined the robe around her slender, supple waist, and
showed to advantage the perfection of her figure. A brooch and long
ear-pendants of lustreless yellow gold, and a fan of azure silk with
gilded sticks, were the adjuncts to this costume, whose rich hues and
gorgeous effects would have crushed a less brilliant and stylish-looking
woman, but which were wonderfully becoming to its graceful wearer.
"Welcome home, Horace!" she said in that low sweet voice which was one of
her most potent charms. "How kind it is of you to pay me a visit so soon
after your return!"
She placed herself on the couch and motioned to him to take a seat near
her. He drew up his chair, and a short, embarrassed pause succeeded.
Mrs. Rutherford toyed with her fan and stole glances from under her long
black lashes at her visitor, who sat twisting one of his gloves and
wishing most ardently that Providence had entrusted the painful task
before him to some one of a more obdurate and less chivalrous nature.
Wearied of silence, the lady spoke at last.
"Have you nothing of interest respecting your travels to tell me?" she
Her voice seemed to break the spell which paralyzed him. He turned toward
her with the look of one who nerves himself up to take a desperate
"Yes: I have a story to relate to you, and one of more than common
"Really!" She yawned behind her fan. "Excuse me, but I was at Mrs.
Houdon's ball last evening, and the 'German' was kept up till five o'clock
this morning. I am wretchedly tired. Now do go on with your story: I have
no doubt but that I shall find it amusing, but do not be much surprised if
I fall asleep."
"I think you will find it interesting, and I have no fear of its putting
you to sleep. But you must make me one promise. I am but a poor narrator,
and you must engage not to interrupt me."
"I have no hesitation in promising to remain perfectly quiet, no matter
how startling your incidents or how vivid your descriptions may be."
She leaned back among the cushions with another stifled yawn and shaded
her eyes with her fan. Without heeding the veiled impertinence of her
manner, Horace commenced his narrative:
"Some twenty-five years ago a friendless, penniless Englishwoman died at
one of the cheap boarding-schools in Dieppe, where she had officiated for
some time as English teacher and general drudge. She left behind her a
little girl about five years of age--a pretty, engaging child, whose
beauty and infantile fascinations so won the heart of Madame Tellier, the
proprietress of the establishment, that she decided to take charge of the
little creature and educate her, her project being to fit her for the post
of English teacher in her school. But the pretty child grew up to be a
beautiful but unprincipled girl, with an inborn passion for indolence and
luxury. At the age of seventeen she eloped from the school with a young
Parisian gentleman, who had been spending the summer months at one of the
seaside hotels in Dieppe, and her benefactress saw her and heard of her no
"We will pass over the events of the next few years. It would hardly
interest you to follow, as I did, each step by which the heroine of my
history progressed ever downward on the path of vice. We find her at last
traveling in Italy under the protection of the Count von Erlenstein, an
Austrian noble of great wealth and dissolute character. She has cast aside
the name she once bore, and, anticipating the jewel-borrowed cognomens of
Cora Pearl and La Reine Topaze, she adopts a title from the profusion of
pink coral jewelry which she habitually wears, and Rose Sherbrooke is
known as Rose Coral."
Horace paused. A short, sharp sound broke the momentary silence: it was
caused by the snapping of one of the gilded fan-sticks under the pressure
of the white, rigid fingers that clasped it. But the listener kept her
face hidden, and but for that convulsive motion the speaker might have
fancied that she slept, so silent and motionless did she remain. After a
short pause Horace continued:
"The attachment of Count von Erlenstein proved to be a lasting one, and we
find Rose Coral at a later period installed in a luxurious establishment
in Vienna, and one of the reigning queens of that realm of many
sovereigns, the _demi-monde_ of the gay capital of Austria. But the count
falls ill; his sickness speedily assumes a dangerous form; his death
deprives Rose Coral of her splendor; and the sunny streets of Vienna know
her fair face no more. I will not retrace for you, as I could do, each
step in her rapid descent from luxury to poverty, from splendor to vice,
from celebrity to ruin. But one day she makes her appearance, under the
name of Rhoda Steele, on board the steamship America, bound for New York.
The state-room which she occupies is shared by a young girl named Marion
Nugent, whose future career is to be that of a governess in the United
States. On the first night out one of the occupants of the state-room is
taken suddenly ill and dies, the corpse is committed to the deep, and it
is reported throughout the ship that the name of the deceased is Rhoda
Steele. The tale was false: it was Marion Nugent who died--it was Rose
Sherbrooke, _alias_ Rose Coral, _alias_ Rhoda Steele, who lived to rob the
dead girl of her effects and to assume her name!"
The broken fan was flung violently to the floor, and Mrs. Rutherford
sprang to her feet, her face livid with passion and her blue eyes blazing
with a steel-like light.
"How dare you come here to assert such falsehoods?" she cried. "You have
always hated me--you and all the rest of your haughty family--because it
pleased Clement Rutherford to marry me--me, a penniless governess. But I
am your sister-in-law, and I _demand _ that you treat me with proper
respect. You came here to-day simply to insult me. Well, sir, I will
summon my husband, and he shall protect me from your insolence."
She turned toward the door as she spoke, but he motioned her back with an
imperative and scornful gesture.
"Softly, Rose Coral," he said, with a sneer: "the manners of the Quartier
Breda are not much to my taste, nor do they suit the character you have
been pleased to assume. Do you think me so void of common sense as to
return home without full proof of your identity? I have in my possession a
large colored photograph of you, taken some years ago by Hildebrandt of
Vienna, and endorsed by him on the back with a certificate stating that it
is an accurate likeness of the celebrated Rose Coral. Secondly, I have
brought home with me two witnesses--one is Jane Sheldon, late housekeeper
for the Rev. Walter Nugent, and formerly nurse to the deceased Marion
Nugent; and the other is a French hairdresser who lived many years in
Vienna, and who, for several months, daily arranged the profuse tresses of
Rose Coral. One will prove who you are _not_, and the other will as
certainly prove who you _are_."
"Who I _was_" she said, defiantly. "I will deny it no longer: I am Rose
Sherbrooke, once known as Rose Coral, and, what is more to the purpose, I
am the wife of Clement Rutherford. Have a care, my brother Horace, lest
you reveal to the world that your immaculate relatives have been touching
pitch of the blackest hue and greatest tenacity. Prove me to be the vilest
of my sex, I remain none the less a wedded wife--your brother's wife--and
I defy you. The game is played out, and I have won it."
She threw herself back in her chair and cast on him a glance of insolent
disdain. Horace Rutherford looked at her with a scornful smile.
"The game is _not_ played out," he said, calmly. "One card remains in my
hand, and I produce it. It is the Ace of Diamonds, and its title is The
Rose of the Morning."
A livid paleness overspread Mrs. Rutherford's features, and a stifled cry
escaped from her lips. She half rose from her seat, but, seeming to
recollect herself, she sank back and covered her face with her hands.
Horace continued, after a momentary pause:
"My investigations into the history of the Count Wilhelm von Erlenstein
during the last years of his life revealed the fact that he had lost the
most valuable of the jewels of his family. It had been stolen. It was a
pink diamond of great size and beauty, known to gem-connoisseurs by the
name of The Rose of the Morning--one of those remarkable stones which have
a history and a pedigree, and which are as well known by reputation to
diamond-fanciers as are Raphael's Transfiguration and the Apollo Belvidere
to the lovers of art. This gem was worn by Count Wilhelm as a clasp to the
plume in his toque at a fancy ball given by one of the Metternich family,
at which he appeared in the costume of Henri III. of France. He afterward,
with culpable carelessness, placed it, amongst his studs, pins,
watch-chains and other similar bijouterie, in a small steel cabinet which
stood in his bed-chamber. His illness and the dismissal of Rose Coral
occurred soon after the fancy ball in question, and it was not till his
heir, the present count, had been for some time in possession of the
estates that it was discovered that the great diamond was missing. It was
not to be found, and suspicion immediately fell upon the late count's
valet, a Frenchman named Antoine Lasalle; who was found to have been
mysteriously possessed of a large sum of money after the count's death. He
was arrested, and it was conclusively proved that he had stolen a number
of valuable trinkets from his dying master, but still no trace of The Rose
of the Morning could be discovered, and Lasalle strenuously denied all
knowledge respecting it. The family offered large rewards for its
recovery, and the detectives of all the large cities of Europe have been
for some time on the alert to discover it, but in vain. As soon as I heard
this story, I thought that I could make a tolerably shrewd guess as to the
whereabouts of the missing jewel; and I caused investigations to be set on
foot in New York by a trusty agent, which resulted in the discovery that
The Rose of the Morning had been sold some six months before to a jeweler
in Maiden lane for about one-twenty-fifth of its value, the peculiar tint
of the stone, and the purchaser's ignorance of the estimation in which it
is held by the gem-fanciers of Europe, having militated against the
magnitude of the valuation set upon it. It was secured for me at a
comparatively trifling price. The person who sold it to the jeweler some
six months ago, in spite of a partial disguise and an assumed name, was
easy to recognize, from the description given, as that lady of many names,
Mrs. John Archer's governess. Now, Rose Coral, what say you? You may be
Mrs. Clement Rutherford, my brother's lawful wife, but you are not the
less a thief and a criminal, for whom the laws have terrible punishment
and bitter degradation."
"This is but a poor invention: where are your proofs?" she cried, looking
up as she spoke, but her faltering voice and quivering lips contradicted
"Here is my chief witness." He drew off his left-hand glove as he spoke,
and extended his hand toward her. On the third finger blazed the beautiful
gem of which he had spoken, its great size and purity fully displayed in
the pale afternoon sunlight that flashed back in rosy radiance from its
"It is almost too large to wear as a ring," he said with great coolness,
looking at the jewel, "but I wish it to run no further risks till I can
transfer it to its lawful owner, which will be as soon as it has played
its talismanic part by freeing my brother from his impostor-wife."
The lady rose from her seat, pale, calm and resolved.
"Further insults are useless, sir," she said. "The game is ended now, and
you have won it. What is it that you wish me to do?"
"You must sail for Europe in one of next week's steamers, leaving behind
you such a confession of guilt as will enable my brother to procure a
divorce without revealing the shameful fact that he was the innocent means
of introducing an impostor--a _ci-devant_ lorette--to his family and
friends as his wife. Better this scandal of an elopement than the horror
of having such a story made public. An income amply sufficient for your
wants will be settled upon you, on condition that you never return to the
United States, and never, in any way, proclaim the fact that Mrs. Clement
Rutherford and Rose Coral were one and the same person."
"I accept your conditions," she said, wearily. "I will go, never to
return. Now leave me. But stay: will you not answer me one question?"
"I will, certainly."
"Who was it that discovered my secret?"
"My mother--my blind mother. Some years ago, before she lost her sight, I
accompanied her on a short European tour, in which we visited England,
France, Switzerland, and finally Italy. While we were at Rome I fell ill
with the fever of the country, and my physicians gave orders that as soon
as I was well enough to travel I should leave Italy for a more bracing
climate. We had not visited Naples, and I was anxious that my mother
should not return home without seeing the wonders of that city; so as soon
as I became convalescent I prevailed upon her to leave me in the care of
some friends and to join a party who were going thither. During her stay
she went frequently to the opera. One evening she was greatly disturbed by
the loud talking and laughing of some persons in the box next to the one
she occupied, and she was much struck with the beauty, the brilliant
toilette and the boisterous conduct of one of the female members of the
party. She inquired the name of the person she had thus remarked. It was
yourself, and she learned not only your name, but your whole history. When
at her own dinner-table she heard the sweet and singular laugh that had so
struck her on that occasion, the sensitiveness of hearing peculiar to the
blind caused her to recognize the sound at once; and the description which
I afterward gave her of your personal appearance only changed torturing
doubt into agonizing certainty."
"Thanks for your courtesy: I will detain you no longer."
Horace bowed and approached the door. Suddenly, as if moved by a sudden
impulse, he turned back.
"Believe me, this task has been a hard one," he said, earnestly. "And
remember, if hereafter you may need pecuniary aid, do not hesitate to
apply to me. For Heaven's sake, do not return to the life you once led.
There was one redeeming feature in the imposture which you practiced: it
showed that some yearning for a pure name and an innocent life was yet
possible to you."
"I want no sermons," she answered, abruptly. "Only leave me at peace. Go:
I am sick of the sight of you."
As he closed the door he cast one parting glance on the room and its
occupant. She stood leaning against the back of a large arm-chair, her
clasped hands resting on the top, and her white, rigid face set in the
fixed calmness of total despair.
Thus left alone, she remained standing for some time as motionless as
though she were a marble statue and not a living woman. Suddenly she
seemed to take some desperate resolve: she threw back her head with a
bitter, mirthless laugh, and going to the bell she rang it. Her maid
"I have a wretched headache, Christine," she said. "I shall not come down
to dinner, and do not disturb me till nine o'clock: that will give me time
enough to dress for Mrs. Winchester's ball. I will wear the pale-blue
satin and my point-lace tunic. Be sure you change the white roses that
loop it for pink ones, and lay out my parure of pearls and diamonds, and
my point-lace fan and handkerchief. Now bring me the two phials that stand
on the third shelf of the closet in my bed-chamber."
Christine departed on her errand and soon returned, bringing with her two
bottles, the smallest of which was labeled "Solution of Morphia--POISON.
Dose for an adult, ten drops;" while the largest Was simply inscribed
"Sulphuric Ether." These she placed on the chimney-piece, and then
proceeded to arrange the cushions of the lounge and to draw the curtains.
"I will now leave madame to her repose," she said. "Does madame need
"No, I shall want nothing more," was the reply. The door closed upon the
maid's retreating form, and Mrs. Rutherford instantly shot the bolt.
She cast a sad and wistful glance around the dainty room and on its
glittering contents. "_J'etais si bien ici_," she said regretfully. "I had
found here the existence which suited me, and now the end has come. It is
not in my nature to remain satisfied with a life of poverty and
respectability, and I will not return to one of degradation and vice. But,
after all, what does it matter? My fate would have found me sooner or
later, and this soft couch is better than a hospital bed or the slabs of
La Morgue: this draught is more soothing than the cold waters of the
Thames or the Seine. Life is no longer a game that is worth the candle:
let us extinguish the lights and put the cards away."
She took up the phial of morphia, drew the little sofa nearer to the
fireplace and extended herself upon it. The daylight faded from the sky
and night came, and with the night came sleep--a sleep whose dream was of
Eternity, and whose wakening light would be the dawn of the resurrection
"Accidental death" was the verdict of the coroner and the newspapers, and,
in fact, of the world in general--a conclusion much assisted by the
evidence of Christine, who testified that her mistress was in the habit of
using narcotics and anaesthetics in large quantities to relieve the pain
of the neuralgic headaches from which she was a constant sufferer. Society
said, "How sad! Dreadful, is it not?" and went on its way--not exactly
rejoicing, for the death of Mrs. Rutherford deprived its members of her
long-promised, long-talked-of Shrove-Tuesday ball, and consequently the
gay world mourned her loss very sincerely for a short time; in fact, till
a well-known leader of fashion announced her intention of giving a
fancy-dress party on the night thus left vacant, whereupon Society was
consoled, and Mrs. Rutherford's sad fate was forgotten.
Only two persons--Horace Rutherford and his mother--suspected that her
death was not an accidental one; but they guarded their secret carefully,
and Clement Rutherford will never learn that his dead wife was other than
the innocent English girl she represented herself to be. Walter Nugent
wrote a pathetic letter to Mrs. Rutherford, begging that a lock of his
lost and now forgiven darling's hair might be sent to him; and it cost
Horace a sharp pang of regret when he substituted for the black, wavy
tress furnished by Clement a golden ringlet purchased from one of the
leading hairdressers of New York.
"Heaven forgive me!" he said to himself, remorsefully, as he sealed the
little packet; "but I really think that this is one of the cases wherein
one cannot be blamed for not revealing the truth."
A few months later, Horace Rutherford stood in Greenwood Cemetery
contemplating with curiosity and interest the inscription on a
recently-erected monument of pure white marble.
"Sacred to the memory of Marion Nugent, beloved wife of Clement