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At the Mercy of Tiberius by Augusta Evans Wilson

Part 7 out of 11

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of dazzling light. Beyond the reach of the usurper's witchery, was
it not possible that she might regain the alienated heart? Love
chanted, it is worth the trial; take him away, win him back. Pride
sternly set foot upon this spark of hope, with cruel insistence
answering: his love has never been yours; defrauded of the diamond,
will you accept and patiently wear paste? The quick revulsion was
tantalizing as would have been the vanishing of the ram from
Abraham's gladdened sight; the swift withdrawal of Diana's stag
into the miraculous cloud at Aulis.

"That would be too severe a tax upon your good nature and
indulgence, and involves a sacrifice of your professional plans,
which I certainly am not so intensely and monstrously selfish as to
permit you to make. I am so well aware of the reasons that
necessitate your remaining in America, in order to secure the
appointment you are laboring to obtain, that I refuse the sugar plum
if bought with your disappointment."

"Selfishness not established; you must plead on some better ground.
Suppose that the happiness of the woman who has done me the honor to
promise me her hand, is just now my supreme aim, paramount to every
other ambitious scheme; and that to insure it, I hazard all else?
Remember the privilege of choice is mine."

It was the instinct not of affection, but of honor straining hard to
hold him to his allegiance, and her proud spirit thrilled under the
consciousness of his motive in striving to spare her. A crimson spot
burned on each cheek, a spark kindled in the soft, tender eyes. She
struggled to free herself, but his clasp tightened.

"Conceding the generosity that would impel you to immolate your
feelings, in order to gratify my willies, I decline the sacrifice.
You must indulge my desire to receive my sugar plum in the
bonbonniere of the 'Cleopatra'."

He pressed her sunny head against his shoulder, and rested his cheek
on hers.

"Is it my Leo's wish to leave me, to go alone?"

"Yes, to accompany Alma."

"For an absence of indefinite duration?"

"Certainly for a year; possibly longer; but you must be gracious in
yielding. If you really desire to promote my happiness, let me go
feeling that you consent freely."

He comprehended fully all that he was surrendering, the noble, pure,
devoted heart; the refining, elevating companionship, the control of
a liberal fortune, the proud distinction of calling her his wife;
and yet above the refrain of many mingled regrets, he felt an
infinite relief that he had been spared the responsibility of the
estrangement.

"Whatever your happiness demands, I cannot refuse to concede, but
you can scarcely require me to receive 'graciously' the only
construction I can possibly place upon your request; that I am no
longer an essential element in your happiness."

Knowing that he owed her every possible reparation, he was resolved
to shield her womanly pride from any additional wounds. He withdrew
his encircling arm, released her hand, walked to the end of the
aviary, and stood watching the shimmer of the fountain, where two of
the ring-doves held their wings aslant to catch the spray. After
some moments she joined him, and laid her slender fingers on his
arm.

"Dear Lennox, I propose at least a temporary change in our
relations, and even at the risk of incurring your displeasure, I
prefer to be perfectly frank. When you asked me to become your wife,
neither of us contemplated the long separation involved in this
cruise abroad, which I ardently desire for many reasons to make; and
I am unwilling to fetter either you or myself by an engagement
during my absence. I want to be entirely free, bound by no promise;
and could I ask release, unless you accepted yours?"

He put his palm under her chin, and lifted the sweet, pure face,
forcing her to return his gaze.

"Have I forfeited your confidence?"

"No. Lennox. I have an indestructible faith in your honor."

Her clear, truthful eyes assured him she acquitted him of all
intention to violate in any jot or tittle the forms of his
allegiance.

"You deem me incapable of intentionally betraying your noble trust?"

"I do--indeed I do."

"My peerless Leo, have you ceased to love me?"

She shut her eyes an instant, and the delicate, flower face
blanched; the treacherous lips quivered:

"No."

"Who has supplanted me in your heart, for once I know it was all my
own?"

"Lennox, you are still more to me than all the world beside; but I
ask time, I must be free at present. Let me go away untrammelled;
consider yourself as unfettered, as before our engagement, and when
the year expires, if you deem me absolutely necessary to your
happiness, you can readily ask a renewal of your bonds, and I can be
sure by that time whether my happiness depends upon becoming your
wife. After to-day I shall not wear your ring; and if, while away, I
send it back to you, interpret it as a final decision that in the
future we can only be very faithful and attached friends. I have
sadly mistaken your character if you refuse me release from a
compact which I now certainly desire to cancel."

A shadow fell over his face, and he sighed heavily; but whether the
utterance of regret or relief she never knew.

"Your heart shall no longer be burdened by bonds which I can loosen.
Because your peace and happiness are more to me than my own, I grant
you complete release. When my ring affronts you with disagreeable
memories of a past, which will always be hallowed and precious to
me, as the one beautiful dream that brightened my youth, that
crowned me for a season at least with the trust and love of the
noblest woman I have ever known, do not return it; let it slip from
the hand it made my own, and find in the blue sea a grave as deep as
the chasm--that you will--shall divide our lives. I honor you too
profoundly to question your course; yet there is an explanation
which I owe to myself as well as to you. Leo, no man can ever be
worthy to call you wife, but perhaps I am less unworthy than you
probably deem me? While in New Orleans, I wrote a long letter, which
I afterward decided not to send by mail. I brought it to-day,
intending to put it into your hand."

He took from the inside pocket of his coat, an envelope addressed to
her, broke the seal and pointed at the head of the sheet to the
date, some three weeks earlier. She surmised by that wonderful
instinct which God grants women as armor against the slow, ponderous
aggressiveness of man's tyranny, the nature of its contents. Had she
merely anticipated by an hour his petition for release? Even the
bitterness of this conjecture was neutralized by the testimony it
bore to his integrity of purpose, his unwillingness to conceal his
disloyalty. When temples are shattered and altars crumble, we save
our idol and flee into the wilderness, exulting in the assurance
that no clay feet defile it.

Leo shook her head and gently put aside the proffered letter.

"You wrote it for the eyes of one who had pledged herself to bear
your name; the revocation of that promise annuls my right to read
it."

Mr. Dunbar understood the apprehension that made her shiver
slightly. She was marching away proudly with flying colors, having
dictated the terms of his capitulation. Should he suffer the
imputation of treachery and intentional deception, rather than turn
the tide of battle, trail her banner in the dust, and add to her
pain by mortally stabbing that intense womanly pride which now
swallowed up every emotion of her soul?

The more thoroughly chivalrous a man's nature, the keener his
craving for the honors of war.

"Because henceforth our paths diverge, I prefer to offer you my
exculpation, desiring amid the general wreck, to retain at least
your undiminished esteem. Will you read my confession?"

"No; that would entail the necessity of absolution, and I might not
be able to command the requisite amiability, should occasion demand
it. We have shaken hands with the past, and you owe me nothing now
but pardon for any pain I may have given you, and occasional kind
thoughts when the ocean divides us. I promise you my unwavering
esteem; in exchange grant me your cordial friendship."

She was growing strangely white, and her breath fluttered, but eyes
and lips came to the rescue with a steadfast smile.

"You allow me no alternative but submission to your will; yet
remember, dear Leo, that in surrendering your pledged faith, I hold
myself as free from any intentional forfeiture, as on the day you
gave me your promise."

"In token that I believe it, I salute and wear your roses."

She bent her head, touched with her lips the flowers at her throat,
and smiling bravely, held out both hands. He took them, joined the
palms, and kissed her softly, reverently on the forehead.

"God bless you, dear Leo. To have known so intimately a nature as
noble and exalted as yours, has left an indelible impression for
good upon my life, which must henceforth be very kinely. Good-bye."

With beat of drum, and blare of bugles, pride claimed the victory;
but as Leo watched the tall, fine form pass out from the beautiful
home she had fondly hoped to share with him, she clasped her hands
across her lips to stifle the cry that told how dearly she had
bought the semblance of triumph.

When the quick echo of his horse's hoofs died away, she went swiftly
to her writing desk.

"Dear Uncle: Please send the enclosed telegram to Mr. Cutting. I had
a sad but decisive interview with Mr. Dunbar, and after obtaining
his consent to my tour, we thought it best to annul our engagement.
Tell Aunt Patty, and spare me all questions. I have not been hasty,
and I asked to be released, because I have deemed it best to leave
him entirely free."

Sealing the note she rang for Justine.

"Take this to my uncle's study, and tell Andrew to bring my phaeton
to the door at four o'clock. Until then, see that no one disturbs
me."

With averted face she held out the envelope, then the curtain fell;
and in solitude the aching heart went over the fatal field,
silently burying its slain hopes, realizing the bitterness of its
Cadmean victory.

CHAPTER XXII.

Certainly, Prince, I understand your motives and applaud your
decision, which is creditable alike to your heart and head. At
father's death he confided Kittie to my guardianship, and I cannot
consent to her scheme of going abroad with you, until your studies
have been completed. She has a few thousands, it is true, but her
slim fortune would not suffice to accomplish your scientific object,
and even if it were larger, you are quite right to decline with
thanks'. Kittie must be patient, and you must be firm, for you are
both quite young enough to afford to wait a few years. Loving little
heart! She longed to aid you, and this was the only method that
presented itself. If we can secure the commission I mentioned last
week, your marriage need only be deferred until Kittie is twenty-
one. After all, Prince, when you bartered your name and became a
Darrington, for sake of this fair heritage, you only accomplished
early in life that into which sooner or later all men are betrayed,
the sale of a birthright for a mess of pottage; the clutching at the
shadowy present, thereby losing the substantial future."

"On that score I indulge no regrets. General Darrington was the only
father I ever knew, and since it was his wish, I shall gladly wear
the name with which he endowed me, in grateful recognition of the
affection, confidence and generous kindness he lavished upon me.
That the rich legacy he designed for me has been diverted into the
channel of all others most repugnant to him, is my misfortune, not
his fault; for ho took every possible precaution to secure my
inheritance. Had I been indeed his own son, he could not have done
more, and I have a son's right to mourn sincerely over his cruel and
untimely end."

The two men sat on the front steps at "Elm Bluff", and as Prince's
eyes wandered over the exceeding beauty of the "great greenery" of
velvet lawn, the stately, venerable growth of forest trees, wearing
the adolescent mask of tender young foliage, the outlying fields
flanking the park, the sunny acres now awave with crinkling mantles
of grain, he sighed very heavily at the realization of all that
adverse fortune had snatched away.

Blond as Baldur of the Voluspa, with a wealth of golden brown beard
veiling his lips and chin, he appeared far more than six years the
junior of the clear cut, smoothly shaven face that belonged to his
prospective brother-in-law; and their countenances contrasted as
vividly as the portraiture of bland phlegmatic Norse Aesir, with
some bronze image of Mercury, as keenly alert as his sacred symbolic
cocks.

Strolling leisurely through the flowery decoying fields, that beckon
all around the outskirts of the vast, lonely wilderness of positive
Science, the dewy freshness of the youthful amateur still clung to
Prince's garments; even as souvenirs gathered by flitting Summer
tourists prattle of glimpses of wild, towering fastnesses, where
strewn bones of martyr pioneers whiten as monuments of failure. In
the guise of a green-kirtled enchantress, with wild poppies and
primroses wreathed above her starry eyes, Science was luring him
through the borderland of her kingdom, toward that dark, chill,
central realm where, transformed as a gnome, she clutches her
votaries, plunges into the primeval abyss-the matrix of time--and
sets them the Egyptian task of weighing, analyzing the Titanic
"potential" energy, the infinitesimal atomic engines, the "kinetic"
force, the chemical motors, the subtle intangible magnetic currents,
whereby in the thundering, hissing, whirling laboratory of Nature,
nebulae grow into astral and solar systems; the prophetic floral
forms of crystals become, after disintegration, instinct with
organic vegetable germs,--and the Sphinx Life--blur-eyed--deaf,
blind, sets forth on her slow evolutionary journey through the
wastes of aeons; mounting finally into that throne of rest fore-
ordained through groping ages, crowned with the soul of Shakspeare,
sceptred with the brain of Newton.

Like a child with some Chinese puzzle far beyond the grasp of his
smooth, uncreased baby brain, Prince played in unfeigned delight
with his problem: "Given the Universe, to explain the origin and
permanence of Law," without any assistance from the exploded
hypothesis of a law maker. Equipped with hammer, chisel, microscope,
spectroscope and crucibles, he essayed the solution, undismayed by
memories of his classics, of Sisyphus and Tantalus; seeing only the
nodding poppies, the gilded primroses of his dancing goddess.

Will he discover ere long, that a lesser riddle would have been to
stand in the manufactory of the Faubourg St. Marcel, and abolishing
the pattern of the designers, the directing touch of Lebrun, the
restraint of the heddle, demand that the blind, insensate automatic
warp and woof should originate, design and trace as well as
mechanically execute the weaving of the marvellous tapestries?

"Prince. I learn from Kittie that you visited the penitentiary last
week."

"Yes. I could not resist the curiosity to see the author of my
recent misfortunes; but I regret the sight. I am haunted by the
painful recurrence of that blanched, hopeless, beautiful face, which
reminds me of a pathetic picture I saw abroad--Charlotte Corday
peering through the bars of her dungeon window."

"With a difference surely! Marat's murderess gloried in her crime;
an innocent prisoner languishes yonder, in that stone cage beyond
the river."

Mr. Dunbar pointed over the billowing sea of green tree tops, toward
an irregular dark shadow that blurred the northern sky line; and
his eagle eyes darkened as they discerned the prison outlines.

"Did you ever see a sketch of Rossetti's 'Pandora'?" asked Prince.

"No."

"The face is somewhat like that young prisoner's; the same mystical,
prescient melancholy in the wide eyes, as if she realized she was
predestine to work woe. I am heartily glad I was spared the pain of
the prosecution, for had I been here, compassion would almost have
paralyzed the effort to secure justice; and now, while my loss is
irreparable, the law insures punishment for father's wrongs. As I
walk about this dear old place, which he intended I should possess,
and recall all that we had planned, it seems hard indeed that I find
myself so unable to execute his wishes. After a few days, when I
shall leave it, I suppose that for the next five years the house
will become an owl roost and den of bats and spiders. On Thursday I
go temporarily to Charleston to visit my uncle, Doctor Thornton, who
offers me a place in his office, and a home at his hearthstone."

"Why specifically for five years?"

"That is the term of her imprisonment. At the expiration of her
sentence, I presume Gen. Darringtor's grand-daughter will hasten to
take possession of her dearly-bought domain."

A derisive smile unbent the tight lines of the lawyer's mouth.

"Come here to live? She would sooner spring into the jaws of hell!"

Prince Darrington's large light eyes opened wide, in a questioning
stare.

"If she is innocent, as you believe, why should she shrink from
occupying the family homestead? If she be guilty, which I (having
seen her) cannot credit, there is no probability that remorseful
scruples would influence her. No conceivable contingency can ever
again make it my home, and on Thursday I go away forever."

"That which a man claims and expects, generally deserts and betrays
him; it is the unforeseen, the unexpected that comes in the form of
benediction. Time is the master magician, and 'Tout went a qui sait
attendre'. Kittie may yet trail her velvet robe as chatelaine
through these noble old halls and galleries. Come to my office at
ten o'clock tomorrow; I may have an answer to my letter to Doctor
Balfour."

Six months before, Mr. Dunbar had walked down these steps, mounted
his horse and hurried away to keep tryst with the fair, noble woman,
whose promised hand was the guerdon of ambitious schemes, and years
of patient, persistent wooing. To-day he rode slowly to a parting
interview, which would sever the last link that Bad so long held
their lives in tender association. Whatever of regret mingled with
the contemplation of his ruined matrimonial castle, lay hidden so
deep in the debris, that no faintest reflection was visible in his
inscrutable face.

When he reached the railway station where a special car containing a
small party, awaited the arrival of the north bound train that would
attach it to its sinuous length, a number of friends had assembled
to say good-bye to the departing favorite. The announcement of Miss
Gordon's extended yachting trip, had excited much comment in social
circles, and while people wondered at the prolongation of the
engagement, none but her immediate family suspected that the
betrothal had been cancelled.

Leo's wonted gracious composure betrayed no hint of the truth, and
she greeted Mr. Dunbar with outstretched hand and a friendly smile.

"I am indebted to your kind courtesy, Lennox, for the most
auspicious omen at the outset of my long journey; and I shall not
attempt to tell you how cordially I appreciate your tasteful
souvenir. Your roses are exquisite, and fragrant as the message they
bring me."

She glanced up at a large horseshoe made of her favorite pink roses,
which had been hung by a silver wire directly over the seat she
occupied.

"Will you give me your interpretation of their message?"

He swept aside a shawl and reticule, and sat down beside her.

"It is written legibly all over their lovely petals. You wish me a
rose-strewn itinerary, all conceivable forms of 'good luck'; as
though you stood on tip-toe and shouted after me: 'Gluck auf.' As a
happy augury, I accept it. Like the old Romans, you have offered up
for me a dainty sacrifice to propitiate Domiduca--the goddess who
grants travellers a safe return home."

"Meanwhile I hope you see quite as clearly, that the thorns have all
been stripped off and set thickly along my path?"

Her smiling eyes met his steadily, and the brave heart showed no
quailing.

"If I imagine that complimentary inference is written between the
lines, is it not pardonable to welcome the assurance that you will
sometimes be sharply pricked into remembrance of your absent
friend?"

At this moment, with clanging bells and thundering wheels the train
swept in, and Leo rose to exchange last greetings with numerous
friends Judge Dent and Miss Patty accompanied her as far as New
York, and when the car had been coupled at the end of the long line,
and all was in readiness, Mr. Dunbar took his companion's hand.

"When we parted last, I was angry and hasty. Now I desire to make
one farewell request. You ask a release from our engagement. I grant
it. I hold you perfectly free; but I will consider myself bound,
pledged to you until the expiration of one year. Nothing you can say
shall alter my determination; but twelve months hence, if you can
trust your happiness to my hands, send me this message: 'I wear your
ring.' Once more I offer you my letter of confession. Will you
receive it now; will you look into the heart which I have bared for
your scrutiny?"

"No. I voluntarily forfeited that right, when I asked my freedom. If
your letter contains aught that would change my high regard, my
confidence, my affectionate interest in your happiness, I am doubly
anxious to avoid acquaintance with its contents. You have long held
the first place in my esteem, why seek to impair my valuation of
your character? Let us be friends, now and forever."

"Remember you broke your fetters; I hug mine--a year longer. Forget
me if you will; but Leo, when your heart refuses to be strangled,
suffer its cry to reach me. Whatever the future may decree, you
shall always be my noble ideal of exalted womanhood, my own proud,
sensitive, unselfish Leo; and from the depth of my heart I wish you
a pleasant tour, and a safe and speedy return."

A premonitory thrill shook the ear, and dropping the fingers that
lay cold as marble in his, Mr. Dunbar swung himself to the station
platform. The train moved off, but he knew that it would return in
switching, and so he stood hat in hand.

As it slowly glided back, he stepped close to the open window, and
Leo's last look at the man she had loved so long and well, showed
him with the sun shining on his superb form, and coldly locked face.
He saw her hazel eyes dim in their mist of unshed tears, and the
sweet, blanched lips trembling from the spasm that held her heart.
She leaned down, laid her hand on his shoulder.

"Dear Lennox, open your hand carefully; there--hold it close. Good-
bye."

Into his palm she dropped something; their faces almost touched,
eyes met, heart looked into heart; then Leo smiled and drew back,
lowering her veil, and as the cars shivered, lurched, moved on, Mr.
Dunbar put on his hat and unclosed his fingers.

The white fire leaping in the diamonds destroyed the last vestige of
a betrothal, that he had once regarded as the summum bonum of his
successful career; consumed in its incipiency the farewell compact,
which his regard for Leo's womanly pride, and an honorable desire to
cling as closely as possible to at least the loyal forms of
allegiance, had prompted him to impose upon himself.

Apparently unwounded, she would sail away victrix, with gay pennons
flying through distant summer seas, while he remained, stranded on
the reefs of adverse fate, a target for cynical society batteries, a
victim of the condolence of sympathizing friends.

In reality he felt the benignant touch of fortune still upon his
head, and thanked her heartily that Leo had taken the initiative;
that no overt act of disloyalty blurred his escutcheon, and above
all, that he had been spared the humiliation of acknowledging his
inability to resist the strange fascination that dragged him from
his allegiance, as Auroras swing the needle from the pole. He did
not attempt to underrate the vastness of his loss, nor to condone
the folly which he designated as "infernal idiocy"; yet conscience
acquitted him of intentionally betraying the trust a noble woman had
reposed; and his vanity was appeased by the conviction that though
Leo had cast him out of her life, she went abroad because she loved
him supremely. Putting the ring in his pocket, he turned away as
from a grave that had closed forever over that which once held ail
the promise of life.

Three hours later, that carefully written letter acknowledging to
his fiancee that his heart had rebelliously swung from its moorings,
under the magnetic strain of another woman, and asking her tender
forbearance to aid him in conquering a weakness for which he
blushed, had been reduced to a drab shadow on his office hearth; and
the lawyer was engrossed by the preparation of a testamentary
document, which embraced several pages of legal cap. Again and again
he read it over, pausing now and then as if striving to recall some
invisible scroll, and at last as if satisfied with the result,
placed it in an envelope, thrust it into his pocket, and once more
mounted his horse. The ceaseless and intense yearning to see again
the young stranger, who seemed destined to play the role of Ate in
so many lives, would no longer be denied; and at a swift gallop he
took the road leading to the penitentiary.

Four or five carriages were drawn up in front of the iron gate, and
when, in answer to the bell, Jarvis, the underwarden, came forward
to admit Mr. Dunbar, he informed him that the State Inspectors were
making a tour of investigation through the building.

"I want to see Singleton."

"Just now he is engaged showing the inspectors around, and they
generally turn everything upside down, and inside out. If you will
step into the office and wait awhile, he will be at leisure."

"Where is Mrs. Singleton?"

"She has just gone into the women's workroom. One of the sewing gang
is epileptic, and fell in a fit a few minutes ago, so I sent for
her. Come this way and I will find her."

The visitor hesitated, drew back.

"Is Miss Brentano there also?"

"No. She is still on the infirmary list."

Jarvis opened the door of a long, well-lighted but narrow room, in
the centre of which was a table extending to the lower end; and on
each side of it sat women busily engaged in stitching and binding
shoes, and finishing off various articles of clothing; while two
were ticketing a pile of red flannel and blue hickory shirts. Four
sewing-machines stood near the wall where grated windows admitted
sunshine, and their hymn to Labor was the only sound that broke the
brooding silence. The room was scrupulously clean and tidy, and the
inmates, wearing the regulation uniform of blue-striped homespun,
appeared comparatively neat; but sordid, sullen, repulsively coarse
and brutish were many of the countenances bent over the daily task,
and now and then swift, furtive glances from downcast eyes betrayed
close kinship with lower animals.

At one of the machines sat a woman whose age could not have exceeded
twenty-eight years, with a figure of the Juno type, and a beautiful
dark face where tawny chatoyant eyes showed the baleful fire of a
leopardess. Winding a bobbin, she leaned back in her chair, with the
indolent, haughty grace of a sultana, and when she held the bobbin
up against the light for an instant, her slender olive hand and
rounded wrist might have belonged to Cleopatra.

"Who is that woman winding thread?"

"Her name is Iva Le Bougeois, but we call her the 'Bloody Duchess'.
She was sent up here two years ago, from one of the lower counties,
for wholesale butchery. Seems her husband got a divorce, and was on
the eve of marrying again. She posted herself about the second
wedding, and managed to make her way into the parlor, where she hid
behind the window curtains. Just as the couple stood up to be
married, she cut her little boy's throat with a razor, dragged the
body in front of the bride, and before any one could move, drew a
revolver, blew the top of her husband's head off, and then shot
herself. The ball passed through her shoulder and broke her arm, but
as you see, she was spared, as many another wildcat has been. Her
friends and counsel tried to prove insanity, but the plea was too
thin; so she landed here for a term of twenty years, and it will
take every day of it to cut her claws. She is as hard as flint, and
her heart is as black as a wolf's mouth."

"Medea's wrongs generally end in Medea's crimes," answered the
visitor; watching the defiant poise of the small shapely head,
covered with crisp, raven locks. Having less acquaintance with the
classics than with the details of prison discipline, the under-
warden stared.

After a moment he pointed to a diminutive figure standing at the end
of the long table, and engaged in folding some white garments.

"See that pretty little thing, with the yellow head? Shouldn't you
say she looks like an angel, and ought to be put on the altar to
hear the prayers of sinners? Would you believe she is a mother?
Arson is her hobby. She is a regular 'fire-bug'. She was adopted by
a German couple, and one night, when the old farmer had come home
with the money paid him for his sheep and hogs, she stole the last
cent he had, pocketed all the oold frau's silver spoons, poured
kerosene around the floor, set fire to the house in several places,
locked the door and ran for her life. A peddler happened to seek
quarters for the night, and finding the place on fire, managed to
break through the windows and save the old folks from being roasted
alive. When the case came to trial it was proved that she had set
fire to two other buildings, but on account of her youth had escaped
prosecution. They could not hang her, though she deserved the
gallows, and her child was born three months after she came here.
Looks innocent as a wax doll doesn't she? Eve Werneth she calls
herself; and she is well named after the original mother of all sin.
She is Satan's own imp, and we chain her every night, for she boasts
that when things grow tiresome to her she always burns her way out.
I think she is the worst case we have, except the young mulatto--I
don't see her here just now--who was sent up for life, for poisoning
a baby she was hired to nurse. There is Mrs. Singleton."

The warden's wife came forward with a vial in one hand, and at sight
of the visitor, paused and held out the other.

"How'dy do, Mr. Dunbar. You are waiting to see Ned?"

"I much prefer seeing you, if you have leisure for an interview.
Singleton can join us when the inspectors take their leave."

"Very well; come up stairs. Jarvis, send Ned up as soon as you can."

She led the way to the room where her two children were at play, and
breaking a ginger cake between them, dragged their toys into one
corner, and bade them build block houses, without a riot.

"I have never received even a verbal reply to the note which I
requested your husband to place in Miss Brentano's hands."

"Probably you never will. She took cold by being dragged back and
forth to court during that freezing weather, and two days after her
conviction she was taken ill with pneumonia. First one lung, then
the other, and the case took a typhoid form. For six weeks she could
not lift her head, and now though she goes about my rooms, and into
the yard a little, she is awfully shattered, and has a bad cough,
Once when we had scarcely any hope, she asked the doctor to give her
no more medicine; said that it would be a mercy to let her die. Poor
thing! her proud spirit is as broken as her body, and the thought of
being seen seems to torture her. Dyce is the only person whom she
allows to come near her."

"Where is she?"

"We were obliged to move her, after she was sentenced, but the
doctor said one of those cells down stairs would be certain and
quick death for her, with her lungs in such a condition; so we put
her in the smallest room on this floor; the last one at the end of
the corridor. It is only a closet it is true, but it is right in the
angle, and has two narrow slits of windows, one opening south, the
other west, and the sunshine gets in. The day after her trial ended,
she sent for the sheriff, who happened to be here, and asked him if
solitary confinement was not considered a more severe penalty than
any other form here? When he told her it was, she said: Then it
could not be construed into clemency or favoritism if you ordered me
into solitary confinement? Certainly not, he told her. Whereupon she
begged him to allow her to be shut up away from the others, as she
would sooner sit in the dark and see no human being, than be forced
to associate with the horrible, guilty outcasts down stairs. While
he and Ned were consulting about her case, she was taken very ill.
Of course you know Ned has a good deal of latitude and discretion
allowed him, and the doctor is on our side, but even at best, the
rules are stern. She takes her meals alone, and the only place where
she meets the other convicts--isn't it a shame to call her one!--is
the chapel; and even there she is separated, because Ned has given
her charge of the organ. Everybody under sentence is obliged to
work, but she does not go down into the general sewing room. The
superintendent of that department apportions a certain amount of
sewing, and her share is sent up daily to her. She really is not
able to work, but begged that we should give her some employment."

"She consented to see Mr. Prince Darrington?"

"Oh, no! It was the merest accident that he succeeded in speaking to
her. He happened to come the day that I took her out for the first
time in the garden, for a little fresh air in the sunshine; and we
met him and Ned on the walk. O, Mr. Dunbar! It was pitiful to see
her face, when the young man took off his hat, and said:

"'I am General Darrington's adopted son.'

"She was so weak she had been leaning on me, but she threw up her
head, and her figure stiffened into steel. 'You imagine that I am
the person who robbed you of Gen'l Darrington's fortune? I suffer
for crimes I did not commit; and am the innocent victim selected to
atone for your injuries. My wrongs are more cruel than yours. You
merely lost lands and money. Can you, by the wildest flight of fancy
conjecture that aught but disgrace and utter ruin remain for me?'
Ned and I walked away; and when we came back she had stepped into
the hall, and drawn the inside door between them. He was standing
bareheaded, gazing up at her, and she was looking down at him
through the open iron lattice, as if he were the real culprit. That
night she had a nervous chill that lasted several hours, and we
promised that no one should be allowed to see her. Of course the
inspectors go everywhere, and when Ned opened her door, I was with
her, giving her the tonic the Doctor ordered three times a day. I
had prepared her for their visit, but when the gentlemen crowded in,
she put her hands over her face and hid it on the table. There was
not a syllable uttered, and they walked out quickly."

"Will you do me the kindness to persuade her to see me?"

"I am sure, sir, she will refuse; because she desires most
especially to be shielded from your visits."

"Nevertheless, I intend to see her. Please say that I am here, and
have brought the papers Mr. Singleton desired me to prepare for
her."

Ten minutes elapsed before the warden's wife returned, shaking her
head:

"She prefers not seeing you, but thanks you for the paper which she
wishes left with Mr. Singleton. When she has read it, Mr. Singleton
will probably bring you some message. She hopes you will believe
that she is very grateful for your attention to her request."

"Go back and tell her that unless she admits me, she shall never see
the paper, for I distinctly decline to put it in any hand but hers;
and, moreover, tell her she asked me to obtain for her a certain
article which, for reasons best known to herself, she holds very
dear. This is her only opportunity to receive it, which must be
directly from me. Say that this is the last time I will insist upon
intruding, and after to-day she shall not he allowed the privilege
of refusing me an audience. I am here solely in her behalf, and I am
determined to see her now."

When Mrs. Singleton came back the second time, she appeared
unwontedly subdued, perplexed; and her usually merry eyes were
gravely fixed with curious intentness upon the face of her visitor.

"The room straight ahead of you, with the door partly open, at the
end of this corridor. She sees you 'only on condition that this is
to be the final annoyance'. Mr. Dunbar, you were born to tyrannize.
It seems to me you have merely to will a thing, in order to
accomplish it."

"If that were true, do you suppose I would allow her to remain one
hour in this accursed cage of blood-smeared criminals?"

Down the dim corridor he walked slowly, as if in no haste to finish
his errand, stepped into the designated cell, and closed the door
behind him.

CHAPTER XXIII.

The apartment eight by twelve feet possessed the redeeming feature
of a high ceiling, and on either side of the southwest corner wall,
a window only two feet wide allowed the afternoon sunshine to print
upon the bare floor the shadow of longitudinal iron bars fastened
into the stone sills. A narrow bedstead, merely a low black cot of
interlacing iron straps, stood against the eastern side, and
opposite, a broad shelf, also of iron, ran along the walls and held
a tin ewer and basin, a few books, and a pile of clothing neatly
folded.

Across the angle niche between the windows a wooden bench had been
drawn; in front of it stood a chair and oval table, on which lay
some sheets of paper, pen and ink, and a great bunch of yellow
jasmine, and wild pink azaleas that lavishly sprinkled the air with
their delicate spicery. Pencils, crayons, charcoal and several large
squares of cardboard and drawing-paper were heaped at one end of the
bench, and beside these sat the occupant of the cell, leaning with
folded arms on the table in front of her; and holding in her lap the
vicious, ocelot-eyed yellow cat.

Against the shimmering glory of Spring sunshine streaming down upon
her, head and throat were outlined like those of haloed martyrs that
Mantegna and Sodoma left as imperishable types of patient suffering.

When the visitor came forward to the table that barred nearer
approach, she made no attempt to rise, and for a moment both were
mute. He saw the noble head shorn of its splendid coronal of braids,
and covered thickly with short, waving, bronzed tendrils of silky
hair, that held in its glistening mesh the reddish lustre of old
gold, and the deep shadows of time-mellowed mahogany. That most
skilful of all sculptors, hopeless sorrow, had narrowed to a perfect
oval the wan face, waxen in its cold purity; and traced about the
exquisite mouth those sad, patient curves that attest suffering
which sublimates, that belong alone to the beauty of holiness. Eyes
unusually large and shadowy now, beneath their black fringes, were
indescribably eloquent with the pathos of a complete, uncomplaining
surrender to woes that earth could never cure; and the slender
wasted fingers, in their bloodless semi-transparency, might have
belonged to some chiselled image of death. Every jot and tittle of
the degrading external badges of felony had been meted out, and
instead of the mourning garment she had worn in court, her dress to-
day was of the coarse dark-blue home-spun checked with brown, which
constituted the prison uniform of female convicts.

As Mr. Dunbar noted the solemn repose, the pathetic grace with which
she endured the symbols that emblazoned her ignominous doom, a dark
red glow suffused his face, a flush of shame for the indignity which
he had been impotent to avert.

"Who dared to cut your hair--and thrust that garb upon you? They
promised me you should be exempt from brands of felony."

"When one is beaten with many stripes, a blow more or less matters
little; is not computed. They kindly tell me that illness and the
doctor's commands cost me the loss of my hair; and after all, why
should I object to the convict coiffure? Nothing matters any more."

"Why not admit at once that, Bernice-like, you freely offered up
your beautiful hair as love's sacrifice?"

He spoke hotly, and an ungovernable rage possessed him as he
realized that though so near, and apparently so helpless, she was
yet so immeasurably removed, so utterly inaccessible. Her drooping
white lids lifted; she looked steadily up at him, and the mournful
eyes held no hint of denial. He stretched his hand across the table,
and all the gnawing hunger at his heart leaped into his voice, that
trembled with entreaty.

"For God's sake give me your hand just once, as proof that you
forgive my share in this cruel, dastardly outrage."

"Do not touch me. When we shake hands it must be as seal upon a very
sacred compact, which you are not yet ready to make."

She straightened herself, and her hands were removed from the table;
fell to stroking the cat lying on her knee.

"What conditions would you impose upon me?"

"Sit down, Mr. Dunbar, and let us transact the necessary business
which alone made this interview possible."

With an imperious gesture, befitting some sovereign who reluctantly
accords audience, she motioned him to the chair, and as he seated
himself his eyes gleamed ominously.

"It pleases you to ignore our past relations?"

"Even so. To-day we meet merely as attorney and client to arrange
the final QUID PRO QUO. You have brought the paper?"

"I inferred from your message that you desired as exact a copy as
memory permitted. Here it is."

He took from his pocket a long legal envelope.

"I believe you stated that your father originally drew up this
paper, and that recently you altered and re-wrote it?"

"Those are the facts relative to it."

"Can you recall the date of the revision?"

"Nearly a year ago. Last May it was signed in the presence of Doctor
Ledyard and Colonel Powell, who also signed as witnesses, though
ignorant of its contents."

"You offer me this as a correct expression of Gen'l Darrington's
wishes regarding the distribution of his estate, real and personal?"

"At your request I furnish from memory a copy of Gen'l Darrington's
will, which I have faithfully endeavored to recall, and I
conscientiously believe this to be strictly accurate. Shall I read
it?"

A severe and prolonged fit of coughing delayed her reply; and when
she held out her hand for the paper, her breathing was painfully
rapid and labored.

"I will not tax you. Let me glance over it."

Spreading the long sheets open before her, she leaned over the table
and read.

In the palm of her right hand rested her temple, and the left
smoothed and turned the leaves. Crossing his arms on the top of the
table, the attorney bent forward and surrendered himself to the
coveted delight of studying the face, that had made summary
shipwreck of his matrimonial fortune. No slightest detail escaped
him; the burnished locks curled loosely around the forehead smooth
as a sleeping baby's, the broad arch of the delicately-pencilled
black brows, the Madonna droop of the lids whose heavy sable fringes
deepened the bluish shadows beneath the eyes, the straight, flawless
nose, the perfect chin with its deeply-incised dimple, the
remarkably beautiful mouth, which despairing grief had kissed and
made its own.

Pale as marble, the proud, patrician face was pure as some bending
lily frozen on its graceful, rounded stem: and the tapering fingers
with daintily curved, polished nails would have suited better the
lace and velvet of royal robes than the rough home-spun sleeves
folded back from the white wrists.

Mr. Dunbar had met many lovely, gracious, high-bred women, yet
escaped heart whole; and even the nobility and sweetness of his
pretty fiancee, enhanced by the surrounding glamour of heiresship,
failed to touch the flood gates of tender love that a pauper's hand
had suddenly unloosed, to sweep as a destroying torrent through the
fair garden of his most cherished hopes. What was the spell exerted
by the young convict when she grappled his heart, and in the havoc
of her own life carried down all the possibilities of his future
peace? Personal ambition, calculating mercenary selfishness had
melted away in the volcanic madness that seized him, and to his own
soul he acknowledged that his dominant and supreme wish was to
gather in his arms and hold forever the condemned woman, who wore
with such sublime serenity the livery of felony.

After all, have we misread our classics? Had not Homer a prevision
of the faith that Aphrodites' altar belonged in the Temple of the
Fates?

Beryl refolded the paper and looked up. In the face so close to
hers, she saw all the yearning tenderness, the over-mastering love
that had convulsed his nature, and before the pleading magnetic eyes
that essayed to probe her soul, hers fell.

As out of a cloud, some burst of sunlight striking through the ruby
vestments of apostles in a cathedral window falls aslant and
suddenly crimsons the marble features of a sculptured angel guarding
the high altar, so unexpectedly a vivid blush dyed the girl's
cheeks. Her lips trembled; she swept her hand across her eyes as
though blotting out some fascination upon which it was not her
privilege to dwell; then the glow faded, she moved back on the
bench, and leaned her head against the wall.

"Where are the bonds and other securities described in this paper?"

"In a compartment of the safety deposit vault of the--Bank, of which
Gen'l Darrington was a large stockholder and director. His box was
opened last week in presence of his adopted son, and we hoped to
find perhaps a duplicate of the lost will; but there was not even a
memorandum to indicate his last wishes."

"Can you tell me whether Mr. Prince Darrington will take any legal
steps to recover the legacy which the loss of the will appears to
have cancelled?"

"He certainly has no such intention."

"Are you quite sure of his views?"

"Absolutely sure, having talked with him this morning. I speak
authoritatively."

"He was entirely dependent on Gen'l Darrington?"

"Wholly so with regard to pecuniary resources."

"At present he is as much a beggar as I was that day when I first
saw X--? Is it true that want of money obliged him to quit Germany
before he obtained the university degree, for which his studies were
intended to fit him?"

"Strictly true. He sorely laments his inability to complete the
course of study, and hopes at some future day to return and reap the
distinction which he feels sure awaits him in scientific fields."

A brief silence followed, and the girl's thoughts seemed to drift
far from her gloomy surroundings to some lofty plane of peace beyond
the ills of time. Once more a spasm of coughing seized her; then she
looked at the attorney.

"I learned in court that the destruction of Gen'l Darrington's will
would secure to my mother the possession of all his estate. She has
entered into Rest; into possession of her heritage in Christ's
kingdom. Am I, her child, the lawful heir of Gen'l Darrington's
fortune? Are there any legal quibbles that could affect my rights?"

"I am aware of none. The estate is certainly yours, and the law will
sustain your claims."

"Claim? I only claim the right to repair as far as possible a wrong
for which I suffer, yet am not responsible. I sent for a copy of the
will because--"

"May I tell you why? Because in order to execute its provisions, it
was essential that you should know them accurately."

The assurance that he interpreted so correctly her motive, brought a
quick throb to her tired Heart, and a faint flush of pleasure to her
thin cheeks.

"Had you read as accurately my intentions, six months ago, when you
woke me from my sleep under the pine trees, how different the
current of many lives! Mr. Dunbar, my ignorance of legal forms
constrains me to accept your assistance in a matter which I am
unwilling to delay--" She hesitated, and he smiled bitterly.

"You need be at no trouble to emphasize your reluctance. I quite
understand your ineradicable repugnance. Nevertheless good luck
ordains that only I can serve you at present, so be pleased to
command me."

"Thank you. I wish you to help me make my will."

"Why?"

"How long do you suppose I can endure this 'death in life?' I am
patient because I hope and believe my release is not far distant.
Galloping consumption is a short avenue to freedom."

He caught his breath, and the blood ebbed from his lips, but he
hurled aside the suggestion as though it were a coiled viper.

"Life has for you one charm which will successfully hold death at
bay. Love has sustained you thus far; it will lend wings to the
years that must ultimately bring the recompense for which you long,
the sight of him whose crime you expiate."

He could not understand the peculiar smile that parted her lips, nor
the far-away, preoccupied expression that crept into her sad eyes.

"Nevertheless I have decided to make my will. I desire that in every
detail it shall duplicate the provisions of the instrument I am
punished for having stolen and destroyed; and I charge you to write
it so carefully, that when all the legacies shall have been paid,
the residue of the estate cannot fail to reach the hands of the son
for whom it was intended. To Mr. Prince Darrington I give and
bequeath, mark you now, ALL MY RIGHT AND TITLE to the fortune left
by Gen'l Darrington."

"Before I pledge myself to execute this commission, I wish you to
know that of such testamentary disposition of your estate, I should
become remotely a beneficiary. Mr. Darrington has asked my only
sister to be his wife, and their marriage is contingent merely on
his financial ability to maintain her comfortably. Mine is scarcely
the proper hand to pour the rich stream of your possessions into his
empty coffers."

"I am well aware of the tie that binds your sister and Mr.
Darrington."

"Since when have you known it?"

"No prison walls are sufficiently thick to turn the stream of
gossip; it trickles, oozes through all barriers. Exactly when or how
I became acquainted with your family secret is not germane to the
subject under consideration."

"Cognizant of the fact that Gen'l Darrington's adopted son was my
prospective brother-in-law, you have paid me the compliment of
believing that selfish, pecuniary motives incited my zeal in
securing your prosecution, for the loss of the fortune I coveted?
Your heart garners that insult to me?"

The only storm signal that defied his habitual control, was the
intense glow in his eyes where an electric spark rayed out through
the blue depths.

"I might tell you, that my heart is a sepulchre too crowded with
dead hopes to hold resentment against their slayer; but you have a
right to something more. I pay you the just tribute of grateful
admiration for the unselfish heroism that prompted you to plead so
eloquently in defence of a forsaken woman who, living or dead,
defrauded your sister of a brilliant fortune. You fought
courageously to save me, and I am quite willing you should know that
it is partly due to my recognition of your bravery in leading that
forlorn hope, that I am anxious by immediate reparation to restore
matters to their original status. Life is so uncertain I can leave
nothing to chance; and when my will is signed and sealed, and in
your possession, I shall know that even if I should be suddenly set
free, Mr. Darrington and your sister will enjoy their heritage. When
you will have drawn up the paper send it to Mr. Singleton. I will
sign it in his presence and that of the doctor, which will suffice
for witnesses."

"In view of the peculiar provisions of the will, I prefer you should
employ some other instrument for its preparation. Judge Dent,
Churchill or Wolverton, will gladly serve you, and I will send to
you whomsoever you select. I decline to become the medium of
transferring the accursed money that cost you so dearly, to the man
whom my sister expects to marry."

"As you will; only let there be no delay. Ask Judge Dent to prove
his friendship for Gen'l Darrington by enabling me to execute his
wishes."

"Judge Dent went this morning to New York; but by the latter part of
the week you may expect the paper for signature."

"That relieves one anxiety, for while I was so ill I was tortured by
the thought that I could not make just restitution to innocent
sufferers. Mr. Dunbar, a yet graver apprehension now oppresses me.
If I should live, how can I put the rightful owners in immediate
possession? What process does the law prescribe for conveying the
property directly to Mr. Darrington?"

"Ordinarily the execution of a deed of gift from you to him, would
accomplish that object."

"Will you please write out the proper form on the paper in front of
you?"

"I certainly will not."

"May I know why?"

"For two reasons. Personally, the deed of gift would embarrass me
even more than the will. Professionally, it occurs to me you are not
of age; hence the transfer would be invalid at present. Pardon me,
how old are you?"

"I was eighteen on the fourth of July last. Grim sarcasm is it not,
that the child of Independence Day should be locked up in a
dungeon?"

"The law of the State requires the age of twenty-one years to insure
the validity of such a transaction as that which you contemplate."

"Do you mean that my hands are tied; that if I should live, I can do
nothing for more than two years?"

"Such is the law."

"Then the justice that fled from criminal law, steers equally clear
of the civil code? What curious paradoxes, what subtleties of
finesse lurk in those fine meshes of jurisprudence, ingeniously
spread to succor wary guilt, to tangle and trip the careless feet of
innocence! All the world knows that the dearest wish that warmed
General Darrington's heart was to disinherit and repudiate his
daughter, and to secure his worldly goods to his adopted son; and
yet because a sheet of paper expressing that desire could not be
produced in court, the will of the dead is defied, and the fortune
is thrust into the hated hands which its owner swore should never
touch it; hands that the law says murdered in order to steal. When
the child of the disowned and repudiated, holding sacred the
unfortunate man's wishes, refuses to accept the blood-bought
heritage, and attempts to replace the fatal legacy in the possession
of those for whom it was notoriously intended--this Tartufe of
justice strides forward and forbids righteous restitution; postpones
the rendering of 'Caesar's things to Caesar' for two years, in order
to save the condemned the additional pang of regretting the
generosity of her minority! Human wills, intentions and aims, no
matter how laudable and well known, are blandly strangled by
judicial red tape, and laid away with pompous ceremonial in the
dusty catacombs of legal form. Grimly grotesque, this masquerade of
equity! Something must be done for Mr. Darrington, to enable him to
finish his studies and embark on the career his father designed."

"He is a man, and can learn to carve his way unaided."

She sighed wearily, and a troubled look crossed her face; while the
visitor followed with longing eyes the slow motion of her delicate
hand, beautiful as Herses', that softly stroked the cat purring
against her shoulder.

"Surely there is an outlet to this snare. You could help me if you
would."

"I? Do you imagine that after all the injuries I have inflicted on
you, I can consent to help you beggar yourself?"

"You know that I would sooner handle red-hot ploughshares, than
touch a dollar, a cent, of that fortune. It would greatly relieve my
mind and comfort me, if you would indicate some method by which I
can convey to Mr. Darrington that which really belongs to him.
Unless he can enjoy it, it might as well be in the grave now with
its former owner. Do help me."

The pathetic pleading of face and voice almost unnerved him, but he
sat silent.

"Cannot I dispose at least of the income or interest? If a definite
amount should be allowed me each year, during my minority, could I
do as I please with that sum?"

"Certainly you have that right. I may as well tell you, there is one
method of accomplishing your aim, by applying to the Legislature to
legalize your acts by declaring you of age. At present the estate is
in the hands of Mr. Wolverton, whom the Probate Court has appointed
administrator; and at the expiration of eighteen months from the
date of Gen'l Darrington's death, the control of the whole will
devolve to some extent upon you. Meanwhile the administrator will
allow you annually a reasonable amount."

"Do you know what sum Mr. Darrington required while abroad?"

"I am told his allowance was four thousand dollars per annum.
Histology, morphology, and aetiology are whims too costly for
impecunious students. Prince must reduce his stable of hobbies."

"No, he is entitled to canter as many as he likes, and the money
could not be better spent than in promoting the noble work of the
advancement of Science. The problem is solved, and my earthly cares
are at an end. Leave the copy you brought, and ask Mr. Wolverton to
see me to-morrow. He shall write both the will and the deed of gift,
which you think can be made valid, and meanwhile the annual
allowance must be paid as formerly to the son. Whether I live or
die, the wishes of the dead will be respected, and Prince Darrington
shall have his own. It is an intense relief to know that two
innocent and happy lives will never feel the fatal chill of my
shadow; and when your sister enters 'Elm Bluff' as its mistress, the
balance-sheet will be complete."

As if some dreaded task had been finally accomplished, she drew a
deep sigh of weariness that was cut short by a spell of coughing.

"There is a Scriptural injunction concerning kindness to enemies,
which amounts to heaping coals of fire on their heads; and to my
unregenerate nature, it savors more of subtile inquisitorial
cruelty, than of Christian charity."

"Your sister is not my enemy, I hope, and need I so rank your
sister's brother? There is one thing more, which even your sarcasm
shall not prevent."

She drew from beneath the cardboard a paper box, placed it on the
table and removed the lid.

"I presume the Sheriff meant kindly when he sent me this as my
property, which having testified to suit the prosecution, was
returned to the burglar in whose possession it was found. The sight
of it was as humiliating as a blow on the cheek. Some gifts are
fatal; nevertheless, you must ascribe no sinister motive to me, when
I fulfil that injunction of Gen'l Darrington's last Will and
Testament, which set apart these sapphires for his son's bride. They
are just as I received them from his hands. My mother, for whom they
were intended, never saw them; I thank God that she wears the
eternal jewels that He provides for the faithful and the pure in
heart. I wish you to deliver this case, and the gold pieces, one
hundred dollars, to Mr. Darrington; and it will be a mercy to rid me
of torturing reminders."

She looked at the azure flame leaping from the superb stones, and
pushed the box away with a gesture of loathing.

"Beautifully blue as those weird nebulae in the far, far South; that
brood over the ocean wastes where cyclones are born; but to me and
to mine, the baleful medium of an inherited curse. Having
accomplished my doom, may they bring only benison to your sister."

"I would see adders fastened in her ears and twined around her neck
sooner than those--"

"At least take them out of my sight; give them to Mr. Darrington.
They are maddening reminders of a perished past. Now, to the last
iota, I have made all possible restitution, and the account is
squared; for in exchange for that life, which I am condemned as
having taken, my own is the forfeit. The expiation is complete."

She seemed to have forgotten his presence, as her gaze rested on the
ring she wore, and a happy smile momentarily glorified the pale
face.

"Beryl!--"

She started, winced, shivered; and threw up her hand with the
haughty denial he so well remembered.

"Hush! Only my precious dead ever called me so. You must not dare!"

Something she read in the face that leaned toward her, filled her
with vague dread, and despite her efforts, she trembled visibly.

"Mr. Dunbar, I am very weary; tired--oh! how tired, body and soul."

"You dismiss me? Recollect I was warned that this would be the last
interview accorded me, and I beg your indulgence. If you knew all,
if you could imagine one-half the sorrow you have caused me, you
would consider our accounts as satisfactorily balanced as your
settlement with the Darringtons. Whether you have ruined my life, or
are destined to purify and exalt it, remains to be determined. To
see you as you are, is almost beyond my powers of endurance, and for
my own sake--mark you--to ease my own heart, I shall redouble my
efforts to have you liberated. There is one speedy process, the
discovery of the man whom, thus far, you have shielded so
effectually; and next week I begin the hunt in earnest by going
West."

He saw her fingers clutch each other, and the artery in her throat
throb quickly.

"How many victims are required to appease the manes of Gen'l
Darrington? Be satisfied with having sacrificed me, and waste no
more time in search that can bring neither recompense to you, nor
consolation to me. If I can bear my fate, you, sir, have no right to
interfere."

"Then, like the selfish man I am, I usurp the right. What damnable
infatuation can bind you to that miserable poltroon, who skulks in
safety, knowing that the penalty of his evil deeds falls on you? One
explanation has suggested itself: it haunts me like a fiend, and
only you can exorcise it. Are you married to that brute, and is it
loyalty that nerves you? For God's sake do not trifle, tell me the
truth."

He leaned across the table, caught her hands. She shook off his
touch, and her eyes were ablaze.

"Are you insane? How dare you cherish such a suspicion? The bare
conjecture is an insult, and you must know it is false. Married? I?"

"Forgive me if I wound you, but indeed I could conceive of no other
solution of the mystery of your self-sacrifice; for it is utterly
incredible that unless some indissoluble tie bound you, that
cowardly knave could command your allegiance. It maddens me to think
that you, so far beyond all other women, can tolerate the thought of
that--"

"Hush! hush! You conjure phantoms with which to taunt and torture.
You pity me so keenly, that your judgment becomes distorted, and you
chase chimeras. Banish imaginary husbands, Western journeys, even
the thought of my wretched doom, and try henceforth to forget that I
ever saw X--."

"What does this mean? It was not on your hand when I held it so long
that day--in my own. Tell me, and quiet my pain."

He pointed to the heavy ring, which was much too large for the
wasted finger where it glistened.

"What does it mean? A tale of woe. It means that when my broken-
hearted mother was dying among strangers, in a hospital, she kissed
her wedding ring, and sent it with her love and blessing to the
child--she idolized. It means--" She held up her waxen hand, and
into her voice stole immeasurable tenderness: "Shall I tell you all
it means? This little gold hoop inscribed inside 'I. B. to E. D.,'
girdles all that this world has left for me; memories of father,
mother, sunny childhood in a peaceful home, lofty ambitions, happy,
happy beautiful hopes that once belonged to the girl Beryl, whom
pitiless calamity has broken on her cruel wheel. Walled up, dying
slowly in a convict's tomb, the only light that shines into my
desolate heart, flickers through this little circle; and clasping it
close through the long, long nights, when horrible images brood like
vampires, it soothes me, like the touch of the dear hand which it
graced so long, and brings me dreams of the fair, sweet past."

Was it the mist in his eyes that showed her almost glorified by the
level rays of the setting sun, as like a tired child she leaned her
head against the wall, a pale image of resignation?

To lose her was a conjecture so fraught with pain, that his swart
face blanched, and his voice quivered under its weight of tender
entreaty.

"What is it that sustains you in your frightful martyrdom? Why do
you endure these horrors which might be abolished? You hurl me back
upon the loathsome thought that love, love for a depraved, brutal
wretch is the secret that baffles me. I might be able to see you
die, to lay you, stainless snowdrop that you are, in the coffin that
would keep you sacred forever; but please God! I will never endure
the pain of seeing you leave these sheltering walls to walk into
that man's arms. I swear to you by all I hold most precious, that if
he be yet alive, I will hand him over to retribution."

He had pushed aside the table, and stood before her, with the one
wholly absorbing love of his life glowing in his face. She dared not
meet the gaze that thrilled her with an exquisite happiness, and
involuntarily rose. Had she not strangled the impulse, her
fluttering heart would have prompted her to lean forward, rest her
head against his arm, and tell him all; but close as they stood, and
realizing that she reigned supreme in his affection, one seemed to
rise reproachfully between them; that generous, gentle woman to whom
his faith was pledged. No matter at what cost, she must guard Leo's
peace of mind; and to dispel his jealous illusion now, would
speedily overwhelm the tottering fabric of his allegiance. Folding
her arms tightly across her breast, she answered proudly:

"So be it then. Do your worst."

"You admit it!"

"I admit nothing."

"You defy me?"

"Defy? It seems I am always at the mercy of Tiberius."

"Can you look at me, and deny that you are screening your lover?"

She quickly lifted her head, with a peculiar haughty movement that
reminded him of a desperate stag at bay, and he never forgot the
expression of her eyes.

"I deny that Miss Gordon's accepted lover has any right to catechise
me concerning a subject which, were his suspicions correct, should
invest it with a sanctity inviolable by wanton curiosity."

He recoiled slightly as from a lash.

"Miss Gordon is on the eve of sailing through the sunny isles of
Greece; and while she is absent I purpose finding my nepenthe in my
hunt for murderers among Montana wilds. You have defied me, and I
will do my worst, nay, my very best to catch and hang that cowardly
rogue who adroitly used your handkerchief as the instrument to aid
his crime."

She walked a few steps, putting once more between them the table,
against which she leaned.

"If you are successful, and the mystery of that awful murder should
be unravelled, you will then comprehend something of the desperation
that makes me endure even this crucifixion of soul; and in that day,
when you discover the fugitive lover, you will blush for the taunts
aimed at a defenceless and sorely-stricken woman."

"Nevertheless, I bend my energies henceforth to his capture and
punishment."

"Because he is my lover? Or because he may be a criminal? Ask that
question of your honor. Answer it to your own conscience, and to the
noble heart of the trusting woman you asked to become your wife. Mr.
Dunbar, you must leave me now; my strength is almost spent."

Baffled, exasperated, he approached the table and took something
from his vest-pocket.

"I hold my honor flawless, and with the sanction of my conscience I
prefer to answer to you--you alone--because he is your lover, I will
have his life."

She smiled, and her eyes drooped; but there was strange emphasis in
her words as she clasped her hands:

"God keep my lover now and forever. Mr. Dunbar, when you discover
him, I have no fear that you will harm one hair in his dear head."

"If you knew all you have cost me, you might understand why I will
never forego my compensation. I bide my time; but I shall win. You
asked me, as a special favor, to preserve and secure for you
something which you held very valuable. Because no wish of yours can
ever be forgotten, I have complied with your request and brought you
this 'precious souvenir' of a tender past."

He tore away the paper wrapping, and held toward her the meerschaum
pipe, then dropped it on the table as though it burned his fingers.

At sight of it, a sudden faintness made the girl reel, and she put
her hand to her throat, as if to loosen a throttling touch. Her eyes
filled, and in a whirling mist she seemed to see the beloved face of
the father long dead, of the gay, beautiful young brother who had
wrought her ruin. Weakness overpowered her, and sinking to her
knees, she drew the pipe closer, laid it against her cheek, folded
her arms over it on the table and bowed her head.

What a host of mocking phantoms leaped through the portals of the
Bygone--babbling of the glorious golden dawn that was whitening into
a radiant morning, when the day-star fell back below the horizon,
and night devoured the new-born day. Memory comes, sometimes, in the
guise of an angel, wearing fragrant chaplets, singing us the perfect
harmonies of a hallowed past; but oftener still, as a fury scourging
with serpents; and always over her shoulder peers the wan face and
pitying eyes of a divine Regret.

The sun had gone down behind the dense pine forest stretching beyond
the prison, but the sky was a vast shifting flame of waning rose and
deepening scarlet, and the glow from the West still defied the
shadows gathering in the cell. Beryl was so still, that Mr. Dunbar
feared she had fainted from exhaustion.

He stepped to her side, and laid his hand on the bronzed head,
smoothing caressingly yet reverently the short, silky hair. Ah, the
unfathomable tenderness with which he bent over the only woman he
ever loved; the intolerable pain of the thought that after all he
might lose her. He heard the shuddering sob that broke from her
overtaxed and aching heart, and despite his jealous rage he felt
unmanned. When she raised her face, tears hung on her lashes.

"I will thank you, Mr. Dunbar, as long as I live, for this last and
greatest kindness. If I could tell you what this precious relic
represents to me, oh, if you knew! you would pity me indeed."

"Tell me. Trust me. God knows I would never betray your confidence,
no matter what it cost me."

It was a powerful temptation to divulge the truth, and her heart
whispered that Bertie's safety would be secured by removing all
jealous incentive to his pursuit; but she remembered the fair,
sweet, heroic woman who had dared her fiance's wrath in order to
unbar those prison doors; who had faithfully and delicately thrown
over the convict the mantle of her friendship; and the loyal soul of
the prisoner strangled its weakness.

Perishing in the desert where scorching sands stifled her, she had
surrendered to death, when love sprang to her side, lifted her into
the heavenly peace of dewy palms, and held to parched lips the
sparkling draught a glimpse of which electrified her. Would
starvation entitle her to drink? Over the head of pleading love
stretched the arm of stony-eyed duty, striking into the dust the
crystal drops, withering the palms; and following her stern beckon,
the thirsty pilgrim re-trod the sands of surrender, more intolerable
than before, because the oasis was still in sight. Duty! Rugged
incorruptible Spartan dame, whose inflexible mandate is ever: "With
your shield, or on it."

Beryl put up her hand, drew his from her head to her lips, kissed it
softly.

"Good-bye, Mr. Dunbar. I promise you one thing. If I find I cannot
live, I will send for you. Upon the border of the grave I will open
my heart. You shall see all; and then you will understand, and
deliver a message which I must leave in your hands. Give my grateful
remembrance to Miss Gordon. Make her happy; and ask her to pray for
me, that I may be patient. Now leave me, for I can bear no more."

She put aside his hand, and hid her face once more. He stooped, laid
his lips on the shining hair, and walked away. At the door he
paused. The long corridor was very dim and gloomy, and the deep-
toned bell in the tower was ringing slowly. Looking back into the
cell, he saw that Beryl had risen, and against the sullen red glow
on the western window, her face and figure outlined a silhouette of
hopeless desolation.

CHAPTER XXIV

Each human soul is dowered with an inherent adaptability to its
environment, with an innate energy which properly directed, grapples
successfully with all assailing ills; and Time, the tireless
reconciler, flies always low at our side, hardening the fibre of
endurance, stealthily administering that supreme and infallible
anaesthetic whereby the torturing throes of human woe are surely
stilled. Existence involves strife; mental and moral growth depend
upon the vigor with which it is waged, and scorning cowardice,
Nature provides the weapons essential to victory. The evils that
afflict humanity are meted out with a marvellously accurate
reference to the idiosyncrasies of character; and no weight is
imposed which cannot by heroic effort be sustained. The Socratic
belief that if all misfortunes were laid in a heap, whence every man
and woman must draw an equal portion, each would select the burden
temporarily laid down and walk away comforted, was merely an
adumbration of the sublimer truth, "As thy day, so shall thy
strength be."

Very slowly physical health and spiritual patience came back to
Beryl; but by degrees she bravely lifted the stained and mutilated
wreck of life, and staggered on her lonely way, finding that repose
which means the death of hope.

At one time death had smilingly pushed ajar the door that opened
into eternal peace, and beckoned her bruised soul to follow; then
mockingly barred escape, and left her to renew the battle. From that
double window in the second story of the prison, she watched the
silver of full moons shining on the spectral white columns that
crowned "Elm Bluff", the fire of setting suns that blazed ruby-red
as Gubbio wine, along the line of casements that pierced the front
facade, a bristling perpetual reminder of the tragedy that cried to
heaven for vengeance. She learned exactly where to expect the first
glimpse of the slender opal crescent in the primrose west; followed
its waxing brilliance as it sailed out of the green bights of the
pine forest, its waning pallor, amid the sparkling splendor of
planets that lit the far east.

As the constellations trod the mazes of their stately minuet across
the distant field of blue, their outlines grew familiar as human
countenances; and from the darkness of her cell she turned to the
great golden stars throbbing in midnight skies, peering in through
the iron bars like pitying eyes of heavenly guardians. Locked away
from human companionship, and grateful for the isolation of her
narrow cell, the lonely woman found tender compensation in the
kindly embrace of Nature's arms, drawn closely about her.

The procession of the seasons became to her the advent of so many
angels, who leaned in at her window and taught her the secret of
floral runes; the mysterious gamut of bird melodies, the shrill and
weird dithyrambics of the insect world; the recitative and andante
and scherzo of wind and rain, of hail and sleet, in storm
symphonies.

The Angel of Spring, with the snow of dogwood, and the faint pink of
apple blossoms on her dimpling cheeks; with violet censers swinging
incense before her crocus-sandalled feet, and the bleating of young
lambs that nestled in her warm arms.

The Angel of Summer, full blown as the red roses flaunting amid the
golden grain and amber silk tassels that garlanded her sunny brow;
poised languorously on the glittering apex of salmon clouds at whose
base lightning flickered and thunder growled,--watching through
drowsy half shut lids the speckled broods of partridges scurrying
with frantic haste through the wild poppies of ripe wheat fields,
the brown covey of shy doves ambushed among purple morning glories
swinging in the dense shade of rustling corn; listening as in a
dream to the laughter of reapers, whetting scythes in the blistering
glare of meadow slopes, yet hearing all the while, the low, sweet
babble of the slender stream that trickled through pine roots, down
the hillside, and added its silvery tinkle to the lullaby crooned by
the river to its fringe of willows, its sleeping lily pads.

The Angel of Autumn, radiant through her crystal veil of falling
rain, as with caressing touches she deepened the crimson on orchard
treasures, mellowed the heart of vineyard clusters, painted the
leaves with hectic glory that reconciled to their approaching fall,
smiled on the chestnuts that burst their burrs to greet her,
whispered to the squirrels that the banquet was ready; kissed into
starry bloom blue asters crowding about her knees, and left the
scarlet of her lips on the kingdom of berries ordained to flush the
forest aisles, where wolfish winds howled, when leaves had rustled
down to die, and verdure was no more.

The Angel of Winter, a sad, mute image, wan as her robes of snow,
stretching white wings to shelter perishing birds huddled on the
cold pall that covered a numb world,--crowned with icicles that
clasped her silver locks, shedding tears that froze upon her marble
cheeks; standing on the universal grave where Nature lay bound in
cerements, hearkening to the dismal hooting of the owl at her feet,
the sharp insistent cry of gray killdees hovering above icy marshes,
the wailing tempest dirge over the dead earth; and while with one
benignant hand she tenderly folded her mantle about the sleepers,
the other kindled a conflagration along the western sky, that
reddened and warmed even the wastes of snow, and when she beckoned,
the attendant stars seemed to circle closer and closer, burning with
an added lustre that made night glorious. Answering her call, the
Auroral arch sprang out of the North, spanning the sky with waving
banners of orange and violet flame, that illumined the Niobe of the
Seasons, as she hovered with out-stretched glittering pinions, and
mournful ice-dimmed eyes above her shrouded dead children.

With returning health, had come to Beryl activity of those artistic
instincts, which for a time, had slumbered in the torpor of despair;
and when her daily task of work had been accomplished, the prisoner
leaned with folded arms on the stone ledge of the window, and
studied every changing aspect of earth and atmosphere. By degrees
the old ambition stirred, and she began to sketch the slow panorama
of July clouds, built of mist and foam into the likeness of domes of
burnished copper, and campaniles of silver; the opaque mountain
masses, stratified along the horizon, leaden in hue, with sullen
bluish gorges where ravening January winds made their lair; the
intricate, graceful tracery of gnaried bare boughs and interlacing
twigs, that would serve as a framework when May hung up her green
portieres to screen the down-lined boudoirs where happy birds
nestled; the gray stone arches of the bridge in the valley below,
the groups of cattle couched on the rocky hillside, up which the
pine forest marched like ranks of giants.

On sultry afternoons she watched lengthening tree-shadows creep
across the reddish-brown carpeting of straw, and in the long nights
when sleeplessness betrayed her into the clutches of torturing
retrospection, she waited and longed for the pearly lustre that
paved the east for the rosy feet of dawn; listened to the beating of
Nature's heart in the solemn roar of the Falls two miles away, in
the strophe and anti-strophe of winds quivering through pine tops,
the startled cry of birds dozing in cedar thickets, the shrill
droning of crickets, the monotonous recrimination of katydids, the
peculiar, querulous call of a family of flying squirrels housed in
the cleft of an old magnolia, the Gregorian chant of frogs cradled
in the sedge and ferns, where the river lapped and gurgled.

Humanity had turned its back upon her; but the sinless world of
creation, with all its glorious chords of beautiful color, and the
soothing witchery of the solemn voices of the night, ministered
abundantly to eye and ear. She had hoped and prayed to die; God
denied her petition; and sent, instead of His Angel of Death, two to
comfort her, the Angel of Health and the Angel of Resignation;
whereby she understood, that she had not yet earned surcease from
suffering, but was needed for future work in the Master's vineyard.

If live she must, through the five years of piacular sacrifice, why
vitiate its efficacy by rebellious repining, that seemed an affront
to the divine arbiter of human destinies? She could not escape the
cross; and bitterness of heart might jeopardize the crown. Beggared
by time, could she afford to risk the eternal heritage? The deepest
conviction of her soul was, "Behind fate, stands God"; hidden for a
season, deaf and blind and mute, it seemed, but always surely there;
waiting His own appointed season of rescue, and of recompense. So
strong was her faith in His overruling wisdom and mercy, that her
soul found rest, through perpetual prayer for patience; and as weeks
slipped into months, and season followed season, she realized that
though no roses of happiness could ever bloom along her arid path,
the lilies of peace kissed her tired feet.

Somewhere in the wicked world, Bertie was astray; and perhaps God
has kept her alive, intending she should fulfil her mission years
hence, by bringing him out of the snares of temptation, back into
the fold of Christ's redeemed. Five years of penal servitude to
ransom his soul; was the price exorbitant?

One dull, wintry afternoon as she pressed close to the window, to
catch the fading light on the page of her Bible, it chanced to be
the chapter in St. Luke, which contained the parable of the Pharisee
and the Publican; and while she read, a great compunction smote her;
a remorseful sense of having scorned as utterly unclean and debased,
her suffering fellow prisoners.

Was there no work to be done for the dear Master, in that moral
lazaretto--the long rows of cells down stairs, where some had been
consigned for 'ninety-nine years'? Hitherto, she had shrunk from
contact, as from leprous contagion; meeting the Penitentiary inmates
only in the chapel where, since her restoration to health, she went
regularly to sing and play on the organ, when the chaplain held
service. The world had cruelly misjudged her; was she any more
lenient to those who might be equally innocent?

Next day she went humbly, yet shyly, down to the common work-room,
and took her place among the publicans, hoping that the soul of some
outcast might be won to repentance. Now and then messages of
sympathy reached her from the outside world, in the form of flowers,
books, magazines; and two of the jurors who convicted her, sent from
time to time generous contributions of dainty articles that
materially promoted her comfort; while a third, whose dead child had
clung to her Christmas card, eased his regretful pangs by the gift
of a box containing paper, canvas, crayons, brushes, paints, and all
requisite appliances for artistic work.

Sister Serena had gone on a labor of love, to a distant State; and
faithful Dyce, hopelessly crippled by a fall from the mule which she
was forcing across the bridge leading to the State dungeon, had been
permanently consigned to the wide rocking chair, beside her cabin
hearth at "Elm Bluff".

It was a bleak night in January, and intensely cold, when Mrs.
Singleton wrapped a shawl about her head, and ran along the dark
corridor to the cell, where Beryl was walking up and down to keep
herself warm. Only the moonlight illumined it, as the rays fell on
the bare floor, making a broad band of silver beneath the window.

"I forgot to tell you, that something very dreadful happened at the
'Lilacs' last week. Judge Dent had a stroke of paralysis and died
the same night. As if that were not trouble enough to last for a
while at least, the house took fire in that high wind yesterday, and
burned to the ground; leaving poor Miss Patty Dent without a roof to
cover her. She had gone to the cemetery to carry flowers to her
brother's grave, and when she returned, it was too late to save
anything. Miss Gordon's new wing cost thousands of dollars and was
furnished like a palace, so I am told; but the flames destroyed
every vestige of the beautiful house, and the pictures and statues.
It seems that it was heavily insured, but money can't buy the old
portraits and family silver, the mahogany and glass, and the yellow
damask--that have been kept in the Dent family since George
Washington was a teething baby; and Miss Patty wails loudest over
the loss of an old, old timey communion service, that the Dents
boasted Queen Anne gave to one of them, who was an Episcopal
minister. The poor old soul is almost crazy, I hear, and Mr. Dunbar
carries her to New York to-morrow, where she has a nephew living;
and next month she will go to Europe to join Miss Gordon. It is
reported in town, that when Judge Dent died so suddenly, Miss Patty
sent a cable telegram to her niece to come home; but early
yesterday, just before the fire, an answer came by cable, asking
Miss Patty to come to Europe. Some people think Mr. Dunbar intends
escorting her, and that when he meets Miss Gordon, the marriage will
take place over there; but I never will believe that, till it
happens."

She peered curiously into the face of her listener, but the light
was too dim to enable her to read its expression.

"Why not? Under the circumstances, such a course seems eminently
natural and proper."

"Do you really think he intends marrying?"

"I am the confidant of neither the gentleman nor the lady; but you
told me long ago, that a marriage engagement existed between them;
and since both have shown me much kindness and sympathy, I sincerely
hope their united lives may be very happy. If Mr. Dunbar searched
the universe, he could scarcely find Miss Gordon's equal, certainly
not her superior; and he cannot fail to appreciate his good fortune
in winning her."

Mrs. Singleton lifted her shoulder significantly. "Perhaps! but you
can never be sure of men. They are about as uncertain calculations
as the hatching of guinea eggs, or the sprouting of parsley seed.
What is theirs can't be worth much; but what belongs to somebody
else, is invaluable; moreover, they are liable to sudden tantrums of
sheer obstinacy, that hang on like whooping-cough, or a sprain in
one's joints. Did you never see a mule take the sulks on his way to
the corn crib and the fodder rack, and refuse to budge, even for his
own benefit? Some men are just that perverse. Mr. Dunbar is trailing
game, worth more to him at present, than a sweetheart across the
Atlantic Ocean; which reminds me of what brought me here. He asked
Ned to-day, if you saw Mr. Darrington yesterday when he came here;
and learning that you did not, he gave him this paper, which he said
would explain what the Legislature did last month, about declaring
you of age. Ned told him you signed some document Mr. Wolverton
brought here last week, which secured all the property to Mr.
Darrington, and he said he had been informed of the transaction, and
that Mr. Darrington would soon go back to Germany. Then he added:
'Singleton, present my respects to Miss Brentano and tell her, I am
happy to say that my trip West last summer was not entirely
unsuccessful. It has furnished me with a very valuable clue. She
will understand.' Oh, dear! how bitterly cold it is! Come to my
room, and get thoroughly thawed; Ned is down stairs, and the
children are asleep."

"No, thank you; I should only feel the cold more, when I came back."

"Then take my shawl and cover your ears and throat. There, you must.
Good night."

She closed the door, and fled down the long black passage, to the
bright cozy room, where her babes slumbered.

Slowly Beryl resumed her walk from window to door, from bar to bar,
but of the stinging cold she grew oblivious; and the blood burned in
her cheeks and throbbed with almost suffocating violence at her
heart.

She comprehended fully the significance of the message, and dared
not comfort herself with the supposition that it was prompted by a
spirit of bravado.

To what quarter of the globe was he tracking the desperate culprit,
who had fled sorely wounded from his murderous assault? Ignorant of
his mother's death, and of his sister's expiatory incarceration,
might not Bertie venture back to the great city, where she had last
seen him; and be trapped by those wily "Quaestores Paricidii" of the
nineteenth century--special detectives?

Fettered, muzzled by the stone walls of her dungeon, she could send
him no warning, could only pray and endure, while she and her
reckless, wayward brother drifted helplessly down the dark, swift
river of doom. At every revival of fears for his safety, up started
the mighty temptation that never slumbered, to confess all to Mr.
Dunbar; but as persistently she took it by the throat, and crushed
it back, resolved at all hazards to secure, if possible, the
happiness of the woman who had trusted her.

In the midst of the wreck of her life, out of the depths of the dust
of humiliation, had sprung the beautiful blossom of love, shedding
its intoxicating fragrance over ruin; yet, because the asp of
treachery lurked in the exquisite, folded petals, she shut her eyes
to the bewildering loveliness, and loyalty strove to tear it up by
the roots, to trample it out; learning thereby, that the fibrous
thread had struck deep into her own heart, defying ejectment.

She had forbidden his visits, interdicted letters; but she could not
expel the vision of a dear face that haunted her memory; nor
exorcise the spell of a voice that had first thrilled her pulses
when pleading with the jury in her behalf.

Sometimes she wondered whether she had been created as a mere
sentient plummet to sound every gulf of human woe; then humbly
recanted the impious repining, and thanked God that, at least, she
had been spared that deepest of all abysses, the Hades of remorse.
That which comes to most women as the supreme earthly joy--the
consciousness of possessing the heart of the man they love, fell
upon Beryl like the lash of flagellation; rendering doubly fierce
the battle of renunciation, which she fought, knowing that sedition
and treason were raising the standard of revolt within the fortress.

During the eight months that had elapsed since Leo sailed for
Europe, Beryl had exchanged no word with Mr. Dunbar; but twice a
sudden, tumultuous leaping of her heart surprised her at sight of
him, standing in the door of the chapel; watching her as she sat
within the altar rail, playing the little organ, while the convict
congregation stood up to sing. Although no name was ever appended,
she knew what hand had directed the various American and foreign art
magazines, which brought their argosy of beauty to divert and
gladden her sombre meditations.

On Christmas morning, the second of her sojourn within penitentiary
walls, the express messenger had brought to the door of her cell,
two packages, one a glowing heart of crimson and purple passion
flowers, the other an exquisite engraving of Sir Frederick
Leighton's "Hercules Wrestling with Death"; and below the printed
title, she recognized the bold characters traced in red ink: "The
Alcestis you emulate."

To-night, a ray of moonlight crept across the wall, and shivered its
silver over the rigid face of the dead wife in the picture; and the
prisoner, gazing mournfully at it, comprehended that her own fate
was sadder than that of the immortal Greek devotee. To die for
Admetus after he had sworn on the altar of his gods, that he would
spend alone the remainder of his days, solaced by no fair successor,
dedicating his fidelity to appease her manes, was comparatively
easy; but to turn away, voluntarily resign the man she loved, and
assist in forging the links which she must live to see chaining him
to a happy rival, were an ordeal more appalling to Alcestis than
premature descent into the dusky realm of Persephone.

To secure to her brother immunity from pursuit, and to Miss Gordon
the allegiance of the husband of her choice, was the problem that
banished sleep and kept Beryl pacing the floor, until welcome day
hung her orange mantle over the quivering splendor of the morning
star. One final effort was all that seemed possible now; and
kneeling before the table she wrote and sealed a note, to be
delivered before the express train bore the lawyer away on his
journey:

"Your message was received, and it has so disquieted and alarmed me
that I am forced to treat for peace. If you will cancel your police
contracts, cease your search, go to Europe with Miss Dent, and
pledge me your honor to marry Miss Gordon before you return, I will
solemnly promise, bind myself in the sight of the God I serve, to
live and to die Beryl Brentano; and never, without your consent and
permission, will I look again on the face of the man whom you are
hunting to death. The assurance of his safety will atone for all you
have made me suffer; will nerve me to bear whatever the future may
hold. You will imagine you understand, but it is impossible that you
can ever realize the nature of the pain this proposal involves for
me; nevertheless, if you accept and keep the compact, I believe you
know that, at all costs, I shall never forfeit the pledged word of

"BERYL BRENTANO."

When marriage vows had irrevocably committed Leo's happiness to his
honor, it might then be safe to tell him the truth, and solicit
release from the self-imposed terms. Five hours later, she received
an answer:

"A trifle too late, you unfurled the flag of truce. With my game in
sight, I decline to forego the chase. For your solicitude regarding
my marriage, I tender my thanks; and the assurance, that no magnet
can draw, not all the charms of Circe lure me across the Atlantic,
until I have accomplished my purpose. The tardiness of your proposal
is unerring appraiser of its costliness; and I were a monster of
cruelty to debar you the sight of your idol, though I bring him with
the grim garniture of chains and handcuffs. When I consign Miss Dent
to her relatives in New York, I go to a miners' camp in Dakota, to
identify a man bearing the marks of one who fled from X---, and lost
his pipe, on the night he murdered Gen'l Darrington.

"DUNBAR."

To temporize longer would be fatal to Bertie; and no alternative
remained but to tell the simple truth.

Without an instant's delay she took up her pen, but ere half a line
had been traced on the paper, a hoarse whistle, somewhat muffled by
distance, told her the attempt was futile; and through the valley
beyond the river a trailing serpent of black smoke showed the
express train darting northward. The attorney had left X---, but
might linger in New York sufficiently long for a letter to reach
him; and doubtless his address could be learned at his office:

"If Mr. Dunbar will give me an opportunity of acquainting him with
some facts, he is anxious to discover, he shall find it unnecessary
to travel to Dakota; and will thank me for saving him from the long
journey he contemplates.

"B. B."

The sun was setting when Mr. Singleton returned from the attorney's
office, and held out the note which he had been instructed to
address and deposit in the mail.

"If it is a matter of any importance, I am sorry to tell you that
this cannot reach Mr. Dunbar immediately. He goes only as far as
Philadelphia, where Miss Dent's nephew meets her; then Dunbar
travels right on West without stopping, till he reaches Bismarck. He
left instructions at his office to retain all mail matter here, for
a couple of weeks, then forward to Washington City; as business
would detain him there some days after his return from the west.
Good gracious! how white your lips are. Sit down. What ails you?"

She put her hand over her eyes, and tried to collect her thoughts.
To suffer so long, so keenly, and yet lose the victory; could it be
possible that her sacrifice would prove utterly futile?

"Mr. Singleton, you have shown me many times your friendly sympathy,
and I am again forced to tax your kindness. It is important that I
should see or communicate with Mr. Dunbar within the next forty-
eight hours. Could you induce the telegraph operator here to have a
message delivered to him on the train, before it reaches Washington
City?"

"I will certainly do my best; and to insure it I will go to the
railroad operator, who understands the stations, and can catch
Dunbar more easily than a message from the general office. Write our
your telegram, while I order my buggy."

"MR. DUNBAR. On board Train No. 2.

"Please let me see you before you go West. I promise information
that will render you unwilling to make the journey to Bismarck."

"B."

Anxiously she computed the time within which an answer might
reasonably be expected; and her heart dwelt as a suppliant before
God, that the message would avail to arrest pursuit; but hours wore
wearily away, tedious days trod upon the slow skirts of dreary
nights; and no response lifted the burden of dread. Hope whispered
feebly that his failure to send a telegraphic reply, implied his
intention of returning to X---from Philadelphia; and she clung to
this rope of sand until a week had passed. Then the conviction was
inevitable that he regarded her appeal as merely a ruse to divert
his course, to delay the seizure of his prey; and that while he
misinterpreted the motive that prompted her message, she had merely
furnished an additional goad to his jealous hatred.

As helpless wrack borne on the sullen tide of destiny, she struck
her trembling hands together, and cried out in the dark solitude of
her cell: "Verily! The stars in their courses fought against
Sisera."

CHAPTER XXV.

The winter was marked by an unusual severity of cold, which
prolonged the rigor of mid-season until late in February, and
despite the efforts of penitentiary officials who made unprecedented
requisitions upon the board of inspectors, for additional clothing,
the pent human herd suffered keenly.

Alarmed by the rapidly increasing rate of sickness within the
"walls," Mr. Singleton demanded a sanitary commission, which, after
apparently thorough investigation, reported no visible local cause
for the mortality among the convicts; but the germs of disease grew
swiftly as other evil weeds, and the first week in March saw a
hideous harvest of diphtheria of the most malignant type.

At the earliest intimation of the character of the pestilence, the
warden's wife fled with her little children to her mother's home in
a neighboring county; maternal solicitude having extinguished her
womanly reluctance to desert her husband, at a juncture when her
presence and assistance would so materially have cheered, and

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