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

Her fair face had flushed; his grew pale.

“Leo, is this to be our first quarrel?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Mrs. Singleton tells me she is entirely unconscious–recognizes no one.”

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

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

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

He merely inclined his head in assent.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“With your permission, I will see you safely down stairs, and commit you to Judge Dent’s care.”

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

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

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

“Here, swallow this. It is not bad to take.”

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

“Let me try.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CHAPTER XII.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“They travelled several hundred miles, for the privilege of nestling against my Leo’s heart.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Are you going to the Percy’s?”

“Yes. Will you not be there?”

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

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

“She has reached the crisis. We have no hope.” “SINGLETON.”

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

“You have ruined my life!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Then you have discovered nothing new during your absence?”

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

“As far as I know, not a syllable.”

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

“Lord–Mars Lennox! Is it you? What next? ‘Pears to me, there’s nothing left to happen; but howsomever, if ther’s more to come, tell us what’s to pay now?”

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

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

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

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

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

“You are quite willing, then, to see General Darrington’s granddaughter suffer for the crime?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CHAPTER XIII.

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

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

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

“What is it, dearie? Tell me.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A shadowy smile crossed the girl’s wan face,

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

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

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

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

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

“Dyce!”

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

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

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

“Tell me quick. What is it.”

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

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

“Do you know exactly what time she died?”

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

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

“Go on, Dyce. I felt a little sick. Tell me–“

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

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

“There is no need to tell her. She knows it.”

“How? Did she get the letter the Doctor said he wrote?”

“No. She thinks her mother–“

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

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

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

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

“Did you see mother alive?”

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

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

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

“Go on, Dyce.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Tell my darling–to wear my ring as a holy–“

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

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

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

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

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

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

CHAPTER XIV.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You can afford to pay for her flight?”

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

Judge Dent took her hand between both his.

“Let us be frank.”

“‘The things we do–
We do; we’ll wear no mask, as if we blushed!'”

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

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

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

“Have you made him acquainted with this scheme?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“When do you expect to see Dunbar?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Did Mitchell show you Leighton’s telegram?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Do you refer to the trial next month?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Too late!–too late! O, God! What a cruel mockery!”

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

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

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

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

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

CHAPTER XV.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What a noble match for both! And he’s only her second cousin.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You expected and waited for him at morning prayer?”

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

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

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

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

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