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

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

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

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

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

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

“Is it my Leo’s wish to leave me, to go alone?”

“Yes, to accompany Alma.”

“For an absence of indefinite duration?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Have I forfeited your confidence?”

“No. Lennox. I have an indestructible faith in your honor.”

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

“You deem me incapable of intentionally betraying your noble trust?”

“I do–indeed I do.”

“My peerless Leo, have you ceased to love me?”

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

“No.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sealing the note she rang for Justine.

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

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

CHAPTER XXII.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Did you ever see a sketch of Rossetti’s ‘Pandora’?” asked Prince.

“No.”

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

“Why specifically for five years?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Will you give me your interpretation of their message?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I want to see Singleton.”

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

“Where is Mrs. Singleton?”

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

The visitor hesitated, drew back.

“Is Miss Brentano there also?”

“No. She is still on the infirmary list.”

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

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

“Who is that woman winding thread?”

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

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

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

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

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

“How’dy do, Mr. Dunbar. You are waiting to see Ned?”

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

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

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

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

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

“Where is she?”

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

“She consented to see Mr. Prince Darrington?”

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

“‘I am General Darrington’s adopted son.’

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

“Will you do me the kindness to persuade her to see me?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CHAPTER XXIII.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What conditions would you impose upon me?”

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

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

“It pleases you to ignore our past relations?”

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

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

He took from his pocket a long legal envelope.

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

“Those are the facts relative to it.”

“Can you recall the date of the revision?”

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

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

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

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

“I will not tax you. Let me glance over it.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“He certainly has no such intention.”

“Are you quite sure of his views?”

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

“He was entirely dependent on Gen’l Darrington?”

“Wholly so with regard to pecuniary resources.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Thank you. I wish you to help me make my will.”

“Why?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Since when have you known it?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I certainly will not.”

“May I know why?”

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

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

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

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

“Such is the law.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I would see adders fastened in her ears and twined around her neck sooner than those–“

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

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

“Beryl!–“

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

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

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

“Mr. Dunbar, I am very weary; tired–oh! how tired, body and soul.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“So be it then. Do your worst.”

“You admit it!”

“I admit nothing.”

“You defy me?”

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

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

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

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

He recoiled slightly as from a lash.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CHAPTER XXIV

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Do you really think he intends marrying?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“BERYL BRENTANO.”

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

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

“DUNBAR.”

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

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

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

“B. B.”

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

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

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

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

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

“MR. DUNBAR. On board Train No. 2.

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

“B.”

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

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

CHAPTER XXV.

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

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

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