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“No, that won’t pay,” promptly replied the brisk stranger. “We will be gone the heft of the afternoon, I reckon. This hoss is awful slow,” he added with a wink of preternatural mystery to Miss Susie.

“Mr. Golyer,” said the young lady, “let me interduce you to my friend, Mr. Leon.”

Golyer put out his hand mechanically, after the cordial fashion of the West. But Leon nodded and said, “I hope to see you again.” He lifted Miss Susie into the buggy, sprang lightly in, and went off with laughter and the cracking of his whip after Dow Padgett’s chestnut sorrel.

The young farmer walked home desolate, comparing in his simple mind his own plain exterior with his rival’s gorgeous toilet, his awkward address with the other’s easy audacity, till his heart was full to the brim with that infernal compound of love and hate which is called jealousy, from which pray Heaven to guard you.

It was the next morning that Miss Susie vaulted over the fence where Allen Golyer was digging the hole for Colonel Blood’s apple tree.

“Something middlin’ particular,” continued Golyer, resolutely.

“There is no use leaving your work,” said Miss Barringer pluckily. “I will stay and listen.”

Poor Allen began as badly as possible: “Who was that feller with you yesterday?”

“Thank you, Mr. Golyer–my friends ain’t fellers! What’s that to you, who he was?”

“Susie Barringer, we have been keeping company now a matter of a year. I have loved you well and true: I would have give my life to save you any little care or trouble. I never dreamed of nobody but you–not that I was half good enough for you, but because I did not know any better man around here. Ef it ain’t too late, Susie, I ask you to be my wife. I will love you and care for you, good and true.”

Before this solemn little speech was finished, Susie was crying and biting her bonnet-strings in a most undignified manner. “Hush, Al Golyer!” she burst out. “You mustn’t talk so. You are too good for me. I am kind of promised to that fellow. I ‘most wish I had never seen him.”

Allen sprang to her and took her in his strong arms: she struggled free from him. In a moment the vibration which his passionate speech had produced in her passed away. She dried her eyes and said firmly enough, “It’s no use, Al: we wouldn’t be happy together. Good-bye! I shouldn’t wonder if I went away from Chaney Creek before long.”

She walked rapidly down to the river-road. Allen stood fixed and motionless, gazing at the light, graceful form until the blue dress vanished behind the hill, and leaned long on his spade, unconscious of the lapse of time.

When Susan reached her home she found Leon at the gate.

“Ah, my little rosebud! I came near missing you. I am going to Keokuk this morning, to be gone a few days. I stopped here a minute to give you something to keep for me till I come back.”

“What is it?”

He took her chubby cheeks between his hands and laid on her cherry-ripe lips a keepsake which he never reclaimed.

She stood watching him from the gate until, as a clump of willows snatched him from her, she thought, “He will go right by where Al is at work. It would be jest like him to jump over the fence and have a talk with him. I’d like to hear it.”

An hour or so later, as she sat and sewed in the airy little entry, a shadow fell upon her work, and as she looked up her startled eyes met the piercing glance of her discarded lover. A momentary ripple of remorse passed over her cheerful heart as she saw Allen’s pale and agitated face. He was paler than she had ever seen him, with that ghastly pallor of weather-beaten faces. His black hair, wet with perspiration, clung clammily to his temples. He looked beaten, discouraged, utterly fatigued with the conflict of emotion. But one who looked closely in his eyes would have seen a curious stealthy, half-shaded light in them, as of one who, though working against hope, was still not without resolute will.

Dame Barringer, who had seen him coming up the walk, bustled in: “Good-morning, Allen. How beat out you do look! Now, I like a stiddy young man, but don’t you think you run this thing of workin’ into the ground?”

“Wail, maybe so,” said Golyer with a weary smile–“leastways I’ve been a-running this spade into the ground all the morning, and–“

“_You_ want buttermilk–that’s your idee: ain’t it, now?”

“Well, Mizzes Barringer, I reckon you know my failin’s.”

The good woman trotted off to the dairy, and Susie sewed demurely, waiting with some trepidation for what was to come next.

“Susie Barringer,” said a low, husky voice which she could scarcely recognize as Golyer’s, “I’ve come to ask pardon–not for nothing I’ve done, for I never did and never could do you wrong–but for what I thought for a while arter you left me this morning. It’s all over now, but I tell _you_ the Bad Man had his claws into my heart for a spell. Now it’s all over, and I wish you well. I wish your husband well. If ever you git into any trouble where I can help, send for me: it’s my right. It’s the last favor I ask of you.”

Susceptible Susie cried a little again. Allen, watching her with his ambushed eyes, said, “Don’t take it to heart, Tudie. Perhaps there is better days in store for me yet.”

This did not appear to comfort Miss Barringer in the least. She was greatly grieved when she thought she had broken a young man’s heart: she was still more dismal at the slightest intimation that she had not. If any explanation of this paradox is required, I would observe, quoting a phrase much in vogue among the witty writers of the present age, that Miss Susie Barringer was “a very female woman.”

So pretty Susan’s rising sob subsided into a coquettish pout by the time her mother came in with the foaming pitcher of subacidulous nectar, and plied young Golyer with brimming beakers of it with all the beneficent delight of a Lady Bountiful.

“There, Mizzes Barringer! there’s about as much as I can tote. Temperance in all things.”

“Very well, then, you work less and play more. We never get a sight of you lately. Come in neighborly and play checkers with Tudie.”

It was the darling wish of Mother Barringer’s heart to see her daughter married and settled with “a stiddy young man that you knowed all about, and his folks before him.” She had observed with great disquietude the brilliant avatar of Mr. Bertie Leon and the evident pride of her daughter in the bright-plumaged captive she had brought to Chaney Creek, the spoil of her maiden snare. “I don’t more’n half like that little feller.” (It is a Western habit to call a well-dressed man a “little feller.” The epithet would light on Hercules Farnese if he should go to Illinois dressed as a Cocodes.) “No honest folks wears beard onto their upper lips. I wouldn’t be surprised if he wasn’t a gamboller.”

Allen Golyer, apparently unconscious in his fatigue of the cap which Dame Barringer was vicariously setting for him, walked away with his spade on his shoulder, and the good woman went systematically to work in making Susie miserable by sharp little country criticisms of her heart’s idol.

Day after day wore on, and, to Dame Barringer’s delight and Susie’s dismay, Mr. Leon did not come.

“He is such a businessman,” thought trusting Susan, “he can’t get away from Keokuk. But he’ll be sure to write.” So Susie put on her sun-bonnet and hurried up to the post-office: “Any letters for me, Mr. Whaler?” The artful and indefinite plural was not disguise enough for Miss Susie, so she added, “I was expecting a letter from my aunt.”

“No letters here from your aunt, nor your uncle, nor none of the tribe,” said old Whaler, who had gone over with Tyler to keep his place, and so had no further use for good manners.

“I think old Tommy Whaler is an impudent old wretch,” said Susie that evening, “and I won’t go near his old post-office again.” But Susie forgot her threat of vengeance the next day, and she went again, lured by family affection, to inquire for that letter which Aunt Abbie _must_ have written. The third time she went, rummy old Whaler roared very improperly, “Bother your aunt! You’ve got a beau somewheres–that’s what’s the matter.”

Poor Susan was so dazzled by this flash of clairvoyance that she hurried from that dreadful post-office, scarcely hearing the terrible words that the old gin-pig hurled after her: “_And he’s forgot you!–that’s what’s the matter._”

Susie Barringer walked home along the river-road, revolving many things in her mind. She went to her room and locked her door by sticking a pen-knife over the latch, and sat down to have a good cry. Her faculties being thus cleared for action, she thought seriously for an hour. If you can remember when you were a school-girl, you know a great deal of solid thinking can be done in an hour. But we can tell you in a moment what it footed up. You can walk through the Louvre in a minute, but you cannot see it in a week.

_Susan Barringer (sola, loquitur)_: “Three weeks yesterday. Yes, I s’pose it’s so. What a little fool I was! He goes everywheres–says the same things to everybody, like he was selling ribbons. Mean little scamp! Mother seen through him in a minute. I’m mighty glad I didn’t tell her nothing about it.” [Fie, Susie! your principles are worse than your grammar.] “He’ll marry some rich girl–I don’t envy her, but I hate her–and I am as good as she is. Maybe he will come back–no, and I hope he won’t;–and I wish I was dead!” (_Pocket handkerchief._)

Yet in the midst of her grief there was one comforting thought–nobody knew of it. She had no confidante–she had not even opened her heart to her mother: these Western maidens have a fine gift of reticence. A few of her countryside friends and rivals had seen with envy and admiration the pretty couple on the day of Leon’s arrival. But all their poisonous little compliments and questions had never elicited from the prudent Susie more than the safe statement that the handsome stranger was a friend of Aunt Abbie’s, whom she had met at Jacksonville. They could not laugh at her: they could not sneer at gay deceivers and lovelorn damsels when she went to the sewing-circle. The bitterness of her tears was greatly sweetened by the consideration that in any case no one could pity her. She took such consolation from this thought that she faced her mother unflinchingly at tea, and baffled the maternal inquest on her “redness of eyes” by the school-girl’s invaluable and ever-ready headache.

It was positively not until a week later, when she met Allen Golyer at choir-meeting, that she remembered that this man knew the secret of her baffled hopes. She blushed scarlet as he approached her: “Have you got company home, Miss Susie?”

“Yes–that is, Sally Withers and me came together, and–“

“No, that’s hardly fair to Tom Fleming: three ain’t the pleasantest company. I will go home with you.”

Susie took the strong arm that was held out to her, and leaned upon it with a mingled feeling of confidence and dread as they walked home through the balmy night under the clear, starry heaven of the early spring. The air was full of the quickening breath of May.

Susie Barringer waited in vain for some signal of battle from Allen Golyer. He talked more than usual, but in a grave, quiet, protecting style, very different from his former manner of worshiping bashfulness. His tone had in it an air of fatherly caressing which was inexpressibly soothing to his pretty companion, tired and lonely with her silent struggle of the past month. When they came to her gate and he said good-night, she held his hand a moment with a tremulous grasp, and spoke impulsively: “Al, I once told you something I never told anybody else. I’ll tell you something else now, because I believe I can trust you.”

“Be sure of that, Susie Barringer.”

“Well, Al, my engagement is broken off.”

“I am sorry for you, Susie, if you set much store by him.”

Miss Susie answered with great and unnecessary impetuosity, “I don’t, and I am glad of it!” and then ran into the house and to bed, her cheeks all aflame at the thought of her indiscretion, and yet with a certain comfort in having a friend from whom she had no secrets.

I protest there was no thought of coquetry in the declaration which Susan Barringer blurted out to her old lover under the sympathetic starlight of the May heaven. But Allen Golyer would have been a dull boy not to have taken heart and hope from it. He became, as of old, a frequent and welcome visitor at Crystal Glen. Before long the game of chequers with Susie became so enthralling a passion that it was only adjourned from one evening to another. Allen’s white shirts grew fringy at the edges with fatigue-duty, and his large hands were furry at the fingers with much soap. Susie’s affectionate heart, which had been swayed a moment from its orbit by the irresistible attraction of Bertie Leon’s diamond breastpin and city swagger, swung back to its ancient course under the mild influence of time and the weather and opportunity. So that Dame Barringer was not in the least surprised, on entering her little parlor one soft afternoon in that very May, to see the two young people economically occupying one chair, and Susie shouting the useless appeal, “Mother, make him behave!”

“I never interfere in young folks’ matters, especially when they’re going all right,” said the motherly old soul, kissing “her son Allen” and trotting away to dry her happy tears.

I am almost ashamed to say how soon they were married–so soon that when Miss Susan went with her mother to Keokuk to buy a wedding-garment, she half expected to find, in every shop she entered, the elegant figure of Mr. Leon leaning over the counter. But the dress was bought and made, and worn at wedding and _in-fair_ and in a round of family visits among the Barringer and Golyer kin, and carefully laid away in lavender when the pair came back from their modest holiday and settled down to real life on Allen’s prosperous farm; and no word of Bertie Leon ever came to Mrs. Golyer to trouble her joy. In her calm and busy life the very name faded from her tranquil mind. These wholesome country hearts do not bleed long. In that wide-awake country eyes are too useful to be wasted in weeping. My dear Lothario Urban us, those peaches are very sound and delicious, but they will not keep for ever. If you do not secure them to-day, they will go to some one else, and in no case, as the Autocrat hath said with authority, can you stand there “mellering ’em with your thumb.”

There was no happier home in the county, and few finer farms. The good sense and industry of Golyer and the practical helpfulness of his wife found their full exercise in the care of his spreading fields and growing orchards. The Warsaw merchants fought for his wheat, and his apples were known in St. Louis. Mrs. Golyer, with that spice of romance which is hidden away in every woman’s heart, had taken a special fancy to the seedling apple tree at whose planting she had so intimately assisted. Allen shared in this, as in all her whims, and tended and nursed it like a child. In time he gave up the care of his orchard to other hands, but he reserved this seedling for his own especial coddling. He spaded and mulched and pruned it, and guarded it in the winter from rodent rabbits and in summer from terebrant grubs. It was not ungrateful. It grew a noble tree, producing a rich and luscious fruit, with a deep scarlet satin coat, and a flesh tinged as delicately as a pink seashell. The first peck of apples was given to Susie with great ceremony, and the next year the first bushel was carried to Colonel Blood, the Congressman. He was loud in his admiration, as the autumn elections were coming on: “Great Scott, Golyer! I’d rather give my name to a horticultooral triumph like that there than be Senator.”

“You’ve got your wish, then, colonel,” said Golyer. “Me and my wife have called that tree The Blood Seedling sence the day it was transplanted from your pastur’.”

It was the pride and envy of the neighborhood. Several neighbors asked for scions and grafts, but could do nothing with them.

“Fact is,” said old Silas Withers, “those folks that expects to raise good fruit by begging graffs, and then layin’ abed and readin’ newspapers, will have a good time waitin’. Elbow-grease is the secret of the Blood Seedlin’, ain’t it, Al?”

“Well, I reckon, Squire Withers, a man never gits anything wuth havin’ without a tussle for it; and as to secrets, I don’t believe in them, nohow.”

A square-browed, resolute, silent, middle-aged man, who loved his home better than any amusement, regular at church, at the polls, something richer every Christmas than he had been on the New Year’s preceding–a man whom everybody liked and few loved much–such had Allen Golyer grown to be.

* * * * *

If I have lingered too long over this colorless and commonplace picture of rural Western life, it is because I have felt an instinctive reluctance to recount the startling and most improbable incident which fell one night upon this quiet neighborhood, like a thunderbolt out of blue sky. The story I must tell will be flatly denied and easily refuted. It is absurd and fantastic, but, unless human evidence is to go for nothing when it testifies of things unusual, the story is true.

At the head of the rocky hollow through which Chaney Creek ran to the river, lived the family who gave the brook its name. They were among the early pioneers of the county. In the squatty yellow stone house the present Chaney occupied his grandfather had stood a siege from Black Hawk all one summer day and night, until relieved by the garrison of Fort Edward. The family had not grown with the growth of the land. Like many others of the pioneers, they had shown no talent for keeping abreast of the civilization whose guides and skirmishers they had been. In the progress of a half century they had sold, bit by bit, their section of land, which kept intact would have proved a fortune. They lived very quietly, working enough to secure their own pork and hominy, and regarding with a sort of impatient scorn every scheme of public or private enterprise that passed under their eyes.

The elder Chaney had married, some years before, at the Mormon town of Nauvoo, the fair-haired daughter of a Swedish mystic, who had come across the sea beguiled by dreams of a perfect theocracy, and who on arriving at the city of the Latter-Day Saints had died, broken-hearted from his lost illusions.

The only dowry that Seraphita Neilsen brought her husband, besides her delicate beauty and her wide blue eyes, was a full set of Swedenborg’s later writings in English. These became the daily food of the solitary household. Saul Chaney would read the exalted rhapsodies of the Northern seer for hours together, without the first glimmer of their meaning crossing his brain. But there was something in the majesty of their language and the solemn roll of their poetical development that irresistibly impressed and attracted him. Little Gershom, his only child, sitting at his feet, would listen in childish wonder to the strange things his silent, morose and gloomy father found in the well-worn volumes, until his tired eyelids would fall at last over his pale, bulging eyes.

As he grew up his eyes bulged more and more: his head seemed too large for his rickety body. He pored over the marvelous volumes until he knew long passages by heart, and understood less of them than his father–which was unnecessary. He looked a little like his mother, but while she in her youth had something of the faint and flickering beauty of the Boreal Lights, poor Gershom never could have suggested anything more heavenly than a foggy moonlight. When he was fifteen he went to the neighboring town of Warsaw to school. He had rather heavy weather among the well-knit, grubby-knuckled urchins of the town, and would have been thoroughly disheartened but for one happy chance. At the house where he boarded an amusement called the “Sperrit Rappin’s” was much in vogue. A group of young folks, surcharged with all sorts of animal magnetism, with some capacity for belief and much more for fun, used to gather about a light pine table every evening, and put it through a complicated course of mystical gymnastics. It was a very good-tempered table: it would dance, hop or slam at the word of command, or, if the exercises took a more intellectual turn, it would answer any questions addressed to it in a manner not much below the average capacity of its tormentors.

Gershom Chaney took all this in solemn earnest. He was from the first moment deeply impressed. He lay awake whole nights, with his eyes fast closed, in the wildest dreams. His school-hours were passed in trancelike contemplation. He cared no more for punishment than the fakeer for his self-inflicted tortures. He longed for the coming of the day when he could commune in solitude with the unfleshed and immortal. This was the full flowering of those seeds of fantasy that had fallen into his infant mind as he lay baking his brains by the wide fire in the old stone house at the head of the hollow, while his father read, haltingly, of the wonders of the invisible world.

But, to his great mortification, he saw nothing, heard nothing, experienced nothing but in the company of others. He must brave the ridicule of the profane to taste the raptures which his soul loved. His simple, trusting faith made him inevitably the butt of the mischievous circle. They were not slow in discovering his extreme sensibility to external influences. One muscular, black-haired, heavy-browed youth took especial delight in practicing upon him. The table, under Gershom’s tremulous hands, would skip like a lamb at the command of this Thomas Fay.

One evening, Tom Fay had a great triumph. They had been trying to get the “medium”–for Gershom had reached that dignity–to answer sealed questions, and had met with indifferent success. Fay suddenly approached the table, scribbled a phrase, folded it and tossed it, doubled up, before Gershom; then leaned over the table, staring at his pale, unwholesome face with all the might of his black eyes.

Chaney seized the pencil convulsively and wrote, “Balaam!”

Fay burst into a loud laugh and said, “Read the question?”

It was, “Who rode on your grandfather’s back?”

This is a specimen of the cheap wit and harmless malice by which poor Gershom suffered as long as he stayed at school. He was never offended, but was often sorely perplexed, at the apparent treachery of his unseen counselors. He was dismissed at last from the academy for utter and incorrigible indolence. He accepted his disgrace as a crown of martyrdom, and went proudly home to his sympathizing parents.

Here, with less criticism and more perfect faith, he renewed the exercise of what he considered his mysterious powers. His fastings and vigils, and want of bodily movement and fresh air, had so injured his health as to make him tenfold more nervous and sensitive than ever. But his faintings and hysterics and epileptic paroxysms were taken more and more as evidences of his lofty mission. His father and mother regarded him as an oracle, for the simple reason that he always answered just as they expected. A curious or superstitious neighbor was added from time to time to the circle, and their reports heightened the half-uncanny interest with which the Chaney house was regarded.

It was on a moist and steamy evening of spring that Allen Golyer, standing by his gate, saw Saul Chaney slouching along in the twilight, and hailed him: “What news from the sperrits, Saul?”

“Nothing for you, Al Golyer,” said Saul, gloomily. “The god of this world takes care of the like o’ you.”

Golyer smiled, as a prosperous man always does when his poorer neighbors abuse him for his luck, and rejoined: “I ain’t so fortunate as you think for, Saul Chaney. I lost a Barksher pig yesterday: I reckon I must come up and ask Gershom what’s come of it.”

“Come along, if you like. It’s been a long while sence you’ve crossed my sill. But I’m gitting to be quite the style. Young Lawyer Marshall is a-coming up this evening to see my Gershom.”

Before Mr. Golyer started he filled a basket, “to make himself welcome and pay for the show,” with the reddest and finest fruit of his favorite apple tree. His wife followed him to the gate and kissed him–a rather unusual attention among Western farmer-people. Her face, still rosy and comely, was flushed and smiling: “Al, do you know what day o’ the year it is?”

“Nineteenth of Aprile?”

“Yes; and twenty years ago to-day you planted the Blood Seedlin’ and I give you the mitten!” She turned and went into the house, laughing comfortably.

Allen walked slowly up the hollow to the Chaney house, and gave the apples to Seraphita and told her their story. A little company was assembled–two or three Chaney Creek people, small market-gardeners, with eyes the color of their gooseberries and hands the color of their currants; Mr. Marshall, a briefless young barrister from Warsaw, with a tawny friend, who spoke like a Spaniard.

“Take seats, friends, and form a circle o’ harmony,” said Saul Chaney. “The me’jum is in fine condition: he had two fits this arternoon.”

Gershom looked shockingly ill and weak. He reclined in a great hickory arm-chair, with his eyes half open, his lips moving noiselessly. All the persons present formed a circle and joined hands.

The moment the circle was completed by Saul and Seraphita, who were on either side of their son, touching his hands, an expression of pain and perplexity passed over his pale face, and he began to writhe and mutter.

“He’s seein’ visions,” said Saul.

“Yes, too many of ’em,” said Gershom, querulously. “A boy in a boat, a man on a shelf, and a man with a spade–all at once: too many. Get me a pencil. One at a time, I tell you–one at a time!”

The circle broke up, and a table was brought, with writing materials. Gershom grasped a pencil, and said, with imperious and feverish impatience, “Come on, now, and don’t waste the time of the shining ones.”

An old woman took his right hand. He wrote with his left very rapidly an instant, and threw her the paper, always with his eyes shut close.

Old Mrs. Scritcher read with difficulty, “A boy in a boat–over he goes;” and burst out in a piteous wail, “Oh, my poor little Ephraim! I always knowed it.”

“Silence, woman!” said the relentless medium.

“Mr. Marshall,” said Saul, “would you like a test?”

“No, thank you,” said the young gentleman. “I brought my friend, Mr. Baldassano, who, as a traveler, is interested in these things.”

“Will you take the medium’s hand, Mr. What’s-your-name?”

The young foreigner took the lean and feverish hand of Gershom, and again the pencil flew rapidly over the paper. He pushed the manuscript from him and snatched his hand away from Baldassano. As the latter looked at what was written, his tawny cheek grew deadly pale. “Dios mio!” he exclaimed to Marshall. “This is written in Castilian!”

The two young men retired to the other end of the room and read by the tallow candle the notes scrawled on the paper. Baldassano translated: “A man on a shelf–table covered with bottles beside him: man’s face yellow as gold: bottles tumble over without being touched.”

“What nonsense is that?” said Marshall.

“My brother died of yellow fever at sea last year.”

Both the young men became suddenly very thoughtful, and observed with great interest the result of Golyer’s “test.” He sat by Gershom, holding his hand tightly, but gazing absently into the dying blaze of the wide chimney. He seemed to have forgotten where he was: a train of serious thought appeared to hold him completely under its control. His brows were knit with an expression of severe almost fierce determination. At one moment his breathing was hard and thick–a moment after hurried and broken.

All this while the fingers of Gershom were flying rapidly over the paper, independently of his eyes, which were sometimes closed, and sometimes rolling as if in trouble.

A wind which had been gathering all the evening now came moaning up the hollow, rattling the window-blinds, and twisting into dull complaint the boughs of the leafless trees. Its voice came chill and cheerless into the dusky room, where the fire was now glimmering near its death, and the only sounds were those of Gershom’s rushing pencil, the whispering of Marshall and his friend, and old Mother Scritcher feebly whimpering in her corner. The scene was sinister. Suddenly, a rushing gust blew the door wide open.

Golyer started to his feet, trembling in every limb, and looking furtively over his shoulder out into the night. Quickly recovering himself, he turned to resume his place. But the moment he dropped Gershom’s hand, the medium had dropped his pencil, and had sunk back in his chair in a deep and deathlike slumber. Golyer seized the sheet of paper, and with the first line that he read a strange and horrible transformation was wrought in the man. His eyes protruded, his teeth chattered, he passed his hand over his head mechanically, and his hair stood up like the bristles on the back of a swine in rage. His face was blotched white and purple. He looked piteously about him for a moment, then crumpling the paper in his hand, cried out in a hoarse, choking voice, “Yes, it’s a fact: I done it. It’s no use denying on’t.. Here it is, in black and white. Everybody knows it: ghosts come spooking around to tattle about it. What’s the use of lying? I done it.”

He paused, as if struck by a sudden recollection, then burst into tears and shook like a tree in a high wind. In a moment he dropped on his knees, and in that posture crawled over to Marshall: “Here, Mr. Marshall–here’s the whole story. For God’s sake, spare my wife and children all you can. Fix my little property all right for ’em, and God bless you for it!” Even while he was speaking, with a quick revulsion of feeling he rose to his feet, with a certain return of his natural dignity, and said, “But they sha’n’t take me! None of my kin ever died that way: I’ve got too much sand in my gizzard to be took that way. Good-bye, friends all!”

He walked deliberately out into the wild, windy night.

Marshall glanced hurriedly at the fatal paper in his hand. It was full of that capricious detail with which in reverie we review scenes that are past. But a line here and there clearly enough told the story–how he went out to plant the apple tree; how Susie came by and rejected him; how he passed into the power of the devil for the time; how Bertie Leon came by and spoke to him, and patted him on the shoulder, and talked about city life; how he hated him and his pretty face and his good clothes; how they came to words and blows, and he struck him with his spade, and he fell into the trench, and he buried him there at the roots of the tree.

Marshall, following his first impulse, thrust the paper into the dull red coals. It flamed for an instant, and flew with a sound like a sob up the chimney.

They hunted for Golyer all night, but in the morning found him lying as if asleep, with the peace of expiation on his pale face, his pruning-knife in his, heart, and the red current of his life tinging the turf with crimson around the roots of the Blood Seedling.

JOHN HAY.

The Marquis.

Mrs. Ruggles lived near Crawfish Creek. Crawfish Creek ran near Thompson City. Thompson City was in a Western State, but now is in a Middle one. It was always in the midst of a great country–accepting local testimony and a rank growth of corn and politicians as the tests of greatness. The earth there was monotonously parched in summer, and monotonously muddy at all other times. The forests were gigantic, the air carbonic, and when the citizens wished to give Thompson City the highest commendation, they did so by saying that “fevernagur” was worse in some other places.

In the parlor of Mrs. Ruggles, which was also her kitchen and dining-hall, hung a frame containing a seven-by-nine mirror, which was the frame’s excuse for being, although a compartment above and one below held squares of glass covered with paint instead of mercury. The lower one was colored like the contents of a wash-tub after a liberal use of indigo; and in the centre was a horizontal stroke of red, surmounted by a perpendicular dash of white, intersected by an oblique line of black–all of which represented a red boat, with a white sail and black spar, making an endless voyage across the lake of indigo. The black crosses in the sky were birds. The black lines on the left were bulrushes. And among these bulrushes a certain gloomy little object was either a Hebrew prophet or a muskrat.

Above the mirror was painted a long-tailed coat, from behind which extended a hand holding a bell-crowned hat, to whose scarlet lining the holder seemed inviting the spectator’s particular attention. There were also a pair of legs and boots, a heavy shock of hair, a labyrinth of neckcloth and a florid human face. Under the boots were the words,

MARQUIS DE LA FAYETTE.

And the beholder was ever in doubt whether the marquis was trying to stand exclusively upon this title or was unconsciously trampling it into the ground.

Mrs. Ruggles admired this picture. Her knowledge of French was not great, but her ear was delicate; and thinking the words “sounded handsome,” she had deliberately conferred them in full on her first-born. When in good-humor she was content with calling him “Marquis-dee.” In fact, it was only when chasing him into the street with a lilac bush in her hand that she insisted on addressing him by his full name. At such times, between each flourish of the lilac bush and each yell of the young nobleman, she pronounced with significant fullness, with fearful exactness, the handsome-sounding name of Marquis de la Fayette Ruggles. His playmates, however, had not the delicate ear of the mother, and as the son had brown specks on his face, he was popularly known as “Frecky Rug.”

Mrs. Ruggles and her late husband were pioneers in the Crawfish Valley. Subsequent settlers knew little, and apparently cared less, about her. They knew, however, that she had been a Peables, and that Peables blood was still doing its duty in her veins. And from her independence and reserve they argued that the Peableses must have been “high up”–at least in the estimation of Mrs. Ruggles. After Mr. Ruggles had been overcome by malaria in clearing the creek bottoms the pride of the Peables blood had sustained her in a long, brave fight with circumstances.

It was while he lay one night upon his deathbed, mistaking a watching neighbor for his wife, that he started up, saying, “Becky, if I could prove it to you afore I died!”

“Out of his head,” was the quiet remark of Mrs. Ruggles to the watching neighbor by the bedside. There was no further sign of delirium. That exclamation of the dying Mr. Ruggles was a mystery to the women of Crawfish Creek, and remains so to this day.

It may be that the pride of Mrs. Ruggles was in excess of her wisdom. It may be if that pride had been a little more respected by the irreverent Crawfish settlers, they would not have had occasion to wonder, as they did wonder, how a heart so true, an honesty so stoical, a discrimination so acute could exist with an independence so absurd, a mind so uncultured, a sense of dignity so ridiculous as were found united in her character. It may be that the Peables blood was worthy of receiving honor as great as the ridicule it did receive. It may be if the world had known the Peableses it would have been as proud of them as she was.

She was a person of scrupulous neatness, careful never to be seen by strangers except in a tidy dress, and with her hair in a Grecian knot, gracefully secured by a leather string and a wooden peg. “Weak creepings” were her main reliance in the way of disease. She was also troubled, at times, with a “fullness of the head.” In addition, there were other times when her right side “felt separate.” But she seldom complained of anything belonging to herself. Even her maladies, she took pleasure in knowing, were very different from those enjoyed by certain other women. Unwilling to be too familiar with any one baser than a Ruggles, she usually dined, as she lived, alone with her noble son.

On a certain summer evening she stirred her tea a long time in silence. She stirred it vigorously, creating a maelstrom inside her cup, where, very like a whale in the story-books, a little crust of bread disappeared and reappeared, and sailed round and round as if very much perplexed. Then she unconsciously reversed the current of the maelstrom, sending the baked and buttered whale to the bottom.

[Illustration: “She smilingly waited a moment for the composure of the young naturalist’s feelings.”]

“I never see that air Miller, no odds how well I be,” she remarked mechanically to the tea-pot, “but what I feel weak creepin’s come over me. He puts dye-stuff on his baird. An’ when a man’s whiskers is gray an’ his head keeps black, it’s a sign he uses his jaw more’n he does his brains. An’ that yaller-headed doll-baby o’ his’n–the peert thing:–I’ll lay fifty cents she never washed a dish. To think o’ her sayin’ a thing like that about Markis-dee!–an’ there’s more o’ the Peables in him to-day–But I s’pose she don’t know no better.” And Mrs. Ruggles rose from the table, while the corner of her apron made a sudden journey to the corner of her eye. It was evident her moral nature had received a wound that rankled.

A year before this time the marquis and his playmates had watched several vigorous fellows plant a theodolite on the bank of Crawfish Creek, very much as the natives must have watched the Spaniards plant their first cross on San Salvador. The contract for grading the new railway bed was in the hands of a stranger named Miller, who was said to have known better days, and in the time of his prosperity had been thought a proper person to be called Colonel. He was a bluff man of forty years, who appeared to have known both the ups and downs of life, and whose determination to wear a black beard was equaled only by its determination to be gray. Rumor said that he had been a railroad president, that he made and spent vast sums of money, and that his home was somewhere in the East.

His only child, Alice, ten or twelve years old, bright, fair, full of animal spirits, who was indulged to the last degree by the roughly generous colonel, sometimes accompanied him about the half-developed country, searching for strange birds and blossoms in the woods or watching demurely the laborers ply their picks and shovels while he inspected their work.

The two rode almost daily between Thompson City and the line of excavation, passing the house of Mrs. Ruggles and a cool spring by the roadside near it, whence that lady had obtained the water which made the tea which was stirred into the maelstrom which has been described. While obtaining it, clad in her working garb, the patter of hoofs and a clear girlish laugh–sweet as the carol of a meadow lark–came ringing along the road. As the colonel and Alice halted to let her high-mettled pony and his heavier Morgan drink, Mrs. Ruggles, who could not otherwise escape observation, with becoming pride and modesty stepped behind the thick willows, leaving the marquis with a pail of water between his legs and a bunch of mottled feathers in his hand.

He stood dumb before the lovely girl, with her face sparkling from exercise and enjoyment, and her golden hair escaping from its prison of blue ribbons. While the horses drank she espied a cluster of cool violets brightening the damp grass near the spring. The marquis had presence of mind enough left to step forward and pluck them. Her “Thank you!” added greatly to his embarrassment, which he expressed by vigorously twisting the mottled feathers.

“What bird are those from?” asked Alice.

The question so increased his embarrassment that now the marquis could express it only by chewing his cap, and she smilingly waited a moment for the composure of the young naturalist’s feelings.

“She was a low, chunky hen,” said he, at length–“she was a low, chunky hen, an’ she laid a hundred an’ seven eggs, an’ then she had spazzums an’ whirled roun’ till she died.”

A burst of irrepressible laughter escaped Alice, with the exclamation, “Did anybody ever see such a boy?” as she and her father rode away. And those were the exceptionable words concerning her son which so rankled that evening in the heart of Mrs. Ruggles.

The marquis gazed with hungry eyes after the airy little figure as it dashed down the unlovely, worm-fenced road. The golden hair, overflowing its boundaries of blue ribbon, was more glorious to him than the golden sunshine overflowing the blue sky. They met no more at the spring, but several times a week, from a respectful distance, he watched her riding by. From Thompson City to the little log bridge over Crawfish Creek the road lay for four miles through heavy woods. Then came cleared fields, and soon the house of Mrs. Ruggles.

So the summer days went by. The season was waning, the grading was almost done, and soon the contractor would be elsewhere. Then came one particularly warm and sultry day. The screams of locusts everywhere suggested that they were frying. The colonel, riding once more slowly out toward the workmen with his daughter, was near the middle of the forest. The trees on either hand were tall, and the road was so straight and narrow that the sunlight scarcely touched it. The marquis, in the top of a tall chestnut that overhung the road near the edge of the wood, was overhauling a nest of flying squirrels–perhaps in the hope of finding mottled feathers on their wings. From his elevation he could see for a great distance down the level, dusty road between the trees, and far across the surrounding country.

The sun did not shine bright, yet no cloud was in the sky. The atmosphere, thick, oppressive, opaque, veiled the horizon with strange gloom. Not a leaf could stir in the vast forest. Not a dimple nor the semblance of a current broke the surface of the sluggish creek. Not a sound, save the interminable frying of the locusts.

The colonel slackened his pace, surprised that his horse should so soon begin to drip and pant–Alice, familiar with the road, in the mean time riding a mile ahead. The marquis clung to the topmost branches, looking at the still sky far above him, the still stream far below him, the still tree-tops far around him, till he caught a glimpse of the only interesting object to be seen–a black pony bearing its usual burden, if Alice Miller could be called a burden, and pacing leisurely up the road beneath him. He gazed as far as the palisade of trees permitted, but her father was not yet in sight.

Suddenly, in the west, a single vein of lightning darted down the sky. A few trees shuddered as if to shake the gathering shadows from their bosoms. Then tenfold stillness. A bird flew past with a scream of terror, the marquis looking in vain to see a hawk pursuing it. The distant moan of a cow came from the fields. Not another sound, it seemed, was in the world.

In an instant the south-west was black. A strange, remote murmur smote the colonel’s ear. Overhead he could see but a strip of hot, hazy sky. Had he seen the whole heavens, he could have done nothing but go on. Quickly the murmur became an awful muttering, then a deafening roar. The clatter, the rush, the crash of a tornado were behind him. The groans of the very earth were about him. The darkness of twilight was upon him. Alice and Death were before him. A cloudy demon, towering high as the heavens, in whose path nothing could live, was striding near and nearer.

Farm-houses were overthrown. Trees were twisted off from their roots and torn to pieces. Wild animals and birds were dashed to death. Streams were emptied of their waters. Human beings and horses and cattle were lifted into the air, hurled hither and thither and thrown dead upon the earth.

The whirlwind was following the line of the road! Colonel Miller had no opportunity to see this, nor could he ride aside from that line if he chose. He could but cry aloud, “My darling! O God! Alice!” and lash his horse forward. The high, close forest would keep the wind from lifting his horse from the ground or himself from the saddle. But the great trees crashed like thunder behind him. Their fragments whirled above him. Their branches fell before him. The limb of a huge oak grazed his face, crushed his horse, and both rolled to the ground, blinded with dust, imprisoned within a barricade of splintered trunks and shattered tree-tops.

The marquis, from his high lookout, saw, before any one else, the approaching tornado, and, descending like a flash, he yet noted its direction. As Alice reached the foot of his tree he was on the ground, had seized the pony’s mane, was half seated and half clinging in front of her, had snatched the reins from her hand, and was urging the frightened animal to its utmost speed. Overcome with terror and confusion, Alice clung instinctively to the saddle and to him, without hearing his hurried advice to “stick like a old burdock.”

They shot like an arrow up the road. The noise of the tempest was audible. Closer it was coming, crushing, rending, annihilating all before it. The way grew darker. The terrified pony scarce touched the ground. His only will was to go forward, and he still obeyed a firm use of the bit. But who could hope to outrun a hurricane? Twelve miles an hour against eighty! The marquis heeded nothing. Not far behind, the road was but a slash of fallen, writhing tree-tops. The sweat dropped from his face. He dared not look behind.

They reached it–the lane, by the log bridge, running at right angles to the road–and in a moment, behind them, that lane was choked with whirling debris.

But in that moment they had cleared the track of the whirlwind. For the first time Alice comprehended the conduct of the marquis. For the first time he turned to see. A quarter of a mile each side the road the hurricane had carried complete desolation. But after passing the heavy timber it had veered several degrees, and was sparing the house of Mrs. Ruggles.

With a white face she met them at the gate. A word of explanation from the marquis–an ejaculation of mental anguish from the girl. Two fugitive tie-choppers from the woods turned back to find the colonel’s body. Mrs. Ruggles, carrying Alice in her arms to the door–the yaller-headed doll-baby that never washed a dish–did what she could to soothe her, but did it as silently as possible.

Mrs. Ruggles intercepted the returning tie-choppers in the lane. A look of eager joy was in their faces. The bruised colonel, assisted to the threshold, sank into the big arm-chair, and Alice was in his arms. Mrs. Ruggles did not see their meeting, not at all. No, her back was toward them, but the corner of her apron made another journey to the corner of her eye as the father folded his lost child once more to his heart.

His desire to express his gratitude to Mrs. Ruggles and her boy was equaled only by her fears that he would do so. As a last resort he called the marquis to him, and, while a tear stood on his rough cheek, drew a handful of money from his pocket. But a bony hand appeared majestically between them, and a voice said, “Not by no means. We’re not them kind o’ persons. Markis-dee, put away the camfire.”

Then a rickety gig rattled up to the gate: “Contusion–severe–no danger–there!–be lame a while–so!–the other bandage–bridge gone–creek half dry–bend your leg–so!–current turned up-stream–now the shoulder–not strange Crawfish Creek should run backward–he! he!” And the rickety gig rattled merrily off in search of broken bones.

Alice, meeting the marquis outside the door, approached him in a way that made him tremble. What was said will never be known, but she placed her white little hand upon his shoulder, the golden head bowed for a moment and her sweet lips touched his sunburnt face.

By remaining quiet that night the colonel would be able to get back to Thompson City in the morning. Before nine o’clock he was at rest in the bed-room. A couch for Alice had been prepared in the same room. In the other–kitchen, parlor and dining-hall–a blanket was thrown down for the marquis, and two chairs fixed for the bed of Mrs. Ruggles. Before retiring, however, she sat down at her lonely table, where, notwithstanding the tea she drank to keep them off, an unusual number of weak creepings came over her.

“I couldn’t help it,” was all she said to the tea-pot. Whether she referred to the tornado, or her kindness to the sufferers, or to the manner of rendering the kindness, no one knows. That was all she said to the tea-pot, but to her son, who sat for a while beside her, she spoke in a low tone: “Markis-dee, you could never c’verse with her. You’re better’n she is. Put her out o’ yer head. She laughed at ye.”

“But she kissed me wi’ tears in ‘er eyes afterward,” was his answer as he turned toward his bed on the floor.

An hour later the tea was exhausted, but Mrs. Ruggles yet sat at her lonely table, as still as the sleepers around her. The clock struck ten: she nervously drew a soiled paper from her bosom. Eleven: she rose with hesitation and set the tallow candle behind the door. Then she softly entered the bed-room and stood before the window where Alice lay. The sky was clear again. The moon shone on the face and form of the sleeping girl, making softer their graceful lines, richer the shadows in the golden hair, tenderer the tint of cheek and lip.

She stepped again into the shade and stole to the colonel’s bedside. His disturbed mind had turned backward over the path of life from the sudden death escaped, and, sleeping or waking, his memory had been busy with the people and events of other days.

“John Miller!” she said, in a suppressed tone. He started. “John Miller, I know ye. Common name–I wa’n’t sure afore to-day. When you pulled that money out o’ yer pocket I see that in yer face that satisfied me. It’s fer the good name o’ the dead I’ve come. Elseways I never’d ha’ troubled ye.” The astonished colonel shifted his position painfully, prepared to speak or to listen. “There yer girl lies in the light o’ heaven. Nex’ room my boy lies in the shadder an’ dark. He don’t know, an’ he never will. John Miller, I married as honest an’ as good a man as ever you see. Folks has come to me in sickness an’ trouble, an’ gone behin’ my back to talk. Some said I done right to take him–’twas Christian in me. Some said I must ha’ been a fool. Some said we wa’n’t married a-tall. Wasn’t I a Peables? Didn’t I know ‘twould be flung up to my face? Wasn’t I prouder’n any on ’em?”

A moment’s confusion and doubting of senses: then, as the suppressed voice went on, the colonel remembered. A dozen years ago; before he had meddled with railroads; back in the old town; soon after taking his father’s shop; he was plaintiff; Ruggles worked in the first room; Porter’s testimony; Becky Peables the sweetheart of both; burglary; loss trifling; George Ruggles, for one year; came back and married when released; went West. The old case had scarce crossed his mind for years.

“Yes, you sent him, an’ I waited fer him. The day he come out I married him. We had to dig hard. I’d do it ag’in. Now his boy’s saved yer girl’s life to pay ye fer puttin’ his father’n State’s pris’n. Two year ago didn’t Bill Porter–sick an’ a-dyin’–hunt till he foun’ me here? Didn’t he go an’ swear? Done fer spite. Didn’t he sen’ me the affydavy?–an’ I’ve got it safe. Got it swore to by him, with the justice o’ the peace’s name signed, an’ two witnissis, an’ the judge’s red seal on top o’ that. Could I go back an’ show that paper’n tell how ’twas? Too late! George was dead. I couldn’t go. My folks a’most disowned me when I took him. I said then I never’d step my foot into their doors. Them that gives me the col’ shoulder once don’t do it no more. Come to me?–well an’ good. Go to them?–never.”

The bewildered colonel, promising every possible reparation, would have thrown himself at her feet, could he have done so, for the part he had taken in the prosecution. But she permitted no interruption, and continued: “He lay by the winder where yer girl lies. The moon come in on his bed as it does on her’n. In the night, when I see the light o’ the sky shine there where he died, I feel his sperit in the room. I moved the bed to this corner, where it’s darker. I wa’n’t good enough to lie there. But ’twas on his mind. He said, ‘Becky, if I could prove it to you afore I died!’ An’ I say, George’s sperit sent Bill Porter here, an’ sent you here, an’ sent me into this room to-night. Now, fer the sake o’him an’ Markis-dee, go back an’ tell the truth!”

Speaking the word “truth,” she vanished across the light to her dark place of rest.

Next morning the colonel examined and copied the confession while a buggy waited for him at the door. Respecting the evident wishes of Mrs. Ruggles, he went away with no attempt to express the feelings that were uppermost in his heart.

She sleeps beside her husband in the orchard. Her old log-house has been replaced by a large white box, of which her son the marquis is proprietor. Each year adds to his acres or his stock. An able-bodied wife, whose industry and English are equal to his own, sits near him at the door on a summer evening, while he smokes his pipe, takes an oakum-headed child upon his knee, and gazes quietly in the direction of the spring and across the grain-fields where once he saw–or rather heard, without waiting to see–a forest swept down in a moment. He smokes and gazes as he sees again a dazzling creature ride down the dreary road, and wonders where on earth that face can be, and how much it has changed, and whether, through so many years, any memory of him can linger in her heart. He says nothing. But he hugs closer the oakum-headed child as he remembers the one romance in his hard, humdrum life.

CHAUNCEY HICKOX.

Under False Colors.

Chapter I.

Hoisting The Flag.

A dreary, murky November day brooded over Southampton, and an impenetrable fog hung over sea and shore alike, penetrating the clothing, chilling the blood and depressing the spirits of every unlucky person who was so unfortunate as to come within the range of its influence. The passengers on the steamship America, from Bremen for New York via Southampton, found the brief period of their stay at the latter port almost unendurable; and while some paced the wet decks impatiently, others grumbled both loudly and deeply in the cabins, or shut themselves up in their state-rooms in sulky discomfort. Those who remained on deck had at least the amusement of watching for the steamboat which was to bring the Southampton passengers–a pastime which, however, being indefinitely prolonged, began to grow wearisome. It came at last–a wretched little vessel, rather smaller than the smallest of the noisy tugs that puff and paddle on our American rivers–and the wet, sick, unsheltered passengers were gradually transferred to the deck of the ship.

Among those who appeared to have suffered most severely from the rocking of the miserable little steamboat was a young, fair-haired girl, apparently about seventeen years of age, who seemed almost insensible. She would have fallen had not one of her fellow-travelers, a lady evidently not much her senior, thrown her arm around her; thus aided, she managed to reach the steamer’s deck and to totter down the staircase leading to the ladies’ cabin. The active, busy steward at once bustled up to the two young girls:

“Your names, ladies, if you please. I will point out your state-rooms in a moment. Miss Marion Nugent–Miss Rhoda Steele? Miss Nugent, berth No. 20, state-room G–“

“Cannot I occupy the same state-room with this young lady?” interrupted the taller girl, who was still lending the support of her arm to sustain her half-fainting companion.

“Do not leave me, please,” murmured the sufferer.

The steward threw a compassionate glance upon the pair, went away, and after a short consultation with the unseen powers, returned and said that the arrangement had been effected, and that they could take possession at once of their state-room, into which he proceeded to usher them. It was more spacious than such apartments usually are, and abounded with all those little contrivances for comfort and convenience for which the steamers of the North German Lloyds are justly famed. The invalid sank down on the soft-cushioned little sofa and gasped painfully for breath.

“For Heaven’s sake, get me some wine or some brandy!” exclaimed her companion. “This poor thing seems very ill; and do tell the doctor to come here at once.”

With a quick, energetic movement, as she spoke she unclasped the heavy waterproof cloak of the sufferer and threw it back, thus revealing a fair, pallid face, framed in loosened curls of silky golden hair. It was a face that must have looked singularly lovely when tinted with the rosy hues of health, so delicate were the features and so large and blue the half-closed eyes, but it was ghastly pale, and a livid, bluish tinge had settled around the small mouth, whose ruby hues had fled to give place to a sickly purple. The steward speedily returned with some brandy, the bull’s-eye was thrown open, and the cold sea air and potent spirit soon asserted their restorative powers. She sat up, a more natural color over-spreading her countenance, and she murmured inarticulately a few words of thanks, while the kind-hearted steward hastened away again in search of the doctor.

“I am subject to these attacks,” she said, faintly; to her companion when they were again left alone. “Only feel how my heart is beating.”

The ship’s surgeon soon made his appearance. He was a young, light-haired, solemn-looking German, who shook his head and looked very grave as he listened to the labored breathing and felt the bounding, irregular pulse of the sufferer.

“It is a pity that the ship has started,” he said in very good English, “for I hardly think you are fitted to bear the fatigues of a sea-voyage at this season of the year; and had we been still at anchor, I should have counseled you to return to shore. But it is too late now, and you must try to keep as quiet as possible. I would advise you to retire to your berth at once: it will probably be a stormy night, and you had better settle yourself comfortably before the motion begins to be unpleasant. I will see you again in the morning, and if you feel worse meanwhile, let me know at once.”

The doctor and the steward then quitted the state-room, and its two occupants, being left alone, surveyed each other curiously.

The active and energetic girl who had acted as spokeswoman and directress throughout the brief scene we have just described had let fall her waterproof cloak and stood arrayed in a black velvet jacket and dark silk skirt, both much the worse for wear, and contrasting sadly with the neat but simple traveling costume of her companion. But about her slender, finely-proportioned figure there was an air of style and grace which lent an elegance even to her shabby and faded finery, and which was wanting in the owner of the fresher and more appropriate attire. Her face was beautiful, with a singular and weird beauty which owed nothing of its fascinations to the ordinary charms of delicate outlines and dainty coloring. Her features were small and attenuated, and her complexion was of a sallow paleness, whose lack of freshness seemed caused by dissipation and late hours or by the ravages of illness. Heavy masses of soft silken hair, black as midnight, with bluish reflections on its lustrous waves _(bleu a force d’etre noir_, as Alexandre Dumas describes such tresses), untortured by crimping-pins or curling-tongs, were rolled back in plain folds above her low, broad brow. Her eyes would have lent beauty to a plainer face. Large almost to a fault, of that dark, clear blue which is too perfect and too transparent ever to look black even under the shadow of such long, thick eyelashes as shaded them in the present instance, they were perfectly magnificent; and their lustrous azure and ever-varying expression lent to the mobile countenance of their possessor its most potent and peculiar charm.

She was the first to speak. “Do you not think you had better retire to your berth?” she asked. “The rocking of the ship is increasing, and we had better, early as it is, settle ourselves for the night, before it becomes so violent as to prevent us from moving.”

At this moment two porters made their appearance laden with packages. Two small new trunks–one marked R.S., the other M.N.–were deposited on the floor and identified by their possessors. The sick girl then attempted, with trembling hands, to disembarrass herself of her apparel, but it was not without much assistance from her companion that she was enabled to remove her traveling costume and make her preparations for retiring. At last, however, she was ready, and was about to make an attempt to reach the upper berth, which was the one allotted to her by number, when a quick, imperative gesture from her companion stopped her.

“No, no,” she said: “you must take the lower berth. I can reach the upper one without any trouble, and you are not strong enough for so much exertion.”

“You are very, very kind,” said the invalid, gratefully. She sank back on the pillow and watched the other for some minutes in silence, as she quietly and quickly gathered up and put in order the scattered articles with which the state-room was strewn.

“Will you not give me that little black bag?” she said at last. “Thanks! that is it. I wished to be certain that I had put my letter of introduction in it. Ah! here it is, quite safe. It would never do for me to lose that letter, for the lady with whom I am going to live as governess has never seen me, and she might take me for an impostor were I to come without it. An English lady who was her most intimate friend engaged me for her. I wonder what New York is like?–very rough, and wild, no doubt, and I am afraid I shall be much annoyed by the rattlesnakes. You are going to New York too, are you not?”

“I am.”

“Have you friends there?”

“None.”

“I wish I had some acquaintances among our fellow-passengers, but I do not know a single one. Do you?”

“No.”

“You have not told me your name yet. Mine is Marion Nugent; and yours–“

“Is not so pretty a one–Rhoda Steele.”

There was something in the tone of these replies that quelled the invalid’s disposition to talk, and she remained silent while her companion finished her arrangements and prepared to take possession of her berth. It was time that she did so. The threatened gale was by this time blowing in earnest, and the ship was commencing to roll fearfully; so, after securing all the boxes and bags as well as possible, and hanging up all the scattered garments, she made a hasty retreat to her couch, and lay there only half undressed, but utterly prostrate, and as unable to touch the tea and biscuits brought by the attentive stewardess as was her more delicate and suffering room-mate.

Time passed on: the daylight faded from the sky, a feeble glimmering lamp shed its faint rays into the state-room, and the great steamship went steadily on, though rocked and tossed like a plaything by the whistling winds and angry sea. Then midnight came: the lights in the state-rooms were extinguished and a profound silence reigned throughout the cabins, broken only by the ceaseless throb of the mighty engines and the noisy clanking of the screw.

The state-room was wrapped in profound darkness when Rhoda Steele awoke with a start as from some troubled dream. Was she still dreaming, or did she indeed hear a strange choking sound proceeding from the lower berth? She sprang to the floor at once, heeding neither the darkness nor the violent motion, and clinging to the side of the berth she called aloud. There was no answer: even the gurgling, choking sound she had at first heard had ceased. She put out her hand, and it encountered her companion’s face. It was deathly cold, and the features quivered as if convulsed under her touch. Again she called aloud–still no answer; and then, thoroughly frightened, she caught up a cloak from the sofa, threw it around her, and opening the state-room door, she rushed into the cabin. It was almost deserted. The lamps swung heavily overhead, swayed by the unceasing rolling of the ship; a drowsy waiter slumbered at one of the tables, his head resting on his folded arms; and one or two sleepy passengers tried to maintain a recumbent posture on the broad sofas that lined the sides. The cries of the terrified girl soon brought several of the waiters to her assistance, and Captain Wessels himself, who had not retired to rest, owing to the stormy weather, came to ascertain the cause of the unusual disturbance. Her story was quickly told: lights were brought, and the captain accompanied her back to the state-room.

It was a pitiful sight that met their eyes. The young girl lay motionless in her berth, her face tinged with a livid bluish hue, her eyes closed, and her small hands clenched as if in agony.

“The doctor!–run for the doctor!” was the instant and universal exclamation. The doctor came. One look at the pallid face, one touch on the slender wrist, and he turned with a grave face to the bystanders.

“There is nothing to be done,” he said. “She is dead. I feared some such catastrophe when I saw her last evening. She was in the last stages of heart disease.”

“And who was she?–what was her name?” asked kind-hearted Captain Wessels, looking down with pitying eyes at the fair pale face.

The steward brought his lists.

“Berth No. 22,” he read–“Miss Rhoda Steele.”

“And this young lady?” continued the captain, turning to the other occupant of the state-room, who had sunk back as if exhausted on the sofa, still enveloped in the shrouding folds of her large waterproof cloak.

She raised her head. The answer came after a moment’s hesitation–came with a strange, defiant ring in its tone:

“My name is Marion Nugent.”

Chapter II.

Under Full Sail.

More than a year has passed away since the events narrated in our first chapter took place, and the curtain now rises on a far different scene–a dinner-party in one of the most splendid of the gorgeous mansions on Madison avenue, New York.

Mrs. Walton Rutherford, the giver of the entertainment in question, was a member of a class unhappily now fast dying out of New York society–one of those ladies of high social position and ancient lineage who adorn the station which they occupy as much by their virtues as by their social talents. A high-minded, pure-souled matron, a devoted wife and mother, as well as a queen of society, inheriting the noble qualities of her Revolutionary forefathers as well as their great estates–such was the lady who presided over the brilliant festivity we are about to describe. She had been left for many years a widow, and her surviving children–two sons, Clement and Horace–were both of mature age; Horace, the younger, being just thirty years old, and Clement, the elder, some seven years his senior. Mrs. Rutherford herself was a few years over sixty. A year or two before the period at which our story opens a terrible misfortune had befallen her. Amaurosis–that most insidious and unmanageable of diseases of the eye–had attacked her vision, and in a few months after it declared itself she was totally, hopelessly blind. But, although debarred by her infirmity from going into society, she still received her friends in her own home; and her evening receptions and elegant dinners were always cited as being among the most agreeable and successful entertainments of the season.

Another sorrow had recently come to trouble the calm of her honored and tranquil existence–the marriage of her eldest son. Clement Rutherford, unlike any other member of the family, was a cold, reserved man, unpleasant in temper and disagreeable in manner. When he was still quite a boy, his mother’s only sister, Miss Myra Van Vleyden, had died, and had bequeathed to him the large fortune which she had inherited conjointly with Mrs. Rutherford from her father, the two sisters being the only children of Schuyler Van Vleyden. She was a soured, morose old maid, and probably saw some congeniality of disposition in her eldest nephew which caused her to single him out as her heir. After he attained to years of manhood, he always manifested a decided antipathy to ladies’ society, and was generally looked upon as a confirmed old bachelor; so that when he announced to his mother the fact of his engagement to Mrs. Archer’s pretty governess, Miss Nugent, her distress of mind was fully equaled by her astonishment. The match met with her strongest disapproval, as was to have been expected; for it was hardly probable that she, the oldest surviving representative of the old Knickerbocker family the Van Vleydens, an acknowledged leader of society by the triple right of wealth, birth and intellect, should be inclined to welcome very warmly as a daughter-in-law the penniless beauty who had been occupied for some months past in teaching Mrs. Archer’s little daughters the rudiments of French and music. Moreover, the investigations and inquiries respecting the young lady’s origin which she had at once caused to be instituted on hearing of her son’s engagement, had revealed a state of affairs which had placed Miss Nugent in a very unenviable light. Her parents were well born, though poor. She was the daughter of a curate in the North of England, who had lost his young wife by heart disease when Marion was but a few months old, and two years later Mr. Nugent died of consumption, leaving his little daughter to the care of his unmarried and elderly brother, the Reverend Walter Nugent, who, though the living he held was but a small one, contrived to rear and educate his niece as his own child. He had only allowed her to leave him and become a governess on the assurance of the village physician that her health was seriously impaired, and that a sea voyage and complete change of scene would prove the best and surest of restoratives. But the pained though manly tone of the letter in which he replied to Mrs. Rutherford’s inquiries had prepossessed that warm-hearted, high-minded lady most strongly against her future daughter-in-law. “I loved Marion always as though she were my own child,” wrote Mr. Nugent, “and I cannot but look upon her total neglect of me since her arrival in America as being wholly inexcusable. She has never even written me one line since her departure, and I learned of her safe arrival only by the newspapers. I can but infer from her obstinate and persistent silence that she wishes to sever all ties between herself and me, and I have resigned myself to the prospect of a lonely and cheerless old age. I trust that she may be happy in the brilliant marriage which, you say, she is about to make, and I can assure her that her old uncle will never disturb her in her new prosperity.”

Mrs. Rutherford had one long, stormy interview with her eldest son, and learning therein that his determination to marry Miss Nugent was fixed and unalterable, she had with commendable wisdom accepted the situation, and resolved to so order the conduct of herself and her relatives as to give the scandalous world no room for that contemptuous pity and abundant gossip which an open rupture between herself and her son would doubtless have occasioned.

The manner of the wooing had been in this wise: John Archer, a sober, staid gentleman of great wealth, was Clement Rutherford’s most intimate friend, and naturally, when the Archers moved into their new and splendid villa at Newport, Clement was invited to spend a few weeks with them–an invitation which he readily accepted. A few days after his arrival, Mrs. Archer, who was a pretty, lively little coquette, not in the least sobered by some thirteen years of married life, offered to drive him out in her little phaeton. “John has just given me a new pair of ponies,” she said–“such perfect beauties and so gentle that I long to drive them.” So the pretty, stylish equipage, with its fair driver and faultless appointments, made its first appearance on the avenue that afternoon, and also, I am sorry to say, its last; for the “gentle beauties” afore-said, excited to emulation by the number of spirited steeds around them, became ambitious of distinction, and sought for and decidedly obtained it by running away, thereby overturning the phaeton, breaking the harness, bruising Mrs. Archer severely and dislocating Mr. Rutherford’s ankle.

Mrs. Archer was as well as ever in a few days, but the injuries received by her guest proved sufficiently serious to compel him to maintain a recumbent position for a long time, and prevented him from walking for several weeks. She made every arrangement possible for his comfort, and she had a charming little reception-room on the ground floor, adjoining the library, fitted up as a bed-chamber, and installed him there; so that as soon as he was able to quit his bed for a sofa, he could be wheeled into the latter apartment, and there enjoy the distractions of literature and society. For a few days after he made his first appearance there his lovely hostess was all attention and devotion; but, finding that he was anything but an agreeable or impressionable companion, she soon wearied of his society. Mr. Archer, shortly after the accident had taken place, had been summoned from home by important business connected with some mining property which he possessed, and which necessitated his presence in the interior of Pennsylvania; so Mrs. Archer, thus left with the entertainment of her most uncongenial guest exclusively confided to her care, came speedily to the conclusion that he was a nuisance, and began to look about for a substitute to relieve her from her unwelcome duties. She decided that her pretty governess, who spoke French so well, and sang little French _chansonettes_ so sweetly, and got herself up in such a charming manner, giving so much “chic” and style even to the simplest of toilettes, was just the person to take upon herself the task of amusing the uninteresting invalid.

“_Do_ look after Mr. Rutherford a little, there’s a dear, good creature,” whispered Mrs. Archer confidentially to Miss Nugent. “He is dreadfully tiresome, to be sure, but John thinks the world of him, you know, and it would not exactly do to leave him alone all the time. I wish him to receive every attention while he is in the house, of course; but as for sitting for hours at a time with him in that stuffy little library–just in the height of the season, too–why, I cannot think of doing it. If you will just go and sit with him sometimes, and read to him a little, it will be an absolute charity to me. I’ll see that Alice and Emily do not get into any mischief.”

Which, considering that the young ladies in question were, one twelve, the other ten years of age, and both much addicted to flirtation and dancing the “German,” was rather a rash promise and inconsiderately made.

So Miss Nugent was definitely installed as reader and _garde malade_ in general, and Clement Rutherford soon learned to await her coming with impatience and to welcome her with delight. All his life long will he remember those summer days, when her voice and the low plash of the far-off ocean waves wove themselves together into music as she read, and when the blue splendors of her lustrous eyes lent a new meaning to the poet’s story as it flowed in melodious verses from her lips. Then came a day when the book was laid aside, and the impassioned utterances of poetry gave place to the more prosaic but not less fervent accents of a newly-awakened passion. Cold, silent and morose as Clement Rutherford had always been, it had so happened that but few women had ever attempted to attract him, notwithstanding his wealth and social position; and the interested motives of those few had been so apparent that he had been repelled and disgusted, instead of being fascinated, by their wiles; so that Miss Nugent’s grace and beauty and syren charms proved all too potent for his unoccupied though icy heart to resist; and thus it chanced that the day before Mr. Rutherford left Newport he astonished his hostess by requesting a private interview with her, and therein announcing his engagement to her governess.

“You could have knocked me down with a feather,” Mrs. Archer said afterward to an intimate friend. “I never should have suspected that such a quiet, stupid man as he was would fall in love in that ridiculous kind of a way. Good gracious! how indignant old Mrs. Rutherford will be! and I shall be blamed for the whole affair, no doubt. I wish John had never brought the man here–I never _did_ like him; and then, too, it is so provoking to lose Miss Nugent just now, while we are at Newport. Of course I can find no one to replace her till we return to New York. Well, I always _was_ an unlucky little woman.”

The marriage took place in the latter part of September, only a few weeks after the engagement had been first announced. Mrs. Rutherford, true to her resolution of making the best of the affair, was careful that none of the usual courtesies and observances should be neglected. The bridal gifts from the Rutherford family, if less splendid, were as numerous as they would have been had Mr. Rutherford married a member of his mother’s decorous, high-bred “set,” and all his immediate relatives called most punctiliously on the bride when the newly-wedded pair arrived in New York after their six weeks’ trip to Philadelphia and Washington.

Mr. Rutherford decided to take rooms at the Brevoort House till he could purchase a suitable residence. His mother’s splendid home was not thrown open to receive him and his unwelcome bride, as it would have been had he made a choice more consonant with her wishes.

But we have wandered far from the dinner given by Mrs. Rutherford in honor of her new daughter-in-law, and with which our chapter commences.

It was a superb entertainment, as the Rutherford dinners usually were. The service of gold plate purchased by Schuyler Van Vleyden when he was minister to Austria adorned the table, which was also decorated with three splendid pyramids of choicest flowers. An exquisite bouquet bloomed in front of each lady’s plate, and the painted blossoms on the peerless dinner-service of rare old Sevres vied in every respect save fragrance with their living counterparts. An unseen orchestra, stationed in the conservatory, sent forth strains of music, now grave, now gay, as Gounod or Offenbach ruled the tuneful spirit of the hour. Twelve guests only were present, including Mrs. John Archer, to whom Mrs. Rutherford had in this fashion testified her forgiveness, and who had accepted the proffered olive-branch with delight, wearing, in order to do honor to the occasion, an exquisite dress, fresh from one of the most renowned _ateliers_ of Parisian fashion. Mrs. Rutherford, as usual, notwithstanding her infirmity, presided with unfailing grace and dignity; and in her splendid dress of black satin, brocaded with bouquets of flowers in their natural hues, her cap and collar of priceless old point lace, and her antiquely set but magnificent ornaments of sapphires and diamonds, she still looked a queen of society. A well-trained servant was stationed behind her chair, who from time to time placed before her suitably-prepared portions of the various delicacies of the entertainment, of which she slightly partook, in order to obviate the restraint which her presence at the festivity without participating in it would have occasioned. On her left hand sat her younger son, Horace, whose watchful eyes followed her every movement, and whose loving care anticipated her every wish. He was a tall, stalwart-looking young man, fair-haired and blue-eyed, like his elder brother, but his frank, joyous expression and winning manners bore no resemblance to the sullen countenance and surly demeanor of Clement.

The bride was, of course, the, cynosure of all eyes. Attired in rich, creamy-white satin, the corsage shaded with folds of delicate lace, with coral ornaments on her neck and arms, and with the heavy masses of her dark hair interwoven with coral beads, she looked extremely beautiful, and was pronounced by the ladies present to be “handsome and stylish-looking, but decidedly dull.” This latter accusation was more truthful than such charges usually are. Mrs. Clement Rutherford did feel unusually stupid. She was _ennuye_ by the long, formal, stately dinner; she knew but few of the persons present; and her point-lace fan was frequently called into requisition to conceal her yawns. The game had been served before her next neighbor, a sprightly young New Yorker, who had been rather fascinated by her beauty, contrived to arouse her into something like animation. He succeeded at last, however, and it was not long before an unusually brilliant sally drew a merry laugh from her lips. Her laugh was peculiar–a low, musical, trilling sound, mirthful and melodious as the chime of a silver bell.

As its joyous music rang on the air, Mrs. Rutherford turned ghastly pale. She gasped convulsively, half rose from her seat and fell back in a deathlike swoon.

Of course all was instantly confusion and dismay. The guests sprang up, the waiters hurried forward–Horace was instantly at his mother’s side.

“She has only fainted,” he said in his clear, decided tones. “She will be better in a few moments. Let me beg of you, my friends, to resume your seats. Clement, will you oblige me by taking our mother’s post?”

With the help of Mrs. Rutherford’s special attendant, Horace supported the already reviving sufferer from the room. They conveyed her to her sleeping apartment, where restoratives and cold water were freely used, and she soon regained perfect consciousness. But returning animation seemed to bring with it a strange and overwhelming sorrow. When the servant had retired, leaving her alone with her son, she refused to answer any of his queries, and burying her face in her pillow, she wept with convulsive and irrepressible violence. At length the very vehemence of her grief seemed, by exhausting itself, to restore her to comparative calm: her tears ceased to flow, her heavy sobs no longer shook her frame, and she remained for some time perfectly quiet and silent. At length she spoke:

“Horace!”

“What is it, mother?”

“Describe to me the personal appearance of your brother’s wife–minutely, as though a picture were to be painted from your words.”

It was no unusual request. Horace was in the habit of thus minutely describing persons and places for his mother’s benefit.

“She is rather below the middle height, and her form, though slender, is finely moulded and of perfect proportions. Her hands and feet are faultless, and her walk is extremely graceful, resembling more the gait of a French-woman than that of an English girl. Her complexion is pale and rather sallow, and her countenance is full of expression, which varies constantly when she talks. The lower part of her face is somewhat too thin for perfect beauty, and the chin is inclined to be pointed, and the cheeks are rather hollow, but the upper part is superb. Her brow is low and broad, and she folds back from it the heavy waves of her black hair in the plainest possible style. Her eyes are her chief beauty, and would transfigure any face into loveliness. They are very large, and of a dark, transparent blue, of so lustrous and so perfect an azure that not even in shadow do they look black. Stay–I can give you a better idea of her appearance than by multiplying words. Did you, when you were in Munich, visit the Gallery of Beauties in the Royal Palace?”

“I did.”

“Do you remember the portrait of Lola Montez?”

“Certainly–as though I had seen it yesterday.”

“Marion resembles that portrait very strikingly, particularly in the shape and carriage of her head.”

“I am not mistaken–it is she. Would that I had never lived to see this day!” And Mrs. Rutherford wrung her hands in an agony of helpless, hopeless distress.

“It is she?” repeated Horace, in perplexity. “Whom do you mean, mother? Who was Marion Nugent?”

“She is not Marion Nugent–this impostor who has thrust herself into our midst, bringing scandal and dishonor as her dower.”

“And who, then, is she?”

Mrs. Rutherford turned toward him and fixed on his face her tear-bathed eyes, as though sight were restored to her, and she were trying to read his thoughts in his countenance.

“Why should I tell you?” she said, after a pause: “why reveal to you the shameful secret, and tell of a misfortune which is without a remedy? Clement is married: what words of mine can divorce him? And who will believe the evidence of a blind woman? If I were not blind, I might openly denounce her, but now–” And again she wrung her hands in unspeakable anguish.

Horace knelt beside his mother’s couch and folded her hands in his own.

“I will believe you, mother,” he said, earnestly. “Trust me–tell me all. If this woman whom my brother has married be an impostor, he may yet be freed from the matrimonial chain.”

“Could that be possible?”

“It may be. Let me try, at least. I will devote myself to your service if you will but confide in me.”

“Close the door, and then come near me, Horace–nearer still. I _will_ tell you all.”

Two days later the steamship Pereire sailed from New York for Brest, numbering among her passengers Horace Rutherford.

Chapter III.

Striking the Flag.

The events narrated in our last chapter took place early in November, and it was not till the following March that the astonished friends of Horace Rutherford saw him reappear amongst them as suddenly and as unexpectedly as he had departed. “Business of importance” was the sole explanation he vouchsafed to those who questioned him respecting the motive of his brief European tour; and with that answer public curiosity was perforce obliged to content itself. Society had, in fact, grown weary of discussing the affairs of the Rutherford family. Clement Rutherford’s _mesalliance_, his mother’s sudden illness at that memorable dinner-party, her subsequent seclusion from the world, and Horace’s inexplicable absence, had all afforded food for the insatiable appetite of the scandal-mongers. Then Gossip grew eloquent respecting the flirtations and “fast” manners of Clement Rutherford’s wife, and whispered that the old lady’s seizure had been either apoplexy or paralysis, brought on by her distress of mind at her son’s marriage, and that she had never been herself since. Next, the elegant establishment of the newly-wedded pair on Twenty-sixth street, with its gorgeous furniture and costly appointments, furnished a theme for much conversation, and doubts were expressed as to whether the “Upper Ten” would honor with its august presence the ball which Mrs. Clement Rutherford proposed giving on Shrove Tuesday, which in that year came about the middle of March. But as to that, it was generally conceded that they would. Youth, beauty, wealth and the shadow of an old family name could cover a multitude of such sins as rapid manners, desperate flirtations and a questionable origin; and notwithstanding her fastness, and, worse still, her _ci-devant_ governess-ship, Mrs. Clement Rutherford was a decided social success.

On the day succeeding that oh which he had arrived, Horace made his appearance at his brother’s house. Clement had not heard of his return, and received him with a cordiality strikingly at variance with his usual manner.

“Come into the library,” he said, after the first greetings had been exchanged. “I have some fine cigars for you to try, and you can tell me something about your travels.”

“Thank you, Clement: I believe I must decline your offer. I have a message for your wife: can I see her?”

A cloud swept over the brow of the elder brother.

“I suppose you can,” he said, coldly, looking at his watch as he spoke. “Two o’clock. She took breakfast about half an hour ago, so she is probably at home. You had better go up stairs to her _boudoir_, as she calls it, and Christine, her maid, will tell her that you wish to see her.”

He turned away, and was about to leave the room when Horace caught his hand.

“Clement! brother! Answer me one question: Are you happy in your married life?”

“Go ask the scandal-mongers of New York,” was the bitter reply: “_they_ are eloquent respecting the perfection of my connubial bliss.”

“If she had been a kind and affectionate wife, if she had made him happy,” muttered Horace as he ascended the stairs, “my task would have been a harder one. Now my duty is clear, and my course lies smooth and straight before, me.”

The room into which he was ushered by Christine, the pretty French maid, was a perfect marvel of elegance and extravagance. It was very small, and on every part of it had been lavished all that the combined efforts of taste and expenditure could achieve. The walls had been painted in fresco by an eminent Italian artist, and bevies of rosy Cupids, trailing after them garlands of many-hued flowers, disported on a background of a delicate green tint. The same tints and design were repeated in the Aubusson carpet, and on the fine Gobelin tapestry which covered the few chairs and the one luxurious couch that formed the useful furniture of the tiny apartment. Etageres of carved and gilded wood occupied each corner, and, together with the low mantelshelf (which was upheld by two dancing nymphs in Carrara marble), were crowded with costly trifles in Bohemian glass, Dresden and Sevres porcelain, gilded bronze, carved ivory and Parian ware. An easel, drawn toward the centre of the room, supported the one painting that it contained, the designs on the walls being unsuited for the proper display of pictures. This one picture had evidently been selected on account of the contrast which it afforded to the gay coloring and _riante_ style of the decorations. It was a superb marine view by Hamilton–a cloudy sunset above a stormy sea, the lurid sinking sun flinging streaks of blood-red light upon the leaden waters that, in the foreground, foamed and dashed themselves wildly against the rocks of a barren and precipitous shore.

Horace stood lost in contemplation before the easel, when the door opened and his sister-in-law entered. He turned to greet her, and her beauty, enhanced as it was by the elegance of her attire, drew from him an involuntary glance of admiration. Her dress was an exemplification of how much splendor may be lavished on a morning-costume without rendering it absolutely and ridiculously inappropriate. She wore a robe of turquoise-blue Indian cashmere, edged around the long train and flowing sleeves with a broad border of that marvelous gold embroidery which only Eastern fingers can execute or Eastern imaginations devise. A band of the same embroidery confined the robe around her slender, supple waist, and showed to advantage the perfection of her figure. A brooch and long ear-pendants of lustreless yellow gold, and a fan of azure silk with gilded sticks, were the adjuncts to this costume, whose rich hues and gorgeous effects would have crushed a less brilliant and stylish-looking woman, but which were wonderfully becoming to its graceful wearer.

“Welcome home, Horace!” she said in that low sweet voice which was one of her most potent charms. “How kind it is of you to pay me a visit so soon after your return!”

She placed herself on the couch and motioned to him to take a seat near her. He drew up his chair, and a short, embarrassed pause succeeded.

Mrs. Rutherford toyed with her fan and stole glances from under her long black lashes at her visitor, who sat twisting one of his gloves and wishing most ardently that Providence had entrusted the painful task before him to some one of a more obdurate and less chivalrous nature.

Wearied of silence, the lady spoke at last.

“Have you nothing of interest respecting your travels to tell me?” she asked.

Her voice seemed to break the spell which paralyzed him. He turned toward her with the look of one who nerves himself up to take a desperate resolution:

“Yes: I have a story to relate to you, and one of more than common interest.”

“Really!” She yawned behind her fan. “Excuse me, but I was at Mrs. Houdon’s ball last evening, and the ‘German’ was kept up till five o’clock this morning. I am wretchedly tired. Now do go on with your story: I have no doubt but that I shall find it amusing, but do not be much surprised if I fall asleep.”

“I think you will find it interesting, and I have no fear of its putting you to sleep. But you must make me one promise. I am but a poor narrator, and you must engage not to interrupt me.”

“I have no hesitation in promising to remain perfectly quiet, no matter how startling your incidents or how vivid your descriptions may be.”

She leaned back among the cushions with another stifled yawn and shaded her eyes with her fan. Without heeding the veiled impertinence of her manner, Horace commenced his narrative:

“Some twenty-five years ago a friendless, penniless Englishwoman died at one of the cheap boarding-schools in Dieppe, where she had officiated for some time as English teacher and general drudge. She left behind her a little girl about five years of age–a pretty, engaging child, whose beauty and infantile fascinations so won the heart of Madame Tellier, the proprietress of the establishment, that she decided to take charge of the little creature and educate her, her project being to fit her for the post of English teacher in her school. But the pretty child grew up to be a beautiful but unprincipled girl, with an inborn passion for indolence and luxury. At the age of seventeen she eloped from the school with a young Parisian gentleman, who had been spending the summer months at one of the seaside hotels in Dieppe, and her benefactress saw her and heard of her no more.

“We will pass over the events of the next few years. It would hardly interest you to follow, as I did, each step by which the heroine of my history progressed ever downward on the path of vice. We find her at last traveling in Italy under the protection of the Count von Erlenstein, an Austrian noble of great wealth and dissolute character. She has cast aside the name she once bore, and, anticipating the jewel-borrowed cognomens of Cora Pearl and La Reine Topaze, she adopts a title from the profusion of pink coral jewelry which she habitually wears, and Rose Sherbrooke is known as Rose Coral.”

Horace paused. A short, sharp sound broke the momentary silence: it was caused by the snapping of one of the gilded fan-sticks under the pressure of the white, rigid fingers that clasped it. But the listener kept her face hidden, and but for that convulsive motion the speaker might have fancied that she slept, so silent and motionless did she remain. After a short pause Horace continued:

“The attachment of Count von Erlenstein proved to be a lasting one, and we find Rose Coral at a later period installed in a luxurious establishment in Vienna, and one of the reigning queens of that realm of many sovereigns, the _demi-monde_ of the gay capital of Austria. But the count falls ill; his sickness speedily assumes a dangerous form; his death deprives Rose Coral of her splendor; and the sunny streets of Vienna know her fair face no more. I will not retrace for you, as I could do, each step in her rapid descent from luxury to poverty, from splendor to vice, from celebrity to ruin. But one day she makes her appearance, under the name of Rhoda Steele, on board the steamship America, bound for New York. The state-room which she occupies is shared by a young girl named Marion Nugent, whose future career is to be that of a governess in the United States. On the first night out one of the occupants of the state-room is taken suddenly ill and dies, the corpse is committed to the deep, and it is reported throughout the ship that the name of the deceased is Rhoda Steele. The tale was false: it was Marion Nugent who died–it was Rose Sherbrooke, _alias_ Rose Coral, _alias_ Rhoda Steele, who lived to rob the dead girl of her effects and to assume her name!”

The broken fan was flung violently to the floor, and Mrs. Rutherford sprang to her feet, her face livid with passion and her blue eyes blazing with a steel-like light.

“How dare you come here to assert such falsehoods?” she cried. “You have always hated me–you and all the rest of your haughty family–because it pleased Clement Rutherford to marry me–me, a penniless governess. But I am your sister-in-law, and I _demand _ that you treat me with proper respect. You came here to-day simply to insult me. Well, sir, I will summon my husband, and he shall protect me from your insolence.”

She turned toward the door as she spoke, but he motioned her back with an imperative and scornful gesture.

“Softly, Rose Coral,” he said, with a sneer: “the manners of the Quartier Breda are not much to my taste, nor do they suit the character you have been pleased to assume. Do you think me so void of common sense as to return home without full proof of your identity? I have in my possession a large colored photograph of you, taken some years ago by Hildebrandt of Vienna, and endorsed by him on the back with a certificate stating that it is an accurate likeness of the celebrated Rose Coral. Secondly, I have brought home with me two witnesses–one is Jane Sheldon, late housekeeper for the Rev. Walter Nugent, and formerly nurse to the deceased Marion Nugent; and the other is a French hairdresser who lived many years in Vienna, and who, for several months, daily arranged the profuse tresses of Rose Coral. One will prove who you are _not_, and the other will as certainly prove who you _are_.”

“Who I _was_” she said, defiantly. “I will deny it no longer: I am Rose Sherbrooke, once known as Rose Coral, and, what is more to the purpose, I am the wife of Clement Rutherford. Have a care, my brother Horace, lest you reveal to the world that your immaculate relatives have been touching pitch of the blackest hue and greatest tenacity. Prove me to be the vilest of my sex, I remain none the less a wedded wife–your brother’s wife–and I defy you. The game is played out, and I have won it.”

She threw herself back in her chair and cast on him a glance of insolent disdain. Horace Rutherford looked at her with a scornful smile.

“The game is _not_ played out,” he said, calmly. “One card remains in my hand, and I produce it. It is the Ace of Diamonds, and its title is The Rose of the Morning.”

A livid paleness overspread Mrs. Rutherford’s features, and a stifled cry escaped from her lips. She half rose from her seat, but, seeming to recollect herself, she sank back and covered her face with her hands. Horace continued, after a momentary pause:

“My investigations into the history of the Count Wilhelm von Erlenstein during the last years of his life revealed the fact that he had lost the most valuable of the jewels of his family. It had been stolen. It was a pink diamond of great size and beauty, known to gem-connoisseurs by the name of The Rose of the Morning–one of those remarkable stones which have a history and a pedigree, and which are as well known by reputation to diamond-fanciers as are Raphael’s Transfiguration and the Apollo Belvidere to the lovers of art. This gem was worn by Count Wilhelm as a clasp to the plume in his toque at a fancy ball given by one of the Metternich family, at which he appeared in the costume of Henri III. of France. He afterward, with culpable carelessness, placed it, amongst his studs, pins, watch-chains and other similar bijouterie, in a small steel cabinet which stood in his bed-chamber. His illness and the dismissal of Rose Coral occurred soon after the fancy ball in question, and it was not till his heir, the present count, had been for some time in possession of the estates that it was discovered that the great diamond was missing. It was not to be found, and suspicion immediately fell upon the late count’s valet, a Frenchman named Antoine Lasalle; who was found to have been mysteriously possessed of a large sum of money after the count’s death. He was arrested, and it was conclusively proved that he had stolen a number of valuable trinkets from his dying master, but still no trace of The Rose of the Morning could be discovered, and Lasalle strenuously denied all knowledge respecting it. The family offered large rewards for its recovery, and the detectives of all the large cities of Europe have been for some time on the alert to discover it, but in vain. As soon as I heard this story, I thought that I could make a tolerably shrewd guess as to the whereabouts of the missing jewel; and I caused investigations to be set on foot in New York by a trusty agent, which resulted in the discovery that The Rose of the Morning had been sold some six months before to a jeweler in Maiden lane for about one-twenty-fifth of its value, the peculiar tint of the stone, and the purchaser’s ignorance of the estimation in which it is held by the gem-fanciers of Europe, having militated against the magnitude of the valuation set upon it. It was secured for me at a comparatively trifling price. The person who sold it to the jeweler some six months ago, in spite of a partial disguise and an assumed name, was easy to recognize, from the description given, as that lady of many names, Mrs. John Archer’s governess. Now, Rose Coral, what say you? You may be Mrs. Clement Rutherford, my brother’s lawful wife, but you are not the less a thief and a criminal, for whom the laws have terrible punishment and bitter degradation.”

“This is but a poor invention: where are your proofs?” she cried, looking up as she spoke, but her faltering voice and quivering lips contradicted her words.

“Here is my chief witness.” He drew off his left-hand glove as he spoke, and extended his hand toward her. On the third finger blazed the beautiful gem of which he had spoken, its great size and purity fully displayed in the pale afternoon sunlight that flashed back in rosy radiance from its bright-tinted depths.

“It is almost too large to wear as a ring,” he said with great coolness, looking at the jewel, “but I wish it to run no further risks till I can transfer it to its lawful owner, which will be as soon as it has played its talismanic part by freeing my brother from his impostor-wife.”

The lady rose from her seat, pale, calm and resolved.

“Further insults are useless, sir,” she said. “The game is ended now, and you have won it. What is it that you wish me to do?”

“You must sail for Europe in one of next week’s steamers, leaving behind you such a confession of guilt as will enable my brother to procure a divorce without revealing the shameful fact that he was the innocent means of introducing an impostor–a _ci-devant_ lorette–to his family and friends as his wife. Better this scandal of an elopement than the horror of having such a story made public. An income amply sufficient for your wants will be settled upon you, on condition that you never return to the United States, and never, in any way, proclaim the fact that Mrs. Clement Rutherford and Rose Coral were one and the same person.”

“I accept your conditions,” she said, wearily. “I will go, never to return. Now leave me. But stay: will you not answer me one question?”

“I will, certainly.”

“Who was it that discovered my secret?”

“My mother–my blind mother. Some years ago, before she lost her sight, I accompanied her on a short European tour, in which we visited England, France, Switzerland, and finally Italy. While we were at Rome I fell ill with the fever of the country, and my physicians gave orders that as soon as I was well enough to travel I should leave Italy for a more bracing climate. We had not visited Naples, and I was anxious that my mother should not return home without seeing the wonders of that city; so as soon as I became convalescent I prevailed upon her to leave me in the care of some friends and to join a party who were going thither. During her stay she went frequently to the opera. One evening she was greatly disturbed by the loud talking and laughing of some persons in the box next to the one she occupied, and she was much struck with the beauty, the brilliant toilette and the boisterous conduct of one of the female members of the party. She inquired the name of the person she had thus remarked. It was yourself, and she learned not only your name, but your whole history. When at her own dinner-table she heard the sweet and singular laugh that had so struck her on that occasion, the sensitiveness of hearing peculiar to the blind caused her to recognize the sound at once; and the description which I afterward gave her of your personal appearance only changed torturing doubt into agonizing certainty.”

“Thanks for your courtesy: I will detain you no longer.”

Horace bowed and approached the door. Suddenly, as if moved by a sudden impulse, he turned back.

“Believe me, this task has been a hard one,” he said, earnestly. “And remember, if hereafter you may need pecuniary aid, do not hesitate to apply to me. For Heaven’s sake, do not return to the life you once led. There was one redeeming feature in the imposture which you practiced: it showed that some yearning for a pure name and an innocent life was yet possible to you.”

“I want no sermons,” she answered, abruptly. “Only leave me at peace. Go: I am sick of the sight of you.”

As he closed the door he cast one parting glance on the room and its occupant. She stood leaning against the back of a large arm-chair, her clasped hands resting on the top, and her white, rigid face set in the fixed calmness of total despair.

Thus left alone, she remained standing for some time as motionless as though she were a marble statue and not a living woman. Suddenly she seemed to take some desperate resolve: she threw back her head with a bitter, mirthless laugh, and going to the bell she rang it. Her maid quickly appeared.

“I have a wretched headache, Christine,” she said. “I shall not come down to dinner, and do not disturb me till nine o’clock: that will give me time enough to dress for Mrs. Winchester’s ball. I will wear the pale-blue satin and my point-lace tunic. Be sure you change the white roses that loop it for pink ones, and lay out my parure of pearls and diamonds, and my point-lace fan and handkerchief. Now bring me the two phials that stand on the third shelf of the closet in my bed-chamber.”

Christine departed on her errand and soon returned, bringing with her two bottles, the smallest of which was labeled “Solution of Morphia–POISON. Dose for an adult, ten drops;” while the largest Was simply inscribed “Sulphuric Ether.” These she placed on the chimney-piece, and then proceeded to arrange the cushions of the lounge and to draw the curtains. “I will now leave madame to her repose,” she said. “Does madame need anything more?”

“No, I shall want nothing more,” was the reply. The door closed upon the maid’s retreating form, and Mrs. Rutherford instantly shot the bolt.

She cast a sad and wistful glance around the dainty room and on its glittering contents. “_J’etais si bien ici_,” she said regretfully. “I had found here the existence which suited me, and now the end has come. It is not in my nature to remain satisfied with a life of poverty and respectability, and I will not return to one of degradation and vice. But, after all, what does it matter? My fate would have found me sooner or later, and this soft couch is better than a hospital bed or the slabs of La Morgue: this draught is more soothing than the cold waters of the Thames or the Seine. Life is no longer a game that is worth the candle: let us extinguish the lights and put the cards away.”

She took up the phial of morphia, drew the little sofa nearer to the fireplace and extended herself upon it. The daylight faded from the sky and night came, and with the night came sleep–a sleep whose dream was of Eternity, and whose wakening light would be the dawn of the resurrection morning.

“Accidental death” was the verdict of the coroner and the newspapers, and, in fact, of the world in general–a conclusion much assisted by the evidence of Christine, who testified that her mistress was in the habit of using narcotics and anaesthetics in large quantities to relieve the pain of the neuralgic headaches from which she was a constant sufferer. Society said, “How sad! Dreadful, is it not?” and went on its way–not exactly rejoicing, for the death of Mrs. Rutherford deprived its members of her long-promised, long-talked-of Shrove-Tuesday ball, and consequently the gay world mourned her loss very sincerely for a short time; in fact, till a well-known leader of fashion announced her intention of giving a fancy-dress party on the night thus left vacant, whereupon Society was consoled, and Mrs. Rutherford’s sad fate was forgotten.

Only two persons–Horace Rutherford and his mother–suspected that her death was not an accidental one; but they guarded their secret carefully, and Clement Rutherford will never learn that his dead wife was other than the innocent English girl she represented herself to be. Walter Nugent wrote a pathetic letter to Mrs. Rutherford, begging that a lock of his lost and now forgiven darling’s hair might be sent to him; and it cost Horace a sharp pang of regret when he substituted for the black, wavy tress furnished by Clement a golden ringlet purchased from one of the leading hairdressers of New York.

“Heaven forgive me!” he said to himself, remorsefully, as he sealed the little packet; “but I really think that this is one of the cases wherein one cannot be blamed for not revealing the truth.”

A few months later, Horace Rutherford stood in Greenwood Cemetery contemplating with curiosity and interest the inscription on a recently-erected monument of pure white marble.

“Sacred to the memory of Marion Nugent, beloved wife of Clement