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At the Mercy of Tiberius by Augusta Evans Wilson

Part 4 out of 11

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as regards reflections upon your honor as a gentleman, and your
astuteness as a lawyer."

Her fair face had flushed; his grew pale.

"Leo, is this to be our first quarrel?"

"If so, you are entitled to the role of protagonist."

He put out his left hand, and took hers, while his right was closely
clasping one that lay upon the chintz coverlid.

What strange obliquity of vision, what inscrutable perversity
possessed him, he asked himself, as he looked up at the slight
elegant figure, clad in costly camel's-hair garments, with Russian
sables wrapped about her delicate throat, with a long drifting plume
casting flickering shadows over her sweet flowerlike face; the
attractive embodiment of patrician birth and environment of riches,
and all that the world values most--then down at the human epitome
of wretchedness, represented by a bronze-crowned head, with
singularly magnetic eyes, crimsoned cheeks, and a perfect mouth,
whose glowing, fever-rouged lips were curved in a shadowy smile, as
she muttered incoherently of incidents, connected with the life of a
poverty-stricken adventuress? Was friendly fate flying danger
signals by arranging and accentuating this vivid contrast, in order
to recall his vagrant wits, to cement his wavering allegiance?

He was a brave man, but he shivered slightly, as he confronted his
own insurgent and defiant heart; and involuntarily, his fingers
dropped Leo's, and his right hand tightened on the hot palm
throbbing against it.

On that dark tossing main, where delirium drove Beryl's
consciousness to and fro like a rudderless wreck, did some
mysterious communion of spirits survive? Did some subtle mesmeric
current telegraph her soul, that her foul wrongs were at last
avenged? Whatever the cause, certainly a strangely clear, musical
laugh broke suddenly from her lovely lips, mingled with a triumphant
"Che sara, sara!" The heavy lids slowly drooped, the head turned
wearily away.

Smothering a long drawn sigh, which his pride throttled, Mr. Dunbar
rose and stood beside his fiancee.

"You have been feeling her pulse, how is the fever?" asked Leo.

"About as high as it can mount. The pulse is frightfully rapid. I
did not even attempt to count it."

"Mrs. Singleton tells me she is entirely unconscious--recognizes no
one."

"At times, I think she has partly lucid glimpses; for instance, a
little while ago she called me 'Tiberius', the same appellation she
unaccountably bestowed on me the day of her preliminary examination.
Evidently she associates me with every cruel, brutal monster, and
even in delirium maintains her aversion."

Miss Gordon's hand stole into his, pressing it gently in mute
attestation of sympathy. After a moment, she said in a low tone:

"She is very beautiful. What a noble, pure face? How exquisitely
turned her white throat, and wrists, and hands."

He merely inclined his head in assent.

"It seems a profanation to connect the idea of crime with so lovely
and refined a woman. Lennox?"

He turned, and looked into her brown eyes, which were misty with
tears.

"Well, my dear Leo, what is burdening your generous heart?"

"Do you, can you, believe her guilty? Her whole appearance is a
powerful protest."

"Appearances are sometimes fatally false. I think you told me, that
the purest and loveliest face, guileless as an angel's, that you saw
in Europe, was a portrait of Vittoria Accoramboni; yet she was
veritably the 'White Devil', 'beautiful as the leprosy, dazzling as
the lightning'. Do I believe her guilty? From any other lips than
yours, I should evade the question; but I proudly acknowledge your
right to an expression of my opinion, when--"

"I withdraw the question, because I arrogate no 'rights'. I merely
desire the privilege of sympathizing, if possible, with your views;
of sharing your anxiety in a matter involving such vital
consequences. Privilege is the gift of affection; right, the stern
allotment of law. Tell me nothing now; I shall value much more the
privilege of receiving your confidence unsolicited."

He took both her hands, drew her close to him, and looked steadily
down into her frank tender eyes.

"Thank you, my dear Leo. Only your own noble self could so
delicately seek to relieve me from a painful embarrassment; but our
relations invest you with both rights and privileges, which for my
sake at least, I prefer you should exercise. You must allow me to
conclude my sentence; you are entitled to my opinion--when matured.
As far as I am capable of judging, the evidence against her is--
overwhelmingly condemnatory. I thought so before her arrest;
believed it when her preliminary examination ended, and subsequent
incidents strengthen and confirm that opinion; yet a theory has
dawned upon me, that may possibly lighten her culpability. I need
not tell you, that I feel acutely the responsibility of having
brought her here for trial, and especially of her present pitiable
condition, which causes me sleepless nights. If she should live, I
shall make some investigation in a distant quarter, which may to
some extent exculpate her, by proving her an accessory instead of
principal. My--generous Leo, you shall be the first to whom I
confide my solution--when attained. I am sorely puzzled, and
harassed by conflicting conjectures; and you must be patient with
me, if I appear negligent or indifferent to the privileges of that
lovely shrine where my homage is due."

"If you felt less keenly the distressing circumstances surrounding
you, I should deeply regret my misplaced confidence in your
character; and certainly you must acquit me of the selfishness that
could desire to engross your attention at this juncture."

Desirous of relieving him of all apprehension relative to a possible
misconstruction of his motives and conduct, she left one hand in
his, and laid the other with a caressing touch on his arm; an
unprecedented demonstration, which at any other time would have
surprised and charmed him.

"Ah, what a melancholy sight! So much delicate refined beauty, in
this horrible lair of human beasts! Lennox, let us hope that the
mercy of God will call her speedily to His own bar of justice,
before she suffers the torture and degradation of trial, by earthly
tribunals."

She felt the slight shudder that crept over him, the sudden start
with which he dropped her hand, and bent once more over the cot.

"God forbid she should die now, leaving the burden of her murder on
my soul!"

His countenance was averted, but the ferver of his adjuration filled
her with a vague sense of painful foreboding.

"Is it friendly to desire the preservation of a life, whose probable
goal seems the gallows, or perpetual imprisonment? Poor girl! In the
choice of awful alternatives, death would come here as an angel of
mercy."

Leo took Beryl's hand in hers, and tears filled her eyes as she
noted the symmetry of the snowy fingers, the delicate arch of the
black brows, the exceeding beauty of the waving outline where the
rich mahogany-hued hair touched the forehead and temples, that
gleamed like polished marble.

"Is it friendly to wish an innocent girl to go down into her grave,
leaving a name stained for all time by suspicion, if not absolute
conviction of a horrible crime?"

Mr. Dunbar spoke through set teeth, and Leo's astonishment at the
expression of his countenance, delayed an answer, which was
prevented by the entrance of Mrs. Singleton.

"Miss Gordon, your uncle wishes to know whether you are ready to go
home; as he has an engagement that calls him away?"

Did Leo imagine the look of relief that seemed to brighten Mr.
Dunbar's face, as he said promptly:

"With your permission, I will see you safely down stairs, and commit
you to Judge Dent's care."

Standing beside the cot, she watched Mrs. Singleton measure the
medicine from a vial into a small glass. When the warden's wife
knelt down, and putting one arm under the pillow elevated it
slightly, while she held the glass to the girl's lips, Beryl
attempted to push it aside.

"Take it for me, dear child; it will make you sleep, and ease your
pain."

The beautiful eyes regarded her wistfully, then wandered to the face
of the lawyer and rested, spellbound.

"Here, swallow this. It is not bad to take."

Mrs. Singleton patted her cheek and again essayed to administer the
draught, but without success.

"Let me try."

Mr. Dunbar took the glass, but as he bent down, the girl began to
shiver as though smitten with a mortal chill. She writhed away, put
out her shuddering hands to ward it off; and starting up, her eyes
filled with a look of indescribable horror and loathing, as she
cried out:

"Ricordo! Oh, mother--it is Ricordo! I see, it! Father--it was my
Pegli handkerchief!--with the fuchsias you drew! Father--ask Christ
to pity me!"

She sank back quivering with dread, pitiable to contemplate; but
after a few moments her hands sought each other, and her trembling
lips moved evidently in prayer, though the petition was inaudible.
Mrs. Singleton sponged her forehead with iced water, and by degrees
the convulsive shivering became less violent. The wise nurse began
in a subdued tone to sing slowly, "Nearer my God to Thee," and after
a little while, the sufferer grew still, the heavy lids lifted once
or twice, then closed, and the laboring brain seized on some new
vision in the world of fevered dreams.

Mrs. Singleton took the medicine from the attorney, and put it
aside.

"Sleep is her best physic. When these nervous shivers come on, I
find a hymn chanted, soothes her as it does one of my babies. Poor
child! she makes my heart ache so sometimes, that I want to scream
the pain away. How people with any human nature left in them, can
look at her and listen to her pitiful cries to her dead father, and
her dying mother, and her far-off God, and then believe that her
poor beautiful hands could shed blood, passes my comprehension; and
all such ought to go on four feet, and browse like other brutes. I
am poor, but I vow before the Lord, that I would not stand in your
shoes, Mr. Dunbar, for all the gold in the Government vaults, and
all the diamonds in Brazil."

Tears were dripping on the costly furs about Leo's neck, as she
moved closer to the attorney, and linked her arm in his:

"Mr. Dunbar, we will detain my uncle no longer. Mrs. Singleton has
told me, that one of her children is ill, had a spasm last night;
and since maternal duties are most imperative, it is impossible for
her to give undivided attention to this poor sufferer. If you will
kindly take me down stairs, I will call at the 'Sheltering Arms',
and secure the services of one of the 'Sisters' who is an
experienced nurse. This will relieve Mrs. Singleton, and we shall
all feel assured that our poor girl has careful and tender watching,
and every comfort that anxious sympathy can provide."

CHAPTER XII.

It was midnight in November, keenly cold, but windless; and in the
purplish sky, the wintry crown of stars burned with silvery lustre,
unlike the golden glow of constellations throbbing in sultry summer,
and their white fires sparkled, flared as if blown by interstellar
storms. The large family of Lazarus huddled over dying embers on
darkening hearths, and shivered under scanty shreds of covering; but
the house of Dives was alight with the soft radiance of wax candles,
fragrant with the warm aroma of multitudinous exotics, and brimming
with waves of riotous music, on which merry-hearted favorites of
fashion swam in measured mazes. The "reception" given by Judge
Parkman to the Governor and his staff, on the occasion of a review
of State troops at X--, was at its height; and several counties had
been skimmed for the creme de la creme of most desirable
representatives of wit, wealth and beauty.

Miss Gordon had arrived unusually late, and as she entered the room,
leaning on her uncle's arm, she noticed that Mr. Dunbar was the
centre of a distinguished group standing under the chandelier. He
was gently fanning his hostess, who stood beside the Governor, and
evidently he was narrating some spicy incident, or uttering some
pungent witticism, whereat all laughed heartily. The light fell full
on his fine figure, which rose above all surrounding personages, and
was faultlessly apparelled in evening dress; and Leo's heart filled
with tender pride, at the consciousness that he was all her own. The
exigencies of etiquette prevented for more than an hour any nearer
approach, but when Mr. Dunbar had rendered "Caesar's things" to
social Caesar, and paid tribute of bows, smiles, compliments and
persiflage into the coffer of custom, he made his way through the
throng, to the spot where his betrothed stood resting after her
third dance.

"Will Miss Gordon grant me a promenade in lieu of the dance, which
misfortunes conspired to prevent me from securing earlier in the
evening?"

He drew her hand under his arm, and his eyes ran with proprietorial
freedom over the details of her costume, pale blue satin, creamy
foam of white lace, soft sheen of large pearls, and bouquet of
exquisite half blown La France roses.

Since their betrothal, he had claimed the privilege of sending the
flowers she wore, on special occasions, and she had invariably
expressed her appreciation through the dainty lips of a boutonniere
arranged by her own fingers. Now while he recognized the roses
resting on her corsage, her eyes dwelt on her favorite double lilac
violets, nestling in the buttonhole of his coat.

"You were very late to-night. I loitered in ambush about the
precincts of the dressing-room, hoping for the pleasure of
conducting you down-stairs; but 'the best laid schemes o' mice and
men gang aft aglee', and I became the luckless prey of similar
tactics. That marauding Tomyris, Mrs. Halsey, sallied out at the
head of her column of daughters, espied me lurking behind the
portiere, and proclaiming her embarras de richesse, 'paid me the
compliment' of consigning one fair campaigner, Miss Eloise Hermione,
to my care. Fancy the strain on courtesy, as I accepted my 'quite
unexpected good fortune'!"

He spoke with a nervous rapidity, at variance with his usual
imperturbable deliberateness of manner, and she thought she had
never seen his eyes so restless and brilliant.

"I was unusually late, owing to the fact that the Governor and staff
dined with Uncle Mitchell, and they lingered so long over their
cigars and wine, that I was delayed in the drawing-room, waiting for
them; consequently was very late in changing my dress. We were sorry
you were prevented from joining us. Uncle pronounced the dinner a
perfect success; and certainly Governor Glenbeigh was in his
happiest mood, and particularly agreeable."

"Given his hostess, and entourage, could he possibly have been less?
Rumor's hundred tongues wag with the announcement, that his
Excellency is no longer inconsolable for his wife's death; and
desires to testify to the happiness of conjugal relations, by a
renewal of the sweet bondage; a curiously subtile compliment to the
deceased. If I may be pardoned the enormity of the heresy, I think
Shakspeare blundered supremely, when he gave Iago's soul to a man.
Diabolical cunning, shrewd malevolence pure and simple, armed with
myriads of stings for hypodermic incisions that poison a man's
blood, should be appropriately costumed in a moss-green velvet robe,
should wear frizzled bangs as yellow as yonder bouquet of Marechal
Neils, so suggestive of the warning flag flying over pest-houses!"

"It is very evident you are not equally generous in surrendering the
amiability of Timon, along with the depravity of Iago, to the
arsenal of feminine weapons. What corroding mildew of discontent has
fallen from Mrs. Parkman's velvet dress, and rusted the bright blade
of your chivalry?"

"The very breath of Iago, filling my ears and firing my heart with
the architectural details of her coveted 'castle in Spain.'
Glenbeigh is her cousin. The ladder of his preferment is set up
before my eyes, and his Excellency springs up the rounds, from
Governor to Senatorship, thence to a place in the Cabinet, certainly
to an important foreign embassy; where, in the eternal fitness of
things, somebody, somebody with tender brown eyes like a thrush's,
and the voice of a siren, and the red lips of Hebe--will be invited
to reign as l'ambassadrice! If I am not as mad with jealous despair
as Othello, attribute my escape either to a sublime faith in your
adorable constancy and incorruptibility, or to my own colossal
vanity, fatuous beyond absolution."

He pressed her arm closer to his side, and covered with one hand the
gloved fingers resting on his sleeve; then added:

"You must permit me to congratulate you upon your beautiful toilette
to-night. The harmony of the dress, and the grace of the wearer
leave nothing to be desired. Although debarred the pleasure of
dining with you, I had hoped to enter, at least, with the coffee,
but the freight train upon which I returned, was delayed; and I had
no choice but to await your arrival here."

He indulged so rarely in verbal compliments, that she flushed with
profound gratification at flip fervor of his tone.

"I am glad you like my dress, to which your roses lend the loveliest
garniture. I was not aware that X--could furnish at this season such
superb La France buds. Where did you find them?"

"They travelled several hundred miles, for the privilege of nestling
against my Leo's heart."

Spartan thieves are not the only heroic sufferers who smile and make
no moan, clasping close the hidden fangs ravening on their vitals.

"As you mentioned in your note that very important business had
called you unexpectedly away, I hope your mission proved both
pleasant and successful."

A shadow drifted over his countenance, like that cast by some summer
cloud long becalmed, which sets sail before a sudden gust.

"Only a modicum of success to counterbalance the disagreeable
features of a journey in a freight train caboose."

"Why do you hazard that dangerous schedule, instead of waiting for
the passenger express?"

"Business exigencies narrow the limits of choice; moreover, had I
waited for the express, I should have missed the coveted pleasure of
this meeting with you. The rosy glamour of happy anticipation
conquers even the discomfort of a freight caboose."

Did she suspect that some sullen undercurrent of intense feeling
drove these eddying foam bells of flattery into the stream of
conversation; or was her reply merely a chance ricochet shot, more
accurately effective than direct fire?

"This afternoon I had a note from Sister Serena, asking for a few
articles conducive to the comfort of a sick room; and I really
cannot determine whether we should feel regret, or relief at the
tidings that that unfortunate girl--can scarcely--"

"Spare me the Egyptian mummy at my feast! The memento mori when I
would fain forget. Let me inhale the perfume of your roses, without
hearing that possibly a worm battens on their petals. Will you ride
with me tomorrow afternoon?"

"I am sorry that an engagement to dine will prevent, as the
afternoons are so short."

"Are you going to the Percy's?"

"Yes. Will you not be there?"

"Too bad! I have just declined attending that dinner, because I had
planned the horseback ride. Formerly fate seemed to smile upon me;
now she shows herself a scowling capricious beldam. I have lost this
evening, waiting to see you, and now, I must steal away unnoticed;
because of an important matter which admits of no delay. Have you
promised to dance with Mayfield? Here he comes. Good-night, my dear
Leo, expect to see me at 'The Lilacs' at the earliest possible
moment."

Unobserved he made his escape, and hurried away. At a livery stable
he stopped to order his horse saddled, and brought to his door, and
a few moments later, stood before the grate in his law office, where
the red glow of the coals had paled under ashy veils. From the
letter-rack over the mantel, he took a note containing only a line:

"She has reached the crisis. We have no hope."
"SINGLETON."

In the hot embers, it smoked, shrivelled, disappeared; and the
attorney crossed his arms over his chest to crush back the heavy
sigh struggling for escape. The long overcoat buttoned from throat
to knee, enhanced his height, and upon his stern, handsome features
had settled an expression of sorrowful perplexity; while his keen
eyes showed the feverish restlessness that, despite his efforts,
betrayed heartache. Above the heads of the gay throng he had just
left, he had seen all that evening a slender white hand beckoning to
him from the bars of a dungeon; and dominating the music of the ball
room, the laughter of its dancers, had risen the desperate, accusing
cry:

"You have ruined my life!"

Was it true, that his hand had dashed a foul blot of shame upon the
fall pure page of a girl's existence, and written there the fatal
finis? If she died, could he escape the moral responsibility of
having been her murderer? Amid the ebb and flow of conflicting
emotions, one grim fact stared at him with sardonic significance. If
he had ruined her life, retribution promptly exacted a costly
forfeit; and his happiness was destined to share her grave.

He neither analyzed nor understood the nature of the strange
fascination which he had ineffectually striven to resist; and he
ground his teeth, and clinched his hands with impotent rage, under
the stinging and humiliating consciousness that his unfortunate
victim had grappled his heart to hers, and would hold it forever in
bondage. No other woman had ever stirred the latent and unsuspected
depths of his tenderness; but at the touch of her hand, the flood
burst forth, sweeping aside every barrier of selfish interest,
defying the ramparts of worldly pride. Guilty or innocent, he loved
her; and the wretchedness he had inflicted, was recoiling swiftly
upon himself.

Unbuttoning his overcoat, he took from an inside pocket, the torn
half of a large envelope, and unlocking the drawer of his desk,
hunted for a similar fragment. Spreading them out before him, he
fitted the zigzag edges with great nicety, and there lay the well-
known superscription: "Last Will and Testament of Robert Luke
Darrington." One corner of the last found bit was brown and mud-
stained, but the handwriting was in perfect preservation. As he
stooped to put it all back in a secret drawer, something fell on the
floor. He picked up the dainty boutonniere of pale sweet violets,
and looked at it, while a frown darkened his countenance, as though
he recognized some plenipotentiary pleading for fealty to a sacred
compact.

"Poor Leo! how little she suspects disloyalty. How infinite is her
trust, and what a besotted ingrate I am!"

He tossed the accusing flowers into the grate, took his riding-whip
and went down to the door, where his horse was champing the bit, and
pawing with impatience. Along the deserted streets, out of the
sleeping town, he rode toward the long stone bridge that spanned the
winding river. When he had reached the centre, his horse darted
aside, because of the sudden leap of a black cat from the coping of
the nearest pier, whence she sped on, keeping just ahead of him. The
spectral sickle of a waning moon hung on the edge of the sky, and up
and down the banks of the stream floated phantoms of silvery mist,
here covering the water with impalpable wreaths, and there drifting
away to enable Andromeda to print her starry image on the glassy
surface.

Behind stretched the city, marked by lines of gas lamps; in front
rose the hill clothed with forests; and frowning down upon the
rider, the huge shadow of the dismal dungeon crouched like a
stealthy beast ready to spring upon him. Dark as the deeds of its
inmates, the mass of stone blotted the sky, save in one corner,
where a solitary light shone through iron lattice work. Was it a
beacon of hope, or did the rays fall on features cold under the kiss
of death?

Spurring his horse up the rocky hill, Mr. Dunbar was greeted by the
baying of two bloodhounds within the enclosure; and soon after, Mr.
Singleton conducted him up the steps leading to the room where Beryl
had been placed.

"She is alive; that is all. The doctor said she could not last till
midnight, but it is now half-past one; and my wife has never lost
hope. She has sent the nurse off to get some sleep, and you will
find Susie in charge."

The hazel eyes of the gaoler's wife were humid with tears, as she
glanced up at the attorney, and motioned him to the low chair she
vacated.

"I knew you would come, and when I heard you gallop across the
bridge, I sent Sister Serena off to bed. There is nothing to be done
now, but watch and pray. If she ever wakes in this world she will be
rational, and she will get well. The nurse thinks she will pass away
in this stupor; but I have faith that she will not die, until she
clears her name."

Nature makes some women experts in the fine art of interpreting
countenance and character, and by a mysterious and unerring
divination, Mrs. Singleton knew that her visitor desired no
companion in his vigils; hence, after flitting about the room for a
few moments, she added:

"If you will sit here a while, I can look after my babies. Should
any change occur, tap at my door; I shall not be long away."

What a melancholy change in the sleeper, during the few days of his
absence; how much thinner the hollow cheek, how sunken the closed
eyes; how indescribably sharpened the outlines of each feature. The
face which had formerly suggested some marble statue, had now the
finer tracery as of an exquisite cameo; and oblivion of all earthly
ills had set there the seal of a perfect peace. She lay so
motionless, with her hands on her breast, that Mr. Dunbar bent his
head close to hers, to listen to her respiration; but no sound was
audible, and when his ear touched her lips, their coldness sent a
shiver of horror through his stalwart frame. Pure as the satin folds
of an annunciation lily pearled with dew, was the smooth girlish
brow, where exhaustion hung heavy drops; and about her temples the
damp hair clung in glossy rings, framing the pallid, deathlike face.

At her wrist, the fluttering thread eluded his grasp, and kneeling
beside the cot, he laid his head down on her breast, dreading to
find no pulsation; but slow and faint, he felt the tired heart beat
feebly against his cheek; and tears of joy, that reason could
neither explain nor justify, welled up and filled his eyes. Leaning
his head on her pillow, he took one hand between both his, and
watched the profound sleep that seemed indeed twin sister of death.

Softened by distance came the deep mellow sound of the city clock
striking two. Down among the willows fringing the river bank, some
lonely water-fowl uttered its plaintive cry, whereat the bloodhounds
bayed hoarsely; then velvet-sandalled silence laid her soothing
touch upon the world, and softly took all nature into her restful
arms.

In the searching communion which he held with his own heart, during
that solemn watch, Mr. Dunbar thrust aside all quibbles and
disguises, and accepted as unalterable, two conclusions.

She was innocent of crime, and he loved her; but she knew who had
committed the murder, and would suffer rather than betray the
criminal. The conjecture that she was shielding a lover, was
accompanied by so keen a pang of jealous pain, that it allowed him
no room to doubt the nature or intensity of the feeling which she
had inspired.

In her wan loveliness, she seemed as stainless as a frozen snowdrop,
and while his covetous gaze dwelt upon her he felt that he could lay
her in her coffin now, with less suffering, than see her live to
give her brave heart to any other man. To lift her spotless and
untrampled from the mire of foul suspicion, where his hand had
hurled her, was the supreme task to which he proposed to devote his
energies; but selfishness was the sharpest spur; she must be his,
only his, otherwise he would prefer to see her in the arms of death.

So the night waned; and twice, when the warden's wife stole to the
door, he lilted his head and waved her back. When the clock in the
tower struck four, he felt a slight quiver in the fingers lying
within his palm, and Beryl's face turned on the pillow, bringing her
head against his shoulder. Was it the magnet of his touch drawing
her unconsciously toward him, or merely the renewal of strength,
attested already by the quickened throb of the pulse that beat under
his clasp? By degrees her breathing became audible to his strained
ear, and once a sigh, such as escapes a tired child, told that
nature was rallying her physical forces, and that the tide was
turning. Treacherous to his plighted troth, and to the trusting
woman whom he had assiduously wooed and won, he yielded to the
hungry yearning that possessed him, and suddenly pressed his lips to
Beryl's beautiful mouth. Under that fervent touch, consciousness
came back, and the lids lifted, the dull eyes looked into his with
drowsy wonder. Stepping swiftly to the door which stood ajar, he met
Mrs. Singleton, and put his hand on her shoulder.

"She is awake, and will soon be fully conscious, but perfect quiet
is the only safeguard against relapse. When she remembers, leave her
as much alone as possible, and answer no questions."

Holding her baby on her breast, Mrs. Singleton whispered:

"Put out the lamp, so that she can see nothing to remind her."

As he took his hat, and put his hand on the lamp, he looked back at
the cot, and saw the solemn eyes fixed upon him. He extinguished the
light, and passed into the room where Susie Singleton stood waiting.

"She will not know Sister Serena, and for a day or two I will keep
out of sight when she is awake. Mr. Dunbar, God has done His part,
now see that you do yours. Have you found out who 'Ricordo' is?"

"Certainly, it is a thing; not a person. As yet the word has given
no aid."

"Then you have discovered nothing new during your absence?"

"Yes, I have found the missing half of the envelope which contained
General Darrington's will; but ask me no questions at present. For
her sake, I must work quietly. Send me a note at twelve o'clock,
that I may know her exact condition, and the opinion of the doctor.
Has nothing been heard from Dyce?"

"As far as I know, not a syllable."

They shook hands, and once more Mr. Dunbar sprang into his saddle.
Overhead the constellations glowed like crown jewels on black
velvet, but along the eastern horizon, where the morning-star
burned, the sky had blanched; and the air was keen with the
additional iciness that always precedes the dawn. Earth was powdered
with rime, waiting to kindle into diamonds when the sun smote its
flower crystals, and the soft banners of white fog trailed around
the gray arches and mossy piers of the old bridge. At a quick gallop
Mr. Dunbar crossed the river, passed through the heart of the city,
and slackened his pace only when he found himself opposite the
cemetery, on the road leading to "Elm Bluff." As the iron gate
closed behind him, he walked his horse, up the long avenue, and when
he fastened him to the metal ring in the ancient poplar, which stood
sentinel before the deserted House, the deep orange glow that paves
the way for coming suns, had dyed all the sky, blotting out the
stars; and the new day smiled upon a sleeping world. The peacock
perched upon the balustrade of the terrace greeted him vociferously,
and after some moments his repeated knock was answered by the
cautious opening of the front door, and Bedney's gray head peered
out.

"Lord--Mars Lennox! Is it you? What next? 'Pears to me, there's
nothing left to happen; but howsomever, if ther's more to come, tell
us what's to pay now?"

"Bedney, I want you to help me in a little matter, where your
services may be very valuable; and as it concerns your old master's
family, I am sure you will gladly enter into my plan--"

"Bless your soul, Mars Lennox, you are too good a lieyer to be shore
of anything, but the undertaker and the tax collector. I am so old
and broke down in sperrits, that you will s'cuse me from undertaking
of any jobs, where I should be obleeged to pull one foot out'en the
grave before I could start. I ain't ekal to hard work now, and like
the rest of wore-out stock, I am only worth my grabs in old fields."

Sniffing danger, Bedney warily resolved to decline all overtures, by
taking refuge in his decrepitude; but the attorney's steady
prolonged gaze disconcerted him.

"You have no interest, then, in discovering the wretch who murdered
your master? That is rather suspicious."

"What ain't 'spicious to you, Mars Lennox? It comes as natchal to
you to 'spicion folks, as to eat or sleep, and it's your trade. You
believe I know something that I haven't tole; but I swear I done
give up everything to Mars Alfred; and if my heart was turned inside
out, and scraped with a fine-tooth comb, it wouldn't be no cleaner
than what it is. I know if I was lying you would ketch me, and I
should own up quick; 'cause your match doesn't go about in human
flesh; but all the lancets and all the doctors can't git no blood
out'en a turnup."

"You are quite willing, then, to see General Darrington's
granddaughter suffer for the crime?"

"'Fore Gord! Mars Lennox, you don't tote fair! 'Pears to me you are
riding two horses. Which side is you on?"

"Always on the side of justice and truth, and it is to help your
poor young mistress that I came to see you; but it seems you are too
superannuated to stretch out your hand and save her."

"Ain't you aiming to prove she killed old marster? That's what you
sot out to do; and tarrapin's claws are slippery, compared to your
grip, when you take holt."

The old negro stood with his white head thrown back, and unfeigned
perplexity printed on his wrinkled features, while he scanned the
swart face, where a heavy frown gathered.

"I set out this morning to find a faithful, old family servant,
whose devotion has never before been questioned; but evidently I
have wasted my confidence as well as my time. Where is Dyce? She is
worth a hundred superannuated cowards."

"Don't call no names, Mars Lennox. If there's one mean thing I
nachally despises as a stunnin' insult, it's being named white-
livered; and my Confederate record is jest as good as if I wore
three gilt stars on my coat collar. You might say I was a liar and a
thief, and maybe I would take it as a joke; but don't call Bedney
Darrington no coward! It bruises my feelins mor'n I'le stand. Lem'me
tell you the Gord's truth; argufying with lie-yers is wuss than
shootin' at di-dappers, and that is sport I don't hanker after. I
ain't spry enuff to keep up with the devil, when you are whipping
him around the stump; and I ain't such a forsaken idjut as to jump
in the dark. Tell me straight out what you want me to do. Tote fair,
Mars Lennox."

"I am about to offer a reward of two hundred and fifty dollars, and
I thought I would allow you privately the opportunity of securing
the money, before I made it public. Where is Dyce?"

"You might as well ax the man in the moon. The only satisfaction she
gin me when she left home, was--she was gwine to New York to hunt
for Miss Ellie. I tole her she was heading for a wild goose chase,
and her answer signified she was leaving all of them fowls behind.
If she was here, she'd be only a 'clean chip in your homny pot'; for
she wouldn't never touch your job with a forty-foot pole, and what's
more, she'd tie my hands. I ain't afeard of my ole 'oman, but I
respects her too high to cross her; and if ever you git married, you
will find it's a mighty good rule to 'let sleeping dogs lay'. Who do
you expect me to ketch for two hundred and fifty dollars?"

"A lame negro man, about medium size, who was seen carrying a bundle
on the end of a stick, and who was hanging about the railroad
station on the night of General Darrington's death. He probably
lives on some plantation south of town, as he was travelling in that
direction, after the severe storm that night. I want him, not
because he had any connection with your master's murder, but to
obtain from him a description of a strange white man, whom he
directed to the railroad water-tank. If you can discover that lame
negro, and bring him to my office, I will pay you two hundred and
fifty dollars, and give him a new suit of clothes. The only hope for
General Darrington's granddaughter is in putting that man on the
witness stand, to corroborate her statement of a conversation which
she heard. This is Wednesday. I will give you until Saturday noon to
report. If you do not succeed I shall then advertise. If you wish to
save Miss Brentano, help me to find that man."

He swung himself into the saddle, and rode away, leaving Bedney
staring after him, in pitiable dubiety as to his own line of duty.

"Wimmen are as hard to live peaceable with as a hatful of hornets,
but the'r brains works spryer even than the'r tongues; and they do
think as much faster 'an a man, as a express train beats er eight
ox-team. Dyce is the safest sign-post! If she was only here now, I
couldn't botch things, for she sees clare through a mill-stone, and
she'd shove me the right way. If I go a huntin', I may flounder into
a steel trap; if I stand still, wuss may happen. Mars Lennox is too
much for me. I wouldn't trust him no further 'n I would a fat
possum. I am afeard of his oily tongue. He sot out to hang that poor
young gal, and now he is willing to pay two hundred and fifty
dollars to show the court he was a idjut and a slanderer! I ain't
gwine to set down on no such spring gun as that! Dyce ought to be
here. When Mars Lennox turns summersets in the court, before the
judge, I don't want to belong to his circus--but, oh Lord! If I
could only find out which side he raily is on?"

CHAPTER XIII.

During the early stages of her convalescence, Beryl, though
perfectly rational, asked no questions, made no reference to her
gloomy surroundings and maintained a calm, but mournful taciturnity,
very puzzling to Mrs. Singleton, who ascribed it at first to mental
prostration, which rendered her comparatively obtuse; but ere long,
a different solution presented itself, and she marvelled at the
silence with which a desperate battle was fought. With returning
consciousness, the prisoner had grasped the grievous burden of her
fate, unflinchingly lifted and bound it upon her shoulders; and
though she reeled and bent under it, made no moan, indulged no
regret, uttered no invective.

One cold dismal day, when not a rift was visible in the leaden sky,
and a slanting gray veil of sleety rain darkened the air and pelted
the dumb, shivering earth, Beryl sat on the side of her cot, with
her feet resting on the round of a chair, and her hands clasped at
the back of her head. Her eyes remarkably large from the bluish
circles illness had worn beneath them, were fixed in a strained,
unwinking, far-away gaze upon the window, where black railing showed
the outside world as through some grim St. Lawrence's gridiron.

From time to time the warden's wife glanced from her sewing toward
the motionless figure, reluctant to obtrude upon her revery, yet
equally loath to leave her a prey to melancholy musing. After a
while, she saw the black lashes quiver, and fall upon the waxen
cheeks, then, as she watched, great tears glittered, rolled slowly,
dripped softly, but there was no sigh, no sound of sobs. Leaning
closer, she laid her arm across the girl's knee.

"What is it, dearie? Tell me."

There was no immediate reply; when Beryl spoke, her voice was calm,
low and measured, as in one where all the springs of youth, hope,
and energy are irreparably broken.

"Every Gethsemane has its strengthening Angels. The agony of the
Garden brought them to Christ. I thank God, mine did not fail me. If
they had not come, I think I could never have borne this last misery
that earth can inflict upon me. My mother is dead."

"Why distress yourself with sad forebodings? Weakness makes you
despondent, but you must try to hope for the best; and I dare say in
a few days, you will have good news from your mother."

"I shook hands with Hope, and in her place sits the only companion
who will abide with me during the darkness that is coming on--
Patience, pale-browed, meek-eyed, sad-lipped Patience. If I can only
keep my hold upon her skirts, till the end. To me, no good news can
ever come. As long as mother lived, I had an incentive to struggle;
now I am alone, and they who thirst for my blood are welcome to take
it speedily. I know my mother is dead; I have seen her."

"Wake up, child. Your brain is weak yet and full of queer delirious
visions, and when you doze, realities and dreams are all jumbled
together. You have a deal too much sense to harbor any crazy
spiritual crankiness. Take your wine, and lie down. You have sat up
too long, and tired yourself."

"No. I have wanted to tell you for several days, because you have
been so good, and I have heard you praying here at night that God
would be merciful to me; but I waited until I had strength to be
calm. I have lain here day after day, and night after night, face to
face with desolation and despair, and now I have grown accustomed to
the horror. I know that in this world there is no escape, no help,
no hope; so--the worst is over. When you consent to fate, and
stretch out your arms to meet death, there is no more terror, only
waiting, weary waiting. I am not superstitious, and unfortunately I
am not one of the victims of dementia, whose spectral woes are born
of disordered brains. I am sadly sane; and what I am about to tell
you is no figment of feverish fancy. I do not know how long I have
been sick, but one night great peace and ease came suddenly upon me.
I swung in some soft tender arms, close to the gates of Release, and
the iron bars melted away, and my soul was borne toward the
wonderful light; but suddenly a shock, a strange thrill ran through
me, and the bars rose again, and the light faded. Then all at once
my father and my mother stood beside me, bent over me. Father said:
'Courage, my daughter, courage! Bear your cross a little longer,' My
mother wept, and said, 'My good little girl. So faithful, so true. I
died in peace, trusting your promise. For my sake can you endure
till the end?' They faded away; and sorrow sat down once more,
clutching my heart; and death, the Angel who keeps the key of the
Gate of Release, turned his back upon me. I had almost escaped; I
was close to the other world, and I was conscious. I saw my mother's
spirit; it was no delirious fancy. I know that she is dead. Even in
the world of the released, she grieves over the awful consequences
of my obedience to her wishes. Mortal agony of body and soul brings
us so near to the borderland, that we have glimpses; and those we
love, lean across the boundary line and compassionate us. So my
Gethsemane called down the one strengthening Angel of all the
heavenly hosts, who had most power to comfort my heart, and gird me
for my fate, my father, my noble father. God, in pity, sent him to
exhort me to bear my cross bravely."

The low solemn voice ceased, and in the silence that followed, only
the dull patter of the rain, and the persistent purring of a kitten
curled up on the cot were audible. Mrs. Singleton finished the
buttonhole in Dick's apron, and threaded her needle.

"If it comforts you at all to believe that, I have no right to say
anything."

"You think, however, that I am the victim of some hallucination?"

"Not even that. I think you had a very vivid dream, and being
exhausted, you mistook a feverish vision for a real apparition. I
can't believe your mother is dead, because if such were the case,
Dyce would have returned at once, and told us."

"Dyce has a kind heart, and shrinks from bringing me the sad news;
for she knows my cup was already full. I know that my mother is
dead. Time will show you that I make no mistake. The veil was
lifted, and I saw beyond."

"Maybe so; may be not. I am stubborn in my opinions, and I never
could think it possible for flesh to commune with spirits. Don't let
us talk about anything that disturbs you, until you regain your
strength. Why will you not try a little of this port wine? Miss
Gordon brought it yesterday, and insisted I should give it to you,
three times a day. It is very old and mellow. Look at things
practically. God kept you alive for some wise purpose, and since you
are obliged to face trouble, is it not better to arm yourself with
all the physical vigor possible? Drink this, and lie down."

As Beryl mechanically drained the glass and handed it back, Mrs.
Singleton added:

"I believe I told you, Miss Gordon is Mr. Dunbar's sweetheart. Their
engagement is no secret, and he is a lucky man; for she is as good
as she is pretty, and as sweet as she is rich. She has shown such a
tender interest in you, and manifests so much sympathy, that I am
sure she will influence him in your favor, and I feel so encouraged
about your future."

A shadowy smile crossed the girl's wan face,

"Invest no hope in my future; for escape is as impossible for me, as
for that innocent victim foreordained to entangle his horns in the
thicket on Mount Moriah. He could have fled from the sacrificial
fire, and from Abraham's uplifted knife, back to dewy green pastures
poppy-starred, back to some cool dell where Syrian oleanders flushed
the shade, as easily as I can defy these walls, loosen the chain of
fate, elude my awful doom."

"It is because you are not yet yourself, that you take such a
despairing view of matters. After a while, things will look very
different, and you are too plucky to surrender your life without a
brave fight. A great change has come over Mr. Dunbar, and there is
no telling what he cannot do, when he sets to work. If ever a
lawyer's heart has been gnawed by remorse, it is his. He and Miss
Gordon together can pull you out of the bog, and I believe they
will."

"Mr. Dunbar's professional reputation is more precious in his sight
than a poor girl's life; moreover, even if he desired to undo his
work, he could not. I am beyond human succor. Fate nails me to a
cross, but God consents; so I make no struggle, for behind fate
stands God--and my father."

Wearily she leaned back on her pillows, and turned her face to the
wall. Mrs. Singleton drew the blankets over her, folded her own
shawl about the shoulders, and smoothing away the hair, kissed her
on the temple; then stole into the adjoining room, where her
children slept.

Before the fire that leaped and crackled in the wide chimney, and
leaning forward to rest her turbaned head against the mantelpiece,
while she spread her hands toward the blaze, stood a much muffled
figure.

"Dyce!"

Mrs. Singleton had left the door ajar, and the old woman turned and
pointed to it, laying one finger on her lips; but the warning came
too late.

"Hush! I don't want her to know I am here. Your husband told me she
was sitting up, and in her right mind, but too weak to stand any
more trouble. I wish I could run away, and never see her again, for
when I go in there, I feel like I was carrying a knife to cut the
heart out of a fawn, what the hounds had barely left life in. I
can't bear the thought of having to tell her--"

Dyce covered her face with her shawl, to stifle her sobs, and her
large frame shook. Mrs. Singleton whispered:

"Tell me quick. What is it."

"Miss Ellie is dead. I got there three days after she was buried."

The warden's wife sank into a chair, and drew the weeping negro into
one beside her.

"Do you know exactly what time she died?"

"Yes--I had it all put down in black and white. She died on Tuesday
night, just as the clock struck two; and the hospital nurse says--
Lord, amercy, Miss Susan! are you going to faint? You have turned
ashy!"

As Mrs. Singleton's thoughts recurred to the fact that it was at
that hour that Beryl lay in the stupor of the crisis, from which she
awoke perfectly conscious, and recalled the dream that the sick girl
held as a vision, she felt a vague but bewildering dread seize her
faculties, in defiance of cool reason, and scoffing scepticism.

"Go on, Dyce. I felt a little sick. Tell me--"

She paused and listened to an unusual and inexplicable noise issuing
from the next room; the harsh sound of something scraping the bare
floor.

"You must pick your time to break this misery to that poor young
thing. I can't do it. I would run a mile sooner than face her with
the news, that her ma is dead; and I have grieved and cried, till I
feel like my brains had been put in a pot and biled. The Lord knows
His bizness, of course; yes, of course He knows the best to do; but
'pears to me, His mercy hid its face behind His wrath, when He saw
fit to let that poor innercent young creetur in there get well,
after her ma was laid in the grave. It will be a harder heart than
mine what can stand by, and tell her she is motherless."

"There is no need to tell her. She knows it."

"How? Did she get the letter the Doctor said he wrote?"

"No. She thinks her mother--"

The noise explained itself. Too feeble to walk alone, Beryl had
pushed a chair before her, until she reached the door, and now stood
grasping it, swaying to and fro, as she endeavored to steady
herself. One hand held at her throat the black shawl, whose loosened
folds fell like a mourning mantle to her feet, the other clutched
the door, against the edge of which she leaned for support.

"Dyce, I have known for some days that I have no mother in this
world. I have seen her. Your kind heart dreads giving me pain, but
nothing can hurt me now. I cannot suffer any more, because I am
bruised and beaten to numbness. I want to see you alone; I want to
know everything."

At sight of her, the old woman darted forward and caught the tall,
wasted, tottering form in her strong arms. Lifting her as though she
had been a child, she bore her back to her small bleak room, laid
her softly on her cot, then knelt down, and burst into a fit of
passionate crying.

As if to shut out some torturing vision, Beryl clasped her hands
over her eyes, and when she spoke, her voice was very unsteady:

"Did you see mother alive?"

"Oh, honey, I was too late! I was three days too late to see her at
all. When I got to New York, and found the Doctor's house, he was
not at home; had just gone to Boston a half hour before I rung the
bell. His folks couldn't tell me nothin', so I had to wait two days.
When I give him your note, he looked dreadful cut up, and tole me
Miss Ellie had all the care and 'tention in the world, but nothin'
couldn't save her. He said she didn't suffer much, but was 'lirious
all the time, until the day before she died, when all of a sudden
her mind cleared. Then she axed for you, honey--God bless you, my
poor lamb! I hate to harrify your heart. The Doctor comforted her
all he could, and tole her bizness of importance had done kept you
South. Miss Ellie axed how long she could live; he said only a few
hours. She begged him to prop her up, so she could write a few
words. He says he held the paper for her, and she wrote a little,
and rested; and then she wrote a little mere and fell back
speechless. He pat the piece of paper in a invellop and sealed it,
and axed her if she wished it given to her daughter Beryl. She
couldn't talk then, but she looked at him and nodded her head. That
was about four o'clock in the evening of Tuesday. She had a sort of
spasm, and went to sleep. At two o'clock, she woke up in Heaven. He
said he felt so sorry for you--dear lamb! He wouldn't let them burry
her where most was hurried that died in the hospital. He had her
laid away in his own lot in some graveyard, where his childun was
burried, 'till he could hear from you. He tole me, she was tenderly
handled, and everything was done as you would have wanted it; and he
cut off some of the beautiful hair--and--"

Dyce smothered her sobs in the bedclothes, but Beryl lay like a
stone image.

"Oh, honey! It jest splits my heart in two, to tell you all this--"

"Go on, Dyce."

"The doctor gin me a note to the nuss at the hospital, what 'tended
the ward Miss Ellie was in, and I got all her clothes, and packed
'em in a box and brought 'em home. She told me pretty much what the
doctor had said, only she was shore your ma spoke jest before she
died, and called twice--'Ignace! Ignace!' She said she was beautiful
as a angel and her hair was a wonder to all who saw her, it was so
long and so lovely. She tole me the doctor hissef put a big bunch of
white carnations and tuberoses in her hand, after they put her in
the coffin, and she looked like a queen. The doctor wrote you a
letter 'splainin' everything, and sent it to the postmaster here. He
seemed dreadfull grieved and 'stonished when I tole him how I had
left you, and said if he could help you, he would be very glad to do
it. I tole him we would pay his bill, as soon as this here trial
bizness was over; and he answered: 'Tut--tut; bill indeed! That poor
unfortunate girl need never worry over any bill of mine. I did all I
could for her mother, but the best of us fail sometimes. Tell that
poor child to come and see me, as soon as she gets out of the
clutches of those fire-eating devils down South.' Honey, I couldn't
be satisfied without seeing for myself, where they had laid my dear
young mistiss. I got 'rections from the doctor, and I spent good
part of a day huntin' the cemetery, and at last a man in a uniform
showed me Doctor Grantlin's lot. Oh, my lamb! That was the first and
only comfort I had, when I stood in front of that grand lovely
marble potico--with great angels kneeling on the four corners, and
knew my dear young mistiss was resting in such a beautiful place. I
felt so proud that ole mistiss' chile was among the best people,
sleeping with flowers in her hands, in that white marble house! I
wanted to be shore there warn't no mistake, and the keeper of the
graveyard tole me a lady had been put 'temporary' in the vault, four
days before. I had bought a bunch of violets from a flower shop, but
I could not get nearer than the door, where some brass rods was
stretched like a kind of a net; so I laid my little bunch down on
the marble steps, close as I could push it agin the rod; and though
I couldn't see my dear young mistiss, maybe--up in heaven--she will
know her poor ole mammy did not forgit her, and--"

The old woman cried bitterly, and one thin hand, white as a
snowflake, fell upon her bowed head, and softly stroked her black
wrinkled face. After some minutes, when the paroxysm of weeping had
spent itself, Dyce took the hand, kissed it reverently, and pressed
into it a package.

"The doctor tole me to put that into your hands. He said he knew it
would be very precious to you, but he felt shore he could trust me
to bring it safe. Now, honey, I know you want to be by yourself,
when you read your ma's last words. I will go and set in yonder by
the fire, till you call me. My heart aches and swells fit to bust,
and I can't stan' no more misery jest now, sech as this."

For some moments, Beryl lay motionless, then the intolerable agony
clutched her throat with an aching sense of suffocation, and she sat
up, with nerveless hands lying on the package in her lap. She was
prepared for, expectant of the worst, but the details added keener
stings to suffering that had benumbed her. At last, with a
shuddering sigh, she broke the seal, and took from folds of tissue
paper, a long thick tress of the beautiful black hair. Shaking it
out of its satin coil, she held it up, then wrapped it smoothly over
her hand, and laid it caressingly against her cheek.

Prison walls melted away; she stood again in the New York attic, and
combed, and brushed, and braided those raven locks, and saw the wan
face of the beloved invalid, and the jasmine and violets she had
pinned at her throat.

What had become of the proud, high-spirited ambitious girl, who
laughed at adverse fortune, and forgot poverty in lofty aspirations?
How long ago it seemed, since she kissed the dear faded cheek, and
knelt for her mother's farewell benediction. Was it the same world?
Was she the same Beryl; was the eternal and unchanging God over all,
as of yore? She had shattered and ruined the sparkling crystal
goblet of her young life, scattering in the dust the golden wine of
happy hope, in the effort to serve and comfort that loved sufferer,
who, languishing on a hospital cot, had died among strangers; had
been shrouded by hirelings. That any other hand than hers had
touched her sacred dead, seemed a profanation; and at the thought of
the last rites rendered, the loyal child shivered as though some
polluting grasp had been laid upon herself. Out of the envelope
rolled a broad hoop of reddish gold, her mother's wedding ring; and
in zigzag lines across a sheet of paper was written the last
message:

"My dear, good little girl, so faithful, so true, my legacy of love
is your mother's blessing. You must be comforted to know I am dying
in peace, because I trust in your last promise--"

Then a blot, some unintelligible marks, and a space. Lower still,
scarcely legible characters were scrawled:

"Tell my darling--to wear my ring as a holy--"

In death as in life, the last word, and the deepest feeling were not
for her; the sacred souvenir was left for the hand that had so often
stabbed the idolatrous heart, now stilled forever.

In all ages the ninety and nine that go not astray, never feel the
caressing touch which the yearning Shepherd lays on the obstinate
wanderer, who would not pasture in peace; and from the immemorial
dawn of inchoate civilization, prodigals have possessed the open
sesame to parental hearts that seemed barred against the more
dutiful. By what perverted organon of ethics has it come to pass in
sociology, that the badge of favoritism is rarely the guerdon of
merit?

To the orphaned, forsaken, disgraced captive, sitting amid the
sombre ruins of her life, drinking the bitter lees of the fatal cup
a mother's hand had forced to her reluctant lips, there seemed
nothing strange in the injustice meted out; for had not the second
place in maternal love always been hers? As the great gray eyes
darkening behind their tears, like deep lakes under coming rain,
read and re-read the blurred lines, the frozen mouth trembled, and
Beryl kissed the hair, folded it away in the letter, and pinned both
close to her heart. Staggering to her feet, she held up the ring,
and said in a broken, half audible voice:

"When I am dead, your darling shall have it; until then lend it to
your little girl, as a strengthening amulet. The sight of it will
hold me firm, will girdle my soul with fortitude, as it girdles my
finger; will set a yet holier seal to the compact whereby I pledged
my life, that you might die in peace. If, in the last hour, you had
known all my peril, all that my promise entails, would you have
released me? Would you have died content knowing that your idol was
guarded and safe, behind the cold shield of your little girl's
polluted body? The blood in my veins flowed from yours; I slept on
your heart, I was the last baby whose lips fed at your bosom.
Mother! Mother, if you had known all, could you have seen the load
of guilt and shame and woe laid on your innocent child, and bought
the life of your first-born, by the sacrifice of a scapegoat? Dear
mother, my mother, would you shelter him, and leave your baby to
die?"

Slipping the ring on her finger, she kissed it twice. The hot flood
of tears overflowed, and she fell on her knees beside the cot,
clasping her hands above her bowed head.

"Alone in my desolation! Oh, father! keep close to my soul, and pray
that I may have strength to bear my burden, even to the end. My God!
My God! sustain me now. Help me to be patient, and when the
sacrifice is finished, accept it for Christ's sake, and grant that
the soul of my brother may be ransomed, because I die for his sins."

CHAPTER XIV.

"Well, dear child, what is the trouble? Into what quagmire have your
little feet slipped? When you invite me so solemnly to a private
conference in this distractingly pretty room, the inference is
inevitable that some disaster threatens. Have you overdrawn your
bank account?"

Judge Dent leaned back, making himself thoroughly comfortable in a
deep easy chair in Leo's luxurious library; and taking his niece's
hand, looked up into her grave, sweet face.

"I want you to honor my draft for a large amount. I am about to draw
upon your sympathy; can I ever overdraw my account with that royal
bank?"

"Upon my sympathy, never; but mark you, this does not commit me to
compliance with all your Utopian schemes. If you were raving mad, I
should sympathize, but nevertheless I should see that the strait-
jacket was brought into requisition. When your generosity train
dashes recklessly beyond regulation schedules of safety, I must
discharge engineer sympathy, and whistle down the brakes. What new
hobby do you intend that I shall ride?"

"I have no intention of sharing that privilege even with you; I
merely desire you to inspect the accoutrements, to examine reins,
and girth, and stirrup. I lend my hobby to no one, and it is far too
mettlesome to 'carry double'. Uncle Mitchell, I feel so unhappy
about that poor girl, that I must do something to comfort her, and
only one avenue presents itself. I want you to have her brought into
court on a writ of Habeas Corpus, and to use your influence with
Judge Parkman to grant her bail. I desire to give the amount of bond
he may require, because I think it would gratify her, to have this
public assurance that she possessed the confidence of her own sex;
for nothing so strengthens and soothes a true woman as the sympathy
and trust of women."

"Looking at the case dispassionately from a professional point of
view, I am sorry to tell you that the judge would scarcely be
warranted in granting bail. Were I still upon the bench, I could not
conscientiously release her, in the face of constantly accumulating
evidence against her, although she has my deepest compassion.
Conceding, however, for the moment, that Parkman consents to the
petition and the girl is set at liberty, are you prepared to pay the
large forfeit, if she, realizing the fearful odds against her
acquittal, should take permanent bail by absconding before the
trial? Abstract sympathy and generous sentiments are one phase of
this matter; positively paying a fifteen or a twenty-thousand-
dollar-bond is quite another. Weigh it carefully. We pity this
unfortunate prisoner, but we know absolutely nothing in her favor,
to counterbalance the terrible array of accusing circumstances fate
has piled against her. If she be guilty, can she resist the
temptation to escape by flight; and if indeed she be innocent, how
much more difficult to await all that is involved in this trial, and
abide the issue? Because she is beautiful, has a refined and noble
air, and seems unsullied as some grand snow image, do not blind
yourself to the fact, that for aught we can prove to the contrary,
she may have a heart as black as Tullias', hands as bloody as
Brunehaut's."

"You believe that as little as I do. I have pondered the matter in
all its aspects, and I take the risk."

"You can afford to pay for her flight?"

"I will pay for her flight, no matter what it may cost."

Judge Dent took her hand between both his.

"Let us be frank."

"'The things we do--
We do; we'll wear no mask, as if we blushed!'"

"Are you so assured of the woman's fidelity; or do you deliberately
leave the door ajar, foreseeing the result, deeming this the most
expedient method of cutting the Gordian knot?"

For a moment she hesitated, then her soft brown eyes looked down
bravely into his.

"I believe she is innocent, and that she will be loyal if released
on bail; but if I mistake her character, and she should flee for her
life from the lifted sword of justice, then I shall gladly pay the
expense of playing Alexander's role; and shall feel rejoiced that
she lives to repent her crime; and that the man to whom I have
promised my hand, has been relieved of the awful responsibility of
hunting her to death."

"Have you made him acquainted with this scheme?"

"Certainly not. I owed it to you to secure your approbation and co-
operation, before mentioning the matter to him."

"Have you considered the opposition which, without inconsistency, he
cannot fail to offer? As prosecuting attorney for the Darringtons he
would be recreant to his client, if he consented to release on
bail."

"His sympathy is deeply enlisted in her behalf, and I do not
anticipate opposition; nevertheless, it would not deter me from the
attempt to free her, at least temporarily from prison. As you have
no connection with the trial, I can see no impropriety in your
telling Judge Parkman, that the girl's health demands a change of
air and scene, and that it is my desire to furnish any bond he may
deem suitable, and then bring the prisoner under my own roof, until
the day fixed for her trial. If you are unwilling to speak to him,
will you permit me to mention the subject to him?"

"I fear enthusiasm is hurrying you into a proposal, the possibly
grave consequences of which you do not realize. You would run a
great risk in bringing here that unfortunate woman, over whose head
has gathered so black a cloud of suspicion. In becoming her gaoler,
you assume a fearful responsibility."

"I fully comprehend all the hazard, and with your permission, I
shall not shrink. I have a conviction, for which I can offer no
adequate grounds, that this girl is as innocent as I am; and if all
the world hissed and jeered, I should stretch out my hand to her. Do
you recollect Ortes' booty when Antwerp fell into Alva's hands? The
keys of the dungeons. I would rather swing wide the barred doors of
yonder human cage across the river, and lead that woman out under
God's free sky, than wear all of Alva's jewels, own his gold. Uncle,
will you speak, or shall I?"

"I must first talk with Churchill and Dunbar. Your effort might
result only in injury to the prisoner; because if she were brought
into Court on writ of Habeas Corpus, and refused bail, as I fear
would be the case, the failure would operate very unfavorably for
her cause, on public opinion, of which after all, in nineteen cases
out of twenty, the jury verdict is a reflection. Some new evidence
has been presented since the preliminary examination, and its
character will determine the question of bail. If I can see any
chance of your success I will speak to Parkman; for, indeed, my dear
child, I honor your motive, and share your hope; but unless I find
more encouragement than I expect, I will not complicate matters by a
futile attempt, which would certainly recoil disastrously."

"Thank you, Uncle Mitchell. Please act promptly. I have set my heart
of hearts on having that poor young woman here to spend Christmas.
Her freedom to walk about in the sunshine, is the one Christmas gift
I covet; and I know you will gratify me if possible. You have only
four days in which to secure my present."

"When do you expect to see Dunbar?"

"I promised to ride with him this afternoon; but I prefer not to
discuss this subject, as he has earnestly requested me 'to abstain
from any reference to that gloomy business during his hours of
recreation;' and I have no intention of setting black care en croupe
to share our canter to-day. Having told me that when he leaves his
office to visit us, he locks his professional affairs in his desk,
you can readily understand that good taste enforces respect for his
wishes, at least in the matter of avoiding tabooed topics."

"Does it occur to you that he will object very strenuously to seeing
the personification of 'that gloomy business' sitting at your
hearth-stone? That he may refuse to lock up in his law office the
significant and disagreeable reflection, that the woman whom he
arrested find prosecutes for a vile crime, is championed and housed
by one whom he claims as his promised wife? Dunbar has a keen eye
for the 'eternal fitness of things,' and, where you are concerned,
is a jealous stickler for social convenance. I warn you he will be
bitterly offended, if you bring General Darrington's granddaughter
under this roof."

Her delicate flower-like face flushed; and the slight figure became
proudly erect.

"It is my house, and I acquit him of the presumption of desiring to
dictate to whom its doors shall be opened. If he has no confidence
in my discretion, no respect for my motives, no tolerance for
difference of opinion in a matter of vital importance, then the
sooner our engagement is annulled the better for both of us. When I
have taken my vows, I hope I shall steadfastly keep them, but
meantime I am still a Gordon. The irrevocable ubi tu Caius, ego
Caia, has not yet been uttered, and while it would grieve me very
much to wound his feelings, I claim the exercise of my own judgment.
I am not indifferent to his wishes; on the contrary, I ardently
desire, as far as is consistent with my self-respect, to defer to
them; but when I pledged him my faith, I did not surrender my will,
nor obliterate my individuality."

Judge Dent rose, put his arm around her shoulders, and drew the
sunny head to his breast.

"Leo, listen to me. There is no heaven on earth, but the nearest
approach to it, the outlying suburbs whence we get bewildering
glimpses of beatitude beyond, is the season of courtship and
betrothal. In the magical days of sweetheartdom, a silvery
glorifying glamour wraps the world, brims jagged black chasms with
glittering mist, paves rugged paths with its shimmering folds, and
tenderly covers very deep in rose leaves, the clay feet of our
idols. That wonderful light shines only once full upon us, but the
memory of it streams all along the succeeding journey; follows us up
the arid heights, throws its mellow afterglow on the darkening road,
as we go swiftly down the slippery hill of life. It comes to all, as
hope's happy prophecy, this sparkling prologue, and we never dream
that it is the sweetest and best of the drama that follows; but let
me tell you, enjoy it while you may. Beautiful, hallowing sweetheart
days, keep them unclouded, guard them from strife; hold them for the
precious enchantment they bring, and take an old man's advice, do
not quarrel with your sweetheart."

He kissed her cheek, and when the door closed behind him, she sat
down and covered her face with her hands.

Was that witching light already fading in her sky? Was the storm
even now muttering, that would rudely toss aside the rose leaves
that garlanded the feet of her beloved? In the midst of her eloquent
prologue would darkness smite suddenly, and end the drama? Life had
poured its richest wine into the cup she held to her lips; should
she risk spilling the priceless draught? She could turn a deaf ear
to teazing whispers of suspicion, she could shut her eyes to the
spectre that threw up warning hands, and so drift on; but the dream
would be broken perhaps too late, and all time could not repair the
possible shipwreck. Into the chill shadow of this problem plunged
Miss Patty, bringing through the room the penetrating spicery of an
apron full of pinks, which she was sorting and tying in star-shaped
clusters.

"An extraordinary and most unexpected thing has happened, and I know
you will be surprised."

"What is it, Aunt Patty? Something very pleasant, I hope."

"I have actually changed my opinion; and you know how tenacious I
usually am of my well-matured views, because they are always founded
on such sound reasons. Quite surprised, aren't you, dear?"

"That is far too mild and inadequate a term to express my
sensations. Your views and opinions bear the same royal, inviolable
seal as those of the Medes and Persians, and from their
unchangeableness must have floated down the stream of Aryan
migration, from some infallible fountain in Bactria. I should not be
much more astonished to hear that Cynosure had grown giddy, had
swung down and waltzed in the arms of Sirius."

"Leo, that sounds very pedantic, and there is nothing I dislike
more. A woman bedecked with rags and tags of farfetched learning, is
about as attractive an object as if she had turned out a full beard
and mustache. I am very sure you have heard me assert more than
once, that I verily believe Venus herself would scare all the men
into monasteries, if she wore blue stockings. Too much learning in a
lady's conversation is as utterly unpardonable as a waste of lemon
and nutmeg in a chicken-pie; or a superfluity of cheese in Turbot a
la creme; just a hint of the flavor, the merest soupcon is all that
is admissible in either. I came in to tell you, that I have
experienced quite a change of feeling with reference to that poor
young lady, whom Mr. Dunbar with such officious haste arrested and
threw into gaol. I am now convinced that a great wrong has been
committed."

For a moment Leo stooped to stroke the head of her Siberian hound,
crouching on the velvet rug at her feet; then she frankly met the
twinkling black eyes that peered over their gold-rimmed spectacles.

"I am glad to hear it; but to what circumstance is so deckled a
revulsion of sentiment attributable?"

"You know I have great confidence in Sister Serena's sagacity, and
during the past fortnight she has talked frequently with me on the
subject of the prisoner. When she undertook to nurse the poor child,
she too considered her guilty of the unnatural crime; but by degrees
she began to doubt it. About ten days ago, she says she went to the
penitentiary, and found the prisoner reading a Bible which she had
borrowed from the gaoler's wife. She asked her if she would like her
to offer up a prayer, in her behalf, and they knelt down side by
side. Sister Serena prayed that God would melt her heart if she was
guilty, and help her to repent. While they were still on their
knees, Sister Serena put one arm around her and said:

"'God knows whether you are the criminal; and if so, let me beg of
you to make a full confession; it will unload your conscience, and
may be the means of arousing more sympathy in the public heart.' She
says that the poor girl looked at her a moment so reproachfully, and
answered: 'When we meet in heaven, you will understand how cruelly
your words hurt me. I know that appearances are hopelessly against
me, and I expect to die; but I am so innocent, I keep my soul close
to God, for He who knows the truth, will help me to bear man's
injustice.' Then she prayed aloud for herself, that she might endure
patiently and meekly an awful punishment which she did not deserve;
and while she prayed, her countenance was so pure, so angelic, and
there was such unmistakable fervor and sincerity in her petition,
that Sister Serena says she could not help bursting into tears, and
she actually begged the girl's pardon for having doubted her
innocence. She has fallen completely in love with the poor young
creature, and tells me she finds her wonderfully talented and
cultivated. This morning she showed me some of the most beautiful
designs for decorating our altar on Christmas, which the prisoner
sketched for her. She cut all the models for her, and gave her such
lovely suggestions, and when Sister Serena thanked her, she says the
most touching smile she ever saw came into that child's face, as she
answered: 'I ought to thank you for the privilege of decorating my
Savior's altar, at the last Christmas I shall spend on earth. Next
year, I shall spend Jesus' birthday with Him.' I felt so
uncomfortable when I heard all that passed between her and Sister
Serena, that I could not be easy until I had seen for myself; and as
Sister Serena was going over to carry some letters to be painted and
gilded, I went with her. I have seen her, and talked with her, and I
pity the hard, bitter, unregenerate and vindictive heart of the man
who is prosecuting her for murder. I do not believe that in all the
world, Mr. Dunbar can find twelve men idiotic and vicious enough to
convict that beautiful orphan girl; and his failure will do as
little credit to his intellect, as success would to his moral
nature."

"While I prefer to exclude Mr. Dunbar's name from our discussions, I
think it merely bare justice to the absent, to assure you that he
desires her conviction even less than you or I; and will do all in
his power to avert it. I feel more interest in this matter than you
can possibly realize, and, believing her innocent, I will befriend
her to the last extremity. Did Sister Serena succeed in fitting the
black dress I sent?"

"The poor child had on a mourning dress, but I was not aware you
sent it. Losing her mother seems almost to have broken her heart.
Poor Ellice Darrington! Petted and fostered like a hot-house flower,
and then to die a pauper in a hospital! What an awful retribution
for her disobedience to her parents? There is the bell."

"Yes, Auntie, and I must ask you to excuse me. Some of my Sunday-
school class are coming to practise their carols, and conclude a
little holiday preparation, and I hear them now on the steps."

"Did Mitchell show you Leighton's telegram?"

"He told me the good news, that at the last moment Leighton had
filled his pulpit for the holidays, and would preach for us on
Christmas. How delightfully it will revive the dear old days to have
him back? Fancy our hanging up our stockings once more at the foot
of Uncle Mitchell's bed! Your letter must have been eloquent,
indeed, to entice him from the splendors of the metropolis, to the
yule log at our quiet 'Lilacs'; and his coming is a tribute of
gratitude to you, for all your loving care of him. I know you are so
happy at the thought of taking the Holy Communion from the hand of
your dear boy, that it will consecrate this Christmas above all
others; and I congratulate you heartily, dear Aunt Patty."

It was late in the afternoon of Saturday, Christmas Eve, when Leo
knocked at the door of Mrs. Singleton's room. A dispirited
expression characterized the countenance usually serene and happy,
and between her brows a perpendicular line marked the advent of
anxious foreboding. Her hopeful scheme had dissolved, vanished like
a puff of steam on icy air, leaving only a teazing memory of mocking
failure. Judge Dent's conference with the District Solicitor, had
convinced him of the futility of any attempt to secure bail;
moreover, a message from the prisoner earnestly exhorted them to
abandon all intercessory designs in her behalf, as she would not
accept release on bail, and preferred to await her trial.

"Good evening, Miss Gordon. If you want to see her, Ned will show
you the way to the chapel, where I left her a while ago. Since her
mother's death, the only comfort she gets, is from the organ; so we
let her go there very often. I would go with you, but I want to
finish a black shawl I am crocheting for her."

The warden escorted his visitor through the chill dim corridors that
had formerly so appalled Beryl's soul, and upon the steps of the
chapel, both paused to listen. On the small cabinet organ, a skilful
hand was playing a grand and solemn aria, which Leo had heard once
before in the cool depths of Freiburg Cathedral. It had impressed
her then most powerfully, as the despairing invocation of some
doomed Titan; to-day it thrilled her with keen and intolerable pain.
Waving the warden back, she softly entered the chapel, closed the
door, and sat down.

Through the narrow windows, the afternoon sunlight, fettered by
shadowy bars, fell on the bare floor, and the radiance smote the
organ and the wan face of the musician, gilding the dark reddish-
brown hair coiled loosely on her nobly poised head. Her black dress
enhanced the extreme pallor of delicate features, which, outlined
against that golden background, bore a strong resemblance to the
lovely portrait of Titian's wife in the Louvre. Unmindful of the
keys, across which her fingers strayed, she was gazing off into
space, as if seeking some friendly face; and to the same sombre,
passionate, plaintive melody she sang:

"The way is dark, my Father! Cloud upon cloud
Is gathering thickly o'er my head, and loud
The thunders roar above me. O, see--I stand
Like one bewildered! Father, take my hand--
And through the gloom lead safely home Thy Child!
The day declines, my Father! and the night
Is drawing darkly down. My faithless sight
Sees ghostly visions. Fears like a spectral band
Encompass me. O, Father, take my hand,
And from the night lead up to light Thy Child!
The cross is heavy, Father! I have borne
It long, and still do bear it. I cannot stand
Or go alone. O, Father, take my hand,
And reaching down, lead to the crown Thy Child!"

The voice was wonderfully sweet and rich, vibrating with the intense
pathos of minor chords in a mellow old violoncello, and either from
physical weakness, or the weight of woe, it quivered at last into a
thrilling cry. Tears were dripping over Leo's cheeks, as she went up
to the chancel railing, and leaning across, put out her hand. Beryl
rose and came forward, and so, with only the pine balustrade
between, the two stood palm in palm. No moisture dimmed the
prisoner's eyes, but around her beautiful mouth sorrowful curves
betokened the fierceness of the ordeal she was enduring; and her
lips trembled a little, like rose leaves under a sudden rude gust.

"I have wanted very much to see you, Miss Gordon, to thank you for
the great kindness that prompted your effort to help me; and yet, I
have no hope of expressing adequately the comfort I derived from
this manifestation of your confidence. The knowledge that you
offered security for me, above all, that you were willing to take
me--an outcast, almost a convicted criminal--into the holy shelter
of your own home, oh! you can never realize, unless you stood in my
place, how it soothes my heart, how it will always make a bright
spot in the blackness of my situation. The full sympathy of a noble
woman is the best tonic for a feeble sufferer, who knows the world
has turned its back upon her. If I were unworthy, your goodness
would be the keenest lash that could scourge me; but forlorn though
I seem, your friendship brings me measureless balm, and while I
could never have accepted your generous offer, I thank you
sincerely."

"Why were you so unwilling that I should try to release you?"

"I have not a dollar to pay my expenses anywhere, and I appreciated
too fully all that was involved in your hospitable offer, to take me
under your roof, to be willing to avail myself of it. Here I am
provided for, by those who believe me guilty; and here I have the
kind sympathy of Mr. and Mrs. Singleton, who were my first friends
when the storm broke over my doomed head. To go out of prison into
the world now, would be torturing, because I am proud and sensitive;
and these dark walls screen me from the curious observation from
which I shrink, as from being flayed. To the desolate and homeless,
change of place brings no relief; and since there is no escape for
me, I prefer to wait here for the end, which, after all, cannot be
very distant."

"Do you refer to the trial next month?"

"No, to that which yawns behind the trial; a shallow gash out there
under the pines, where the sound of the penitentiary bell tolls
requiems for the souls of its mangled victims."

"Hush! hush! You wrong yourself by imagining the possibility of such
horrible results. Gloomy surroundings, coupled with your great
bereavement, render you morbidly despondent; and it was the hope of
cheering you, that made me so anxious to get you away. If I could
only take you home, even for one week!"

"The wish has cheered me inexpressibly. How good, how noble, how
tender you are! Miss Gordon, because I am so grateful, let me now
say one thing. You cannot help me in future, and it would grieve me
to think that I fell, as an unlifting shadow, between your heart and
the sunshine that warms it. In the night of my wretchedness, you
have groped your way to me, and in defiance of the circumstances
that are so cruelly leagued to strangle me, you throw your
confidence like a warm mantle around my shivering soul; you have
courageously laid your pure, womanly hands in mine--oh, God bless
you! God reward you! Do you think I could bear to know that I had
caused even a hand's breadth of cloud to drift over the heavenly
blue of your happy sky? The bow of promise that spans your life is
no secret. Let no thought of me jar the harmony that reigned before
I came here. Leave me to my doom, which human hands cannot avert
now; and be happy without questioning. Inexorable fate stands behind
men; makes them, sometimes, irresponsible puppets."

A deep flush had risen to Leo's temples, and withdrawing her hand,
she shaded her face for a moment. The great bell below the tower
clock rang sullenly.

"Good-bye, Miss Gordon. I had permission to stay here only till the
bell sounded. Pray for me, but do not come again. Visits to me could
bring you nothing but sorrow in return for your compassion, and that
would add to my misery. I wish you a pleasant Christmas, a happy New
Year, and as cloudless a life as your great goodness deserves."

Once more their hands met, in a long close clasp, then Leo laid on
the chancel railing a large square envelope.

"It is only a Christmas card, but so lovely, I know your artistic
taste cannot fail to admire it; and it may brighten your cheerless
room. It is the three-hundred-dollar-prize-card, and particularly
beautiful."

"Thank you, dear Miss Gordon. It may help to deaden the merciless
stings of memory, which all day long has tortured me by unrolling
the past, where my Christmas days stand out like illuminated
capitals on black-letter pages."

Deaden the stings of memory? What spell suddenly evoked the image of
her invalid mother, all the details of the attic room, the litter of
pencils on the table; the windows of a florist's shop where,
standing on the pavement, she had studied hungrily the shapes of the
blossoms poverty denied her as models; the interior of the Creche,
which she had penetrated in order to sketch the heads of sleeping
babies, as a study for cherubs?

Leo had almost reached the door, when a passionate, indescribably
mournful cry arrested her steps.

"Too late!--too late! O, God! What a cruel mockery!"

Beryl stood leaning against the railing of the altar, with the light
of the setting sun falling aslant on the gilded card she held up in
one hand; on her white convulsed face, where tears fell in a
scalding flood. Retracing her steps, Leo said falteringly:

"In my efforts to comfort you, have I only wounded more sorely? How
have I hurt you? What can I do?"

"No--no! you are an angel of pity, hovering over an abyss of ruin,
whose darkest horrors you only imagine faintly. What can you do?
Nothing, but pray to God to paralyze my tongue, and grant me death,
before I lose my last clutch on faith, and curse my Creator, and
drift down to eternal perdition! It was hard enough before, but this
mockery maddens."

With a sudden abandonment, she hurled the card away, threw her arms
around Leo's neck and sobbed unrestrainedly. Tenderly the latter
held her shivering form, as the proud head fell on her shoulder; and
after a time, Beryl lifted a face white as an annunciation lily,
drenched by tropical rain.

"I thought misfortune had emptied all her vials, and that I was
nerved, because there was nothing more to dread. But the worst is
always behind, and this is the irony of fate. You think that merely
a rhetorical metaphor, a tragic trope? How should you know? That
Christmas card is the solitary dove I sent out to hunt a resting-
place for mother and for me, when the flood engulfed us. It was my
design sent to Boston, to compete for the prizes offered. How I
dreamed, how I toiled! Haunting the flower shops for a glimpse of
heartsease, and passion flowers, and stars of Bethlehem; begging a
butcher at the abattoir to spare a lamb, until I could sketch it;
kneeling by cradles in the public Creche to get the full red curve
of a baby's sucking lips, as they forsook the bottle, the dimple in
the tiny hands, the tendrils of hair on the satin brow! Over that
card I sang, and I wept; I worked, hoped, prayed, believed! So much
depended upon it! Could the Christ to whom I dedicated it, fail to
answer my prayer for success? Three hundred dollars! What a mint! It
would pay the doctor, and make mother comfortable, and get her a
warm new suit for coming winter. Oh! it is so easy to believe in
God, until He denies us; and to trust Christ, till He hurls our
prayers back, and the stones crush us. Only three hundred dollars
between life and death; between a happy, proud girl with a noble
future, and a disgraced, broken-hearted wreck trampled into a
convict's grave! It would have saved all; all the awful consequences
of the journey here, which only dire extremity of need forced upon
me. On the fatal day I started South, I went at the last moment,
hoping that some tidings from my card would come on angel wings. The
decision had been made, but the awards were not yet published, and
so my doom was sealed. To-morrow, happy women, no more innocent than
I am, will smile at my Christmas card, and give it with warm kisses
and loving words to their dear ones; and to-day, my white dove of
hope, flies back in my face, with the talons of a harpy, to devour
me with maddening reminders of 'what might have been'. My coveted
three hundred dollars! Three hundred taunting fiends! to jeer and
torment me. The Christmas sun will shine on a pauper's empty cot in
a charity hospital; on a disgraced, insulted, forsaken convict. Take
away this last mockery, it is more than I can bear. There on the
back in gilt letters--Prize Card--Three Hundred Dollars! Yet a
stranger paid for my mother's coffin, and--. Three hundred furies to
lash my heart out! Too late! Take it away! too late! oh, too late!
This is worse than the pangs of death."

CHAPTER XV.

The Christmas Sabbath dawned cold and dim, and along the eastern sky
gray marbled masses of cloud with dun, stratified bases, built
themselves into the likeness of vast teocallis to Tonatiuh, over
whose apex the struggling rays fell red and presageful. Dulled by
the stained glass windows, the light that filled the semi-circular
chapel at "The Lilacs", was chill and sombre, until the fair
sacristan held a taper over the tall wax candles on each side of the
altar, whence a mellow radiance soon streamed over all; flashing
along the golden letters under the cross, and upon the gilded pipes
of the little organ. On the marble steps in front of the altar were
two baskets filled with white camellias, and great spikes of pink
and blue hyacinths, that seemed to break their hearts in waves of
aromatic incense. The family Bible of the Gordons lay open, on the
reading desk, and upon its yellow pages rested a Maltese cross of
snowy Roman hyacinths. Looping back the purple velvet portiere over
the arch leading into the library, Leo sat down on the organ bench
to await the coming of the family, leisurely arranged the stops, and
marked in her prayer-book the Collect for Christmas. In her morning
robe of crimson cashmere, with its cascade of soft rich lace foaming
from throat to feet, and wearing a dainty cluster of double white
violets fastened just below one ear, where the wax light kissed her
sunny hair, she appeared a St. Cecilia, very fair and sweet, to the
eyes of the man who stood a moment unperceived beneath the arch. A
figure of medium height, clad in priestly garments, with a white
surplice sweeping to the marble floor; a finely modelled head
thickly fleeced with light brown hair, a serene pleasant face, with
regular features, deep-set black eyes magnified by spectacles, and
an expression of habitual placidity, that bespoke a soul consecrated
by noble aims, and at perfect peace with his God.

Hearing his step as he crossed the floor, Leo looked over her
shoulder, smiled, and began to play softly, while he ascended the
steps and knelt before the altar. After some moments Miss Patty
rustled in, sank on her knees and finally settled herself
comfortably on one of the crescent-shaped, cushioned sofas; then
Judge Dent entered, followed by Justine and the aged negro butler,
Joel, the two servants finding seats just behind their master.
Doctor Leighton Douglass selected his hymns, and the leaves of five
prayer-books fluttered, as Collects were found, but Leo continued to
play.

Twice she turned and looked around the chapel, seeking some one,
delaying the commencement of the service. Finally accepting defeat,
her pretty fingers fell from the keys, and with them dropped two
tears, forced from her by the keen disappointment that robbed this
occasion of all its anticipated pleasure. Singularly free from
fashionable elocutionary affectations, and certain declamatory stage
tricks, by which the recitation of the Creed and the Lord's Prayer
becomes a competitive test of lungs in the race for breath, Leighton
Douglass read the morning service, in a well-modulated voice, and
with a profound solemnity that left its impress on each heart. The
responses were fervent, and the Christmas hymns were sung with
joyful earnestness; then priestly arms rose like the wings of a
great snowy dove, and from holy, priestly lips fell the mellow music
of the benediction:

"The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the
fellowship of the Holy Ghost, be with us all evermore. Amen."

Even while he pronounced the words, a whirring rustle filled the
beautiful oratory, and two of Leo's pet ring-doves, fluttering round
and round the frescoed ceiling, descended swiftly. One perched upon
her head, cooing softly, and its mate nestled down with outspread
pinions, pecking at the white muslin folds on Doctor Douglass'
shoulder.

"Paracletes, dun plumed! Leo, let us accept them as happy auguries,
prophetic of divine blessing on our future work in the Master's
vineyard. My cousin, I wish you a very happy Christmas."

He had approached the organ where she sat, and held out his hand.

"Happy Christmas, Leighton, and many thanks to you for this
consecrating service in my place of prayer. After today, it will
always seem a more hallowed shrine, and before you leave us, we will
gather here as a family, and join in the celebration of the Holy
Communion."

They stood a moment hand in hand, looking into each other's eyes;
and watching them, Miss Patty's heart swelled with pardonable pride
in the two, whom her loving arms had so tenderly cradled. Pinching
her brother's hand, as she walked with him under the velvet
draperies, she whispered:

"What a noble match for both! And he's only her second cousin."

Leo's eyes were wet with tears, which Doctor Douglass ascribed to
devotional fervor; and withdrawing her hand, she opened one of the
windows, and called the doves to the stone ledge, putting them very
gently out upon the ivy wreaths that clambered up the wall, and
peeped into the chapel.

"I believe you are sacristan here?" he said, pointing to the candles
that flared, as the wind rushed in,

"Yes, here I sweep, dust, decorate daily, allowing no other touch;
and here I bring my daintiest, rarest flowers, as tribute to Him who
tapestried the earth with blossoms, and sprinkled it with perfumes--
when? Not until just before the advent of humanity, whose material
kingdom was perfected, and furnished in anticipation of his
arrival."

Extinguishing the candles, she closed the old Bible, covered it with
a square of velvet, and hung the cross of hyacinths upon the folded
hands of one of the marble angels that upheld the altar,

"Pure-handed women are natural priestesses, meet for temple
ministration; and I have no doubt your exoteric labors here, merely
typify the secret daily sweeping out of evil thoughts, the dusting
away of motes of selfishness, the decorating with noble beautiful
aims, and holy deeds, whereby you sanctify that inner shrine, your
own soul."

"Praise from you means so much, that you need not stoop to flatter
me. The very vestments of you Levites should exhale infectious
humility; and I especially need exhortations against pride, my
besetting sin. I built this chapel, not because I am good, but in
order to grow better. Every dwelling has its room in which the
inmates gather to eat, to study, to work, to sleep; why not to pray,
the most important privilege of many that divide humanity from
brutes? After all, the pagans were wiser than we, and the heads of
families were household priests, setting examples of piety at every
rising of the sun."

"Let us see. Greek and Roman fathers laid a cake dripping with wine,
a wreath of violets, a heart of honey-comb, a brace of doves on the
home altar, and immediately thereafter, set the example of violating
every clause in the Decalogue. Mark you, paganism drew fine lines in
morals, long anterior to the era of monotheism and of Moses, and
furnished immortal types of all the virtues; yet the excess of its
religious ceremonial, robbed it of vital fructifying energies. The
frequency and publicity of sacerdotal service, usurped the place of
daily individual piety. The tendency of all outward symbolical
observances, unduly multiplied, is to substitute mere formalism for
fervor."

"Leighton, humanity craves the concrete. All the universe is God's
temple, yet the chill breath of the abstract freezes our hearts; and
we pray best in some pillared niche consecrated and set apart, I
recall a day in Umbria, when the wonderful light of sunset fell on
ilex and olive, on mountain snows, on valleys billowing between
vine-mantled hills, on creamy marble walls, on columned campaniles;
and standing there, I seemed verily to absorb, to become saturated
as it were, with the reigning essence of beauty. I walked on, a few
steps, lifted a worn, frayed leather curtain, and looked into a
small gray, dingy church, where a mist of incense blurred the lights
on the ancient altar, and the muffled roll of an organ broke into
sonorous waves, like reverberations of far-away thunder; and why was
it, tell me, that the universal glory thrilled me only as a sensuous
chord of color, but in the dark corner consecrated to the worship of
our God, my soul expanded, as if a holy finger touched it, and I
fell on my knees, and prayed? Each of us comes into this world
dowered with the behest to make desperate war against that
indissoluble 'Triple Alliance, the World, the Flesh and the Devil,'
and needing all the auxiliaries possible, I resort to conscription
wherever I can recruit. Since I am two thousand years too young to
set up a statue of Hestia yonder in my imitation prostas, I have
built instead this small sacred nook for prayer, which helps me
spiritually, much as the Ulah aids Islam."

"Your oratory is lovely, and I wish its counterpart adorned every
homestead in our land; but are you quite sure that in your
individual experience you are not mistaking effect for cause? Your
holy heart demands fit shrine for--"

"I am quite sure I will not allow you to stand a moment longer on
this cold floor; and I do not intend that you shall pay me
undeserved compliments. It is derogatory to your dignity, and
dangerous to my modicum of humility. As soon as you are ready for
breakfast, come to the dining-room, where Santa Klaus left his
remembrances last night. O, Leighton! I had half a mind to hang up
two stockings at uncle's bed, for the sake of dear old lang syne. If
we could only shut our eyes, and drift back to the magical time of
aprons, short clothes, and roundabouts, when a sugar rooster with
green wings and pink head, and a doll that could open and shut her
eyes, were considered more precious than Tiffany's jewels, or
Collamore's Crown Derby! Can Delmonico offer you a repast half as
appetizing as the hominy, the tea cakes, the honey and the sweet
milk which you and I used to enjoy at our supper just at sunset, at
our own little table set under the red mulberry trees in the back
yard?"

"Why should my cousin, whose present is so rose-colored, whose
future so blissful, turn to rake amid the ashes of the past?"

"Because, like Lot's wife, we are all prone to stare backward. Who
lives in the present? Do you? When we are young we pant for the
future, that pitches painted tents before us. When we are older, we
live in the past, that wraps itself in a sacred gilding glamour, and
is vocal with the happy echoes which alone survive. Far-off fields
before and behind us are so dewy, so vividly green; and the present
is gray and stony, and barren of charm, and we turn fretfully. It is
part of the grim tyranny of Time that it is tideless; that the
stream bears remorselessly on, and on, never back to the dear old
spots; always on, to lose itself in the eternal and unknown. So, to-
day's Christmas lacks the zest of its predecessors."

Leo loosened the gilded chain that looped the curtains, and as the
purple folds fell behind her, hiding the arch, Doctor Douglass said
gently:

"There is a solemn truth and wise admonition in one of Rabbi Tyra's
dicta: 'Thy yesterday is thy past; thy to-day is thy future; thy to-
morrow is a secret.'"

"Leo, here is a package and a note which arrived during service, and
as Mr. Dunbar's servant said there was no answer expected, he did
not wait."

As Miss Patty delivered the parcel to her niece, the minister walked
away to lay aside his vestments, but he noted the sudden hardening
of his cousin's face, the flush of displeasure, the haughty curl of
her lips; and on his ears fell his aunt's voice:

"You expected and waited for him at morning prayer?"

"I invited him to join us, if he felt disposed to do so."

"What possible excuse can he offer for such negligence, when he knew
that Leighton would read the service?"

An uwonted sparkle leaped into Leo's mild hazel eyes, and without
examination she handed the package and note to Justine.

"Lay them in the drawer of my writing-desk, and then call all the
servants into the dining-room. Auntie, tardy excuses must wait
longer for an audience than we waited for the writer. Come to
breakfast; uncle will be impatient, and I want to enjoy his surprise
when he sees his Santa Klaus."

She was sorely disappointed, deeply affronted by Mr. Dunbar's
failure to present himself on an occasion at which she had
especially desired his presence; and as she recalled the
affectionate phraseology of her note of invitation, her fair cheek

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